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Intelligent Design: the creation of the cosmos

Intelligent Design: the creation of the cosmos

Author: Santiago Collado
Published in: Agencia Veritas
date of on-line publication: 14 March 2006

To properly understand the movement called Intelligent Design ( design ) requires explaining its origin and distinguishing it from Creationism or Creation Science, with which it is often assimilated by its detractors. Creationism developed in the United States mainly during the first decades of the 20th century and advocates a total subordination of Science to the literal statements contained in the Bible. This position vis-à-vis the sacred texts led its followers to make claims - such as that the age of the earth is no older than 10,000 years - that soon came into contradiction with scientifically accepted and proven truths.

In the scientific sphere, Darwinian evolution became firmly established during the first half of the 20th century. As Darwinism was accepted and Creationism rejected, there was also a growing unease among some scientists who saw a predominantly materialistic view of science being imposed alongside Darwinism. In American society as a whole, this feeling is much more widespread. The 1970s and 1980s saw the emergence of associations and publications that echoed this unease but, unlike what happened with Creationism, the approach that many of them adopted was scientific. They try to highlight, from the point of view of science itself, the gaps and inadequacies that often hide the arguments defended by many evolutionists.

One of these groups is the one that, during the late 80s and early 90s, gave rise to Intelligent Design. The person who took the reins of the movement in these early years was Phillip E. Johnson. Johnson, a prestigious lawyer in the 1980s, saw in the Darwinist explanations given in the publications of the time - "The Blind Watchmaker" by R. Dawkins, for example-, arguments more typical of legal strategies than of the scientific sphere. Johnson decides to write a book in which he tries to do justice to Darwinist arguments: his degree scroll is "Darwin Trial". The book was published in 1991 and was a great success publishing house. But the discussion around ID has not yet properly begun.

In 1996 Michael Behe, professor of Biochemistry at Lehigh University, writes "Darwin's Black Box". This book was very well received by critics and soon became a bestseller. It was then that Intelligent Design forced the Darwinists into the arena of discussion and the polemic that pitted it against Darwinism really began.

The main idea, brilliantly exposed in the aforementioned book, is the notion of irreducible complexity. In a very simple way it could be summarised by saying that in living beings, the current Biochemistry allows us to find systems that boast a subject of complexity that cannot be explained simply by random variation and natural selection, as basically defended by the various Darwinisms. Behe's conclusion is that such systems can only have been designed. Science, according to Behe, would only allow us to reach this conclusion, but not to determine which intelligence was the author of design.

William Dembski, who was finishing his doctoral thesis when Darwin's Black Box was published, is now the movement's most prolific advocate. His books now number more than a dozen. Through his training in various scientific and theological areas, he has become the undisputed leader of the movement. In his writings he tries to establish the conditions that a system must meet in order to be able to affirm that in its training some subject of design intelligent has intervened. Among his aims is to give ID a truly scientific character, which is of course denied by Darwinists and also by some non-Darwinists.

Finally, we summarise some points that we feel it is important to highlight in the context of discussion ID-Evolution:

1. Christianity has always defended the reality of the creation of the world. But defending creation is not the same as being a creationist. Creationism defends the authority of the Bible, according to a literalist interpretation of it, in purely scientific matters. This leads it to make claims that stand in stark contrast to science.

2. It is necessary to distinguish between evolution and Darwinism. Evolution is compatible with the doctrine of creation as defended by Christian theology, and so is Darwinism as a partial explanation of evolution. What is incompatible with Christian doctrine is any evolutionism of subject materialism.

3. There is agreement among scientists that Darwinism explains some of evolution. There is not so much agreement, but it is now quite clear that Darwinism cannot explain the whole reality of evolution but only a very small part of it.

4. Proponents of ID cannot be included in the group of creationists. On the other hand, the intelligence arrived at through ID need not be the God of Christians. The attempt of ID, successful or not, to remain in the realm of empirical science necessarily limits the scope of its claims concerning God.

5. Although the notion of irreducible complexity is clear, it is up to science to determine whether systems of irreducible complexity actually exist in nature.

6. ID is really a challenge to a strictly Darwinian explanation of evolutionary phenomena.

7. This discussion highlights the need to better understand the distinction, irreducibility and complementarity between Science, Philosophy and Faith.