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Thu, April 18

Intelligent design raises more questions

Our old friend, Intelligent Design (ID), keeps on making headlines.

Earlier this month in Dover, Pa., voters turned out all eight school board members who had supported teaching ID in the classroom and replaced them with others who thought the schools should not teach it as science. However, a judge still hasn't made up his mind about whether it's even legal to teach ID in Pennsylvania schools.

Meanwhile, Kansas changed the membership of the State Board of Education for the third time because of ID. Kansas achieved notoriety a few years ago when voters elected pro-ID members, then the next election they voted them out and now they're back in again.

This past August I asked readers to explain for me what Intelligent Design really claims, other than the negative dogma that life is so complicated it could not have happened by evolution; therefore, it had to be the work of some super-intelligent designer. Twenty-seven people offered comments or recommended sources to read, but nobody tried to explain it himself. Since then I've learned a bit more myself.

The originators of the "theory" of Intelligent Design say that it does not rule out evolution, and it does not deny that the earth could be billions of years old. You can believe in "common descent" and "old earth" if you want to, or you can believe the Bible stories about creation if you prefer. ID does not propose its own explanation of events. This is science???

ID accepts the idea of creation of new species by mutation. Most mutations are disasters, but a small percentage result in desirable changes, so maybe those were designed. ID does not claim that God did it, but it obviously implies a supernatural entity.

This draws a line between atheistic evolution and theistic evolution, and it's beyond our ability today to prove the matter one way or another. A significant number of scientists do believe in both evolution and God.

Isaac Newton was one of the world's greatest intellects. He conceived his laws of motion and gravity 350 years ago and explained how the planets in the solar system follow their different orbits around the sun. Each planet affects the orbit of every other planet, and, of course, the pull of the sun affects all. However, Newton could not understand why all this pulling and tugging did not result in planets falling into the sun or flying out into space. The system seemed to remain in perfect order. Therefore, he concluded that God must step in occasionally and make things right.

Today they call that idea of divine intervention "God of the Gaps." In those areas where there are gaps in scientific knowledge, some folks are certain that whatever happened must have been an act of God.  

Later discoveries in astronomy and mathematics showed why the solar system is so stable, but don't ask me to explain it. At least now we know that God doesn't have to keep a daily watch over all the orbits.

The theory of evolution has a lot of gaps. Its detractors love to point out that there is not a complete fossil record showing how all forms of life evolved. However, consider that we have been seeking and studying fossils for only a couple of centuries. Consider that a huge majority of existing fossils still lie buried under layers of soil and rock. Consider the improbability of any organism becoming a fossil in the first place and then hanging around for thousands or millions of years. You and I certainly won't make it to fossilhood. (Well, at almost 80 I'm sometimes considered an old fossil, but that ain't the same thing.)

The November issue of Natural History has several articles about Intelligent Design. One points out how many things are designed unintelligently. We humans eat, drink and breathe through the same hole in our head and sometimes choke to death as a result. We think that our eyes are uniquely complex, but many animals have better eyes. What prankish designer would use the area between our legs for an entertainment center merged with a sewage system.

I don't know. Do you?

(Contact Al Herron at


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