Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA
Intelligent Design is the hypothesis that in order to explain life it is necessary to suppose the action of an unevolved intelligence. One simply cannot explain organisms, those living and those long gone, by reference to normal natural causes or material mechanisms, be these straightforwardly evolutionary or a consequence of evolution, such as an evolved extraterrestrial intelligence. Although most supporters of Intelligent Design are theists of some sort (many of them Christian), it is not necessarily the case that a commitment to Intelligent Design implies a commitment to a personal God or indeed to any God that would be acceptable to the world’s major religions. The claim is simply that there must be something more than ordinary natural causes or material mechanisms, and moreover, that something must be intelligent and capable of bringing about organisms.
Intelligent Design does not speculate about the nature of such a designing intelligence. Some supporters of Intelligent Design think that this intelligence works in tandem with a limited form of evolution, perhaps even Darwinian evolution (for instance, natural selection might work on variations that are not truly random). Other supporters deny evolution any role except perhaps a limited amount of success at lower taxonomic levels – new species of birds on the Galapagos, for instance. But these disagreements are minor compared to the shared belief that we must accept that nature, operating by material mechanisms and governed by unbroken natural laws, is not enough.
To say that Intelligent Design is controversial is to offer a truism. It is opposed, often bitterly, by the scientific establishment. Journals such as Science and Nature would as soon publish an article using or favourable to Intelligent Design as they would an article favourable to phrenology or mesmerism – or, to use an analogy that would be comfortable to the editors of those journals, an article favourable to the claims of the Mormons about Joseph Smith and the tablets of gold, or favourable to the scientific creationists’ claims about the coexistence of humans and dinosaurs. Recently, indeed, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (the organization that publishes Science) has declared officially that in its opinion Intelligent Design is not so much bad science as no science at all and accordingly has no legitimate place in the science classrooms of the United States.
Once one leaves the establishment and moves into the more popular domain, however, one finds that the level of interest in and sympathy for Intelligent Design rises rapidly. Many people think that there may well be something to it, and even those who are not entirely sure about its merits think that possibly (or probably) it is something that should be taught in schools, alongside more conventional, purely naturalistic accounts of origins. Students should be exposed to all sides of the debate and given a choice. That, after all, is the American Way – open debate and personal decision.
The editors of this volume, Debating Design: Darwin to DNA, fall at opposite ends of the spectrum on the Intelligent Design debate. William Dembski, a philosopher and a mathematician, has been one of the major contributors to the articulation and theory of Intelligent Design. He has offered analyses of design itself and has argued that no undirected natural process can account for the information-rich structures exhibited by living matter. Moreover, he has argued that the very features of living matter that place it beyond the remit of undirected natural causes also provide a reliable signature of design. Michael Ruse, a philosopher and historian of science, has long been an advocate of Darwinian evolution, and has devoted many years to fighting against those who argue that one must appeal to non-natural origins for plants and animals. He has appeared in court as an expert witness on behalf of Darwinism and has written many books on the subject.
For all their differences, the editors share the belief that – if only culturally – Intelligent Design is a significant factor on the contemporary landscape and should not be ignored. For the Intelligent Design proponents, it is a major breakthrough in our understanding about the world. For the Intelligent Design opponents, it is at the least a major threat to the status quo and something with a real chance of finding its way into classrooms. The editors also share the belief that, in a dispute such as this, it is important that the two sides have a real grasp of the opinions of those that they oppose. Ignorance is never the way to fight error.
There are of course already books that deal with Intelligent Design and with the arguments of the critics. The editors have themselves contributed to this literature. We believe, however, that there is virtue in producing one volume, containing arguments from both sides, in which each side puts forward its strongest case (previous volumes have tended to bias discussion toward one side over the other). The reader then can quickly and readily start to grasp the fundamental claims and counterclaims being made. Of course – and this is obviously an argument that comes more from the establishment – even doing something like this can be seen as giving one’s opponents some kind of status and legitimacy. And there is probably truth in this. But we do live in a democracy, and we are committed to working things out without resort to violence or to underhanded strategies, and so, despite the worries and fears, we have come together hoping that the merits of such an enterprise will outweigh the negative factors. Those who know how to do things better will of course follow their own principles.
The collection is divided into four main sections, with a shorter introductory section. The aim of the introductory section is simply to give the reader some background, and hence that section contains an overall historical essay by one of the editors, Michael Ruse, on the general history of design arguments – “The Argument from Design: A Brief History,” and then a second essay by Angus Menuge on the specific history of the Intelligent Design movement – “Who’s Afraid of ID? A Survey of the Intelligent Design Movement.” Although the first author has very strongly negative views on Intelligent Design and, as it happens, the second author has views no less strongly favourable, the intent in this introductory section is to present a background of information without intruding value commentary. The essays are written, deliberately, in a nonpartisan fashion; they are intended to set the scene and to help the reader in evaluating the discussions of the rest of the volume.
Michael Ruse traces design arguments back to the Greeks and shows that they flourished in biology down to the eighteenth century, despite the rethinking of issues in the physical sciences. Then David Hume made his devastating attack, but still it was not until Charles Darwin in his Origin of Species (1859) offered a naturalistic explanation of organisms that the design argument was truly rejected by many. The essay concludes with a discussion of the post-Darwinian period, showing that many religious people today endorse a “theology of nature” over natural theology. Most important in Ruse’s discussion is the distinction he draws between the argument to complexity – the argument that there is something distinctive about the organic world – and the argument to design – the argument that this complexity demands reference to a (conscious) designer to provide a full explanation. These are the issues that define the concerns of this collection.
Next, Angus Menuge provides a short history of the contemporary Intelligent Design movement and considers its future prospects. He notes that some, such as Barbara Forrest, dismiss the movement as stealth creationism. Menuge, however, finds this designation to be misleading. He argues that Intelligent Design is significantly different from typical creationist approaches in its aims, methods, and scope, and that scientists became interested in design apart from political or religious motivations. Thus he traces the roots of the Intelligent Design movement not to the political and religious zeal of anti-evolutionists but to the legitimate scientific critiques of evolution and origin-of-life studies in the mid-eighties by scientists such as Michael Denton and Walter Bradley. Yet because criticism by itself rarely threatens a dominant paradigm, the Intelligent Design movement did not gain prominence until the work of Michael Behe (Darwin’s Black Box, The Free Press, 1996) and William Dembski (The Design Inference, Cambridge University Press, 1998). These works outlined a positive program for understanding design in the sciences. Mengue concludes his essay by noting that regardless of whether Intelligent Design succeeds in becoming mainstream science, it is helping scientists to think more clearly about the causal pathways that account for the emergence of biological complexity.
Notes on Contributors
1 General Introduction
William A. Dembski and Michael Ruse
2 The Argument from Design: A Brief History
3 Who’s Afraid of ID? A Survey of the Intelligent Design Movement
Part 1 Darwinism
4 Design without Designer: Darwin’s Greatest Discovery
Francisco J. Ayala
5 The Flagellum Unspun: The Collapse of “Irreducible Complexity”
Kenneth R. Miller
6 The Design Argument
7 DNA by Design? Stephen Meyer and the Return of the God Hypothesis
Robert T. Pennock
Part 2 Complex self-organization
8 Prolegomenon to a General Biology
9 Darwinism, Design, and Complex Systems Dynamics
Bruce H. Weber and David J. Depew
10 Emergent Complexity, Teleology, and the Arrow of Time
11 The Emergence of Biological Value
Part 3 Theistic evolution
12 Darwin, Design, and Divine Providence
John F. Haught
13 The Inbuilt Potentiality of Creation
14 Theistic Evolution
15 Intelligent Design: Some Geological, Historical, and Theological Questions
16 The Argument from Laws of Nature Reassessed
Part 4 Intelligent design
17 The Logical Underpinnings of Intelligent Design
William A. Dembski
18 Information, Entropy, and the Origin of Life
Walter L. Bradley
19 Irreducible Complexity: Obstacle to Darwinian Evolution
Michael J. Behe
20 The Cambrian Information Explosion: Evidence for Intelligent Design
Stephen C. Meyer
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