In my book The Design Inference, I argue that specified complexity reliably detects design. In that book, however, I focus largely on examples from the human rather than the natural sciences. The main criticism of that work to date concerns whether the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection and random variation is not in fact fully capable of generating specified complexity. More recently, in No Free Lunch, I show that undirected natural processes like the Darwinian mechanism are incapable of generating the specified complexity that exists in biological organisms. It follows that chance and necessity are insufficient for the natural sciences and that the natural sciences need to leave room for design.
In the evolutionary process, an increase in biological complexity does not represent a “free lunch” — it is bought and paid for, because random genetic variation is subjected to natural selection by the environment, which itself is already structured. In fact, researchers are beginning to use Darwinian processes, implemented in computers or in vitro, to evolve complex systems and to provide solutions to design problems in ways that are beyond the power of mere intelligent agents.
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Wells admits that natural selection can operate on a population and correctly looks to genetics to account for the kind of variation that can lead to “new features in new species.” But he contends that mutations such as those that yield four-winged fruit flies do not produce the sorts of anatomical changes needed for major evolutionary change. Can’t he see past the example to the principle? That the first demonstration of a powerful genetic mechanism happened to be a nonflying fly is irrelevant. Edward Lewis shared a Nobel Prize for the discovery of the role of these genes, known as the Ubx complex. They are of extraordinary importance because genes of this type help explain body plans — the basic structural differences between a mollusk and a mosquito, a sponge and a spider.
Mutations in these primary on/off switches are involved in such phenomena as the loss of legs in snakes, the change from lobe fins to hands, and the origin of jaws in vertebrates.HOX-initiated segment duplication allows for anatomical experimentation, and natural selection winnows the result. “Evo-Devo” — the study of evolution and development — is a hot new biological research area, but Wells implies that all it has produced is crippled fruit flies.
The infamous August 1999 decision by the Kansas Board of Education to delete references to evolution from Kansas science standards was heavily influenced by advocates of intelligent-design theory. Although William A. Dembski, one of the movement’s leading figures, asserts that “the empirical detectability of intelligent causes renders intelligent design a fully scientific theory,” its proponents invest most of their efforts in swaying politicians and the public, not the scientific community.
One often reads the statement that "evolution says the earth is billions of years old." This statement is incorrect. Astronomy and geology say that the earth is billions of years old. Evolution draws on these disciplines for an estimate of the time in which the evolutionary processes can work. This point is important in order to realize the breadth of the quarrel about the age of the earth. If you assert that the earth is only 10,000 years old, you are disputing far more areas of the natural sciences than just a portion of biology.
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Launched by Phillip E. Johnson’s book Darwin on Trial (1991), the intelligent-design movement crystallized in 1996 as the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture (CRSC), sponsored by the Discovery Institute, a conservative Seattle think tank. Johnson, a law professor whose religious conversion catalyzed his antievolution efforts, assembled a group of supporters who promote design theory through their writings, financed by CRSC fellowships. According to an early mission statement, the CRSC seeks “nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its damning cultural legacies.”
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