I think that these two questions, when answered with two yeses, represent the thrust of what Intelligent Design proponents are up to in their critiques of evolution, as William Dembski recently (and concisely) stated at his blog:
The theory [of evolution] purports to give a materialistic account of life’s development once life is already here, but it has a gaping hole at the start since matter gives no evidence of being able to organize itself from non-life into life. The fossil record, especially the sudden emergence of most animal body plans in the Cambrian explosion, sharply violates Darwinian expectations about the historical pattern of evolutionary change. The nano-engineering found in the DNA, RNA, and proteins of the cell far exceeds human engineering and remains completely unexplained in Darwinian terms. Darwin lovers are quick to reject such complaints. After all, as novelist Barbara Kingsolver declares, Darwin’s idea of natural selection is “the greatest, simplest, most elegant logical construct ever to dawn across our curiosity about the workings of natural life. It is inarguable, and it explains everything.”
Dembski seems to be critiquing evolution on solid grounds here. I know he is an Evangelical, and that he is thus highly motivated to make such critiques, but my question is this: do these lines of critique, with regard to evolution, have at least some validity? I think that they have. If I’m wrong about this, what, as an agnostic, am I missing?
Dembski, in the same blog post, continues:
Any theory that explains everything and that can and must be true is either the greatest thing since sliced bread or the greatest swindle ever foisted on gullible intellectuals. The intelligent design community takes the latter view, siding here with Malcolm Muggeridge, who wrote: “I myself am convinced that the theory of evolution, especially the extent to which it’s been applied, will be one of the great jokes in the history books in the future. Posterity will marvel that so very flimsy and dubious an hypothesis could be accepted with the incredible credulity that it has.” Still, it’s easy to understand why so flimsily a supported theory garners such vast support. It provides the creation story for an atheistic worldview. If atheism is true, then something like Darwinian evolution must follow.
I’m not sure which side—the Intelligent Design side or the Darwinist side—will be laughed at, say, a century from now. I suspect that it will be the Intelligent Design hypothesis, at least in terms of its current critiques of evolutionary biology, but it’s hard for me, as a nonscientist, to say. My hunch is that the gaps in evolutionary theory that Intelligent Design currently exploit will be filled over the next century in ways that will make the evolutionary conclusion even more compelling than it appears to be now.
But notice that this is merely a prediction, a guess really. And whether you’re a scientist or not, when it comes to the future, that’s really all we have. In the meantime, a bit of humility might suit all of us—religionist, agnostic, and atheist alike. I think that Dembski often comes across as unduly arrogant and overconfident, as do, say, atheists like Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins. Everybody seems just so darn cocksure, as if the other side consisted of fools. But competing confidence poses should not be mistaken for anything other than that. Maybe at profound and fundamental levels, both sides have elements to their arguments that, a hundred years from now, will be shown to be not just wrong, but spectacularly so.
Let’s see what happens. And keep an open mind.