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Intelligent Design

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Introduction

Intelligent design is an attempt at explaining the existence of life in the universe and is often presented as an alternative to evolution. It contends that life cannot possibly have formed due to chance alone and that greater powers must be at work. However, it is important to realise that intelligent design does not specifically state who or what this higher power is, only arguing that there exists evidence to suggest its interference with this universe. Intelligent design can be further subdivided into biological design (the argument that living organisms exhibit design) and cosmological design (the argument that the universe as a whole exhibits design), both of which will be explored in this essay (Shanks, 2004). The first section of this essay presents common arguments used by supporters of intelligent design, and how these arguments are useful in explaining certain aspects of life which are yet to be explained by evolution. This will be followed by arguments against intelligent design and discussion of its status amongst the scientific community. The final section of this essay will deal with issues relevant to the teaching of intelligent design in schools.

Arguments For

There are three main concepts put forth by proponents to support intelligent design; irreducible complexity, specified complexity and the perfect universe (Orr, 2005 ). Each of these concepts elucidates characteristics of life and the universe which supposedly can only be explained by the purposeful intervention of an external power.

Irreducible complexity

This argument states that living organisms are made up of a number of different parts, each of which must work together in order to perform a function. If any one of these parts is deficient then the overall function cannot be carried out, therefore the stepwise acquisition of these parts through evolution is not possible (Behe, 2002; Wallace, 1992). This argument was first put forth by Michael Behe using the example of a mousetrap. A mouse trap has several different parts, the base, the spring, the catch and the hammer, each of which must be present for the mousetrap to work. The spring by itself would achieve nothing and a mousetrap without a spring would achieve nothing as well. Thus the mousetrap is said to be an irreducibly complex system. Intelligent design asserts that natural selection cannot give rise to an irreducibly complex system as a selectable function is only present when all the separate parts are assembled. An example of this is the complex cascade of chemical reactions required to clot blood. An organism that has only one of these factors would have no obvious advantage over other organisms, as the factor by itself does nothing. The factor only becomes active when it reacts with the other factors that are essential to causing blood to clot. In effect, there will be no justification to promote the survival and propagation of this factor in future generations. In evolutionary terms, an organism would have to somehow spontaneously acquire all the factors at the same time in order to have a functioning blood clotting mechanism which would give it a selective advantage over other organisms.

Opponents of this argument claim that organisms could still have gained the individual parts of a mechanism if each part somehow served a function on its own which, while not being as great as of the mechanism as a whole, was still significant enough to warrant its preservation (Barlow, 1994, Pg.97-98; Miller, 2002). Over time, sequential addition could have led to the appearance of a functioning mechanism which later becomes necessary for the survival of the organism.

Specified Complexity

This intelligent design concept, first put forth by mathematician and philosopher William Dembski (2002), claims that any system that is both specific and complex at the same time cannot be brought about by natural processes. For example, a single letter by itself is specific but not complex while a string of random letters on the other hand is complex but not specific. However, a string of letters that form words and tell a story (as in a poem or book) is both complex and specific and must have been arranged in that manner by someone or something. This can be extended to DNA and how a string of DNA which gives rise to a functional protein cannot simply occur due to pure chance. This argument ignores the step wise nature through which many new functions in evolution are acquired and rather simply looks at the overall probability of an organism gaining a function do to pure chance. Evolutionists claim that the perfectly structured sentence could very well have evolved one word at a time over several millennia (Pennock, 2002; Zabilka, 1992, Pg. 74).

Fine-tuned Universe (Anthropic Principle)

The fine-tuned universe concept states that many physical laws and constants in the universe (nuclear force, force of gravity etc.) had to have been within a very specific range in order to have given rise to life as we know it. Supporters use this as evidence for cosmic design and claim that the only way that all these constants and laws could have formed just right is if they were created via intelligent design. Once again this argument is based on the premise that these constants forming just right due to pure chance alone are too small to be realistically considered. However, opponents of this argument claim that it is important to consider the possibility that life simply evolved to survive in this universe as opposed to this universe being specifically created to support a particular form of life. If conditions had been different, it is entirely possible that other forms of life could have evolved in our place.

Arguments Against

Arguments against intelligent design focus on the fact that it is an unfounded theory incompatible with current scientific methodology. It is based on inference and is composed entirely of evidence discrediting evolution and other alternative theories with no positive evidence proving its validity.

The Scientific Method (Falsifiability)

There are a number of reasons why the scientific community is incredulous of intelligent design, the foremost being that it is incompatible with the traditional scientific model. Two of the most important requirements for any scientific theory are observation and replication. Intelligent design can neither be observed nor replicated under laboratory conditions and is thus impossible to verify or falsify (Fothergill, 1963, Pg. 19; Numbers, 1992, Pg. 249-251). Scientists

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