Some thoughts on Evolution and Intelligent Design

I have discussed and debated the Intelligent Design vs Evolution issues numerous times both online and in person, but I have not felt a need to broach the subject very much on this blog until now.

It is a complex debate and I have no illusions about easily resolving it for anyone else. Those of you who have discussed this issue with me before know that I lean strongly toward the Intelligent Design side of the controversy, though I have some reservations about a number of the political goals of the movement.

I do intend to go see the new documentary film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which opened last Friday, if I can make some time this week.

My thoughts here, however, were prompted by reading this blog post by BYU Professor Steven L. Peck . Brother Peck certainly has impressive credentials, and so I hesitate to respond to what he has written for the honest recognition that the topic may simply be beyond my skill and understanding. However, despite my worries, I will share my thoughts.

First off, let me say that I am disappointed in the derisive tone of his post. If he wants to win over people such as myself, who lean toward Intelligent Design, and especially members of the church, he would do better to afford us the dignity of a fellow Saint.

While brother Peck’s characterization of Intelligent Design proponents may well be an accurate portrayal of some, I think that it is generally unhelpful and largely inaccurate.

I can only speak from my own views of ID, but a number of us who lean toward Intelligent Design over Darwinian Evolution are quite aware that the “Selection” part of the Random Mutation plus Natural Selection equation makes it not purely “random.”

Even as a self-identified believer in Intelligent Design, I do accept the succession of species (the “Fact” of evolution, as it is often called). But the succession of species is not itself proof that the proposed mechanism, random mutation plus natural selection, is really the method by which that succession came to pass.

In science, we have to distinguish between the observable facts and the model used to explain those facts. And it is perfectly acceptable to explore a number of different models that attempt to explain what is observed. As more facts become available through scientific investigation and experimentation, we may choose to discard or revise models that contradict the new information, or to reconsider previously discarded models in light of new facts. If a scientist wants to investigate a new model to see how well it matches the observable facts, she should be allowed to do so without ridicule and harassment.

My own Intelligent Design views allow that evolution (a succession of species) has indeed occurred, but I reject the purely materialistic mechanism for evolution. I accept that some kind of evolution has happened, but I reject the notion that Random Mutation plus Natural Selection alone is capable of producing the kind of complex information we see in living organisms. Instead I favor the front-loading hypothesis of evolution, where all of the information necessary to create the breadth and depth of life was encoded into DNA from the beginning. In my model the process of Random Mutation plus Natural Selection cannot create information. It only activates or deactivates pre-existing information. So I accept the fact of evolution, but I reject the Materialistic, Darwinian mechanism in favor of the Intelligently Designed front-loading mechanism.

I’ve yet to see anything observable that proves that random mutation and natural selection alone are capable of doing what Darwin claimed, even after 150 years of fact gathering and exponentially increasing knowledge of biological systems.

The observable facts, as I have been able to perceive them, are at least as consistent with the front-loading model.

Could I be wrong? Certainly. But I think that I, and others, should be able to investigate and experiment with that model without being branded with propagandist’s epithets like “creationist” intended to imply ignorance, dishonesty, or a theocratic political agenda.

Brother Peck spends a lot of time in his post discussing how monkeys could create the works of Shakespeare by typing on keyboards.

I cannot compare to Brother Peck’s credentials in the mathematics of modeling evolution, However, as someone with both a deal of professional computer programming experience and a BA in English Literature, I can tell you that, in my view, the programs that simulate random mutation plus natural selection like the monkeys on typewriters program he cites from Richard Dawkins are at least of questionable value as evidence for a purely materialist mechanism for evolution.

Because they have to know Shakespeare in the first place in order to determine whether or not “Shakespeare” has been achieved, the selection portions of the equation in such computer models smack of a peculiar kind of “begging the question” fallacy. They bear some resemblance to self-fulfilling prophesies. These programs only produce Shakespeare because some Intelligent Designer (the programmer) copy and pasted Shakespeare’s words from the Project Gutenberg transcription of his Works into a database. Neither the computer program or the monkeys actually produce anything more than a copy of Shakespeare, only Shakespeare and the programmer actually did any “creating.”

My views are open to change on this topic, but I strongly support the idea that scientists should be able to pursue these alternative models without reprisal from or suppression by the Darwinian orthodoxy. If they lead to more knowledge and truth, then we are blessed. If they do not, then they will fade away of their own accord without any artificial aide by the Darwinian Intelligencia.

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6 Responses to Some thoughts on Evolution and Intelligent Design

  1. Interesting post. I too lean somewhat to ID over evolution but have more generally concluded that it doesn’t matter too much.

    What concerns me even more is that “derisive tone” that so many have towards those who have questions or different theories. I haven’t seen it but I understand that that’s the primary thesis of “Expelled.”

    Be it evolution or global warming, many of their proponents seek to silence critics without resorting to the scientific method or facts.

    My guess is that too often this to forward a political agenda rather than science.

  2. I don’t think that’s true David. Rather I think many just get tired talking about it when people don’t attempt to get the facts. Now some are too impatient. And we should expect a lot of ignorance among the populace given the horrible science reporting by the media. However to say this is about politics seems silly – unless you mean the fear by many scientists that the already dismal level of science education in America might get worse.

  3. Dimensio

    Please describe the processes involved in the mechanism that implements the “design” of “Intelligent Design”. Specifically, explain the physical processes that were used to “front-load” DNA, as you alleged has occurred. State where these processes have been directly observed, or state the known processes used to directly derive the processes of the “design” mechanism. Explain the specific consequences of these processes occurring such that predictions of the observable aftermath of the event can be derived. Please identify the specific observations that has led you to conclude an event of “front-loading”.

  4. Dimensio

    These are interesting requests, but I don’t think that I am obligated to rehash every argument readily available in literature by competent professionals. I suggest that you check out the book The Design Matrix by Mike Gene.

    As the article I recently linked in my Recommended Reading section to the top right cites, it is not just Intelligent Design advocates that are questioning the creative role of Random Mutation and Natural Selection. Dr. Piattelli-Parmarini says: “Look, when Sherman stresses that the sea urchin has, in-expressed, the genes for the eyes and for antibodies (genes that are well known and fully active in later species), how can we not agree with him that canonical neo-Darwinism cannot begin to explain such facts?”

    I think that the fact that sea urchins have genes for eyes and anti-bodies that could be evidence for front-loading of information.

  5. Eliza-Anne

    I highly recommend the book “Not By Chance” by Lee Spetner, published by Judaica Press. He is an Israeli physicist whose hobby is researching these issues. He is an expert in the mechanics of mutations. He seems to lean toward a similar take on evolution; that the environment turns on or off certain sections of DNA that are then expressed or unexpressed according to environmental pressures. (Just what is all that junk DNA that supposedly does nothing?) The book is totally fascinating though sometimes hard for a non-scientist to follow. But he shows rather conclusively the impossibility of the complexity involved in genetic information being built up by random chance. For one thing, mutations-and he carefully catalogues all types, there aren’t that many-are all inclined to perish by virtue of the fact that most organisms are redundant. Fish lay thousands of eggs because only a few are going to survive to adulthood and lay eggs themselves. That means that most mutations are doomed to the early death visited upon nearly all species except a few at the top of the pile. This man is not identified with any of the ID movement people. The book title and cover may be off-putting to some because they make it appear to be an attack on Darwinism. It is a well reasoned, scientifically based exposition on the difficulties with the Neo-Darwinian model that are no closer to explanation today than they were in the 19th century. Establishment scientists may pretend that we have loads and loads of scientific proof of Darwinism but by this they only mean that they have more and more fossils. This only shows change over time. I agree with J. Max that it isn’t time to close the discussion on how this change happened. The current Neo-Darwinian synthesis serves so many political and cultural purposes that it is hard to discuss it rationally and neutrally as it ought to be discussed.

  6. Hi Jon. You may be the only one to ever read this comment. My main philosophical problem with Intelligent Design, include what I read of Mike Gene’s version, is that it makes God smaller. I’m not the first person to claim this, so I’m not claiming any novelty. It’s great for someone to go looking for evidence of a front-loading hypothesis as evidence for a designer, but what happens if someone disproves the front-loading hypothesis? Your God is forced to retreat to the next level of uncertainty. This has happened many times in the last 150 years as people have shown how random mutation and natural selection resolve specific objections to the theory of evolution. My personal experience is that the God I believe in grows as I learn more about how he works, both in the physical and in the spiritual realms. I haven’t found anything in Intelligent Design that expands my view of God, but I have found much in evolution that does.

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