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John G. West Political Scientist and Cultural Critic

A Biologist Misunderstands Intelligent Design (Again)

Published at Evolution News

In an earlier article, I pointed out biologist Kathryn Applegate’s astonishing attempt to attribute the bacterial flagellum to “magic” rather than intelligent design. But I neglected to point out another problem with her critique of ID: She apparently does not understand what the theory of intelligent design actually proposes. Applegate’s misunderstanding becomes clear early-on when she asserts: “Despite the strong appearance of special design, most scientists, myself included, believe the evidence points to a gradual development for the bacterial flagellum.” Applegate here treats intelligent design as the opposite of “a gradual development of the bacterial flagellum.” But no intelligent design theorist would do that. Many intelligently-designed things in nature may well develop through a gradual process. That’s not the issue. The issue is whether things can develop through a gradual process that is undirected.

This is precisely what modern Darwinian theory proposes, claiming that all the highly-functional complex features we find throughout nature were produced by an undirected process that did not have them in mind. According to Darwinism, natural selection is blind to the future and cannot select for future functionality. According to intelligent design theorists, selecting for future functionality is exactly what intelligent agents do, and therefore the highly-functional complexity we find in nature provides good evidence for intelligent causation, whether the process of development was gradual or not.

The fact that Applegate so egregiously misunderstands intelligent design makes me wonder how many books and articles she has actually read by the intelligent design theorists she thinks she is critiquing. Alas, Applegate’s ill-informed critique is all too typical when it comes to the opponents of intelligent design, most of whom seem content to attack a straw-man version of ID rather than the real thing.

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.
Discovery Institute