Design’s “Uniformity” vs. Evolution’s Evidence: Anupama Pattabiraman

By Anupama Pattabiraman


Anupama Pattabiraman

Charles Darwin’s 1859 publication, The Origin of Species, outlined his theories of natural selection and evolution. Coupled with Mendel’s laws of inheritance, derived from his work with the hybridization of pea plants, Darwin’s theory became so widely accepted among scientists that it entered standard science textbooks. The Scopes trial in 1925 initiated the controversy over the teaching of evolution, finding Tennessee teacher John T. Scopes guilty of teaching the theory of evolution and violating the Butler Act, a law that had banned the teaching of evolution in that state just a few months earlier. Although Scopes was found guilty and fined for his actions, the U.S. Supreme Court did rule in the 1968 Epperson v. Arkansas trial that the teaching of creationism in public schools is unconstitutional because it violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution (which addresses the separation of church and state).

The court did rule, however, that alternate scientific theories could be taught, and in 1989, Percival Davis and Dean H. Kenyon presented the new theory of intelligent design in Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins, a textbook outlining a theory of origins that stressed design by an intelligent creator. Since then, school boards across the nation have been pushed to accept the teaching of the theory of intelligent design in the public school classroom, with mixed results. Intelligent design should not be taught in the classroom, however, because it is not a scientific theory, in that it is not based on any conclusive evidence. While structural and biochemical similarities among organisms and fossil record serve as legitimate evidence for the theory of evolution, the concept of uniformity does not constitute adequate support for the theory of intelligent design.

The theory of evolution is backed by solid evidence of structural and biochemical similarities among organisms. The most compelling evidence of this is the cell, which has the same basic structure for all organisms ranging from protists to animals. All cells have hereditary information (most often in the form of DNA), some sort of metabolic capability, and an external casing, such as a cell membrane. A clear progression from the simple to the complex is observed as one looks at bacteria and protists and more advanced organisms like animals: prokaryotes acquire a nuclear membrane which encases hereditary information and protects it from foreign organisms such as viruses; clusters of cells form multicellular organisms which work as a system to help it metabolize and protect itself more efficiently; cells begin to differentiate to perform different functions such as protecting the organism (as in white blood cells) or integrating information from sensory input (as in neurons). The biochemical similarities between organisms and the clear component-system relationship between small, simple organisms and more advanced organisms strongly suggest an evolutionary relationship.

Intelligent design, on the other hand, is based purely on argument, and not on evidence. In Of Pandas and People, design proponents base their principal argument on the principle of uniformity, which states that similar effects have similar causes. The authors argue that a truck and a biological organism are two similar effects of a common cause: intelligence. If a primitive human, they claim, were to see a truck, he/she would assume it to be a product of an intelligent creator. A truck is similar to a biological organism in that both have components which fit together in such a way that they can perform complex tasks. Therefore, a biological organism must also be a product of an intelligent creator.

Perhaps the only solid evidence used in this argument is that the creators of trucks are humans. From there, it makes a subjective claim that biological organisms are similar to trucks. One could just as easily argue that biological organisms are vastly different from trucks because trucks do not have reproductive or metabolism capabilities, two essential characteristics of organisms. Then, based on this subjective claim, it concludes that, according to the principle of uniformity, organisms must have an intelligent creator. Does it give any evidence of the existence of this creator? No; it merely states that this creator must exist. The theory of evolution, supported by structural and biochemical similarities among organisms, cannot be contested by such an argument.

In December 2004, parents in Pennsylvania’s Dover area school district filed a lawsuit protesting the school board’s policy that a statement be read to high school students informing them that they could read Of Pandas and People in order to learn about an alternative to the theory of evolution proposed by Darwin, called intelligent design. In September 2005, Judge John E. Jones III ruled the teaching of intelligent design unconstitutional, writing, “The overwhelming evidence at trial established that [intelligent design] is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory.” Evidence used in the trial included original drafts of Of Pandas and People (some of which were titled Creation Biology, Biology and Creation and Biology and Origin), which showed that over 250 references to “creationism” and a ‘creator” were subsequently replaced by “intelligent design” and “intelligent designer.” While the evidence for the scientific theory of evolution in the form of structural and biochemical similarities is compelling, the theory of intelligent design, based on the principle of uniformity, seems to be nothing more than a renaming of creationism, whose use in public school education was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court decades ago. Hence, this “theory” of intelligent design should not be taught in public schools.


Campbell, Neil, et al. Biology. Ed.6. New York: Benjamin Cummings, 2002.
Creationism-Evolution Controversy. 26 May 2006.
Davis, Percival, et al. Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins. Dallas, TX:Haughton Publishing Company, 1993.
Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. 26 May 2006.

“I attended The Academy for the Advancement of Science and Technology, Hackensack, N.J., graduating with a 3.910 CPA. I am attending Princeton University in the fall.

“My life aspirations involve not only using but inventing technology. Ever since I read Failure is Not an Option by Gene Kranz, flight commander of the famous Apollo 13 mission, I have wanted to become an engineer who creates the things–whether it be spacecraft or human tissue–that help humanity achieve its dreams. In college, I plan to focus on materials science, combining physics, mechanical engineering, and chemical engineering in order to learn about the properties and synthesis of novel materials. Outside of the classroom, I would like to wet my feet in graduate level research, possibly looking at biometics, the imitation of naturally occurring systems. This would involve looking at the properties of materials like spider silk, which is tougher than the synthetic Kevlar, and resilin, a material used by fleas which is more elastic than rubber, and figuring out how we could imitate such materials. I would continue such research through graduate studies.

“In the long term, I would like to work in research and development for NASA, which is always looking for materials with new and unique properties for everything from heat-resistant spacecraft to dust-resistant robots. Alternately, I might combine my interest in materials with my interest in music, creating materials for instrument cases that are not only strong but lightweight, concocting an instrument polish that reduces the instrument’s sensitivity to changes in temperature and humidity (a persisting problem for musicians), or perhaps even tweaking the material of the instruments themselves in order to change the timbre of the produced sound. In any case, I would like to use my materials training in college in order to create new technologies.”

Anupama Pattabiraman received $1,000 for her second-place winning essay from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Freedom From Religion Foundation