Intelligent Design group says life’s complexity proves an intricate plan.
In a meeting room of the Marriott in Lake Mary, Walter Bradley flashed one PowerPoint screen after another to build his case that the universe was deliberately planned.
“An orderly universe is one described by mathematics. The universe is so profoundly elegant in form, it can be described in five equations,” said Bradley, professor of engineering at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. A set of five calculus equations appears on the screen, including Einstein’s famous e = mc2.
Apparently not many in the audience of more than 200 were mathemeticians. There were bemused looks, but most continued to listen raptly as Bradley reached his conclusion that human life is not the product of random natural forces but designed by God, a conclusion that Bradley terms “rational.”
Bradley and microbiologist Michael Behe of Lehigh University spoke at an October symposium sponsored by Science Speaks, an Orlando-area organization of lay people interested in Intelligent Design, a movement driven mostly by Christians eager to use the tools of science to discover what they say are the divinely established foundations of the universe. Disturbed by the claims of some scientists that the universe and life on Earth evolved blindly, proponents of Intelligent Design say that the complexity of physical and biological existence proves it is all part of an intricate design.
Behe, for example, points to what he calls the “irreducible complexity” of a biochemical mechanism such as blood clotting. The mechanism would not work without each one of several specific links in a biochemical chain, he said, and Darwin’s theory of evolution is unable to explain how such an irreducibly complex mechanism occurred.
“The conclusion of design is empirical,” he said.
Intelligent Design might be little more than one of many ideas competing in the intellectual marketplace if it were not for its role in the debate about how the theory of biological evolution should be taught in public schools. Craig Spearman, president of Science Speaks, explained the crux of the objection of Intelligent Design to what he called the “myth of Darwinism.”
“Classical naturalism is founded on the premise that on a succession of purely random events, life evolved to what it is today. Darwinism relies on chance and accident rather than design and purpose,” he said.
The Discovery Institute of Seattle, a center devoted to Intelligent Design, waged an unsuccessful fight recently to have proposed textbooks in Texas changed, in the words of associate director John West, to “fix the factual errors that overstate the evidence of evolutionary theory and to make sure the textbooks include at least some of the scientific weaknesses of modern evolutionary theory.”
Some critics say Intelligent Design is just another form of creationism, the conservative Protestant view that the world was created in six 24-hour days, as a literal reading of the Bible suggests, and that the age of the universe is several thousand years old, not billions. But followers of Intelligent Design deny this, saying they are simply trying to defend their faith against “materialist” explanations for the universe, which rely on random occurrences. Behe, for example, is Catholic and agrees with scientific assessments of the age of the Earth.
Still, Intelligent Design has both religious and scientific critics. Nancey Murphy, professor of Christian philosophy at the evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., said Intelligent Design points to unexplainable phenomena, then concludes because they can’t be explained scientifically, they must be the result of God’s action. Using God to fill in these gaps is bad theology, she said.
“It’s based on an inadequate view of God’s action in the world. It puts material explanations in competition with theological (ones),” she said. “God always works in and through nature. There will always be a natural as well as a theological explanation.”
Catholic theology does not reject scientific theories of evolution, and Pope John Paul II has spoken of those theories in approving terms. Behe said God is free to work through natural processes, but they are not random.
“I think God can work through things that appear to us serendipitous, but God knows what will happen. I don’t think God can work if he doesn’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.
Murphy said attempts to restrict the teaching of Darwin’s theory in public schools is “an unnecessary and hopeless battle.”
But Behe said Intelligent Design proponents are hoping Darwin’s theory will be treated as a provisional theory rather than as a kind of scientific scripture.
“Public schools teach Darwin dogmatically,” he said. “The first step is to teach evolution more modestly, its strong points and its weaknesses. If we taught that, I think most people would be satisfied.”