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Readers respond to intelligent design

Editor’s Note : “The Evolution of Intelligent Design” essays that sparked so much reader response can be read online.


Bravo for Behe

Re: the Winter cover article on Intelligent Design, I was pleased that Lehigh was encouraging discussion of Darwinian ideology. Professor Behe's position and the implications of Intelligent Design are not as extreme as the opposing viewpoints suggest. The Darwinian world view is based on the belief that purely random factors were involved in the creative process. Four hundred scientists recently signed a statement stressing they were "skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life." (See Michael Behe's book, Darwin's Black Box.) Surveys of our population indicate over 90 percent of the U.S. population believe in God. The Darwinian, naturalist world view is incompatible with the theistic world view held by the vast majority of our society.

This gap between the naturalist world view and the theistic world view of 90 percent of our population is the rationale for more debate and discussion in our schools and journals. Just the opposite is taking place as political correctness in academia and intellectual victimization in society attempt to silence a theistic world view.

Bravo for the forum and Professor Behe's courage in speaking out in spite of the extraordinary Web site opposition of his colleagues.

Bill Beattie '59


A tautology

Your writers other than Behe labored honorably to expose intelligent design as a religious belief in a mysterious creator, who if not God, must really annoy God for usurpation of powers. The funny thing is that creationism/ID are orthogonal to science. Religious belief is just that—belief. No need for tests, picking apart of theories by ever more careful observation, etc. The mutual projection of science and belief on one another is essentially null—no shadows cast, by either on the other.

Science has no need for “beliefs” because its Greek root, “to know,” demands we test our ideas against hard reality. Religious belief/ID already “knows” what it needs, which is why there are so many different religious beliefs among humans, even when they disparage one another and even lead to mutual murder.

A friend who is a wobbly “IDer” answered one question a while back and in that, proved all of ID’s arguments (like Paley’s found water or Behe’s cellular motors) irrelevant. The question: “We now know by observations that every atomic particle our world is made of is composed of simple compositions of just 3 quarks, plus electrons and photons. Is that Intelligent Design?” My friend’s answer: “Yes.”

Trapped. We need not know what quarks and smaller things are to know that every atom, molecule, assemblage of same, every rock, star, person … has specific structural properties exactly related to the quark structures of protons and neutrons, with electrons and photons thrown in. From binding energies, valences, molecular geometries, polymerizations, upward and onward, the quarks build us and everything we can sense in a unique way. No need for a creator/designer. Nature’s way is remarkably predictable, yet robustly variable, in our safe part of the universe.

In fact, if one wanted to assign an “intelligence” to the reality around us, it would simply be that what quarks, gravity and electromagnetic energy provide are precisely the right mechanisms for variability and selection to operate at every level of reproducing entities—life. If science is the art of gaining knowledge and religion is the art of constructing beliefs, then nature/reality is the art of what works.

Behe uses words like “purpose” and “design” to mislead people into thinking that the anthropocentric interpretation of those words, matched with the obvious complexity of living things, augurs for a Designer—curiously, one that isn’t any religions’ God(s), nor Nature. Clearly a belief that at once hides its religiosity yet is safe from any challenge or test—a tautology.

It’s always amusing to see people like Behe struggle to hide the natural world’s inherent ability to select from variable, reproductive sources. Surely he has some genetic defects/differences in comparison with others, as we all do. By the way, “genetic programming” is a computer science topic in which practical application of variability in code and selective pressure in performance actually succeed in the automatic writing of working computer programs that solve the designers’ problems. Natural evolution operates here, not Behe’s Designer.

But, if the Designer was so good, why the variations we see all around us? Taken another way, what better way for God to “design” the world and its life than to make quarks work as they do, throw in radiative and gravitational energies to add variability and selective pressures, and watch things run themselves from a nice cloud on high. Now that would be very intelligent design.

Ok, so it wasn’t 200 words, but it was fun! Maybe Behe can simply take a permanent sabbatical to his ID institute and leave my alma mater alone to recover its proper standing.

Alex Cannara ‘61


Why was the watch in the field?

I found the collection of essays on intelligent design in the winter issue of the Alumni Bulletin to be very interesting. However, I am always somewhat puzzled by what the issue of intelligent design vs. evolution is really all about. Professor Behe makes allegorical reference to a watch that we might come upon in a field, with the assertion that we would all conclude that it was the product of intelligent design. Surely this is true, but it is also true that the watch is also the product of about 350 years of evolution. This watch is much different from timepieces of the seventeenth century. Furthermore, that watch is going the way of the Wooly Mammoth in Darwinesque manner, having been replaced by more reliable and accurate electronic timekeeping. Maybe that's why the watch was in the field in the first place.

From a carpenter's hammer to a modern airplane, I can think of no product that has not undergone major evolutionary change from initial concept to maturity. Evolution is a natural process, in the area of human endeavor and in nature. Accepting that, the issue then becomes, what or who drives the process of evolution in the natural world and it seems to me that that is best handled by one's personal beliefs.

Nils Carlson '56


Logic and rationality still prevail at Lehigh

I finally got around to reading the Winter 2006 issue of the Alumni Bulletin, and couldn’t help but be drawn to the cover article on “Intelligent Design.” I have been watching the debate on this subject in the press and the courts with much interest, because as a scholar it worries me that religious fanaticism could overtake science in our country’s classrooms. When I heard that a Lehigh professor was supporting the now ousted Dover Township school board’s crusade, I was embarrassed for our community.

After reading the thoughtful essays in this article, I am a bit relieved. While Michael Behe’s essay indicates that he still doesn’t understand the meaning of a scientific hypothesis, the others indicate that logic and rationality still prevail at Lehigh. I only hope that Dr. Behe doesn’t bring any of his fallacious logic into the Lehigh classrooms. It’s a shame that he can’t see what his colleagues have so clearly articulated, that intelligent design is a concept that has no place in science.

Lewis Chasalow ‘78, ‘79, ‘82


Nonsense!

The Winter 2006 issue of the Alumni Bulletin just arrived, along with your invitation to help defray the Bulletin’s costs: For religious propaganda like this? Nonsense.

I write as an alumnus with a Lehigh B.A. in journalism, a Syracuse M.A. in journalism, and long experience as a journalist, including a dozen years as a writer and editor at The Wall Street Journal. It also was once my privilege to be a member of the visiting committee for Lehigh’s Journalism Department. And as a writer, editor and consultant in the corporate world for more than a quarter century, I’ve seen more than my share of verisimilitude pass for veracity. So I know what I’m talking about when I say again of this issue’s cover topic: Nonsense.

Has my alma mater become The Lehigh School of Bible Studies? The university was, among other things, a place of science and engineering … but now you promote so-called “intelligent design.” Yes, “promote”—for the issue’s cover statement, “The Evolution of Intelligent Design,” presupposes that there is/was such a thing as “intelligent design.” And for the Bulletin (and university!) to foster any such “debate” is simply playing into the thought-control of creationists who would require teaching “both sides of the issue” as if there were any scientific debate at all about the validity of evolution: Nonsense.

Faith may be unarguable, but what hubris of Prof. Behe to speak as a scientist and to imagine that he, or any human, can pretend to the intelligence to truly comprehend any scheme of design for the universe. Cosmologists contemplate the Big Bang, physicists probe ever-deeper levels of sub-quantum reality, biologists seek the spark of life that animated an inorganic world … and Behe blithely says, “Here’s what God was doing…!” What nonsense!

Worse yet, what a mistake for the Bulletin to encourage such dangerous nonsense. What’s next—a cover story on a faculty member or alumnus who espouses a flat-world theory, or denies the Holocaust, or simply wishes to share the excitement of being abducted by aliens? Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense—which it is the job of an editor to expose, not encourage.

For shame, Mr. Marshall. For shame, editor Croft. For shame, Lehigh.

I’m embarrassed to sign myself an alumnus, with regret.

Jim Dulicai ‘64


Repeatability, predictability, and teachability

As I look at the universe, I have no choice but to perceive myself as the center of the universe. I cannot conceive of a time when I did not exist nor can I picture a time when I will cease to exist. This is part of the nature of the human beast. But even if I had the power to, I would never try to foist my perception of the universe or its creation on anyone else.

Science demands repeatability, predictability, and teachability. Repeatability can be as simple as making two Chevrolets the same or shooting two bulls eyes in a row. Predictability can be shown in using Newton’s laws to predict the motion of a planet. (Although interestingly, Newton’s laws tell us nothing of how things are made. They are not even “correct,” since they only predict correctly in a realm where Einstein’s relativistic affects are trivial. And who knows if even Einstein’s rules are the final word?) And if you can’t teach it to another person, repeatability and predictability do not exist.

A great virtue of mankind is the ability to ask why. A great curse of mankind is to have to live without the answers to many of his questions. Religion and philosophy try to fill these voids, sometimes disastrously when they tread on answers that can be called scientific. The only repeatability, predictability, and teachability in religion and creationism is by rote. Rote never changes except with new rote over time or by force. True science changes with improved repeatability and predictability.

Bibles are nice, but the only proof of a bible is itself. And if a man tells you that “god” told him, I can tell you that it’s not true. Because “god” talks to me and he (strange how “god” is almost always male) told me he only speaks to me.

Allen Edelstein ‘64


Anything could evolve

Proponents of Intelligent Design (note the caps) overlook the power of time. The story goes that in 1626, the American Indians sold Manhattan for $28. If they had invested that money at 7 percent interest, they would now have over 4 trillion dollars ... enough to buy back Manhattan. One cent invested at 7 percent at the birth of Christ would now yield enough money to buy everything on earth many times over.

Evolution works with large numbers of individuals, very small changes per generation, and very large numbers of generations. It's not hard to see that given enough time, just about anything could evolve. Add environmental pressures (survival of the fittest) and it’s to be expected that similarities among species would be common.

Richard R. Gilbert ‘55

Posted on Friday, June 16, 2006

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