A construction contractor struggling to prevent a failed project criticized his designer as “flying by the seat of his pants,” meaning that he was simply making up stuff as the project progressed. Projects that lack clearly defined purpose or key design objectives generally fail. Purpose and design are inseparable.1 Only a foolish architect would propose a project devoid of purpose. So it is astounding how explanations of nature’s design by evolutionary theorists—a career field that never designs anything—not only intentionally decouple purpose and design, but are presented as something to boast about.
That thinking by evolutionists was predictable. According to Romans 1, nature’s design is so clear, so obvious, and so understandable that people of all ages in all cultures can easily see the Lord’s “eternal power and Godhead.” The one who actively suppresses this truth becomes a God-denier, an act that leaves him “without excuse.”
The Bible adds another valuable insight that is useful in any conversation about the origin of nature’s design. Truth suppressors who profess themselves to be wise actually become fools. One certain reality is that evolutionary explanations of nature’s design will invariably be foolish—they cannot escape this—and everyone else just needs to be mindful to look.
Is it possible to know where a conversation will end up—without fail—right from the beginning? Yes. This useful assurance will help believers who worry that evolutionists will produce a “killer” explanation that crushes creationist thinking. True evolutionists must deny purpose in nature. Since design and purpose are inseparable, they violate this principle at their peril. Just as purposeless construction projects fail, evolutionary thinking forces failed scientific explanations—leaving only incoherent or mystical stories.
The First Step to Incoherence: Deny Nature’s Purpose
The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology states that “engineering design is the process of devising a system, component, or process to meet desired needs. It is a decision-making process (often iterative), in which the basic science and mathematics and engineering sciences are applied to convert resources optimally to meet a stated objective.”1 The centrality of purpose to design is emphasized twice. Purpose initiates design processes, and designs are constrained to meet the purpose.
Evolutionists choose not to accept nature’s purpose since purpose affirms intent, willful decisions, or other attributes of personality, and only God is big enough to implement a purpose for earth. Thus, evolutionists must eschew “teleology,” the study of purpose in nature. But the purpose-recognition instinct is so strong, biologists struggle to escape it. Evolutionist David Hanke complained:
Biology is sick. Fundamentally unscientific modes of thought are increasingly accepted….[T]he heart of the problem is that we persist in making (literally) sense of a world that we know to be senseless by attributing subjective values to the objects in it, values that have no basis in reality…. [I]t is no longer acceptable to think of biological objects as having any purpose because the overwhelming consensus of scientific opinion is that they were not designed and built by a Creator (a mental construct necessary to inject a human sense of purpose into existence) with purposes in mind for them. Instead we believe (I’ll put that as strongly as I can) they are products of Darwinian evolution.2
For evolutionism, design must somehow arise from mindless properties of matter. The belief that nothing exists outside of matter is called “materialism.” Would evolutionists persist in this mindset unfazed, even knowing that excluding purpose is toxic to sensible explanations? It seems so. Evolutionary authority Richard Lewontin is candid about this materialistic implication:
We have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism…we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes…that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.3
Learning a Short Example
Do evolutionists really maintain explanations that are “counter-intuitive” and “mystifying to the uninitiated”?
Explaining the universe’s origin, cosmologist Stephen Hawking says:
Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist....It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.4
Another theorist detailed why Hawking’s views are plausible:
Then there’s the idea of inflation, which predicts that an extremely tiny region of space can blow up into a universe-sized domain. Modern cosmologists believe that inflation, once it starts, can keep going forever, continually creating new “pocket universes” with different conditions in each one.5
Theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss adds:
So if we can explain a raindrop, why can’t we explain a universe? Mr. Hawking based his argument on the possible existence of extra dimensions—and perhaps an infinite number of universes, which would indeed make the spontaneous appearance of a universe like ours seem almost trivial.6
In biology, the National Academy of Sciences solved the origins dilemma for how molecular machines got all of their parts at the right time and place:
We proposed that simple “core” machines were established in the first eukaryotes by drawing on pre-existing bacterial proteins that had previously provided distinct functions. Subsequently, and in a stepwise process in keeping with Darwinian evolution, additional modules would have been added to the core machines to enhance their function.7
Evolutionist Kathryn Applegate of BioLogos joins in: “The bacterial flagellum may look like an outboard motor, but there is at least one profound difference: the flagellum assembles spontaneously, without the help of any conscious agent.” Acknowledging that “the self-assembly of such a complex machine almost defies the imagination,” she justifies shrugging off this difficulty since “natural forces work ‘like magic.’”8
Then there’s natural selection’s clever abilities to evolve systems: “The discovery that the hemoglobins of jawed and jawless vertebrates were invented independently provides powerful testimony to the ability of natural selection to cobble together similar design solutions using different starting materials.”9 Or how humans inherited basic parts of their nervous system from sponges: “‘Evolution can take these “off-the-shelf” components and put them together in new and interesting ways,’ said study leader Kenneth Kosik....Other genes would also have had to evolve or to have been co-opted to create complex nervous systems, such as our own.”10
After studying a pivotal fossil, Britain’s top science journal explained its evolutionary ancestry:
This forces us to infer much longer ghost lineages for tetrapods and elpistostegids [lobe-finned fish] than the body fossil record suggests....(Ghost lineages are those that must have existed at a particular time, according to the phylogeny, but which are not represented by fossils at that time.)11
What about humans? In jocular evolutionary speculation, Oliver Curry expects future genetic-based classes of humans will emerge:
People would become choosier about their sexual partners, causing humanity to divide into sub-species….The descendants of the genetic upper class would be tall, slim, healthy, attractive, intelligent, and creative and a far cry from the “underclass” humans who would have evolved into dim-witted, ugly, squat goblin-like creatures.12
Evolutionary theorists appear to build one incoherent or mysterious explanation upon another—an “uninitiated” contractor might be tempted to conclude that they are flying by the seat of their pants.
Pulling It All Together
The best explanation for design remains the main issue. Is it real or only apparent? True evolutionary explanations for apparent design must separate two things that cannot be disconnected: purpose and design.
Should Christians feel threatened by a foolish worldview that inevitably produces counterintuitive explanations that appeal to an infinitude of self-creating universes where an unobserved force—natural selection—co-opts discrete, off-the-shelf molecular parts and cobbles together complex machines that self-assemble like magic, eventually emerging, after a long trail of ghost lineages, as organisms which, by the year 3000, will give rise to dimwitted goblins coexisting with their cousins—genetically superior attractive humans?
“Why don’t you believe in evolution?” A totally rational response is: “Explanations that assert that the diversity of life on earth is the outcome of a blind purposeless process are ridiculous. I have no desire to engage in selfdelusion that the exquisite features of design seen in nature are all an illusion. A far better explanation is that the Lord Jesus Christ created each kind of organism with inherent capabilities to diversify in order to fill environments on the earth…which they do remarkably well.”
- ABET Definition of Design. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Posted on me.unlv.edu, accessed October 8, 2010.
- Hanke, D. 2004. Teleology: The explanation that bedevils biology. In Explanations: Styles of explanation in science. Cornwell, J., ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 143-155.
- Lewontin, R. 1997. Billions and Billions of Demons. The New York Review of Books. 44 (1): 31.
- Roberts, L. Stephen Hawking: God was not needed to create the Universe. Telegraph. Posted on telegraph.co.uk September 2, 2010, accessed October 8, 2010.
- Carroll, S. The ‘Why?’ Questions, Chapter and Multiverse. Wall Street Journal. Posted on online.wsj.com September 24, 2010, accessed October 8, 2010.
- Krauss, L. M. Our Spontaneous Universe. Wall Street Journal. Posted on online.wsj.com September 8, 2010, accessed October 8, 2010.
- Clements, A. et al. 2009. The reducible complexity of a mitochondrial molecular machine. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 106 (37):15791-15795.
- Applegate, K. Self-Assembly of the Bacterial Flagellum: No Intelligence Required. The BioLogos Forum. Posted on biologos. org August 19, 2010, accessed October 8, 2010.
- Simons, T. Biologists find that red-blooded vertebrates evolved twice, independently. University of Nebraska-Lincoln news release, July 26, 2010.
- Than, K. Origins of Human Nervous System Found in Sponges. LiveScience. Posted on livescience.com June 6, 2007, accessed October 8, 2010.
- Niedzwiedzki, G. et al. 2010. Tetrapod trackways from the early Middle Devonian period of Poland. Nature. 463 (7277): 43-48.
- Human species ‘may split in two.’ BBC News. Posted on news.bbc.co.uk October 17, 2006, accessed October 8, 2010.
* Dr. Guliuzza is ICR’s National Representative.
Cite this article: Guliuzza, R. 2010. The Folly of Design without Purpose. Acts & Facts. 39 (12): 10-11.