Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The argument about Intelligent Design

I'm sorry that this blog has not been updated in a while, situations were such that I could not do it. However, I will do my best henceforth to regularly update my blog.

A few weeks ago, I was part of a debate on the topic 'Is Religion Relevant in Today's World.' Needless to say, it was very stimulating and from the comments I heard after it was over, I think everyone had a great time participating in the debate. I wish to extend my thanks to everyone who made it happen including the students and faculty of the Departments of Mass Communication and Visual Communication in my College; the moderator Prof. Venkat Lokanathan; the honourable proposition who showed brilliant oratory skilll; my team who challenged the proposition to a great extent with equally good arguments and finally all those who were in attendance.

Through this blog post, I wish to bring to notice one of the arguments by the proposition during the debate, that of 'Intelligent Design.' It was put forth by the proposition as an 'equally good theory' to evolution if my memory serves me right. I wish to explain what Intelligent Design is and why it is not even a 'theory' (scientifically speaking), let alone being 'equally good.'

Intelligent Design is the theory that since living organisms are too complex to have evolved by random chance, there must have been something (or someone) who 'designed' the organisms in their present state itself. It is promulgated by the Discovery Institute, a politically conservative organisation from America and is an extension of the creationist argument that the Judeo-Christian God created this world is six days about 6000 years ago. More on Intelligent Design can be found here.

The arguments from Intelligent Design include the concepts of complexity and the fine tuned nature of the universe and I will try to refute these notions here.

Complexity: One of the complexity theories was propounded by Michel Behe (1996) which said that is that biological systems are too complex to have evolved from simpler systems. The examples they give for such complex systems include the human eye and the flagella in bacteria. However this was refuted by Niall Shanks And Karl H. Joplin (1998) in their paper Redundant Chemicals (use your JSTOR id or if you have UGC inflibnet id, that also works). In their paper they said that systems satisfying Behe's characterization of irreducible biochemical complexity can arise naturally and spontaneously as the result of self-organising chemical processes. They claim that Behe overestimated the significance of irreducible complexity because of his simple, linear view of biochemical reactions, resulting in his taking snapshots of selective features of biological systems, structures and processes, while ignoring the redundant complexity of the context in which those features are naturally embedded. They also criticized his over-reliance of overly simplistic metaphors, such as his mousetrap.

This, put simply means that nature can naturally give rise to complexity by itself. Many examples can be given of this property of self-organisation in chemicals like the the Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) reaction.

The complexity theory can also be refuted by what is called 'exaptation' that is the process where precursors of complex systems may be useful to perform other functions. Examples for this include the middle bone in the mammalian ear M. Brazeau and P. Ahlberg (2006). 

The Fine Tuned Nature of the Universe: This is the proposition that the conditions that allow life in the Universe can only occur when certain universal fundamental physical constants lie within a very narrow range, so that if any of several fundamental constants were only slightly different, the Universe would be unlikely to be conducive to the establishment and development of matter, astronomical structures, elemental diversity, or life as it is presently understood. (Source)

This was refuted by Victor J. Stenger (1999). Some of the counter arguments for the fine tunes nature of the Universe are that if the Universe were fine tuned for the sake of existence, then the entire, or atleast, a large part of the universe must be conducive to life. However, as far as we know of the universe till now, we have only found the earth as a planet that is able to harbour life. Stenger's full paper can be accessed here.

Intelligent Design also argues based on the 'God of the Gaps' principle, that is, it argues that whatever science has not explained so far, is the work of the 'designer.' This is a foolish statement to say the least. Just because science has not found everything it does not mean that anything other than science can answer that question. To answer a question that science has not found evidence to with an argument that in itself has no evidence is only an insult to the intellect of humans and our curiosity that has led us to so many discoveries.

Science has eradicated many diseases and even conquered outer space. It has not yet found answers to everything but it is certainly working on the answers and to attribute the unanswered questions to a 'designer' or 'God' is simply not good enough as an answer either because it begs the question 'Who is this designer or God then?' And we have no evidence for that either.

Are we so perfect as Intelligent Design claims? If we are 'created' or 'designed' to lord over this world, then shouldn't we be perfect? But then, why is our eye not as good as an eagle's or our ear not as good as a dog's? Why are we not the strongest of species on the earth or the most agile?

We are not perfect, we have organs like the appendix which is of no use to our bodies. An infected appendix can even kill us! Why would any 'Intelligent Designer' give an organ that is completely useless and can potentially kill us? Why do men have nipples? Why is the male scrotum in such a vulnerable place and not even protected while its there? Is this 'intelligent designer' playing the fool or just plain stupid?

These are a few questions I shall leave you all with. And remember, as Carl Sagan once said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

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