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Intelligent design

So we can see that:
  • Overall gene structure and gene location and order are most similar between chimps and humans
  • Gene sequences are most similar between humans and chimps
  • “Junk” DNA sequences (and indels) are most similar between humans and chimps
  • Patterns of gene expression are most similar between humans and chimps
  • By all measures humans and chimps/bonobos are closer than any other organism, and by all measures human and chimps form part of a hierarchy of relatedness with great apes closest to us. All the hierarchies are congruent, which is exactly what we expect if this hierarchy is due to inheritance of DNA from a common ancestor. Furthermore, the genetic differences between humans and chimps are less than many species that evolution-deniers are happy to accept as having “microevolved”.

These are the conclusions drawn by Ian Musgrave, writing at The Panda's Thumb, in a review of William Dembski's revised essay on human origins and intelligent design. Dembski argues that 'an evolutionary process unguided by intelligence cannot adequately account for the remarkable intellectual and moral qualities exhibited among humans. The bottom line is that intelligence has played an indispensable role in human origins.'

Wired recently carried a report on how 'the Ohio State Board of Education took up the question of how to teach the theory of evolution in public schools. A panel of four experts - two who believe in evolution, two who question it - debated whether an antievolution theory known as intelligent design should be allowed into the classroom'.

Two scientists, biologist Ken Miller from Brown University and physicist Lawrence Krauss from Case Western Reserve University two hours north in Cleveland, defended evolution. On the other side of the dais were two representatives from the Discovery Institute in Seattle, the main sponsor and promoter of intelligent design: Stephen Meyer, a professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University's School of Ministry and director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, and Jonathan Wells, a biologist, Discovery fellow, and author of Icons of Evolution, a 2000 book castigating textbook treatments of evolution. Krauss and Miller methodically presented their case against ID. "By no definition of any modern scientist is intelligent design science," Krauss concluded, "and it's a waste of our students' time to subject them to it."

Meyer and Wells took the typical intelligent design line: Biological life contains elements so complex - the mammalian blood-clotting mechanism, the bacterial flagellum - that they cannot be explained by natural selection. And so, the theory goes, we must be products of an intelligent designer. Creationists call that creator God, but proponents of intelligent design studiously avoid the G-word - and never point to the Bible for answers. Instead, ID believers speak the language of science to argue that Darwinian evolution is crumbling.

The debate's two-on-two format, with its appearance of equal sides, played right into the ID strategy - create the impression that this very complicated issue could be seen from two entirely rational yet opposing views. "This is a controversial subject," Meyer told the audience. "When two groups of experts disagree about a controversial subject that intersects with the public-school science curriculum, the students should be permitted to learn about both perspectives. We call this the 'teach the controversy' approach. ...

An exasperated Krauss claims that a truly representative debate would have had 10,000 pro-evolution scientists against two Discovery executives. "What these people want is for there to be a debate," says Krauss. "People in the audience say, Hey, these people sound reasonable. They argue, 'People have different opinions, we should present those opinions in school.' That is nonsense. Some people have opinions that the Holocaust never happened, but we don't teach that in history."

And this is the nub: there is much to be discussed about evolutionary theory, but discussions that simply play fast and loose with the science of the subject are worse than worthless. ('Which invites the question: exactly what kind of debate are we having? The evolution versus creationism type: just plain dumb.' KipEsquire.) When theology takes science seriously, a discussion worthy of the name can emerge:

In a paper presented last year on the subject, Father Coyne ... raises the question: "Are we forced by revealed, religious truth to accept a dualistic view of the origins of the human person -- evolutionist with respect to the material dimension, creationist with respect to the spiritual dimension?" Father Coyne and others have suggested that a case could be made for a type of divine creation that did not pre-ordain human beings, or which might have even produced thinking beings different than humans.

Does that contradict religious truth? "Not, it appears to me, if theologians can develop a more profound understanding of God's continuous creation" that allows for "freedom at all levels of the evolutionary process," Father Coyne said.

Father Coyne said the wider discussion on evolution between religion and science is marked by misunderstandings. He said the term "creation," for example, is about existence itself, not the "chain of events which bring about a specific kind of being." Likewise, when religions speak of God "creating out of nothing," scientists often equate it -- incorrectly -- with the vacuum of quantum mechanics, Father Coyne said.

Among believers, Father Coyne said, there's an unfortunate tendency to "latch onto God" when scientific explanations fall short. "One gets the impression from certain religious believers that they fondly hope for the durability of certain gaps in our scientific knowledge of evolution, so they can fill them with God," he said.