National Medal of Science winner Francisco Ayala discredited the theory of intelligent design at the Distinguished Lecture Series Monday, while adding evolution and religion are adequate means for scientists to explain natural processes.
Ayala highlighted the history of evolution and Darwin’s theory of natural selection. He drew from other historical backgrounds — like paintings by Pablo Picasso and pictures of butterfly wings — to illustrate natural processes.
“Natural selection is Darwin’s gift to science, his gift to religion,” Ayala said. “It made it possible to explain the dysfunction, the cruelty, the sadism of the way of life rather than the idea of a creator. It’s more the result of natural processes.”
Ayala is a Donald Bren professor of biological sciences and a professor of philosophy at the University of California-Irvine. He is also the president and chairman of the Board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Ayala said intelligent design is not science because there is no evidence for it; it cannot be researched or tested, and it would make more sense for the theory to be called “Imperfect Design” instead.
Intelligent design is a theory that assumes natural processes that cannot be explained by natural selection are the result of an intelligent designer of the universe — like the Christian God — who sets aspects of evolution into motion.
But Ayala said there couldn’t be an intelligent designer because he wouldn’t create an imperfect prototype.
“The human jaw, the human birth canal and the forelimbs are not perfect. The jaw has to have teeth pulled, the molars and the rest of the teeth straightened to fit. The birth canal doesn’t fit the head of the baby,” Ayala said. “And what engineer would design limbs for running, swimming, swinging with the same materials performed in the same way? He would be fired.”
For UW freshman Mike Hemes, the “complexities and miracles” of the universe can only be explained by intelligent design.
“I don’t buy into all of that evolving from monkeys business,” Hemes said.
Ayala’s professional career is based in genetics and evolution. He speaks six languages and travels to different countries to give talks on the subject.
“We read a really interesting piece on Dr. Ayala in the New York Times, and we knew he was a National Medal of Science winner,” DLS Director Eric Schmidt said. “We were looking to extend our roster (of speakers) to hold more scientists.”
UW freshman Chun-See Tsao,a volunteer for DLS, said he had the chance to talk to Ayala when he was picked up at the airport Sunday.
“He’s fantastic,” Tsao said. “He was once a priest before he became the professor that he is now, and that would of course give a different perspective on his work with evolution.”
Many students with different science backgrounds attended the lecture as well. Several had heard of Ayala’s work and were interested in his views on evolution and religion.
“I’ve never heard him speak before, and I’m not too familiar with his work,” said UW student Michael Sullivan and member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “If one delves into science on a deeper level, you might find it hard to go along with religion.”