Most of us are aware of the Theory of Evolution. This is the concept that mankind and all life on Earth has evolved from unicellular organisms and through adapting to a changing environment and other factors, such as survival of the fittest, changed to create the enormous diversity of plants and animals that inhabit the planet.
However, fewer of us are aware of the theory of Intelligent Design – and those of us that are, often confuse it with the notion of creationism. Let’s take a look at what separates the two latter proposals and then see how Intelligent Designs stacks up against Darwin’s most famous thesis.
What is Intelligent Design?
Intelligent Design is the idea that there is evidence of design at work in the natural world. Scientists, scholars and philosophers who subscribe to this idea believe that certain features of the universe and all living things are best explained through the notion of an intelligent cause, not an undirected process, such as natural selection. Through studying the construction of nature on all levels, Intelligent Design theorists seek to discover whether aspects of our existence can be attributed to a higher intelligence or whether they are the product of chance or natural law.
This theory recognises the existence of a higher power as a distinct possibility, and researches it from the coding in DNA to the way things look; it’s a compromise between the worlds of science and the supernatural. For example, one bone of contention is the construction of the eyes of vertebrates. Design theorists argue that, because eyes are made of several interacting parts, they cannot have been created incrementally; remove one component and the whole system collapses. Consequently, Design theorists believe that they must have been created as a whole; evidence of Intelligent Design.
By comparison, Creationism is very different. Creationists tend to begin with religious texts and see how the findings can be made to fit in. Those theories that don’t fit the text are then dismissed. The ongoing arguments over how old the Earth is and the existence of dinosaurs are divisive and emotive. Creationists believe that the world is around 10,000 years old. This figure has been arrived at through painstakingly tracing all the bloodlines that feature in the Bible and adding the estimated ages of each generation together.
Similarly, the dinosaur argument is a debate that rages with Creationist circles; some believe that dinosaurs were alive in Biblical times and referenced as the Behemoth and the Leviathan. However, others believe that dinosaurs never existed and that fossils and skeletons are red herrings placed in the Earth by evolutionists looking to turn people away from God.
The Beginnings of Life
The argument between Design Theorists and Evolutionists goes right back to the creation of life; the Cambrian Period. A spokesman from the Occidental College says that, rather than being an explosion in which life was created, “it’s a three-billion-year-old slow burning fuse and we have the fossil records that prove this. We now have fossils of all sorts of soft-bodied and microscopic organisms from before the Cambrian, and you can see very clearly how, from simpler things, you can get more complex things.” In short, whatever event set the wheels for life in motion, the process of evolution was a slow one – a process that they believe is still in motion.
However, Professor Luskin from the Discovery Institute has other ideas. He says that the Cambrian (the period in Earth’s history in which there was an unprecedented explosion of diversity of life) represents “an abrupt explosion of mass biological diversity that required huge amounts of information be injected into the biosphere rapidly. In my view, only an intelligent agent can account for the origin of information in such a rapid fashion. I don’t think a step-by-step neo-Darwinist approach is up to the task.”
The evolution of DNA
However, the argument doesn’t just focus on events that we weren’t privy to. A large portion of the debate surrounds things that we know to be existent, such as the presence of DNA. The DNA molecule is widely accepted as being the genetic blueprint for life, using only four chemical codes through which to create the basis for all living things. Evolutionists believe that DNA is the result of a process of natural selection. The Occidental College stated that “while no supernatural hand guided the evolution of DNA, natural selection was a non-chance component.”
The Discovery Institute contests this theory, saying that systems that have high Complex Specific Information (CSI) only come from an intelligence.” They support their theories by citing the creation of language and machines; both contain high CSI, yet could only have been created by an overriding intelligence which, in this example, is human.
What are we asking?
However, science doesn’t always have all the answers. Possibly the most famous scientist on the planet, Steven Hawking, has released a book that is very sympathetic to the ‘anthropic principle’ – a theory that is used by both Creationists and Intelligent Design theorists, alike. The anthropic principle argues that, by necessity, the universe must have the characteristics required to give rise to conscious life. As an example, we do not know why gravity has the precise force that it does. All we know is that if it was any less or any more, life would simply not exist. For those who operate outside the realms of strict scientific theory, this is firm of evidence to support the idea that there was an intelligence behind the creation of the universe.
Part of the reason why the two (or three schools) of thought may never be reconciled is that they seem to be trying to answer slightly different questions. The Evolutionists are constantly striving to define how why life was created; all the processes they investigate are part of a long and complicated chain of events, resulting in life as we know it.
However, Intelligent Design theorists (and to some degree Creationists as well) seem to be seeking an answer as to not how but why life was created. Neither camp can answer the other’s question and, until they are able to state exactly what it is they are trying to assert, their answers, while related, will always have different meanings.