Monday, December 19, 2005

Don't Fear the Designer: a Response to Krauthammer and Will

On the same day that I published my post entitled "Intelligent Design is Frightening," the National Review Online published an article entitled "Don't Fear the Designer," by Tom Bethell. The two pieces are quite consistent. As my post makes clear, the people for whom intelligent design is frightening are dogmatic atheists whose worldveiw would be threatened by the possibility of a designer. For open minded people, evidence of design opens the door to an exciting intellectual adventure. Here are some excerpts from Bethell's article:
Whom to believe? Or maybe we should approach it more scientifically: What are the facts?

If we discount trivial examples like bacterial resistance or "change over time" or small changes in beak size among the finches of the Galapagos Islands, we don't know very much about evolution at all. We don't see it happening around us, or in the rocks.

In my book, I quote Colin Patterson, a senior paleontologist at the British Museum of Natural History, telling a professional audience at the American Museum in New York that there was "not one thing" he knew about evolution. He had asked the evolutionary-morphology seminar at the University of Chicago if there was anything they knew about it, and, he said: "The only answer I got was silence."

Patterson, who died a few years ago, was an atheist and once told me that he regarded the Bible as "a pack of lies." There was no way he could be accused of Biblical primitivism. People would ask him, with a note of alarm, "Well, you do believe in evolution, don't you?" He would respond that science wasn't supposed to be a system of belief.

So let's look at the evidence adduced for evolution. The fossil record is sparse. Bats, for example — the only mammals capable of powered flight — appear suddenly in the fossil record, with their sonar systems already fully developed. "There are no half bats," as a world expert on bats once said. The experts have no idea what animal gave rise to the first bat.

The creatures that evolution purports to explain are fantastically complex. The cell, thought at the time of Darwin to be a "simple little lump of protoplasm," is as complicated as a high-tech factory. We have no actual evidence that it evolved — and yet we are asked, indeed obliged, to believe that it did.

In the human body, there are 300 trillion cells, and each "knows" what part it must play in the growing organism. To this day, embryologists have no idea how this happens — even though they have been trying to figure it out for 150 years.

. .

That phrase — "it was selected for" — is regarded as a sufficient explanation for . . . everything. The same mundane phrase is given as the explanation for everything under the sun. How did the bats get sonar? "It arose by an accidental mutation of the genes and was selected for. Next question?" How did the eye develop? "Piecemeal. There was a random mutation and it conferred an advantage so it was selected for. Then the same thing happened over and over again. Next question?" How did the camel get its hump? "Random mutations conferred some advantage and so they were selected for. Next question?"

This is the science before which all knees must bend? These explanations are no better than "Just-So stories" (as one or two Harvard professors have rightly said). No actual digging in the dirt is needed: The theorist merely contemplates the trait in question and makes up a plausible story as to how it might have been advantageous.

We fear questioning the evolutionist dogma. Someone might call us fanatical. "Intemperate" was the word George Will used. So we go along with the dogmas of materialism, lest we be considered ignorant or uneducated or driven by a religious agenda.

Charles Krauthammer tells us that Isaac Newton was religious and if he saw no conflict between science and religion, why can't we take our thin gruel of evolutionary science like good children and be satisfied, without dragging a Designer into the picture?

Because it isn't real science, Charles. Newton, in fact, thought that the "most beautiful system" of sun, planets, and comets could "only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being." But the laws of physics that govern these motions are simplicity itself compared with the immense complexity of the biological machinery that governs the development, proliferation, growth, and aging of millions of reproductive species. These mechanisms have yet to be discovered or described. To believe that the feeble tautology of natural selection — laissez-faire political economy from the 1830s imported into biology — constitutes a sufficient explanation of the marvels of nature is to display a credulity that makes our fundamentalists seem sagacious by comparison.

. . .

The underlying problem, rarely discussed, is that the conclusions of evolutionism are based not on science, but on a philosophy: the philosophy of materialism, or naturalism. Living creatures, including human beings, are here on Earth, and we got here somehow. If atoms and molecules in motion are all that exist, then their random interactions must account for everything that exists, including us. That is the true underpinning of Darwinism. What needs to be examined in detail is not so much the religion behind intelligent design as the philosophy behind evolution.

But that is a sermon for another day.


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