The debut at #7 on the New York Times best seller list last July of Stephen Meyer’s new book Darwin’s Doubt is evidence that the scientific theory of intelligent design (ID) continues to gain momentum. Since critics often misrepresent ID, and paint ID advocates as a fanatical fringe group, it is important to understand what intelligent design is, and what it is not.
Until Charles Darwin, almost everyone everywhere believed in some form of intelligent design (the majority still do): not just Christians, Jews, and Muslims, but almost every tribesman in every remote corner of the world drew the obvious conclusion from observing animals and plants that there must have been a mind behind the creation of living things. Darwin thought he could explain all of this apparent design through natural selection of random variations. In spite of the fact that there is no direct evidence that natural selection can explain anything other than very minor adaptations, his theory has gained widespread popularity in the scientific world, simply because no one can come up with a more plausible theory to explain evolution, other than intelligent design, which is dismissed by most scientists as “unscientific.”
But, in recent years, as scientific research has continually revealed the astonishing dimensions of the complexity of life, especially at the microscopic level, support for Darwin’s implausible theory has continued to weaken, and since the publication in 1996 of Darwin’s Black Box by Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe, a growing minority of scientists have concluded, with Behe, that there is no possible explanation for the complexity of life other than intelligent design.
But what exactly, do these “ID scientists” believe? There is no general agreement among advocates of intelligent design as to exactly where, when, or how design was manifested in the history of life. Most, but not quite all, accept the standard timeline for the beginning of the universe, of life, and of the major animal groups. Many, including Behe, accept common descent. Probably all reject natural selection as an adequate explanation for the complexity of life, but so do many other scientists who are not ID proponents. So what exactly do ID proponents believe?
Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to state clearly what you have to believe in order not to believe in intelligent design. Peter Urone, in his 2001 physics text College Physics writes, “One of the most remarkable simplifications in physics is that only four distinct forces account for all known phenomena.” The prevailing view in science today is that physics explains all of chemistry, chemistry explains all of biology, and biology completely explains the human mind; thus physics alone explains the human mind and all it does. This is what you have to believe to not believe in intelligent design, that the origin and evolution of life, and the evolution of human consciousness and intelligence, are due entirely to a few unintelligent forces of physics. Thus you must believe that a few unintelligent forces of physics alone could have rearranged the fundamental particles of physics into computers and science texts and jet airplanes.
Contrary to popular belief, to be an ID proponent you do not have to believe that all species were created simultaneously a few thousand years ago, or that humans are unrelated to earlier primates, or that natural selection cannot cause bacteria to develop a resistance to antibiotics. If you believe that a few fundamental, unintelligent forces of physics alone could have rearranged the basic particles of physics into Apple iPhones, you are probably not an ID proponent, even if you believe in God. But if you believe there must have been more than unintelligent forces at work somewhere, somehow, in the whole process: congratulations, you are one of us after all!
This article also appeared in the El Paso Times. For more of Dr. Sewell’s writings on evolution and intelligent design, see his 2000 Mathematical Intelligencer article “A Mathematician’s View of Evolution.”