BLOCKS & SCREWS
Optional Dialogue
Addressing
"Intelligent Design"

3. If you are comfortable with addressing the religious concept of "intelligent design" increasingly heard as the "only reasonable explanation" for the high level of complexity and supposed perfection in the living world, the following narrative may help. Be sure to use it with discretion and respect for the deeply held religious beliefs of your students.

Remember, the main point of this lesson is for students to realize that, contrary to popular impressions, living organisms are not necessarily perfectly built or perfectly adapted to their niche, their way of life; there are many imperfections and contrivances. This is to be expected as a natural product of evolution, but it is NOT EXPECTED if all life was created by an intelligent designer in a supernatural act of instant "special creation", and many of your students may be uncomfortable, even defensive, with this seeming contradiction to their beliefs.

You might want to help them work through this, but all the while, continue to make it clear that science cannot properly address supernatural explanations. They simply cannot be tested... by their very nature they are not capable of being disproved. Science can only look at the accumulated body of objective evidence and draw logical conclusions. Science cannot use any written "authority" as a primary source of objective evidence.

This is NOT to say that one's beliefs may be wrong, only that science cannot address beliefs. (See lessons and articles on the nature of science on this site). Students might want to re-examine the details and sources of their beliefs if they seem to be in conflict with what we observe. Many have found this leads to slight modifications of the details in their beliefs, with a more accurate understanding and stronger faith in their beliefs, yet consistent with the new knowledge about our universe provided by science. Most religions (and religious people) in the world have no problem with the findings and theories of science when they fully understand what those are. Full understanding of both science and one's religion seems to be the most successful solution to perceived contradictions in nature.

3.1. At some point, you might ask what the clear existence of so many imperfections and "poor design" suggests about the popular perception that all of nature is the product of perfect or intelligent design?

STUDENTS:
3.2. Hopefully, some students may be brave enough to suggest that,
- a. perhaps, living things might NOT be the product of intelligent design, or that,
- b. for some reason, somehow, imperfections might be a part of intelligent design, or even...
- c. contrivances actually suggest a very intelligent, EFFICIENT AND RESOURCEFUL designer, making multiple uses of basic structures.

3.3. If students suggest "a", you could point out how evolution, a gradual process which is based on contingency, and builds new structures by modifying old structures, provides a workable explanation. This process (evolution) may have been initiated and even controlled by a supreme being, or it may not... we really cannot address that question in science (refer back to the class' experience with the nature and limits of science).

3.4. If students suggest "b", point out that this may be true, but raises some questions. It seems inconsistent with the traditional notion of perfect intelligent design.

3.5. If students say "c", you might want to point out that this might be true if one is willing to accept that the designer could also make mistakes, using poor design solutions. You might ask: "Why do we find all degrees of imperfection, from incomplete features appearing sporadically, to some features creating survival problems or being reduced to non-functional status, to some features being clearly but incompletely and inefficiently contrived from other structures?" This suggests a long time element in the formation of these structures. Time and imperfections seem inconsistent with the traditional concept of "instant" special creation by an intelligent designer. Time and imperfections are totally consistent with the gradual process of evolution.

NOTE: Some people prefer to see evolution as the mechanism of God's creation ("Theistic Evolution"). This is strictly a matter of belief. Evolution could apparently work with or without divine intervention. God is neither required nor necessarily eliminated by evolution.

 Return to Blocks & Screws Lesson

BLOCKS & SCREWS
Optional Dialogue
Addressing
"Intelligent Design"