Friday, 3 December 2010

C4ID’s Introduction to Intelligent Design: Part 13

The Centre for Intelligent Design website features a set of brief (sometimes very brief) pdf documents which collectively form an Introduction to Intelligent Design, credited as written by Dr Alastair Noble, C4ID Director. This pamphlet sets out C4ID’s manifesto for ID. Often these documents are written in a way that could be seen as persuasive to the uninformed. On closer inspection, there is nothing new – the arguments are the same as those demolished in Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District.
Alastair Noble here tales the opportunity to give his version of evolutionary biology, making the artificial distinction between ‘microevolution’ and ‘macroevolution’. It is in this part of the document that Noble’s biological ignorance comes to the fore.
It is the second use of the term ‘evolution’ which is much more contentious. In this case it is argued that by a process of random mutation of the information in DNA and natural selection of any beneficial result produced in the form of the living organism, it is possible to increase the complexity of living things. And this is not just a modest claim. The contemporary neo-Darwinian view is that random mutation and natural selection can take us, in an unplanned and undirected process, from a single cell to a human being, via all the other living things in between. This is often referred to as ‘macroevolution’.
Creationists (and I include Intelligent Design advocates) often use an artificially wide distinction between microevolution and macroevolution. Biologists would generally make little distinction between the two: indeed the same biological processes power both.
Strictly speaking, evolution by natural selection may depend on heritable variation due to essentially random mutation, but it’s really not an undirected process. It is of course directed by natural selection. It’s just not directed by an intelligent agency.
Noble claims that evolutionary biology is “widely and uncritically accepted in Western culture”. It is not. Aspects of evolutionary biology are continually studied, evaluated refined – why else would there be journals filled with evolution research? (It’s also regularly challenged by under-informed individuals, generally from a religious point of view!).
We now know that the genetic information carried in the DNA of every living cell is hugely complex. To suggest that such complexity can be generated by random and undirected processes is a bit like saying that computer software can be generated by letting the wind and rain blow through the laboratories where it is produced. We know that software programmes depend on computer engineers for their design, not on the vagaries of the weather!
This is essentially a rehashing of the monkeys writing Shakespeare. It’s also a particularly lousy analogy, based on breathtaking ignorance of biology. I recently blogged on the sources and variation of genetic ‘information’ (Biological information does not require a ‘designer’). We can see in the laboratory the processes by which genomes can acquired additional sequence and how these sequences subsequently acquire changes; we can see in genome sequences of related species the evidence of novel genes, and the mechanisms by which they arrive. And all this by natural processes. Noble revels in his ignorance in this part of the Introduction to Intelligent Design.
Robert Saunders, BSc (Hons), PhD

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