Sometimes all a medical doctor can do is treat one symptom after another rather than addressing what’s actually making the patient sick. People who believe that organisms look designed because they are designed frequently face the same frustrating cycle when they talk to those who embrace evolution. Just like doctors treating only the symptoms, they counter the latest evolutionary claims with science-based answers only to have each discredited “evidence” for evolution followed by another “but what about…?” challenge. It can be like an endless game of whack-a-mole.
A better tactic is to address the root problem—the theory of evolution itself. This is the approach ICR’s book Twenty Evolutionary Blunders takes.1 It answers evolutionary objections, but more importantly it identifies a problematic element of evolutionary theory known as extrapolationism. This is the imaginary process evolutionists use to visualize how present biological phenomena may have originated and functioned millions of years ago. This book explains how scientists’ highly speculative theories combined with fertile evolutionary imagination have resulted in multiple major scientific blunders.
If you want to understand how evolutionists can clearly see what look like engineered features in a creature and yet conclude that the incredible design is only an illusion, then you must know why evolutionary theory was developed. To treat the root cause and not just symptoms, it is vital that you learn how evolutionary theory interprets data and frames explanations.
Darwin’s Design Flip-Flop
This Engineered Adaptability article series has explored how Charles Darwin employed tremendous imagination in developing a clever hypothetical story that flips reality on its head.2 We’ve seen how creatures respond to changing environmental conditions by reshaping themselves from the inside out. Their own internal mechanisms produce variable traits that are highly suitable to certain challenges, traits they can then pass on to offspring through their innate reproductive and inheritance capabilities. Darwin radically re-characterized these self-adjusting capacities within organisms. He saw them as somehow being molded from the outside in, which means their basic body plans arose over time due to the external forces of nature remodeling them.
Per Darwin, random geological and ecological changes drove creatures to evolve into life’s current diversity. How? He envisioned ceaseless deadly struggles over scarce resources in which very few individuals of a species survive—but somehow the population does not go extinct. He envisioned nature exercising agency over organisms through a projected volitional ability to “select” or “favor” some—even though nature does not have a mind. He imagined that radical changes in morphology are not only plausible but even simple if one can envision imperceptibly tiny changes happening over an incomprehensibly long time—something totally foreign to all actual human experience.
Thus, Darwin developed a sophisticated anti-design theory to explain how so many creature features that clearly function for a purpose could originate apart from the agency of a Designer. Darwin did not claim that creatures are poorly designed. Rather, he constructed a framework that combined a misinterpretation of organisms’ engineered adaptive ability with a concept of mystical external forces of causation (natural selection).
The Challenge: Explain the Design of Living Things Without a Designer
To understand a theory, you need an acquaintance with the history of its formation. Evolutionists explain it best. “The conundrum faced by Darwin can hardly be overestimated,” according to Francisco Ayala. He goes on:
The strength of the argument from design to demonstrate the role of the Creator had been forcefully set forth by philosophers and theologians. Wherever there is function or design, we look for its author. It was Darwin’s greatest accomplishment to show that the complex organization and functionality of living beings can be explained as the result of a natural process—natural selection—without any need to resort to a Creator or other external agent.3
If someone wants to make an effective anti-design explanation, then they must first know the evidence for the pro-design position. Earlier in life, Darwin had applied himself to learn what the greatest advocates for design thought, so he was equipped with the elements he needed to build its antithesis.
Darwin Understood and Targeted Essential Characteristics of Design
Stephen Jay Gould quoted Darwin’s 1859 letter to his neighbor John Lubbock to emphasize Darwin’s thorough understanding of the most renowned intelligent design advocate in his day, William Paley. Darwin wrote, “I do not think I hardly ever admired a book more than Paley’s ‘Natural Theology.’ I could almost formerly have said it by heart.”4 Gould noted that after re-reading Paley, Darwin’s style of argument, examples, and even his words closely matched Paley’s, and Gould said, “I was struck by the correspondences between Paley’s and Darwin’s structure of argument (though Darwin, of course, inverts the explanation).”5
Darwin used his knowledge about how engineers purposefully use fundamental principles to design distinct entities. But in lieu of God’s agency, he substituted the environment exercising designing agency over organisms through random processes.
Anti-Design Essential: Externalism
A key of his success was that “Darwin’s theory, in strong and revolutionary contrast, presents a first ‘externalist’ account of evolution.…Darwin overturned all previous traditions by thus granting the external environment a causal and controlling role in the direction of evolutionary change.”6 Accordingly, Darwin “accepted the view that the environment directly instructs the organism how to vary, and he proposed a mechanism for inheriting those changes….The organism was like modeling clay.”7 This externalism is the opposite of the purposeful internalism used by engineers, who build into their self-adjusting entities the needed problem-solving capacity up front.
Earlier in his career, Gould synopsized fundamental distinctions between evolutionary externalism and internally designed approaches to adaptation. He said:
Moreover, natural selection, expressed in inappropriate human terms, is a remarkably inefficient, even cruel process. Selection carves adaptation by eliminating masses of the less fit—imposing hecatombs of death as preconditions for limited increments of change. Natural selection is the theory of “trial and error externalism”…not an efficient and human “goal-directed internalism” (which would be fast and lovely, but nature does not know the way).8
The Anti-Design Conclusion: Nature Is a Tinkerer
Evolutionary theorists must hold that any change within creatures is purposeless and that most genetic changes associated with adaptations are random, even though they cannot scientifically establish either premise.2 These mantra-like assertions merely convey the anti-design essentials of their theory. In fact, they leave no doubt that they are contrasting the distinctive practices of engineers to their non-purposeful characterization of evolution as being the result of the interplay of accidental genetic changes and directionless environmental fluctuations.
Evolutionary change occurs because phenotypic variation within populations is generated through random alterations to existing pathways or structures. This point has been made many times, including by Darwin (1859), but perhaps was made most clearly by F. Jacob’s (1977) useful and brilliant analogy between evolutionary change and tinkering (‘bricolage’ in French). Unlike engineers who design objects with particular goals in mind based on a priori plans and principles, tinkers create and modify objects opportunistically by using whatever happens to be available and convenient.9
If we look closer at François Jacob’s often-quoted analogy, he personifies natural selection with the capability to do work in specific contrast to engineers: “However, if one wanted to play with a comparison, one would have to say that natural selection does not work as an engineer works. It works like a tinkerer—a tinkerer who does not know exactly what he is going to produce.”10
Darwin’s Anti-Designer Perversion
People intuitively link a Creator God to the features of living things because they correspond so well to the features of human workmanship. Gould notes:
The word adaptation did not enter biology with the advent of evolutionary theory....The British school of natural theology used “adaptation” as a standard word for illustrating God’s wisdom by the exquisite fit of form to immediate function. Darwin, in borrowing this term, followed an established definition while radically revising the cause of the phenomenon.11
Darwin’s radical inversion of the causality of adaptation depended totally on the innate capability of creatures to self-adjust, but he then attributed their targeted responses to their somehow being “molded” from the outside. The switch in causality for adaptation from internal to external isn’t merely quibbling over semantics. The theological consequences of Darwin’s shrewd twisting of the explanation for adaptation are so profound that Gould notes that most evolutionists still do not grasp them.
This fact sets the context for possibly the most perceptive—and important—analysis of the anti-designer focus of evolutionary theory achieved by Darwin. As Gould continues, Darwin’s anti-design explanation goes even further to mock the good purposes of God:
Now suppose, as a problem in abstract perversity, that one made a pledge to subvert Paley in the most radical way possible. What would one claim? I can imagine two basic refutations. One might label Paley’s primary observation as simply wrong—by arguing that exquisite adaptation is relatively rare, and that the world is replete with error, imperfection, misery and caprice. If God made such a world, then we might want to reassess our decision to worship him. An upsetting argument indeed, but Darwin chose an even more radical alternative.
With even more perversity, one might judge Paley’s observation as undoubtedly correct. Nature features exquisite adaptation at overwhelming relative frequency. But the unkindest cut of all then holds that this order, the very basis of Paley’s inference about the nature of God, arises not directly from omnipotent benevolence, but only as a side-consequence of a causal principle of entirely opposite import—namely, as the incidental effect of organisms struggling for their own benefit, expressed as reproductive success. Could any argument be more subversive? One accepts the conventional observation, but then offers an explanation that not only inverts orthodoxy, but seems to mock the standard interpretation in a manner that could almost be called cruel. This more radical version lies at the core of Darwin’s argument for natural selection.12
Perverse, indeed. In sum, what evolutionary theory teaches is that nature’s beauty and complexity do not exemplify God’s engineering genius, wisdom, and kindness, but in utter contrast are only the incidental byproducts of a cruel, self-centered, death-fueled process—perpetuated by every creature acting out its own ultimately purposeless existence.
When it comes to countering the ubiquitous evolutionary misinformation that surrounds us, understanding the theory matters even more than obtaining an answer to the latest evolutionary claim. That is why this article series is developing a design-based, organism-focused model called continuous environmental tracking (CET) that is centered on the innate capabilities of organisms to actively track environmental changes. The evidence for this model is overwhelming. Everywhere we look in God’s living creatures, we see numerous purposefully engineered systems that produce highly regulated responses that are so targeted to specific challenges that they are often characterized as “predictable.”
But even more important than its scientific applicability, the CET model honors our Lord Jesus Christ as life’s incredible Engineer. The more we know about the world He created, the more we can echo David’s words: “Many, O LORD my God, are your wonderful works which You have done” (Psalm 40:5).
Click here for other articles in the Engineered Adaptability series.
- Guliuzza, R. J. 2017. Twenty Evolutionary Blunders: Dangers and Difficulties of Darwinian Thinking. Dallas, TX: Institute for Creation Research.
- Guliuzza, R. J. 2017. Engineered Adaptability: Adaptability via Nature or Design? What Evolutionists Say. Acts & Facts. 46 (9): 17-19; Guliuzza, R. J. 2018. Engineered Adaptability: Adaptive Changes Are Purposeful, Not Random. Acts & Facts. 47 (6): 17-19; Guliuzza, R. J. 2018. Engineered Adaptability: Adaptive Solutions Are Targeted, Not Trial-and-Error. Acts & Facts. 47 (7): 18-20.
- Ayala, F. J. 2007. Darwin’s greatest discovery: Design without designer. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. 104 (suppl 1): 8567–8573.
- Gould, S. J. 2002. The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 116.
- Ibid, 119.
- Ibid, 161-162, emphasis added.
- Kirschner, M. W. and J. C. Gerhart. 2005. The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin’s Dilemma. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 3, 31.
- Gould, S. J. 1994. The Power of This View of Life. Natural History. 103 (6): 6-8.
- Lieberman, D. E. and B. K. Hall. 2007. The evolutionary developmental biology of tinkering: an introduction to the challenge. In Tinkering: The Microevolution of Development. G. Bock and J. Goode, eds. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 4.
- Jacob, F. 1977. Evolution and tinkering. Science. 196 (4295): 1161-1166.
- Gould, Structure of Evolutionary Theory, 117, emphasis added.
- Ibid, 120-121, emphasis added.
* Dr. Guliuzza is ICR’s National Representative. He earned his M.D. from the University of Minnesota, his Master of Public Health from Harvard University, and served in the U.S. Air Force as 28th Bomb Wing Flight Surgeon and Chief of Aerospace Medicine. Dr. Guliuzza is also a registered Professional Engineer.