Evolution and ‘intelligent design’ | Political economics



Meeting Professor Asir Ajmal opens up new perspectives for me. He is a psychologist par excellence and holds a doctorate from Dartmouth College in the United States, which has Ivy League status. The debate opened with the claim that the theoretical basis of most scientific knowledge is rooted in human speculation. We then discovered various science subtopics, with Asir doing most of the talking.

The discussion boiled down to Darwin’s theory of evolution and its challenge in the American academic sphere. Asir is a strong proponent of the “intelligent design” theory vis à vis Darwin’s formulation, which he says doesn’t hold much. He shared a few posts about Dean H Kenyon, Professor Emeritus of Biology at San Francisco State University. Kenyon is one of the instigators of the “intelligent design” movement. He also wrote Biochemical predestinationa book that has won him much critical acclaim.

I will try here to make sense of Darwin’s theorization during which I will also bring in Lamarck’s reflections on evolution.

In the last part, I will try to summarize the theory of intelligent design. The reader should bear in mind that the author of these lines is not a biologist and wishes to be excused for any shortcomings.

Charles Darwin (1809-1883) proposed that species can change over time, that new species arise from preexisting species, and that all species share a common ancestor. In this model, each species has its own unique set of hereditary (genetic) differences from the common ancestor, which have accumulated gradually over a very long period of time.

For Darwin, five ideas were much more a unit than they appear to a person who analyzes them with modern hindsight. The five theories were: (1) evolution as such; (2) common descent; (3) progressivism; (4) multiplication of species; and (5) natural selection. Darwin and one of his scientific contemporaries, Alfred Russel Wallace, proposed that evolution occurs because of a phenomenon called natural selection.

During a five-year expedition, Darwin had collected hydrographic, geological, and meteorological data from South America and many other parts of the world. Darwin’s own observations on this trip led to his theory of natural selection. According to the theory of natural selection, most organisms produce more offspring than they can survive in their environment.

The essence of Darwin’s theory is that natural selection will occur if three conditions are met: a struggle for existence, variation, and inheritance. Darwin’s observations that led to his theory of natural selection are: overproduction — all species will produce more offspring than they will survive to adulthood; variation — there is variation between members of the same species; adaptation – traits that increase a species’ environmental suitability will be passed on.

The theory of evolution by the process of natural selection was only gradually accepted because it challenged the idea that God created all animals and plants that live on Earth (creationism). The evidence when the theory was first published was insufficient to convince many scientists. Today, evolution is the unifying concept in biology. This theory documents the change in the genetic makeup of a biological population over time. Evolution helps us understand the development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria and other parasitic organisms.

Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck, often known simply as Lamarck, was a French naturalist, biologist, academic, and soldier. He was an early proponent of the idea that biological evolution occurred and proceeded according to natural laws.

Lamarck proposed theories like inheritance of acquired characters, use and disuse, increasing complexity, etc, while Darwin proposed inheritance, different survival, species variation and extinction. Their theories are different because Lamarck believed that organisms changed out of necessity and after a change in environment and Darwin believed that organisms changed by chance when they were born and before there was a change in environment.

The crucial difference between Darwinian and Lamarckian mechanisms of evolution is that the former emphasizes random, undirected variation, while the latter is based on variation directly caused by an environmental cue and resulting in a specific response to that signal.

“Intelligent Design” (ID) is a set of concepts based on the notion that life on earth is so complex that it cannot be explained by evolutionary theory and, therefore, must have been designed by a supernatural entity. Phillip Johnson is known as the father of “intelligent design”. The idea in its present form emerged in the 1980s and Johnson embraced and developed it with his book, Darwin on trial in 1991.

According to him, Darwinian evolution failed to explain how all organisms, including humans, came into existence. The “intelligent design” theory was then formulated, mainly in the United States, as an explicit refutation of Darwin’s theory of biological evolution.

The basic claim of “intelligent design” is that modern life on earth could not have developed through evolutionary processes alone, but rather required the direct intervention of an “intelligent designer” to produce some or most species.

Proponents of “intelligent design” attempt to demonstrate “scientifically” that characteristics, such as irreducible complexity and specified complexity, cannot arise through natural processes and, therefore, have required repeated direct miraculous interventions by a designer (a reference to the concept of God as provided in religious texts).

“Intelligent design” is the idea that certain features of living systems are best explained by design intelligence, rather than undirected process. That is to say, by studying nature, you can say something about the effects that an intelligence has had on nature. The “intelligent design” theory is an inference from biological data, not a deduction from religious authority.

We’re looking at things like the little miniature machines that are being discovered in cells: rotary motors, nanotechnology, turbines, sliding grippers, complex circuitry. Particularly important are the libraries of information stored in the DNA molecule in the form of a four-character numeric code.

For some people, this is the basis of “design” inference. It is not something that one deduces from a religious scripture. Bernd-Olaf Kuppers made some revelations in his book, Information and origin of life on the cell which contains large amounts of biochemical information stored in our DNA in a sequence of nucleotides. No known physical or chemical law dictates the order of the nucleotide bases in our DNA, and the sequences are highly unlikely and complex. In addition, the coding regions of DNA exhibit sequential arrangements of bases that are necessary to produce functional proteins.

I will say that the theory of evolution can mean change over time or even common ancestry, which is not disputed. What is specifically challenged is the Darwinian idea that life is the result of a purely undirected process that merely resembles creative intelligence: that the arising of purpose is an illusion. Classical Darwinism and Modern Darwinism both say that things look like “design”, but that’s not really the case, because natural selection produces that appearance. To a layman like me, this sounds like a contradiction in terms.

The author is a professor in the faculty of liberal arts at the National University of Beaconhouse in Lahore. He can be reached at [email protected]

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