Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Design of Life

I'm going to conduct a dissection of the first two paragraphs of an essay titled Life's Grand Design. It was authored by Kenneth R. Miller, Professor of Biology at Brown University. The essay is linked here.

A concept known as "intelligent design" (ID) has been used as an argument against Darwinism from the publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859 right up to the present day. Quite simply, ID states that living organisms must be the product of careful and conscious design, so perfectly formed that they cannot be explained by the random workings of evolution alone. Modern ID theorists contend that this is a new and novel scientific alternative to evolution.

ID, however, has been rejected by the modern scientific community for the same reasons that it failed in the 19th century. When closely examined, the living world is filled with evidence that complex organisms not only could have evolved through evolution's trial-and-error mechanism, but must have done so, because their structure, their physiology, and even their genetic makeup are all inconsistent with the demands of intelligent design.

Let's examine the claim of inconsistency. Presumably Miller has a good idea as to what would be consistent with intelligent design since examples abound. Cells function by virtue of a complex of interacting molecular structures that are regulated to perfom timely functions. A genetic blueprint contains the information needed to synthesize cellular components and allow cellular replication. Moreover there are self-correcting mechanisms that compensate for copy errors and environmental damage to DNA. If the existence of the foregoing appears to you to be inconsistent with intelligence then so must every man made object and many encoded systems for they are clearly inferior in design to these examples which are alleged to be stochastically generated.

On the other hand we've witnessed this strategy before. What Miller and others are up to is a theological ploy. Point to sub-optimal design (all organisms are imperfectly designed for death and disease is their destiny) and argue that any intelligent designer would either be stupid, wicked or both. Miller, a theistic evolutionist, would argue that God is good but that evolution is his mechanism of choice. In a logically tortured way Miller views this choice as excusing both sub-optimal design and ill-motives, which deliberate design would not do. One would think that scientific arguments would be the weapon of choice against ID but alas this type of critique is not an uncommon strategy. More dissection in future posts.


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