ID: What's it all about, Darwin?
My mother says she is a Darwinist. I'm not sure of all the things that could or should imply. I take it to mean the she does not believe that the Cosmos and all that it contains is the result of the will of a Supreme Being. Nature just exists and that is all there is to it. Asking what is the purpose of human existence is a nonsense question. It has no meaning. As we have no conscious origin, we have no conscious destination. Hence no purpose.
This idea is quite troubling to many humans as we are quite reluctant to attach no meaning to the thoughts and desires coursing through the synapses of our brains. And so, for most of human existence, the idea that there was no God was a heresy to be condemned, punished, reviled, tortured and even burned at the stake.
When our social institutions evolved to the point where asking such a question wasn't as quite as painful or harmful to one's health, science, in the sense that we use today, began to blossom. And it bloomed because of its explanatory power, its predictive power. If you combine A, B, and C — bingo! — you get D. And no one had ever seen, heard or thought of D before!
One of the best and most widely known examples of this is Einstein's famous equation, E = mc^2. Exactly what this means is not, for the purposes of this discussion, important. What is important is that this conclusion results from a very simple postulate. Namely, that the speed of light is constant relative to an observer — hence the term 'relativity' theory. The other postulate is that we are only dealing with non—accelerated frames of reference. That means constant velocities and no gravitational fields. Hence the term 'special' relativity. General relativity, dealing with accelerated frames of reference, is, both conceptually and mathematically, a great deal more abstract and difficult. And, unfortunately, I'm not one of those privy to its secrets.
We still believe, given compliance with the postulates, that the mass—energy equivalence equation is an accurate description of physical reality. For someone with an undergraduate's knowledge of physics and fair skill with the calculus, it isn't even very difficult to derive. But that is not the reason for its endurance. Our 'faith' in this equation is borne out by innumerable observations, experiments and even a couple of unfortunate events in Japan that took place just about sixty years ago. Though the details of specific processes may, to some extent, still elude us, we have an explanation for the enormous energy levels and extreme duration of the power generated by stars. It was this question that stumped some of the greatest scientific minds of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Einstein's answer still has no competing theory and it does not leave unanswered questions as to its validity lying about unaddressed.
The same cannot be said of evolutionary theory. There are unanswered questions. Evidence that does not fit. 'Facts' that have proven illusive or false. Fabricated evidence. Explanations that are logically incomplete. Jerry—rigged computer models — oops! — sorry, that's global warming. Result? A competing theory, Intelligent Design or ID, has been proposed as an alternative to Darwin's rumination. Is this 'unscientific' as many wail and gnash in their haste to keep 'God' out of science? No. It's an alternative hypothesis. A competing theory. Not religion. Not superstition. Not a conspiracy by those pesky right—wing, Christian fundamentalist — fundamentalist Christians, if you prefer. A proposed theory. This is how science advances. If one never questions, there are no answers to be had.
If you would like to bone—up on the fundamentals of ID, I suggest that you read Dan Peterson's piece in the American Spectator, 'The Little Engine That Could...Undo Darwinism.' He gives a rundown of the main players in the ID debate along with their academic backgrounds and achievements as well as the main arguments supporting their positions. For an opposing view by a man of science in the field of evolutionary theory, read Jerry Coyne's offering in the New Republic Online, 'The Case Against Intelligent Design.' This was at one time linkable without a subscription as I have a copy saved. But alas, one now seems mandatory.
Based on my brief acquaintance with the subject, there seems to be two fundamental lines of argument used by ID theorists. The first is that which asserts the probability of the complex molecules that form our DNA occurring by chance is infinitesimally small and therefore unlikely to have ever happened by chance. This is the argument put forth by the mathematician and physicist William Dembski.
Michael Behe, who popularized the flagellar motor found in e. coli and other bacterium as an example of intelligent design, is a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. His arguments are based on the concept of irreducibly complex processes or structures as opposed to those that are cumulatively complex. Those that are irreducibly complex do not lend themselves without great difficulty to explanation by a theory of evolution. For Darwin himself stated that if one could show that a blind, incremental process could not explain a natural phenomenon, his theory would fall apart.
Darwin's theories are being questioned, but here we are not talking about religious zealots making the inquiry. We're talking about real, live, grown—up scientists, who, because of our advancing knowledge of the molecular basis of life, and not just bible stories, are asking legitimate and profound questions that are undermining the basis of Darwinism. And they're not doing so with the desire nor intention of substituting scripture for textbooks. God, as the Jews or Christians or even Muslims perceive Him, is not being offered in place of Darwin.
What is? Good question. I'll ask my mom. She always had the answers.