Home > Culture & Media, Science & Technology > Design – Intelligent or Blind? (Creation/Evolution Part 17)

Design – Intelligent or Blind? (Creation/Evolution Part 17)

EVOLUTION

Well, 2009 was celebrated as Darwin’s 200th birthday, so I suppose we really should finish off this series on Creation and Evolution sometime soon.  For those just joining, or for those who have wondered if I’m alive yet, this series started over on my first blog and looks to finish up here with the last two points.

To review, remind ourselves, and catch up, we are analyzing an article that was published in Scientific American that contained 15 alleged proofs that evolution is a fact and creation is a myth.  The bottomline is that, to date, an honest evaluation of each of these alleged arguments runs afoul of the actual data, of the scientific method, and frequently of logic itself.  Without a pre-existing bias for evolution, one would not be convinced by the evidence.

I encourage all of my readers (if there be any yet…it’s hard to tell because noone is leaving comments anymore) to perhaps go back through the series (starting here) to remind yourselves of where we’ve been.

Now, on with the show, Scientific American’s point 14 out of 15:

14. Living things have fantastically intricate features–at the anatomical, cellular and molecular levels–that could not function if they were any less complex or sophisticated. The only prudent conclusion is that they are the products of intelligent design, not evolution.

This "argument from design" is the backbone of most recent attacks on evolution, but it is also one of the oldest. In 1802 theologian William Paley wrote that if one finds a pocket watch in a field, the most reasonable conclusion is that someone dropped it, not that natural forces created it there. By analogy, Paley argued, the complex structures of living things must be the handiwork of direct, divine invention. Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species as an answer to Paley: he explained how natural forces of selection, acting on inherited features, could gradually shape the evolution of ornate organic structures.

Generations of creationists have tried to counter Darwin by citing the example of the eye as a structure that could not have evolved. The eye’s ability to provide vision depends on the perfect arrangement of its parts, these critics say. Natural selection could thus never favor the transitional forms needed during the eye’s evolution–what good is half an eye? Anticipating this criticism, Darwin suggested that even "incomplete" eyes might confer benefits (such as helping creatures orient toward light) and thereby survive for further evolutionary refinement. Biology has vindicated Darwin: researchers have identified primitive eyes and light-sensing organs throughout the animal kingdom and have even tracked the evolutionary history of eyes through comparative genetics. (It now appears that in various families of organisms, eyes have evolved independently.)

Today’s intelligent-design advocates are more sophisticated than their predecessors, but their arguments and goals are not fundamentally different. They criticize evolution by trying to demonstrate that it could not account for life as we know it and then insist that the only tenable alternative is that life was designed by an unidentified intelligence.

Thus in a mere three paragraphs, Mr. Rennie tries to dismiss whole books, and indeed, whole centuries of writings generated in support of the intelligent design argument, a line of argumentation that can be traced back into antiquity, not the mere 200 years he cites.  While this does not impact the truth or falsehood of either side of the debate, it again demonstrates the carelessness with which Mr. Rennie is handling the opposing argument.  His disdain is palpable and proves he is not the objective rational scientist he seeks to portray.  And note the admission that Darwin wrote, at least in part, specifically to answer theistic argument from design.  This actually points out an a priori bias against creationism, which is hardly a way to start an objective investigation in which the very question to be answered is whether or not creation is an adequate model for origins.

As mentioned, the argument goes back even further in time, because it is really a reframing of the teleological argument put forth in the 5th century by Augustine (and others even earlier).  Thus, we find the first paragraph to be incomplete in its evaluation of history, although he is correct that intelligent design is “the backbone of most recent attacks on evolution.”  That being the case, one would think he would give more time and care with his refutation.

The only paragraph in the above that even approaches a defense or rebuttal is the middle one in which the eye is briefly cited.  Unfortunately for Darwin and his defenders, what we have is a gross oversimplification of the case:  the incredible complexity of even the simplest light sensitive spot, let alone that of the eye, is glossed over.  How complex are the molecular events of sight really?  Well, I’m glad you asked:

When light first strikes the retina a photon interacts with a molecule called 11-cis-retinal, which rearranges within picoseconds to trans-retinal. (A picosecond [10-12 sec] is about the time it takes light to travel the breadth of a single human hair.) The change in the shape of the retinal molecule forces a change in the shape of the protein, rhodopsin, to which the retinal is tightly bound. The protein’s metamorphosis alters its behavior. Now called metarhodopsin II, the protein sticks to another protein, called transducin. Before bumping into metarhodopsin II, transducin had tightly bound a small molecule called GDP. But when transducin interacts with metarhodopsin II, the GDP falls off, and a molecule called GTP binds to transducin. (GTP is closely related to, but different from, GDP.) GTP-transducin-metarhodopsin II now binds to a protein called phosphodiesterase, located in the inner membrane of the cell. When attached to metarhodopsin II and its entourage, the phosphodiesterase acquires the chemical ability to “cut” a molecule called cGMP (a chemical relative of both GDP and GTP). Initially there are a lot of cGMP molecules in the cell, but the phosphodiesterase lowers its concentration, just as a pulled plug lowers the water level in a bathtub. [1]

Thus, the evolutionist must assume that because a set of cells can be shown to be light sensitive, that therefore a system of even greater complexity, the eye, is inevitable although “directed” by chance and natural selection.  Right.  Consider also, not only must all the cellular structure and biochemistry of vision be put into place, but the connections to something that will interpret the received light into information that will impact in a positive way the survival of the individual possessing this ability is simultaneously required.  In other words, it is not enough to have cells that detect a reduction of photon intensity around one’s body.  This must be translated into “there is a predator overhead,” and then into “I’d better get my buns in gear and get out of here!”

We have been quoting a Dr. Sarfati during this entire series from a rebuttal he wrote specifically against this article [2].  He points out the following regarding the second half of Mr. Rennie’s assertions in this second paragraph:

Rennie contradicts himself here. If the evolutionary history of eyes has been tracked though comparative genetics how is it that eyes have supposedly evolved independently? Actually, evolutionists recognize that eyes must have arisen independently at least 30 times because there is no evolutionary pattern to explain the origin of eyes from a common ancestor. What this really means is that since eyes cannot be related by common ancestor, then since they are here, and only materialistic explanations are allowed, hey presto, there’s proof that they evolved independently!

Basically, our protagonist has resorted to bravado and bald contradictory assertion with one flawed attempt at pointing to something he thinks makes his point.  In fact, his example does nothing for him and still supports intelligent design with greater force than it does evolution.

So, our evaluation of these evolutionary talking points is now almost complete.  We have the one last point to consider, and then we want to answer the questions, “Why is this discussion/debate even necessary?  Isn’t this just an internecine argument between biologists that really doesn’t impact anything other than biology textbooks but not practical life?”  Stay tuned for the exciting answers coming to this blog in the not too distant future (hopefully!).

~~~~~~~

[1] Behe, M. J., 1996. Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, The Free Press, New York. pp. 46, 18–20.

[2] The article in question has since been removed from its website allegedly because of copyright issues with Scientific American.  I’m sure it has nothing to do with the total shredding of the evolutionist position by its author.  Prior to its disappearance, I downloaded a copy to which I refer, and cite it only to indicate the origin of the material.  The validity of the argumentation contained therein is not influenced by the reasons for removal.

 

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  1. Steve B
    30 Sep 2010 at 9:58 AM

    Regardless of the words he chooses, the essential idea that Mr. Rennie defends is that the eye evolved entirely as a result of random, chance mutations acting upon a primitive cell. The more one understands the astounding and wondrous complexity of the eye, the more absurd such a notion becomes. Furthermore, it is obvious that the researchers who Mr. Rennie claims “have tracked the evolutionary history of eyes through comparative genetics” are approaching their work from an evolutionary bias and are not objective; that is, they know what their goal is before they begin their research, so they twist the evidence to meet their goal. I am not a scientist, but I can guarantee you that comparative genetics has not “proven” the evolution of the eye!

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