Christianity Today's May 2010 issue had a discussion about issues regarding the Intelligent Design (ID) movement gaining credibility. The first writer said that ID's problem is that the idea of ID is infertile - it simply isn't driving new scientific knowledge. The assertion is a red herring because the issue is no better in the Darwinian evolution philosophical camp.
Darwinian evolution is based on one crucial postulate: that all organism types (separated by taxonomic class higher than species) were derived by transformation from one to another. The explanation for similarity between disparate organisms is ultimate common ancestry.
ID is based on a different postulate: all organisms are derived from prototypes that were designed. The explanation for organism similarity is the designer's reuse of common biological building blocks. 1
I call these postulates because neither school of thought has ever had any living evidence of these occurrences. Science occurs in the realm of testable hypotheses. Since these postulate assertions have never been observed or proved with testing, neither can be called scientific theories. 2 Each viewpoint only has historical theories. 3
However, it doesn't matter because for the rest of biology, Darwinianism and ID are irrelevant: Biological organisms function using genes, cells, & etc. Biological systems are based on coding information passed down from previous generations. Species and other variations flow within a group from one to another by changes in allele frequency. Selection (both natural & artificial) is the process by which genetic information is chosen to be propagated through generations of a population. Most observed biological changes are derived from recombination of existing genetic information within the population. 4
Today we are concerned with issues of health, preservation, productivity and environment: for the eco-system, our food supplies and ourselves. Origins is a powerful thought for curiosity, but is not so pertinent for the science of present and future biological function.
However, ID may be better guidance than Darwinianism for behavior of humans as stewards of the biological environment. The Darwinian view suggests that selection (extinguishing) events are normal process to be allowed. The ID view suggests conservation's importance. (Life started with a limited set of prototypes. That genetic information will not occur again if it becomes extinct). Darwinian literature suggests a naive view that biology just gets better with time. 5 ID's perspective for preservation, on the other hand, correlates well with our knowledge about endangered species within our eco-system.
So these two schools of thought have value in the realm of world views. They also have philosophical implications. Most notable is that Darwinianism is intellectually satisfying to atheists, and ID is intellectually satisfying to theists.
ID has further implications:
In my opinion, ID has suggestions regarding genetics:
Neanderthals were a variation of humans that Darwinian evolutionists have studied deeply in their pursuit of origins. Recent studies are showing that their genetic differences from modern humans were very slight, and may even be functionally irrelevant. These researchers think that the differences may not even be genetic, but may be from how genes can be turned on and off in changing contexts.
This returns to the design of the biological prototypes, and the question of what amount of latent variability was designed into them. We know of the massive range of variation demonstrated in dogs (which is just a sub-species of gray wolves). Certainly, dog variation was produced through strong artificial selection. The taxonomic family Canidae that contains dogs also has the rich natural variations of wolves, foxes, jackals, and coyotes from natural selection. And all these could have come from a common original prototype without organism transmutation.
I think that a relatively small number of created prototypes could have adapted into a wide range of species. This would be consistent with fossils that show a range of variation around types, but also with the fact that fossils to demonstrate smooth transitions everywhere do not exist.
(By example, National Geographic had a recent magazine article on whale fossils being discovered in Egypt. N.G.'s world view only allows a Darwinistic explanation. However, it might also be that all those fossils could have been derived from a limited few original prototypes.)
So biological research to trace the created prototype ancestors of today's living organisms could be a fruitful study. This could appear to be similar to Darwinian evolutionary studies. However, it is very different because it looks for a different point of origin.
1 Each viewpoint also has an assertion that follows the first postulate: The general Darwinian (derivative) postulate is that life started through abiogenesis. The ID theorem is that life was created by an outside agency.
2 These theories are about what happened in history: "How did the organisms around us originate?". They are not theories about how something could happen in the present or future - which is the realm of science. Therefore we could only have assurance that one of them was true for the past if it was scientifically demonstrated to be possible, and that all other explanations were impossible. (To scientifically demonstrate something, you must reproduce it.)
To show Darwinian evolution was the explanation for biological origins, you would have to prove that its origins sequence was scientifically possible (i.e. demonstrate a live example of extended naturalistic transmutations between species), and you would have to prove that all other sequences were historically impossible. (i.e. Show ID couldn't occur because it is impossible to design an organism. And also similarly disprove all other origins theories.)
To show that ID was the explanation for biological origins, you would have to demonstrate the mirror opposite. (i.e. we can design an organism, and transmutations between species is impossible, & then etc for other theories) Scientific proof of a historical theory may be impossible.
Note: The idea that life was brought to the earth is proposed both by (some) Darwinian evolutionists and by ID proponents. (I possess a video in which even Richard Dawkins allows it as a possibility.) Individuals will likely have a difference of opinion on the identity of the bringer of life. However, that identity and whether that bringer was the explanation for life on earth is certainly outside of the realm of science, and therefore is outside of this discussion.
3 Predictions can be made from any kind of a theory. Darwinianism predicts that evidence can be found for the single common ancestry of all organisms; ID predicts that a single common ancestor does not exist. Darwinianism predicts the ultimate biological ancestor is the most rudimentary of organisms; ID predicts the ultimate ancestors were highly sophisticated, having high latent ability to be differentiated, and with the least defects.
Predictions from a theory do not necessarily make the theory scientific.
4 What about introduction of new genetic information?
It is suggested that mutations are a significant source of useful information. However, that is not what is observed today, and it is not likely to have been true in the past.
Beneficial mutations are very important to the function of Darwinian evolution. Therefore, evidence for it should be clear. Common thinking has been that beneficial genetic changes should sweep though a population because of the advantages they conferred. However, a new study (from this paper) found very little evidence of that type of happening for at least the past ~250,000 years in humans. So even if beneficial mutations were introduced, their benefits were weak and changed few individuals.
By argument, we can show only that mutations are a very unlikely source of good new genetic information; we cannot prove that it is an impossibility. However, since we don't have scientific observations of organism transmutation due to mutation (at above the level of species), beneficial mutations as a genetic information source is just conjecture.
5 This is the common implication from many science texts and illustrations. This is also implied to have been true for billions of years of adverse circumstances.
This is an implication to mislead because the actual claim is lost on most people. Darwinianism actually only claims a increase in the maximum complexity of organisms, and that average complexity has been a constant.
6 For an organism to have come about by uncaused chance, or for it to have been caused by design are both statistically unlikely occurrences. Yet the organism exists. There must be an explanation even though we cannot (at all yet) prove it.
Generally, simpler explanations are better. Random chance is not a more simple explanation than design in this case.
Some Creationists fall back on a naive explanation that "it was made that way". This greatly irritates many Darwinainists by its lack of sophistication because they want to know how it got to be that way. The Creationist view seems to show no curiosity of the world.
I think curiosity should be fiercely driven by a design world view. There is great sophistication in the design of biological system for adaptation from the original prototypes. I think there are limits of adaptation, but much more than what many Creationists imagine. Continuing studies could show how the biological systems work so that we can see which species are related, and why. This stuff is fascinating for any school of thought.