I agree almost 100% with Orson Scott Card’s evaluation of the controversy between “evolution” and “intelligent design.” The most egregious aspect of the debate is the gross ignorance or fundamental dishonesty that is displayed by both scientists and the news media when they assert that “intelligent design” is just another label for “creationism.” Just because Protestantism’s critique of Catholicism is flawed does not mean that Mormonism’s critique of certain Catholic doctrines is therefore invalid. The fact that both critique Catholic doctrines does not make them the same, or equally valid or invalid.
What is Creationism?
Creationism, as self-defined by its advocates (who have established societies for publishing their books and DVDs and booking them into lectures at Christian schools and churches), take as fundamental to the science of the creation and development of life on earth an extremely literal reading of the book of Genesis, with a creation in six literal days (though in some cases the “days” are stretched to 1,000 years each), and a Noachic flood in which sea level rose thousands of feet and covered every mountain. They include in this “fast track” creation the entire universe, and are committed to the traditional Augustinian doctrine of creation ex nihilo (from nothing), with no prior existence of any matter or energy or, for that matter, time.
Creationism is not only in conflict with Darwinism, it is also in conflict with geology and cosmology and astronomy. The age of the earth and its history is currently estimated at more than 4.2 billion years, with the most current theory on the formation of the moon being that a proto-planet about the size of Mars hit Earth at an angle, melting it and outgassing tremendous amounts of lighter elements that coalesced in orbit into the moon. Estimates of the creation of the universe put it around 15 billion years ago, at the Big Bang, when all current matter and energy rushed out from a singularity to cool and contract into the millions of galaxies within 15 billion light years away from the Hubble Space Telescope.
It should also be pointed out that a belief in Creationism is not required by LDS scriptures. The Book of Moses clarifies that the Genesis account only talks about the creation of this Earth, and does not address the steps in the creation of the rest of the universe. The Prophet Joseph Smith showed he was a better Bible scholar than the Creationists by explaining that Genesis, in Hebrew, clearly states that there was preexisting matter used in the creation of the Earth. The Pearl of Great Price makes clear that the “days” of creation simply designate phases of the creative work, not 24-hour periods, and that God had an eternal span to plan and execute the creation of our mortal home. The notion of the simultaneous creation of time and space and matter is rejected because we know that we are just as eternal as God. Noah didn’t have to build his ship because the sea level rose, but because he was traveling from North America, the site of Eden and the city of Enoch, to Asia, just as the Jaredites and Lehites did the reverse journey hundreds of years later.
Intelligent Design Is a Scientific Critique of Darwinism
Intelligent Design is different because it does NOT base its arguments on the text of the Bible. Instead, it points out the flaws in Darwinism and other scientific theories that assume that there was no purposive action involved in the creation of the universe, of the Earth, of life, or of the development of life.
ID simply shows that Darwinism does not fulfill its promises and predictions. For example, Darwin admitted that the Cambrian explosion, in which all of the major “body plans” of living things came into existence in a very short time, challenged the prediction of his theory that evolution would proceed through innumerable small, relatively continuous steps. The fact that the fossil record actually shows no change in species for millions of years, and new species erupting with distinct characteristics, to stay the same for millennia, is why Stephen Jay Gould proposed “Punctuated Equilibrium” as an addendum to Darwinism, suggesting that the REAL evolution of new species takes place “off stage” in small, isolated groups, which then rejoin and replace the older versions of the species. PE is NOT supported by a majority of Darwinians, though.
The biggest gap in Darwin’s theory is right at the beginning of life. We know of no way that anything less than a complete biological cell can be called alive. Before Darwinian random mutation and natural selection through differential survival can operate, there must be a cell with DNA that can be mutated, and which can reproduce. How do you get that cell in the first place? Darwinism, by definition, CANNOT EXPLAIN IT. And the National Academy of Science and Richard Dawkins can only wave their hands and say that there are lots of theories under consideration, and they have confidence (another word for “faith”) that the materialistic, wholly natural and atheistic answer will be discovered REAL SOON NOW, the same thing they have been saying since DNA was discovered 50 years ago.
The Miller-Urey experiment does not in fact relate to the real ancient earth, but even if it did, or if you get amino acids from comets, the REAL PROBLEM is how you assemble the amino acids and other simple organic molecules into the first living, and reproducing, cell. It has to have a membrane that separates it from dilution and random chemical reactions, but it has to be selectively permeable to let in needed nutrients and raw materials and energy sources and emit waste products. It has to have some source of energy to run the mechanism. It has to have a mechanism of proteins to construct and run its factories, and it has to have a computer made of DNA (or RNA) that is programmed to precisely match the structure in which it is embedded!
But DNA cannot create a new cell to match its programming without an existing cell that matches its programming, and a cell without DNA cannot self-assemble DNA instructions that will create a duplicate cell. You need the chicken AND the egg, or the chemicals will simply die!
Darwin ignored this problem because he didn’t know that cells are incredibly complex machines. He thought basic cells were just like lime Jell-o, with no complex structure. In fact, they are the most complex mechanisms on Earth, more than a 747 or a nuclear submarine or a computer.
DNA is precisely like a computer memory. Instead of 1s and 0s, it has four different interchangeable components, abbreviated A, G, T and C, which can be stacked together like alphabet blocks in any order. However, to run a cell, they have to be stacked in precisely the correct order to direct the construction of proteins that actually work to build and operate a cell. For example, if there were a really simple cell with only 100 steps in its DNA, there would be 4 to the 100th power possible combinations that could occur. However, only a few of them could operate a viable cell. That means that there would be (let us say) 4 to the 95th power ways it could go wrong, a number which exceeds the number of atoms in the Earth. The notion that some random concatenation of DNA or RNA in some primordial bouillabaisse could come together to form a viable cell is beyond reasonable belief.
The old saw that a million monkeys randomly typing a million computers could write Romeo and Juliet is just hogwash. Every atom in the universe would need to be converted to monkeys and computers, and do nothing but randomly type for billions of years, before that could be accomplished, precisely because we are ruling out the possibility of any intelligent person who can oversee the work and selectively weed out the non-Romeo text. All of the examples offered by scientists along this line always cook the books by inserting an intelligent editor who culls the nonsense. They are simply affirming that the creation of the first DNA in the first cell could only have come about through purposive oversight.
Materialism Powers Darwinism
The assertion that the universe, Earth and living things came into existence through random chance, rather than purposive action, has been around for millennia, including the teachings of Democritus and Epicurus. They were motivated NOT from scientific observation or experiment, but rather by a desire to avoid the accountability and guilt that arise from a belief in a Creator to whom we are answerable. That “materialism” or “naturalism” has always existed, but it was only with Darwin’s theory that, as biologist Richard Dawkins says, it became possible to be a scientifically respectable atheist. The fact is that “naked Darwinism” appeals to many people, including many scientists, because it helps to justify the atheism that they already desire.
The fact that scientific knowledge does NOT logically result in atheism is evidenced by the thousands of scientists in all fields who are religious and believe in God as a real being. As evidenced by scientists like Henry Eyring, there is no conflict between their belief in God and the scriptures and their scientific understanding. In fact, historically, it was primarily religious people, even clergymen, who became scientists, because they started with the understanding of God as having laid down sovereign laws, which could be discovered by mankind. That was the viewpoint of Isaac Newton. This understanding is precisely the reason that modern science developed in Christian Europe, rather than in India or China or even the Muslim civilization.
A prominent evolutionary biologist is Kenneth Miller, author of a textbook on biology that was at the center of a lawsuit in Georgia over a sticker the school board wanted to add, reminding students that Darwinian evolution is a “theory, not a fact.” Miller is a Catholic who wrote a book, Finding Darwin’s God, in which he explains that he believes that God inserted the potential for development of Mankind into the mix of matter and energy at the moment of creation, so that the biosphere fulfills God’s intent, even though He did not manipulate it along the way. Miller was featured in a PBS book and TV miniseries on Evolution.
At the same time, the fact that Miller believes in both God AND Darwin is not enough for Richard Dawkins, the most well-known militant Darwinist. Dawkins proclaims loudly that evolution inexorably demands atheism, and that people like Miller (as he told him to his face a few months ago at a scientific conference, reported in Scientific American) are either stupid or ignorant or insane.
ID IS Science
The one point at which I disagree with Card’s essay is when he states that Intelligent Design is not itself science. ID is just as much science as archeology when it determines that a piece of rock is artificial rather than the result of erosion and weathering. ID is just as much science as cryptology when it determines that a mass of data includes an intelligible message rather than random noise (such as a signal picked up by a Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). ID is just as much science as any forensic scientist (ala CSI) who determines that a person’s death was caused intentionally, rather than by accident.
The basic technique of Intelligent Design science for detecting evidence of intelligent, purposive action in apparently natural phenomena is to point out where random chance is so unlikely to be the cause of an observed condition that purposive action is more rational. Opponents of ID claim that one cannot make the claim that something was caused by purposive action until one (a) names WHO was the actor and (b) HOW he did it.
But that is not true. A bad explanation does not have to be replaced by a better one. A bad explanation can be rejected on the basis of its own inadequacy, and reasonable people can say “We currently don’t know who or how.” Seekers like Wilford Woodruff were not forced to join existing churches just because they couldn’t at first point to a more valid one.
Here is another example: When one passenger plane slammed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, it was possible that it was a horrendous accident, caused by failure of a mechanical or electronic system on the plane. However, when the second plane hit the second tower, it was immediately obvious that the chance of this occurring by accident twice within a few minutes was unbelievably small. The much more rational explanation was that someone purposely caused both planes to hit both towers. We did not know WHO had caused it, and we did not know HOW they did it, but we darn well knew that it was NOT random chance. The attack on the Pentagon confirmed that conclusion, but we did not need that additional data point to know that this was an intentional attack by an intelligent agent who wanted to kill Americans and destroy two of the most famous, and symbolic, buildings in America.
ID simply points out those circumstances, both present and historical, where belief in a random cause of the event is unreasonable, and driven by aversion to the idea of an intelligence higher than, or at least prior to, man’s. After all, scientists are on the verge of manipulating DNA to alter living things, to cause an evolutionary step, and perhaps create a new species. Rather than the illogical claim that this proves Darwin’s theory, it rather demonstrates that an intelligent agent can cause speciation and evolution. It also demonstrates that very subtle interventions can cause evolutionary changes. A God’s intervention can be at the level of cosmic rays that alter DNA at the time of nuclear mitosis, causing a new characteristic that propagates naturally as it proves its superiority in ensuring the survival and reproduction of the species.
The idea of a prior intelligence intervening to push evolution is not strange. It was the central thesis of Arthur C. Clarke’s screenplay for the movie 2001. Clarke is not a Christian, and does not believe in Jehovah. However, his mind is open to the idea of other intelligent species in the universe, who may have affected life on Earth millennia ago.
ID is a Valid Scientific Testing of Darwinism
Scientific theories have to be testable. If they cannot stand up to tests, they are not valid. The scientists (biologists, physicists, mathematicians, astronomers) who subscribe to the Intelligent Design hypothesis are proposing ways to test the theory of Darwinian evolution. It does not pass those tests. Darwinism is, like Ptolemaic cosmology for basic celestial navigation, a theory that is useful in certain applications, but it is simply dishonest for its supporters to say that it is so “super true” that it is beyond being tested.
We Latter-day Saints don’t even believe that the Gospel and the scriptures are so “super true” that they are beyond testing. Alma Chapter 32 and Moroni Chapter 10 invite us to test the gospel, to try the experiment.
When Darwinians say that their favorite theory cannot be tested, they have gone outside the realm of science into a fearful, uncharitable and unhopeful faith. They are taking the same attitude to Michael Behe and other ID scientists that Cardinal Bellarmine did toward Galileo. They want to put them under house arrest, and suppress the teaching and publication of their ideas.
Clearly, the faithful Darwinists don’t believe that Darwinism has evolved enough backbone to stand erect. The poor beast has to be protected, lest its unfitness to survive be manifest.