Doesn't biological complexity suggest a benign guiding intelligence?

The complexity of the hand, the eyes you are you using to read this, the thought process you are going through thinking of a response. This all came from a single cell in ridiculously harsh environments with no outside help? I certainly would think that all birds must be absolutely genius in finding out the air resistance velocity needed in order to fly, or the single cell with all it’s complexities which surpass that of New York city’s entire infrastructure. And I’m pretty sure this invisible evolutionary force must be very intelligent, to have evolved us into the ridiculously complex beings with brains that modern science can still not fully understand.

I can understand the skepticism with the holy texts and the concept of organized religion, being a Christian myself I have questioned my faith but never given up on it. If you don’t believe in any God, how can you not acknowledge that the invisible force of evolution has some very interesting similarities to an intelligent entity?

Posted: April 30th 2009


You are making what is known as the argument from incredulity

Simply stated, it’s a logical fallacy.

Posted: May 3rd 2009

See all questions answered by Eric_PK

George Ricker www

You have already received some excellent answers. Here’s more food for thought.

In fact, biological complexity suggests quite the opposite.

It seems highly unlikely that an intelligent designer would have designed animals who spend their entire lives in water but must return to the surface to breathe air from the atmosphere, while creating an enormous number of species who have no such need. Is it intelligent design that gave us mammals that fly and birds that don’t? Where is the intelligence in creating both placental and marsupial mammals? Why would a benign intelligent designer have allowed more than 90 percent of the animals it had designed become extinct? (And remember that the overwhelming majority of those extinctions occurred long before human beings evolved.)

The human brain is certainly complex, but its design is neither elegant nor efficient. While the brain is a remarkable product of evolution by natural selection, it is not as well engineered as one would expect it to be if it were the product of some sort of divine engineer.

What the argument from complexity really says is that we don’t understand exactly how all of this came about. Therefore, “God” must have done it.

It’s a very weak argument with nothing to recommend it. There will always be gaps in human knowledge. But making “God” a synonym for uncertainty and attempting to plug “God did it” into those gaps is both misleading and dishonest. “God did it” is not an answer. It is simply a pietistic way of begging all questions.

The state of the natural world as it is makes no sense at all if it is claimed to be the product of an intelligent designer. The evolutionary blind alleys and dead ends, the excessive complexity, the needless duplication, the faulty design: all of these things make far more sense as the product of undirected natural processes than any sort of divine intelligence.

Posted: May 2nd 2009

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flagellant www

Thank you for your question. It would seem that you’d really like your belief to be true but you really have no reason or evidence to support you.

You say that you 'have questioned [your] faith but never given up on it.’ Why not? Don’t you think that having something unknowable, yet believing in it, is the ultimate self-delusion? You believe it because you want to believe it, or you’d like it to be true. Wouldn’t it be better to acknowledge that there’s nether evidence nor any good reason for your belief? People think faith a virtue; I think it foolishness.

While you seem not to be denying evolution altogether, you somehow want there to be some (designer) hand in the process. There is no evidence of one: evolution takes place, over millions of years, infinitely gradually, unaided.

I can almost appreciate your saying 'the invisible force of evolution has some very interesting similarities to an intelligent entity’. However, the more we know about the evolutionary process, the less apparent the need for an associated 'intelligent entity’ becomes.

(And, incidentally, there is so much evidence for evolution, with none against, that it ought no longer to be called a theory.)

Laboratory experiments with bacteria have demonstrated the evolutionary process over thousand of generations; no human – or any other – intervention was needed. These experiments show the redundancy of 'the guiding hand’ concept. Given the growing body of evidence of the Principle of Evolution, why are you trying to sell us an additional, totally unnecessary ingredient? Because you’d like it to be true, you hope it’s that way, or simply that you can propose the idea aren’t good enough reasons.

Posted: May 2nd 2009

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If I am reading in between the lines of your question correctly (...that the invisible force of evolution has some very interesting similarities to an intelligent entity?), you are not necessarily rejecting evolution, but regard that it has been set into motion by a god.

If that is the case, you are like many people I know, who have questioned their particular brand of organized religion and their holy books and even have ceased doing the rituals associated with their religious brand because they have become meaningless, but still look at me with wide-eyed disbelief, asking earnestly: How can all of this smoothly working complexity come into being without guidance and intention? So they continue to believe in a god that interacts with the universe via theistic evolution.

All of these people that I know have not made an effort to understand evolution better. The human propensity to see intention everywhere (thanks to our evolutionary history, such perception allowed us to flourish) is what trips them up every time, to the extent, that they will not delve deeper into the fascinating study of evolution. After all, there must be intention, there just must be!

How do they handle the nagging complication of the hugely complex god needed to make their less complex god who made our universe? Their most unsatisfying response is that their god always has been. Since there is no evidence WHATSOEVER of an interventionist god (hence making faith necessary), and they are already prepared to believe that a god could always exist, then is it not more reasonable to accept that the universe always has been?

In addition to The Blind Watchmaker, I also suggest you read Climbing Mount Improbable by Richard Dawkins. In studying evolution further, you will find a substantial, interlocking body of evidence showing that a theistic god is redundant.

Keep in mind, many atheists have no theistic belief not because of evolution, but because there is no evidence for the supernatural and supernatural entities of any kind or description. So why make an allowance for your particular and unproven god belief? What does non-evidential faith have over reality? Go one supernatural entity further and believe in none. And replace your non-evidential faith with confidence in our ability to understand natural reality.

Posted: May 2nd 2009

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brian thomson www

You’re basically asking us to summarize the whole “intelligent design” (ID) debate here, a topic on which there have been books, court cases, and millions of words on the Internet. This is the field that made Richard Dawkins famous as an evolutionary biologist, long before he wrote anything about religion. (The term “intelligent design” was invented more recently, as an unsuccessful attempt to avoid accusations of “creationism” and religious interference in science education.)

A classic example that comes to mind is the human eye. You can find articles, by various people with various letters behind their names, that claim it as an example of intelligent design e.g. this from an ID viewpoint, or this debunking such claims. The arguments can get highly technical, but I’ve heard a couple of layman’s ID arguments that are easily debunked, such as:

  • “The eye could not have evolved through stages, since what use is a half-developed eye?” Quite a lot of use, actually, and you can find examples of this in animals today, such as the eyes of some fish or amphibians. Humans with severe eye problems still get some some use from their eyes, don’t they?
  • “How could something so perfect evolve by itself?” Perfect? The nerve linking your eye to your brain attaches to the middle of the retina, creating a partial blind spot that your brain has to compensate for by interpolation. The eyes of some other species e.g. the octopus don’t have this problem. (Personally, both of my eyes are highly elongated, front-to-back which makes me very myopic (short-sighted), at risk of developing glaucoma, or detached retinas if I ever take a knock to the head!)

It’s frankly sad to see this kind of question, since it shows how some young people have been taught a one-sided view of science, designed to fit the belief systems of their parents. It doesn’t have to be like this, and in most developed countries in the world, it isn’t. “Intelligent Design” is a mostly American concept, and then only some parts of the USA.

Posted: May 2nd 2009

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SmartLX www

If you’re genuinely interested in an in-depth answer to this question, read The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins.

The short answer is, yes we do think it all originated with single-cell organisms in harsh environments, but very, very, VERY slowly. The enviroments weren’t so harsh that life was impossible, but they were harsh enough that each little cell had to compete with all the others to survive.

Since the replication process was imperfect, some cells were subtly different, becoming either more or less complex and changing in ways that either helped or hindered them. Since the slightly more complex cells usually had new features that helped them out, they were the most likely to survive at any given point. Thus complexity increased slowly but steadily, simply because the less complex creatures couldn’t compete.

Jumping forward to birds, to take one of your examples, they don’t have to be geniuses if their wings are shaped such that simply flapping them achieves flight. At first, primitive wings simply got bigger and flatter because the more wind resistance they created, the farther birds’ ancestors could fall without injury. Flat wings that developed certain shapes allowed some creatures to guide their descent, and eventually glide very well. Finally, other minor changes allowed them to use their muscle power to gain altitude, and true flight became a reality.

Features like wings, eyes and hands do seem ridiculously complex when you look at the finished product. It’s easy to see how a natural, undirected process can have produced them, if you use the following thought exercise.

Imagine a partially-formed version of the feature: a flattened limb, an unfocused eye, a hand with one finger. Imagine how it could still assist in a creature’s survival, if not via its full current function then in another role. Then imagine tiny little changes that would improve its function ever so slightly. Next, imagine the feature at a different stage in its development, and do the same thing.

You’ll find that plausible uses spring to mind all the way along. These little beneficial changes are what natural selection capitalises upon, while editing out the unhelpful ones. No intelligence is required.

Posted: May 1st 2009

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