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Intelligent Design: The Diane Rehm Show

Intelligent design theory attempts to refute the chance and random forces which drive evolution. Intelligent designers like William Dembski insist that because of its complexity, life on Earth was created by an intelligent being, not by the evolutionary forces of change over time and descent with modification. In this excerpt from the WAMU's Diane Rehm radio show, Dembski debates Eugenie C. Scott, director of National Center for Science Education and an evolutionist.

Credits: 2001 WAMU, American University. All rights reserved.

Intelligent Design: The Diane Rehm Show

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15 min, 3 sec

Topics Covered:
Science, Faith, and Politics


Intelligent Design: The Diane Rehm Show:

The newest campaign by anti-Darwinists to undercut the theory of evolution borrows, in fact, from objections raised long ago. That is, there are some features of living things so complex that it seems even millions of years of natural selection couldn't have produced them. Darwin himself acknowledged the problem posed by the human eye: a precision instrument with interdependent parts -- lens, retina, iris, pupil -- that seemingly could not have developed piece by piece. However, Darwin proceeded to point out the existence of a variety of living organisms that possess "lesser" versions of eyes and light-sensitive structures that he argued represent plausible examples of the sorts of steps that may have occurred in the evolution of full-fledged eyes.

In its latest form, the assault on evolution -- and its teaching in schools -- is known as "intelligent design" theory, or ID. According to this argument, living things, and especially human beings, exhibit an intelligence underlying their makeup that could only be the work of a "designer" rather than a process of random variation accumulating over time. What such a view fails to recognize, however, is the action of natural selection acting on variations, rather than such variations simply accumulating randomly over time. It's like the argument that if you found a watch in the wilderness, you would instinctively say it must have been made by a watchmaker rather than been assembled by chance.

Compared to past attacks by creationists, with their literal belief in the biblical book of Genesis, the intelligent design movement is sophisticated and more difficult to counter. After all, there are situations in which certain information is so specific and complex that we conclude that an intelligence must be responsible for it. That's how astronomers searching for extraterrestrial life say they'll know if we receive signals from another civilization: They would be ordered in a fashion reflecting intelligence or an attempt at communication, rather than the random bursts of signals that are picked up all the time by radio telescopes.

The debate that ID has spawned quickly gets very technical. Defenders of evolution must make a persuasive case that the complexities in nature, from the human brain to the smallest molecular processes, have evolved through a combination of chance events and natural selection acting as a sorting mechanism over a long period of time.

One proponent of ID, William A. Dembski of Baylor University in Waco, Texas, has led the charge against evolution, and the ID campaign is being felt in school districts across the nation. Critics of Dembski say that while his arguments for design over chance can be effective, he and others of his ilk mainly attack Darwinism. But when asked to put forth evidence in support of a Designer or supernatural Creator, they don't have much to say.

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