Everyone certainly sees design in nature by observing the purpose of precisely fitted parts--those in fish gills or bird wings, for instance, enable those animals to fit into their environments. Evolutionists, however, seek to suppress humans' natural tendency to link features of design to a real designer. They teach that complex animals only appear to be designed and that what looks like intelligent crafting is only an illusion.
Why not accept that evolutionary explanation? This is a fair question, but there is no need to jump right into a list of scientific problems raised by evolution. Instead, start with what is relevant to explaining design: the fact that evolutionary "science" is different from sciences that use natural, repeatable, and verifiable methods to explain phenomena. Evolution is fundamentally a historical narrative--a story--that attempts to reconstruct unseen past events.1 Many people find this story too weak to be a persuasive reason for design, since it is built on absolute chance and uses remarkably unscientific language within its explanations.
Evolutionists Explain Design Using Unscientific "Magic Words"
The term "magic words" is used here as a concise idiom that describes the best words evolutionists use to explain "apparent" design. Evolutionists confidently insist that a complex biological feature simply "appeared," "emerged," "arose," "gave rise to," "burst onto the scene," "evolved itself," "derived," "was on the way to becoming," "radiated into," "modified itself," "became a miracle of evolution," "was making the transition to," "manufactured itself," "evolution's way of dealing with," "derived emergent properties," or "was lucky."
How do words like "appeared" explain design? Just like magic, the use of this word invokes mysterious powers within unseen universes that are capable of leaping over enormous scientific obstacles without having to provide any scientific consideration for how a particular physical result was achieved. Magic words convey wish-like convictions that if evolutionists just believe deeply enough, their explanations must be true and someday will be true--though currently resisted by all scientific evidence. Explaining design by believing it "arose" appeals to imaginary special forces which help evolutionists to connect the evolutionary dots. But as in any magical kingdom, the connections are mental fantasies that are not grounded in reality.
Magic words lack explanatory power because they fail to tie real observations to detailed descriptions of how features of design originate. Claiming that novel biological features "burst onto the scene" abandons the need for experimental verification; indeed, the implication is to not even try. Take any biological observation. In evolutionary thinking, any observation can be transformed into a proof that explains its own existence by applying the magic phrase: "It exists because it is favored by natural selection." In reality, observations are only observations and are neither proofs nor explanations.
Engineers, medical doctors, and other scientists who rely on studies or experiments do not use these kinds of words. Their products do not "emerge" but develop via thought-filled processes. They rightly call filling a knowledge gap with narrative stories "arm waving," which calls to mind a stage magician.
In conversation with others, it would be difficult to overemphasize how important magic words are to evolutionary theory. Remark on how these words pervade elite journals like Science, popular magazines like Scientific American, and television shows like NOVA. "Magic words" pour from evolutionary literature like water over Niagara Falls. Challenge your listener to carefully observe the communication in these forums, noting how many paragraphs or statements pass without the use of these words. They are the lifeblood of the evolutionary community's most profound and highest-quality scientific literature.
Evolutionists Insist Chance Alone Produces Design
People should be educated about the central--but cleverly de-emphasized--dogma of evolution, that complex design is a wholly chance outcome of natural processes operating in a mindless, self-contained system that does not determine need or purpose in advance, and sets no direction. Distinguished science historian Jacques Barzun described the key elements of evolution as "the sum total of the accidents of life acting upon the sum total of the accidents of variation" leading to a "completely mechanistic and material system"2--i.e., one with no God.
In 1995, the influential National Association of Biology Teachers crafted a definitive "Statement on the Teaching of Evolution" that affirmed the centrality of chance. Their first tenet read, "The diversity of life on Earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments."3
Newsweek summed up the view of Harvard's renowned paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould:
Why did some lineages survive while most perished? There is no obvious reason, says Gould. The survivors were not simpler or more complex, more generalized or specialized, more numerous or superior in any obvious way;...The obvious answer, but one which most people instinctively resist, is that they were lucky.4
Not only is there instinctive resistance to this answer, but it is intellectually distasteful to credit blind luck for complex designs. People experientially know designers are--without exception--the real cause. Teachers of evolution, therefore, do not attempt to get people to swallow in one big gulp a single colossal chance explanation. Instead, they adroitly assert that what seems like a huge chance biological event is simply the cumulative effect of countless tiny lucky events arising over enormous time periods in primitive life forms' descendants. People relate readily to coincidental, almost happenstance, events. If these are coupled to staggeringly long timescales, biological wonders that are intuitively impossible...well, might just happen.
To counteract this thinking, offer a dose of reality. Point out that scientists never actually observe random DNA mistakes accumulating to generate from scratch the instructions necessary to build the type of complexity seen in biological structures.
Learning a Short Example
Do major science journals overcome barriers to evolution by using jargon and magical concepts to hurdle them in a single bound? Yes, as typified in the Archives of Ophthalmology's account for the origin of the eye lens:
Lenses in different species may originate from different tissues in the embryo. But no matter what the source tissue, the substance that makes up the lens body must show a graded difference in density: greater in the center with a resulting higher index of refraction, less dense in the periphery with a lower index of refraction. This has been evolution's way of dealing with spherical aberration, a particularly pressing problem.5
How did evolution deal with it? The "complex genetic programs were lying in wait" to build all eye structures, including the lens proteins which were "recruited" via "molecular opportunism" to perform totally new functions since "evolution uses what is available. It is a consummate recycler."5 Really?
The graded density of lens proteins--a great design feature--overcomes spherical aberration by allowing light entering through any spot of the lens to focus to a clear point (good vision) rather than many points (poor vision). Evolutionists should also consider that lens proteins just happen to be shaped and arranged to allow the lens to change profile to focus images from near or far--provided it is suspended precisely behind the pupil by hundreds of surrounding ligaments attached on one end to a special lens capsule and the other end to a circular muscle anchored to the retina. Indeed, hundreds of other design features could be listed which are better explained as resulting from a real designer.
Pulling It All Together
A quick response to a question of why evolution is not a satisfactory explanation for design might be:
I've been less than persuaded by what I was taught in school and on educational programs. Leading evolutionists insist that the mutational mechanism of evolution is random with respect to any goal. I have never observed a process driven by chance which absolutely excludes intelligent oversight to produce features of design. From what I read and see on TV, evolutionists jump over details by using magical words like "arose," "appeared," "gave rise to," and "evolved itself" to explain how chance produces design. Even the leading journal for eye doctors recently used those words to describe eye evolution. The engineering feats I see are always the result of real designers, so I enjoy being free from the need to rely on the vague, non-scientific words evolutionists use.
This illustrates why evolution, as only a historical narrative, is different from other types of science that use real experiments. I find it hard to substitute stories for direct observations. I also enjoy freedom from being forced to call design "an illusion"'--a poor reason--simply because it excludes divine intervention.
By helping people understand the best explanation for the origin of design, they can be influenced to see Christ as their Creator, just as the Bible says: "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made" (Romans 1:20).
- Mayr, E. Darwin's Influence on Modern Thought. Scientific American. July 2000, 80.
- Barzun, J.1981. Darwin, Marx, Wagner: Critique of a Heritage, 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 11 and 36.
- NABT Unveils New Statement on Teaching Evolution. The American Biology Teacher. January 1996, 58 (1): 61-2. Since then, "unsupervised" and "impersonal" have been removed. The 2008 statement is so evolutionarily neutered that creationists could concur with many tenets.
- Adler, J. We're All Lucky to Be Here. Newsweek, November 20, 1989, 68.
- Fishman, R. S. 2008. Evolution and the Eye. Archives of Ophthalmology. 126 (11): 1586-1592.
* Dr. Guliuzza is ICR's National Representative.
Cite this article: Guliuzza, R. 2010. Unmasking Evolution's Magic Words. Acts & Facts. 39 (3): 10-11.