Urban Jungle

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 July, 2008, 12:00am

This week: The ayes have it for the evolutionists

I believe Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. However, I hesitate to use the term 'believer', because as with all scientific theories it is under constant scrutiny, and science has no room for pure faith unless there is empirical evidence. Today, I am going to take a bash at the 'theory' of intelligent design. I hesitate to use the term 'theory' because even though it is one, it is not science; it is pseudo-science and a weak, veiled attempt to replace the theory of evolution with something that better adheres to a Christian and theistic view of the world.

The theory of evolution is common knowledge because it is taught in most science classes in schools around the world. It is a scientific explanation for the reason for the great variety of life on this planet and how that life evolved from its earlier simpler forms. The core of Darwin's theory of evolution is the process of natural selection, whereby various environmental variables result in those animals or plants that best adapt to them to survive and compete for limited resources. The genetic variation is caused by gene mutations and genetic drift that occur naturally when cells divide, introducing new genetic traits into the life form.

As for intelligent design, it is a belief that life was created by an intelligence, usually by the God of Abraham in the Bible. It attempts to find empirical evidence to support the belief that life on Earth was created by an intelligent agent. To add to the overall vagueness, the proponents of intelligent design believe they will be unable to find the identity of the intelligent agent in a study of a closed system such as the Earth, further requiring that 'faith' is required for belief in this hypothesis, because God is unknowable.

Evidence that supports Darwin's theory seems to be everywhere, some in the fossil record, many examples alive around us and also in the human species. The search for human precursors has seen some amazing discoveries this century that have helped fill in the human evolutionary tree. The similarity between living and extinct species, the adaptations and differences in species due to different but previously connected geographical areas and chemical and biochemical similarities have all supported the theory of evolution, even in Darwin's age, when religious dogma was more deep-rooted.

On the side of intelligent design, evidence is scanty at best. One of the stronger arguments in the past has been that the idea of evolution requires an intermediate animal form that is not useful for survival. One example often used in the past to form an argument for intelligent design is the humble flatfish. These and similar species of fish live much of their lives on river or sea beds, often using the muddy bottom and body camouflage to remain hidden so as to prey on unsuspecting passing fish. To aid vision, both their eyes are asymmetrically on one side of their body, looking upwards. This essentially gives them stereoscopic vision while remaining totally flat on the bottom.

In the past, evolutionists haven't had a good explanation for how the flatfish ended with eyes on one side of the head. Why would an eye migrate from one side of the head to the other? We can see the advantage of having eyes on one side of the head, but what of the transitional forms that are supposed to have existed? No fossils have been found of fish with eyes that are, say, in the centre position in an evolutionary transit to the modern flatfish. In the past, evolutionists have explained this by pointing out the hugely incomplete fossil record and suggesting the unlikely possibility of a severe mutation that turned out to be so useful that it was passed on to descendents. This 'hopeful monster' theory contradicts the supposedly slow evolutionary process that should take place over hundreds of thousands or millions of years.

A new study of some old flatfish fossils in a museum has found that while these early flatfish had eyes on both sides of their head, in some of them one of the eyes was slightly off-centre and seemed to be in a transition stage towards the modern flatfish. So they have found the migrating eye. It is thought these ancient fish, which are not totally flat on one side like the modern flatfish, were able with their fins to prop themselves up slightly tilted to one side. The slight shift in eye position, no matter how minor, helped with their upward vision and it would be reasonable to say the tilt of the eye got more exaggerated in time to become the modern flatfish. It is interesting to note that flatfish are not born with eyes on one side of the head - the eye migrates to one side during the juvenile stage of life.

This discovery has further hammered a nail into the coffin of intelligent-design proponents' attempts to bring back the dark ages, when religion controlled the state and when there was no religious freedom.