Intelligent Design

June 7, 2006

Intelligent Design – the concept that “certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process, such as natural selection.” (Discovery Institute, Center for Science and Culture) This definition and much of the other material concerning “Intelligent Design” come from the Wikipedia (Free Encyclopedia) Internet entry for I.D.

“Intelligent Design” rests on certain assumptions, one of which is “Irreducible Complexity.” Michael Behe, a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University defines this concept as “…a single system which is composed of several well-matched interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.” (Behe, Molecular Machines: Experimental Support for the Design Inference)

Behe uses the simple mousetrap as an illustrative example of this concept. “A mousetrap consists of several interacting pieces – the base, the catch, the spring, the hammer – all of which must be in place for the mousetrap to work. The removal of any one piece destroys the function of the mousetrap. Intelligent Design advocates assert that natural selection could not create irreducibly complex systems, because the selectable function is only present when all parts are assembled. Behe’s original examples of alleged irreducibly complex biological mechanisms included the bacterial flagellum of E. Coli, the blood clotting cascade, cilia and the adaptive immune system.”

“The Intelligent Design concept of ‘Specified complexity’ was developed by mathematician, philosopher and theologian William Dembski. Dembski states that when something exhibits specified complexity (i.e. is both complex and specified, simultaneously), one can infer that it was produced by an intelligent cause (i.e. that it was designed) rather than being the result of natural processes. He provides the following examples: ‘A single letter of the alphabet is specified without being complex. A long sequence of random letters is complex without being specified. A Shakespearean sonnet is both complex and specified.’ He states that details of living things can be similarly characterized, especially the ‘patterns’ of molecular sequences in functional biological molecules such as DNA.”

Recently, there has been a controversy about the idea of “Intelligent Design.” “According to critics, ‘Intelligent Design’ has not presented a credible scientific case, and is an attempt to teach religion in public schools, which the U.S. Constitution forbids under the Establishment Clause.” “Proponents say that evidence exists in the forms of irreducible complexity and specified complexity that cannot be explained by natural processes. Supporters also hold that religious neutrality requires the teaching of both Evolution and ‘Intelligent Design’ in schools …Teaching both, ‘Intelligent Design’ supporters argue, allows for the possibility of religious belief, without causing the state to actually promote such beliefs.”

As far as its place in the Biology curriculum of Yeshivot, I would suggest that “Intelligent Design” be a significant part of the introduction to the course. That should be followed by a fully rigorous course in Biology, including the Section on Evolution, that points out and thoroughly discusses both the way that Evolution has contributed to our understanding of the way the world is conducted by the “Ribbono shel Olam,” the Master of the Universe, but also the major scientific deficiencies in the Theory, which certainly exist.

It seems clear to me that anyone who believes in the Truth of the Torah, which declares that there is a “Borei Olam,” a Creator, “ipso facto,” by that very fact, must believe as the axiom of all axioms that the World was designed not only with Intelligence, but with wisdom that is infinite. As a Creator, HaShem established the values of physical constants and the strength of nuclear forces with amazing precision, such that if they varied just infinitesimally, the solar system or even galaxies could not exist, much less life on earth. He is the One Who designed and fashioned the human body, about which we recite several times a day, “Blessed are You, HaShem our G-d, King of the Universe, Who fashioned Man with wisdom, and created within him many openings and many cavities. It is obvious and known before Your Throne of Glory that if but one of them were to be ruptured or but one of them were to be blocked, it would be impossible to stand before You. Blessed are You, HaShem, Who heals all flesh and acts wondrously.”

He is also the Creator of the Spiritual and Moral Universe, as is laid out in the Ten Utterances of Sinai. He is the One Who fashioned the human soul and moral conscience, in accordance with the verse, “The Soul of Man is the Lamp of G-d, searching out all the chambers of one’s innards” (Mishlei 20:27) – and designed it such that it can respond to the challenge of “…You shall be holy for I, HaShem your G-d, am Holy.” (VaYikra 19:2)

And the Physical World and the Spiritual World are intimately related, in accordance with the verse, “Thus said HaShem, ‘If not for My ‘Brit,’ My Covenant of Torah, I would not have established Day and Night and the Laws of Heaven and Earth.’ ” (Yirmiyahu 33:25)