Design, Chance, and Darwinian Evolution: Is there Room for a Third Option?

The dice, a symbol of random chance. Image Credit: Wikimedia

The argument from improbability states that complex things could not have come about by chance. But many people define ‘come about by chance’ as a synonym for ‘come about in the absence of deliberate design’. Not surprisingly, therefore, they think improbability is evidence of design. Darwinian natural selection shows how wrong this is with respect to biological improbability…A deep understanding of Darwinism teaches us to be wary of the easy assumption that design is the only alternative to chance, and teaches us to seek out graded ramps of slowly increasing complexity… After Darwin, we all should feel, deep in our bones, suspicious of the very idea of design. The illusion of design is a trap that has caught us before, and Darwin should have immunized us by raising our consciousness. Would that he had succeeded with all of us (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, Kindle Edition. Boston and New York: First Mariner Books, 2008, pp. 138-139).

Natural selection not only explains the whole of life; it also raises our consciousness to the power of science to explain how organized complexity can emerge from simple beginnings without any deliberate guidance…Who, before Darwin, could have guessed that something so apparently designed¬†as a dragonfly’s wing or an eagle’s eye was really the end product of a long sequence of non-random but purely natural causes? (The God Delusion, page 140)

That scientifically savvy philosopher Daniel Dennett pointed out that evolution counters one of the oldest ideas we have: ‘the idea that it takes a big fancy smart thing to make a lesser thing. I call that the trickle-down theory of creation. You’ll never see a spear making a spear maker. You’ll never see a horse shoe making a blacksmith. You’ll never see a pot making a potter.’ Darwin’s discovery of a workable process that does that very counter-intuitive thing is what makes his contribution to human thought so revolutionary, and so loaded with the power to raise consciousness. (Dawkins, The God Delusion, pp. 141-142).

If you’ve ever done any reading, seen any debates, or heard any discussions about whether or not an Intelligence or nature is behind the origin of life, you’ve surely heard the argument that Intelligent Design is “just another form of creationism” and evolution posits the idea that everything comes about by random chance. Dawkins spends a lot of time in his book The God Delusion asserting that he, like Darwinian evolutionists, do not believe in random chance; rather, they believe in a third option, an alternative to design and chance (as he says in the first quote above). Dawkins says in the second quote above that “complexity can emerge from simple beginnings without any deliberate guidance,” which means that he doesn’t agree with design. We’ve seen Dawkins’s statements against Intelligent Design throughout his book as proof. However, he doesn’t believe that life as we know it came about randomly, either:

Once again, intelligent design is not the proper alternative to chance. Natural selection is not only a parsimonious, plausible and elegant solution; it is the only workable alternative to chance that has ever been suggested. Intelligent design suffers from exactly the same objection as chance. (Dawkins, The God Delusion, pg. 145)

Natural selection, for him, is “the only workable alternative to chance,” so obviously, Richard Dawkins is in favor of an alternative to both chance and design. And yet, he merely assumes that there is an option to design and chance. So the question on the table is, “Is a third option to design and chance possible?” Is it possible within the laws of science and logic for a third option?

Defining Random Chance and Intelligent Design

Well, let’s examine the facts. Chance is randomness. If you win the lottery, for example, you won because of chance, random chance — not because the lottery was designed to declare you the winner (unless you rigged it, in which case, you’re in trouble). Chance shows us that things that aren’t planned are random, don’t happen by intention (of the recipient, anyway).

If the origin of life doesn’t occur due to design, it occurs due to random chance. And yet, Dawkins doesn’t credit random chance with all we see. He says that there is a third alternative, a third option, that merits our attention. What is that third option? As Dawkins says on the second quote above, “the end product of a long sequence of non-random but purely natural causes.” Dawkins goes on to say in a following quote that it is a cumulative process of small-scale changes:

What is it that makes natural selection succeed as a solution to the problem of improbability, where chance and design both fail at the starting gate? The answer is that natural selection is a cumulative process, which breaks the problem of improbability up into small pieces. Each of the small pieces is slightly improbable, but not prohibitively so. When large numbers of these slightly improbable events are stacked up in series, the end product of the accumulation is very very improbable indeed, improbable enough to be far beyond the reach of chance…the creationist completely misses the point, because he…insists on treating the genesis of statistical improbability as a single, one-off event. He doesn’t understand the power of accumulation. (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, pg. 147)

Many of us believe that chance and design are treated as single events: if the origin of life arrives by chance or design, then it happens as a single event. The Intelligent Design movement would argue that the Lord created all that we see as a single event (even over 6 days). Since everything was created “together” from “let there be light,” or by chance (with no intelligence at all), then the act itself is treated as a single event. For Dawkins, the appeal with natural selection is that the creation event happened with regard to small-scale changes over billions of years. But the words “natural selection” are a misnomer, are they not?

When someone uses the word “selection,” the word itself implies design. Of course, one can “randomly select” something as well (even then, there’s some deliberation about it), but it doesn’t appeal to logic that nature “randomly” selected to create a world with all the intelligence and in-built mechanisms of survival that we see around us in the observable world. Whereas design and chance are single events, natural selection is considered to be multiple events, numerous events. When these events are taken at a smaller scale than the large-scale design or chance claims, then natural selection presents us with an even bigger improbability than either chance or design.

And yet, the greater the improbability of these events, I have to say, the greater the opportunity for Intelligent Design. After all, if “nature selects”, the question becomes “how does nature select?”. Selection implies deliberation or intention, and intention can only flourish in a mind. Only humans on earth have minds; no other earthly creation does. That means that Dawkins is asserting that nature itself has a mind and an intelligence; if it did, however, why is it that we can’t measure it up close? And how is it that nature has a mind and can select when the intellect is not scientifically visible for observation? Dawkins has been saying in this entire book that from the physical comes everything (including intelligence), but where’s the proof or evidence of this claim? There isn’t one.

If something isn’t planned and designed, then it must be random and without purpose. If someone goes shopping and decided to do so on Saturday, then the individual has a reason or purpose for going to the mall; an individual who says, “I’m going out, don’t know what I’m doing” and then happens to go shopping didn’t leave the house with that purpose — making their shopping discovery a random, unplanned event.

Natural Selection argues for an alternative that doesn’t exist

If design and chance are opposites or contradictions (being used in a neutral, not a negative, light here), then how can Dawkins approve of natural selection as something in-between? He says that natural selection consists of non-random processes, but then how does something occur outside of chance or design? Dawkins says that Darwinian evolution succeeds because of small-scale changes, but the issue in the discussion is not the nature of the evolutionary changes (whether small-scale or large-scale) but whether or not an intelligence or none is behind them.

The Mind behind the world is the issue, not how evolution happens. This is why Dawkins praises Darwinian evolution because of its “without guidance” claims (evolution produced everything we see without God or a divine intelligence, the claim says).

Dawkins reiterates his view of evolution and whether or not it claims design or random chance in a statement in which he talks about a comment he received from someone who sent some hate mail to him:

The sentiment of this letter, if not its tone, is typical of many. Darwinism, this person believes, is inherently nihilistic, teaching that we evolved by blind chance (for the umpteenth time, natural selection is the very opposite of a chance process) and are annihilated when we die. (The God Delusion, pp. 244-245)

Dawkins says that natural selection is not a matter of random chance, but of small-scale changes over time, made by nature for the “survival of the fittest” of nature (to use Darwinian language).

If something is non-random and not designed, then it doesn’t exist. There is no other alternative, nor is there room for a third alternative between these two. Chance and purpose (deliberation, design) are opposites, polar opposites, antonyms, and even if small-scale changes happen, is it not the case that an Intelligent Designer could be behind those small-scale changes? I’m not a fan of theistic evolution, but I still insist that nature itself doesn’t have a physical mind for observation. Humanity does, so, if nature selects, then humans are the superiors on the earth.

Natural selection is only a theory, not scientific law

Last but not least, Dawkins has a theory about the origin of life, how life came about on this earth. Unfortunately for him and advocates of Darwinian evolution, that’s all it is: an unproven theory. It doesn’t have the same acclaim as the Law of Gravity, so regardless of its attempts to prove life originated from the physical, it is still an unproven theory that isn’t accepted as scientific fact. Dawkins has faith that science will explain all, but, if the earth is billions of years old and hasn’t shown us the exact chemicals responsible for the origin of life (and scientists have never validated these things in a laboratory), then why should we have “faith” (there’s that word again!) that the future of science will yield the answers that Darwin and Dawkins seek?

Let’s examine natural selection. Dawkins has said in The God Delusion that it occurs by way of small-scale changes over billions of years. And yet, who has lived to see it? Darwin often stated the same in his Origin of Species, and even promised to provide more information — but he never did. Every time he’d speak along these lines, he’d say in so many words, “I’ll get to it later,” moving on without ever revisiting the issue.

By the end of the Origin of Species, you get the feeling that Darwin has provided a fanciful theory but doesn’t explain much about how it works or show what scientific evidence lends credence to the claim. That’s the issue with natural selection: these changes could be true, but they’ve never been scientifically validated. Until they’re observed up-close in the lab (which would take billions of years according to evolutionists, and thus, will never bring real proof but always mandate faith in the impossible), these small-scale changes are nothing more than a theory without proof, a fanciful invention of the imagination without any bearing in reality.

Isn’t it interesting how Dawkins claims that Christianity contains books (Gospels) full of inconsistencies that are nothing more than imaginary? Dawkins claims that Christians hold to a “God of the Gaps,” but is natural selection not a “God of the Gaps” theory for evolutionists who want to prove the world can exist without a Creator? Evolution has substituted God (an Intelligent Agent) for an intelligent world that lacks the mind of human beings but still comes to be anyway.

Dawkins says that everything we believe about the world comes from the physical; if this is true, then we should see the small-scale changes and be able to document them. The truth of it all is that they haven’t been observed and won’t be because a physical object or physical material didn’t make the world. Rather, God made everything and the intellect, like the wind and Gravity, all testify to the existence of an invisible Being (God) who made visible things (the world).


Dawkins wants to focus on how rare and improbable it is that his non-random natural selection and small-scale changes have created all that we see, but scientific testing would put an end to probabilities and provide the concrete evidence Darwinian evolution needs to be taken seriously by the Christian community.

Darwin proposed an idea, a possible solution, to how life originated, but that theory has not been put to the test. The smokescreen of Darwin’s Origin of Species is that he promised to show proof of his claims and never did, instead focusing on how genius life really is (its characteristics, features, etc.). Evolutionists are free to believe in Darwinian evolution, but they’re not free to accept it on faith without empirical evidence because they’ve accused Christians or theists of believing in a divine source without proof.

If you’re going to be a naturalist, you can only accept a physical origin of life. You can’t make claims and not scientifically support them, all the while accusing your opponents of accepting the God idea on blind faith. To claim Darwinian evolution is valid without evidence of small-scale changes over billions of years is to make an argument in which faith, not intellect, reigns supreme. And it would be hypocritical of evolutionists to live by faith in evolution but condemn their religious-abiding opponents. The pot can never get away with calling the kettle black.

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