Intelligent Design


I am skeptical of the Darwinian theory of macroevolution and support Intelligent Design theory for purely scientific reasons. Likewise, I do not think that Theistic Evolution is incompatible with good theology, but that it is incompatible with good science. I consider Intelligent Design theory as a valid scientific research paradigm that has decisively refuted Neodarwinism (and thus also Theistic Evolution), which was the only conceivable option for a naturalistic explanation of biological origins. As intelligent agency is the only known source for specified information, the infusion of information by an intelligent agent from outside of the system is the best explanation for biological complexity and diversity. Based on independent arguments for the truth of Christian theism, I am convinced that the intelligent designer is the God of the Bible (and maybe also created spiritual beings like Satan in cases of evil design), also because naturalistic designers like space aliens would only shift the problem and create an infinite regress.

 

Even though, Intelligent Design theory is in principle compatible with universal common descent and guided evolution, I personally have come to reject common ancestry as naturalistic mode of macroevolution in favor of a sophisticated version of progressive (Old Earth) special creation in terms of non-random adaptive macromutations in the "womb" of parental organisms (analogous to Schindewolf's and Goldschmidt's "hopeful monsters", recently endorsed by Rieppel 2017) combined with the instantiation of a new substantial form that preexisted as template in the mind of God ("special transformism" sensu Chaberek 2017). Nevertheless, I do affirm that every organism (apart from the first living cell) was produced / born from a biological mother organism and thus did not pop into being ex nihilo. I also affirm microevolutionary speciation within biological kinds through Neodarwinian processes. However, these never generate complex new information, but mostly represent devolution or variation of pre-existing information (e.g., homozygosity from heterozygosity, deactivation or detioration of genes, polyploidy, gene duplication, horizontal gene transfer). The two above mentioned affirmations may qualify as affirmation of universal common descent in the eyes of most evolutionary biologists, but the difference is that I only affirm common ancestry in terms of an unbroken lineage of individual maternal and paternal relationships, but reject the origin of new biological kinds from other biological kinds via transformation lineages of ancestral species. The fact that because of the delicate and intricate interdependence of different genes and their products during ontogenesis, any transition necessarily has to include a coordinated major reprogramming of different genes as well as of epigenetic factors in the zygote cell, shows that the apparent distinction between guided evolution and special creation is rather blurry and in either case involves heavy physical intervention.

 

 

I see neither any scientific nor compelling theological reasons to dispute the conventional dating of the age of the universe and Earth, or the conventional explanations for the origin of the geological column and the fossil record. I reject Flood Geology as a failed project, and consider that the only rational option for Young Earth Creationists, who endorse a literalist interpretation of Genesis 1-11, would be to appeal to a combination of a Berkeleyan idealist metaphysics (as e.g. championed by Inspiring Philosophy and Johanan Raatz), which lacks truthmakers for an objective outside world and a fixed past, with the Neo-Omphalos hypothesis and the Virtual History hypothesis of Gerald Aardsma. However, this is not my view, because I prefer a non-concordist spiritual interpretation of Genesis (see here).

 

As a scientist, who should follow the evidence wherever it leads, I came to doubt the naturalistic Neodarwinian paradigm of unguided evolution via a purely mechanistic process of chance (random mutation, sexual recombination, genetic drift) and necessity (natural and sexual selection), even when supplemented with more modern concepts like symbiogenesis, multilevel (group) selection, epigenetic inheritance, evolvability, natural genetic engineering, phenotypic plasticity, and niche construction, as suggested by the proponents of an Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (Third Way of Evolution, Evolution 2.0).  None of these phenomena can explain the origin of complex biological novelty, and some (e.g., natural genetic engineering, phenotypic plasticity, and evolvability)   require intelligent design themselves. Therefore, I signed the "Scientific Dissent from Darwinism" list.

 

Even before my conversion to Christian theism, I became convinced that only a goal-directed (teleological) process, either with laws of biological form (structuralism) or with non-random adaptive macro-mutations, can explain the evidence. This assumption is also compatible with and supported by the discontinuous fossil record, which strongly suggests saltational origins. Therefore, I totally  agree with the views in Stephen C. Meyer's book "Darwin's Doubt".

 

My rejection of unguided evolution was not motivated by religion, but by some very convincing and still unrefuted scientific arguments from Intelligent Design proponents, based on population genetics (Richard Sternberg), microbiology (Michael Behe), and molecular biology (Douglas Axe). These arguments emphasize the waiting time for coordinated mutations, or the isolated islands of functionality in a vast search space, which strongly limit the feasibility of Neodarwinian processes.

 

Concerning the origin of life and the first replicator I consider all naturalistic explanations as wanting and inadequate, and strongly support the conclusions in favor of design presented by Stephen C. Meyer in his excellent book "Signature in the Cell".

Is Intelligent Design Creationism?

No, Intelligent Design theory is not creationism in a cheap tuxedo, but purely an empirical scientific method to detect the traces of intelligent agency in biological organisms. I concur with the atheist philosopher Bradley Monton that Intelligent Design is not religion but a valid scientific approach.

 
Intelligent Design theory does neither identify the designer (it is equally compatible with naturalistic designers like space aliens, who are even acceptable for skeptics like Richard Dawkins), nor does it imply any commitment to special creation rather than common descent. Thus, Intelligent Design by itself makes no claim to supernatural explanations for empirical data, even though it is open to theistic interpretations. The derogative term "ID creationism" is therefore completely inappropriate.
 
On the other hand, Creationism (esp. Biblical Young Earth Creationism) is based on the presupposed authority and inerrancy of revealed scripture and postulates the direct special creation of all natural kinds of organisms by supernatural divine intervention. Creationism is a faith-based religious position, contrary to the scientific theory and methodology of Intelligent Design. The latter has no necessary connection to Biblical creationism at all, but it is compatible with theism and can indirectly support a theistic world view by refuting the only conceivable naturalistic explanation for biological origins and by positively supporting intelligent design as best explanation.
 
I despise the dogmatic and sometimes even fanatical stance of some ignorant evolutionists like P.Z. Myers (Pharyngula blog), Laurence Moran (Sandwalk blog), Jeffrey Shallit (Recursivity blog), Jerry Coyne (Why Evolution is True blog), Nick Matzke and his cronies at Panda's Thumb, freelance writer John Farrell, the master of gutter language Bill Needle (Marmotism blog), the anonymous coward behind The Sensuous Curmudgeon blog,  and other infamous web activists against Intelligent Design and religion. Such anti-ID zealots and "evangelical" New Atheists have become an embarrassment and disgrace for the scientific community with their ill-bred behavior, e.g. regularly insulting scientists, who endorse Intelligent Design as "IDiots", or the ID think tank Discovery Institute as "Dishonesty Institute" or "Disco'Tute", or William Dembski as "Bill Dumbski". I feel personally offended by this, as I know all of the guys from Discovery Institute and the Intelligent Design community as very open-minded and tolerant, highly cultured and competent, sincere, and incredibly warm-hearted people, whom I am proud to rank among my dearest friends and colleagues.

What about Theistic Evolution?

The term Theistic Evolution is not clearly defined, and often rather represents an euphemism for Neodarwinism with a gratuitous God, implying a kind of Deistic Evolution, in which God creates the diversity of life by establishing an unguided process. I consider this as scientifically and theologically problematic, and incompatible with scripture.

 
The BioLogos Foundation also promotes a version of theistic evolution, which they call Evolutionary Creationism, and explicitly distances itself from the Intelligent Design movement. However, their list of beliefs is mostly compatible with Intelligent Design. The affirmation of common descent cannot be a distinguishing feature, as several eminent Intelligent Design proponents either explicitly affirm common descent (e.g., Michael Behe, Richard Sternberg, Michael Denton), or remain agnostic about it (e.g., William Lane Craig), or at least affirm that there is substantial evidence for common descent (e.g., Walter Bradley, Vincent Torley, myself, and even a few YECs like Todd Wood and Kurt Wise). I am therefore at a loss, what is the actual point of theistic evolution sensu BioLogos, and their official statements do not really help either.

DISCLAIMER:

I strictly separated all my activities in favor of Intelligent Design, natural theology, and Christian apologetics from my professional work as paleontologist when I still worked as a museum scientist at SMNS.

 

My endorsement of Intelligent Design and Christian theism is exclusively my private point of view and is neither shared by my former colleagues at SMNS nor by the co-authors of my paleontological publications, who to my best knowledge generally subscribe to the mainstream evolutionary paradigm of Neodarwinism or the New Synthesis!

 

After resigning from my job at SMNS in December 2016 I am still actively working as a paleontologist and publish my research in peer-reviewed scientific journals. My ID-related work is published in appropriate journals and books that are open to design conclusions.