In the beginning was the argument from design. This claimed that God’s existence was made manifest by the intense intricacy, utility and beauty of the world, a state of affairs its advocates said could never have happened by blind chance but only through an intelligent creator. Analogies with God and watchmaker were most popular. The most famous advocate of this idea in the English-speaking world was the Rev William Paley who spent immense time and effort either side of the year 1800 attempting to prove his case.
The argument from design crashed into the intellectual roadblock of Darwinism and the general growing rationalism of the nineteenth century. The religious responded by covering the argument with a carapace of metaphysical explanation couched in scientific language . Their arguments took two forms. They either ran along the lines of “the human eye cannot possibly have evolved because how do you get from no eye to an eye through natural selection?” * or claimed that the world, including apparent examples of evolution, could be perfectly well explained by either God setting off a system which evolved to His plan.
However, some still hankered after immediate creationism. Some just left it at that and said faith proved it to be true. But some decided to justify the creationist argument using rational forms if not rational means. So they began to say that it was a theory just like Darwinism. They began to produce arguments couched in scientific language but essentially non-scientific because what they claimed could never be objectively tested. Often what they claimed required the Darwinists to prove a negative, for example, to show that this or that feature could not have arisen by means other than natural selection. In short, scientific creationism bears the same relationship to science as democratic centralism does to democracy, the answer in both cases being none.
But the scientific creationists had a problem – they just could not keep God out the picture. But the more intelligent amongst them realised that introducing the Christian God and Genesis into the argument made them and rationality strangers in the eyes of most and so they re-packaged the belief without Jehova and the Bible and called it Intelligent Design (ID). It is scientific creationism in disguise, Christianity without the Bible as it were.
Contrary to what the ID/creationists claim, there is ample evidence that Darwinism is correct. We have the fossil evidence of long runs of evolving organisms such as the horse and pig – an ID advocate would have to believe either that the intelligent designer created each individually or that the intelligent designer set the world off on a course in which everything would evolve to a pre-ordained pattern.
We also know from organisms occurring naturally that variations in a species are commonplace and from animal breeding that organisms are quickly malleable and can be manipulated through selective breeding within a few generations to enhance desired traits. Controlled experiments have also demonstrated that agents such as radioactive materials and heat can create mutations. In addition, geneticists have begun to identify the genes which control biological development and behaviour, which explains how variation occurs.
Rapidly increasing understanding of genetics has shown that all organisms are genetically linked, in some cases surprisingly very closely. This strongly suggests but does not prove evolution – it is conceivable but improbable that each organism could be individually designed. .
Common observation tells anyone that the natural world has at the least not been directly designed by an intelligent creator. We can tell this from the Heath Robinson nature of organisms. These, far from being highly engineered examples of organic perfection, contain within themselves just the type of development one would expect from evolved organisms: structures which are clearly adapted from structures with different functions. Look at a flatfish such as a plaice. Its mouth and eyes etc have been twisted round through about 90 degrees to allow the fish to place its previously vertical body sideways in the water. The twisting is very obvious and the result crude and not as one would expect from something deliberately designed.
It is of course possible, as I have mentioned above, that every organism is individually created or that the whole of evolution has been the consequence of an event such as the working out of a computer programme. However, there is no evidence whatsoever for this and in principle there could never be because it would be impossible to provide objective evidence that it was the truth for the same reason one cannot provide evidence of a God: there is no way of demonstrating that such knowledge was more than a fantasy.
The God problem for ID/Creationists
Imagine that ID is the truth. The ID/Creationists have a bit of a problem. They are, to the best of my knowledge, all Christians. Yet if their God is responsible for creating the world he cannot be the God of love, whose first priority is the wellbeing of Man.
When Darwin was an old man he said something along to the effect that when he contemplated the natural world he shuddered at the thought of a mind who could have created something so barbaric. What God of love would create predators, many of which eat their prey alive? What God of love would visit so much suffering by way of disease? What God of love would make organisms grow old and defunct rather than letting them die when vigorous? What God of love would create natural disasters such as floods, droughts, volcanic eruptions or earthquakes?
If the ID/creationists are truly sincere in their belief in a creator they must conclude that their god is, in human terms, psychopathic.
* The mechanism for the evolution of the eye by Darwinian means is easily demonstrated. The starting point are a few light sensitive cells (some living animals have such things). . These prove useful and more cells develop in succeeding generations. Then a protective cover develops. This gradually develops into a lens and so on until the eye as we know it is formed.
The geneticist Steve Jones (D Tel 31 August) described research on the nerve transmitter serotonin. The research shows that a receptor for serotonin on the surface of brain cells varies in quantity from individual to individual. The fewer you have the more likely you are to be anxious and nervous. Strong correlations exist between schizophrenics and religious believers and the number of receptors they have – the fewer the number of receptors, the greater likelihood of either state of mind existing.
As Jones puts it “The molecular lock into which serotonin key fits is, it seems, Beezlebub’s own protein, for to inherit a decent dose of it is as good a vaccine against belief as was compulsory school assembly.”