Feature Article - June 2001
by Do-While Jones

Intelligent Design

Is there a way to distinguish things that were intentionally designed for a purpose from things that are the result of impersonal, natural forces?

How to Identify Design

There are some things that everyone recognizes as being designed. Everyone knows, for example, that a cell phone was designed. Cell phones do not occur spontaneously in nature. We all know this. If we can figure out what method we use to distinguish intelligently designed objects from naturally occurring objects, then we can apply that same method to living things to see if they were designed or not. Let’s work out the method in excruciating detail, using a cell phone as an example.

Existence, Age, and Origin

First, we need to establish that the cell phone does, in fact, exist right now. How can we tell? In general, we measure its properties. For example, we can weigh it. We can measure the color of the light it reflects. We can see how much force it can withstand before breaking. If it doesn’t exist, it can’t have any properties. If it doesn’t exist, it won’t weigh anything. If it doesn’t exit, it won’t reflect light or break. We can do any one of a variety of scientific experiments on the cell phone to measure one or more of its properties. After having done one or more of these experiments, we can convince ourselves that the phone exists now.

Second, we need to determine if the phone has always existed, or whether it came into existence recently. This is a little more difficult, but it can still be done. We can take it apart and find that it contains transistors (or integrated circuits which are collections of transistors). Since we know from patent applications that transistors were invented in 1948, we know that any device containing transistors can’t be more than 53 years old. If the cell phone has transistors, that doesn’t mean that it is 53 years old. It simply means that it can’t possibly be older than 53 years. We can put an upper limit on the age, which is all we really need to do at this point.

Third, having established that the phone exists now, and that it could not possibly have existed 54 years ago, we can logically conclude that it had to have an origin. Someone, or something, had to have made it. Was it made by undirected natural forces? or were natural forces skillfully employed by a designer with the conscious intention of creating it?

While looking for evidence to support or disprove either of these possibilities, we discover that there are many other complex systems. There are complex communication devices including televisions, radios, satellites, and computers. There are complex vehicles including cars, trucks, trains, ships, and airplanes. It seems reasonable that if natural forces created the cell phone, natural forces also created the television, radio, satellites, etc. If the cell phone was designed, then it is likely that the television, radio, satellites, etc. were also designed.

If we can find multiple instances of natural forces assembling components into systems (televisions, radios, etc.), and no evidence that any of these other systems have been designed, then we can deduce that natural forces probably assembled the cell phone as well. On the other hand, if we can find no natural force that assembles any components into any system, but do find several instances of design, we can conclude that the cell phone was designed, too.

We can also look for evidence of design at a lower level. That is, whatever process assembled the cell phone from buttons, transistors, a speaker, and a microphone, must also have assembled the buttons from plastic and metal. If natural forces cannot make the components, then they can’t make the entire system.

Arguments in Favor of Design

Few people have actually seen a cell phone being manufactured, yet everyone believes the cell phone was designed. One reason is that they have seen designers build other things. They know it is possible that components can be intentionally assembled into a system. They also know (often from personal experience) that it takes a lot of skill to assemble the components correctly, and that a system won’t work properly (or won’t work at all) when the components aren’t properly assembled.

In a complex system, nearly every part needs to function correctly or else the system won’t work. Consider the cell phone. How many parts can be removed before the phone no longer functions? You can pry off the plastic logo that tells who sold the phone, and it will still work, but that is about all. If you pull off the antenna, it won’t work. If you remove the microphone, it won’t work. There is a minimum set of components that have to be there for the system to function. If undirected, natural forces could only assemble some portion of the components, it would not work. People recognize instinctively that all the required components have to be there, or it is useless. Whatever assembled it had to be able to assemble the whole thing all at once for it to be useful.

Nobody has ever seen any instance of undirected, natural forces assembling any electronic or mechanical components into any system, no matter how simple. There are no experimentally verified scientific experiments that demonstrate that components naturally assemble themselves into systems. That’s why everybody believes that cell phones were designed, not assembled by undirected, natural forces.

Arguments Against Design

Since there is nobody who will take the position that cell phones occur naturally, we will have to play the Devil’s Advocate and try to argue that position. Here we go.

There are so many complex systems made up of components (radios, automobiles, etc.), that they must have been the result of natural forces. Nobody could have designed them all.

All these things exist, so they had to come from somewhere. Therefore they must be the result of natural forces because that’s all there is. There are no supernatural forces. Only superstitious fools believe in supernatural forces.

Look at the similarity of complex systems. Radio and television aren’t that much different. They must have been naturally derived from an unknown, primitive broadcasting ancestor that was also made by natural forces.

It is true, nobody has found the missing links between various kinds of systems. We haven’t found any schematic diagrams of ancient electronic systems that naturally evolved into today’s modern electronic systems. They must have been destroyed in a fire. Just because we can’t find them now doesn’t mean they never existed.

The fact that you can so clearly classify systems by type is an obvious indication of common origin. The class of all communication systems can be divided into one-way broadcasting systems (radio and television) and two-way communications (telephones and computers). There is also another class of systems called “vehicles,” which is divided into land vehicles, water vehicles, and air vehicles. The land vehicles category includes cars and trucks, of which there are many different makes and models. Anyone who can’t see how all these complex systems are related, must be really stupid. Nearly every vehicle has a radio in it. What could be more compelling evidence that natural forces tend to assemble radios?

There isn’t any universally accepted explanation as to how natural forces can make all these things, but that doesn’t matter. Even though there is disagreement about how natural forces make cell phones, everyone agrees that natural forces did make cell phones. Truth changes as we learn more. It was a “fact” that natural forces made electronic systems years ago when we believed it happened a certain way. It is now a fact that natural forces make electronic systems a different way. In the future it will be a fact that natural forces make electronic systems in yet another way. Regardless, it will always be a fact.

Complex systems could not have been engineered because that would require an engineer. If engineers existed, they would have solved the rest of the world’s problems. Engineers would not permit pollution. They would design things that don’t hurt the environment. Since some complex systems do pollute the environment, engineers must not exist.

Suppose, just for the sake of argument, that engineers really do exist. If they do exist, then engineers don’t care much about the quality of life; or maybe they are evil beings who want to poison the water, pollute the air, and enjoy inflicting misery. Worse yet, if engineers really existed, they would build weapons. Then they would use those weapons to punish people who don’t obey them.

All this talk about intelligent design is just a trick to make us believe in engineers, so that people claiming to represent engineers can rule over us. Don’t get sucked in! Don’t kowtow to those people claiming to know a better way to live because engineers told them so.

Finally, the best argument, the one that cannot be beaten is, “Natural forces certainly did make everything. My teacher told me so.”

We would have to resort to arguments like these because there is no scientific evidence that cell phones, or any other electrical systems, naturally assemble themselves.

From Cell Phone to the Cell

Now that we know how to tell intelligently designed things from things that naturally form, let’s move from the cell phone and other complex electronic systems to the cell and other complex biological systems.

Existence, Age, and Origin

Does life exist? Can we measure its properties? Yes we can. We can put a living butterfly in a jar of carbon tetrachloride and observe a change in property. Living things certainly exist today.

Ironically, there was a guy who used to come to our meetings who would argue that we could not even be sure living things existed. He argued that we might just be dreaming that the world exists. From that experience I learned that there are people who just like to argue. They revel in trying to make the most absurd propositions seem logical. We get a lot of email from people like him who just want to argue. It is a waste of time to talk to people who won’t even admit that they exist, so we don’t answer their email.

Assuming we can come to the agreement that life does exist now, we must press on to the issue of whether or not life always existed. It is generally agreed that some time in the past, regardless of whether it was 20,000 years ago or 4 billion years ago, there was not a single living thing on Earth. Therefore, at some time in the past, life originated. It doesn’t matter to this present discussion how long ago that happened. All that matters is that life must have had a beginning.

Since there was a time when there was no life, but there is life now, there had to be a process by which life began. Was it a natural, spontaneous force? or was it the result of conscious intent?

We look around us today and see an amazing variety of life forms. It seems to be universally agreed that all of them are the result of the same process. They were either all formed by undirected, natural forces, or they were all intelligently designed. The people who believe that they were intelligently designed believe that they were created with a certain amount of genetic variation, resulting in moderate variation in populations, but the ancestors of each kind of living thing were not much different from the individuals living today.

If we can find multiple instances of natural forces (for example, random mutation and natural selection) assembling organs and installing them in living animals; and evidence that one kind of animal can naturally change into another animal (no matter how long it takes); and can find no evidence that any of these animals (or plants) have been designed; then we can deduce that natural forces probably assembled all the other living creatures as well. On the other hand, if we can find no natural force that assembles organs into animals, but do find several living things that had to be designed, we can conclude that all other living creatures were designed, too.

We can also look for evidence of design at a lower level. That is, whatever process assembled the heart, lungs, muscles, and skin into an animal, must also have assembled tissues into the heart, lung, muscles, and skin.

Arguments For Evolution

Let's consider these common arguments we often hear in favor of evolution.

Biology Textbooks

Biology is usually defined to be the study of how all living things came to exist in their present forms through natural forces. Biology is based on the presumption that there are no supernatural forces. Everything must be the result of natural processes. Therefore, it is flatly stated in secular biology textbooks that all living creatures evolved. There can be no other explanation because modern biology has been defined to be the study of how living things evolved through purely natural, undirected ways.

That being the case, one would think that biology textbooks would be full of evidence for evolution. Anyone who reads a college biology textbook with that expectation will be surprised. Although the textbooks are filled with statements that something evolved into something else a certain number of years ago, there is rarely any evidence to support the claim. What little “evidence” is found there (horse evolution, peppered moths, embryo similarity), has long since been rejected by the professional scientific community. But it is still there because there isn’t anything else to replace it. Evolution is simply accepted by faith.

Classification

The textbooks tend to link the biological classification system with evolution. Living things were first categorized by Linnaeus in the 18th century. He did not believe in evolution. He simply organized living things in an orderly manner to make it easier to study them. Over the years, however, many scientists came to the conclusion that creatures are similar because they must have had a common ancestor. Therefore, the “Tree of Life” resembles the biological classification system.

Modern classification is based on presumed evolution. Things that supposedly evolved from a common ancestor are classified together according to their evolutionary path. Now, the evolutionary path is inferred from the classification. This gives consistent results because circular logic is always consistent with itself.

Despite this, ever since Linnaeus, there have been arguments about classification. The group of creatures we call “mammals” were once called “quadrupeds” because they all have four legs. Of course, lizards and amphibians have four legs, too. So, the name was changed to “mammal” because they all have mammary glands. That allowed biologists to classify whales and bats with other mammals, despite the fact they don’t have four legs.

Evolutionists believe that the ancestors of whales and bats must have had four legs at one time because they are mammals (quadrupeds), and the alleged primitive ancestor of all mammals had four legs. This is a direct result of their belief that the classification system reflects evolutionary history. How do they know a bat is a squirrel that evolved wings? Why don’t they think it is a bird that evolved mammary glands? Which is harder to evolve, flight or mammary glands? If the head biologist in charge of classification had classified bats as birds, then the textbooks would all say that mammary glands evolved twice--once in birds and once in animals. Instead, because of classification, the textbooks say that flight evolved multiple times (in birds, insects, mammals, and dinosaurs).

The classification system, and therefore the evolutionary path inferred from it, is purely subjective. Scientists arbitrarily decided what features are most important when classifying a species. The classification of some living things has changed over the years because it is all a matter of opinion, not scientific reality.

The similarity of so many species, and ability to organize them in a reasonable way, is claimed as evidence of common descent. But we have already seen that communication systems and vehicles can be classified in a hierarchical order according to similarity. Therefore, similarity might just as well be the result of common design techniques as it is of a common ancestor.

Art experts can tell if a painting discovered in an attic really is a genuine Picasso rather than a forgery because they have learned to recognize the distinctive similarities in his work. If all living things were designed by a single intelligent designer, then it makes perfect sense that the designer’s style would manifest itself in certain similarities.

Similarity can be the signature of an artist just as much as it can be evidence of common origin. Some brothers and sisters have a remarkable family resemblance because they have common parents. Some paintings have a remarkable similarity because they were painted by the same painter. Similarity is evidence neither for nor against evolution. Similarity is evidence neither for nor against intelligent design.

Missing Links

If evolution gradually invented and added new components to existing living things, then we should be able to see evidence of that. If invertebrates evolved into vertebrates, then we ought to be able to find some fossil creatures in the expected layer of the geologic column that have partial backbones. For example, one might expect to find a creature with a backbone that consists of a single bone. Then, in higher strata, one might expect to find a nearly identical creature in which the backbone is divided into individual vertebrae which would retain the advantage of stability while adding the advantage of flexibility.

Darwin argued that the missing links between various kinds of systems haven’t been found simply because of the inadequacy of the fossil record. That argument is much less convincing now because the fossil record is much more complete now.

Seashells fossilize much better than most other living things, so there are very many fossilized shells to study. If there were links between the various kinds of shells, they would be very easy to find because the fossil record of shells is so complete. Yet you never hear about any missing link between clams and conches. In fact, it was a pair of paleontologists who are experts on fossil seashells (Niles Eldridge and Stephen Jay Gould) who proposed the theory of “punctuated equilibrium” in 1972 to explain the lack of transitional fossils in the most complete part of the fossil record.

Ironically, most of the claimed missing links come from the part of the fossil record that is most incomplete. It is the incompleteness of the fossil record for certain species that permits them to speculate about species that are very poorly known in the fossil record. For example, last year they were so desperate for a missing link between mice and apes, they constructed Eosimias out of two bones the size of grains of rice.

Disagreement Doesn’t Matter

An evolutionist recently wrote:

As Mimi Merril stated in her column, all science is provisionary; in other words, it is subject to change. As with all science, the theory of evolution is not considered “the truth” by anyone, nor is it the “official nonreligious explanation for the origin of the universe,” as though an organization with that stamp of approval actually exists. 1

We could quibble a little bit and say that we think the theory of evolution is “the de facto secular explanation for the origin of the universe and all forms of life.” And although there may not be one organization that holds such a stamp of approval, there are organizations that control what textbooks are approved for use in public schools, and organizations that control what gets printed in scientific journals. But let’s not quibble about those things. The key points in this quote are the claim that “the theory of evolution is not considered ‘the truth’ by anyone”, and the frank admission that scientific facts are subject to change at the whim of the scientific community.

None of the things I learned in the 1960’s in my college physics, chemistry, or electrical engineering classes is considered to be incorrect today. Some of the things taught in chemistry and physics back then are now recognized to be special cases of broader truths, but what I was taught then is not considered to be false now. In fact, quantum physics and relativity would not have been accepted if they contradicted classical physics. None of Newton’s laws has been repealed.

How much of the material taught in evolutionary biology classes of the 1960’s is believed to be true today? Not much, we think. We invite you to compare a 1960’s explanation of human evolution with the current explanation. Up until recently, evolutionists said that australopithecines such as Lucy were absolutely, positively, unquestionably, human ancestors. Now that they have found Kenyanthropus, some evolutionists are saying that australopithecines were not human ancestors.

There isn’t any universally accepted explanation as to how evolution works, but we are told that doesn’t matter. Even though evolutionists can’t agree as to whether evolution happens gradually, or in rapid jumps, all the evolutionists agree that evolution happens. That, they say, is all that matters.

Truth, they say, changes as we learn more. The fact that the experts were either wrong then, or are wrong now, doesn’t matter to evolutionists. Experts are still experts, and so anything they say must be true. Even if something is false now, it was true then. Things that are true now will probably be false in the future, but they are true now, and that’s all that counts.

Despite the disagreements, we can be sure evolution is true. My teacher told me so.

Anti-god Arguments

You can’t talk to a rabid evolutionist very long before he turns the topic away from evolution and toward religion. Evolutionists tend to argue that either there is no god, or that any god ruling this earth is impotent, incompetent, or evil. No good god would allow so much suffering. The attack then turns from the creator to the creationists. Creationists are accused of trying to use the schools to brainwash the students, and trying to impose their moral values on others.

These are not scientific arguments. They are emotional arguments that seem to be based on some unfortunate experiences in their lives. This emotional bias clearly interferes with their objectivity. It doesn’t matter how much scientific evidence there is against evolution, they will continue to believe in evolution because of some emotional experiences in their lives that make the alternative totally unacceptable to them.

Arguments in Favor of Design

Why is it that many people believe that living things were designed? One reason is that they have seen designers build other things. They know (often from personal experience) that it takes a lot of skill to assemble the components correctly, and that a system won’t work properly (if at all) when the components aren’t properly assembled. They know that the only way for a complex system to come together is for it to be put together intentionally.

Living things certainly are complex systems. Even the simplest components of living system are, in themselves, complex systems.

Take blood, for example. Superficially, it just seems to be a simple red fluid that flows through tubes. But blood isn’t just any red fluid. When in the lungs, it has to absorb oxygen from the surrounding tissue. When in the muscles, it has to release oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide from the surrounding tissue. When it gets back to the lungs it has to release the carbon dioxide and absorb more oxygen. Not only that, it has to take food to the cells, and toxic waste to the kidneys.

When I was a kid, I used to think that blood clotted just because it got dry. That’s what appeared to happen when I skinned my knee. Appearances can be deceiving. Actually, there is a complex interaction between a score of blood proteins which have to work together automatically to make blood clot. 2 Furthermore, the blood has to stop clotting automatically at the right time. You don’t have to be a doctor to imagine what would happen if all your blood clotted in your arteries or veins the first time you got a cut on your finger. Blood contains an interconnected system of proteins that work together to make blood clot or flow, as needed. If any one of those blood proteins fails to work properly, you will bleed to death, or die from a blood clot.

What good would blood be if there weren’t a heart to pump it and lungs to pump it through?

Everywhere you look in nature, you see things that could not have just happened by chance. To look at them you need an eye. Your eye consists of (among other things) an iris, a lens, photosensitive cells, an optic nerve, and signal processing algorithms in your brain. If any of these components failed to exist, the eye would be useless. They could not have evolved one step at a time. What good would an optic nerve be if there weren’t any photosensitive cells to stimulate it? Why would photosensitive cells evolve if there were no nerves to take the signals to the brain? What good would either of these things be without an iris to let the light in, and a lens to focus the light?

There is no way these things could evolve through natural processes. The evidence for design is overwhelming.

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Footnotes:

1 The Daily Independent, May 27, 2001, “Evolution verses creation debate continues” page A4 (Ev+)
2 For a detailed description of the blood coagulation cascade, see pages 97 - 99 of Darwin’s Black Box by Michael J. Behe. (Cr-)