The eye is one of the most complex organs in our bodies and performs an almost miraculous task; using light to enable us to see. Due to its complexity, the eye has been a key figure in the argument of Evolution versus Intelligent Design. Evolutionists believe that the eye evolved through necessity and has adapted to a variety of factors, such as the environment of the animal it is suited to. Creationists and Intelligent Design theorists believe that its intricate systems are the work of a higher power. Which argument is the most convincing? Let’s start with Intelligent Design.
The Champion of Intelligent Design
Perhaps the biggest champion of the Intelligent Design theory is Michael Behe. Before we investigate his argument, it’s worth noting that Behe is a Professor of Biochemistry at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, America. In addition, Behe is a practicing Roman Catholic. Although his theories have been resoundingly rejected by the majority of scientists, he has gathered a loyal following amongst the Intelligent Design community.
It should also be noted that this is a different train of thought from Creationism; Creationists believe that life and the Earth were formed exactly as we are told in the Bible. Intelligent Design theorists acknowledge the role of science and evolution but believe that, at some point in biological history, a celestial hand was involved.
Behe was the first to coin the phrase ‘irreducible complexity’, in reference to a theory he developed, after reading Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, by Michael Denton. Prior to reading Denton’s book, Behe was a committed follower of Darwin’s theory of evolution. However, after reading it, he became convinced that there are systems in the human body that are so irreducibly complex that they could not possibly have been created by anything other than Intelligent Design.
What is ‘Irreducible Complexity’?
Irreducible complexity is method of describing a system is composed of several interacting parts, such as the eye. Were even one of those parts removed, the entire system would collapse – which is the basis of Behe’s Intelligent Design approach. His theory is that a system, such as the eye, cannot possibly have evolved incrementally because the absence of any part of that system would render it non-functional.
Therefore, in Behe’s argument, the eye had to have appeared as an entirely ‘tried-and–tested’ unit, if natural selection was going to have anything to play with and adapt. In this way, he argues that the eye is proof of Intelligent Design; a creator’s hand was involved somewhere along the line, as there is, allegedly, no real room for the evolution of the eye. Creatures needed to see straight away, therefore they eye had to be a fully functioning and ready-to-go organ.
The Cambrian Explosion
Much of the beliefs of Intelligent Design theorists refer back to a period in Earth’s history known as the Cambrian Explosion. This was a period about 542 million years ago, in which there was a sudden explosion in the diversity of life on Earth. Nearly all of the major phyla of Earth’s animals appeared at this time and this was accompanied by a sudden diversifying of the species that came into being. Even Charles Darwin raised the issue of the Cambrian Explosion as one of the main holes in his Theory of Evolution. The timeframe in which this incredible array of life forms came into being is, in evolutionary terms, so comparatively short that animals and plants almost seemed to appear from nowhere.
This would only seem to add support to Behe’s belief that at some point in Earth’s history a creative force was involved, delivering life forms with systems of irreducible complexity in their finished designs onto the planet. Due to the lack of fossil evidence before the Cambrian Explosion, while there might be those that disagree with him, there is no absolute scientific proof that what he is saying isn’t possible.
Behe claims that Intelligent Design is the result of careful planning on behalf of an intelligent force. He is also careful to reiterate that his beliefs flow “naturally from the data itself, not from sacred books or sectarian beliefs”. Behe is keen to point out that he is approaching the theory scientifically and from a biochemical perspective – and yet is still able to cone to the same conclusion as those who approach the subject from a more spiritual angle.
Darwin also cited the eye as another potential problem with his studies, saying that “to suppose that an eye with all its intricate contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree”.
Richard Dawkins, the famed atheist author, put forward his case as the eye being evidence that there was no intelligent design involved at all. He said that “it’s not just bad design; it’s the design of a complete idiot. The retina is back to front and the wires that carry their data have to somehow pass through the retina and back to the brain.” He also went on to respond to Dawkins’ argument that there ought to be no blind spot, if the eye is to be considered well designed. However, Westmont College biologist, Dr George Ayoub responded to this, saying “in trying to eliminate the blind spot, we have generated a host of new and more severe functional problems to solve. Our repair seems far worse than the apparent flaw we wanted to fix.”
Science is slowly discovering that there is limit to how far back we can look; that there comes a point where all the tracing back has to stop. Without any evidence of any other theories, when the scientific trail runs dry, is it actually any more ridiculous to say that an intelligent force was involved in the creation of life than it is to say that all life was born out of a massive explosion that erupted out of matter that had been condensed to something smaller than a pin prick? Science has to stop somewhere and, possibly, that’s where the idea of a universal creator steps up to the mark.