Arthur Asuncion


Articles -- Darwin Or Design (or Both)? (Oct 2005)

During Welcome Week, I took an informal poll of students who stopped by the iDesign club booth. I asked one simple question: "Which theory of human origins is closest to your personal view?" Approximately 40% answered "Creationism," 20% answered "Darwinian Evolution," 15% answered "Intelligent Design," 15% answered "Theistic Evolution," and 10% answered "Don't Know."

Although this unscientific poll was based on a very small sample size, it highlights the diversity of opinions that UCI undergraduates have regarding the issue of origins. In fact, the question of origins is probably one of the most important questions in life. A person's response reveals his underlying worldview and outlook in life.

This past summer, intelligent design has received much attention from the national media. In August, President Bush stated his support for teaching multiple theories on origins, including intelligent design, in schools. Other national politicians, like Senate Majority Leader Dr. Bill Frist and Senator John McCain, have endorsed intelligent design as well.

Religious leaders have also weighed in on this issue of origins. For instance, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn made some bold statements in a recent New York Times opinion piece titled "Finding Design in Nature":

"Now at the beginning of the 21st century, faced with scientific claims like neo-Darwinism and the multiverse hypothesis in cosmology invented to avoid the overwhelming evidence for purpose and design found in modern science, the Catholic Church will again defend human reason by proclaiming that the immanent design evident in nature is real. Scientific theories that try to explain away the appearance of design as the result of 'chance and necessity' are not scientific at all, but, as John Paul put it, an abdication of human intelligence."

What is intelligent design and why is it controversial? Intelligent design basically suggests that life was (at least in part) designed, rather than evolved through the Darwinian mechanisms of natural selection and mutation. There is also a cosmological version of intelligent design, which suggests that the universe and Earth were designed, or fine-tuned, for life.

To many people of faith (Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others), the concept of intelligent design is non-controversial and probably even obvious. Some are comfortable with the idea that God is the designer and ultimate cause for life. The unscientific poll I took during Welcome Week suggests that a majority of UCI undergraduates are in agreement with this position.

The controversy is in the realm of science and academia. Most scientists, including probably many of the excellent faculty here at UCI, would not consider intelligent design to be credible because they believe it to be inherently unscientific. Scientists mostly hold to a principle known as "methodological naturalism," which excludes any hint of supernaturalism and mysticism. Since intelligent design is often equated to mysticism, some categorize intelligent design as being pseudoscientific nonsense even before considering any evidence.

But is intelligent design equivalent to mysticism, or is there positive empirical evidence to support intelligent design?

Charles Darwin made a significant contribution to science when he outlined the concept of evolution through natural selection. Proponents of intelligent design, and even creationists, accept evolution within species; they call it micro-evolution. A few intelligent design proponents, like Dr. Michael Behe at Lehigh University, also accept macro-evolution and common descent, which suggests that all life forms descended from a common ancestor.

While Darwin sought to explain the origin of life from a naturalistic perspective, the technology during his day did not enlighten him to the fact that the molecular building blocks of life were complex and elegant machines. Modern science now knows that life contains multitudes of molecular motors. These motors not only "look" designed, but they also functionally operate as designed machines would operate. The existence of molecular motors at the bedrock of life is strong positive evidence for intelligent design.

There are many other examples of apparent design in nature; in fact, we do not have to search further than within ourselves to find evidence of design. Consider the incredibly complex human brain, the eye, the dexterous human hand, the information-efficient DNA, and the ability of humans to effortlessly process natural language.

In fact, there is a field called biomimetics which seeks to mimic the engineering marvels found within nature. This past summer, Mercedes-Benz announced a new bionic concept car which mimicked the aerodynamically-efficient and stable shape of a boxfish. Intelligent design would predict that many more innovative design concepts could be extracted from nature.

This mind-boggling complexity and elegance in nature has caused some scientists to question the standard naturalistic story of abiogenesis and Darwinian evolution. In 2004, world-class philosopher Antony Flew abandoned his atheism due to the strength of intelligent design arguments.

While the main controversy is about biological intelligent design, the argument for cosmological intelligent design is similarly gaining more attention. Charles Townes, a Nobel Laureate in Physics, makes the following comments in a UCBerkeleyNews interview:

"Intelligent design, as one sees it from a scientific point of view, seems to be quite real. This is a very special universe: it's remarkable that it came out just this way. If the laws of physics weren't just the way they are, we couldn't be here at all. The sun couldn't be there, the laws of gravity and nuclear laws and magnetic theory, quantum mechanics, and so on have to be just the way they are for us to be here.

Some scientists argue that 'well, there's an enormous number of universes and each one is a little different. This one just happened to turn out right.' Well, that's a postulate, and it's a pretty fantastic postulate - it assumes there really are an enormous number of universes and that the laws could be different for each of them. The other possibility is that ours was planned, and that's why it has come out so specially. Now, that design could include evolution perfectly well. It's very clear that there is evolution, and it's important. Evolution is here, and intelligent design is here, and they're both consistent."

Some critics of intelligent design point out the problem of malady in the world; they question how the presence of evil and suffering can be compatible with intelligent design. However, this is a philosophical criticism rather than a scientific criticism, and there are compelling philosophical answers to this criticism.

In my opinion, nature has revealed an abundance of evidence for design. If I asked you the same poll question that I asked during Welcome Week, which theory of origins would you choose?