Part Two: Intelligent design

Is the fact that evolutionary theory can explain neither the origin of life nor the formation of the universe a “failure” of Darwinism? Of course not. To apply evolutionary biology to those problems is literally like mixing apples and oranges, or like trying to understand a basketball play by applying the rules of baseball: something that creationists do often, but that betrays either a fundamental misunderstanding of science or a good dose of intellectual dishonesty. Neither should be condoned.

Finally, let us briefly get to intelligent design (ID); i.e., to the idea that life’s diversity on earth must have been originated by a supernatural creator with a purpose in mind. There are some fundamental objections to it that can be briefly summarized here.

First, from a philosophical standpoint, ID violates two crucial precepts of scientific and logical thinking: Occam’s razor and Hume’s dictum. Occam’s razor is the idea that one should never embrace an hypothesis that is more complicated than is necessary to explain the facts. Life’s diversity can be explained by evolutionary theory, which is not based on supernaturalism. To invoke supernatural explanations in this case is a bit like preferring to believe in Santa Claus and ignoring the more mundane alternative of toy factories and over-anxious parents.

Hume’s dictum is the idea that if one invokes an extraordinary hypothesis – such as the claim that a supernatural entity had to be responsible for the diversity of life – one should be prepared to submit an extraordinary kind and amount of evidence, something that creationists have consistently failed to do.

There are other objections to ID, ranging from empirical evidence it fails to account for, to moral problems it raises. Some of them are as follows:

  1. The history of life on earth as far as we can reconstruct it appears constellated by contingent events (such as the extinction of millions of species – like the dinosaurs – because of the freak accident of a meteorite hitting the earth) which are what one would expect from natural processes but are difficult to frame in terms of a pre-ordained plan by a benevolent creator.

  2. Organisms are demonstrably (mathematically, from an engineering viewpoint) not very well fit to their environments. For example, for all its marvels, the human eye is not “designed” as well as the eye of a squid, since the former, but not the latter, has blood vessels in the front of the retina, which cause blind spots. This is what evolutionary theory predicts because natural selection works like a “bricoleur” (in French, somebody who makes things out of scrap parts), not with the preordination and logic of a designer.

In conclusion, the evidence for evolution is so overwhelming that it takes a high level of ideological commitment to a particular interpretation of certain religious traditions to deny it. Besides the lack of value of specific creationist arguments, it interesting to note that evolutionary biologists include people of all religious faiths, as well as agnostics and atheists, while creationism is popular almost exclusively among some fundamentalist Christians and Muslims. Could it be coincidence?

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