The illusion of design
I mentioned before that many individuals believe in religion because of what they perceive to be logical reasons, and it is often based on the illusion of design, both here on earth, and in the cosmos in general. The universe, as far as we can observe, seems to be both extremely complex and mysterious at first glance. Here on earth, the complexity of life is staggering; in a handful of dirt, there are million of organisms, some working in symbiotic co-operation while others are parasitic. All of these organisms are engaged in a struggle to survive, both with other species and members of their own group. To remain competitive, every individual organism has become an expert at exploiting a specific niche. Whether or not their strategy will continue to work is uncertain. What is known is this constant fight for survival has many different battlegrounds, each one staggeringly beautiful and complex. It is this complexity that leads many to credit a God for its existence.
Human beings, by their very nature, are builders. Since the dawn of our species, we’ve created tools; weapons to hunt and kill our food, and clothes to keep warm. As our race progressed, and civilizations began, we constructed ever more complex cities, bureaucracies and governments to manage them. Each new level was seen as a considerable improvement over the last one. A civilization still in the Stone Age going up against one in the Iron, or even Bronze Age didn’t stand a change of surviving. Technology was imperative for the survival of civilizations as they competed for land, resources, or even ideologies. The victors were usually more advanced, and therefore generally more complex. Now, particularly in the West, we view technological progress as a sign of intelligence and superiority, and the complexity of modern civilization mimics some of the complexity of our biosphere. The fact our most sophisticated technology looks downright primitive compared to the intricacy of biological life seems to lend credence to the idea that it must have been designed by an intelligence far superior to our own. In other words, the power and complexity of biological life is inferred as being the product of design from a far more complex, and infinitely more powerful entity: God
The illusion of design, for many, is a required step for the belief in a higher power. It fulfills their desperate need for the intellectual necessity of their theological axioms. The Bible, even if it is taken allegorically, still clearly implies the universe is the product of a grand designer, no doubt the result of the simple observations of the varied authors of the book. During their lifetime, nothing but the supernatural could explain how the universe could have been originated, or how things would fall to the ground if thrown, and why hot things always burned. Laws were not of nature: they were of God. As science has evolved, however, the laws of the universe have been uncovered, and appear not to require the work of a supernatural force to make them work. This is true of all the forces we know, including evolution. Darwin’s insight shattered one of the most powerful mysteries about how the vast diversity of life originated without a designer. Everything operated as a function of selective pressure, and the only reason human beings exist was because we exploited a particular niche, and nothing else.
The majority of Christians believe in evolution, not because of theological reasons, but rather because they understand how accurate and logical it is. They do not need the inference of a designer to justify their religious beliefs. Of course, not every religious person takes this reasonable stance. Some Christians, particularly evangelical ones, necessitate a literal interpretation of the Bible, and in defense of their theology, they employ the illusion of design in their creationist explanation of the universe. This ‘theory’ has been dressed up in a cheap tuxedo and given the name Intelligent Design.
The idea of Intelligent Design is not especially new; most of our history we’ve been young earth creationists, believing the earth is only a few thousand years old. We did not possess the scientific gumption to think otherwise. Besides, our respective religions discouraged the type of curiosity that might undermine the exactitude of church doctrine. As far as we were concerned, all the answers had already been discovered, and the most important thing wasn’t this world, but rather the world of the hereafter. Certainly, if you think the universe consists of the earth, and 7 different layers or celestial object revolving around it, it’s not exactly an exciting enough place that needs much attention. But the universe isn’t small: it’s astoundingly huge, and human curiosity is far too powerful not to want to learn more about how it works.
Intelligent Design isn’t science. It is an attempt to undermine science in favor of theological appeasement. It is irrelevant that we are inclined to believe the elegance of nature is too incredible to be the result of only natural law; it does not change the fact the evidence is against a grand designer. We must abandon the idea of inferring intelligence to anything that is complex or powerful without evidence. It’s true it’s in our nature to feel the world obeys the same rules we’ve created for ourselves, but it does not make it so.