I am impressed with the clear and concise way my friend and Christian brother Walter Smith explained the issues between those who belive in direct-line descent evolution (also called macro-evolution) and those who hold to intelligent design. Because he graciously consented, I am happy to share with you his summary, which was recently published as a letter to the editor of his local newspaper in Rockwall, Texas.
I hope the following points will help clarify some apparent misunderstandings in discussing evolution and intelligent design:
Inferring from Cause and Effect
Evolution and Intelligent Design (ID) remain controversial because both propose explanations of historical events that we did not observe and have been unable to repeat. Both utilize observations and inferences to reach conclusions about cause and effect relationships. Their primary difference is that evolution limits possible causes to those that are natural, while ID will allow intelligence causes where the evidence demands it.
Evolutionists observe limited changes in organisms (driven by random mutation and natural selection) and infer that all observed biological variety had a natural cause. IDers observe that all change caused by mutations and selection (natural or guided by humans) has limits beyond which no change has been observed and infer that biological organisms have a limited amount of variability.
Does Organization Imply an Organizer?
Evolutionists observe the past accomplishments of science and infer that it is likely we will one day discover natural laws (describing specific, detailed, repeatable, naturalistic mechanisms at the molecular level) that explain (a) the origin of life (which is a separate question), and (b) the origin of complex molecular biological information (see, for example Stuart Kauffman's "Origins of Order").
IDers observe the pervasive complexity of biological infomation and the fact that much less complex non-living functional information (e.g., books, sculptures) always has an intelligent cause, and infer that biological information had an intelligent cause. This inference has led to (a) a concerted effort by evolutionists to discover specific, detailed, naturalistic, molecular paths that account for apparently irreducibly complex functional biological features, and (b) an interesting debate about the definition and nature of functional information and complexity. On this point, ID would be falsified by the discovery of specific, detailed naturalistic law-like mechanisms.
What Do Similarities Suggest?
Evolutionists observe similarities in form, function, and information across all biological organisms and infer a branching ancestral tree going back to the emergence of a single living organism from a non-living universe. IDers observe the same similarities and find them consistent with design.
Examining the Fossil Record
Evolutionists observe a wide-ranging fossil record and infer a branching ancestral tree. IDers observe the sudden appearance of various kinds of organisms, and the relative stasis of them in the fossil record and infer that the steady, gradual increase in biological complexity posited by Darwin did not occur. IDers also observe that the fossilized structure of an organism tells us very little, if anything, about the molecular information that created that form.
Which Way Does the Evidence Lead?
Secular evolutionists conclude that random mutation and natural selection provides a reasonable explanation for the complexity of living organisms and that, in accordance with Occam's Razor, no additional cause should be proposed. Religious evolutionists conclude that God used evolution to "create" living organisms, but that God's "fingerprints" are not empirically observable in nature. Secular and religious IDers alike conclude that the evidence for the intelligent design of living organisms is far more compelling than the evidence for an evolutionary cause.
Evolutionists and IDers agree that scientists should continue to investigate the details of life at the molecular level to better understand exactly how it works throughout an organism's life cycle.
Blame on Both Sides
Unfortunately, many of the discussions of evolution and ID are characterized on both sides by deliberate or inadvertent misrepresentations, ad hominem attacks, and confusion about the nature of science when it investigates historical events.
Inferring from Cause and Effect
I hope this short summary helps both groups better understand one another.
Want to go deeper?
A number of books are available on Intelligent Design. You may also want to consider getting my 16-page e-book, Reasons to Believe: The Fundamental Concepts. Take a look at "Intelligent Design Theory: Why It Matters" by Jay Richards, and take a look at Intelligent Design Network.
Steve Singleton, DeeperStudy.com