Intelligent Design vs. Naturalism
by Eric Bermingham
There has been much discussion recently about intelligent design; the idea that natural organisms display unmistakable evidence of design in their composition. For some people, this is just another way that fundamentalists are attempting to insert religion into scientific discussion. For others, it is the recognition of modern science that the material world could not have brought itself into existence through natural means alone. So is it religion posing as science or enlightened scientific observation?
For most of human history, it has been recognized that operations in the natural world involve design, necessity, and chance. People of faith recognize that many things are the way they are because “God made it that way.” Most everyone also understands that some things work the way they do because of natural laws. What goes up must come down. There is also some randomness observed in nature, even if we recognize that nothing can occur without God allowing it. Things sometimes happen for no apparent reason.
Prior to Darwin, most scientists had the preconceived notion that God created the natural world and determined the laws that govern it. Their job was to figure out how things operated and to formulate the natural laws in ways that could be understood. Many modern scientists still have this view.
However, after Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859, there arose a movement among scientists to show how chance working with necessity could alone explain how the natural world came to be. At first the movement was confined to the evolution of one form of life from another, but over time the idea of evolutionism expanded to encompass the entire field of natural science. Today evolutionism stands as the unquestionable dogma of modern science.
Concerning the perception of design in the natural world, the Bible is very clear (Romans 1:18-32, Revised Standard Version):
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct. They were filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them.
Here Paul makes it clear that those who want to suppress the truth start by denying that God created the world even though it is inexcusable to do so. He goes on to explain the natural consequences of this unbelief. Is this not happening on a large scale in our world today? Even though there are not now so many literal idol worshipers, are these people not performing idolatry by excluding God from their thoughts and thinking only of the material world?
Peter also warns us against those who consciously deny God’s creation of the world and the destruction of it by the Flood (2 Peter 3:3-7, Revised Standard Version):
First of all you must understand this, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own passions and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.” They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago, and an earth formed out of water and by means of water, through which the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist have been stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
The Catholic Church has always proclaimed that men can know of the existence of God by observing the created world (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 36-38):
“Our holy mother, the Church, holds and teaches that God, the first principle and last end of all things, can be known with certainty from the created world by the natural light of human reason.” Without this capacity, man would not be able to welcome God’s revelation. Man has this capacity because he is created “in the image of God”
In the historical conditions in which he finds himself, however, man experiences many difficulties in coming to know God by the light of reason alone: Though human reason is, strictly speaking, truly capable by its own natural power and light of attaining to a true and certain knowledge of the one personal God, who watches over and controls the world by his providence, and of the natural law written in our hearts by the Creator; yet there are many obstacles which prevent reason from the effective and fruitful use of this inborn faculty. For the truths that concern the relations between God and man wholly transcend the visible order of things, and, if they are translated into human action and influence it, they call for self-surrender and abnegation. The human mind, in its turn, is hampered in the attaining of such truths, not only by the impact of the senses and the imagination, but also by disordered appetites which are the consequences of original sin. So it happens that men in such matters easily persuade themselves that what they would not like to be true is false or at least doubtful.
So the Bible and the Church both declare that God can be certainly known by examining the natural world. They both also warn us that there are those who deliberately deny the obvious truth because of disordered appetites (things desired that are contrary to the good that God desires for us) which are the consequences of original sin. It is only too easy for men to fool themselves into believing what they would like to be true.
Famed Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz stated that, “I have a nostalgic taste for tradition … But I live my life as if there were no God. The existence of God would interfere with my morality.”
Sir Charles Lyell, a friend of Darwin, popularized the idea that “the present is the key to the past” in geology. He wrote that his aim in geology was to “free the science from Moses.” His ideas were the basis of the Geologic Column and Uniformitarianism, the idea that things are happening now at about the same rate that they always have been happening (all things have continued as they were from the beginning).
This introduced the idea of gradualism into scientific thinking, as opposed to the catastrophism (the idea that the Earth has been shaped by catastrophes, especially by a global flood). Sir Richard Dawkins, a militant evolutionist, understood well the importance of gradualism when he said, “Gradualism is of the essence. In the context of the fight against creationism, gradualism is more or less synonymous with evolution itself. If you throw out gradualness you throw out the very thing that makes evolution more plausible than creation.”
Sir Julian Huxley, another evolutionist knight, also understood that in order to rid themselves of Biblical moral restraints, men had to come up with an idea to replace the creator God. He said, “Evolution … is the most powerful and the most comprehensive idea that has ever arisen on earth.” It is a “religion with revelation.” “The God hypothesis … is becoming an intellectual and moral burden on our thought … we must construct something to take its place.” We must change “our pattern of religious thought from a God-centered to an evolution-centered pattern.”
However, not all scientists are looking to conform their thinking to their inordinate desires. Some have discovered the workings of a supernatural designer in many and varied studies.
One of the first modern scientists to formulate a theory of design in nature was William Paley. His Natural Theology was published in 1800. In it he compares the experience of stumbling over a rock to stumbling over a watch. If one were to stumble over a rock, he might not think much about it. However, if one stumbled over a watch, he might begin to ask how it got there and who made it. This is because a watch displays unmistakable evidence of design, unlike the rock.
Scientists examining nature today are now asking the same questions about living organisms because they also display unmistakable evidence of design. Michael Behe, in Darwin’s Black Box, examines evolution from the perspective of biochemistry. He shows that the molecular workings of several biological structures can not be explained by natural selection. Examples given are the eye, the cilium (moving hairs on a cell), and the bacterial flagellum (rotating “motor” that allows some bacteria to swim). He discusses how Darwinists like to imagine how such structures came about naturally, but that no mechanism of evolution has ever been found.
He quotes Darwin as saying, “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” Behe claims that several systems in nature meet this criteria which he labels “irreducibly complex.” He defines an irreducible complex system as: “a single system which is composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.” He cites the mouse trap as an example of an irreducibly complex system, as well as the flagellum and blood clotting.
Behe goes on to explain how some scientists insist that for a theory to be scientific, it has to be falsifiable; that is, there must be some test to determine whether the theory could be false. He argues that intelligent design is falsifiable in that if one could show that systems like DNA and the eye and blood clotting could be produced by natural causes alone, intelligent design would not need to be invoked. However, he then shows that Darwinism is not falsifiable, since its defenders always claim that some natural process could have produced everything, even if we do not now understand it. An evolutionist put it this way, “Of course, the other thing about evolution is that anything can be said because very little can be disproved.” This is not science, it is a belief, a dogmatic belief in naturalism which so many scientists exhibit today.
Behe, together with William Dembski and Stephen Meyer wrote a series of articles for the Wethersfield Institute which was published in Science and Evidence for Design in the Universe (read review here). In this book Dembski describes a test which he calls the Explanatory Filter. To use the filter one would consider whether an object displays evidence of intelligent design, or whether it could be explained by necessity or chance. To eliminate the possibility of necessity one would ask if the object can be explained by laws of physics. Next one would determine if the object is so complex that it could not have been formed by chance. Lastly, one would consider whether the object was specific, that is, does it display a pattern. If the object passes the test, then it must have come about by design, by the choice of an intelligent designer. He argues that there are various systems and organisms in the natural world that pass the test.
Meyer presents evidence of design in the composition of the universe and in the origin of life. He uses the example of the anthropic “fine tuning” of the universe as an example. There are more than thirty separate physical or cosmological parameters that require precise values in order to produce a life-sustaining universe. Our universe is “fine tuned” for life on Earth. Chance cannot account for this.
Meyer goes on to show how the living cell and DNA both display evidence of intelligent design and could not have been formed by the working of natural laws or chance. He argues that the argument from intelligent design does not come about because of ignorance of the working of cells or DNA, but because of our knowledge of them. He finally argues that naturalism (that is, evolution) and intelligent design should be evaluated for their ability to best explain what we observe, and that intelligent design is by far the better choice.
So one is tempted to ask why there has been such a strong reaction against the intelligent design movement. Is it because people really believe that it is bad science? Or is it because intelligent design makes strong arguments against their beliefs?
The Catholic Church and the Bible tell us that our human nature is fallen due to original sin. The third chapter of Genesis tells the story of Adam and Eve’s disobedience and eviction from the Garden of Eden. The Church explains it this way (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 387, 402 and 403):
Only the light of divine Revelation clarifies the reality of sin and particularly of the sin committed at mankind’s origins. Without the knowledge Revelation gives of God we cannot recognize sin clearly and are tempted to explain it as merely a developmental flaw, a psychological weakness, a mistake, or the necessary consequence of an inadequate social structure, etc. Only in the knowledge of God’s plan for man can we grasp that sin is an abuse of the freedom that God gives to created persons so that they are capable of loving him and loving one another.
All men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as St. Paul affirms: “By one man’s disobedience many (that is, all men) were made sinners”: “sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.” The Apostle contrasts the universality of sin and death with the universality of salvation in Christ. “Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.”
Following St. Paul, the Church has always taught that the overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination towards evil and death cannot be understood apart from their connection with Adam’s sin and the fact that he has transmitted to us a sin with which we are all born afflicted, a sin which is the “death of the soul”. Because of this certainty of faith, the Church baptizes for the remission of sins even tiny infants who have not committed personal sin Here the Church and the Bible not only affirm the fact the all men are affected by original sin and are in need of salvation, but that death only came into the world after Adam sinned. Hence, there was no death, and therefore not even the possibility of evolution, before Adam’s sin. Adam could not then have evolved from another being.
The Church also states that men attempt to explain away original sin rather than admit that it is an abuse of our God-given free will. Since original sin and salvation in Christ are inseparable, to deny the reality of original sin is to deny the necessity of a redeemer.
An atheist, G. Richard Bozarth, understood this well when he said, “Christianity has fought, still fights, and will fight science to the desperate end over evolution, because evolution destroys utterly and finally the very reason Jesus’ earthly life was supposedly made necessary. Destroy Adam and Eve and the original sin, and in the rubble you will find the sorry remains of the son of god [sic]. Take away the meaning of his death. If Jesus was not the redeemer who dies for our sins, and this is what evolution means, then Christianity is nothing. Christianity, if it is to survive, must have Adam and the original sin and the fall from grace, or it cannot have Jesus the redeemer who restores to those who believe what Adam’s disobedience took away. What all this means is that Christianity cannot lose the Genesis account of creation like it could lose the doctrine of geocentricism and get along. The battle must be waged, for Christianity is fighting for its very life.”
Atheists understand that in order to replace the Bible-based Christian worldview and system of morality, they need to discredit the Church and the Bible. They do this by questioning the Genesis account of Creation and the Fall, and the global Flood. One can even argue that the effort to replace geocentrism with heliocentrism was more an attack on the Church and the Bible than it was a scientific endeavor. Atheists know that if natural science can explain the universe without reference to a creator, religion will become irrelevant.
However, if one examines the scientific arguments for evolution, he will find that they are few and weak. Conversely, the arguments for a well-designed universe are strong and many. Atheists are doing all that they can to prevent the truth from becoming known.
In his reply to Nicodemus, Jesus explained that his purpose for coming into the world was to save it from the effects of original sin, but that there would be those who would shun the light of the world because of their misdeeds (John 3:16-21, Revised Standard Version):
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.
The assault on the Biblically-based concepts of the Creation, Fall, and Flood has been motivated not so much by a desire to seek the truth as from a desire to suppress it. Those who do not want their misdeeds exposed to the light have done all that they can to discredit the Church and the Bible in order to deny or avoid the consequences. For the past 150 years or so evolutionists have been able to maintain an air of respectability in the intellectual world by their appeals to science. However, modern science via the intelligent design movement is now opening a crack in their armor. Although many of the scientists involved with intelligent design do not interpret Genesis literally, their arguments do an excellent job of showing that any reasonable person using only observances of nature can conclude with certainty that there must be a Creator/Designer of the universe. If intelligent design can break the stranglehold of naturalism on the scientific community, then it will have served its purpose well.
Sir Richard Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker said, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” Many people are becoming aware that the intelligent design movement is making it impossible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist, and the intellectual atheists don’t like it.