Intelligent Design or Natural Selection?

Credit: U.S. Air Force
One-sided argument

Like millions of other students across the globe, back in school I was taught that humans are the “perfect creation” and that we have been “designed” by a “supreme power” or a “God” who made us “in his own image”. Everytime we would study anything about the human body or human anatomy, the textbook would bring verses from the “holy book” to support the argument that this “perfect design” could have never been the result of chance.

Years passed and I became a biologist. I started to question the idea of our existence more often and was finally convinced that I may have found the answer that I was looking for. It wasn’t “creation”, it was certainly something else. I didn’t know about that answer because the current education system fails to provide us the other side of the argument. I had to find it myself. So, in this article I will use logic, science and rational thinking to replicate the exact thoughts that made me change my mind about the origin of mankind. Before you read further, it is necessary to keep an open-mind and then you can decide for yourself what to believe in.

Perfect design or limited power?

If you are a car mechanic and you have a customer whose car went through a major accident, you will have two options. First, you fix the car perfectly so that he would not need to come back to you. At this point we can safely assume that you know what you are doing and you did it perfectly. Another option is to fix the car but leave something unfixed so that the customer will have to come back to you to fix it once again. If you did it purpose then you are cruel, and if you did it unintentionally then it is safe to assume that your knowledge of fixing things is very limited.

So, how does this even relate to the “intelligent design”? The human body is far from perfect! We have over 6000 genetic disorders, most of them are extremely painful! If you are lucky enough not to be born with one of those, then there is malaria and cancer waiting for you after your birth! Our bodies have to go through a cycle of suffering, illness, aging and eventually death. There is certainly no perfection in that. If humans were intelligently designed, then these flaws in our biology would not have happened in the first place. Hence, it is safe to say that the “supreme power” behind our “creation” either didn’t do a good job for which his/her power is very limited, or s/he intentionally planted these flaws in us and made us suffer, for which s/he is cruel.

The flaws in our “design” or “creation” do not stop at one particular generation. They keep on propagating from one generation to another; forcing a huge portion of humanity to suffer the consequences of the limited power of “our designer”.

Birth defects say otherwise

In the U.S. alone, about 4 out of 100 newly born children will experience some type of birth defects, 30% of these birth defects are caused by genetic factors such as chromosome abnormalities or single gene defects, while the cause of the other 70% is still unknown! Although 94% of children born today are healthy, the word “perfect creation” seems to be misused a lot! Perfect would mean that all the population, 100%, is free of illness, genetic abnormalities and birth defects. This is hardly the case. Genes are the core of our biology, if they are not in the correct order then something is wrong. Some birth defects are physical, meaning you can clearly see them on the child. Some others are hidden and cannot be recognized. These are more dangerous and cause serious health problems later in life. Despite the existence of over 4000 birth defects, some people still call humans the “absolute perfect design”.

Birth defects: intelligent design or genetic disorders? Credit: U.S. Air Force/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Ed Uthman
Nature doesn’t care about you

There is this notion that humans are “God’s favorite creatures”! Proponents of the intelligent design use this argument to defend our place in the cosmos. That “we are the most important species in existence and everything else has been made just for our pleasure!” This is not only ignorant but also arrogant. There is no evidence to support that. We are just like the rest of the creatures that exist on Earth. We all have predators and preys and go through the some cycle of suffering and torture.

Let’s take ants for example, these tiny little creatures may seem unimportant to some of us due to their small size, but in fact they are super intelligent! They have been here longer than we did, they make their own decisions and work in groups, they mastered agriculture millions of years before we did, they domesticated other species for their own gain, and managed to dominate the planet with their incredible numbers (there are 10 quadrillion ants on the planet at any given time).

But ants have limitation in their own “design” just like us. They travel long distance to gather food because they get hungry, they get sick, they age and eventually die. Thanks to the “intelligent design”, ants have also been “blessed” with a fungus that can control their minds and turn them into slaves. The fungus, which belongs to the genus Ophiocordyceps, hijack’s the ant’s central nervous system and forces it to climb to an ideal location before killing it. Then it consumes its internal parts and grows an elongated stem that erupts from the back of the head of its victim. This stem then releases spores to infect more ants on the ground below. It’s a painful and slow death.

Ants infected with the brain-manipulating fungus (Ophiocordyceps unilateralis). Credit: Kim Fleming/David Hughes

Now, we have two species. A tiny insect and a “mighty creature”. Both go through the same suffering. They work hard to obtain food, they experience some type of sickness at some point in their lives, they age and eventually die. Because humans are “God’s favorite creatures” according to the “intelligent design”, the “supreme power” could have “designed” us with additional traits. Only then it would be safe to assume that we are at the center of attention to whoever made us.

If humans are as important to the “supreme power” as proponents of the intelligent design claim, then we wouldn’t experience sickness like other creatures. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. All creatures on Earth, including us, have to go through the same pain. Even with our complex brain and incredible capabilities, there are still several challenges that our bodies are not equipped to deal with. So, whatever power was behind our existence probably didn’t care. It had one idea in mind: just throw some species on Earth, give them different strengths and see who can survive much longer.

If a giant asteroid hits Earth right now, you would think humans would be safe. After all, we were made in “his own image” and it would be a waste to let all of us – “his perfect creation” – go in vain! But that is not going to happen. A giant asteroid hitting Earth would kill us all. No creature is favored or will be saved because of their rank. Why? Because there is hardly any “designer” to care about anyone.

“It is all part of a test”

Back in school, my teacher told us that all the suffering in the world is part of a “big test” delivered by the “supreme power” to examine the patience of “his creation”! This was his argument for explaining the limitations of the “intelligent design”. I don’t think anyone with the right mind would want to be part of a test that involves experiencing malaria, cancer, paralysis and birth defects. And certainly no one on Earth would want to die hungry when they could have been well fed or “designed” not to get hungry. Not to mention, large groups of people – including me – want to stay young and healthy and live longer rather than experience aging and death. So, this argument is invalid. We can’t be part of a test that is this cruel.

Then how did we come into existence?

Now, let’s summarize my argument above. Humans are weak by default just like other creatures, they are not free of imperfections, they have not been “intelligently designed”, and they certainly are not the favorite creatures to anyone. So, how do you explain our existence?

There is only reasonable explanation: we, along with the rest of the creatures that exist on Earth, have come from the same process: natural selection. This process is unconscious about our existence and it only knows one thing: bring new species and let the strongest one survive longer. This process is not perfect, which is why we see genetic disorders. Perfection is achieved through adaptation. Creatures continue to evolve over million of years to acquire new traits that make them better than their earliest generations.

If you have any frequently asked questions about evolution, please read this amazing article by John Rennie on Scientific American. We have already seen bacteria evolve to acquire new abilities. I think it would be arrogant to ignore such hard evidence for evolution after having seen it with our own eyes! If it happened today, then it must have happened hundreds of millions of years ago when we were not present. This process led to an explosion in biodiversity which we see today across our planet. Not to mention the striking similarities in the genomes of of different creatures. Comparative genomics and evolutionary biology have made it possible for us to trace out the evolution of any creature on Earth, and we can clearly see that they are all connected at a certain point, indicating that no “intelligent design” was involved, rather adaptation and natural selection.

Conclusion

I believe that the “intelligent design” fails to answer some of the basic questions that anyone with a common sense would ask, and hence should not be trusted. On the other hand, I trust that evolution happened based on the existing body of empirical evidence. Natural selection, which is now a proven fact, provides the complete picture of our existence. We are not as important as we thought and we have not been “intelligently designed”, we are simply the products of chemical, biological and physical circumstances that made us happen and helped us come into existence. We were made imperfect because that’s how nature works. No creature is perfect. We all strive to survive and fight for our existence on this planet.

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16 Comments on "Intelligent Design or Natural Selection?"

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David Daogaru
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David Daogaru

What if the design was originally perfect, creating a perfectly functional organism, but people’s malicious behaviour such as industries’ intense harmful activity or nuclear exposure is the actual cause for anomalies? How can you blame the mechanic or the manufacturer for not taking proper care of your car?

Rufus Rolph
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Rufus Rolph

I did not bother reading the whole thing you seem to ignore the fact that Adam and Eve were indeed made perfect and with free will sinned against God thus sin entered the world and like rust, decay of all things began nevertheless God sent Jesus into the world to redeem man (again you have free will to choose or not) and restore mankind to himself again perfect and eternal.

Rahat
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Rahat
It looks like the main cause that prevents you from accepting intelligent design theory is, the sufferings of creatures as well as humans. Sufferings is explained by the “It is all part of a test” argument. But the way you nullified this seems to have some flaws. The missing point is that you didn’t specify the number of lives we got as a human. If there is another life after death, the sufferers may will earn more of the benefits which justifies their sufferings. Second thing, you said no one want to have something like hunger, cancer etc. It is… Read more »
Rahat
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Rahat
One more point I need to add. That is, according to Qur’an (I don’t know what other religious scriptures are saying about this. I only know the Qur’an) sometimes sufferings are not part of a test. Sometimes it is part of punishment. Also sometimes it is part of education. The explanation is like this, God, the Almighty wants the people to be submissive to Him. So He made them weak, vulnerable so that they may learn to be humble to Him and ask His help. I am quoting from the Qur’an : “And We have already sent [messengers] to nations… Read more »
Serenella
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Serenella

I agree. We are perfectly imperfect. And I think it’s good for us… Imagine if we lived a life with no desease, no pain, no ageing… And suddenly we realized we had to die, to abandon such a perfect life… We would despair. Instead we live imperfect life, we get weaker and weaker… So death is less scary.
All beings on the Earth (and further..) are imperfect because that’s how nature works… Through natural selection…
And still,that doesn’t exclude the existence of a Creator who made everything… perfectly imperfect.

Luke Ball
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Hashem, I normally enjoy your posts. I personally believe we were created by God. If there was scientific proof of this being fact, one would need no faith to believe it. There would be no free will or choice. I understand that the usual response is “that is an excuse to ignore the science”. Perhaps. What I find curious is that if pure evolution is what happened, that life merely evolves and develops abilities that it most desires to survive, and “man” is one of the shorter term of existence animals on the evolutionary timeline, why don’t more animals have… Read more »
Lily
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Lily

I very much believe that argument will be nullified by any further analysis and further research on the subject Fitra (The Arabic term for humans being born with a clear and clean slate to start life). Because the above argument will never be able to explain the connection of the soul and world of physics.

Theodor
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Theodor
There is no cell without DNA. From the tiniest to the biggest form of life it is all the same. Well before life came into being there was nothing but chance! No natural selection was possible. That means that we have to believe!! We weren’t there none of us that it just happened that One cell with DNA, RNA, a total functioning cell from one to another moment. Is it logical to think this way? I myself don’t think so. Well I think we should be open to the possibility of a designer even when it seems stupid, because believing… Read more »
Tim Paterek
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Tim Paterek

A well written article. You could add some other evolutionary terms/concepts, e.g. Speciation, common ancestors, dead genes, random mutation.

Devon Palmer
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Devon Palmer

It’s a shame that this subject can’t be discussed without fanaticism and idle threats. It’s a damned shame. I hope we move beyond superstition toward something more practical as a species.

Jim Trickey
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Jim Trickey
Nice article. You left out one adjustment. Man created in God’s image was given the freedom of choice. Without this God’s creation would have been just another creature of his invention. This is the modifier, sin, which our ancestor Adam entered into . He had been given freedom to do what ever he wanted except the one thing he was instructed not to do. As a punishment he was set in the world we live in where everything is possible, good or bad. Knowledge is at the same time wonderful and horrible thing to have. I pray that more people… Read more »
Teodora
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Teodora

Great article! Welldone!!!

Carlien
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Carlien
Great article! What other see, call or feel as God I call Mother nature. And we should all respect each other’s believes instead of criticizing them. In the end I think we are all talking about the same higher force that created us (and all living and dead things on this planet) and we all have to deal with the same shit on Earth 😉 so let’s be the more intelligent creatures and use that to respect each other and look at the bigger picture. We created most of that shit ourselves and we can end it to…. Animals don’t… Read more »
Gabriela Chacón
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Gabriela Chacón

Excellent article….. All the problems and horrors in this us planet come from human belief of being superior and perfect and the extreme of thinking some groups between us are superior due to their pigmentation or religion…there is so much fear in us to be alone and fortuitius and die…must get over it to evolve

Rick
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Rick
Now read the Holy Bible, with an open mind starting with the new testament, then going on to the Old Testament. you will find all the answers you need. Many people just choose to believe the negative things others say about God but never take the time to dig for the truth themselves. God is love, wisdom, knowledge, understanding. This is a fallen world, and we live in it, we also have the choice to receive knowledge from God but many of us choose to stay pride full and make our decisions on our own understanding, thoughts, and emotions Try… Read more »
Waiting
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Waiting

He is an unfortunate selfish and arrogent creature. I feel sorry for him. He doesn’t have that brain to understand God and His powers.

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