Friday, September 09, 2005

Intelligent Design

I don't have anything that intelligent to say about intelligent design. What I can say intelligently, I'll say here. For greater intelligence on the issue, click on "intelligent design" above and be linked to Paul Davies Templeton Address of 1995. He concludes with this call to conversation:

"The position I have presented to you today is radically different. It is one that regards the universe, not as the plaything of a capricious Deity, but as a coherent, rational, elegant, and harmonious expression of a deep and purposeful meaning. I believe the time has now come for those theologians who share this vision to join me and my scientific colleagues to take the message to the people."

One theologian who has taken up Davies call to take the message to the people is John Polkinghorne. The book he edited together with Michael Welker, The End of the Universe and the Ends of God is without a doubt the best science-theology co-authored piece I've read, not that I've read as thoroughly as some others in this field.

I find arguments from physicists on this issue more compelling than biologists. Stephen Hawkings, maybe the most famous of astrophysicists, uses the term "mind of God" at the end of his popular book. Freeman Dyson, another astrophysicist, famously declared that it is almost as if "the universe knew we were coming." Their arguments for a "designer" rest on complex mathematical systems that I am not qualified to evaluate. What I do know is that they have a basis for their conjecture.

Intelligent design taught in a biology curriculum seems to make less sense. Evolution is a helpful scientific theory that guides and directs progress in the field of biology. The argument for intelligent design, though natural (I mean, who isn't so amazed at things in the natural world enough to think it couldn't have been all by so-called chance, that is, natural selection), cannot really be taught as an alternative scientific theory because, as I understand it, it doesn't stand up as a theory. This is not to say that it has been disproved, just that it makes less sense of the available evidence.

I mean, I guess you could teach in geography classes that there is a debate about whether the earth is flat or not, since there are still flat-earthers around, but... see how silly that sounds.

As a Christian, I don't have any problem with teaching evolution in the schools, nor do I see evolutionary theory (and by theory, I mean the scientific, not popular, definition of theory) as undermining the foundations of the Christian faith. God works within and through creation, all things came into being through Him, so it is not surprising that God may have created mechanisms that function in one we can call scientifically observable ways.

In fact, I find it to be much more like the Christian God to create in such a way that our existence and life as humans came about through an intimate process that involves all of creation, beginning with the interaction of giant stars to create the needed elements for life, continuing with chemical interactions on a watery planet formed from the detritus of countless stars, continuing with slow processes of development and evolution, and culminating(?) in the creation of "praying animals", that is, us, creatures part and parcel of the created order, but created in the image of God, and renewed by the coming into our midst of very God of very God, Jesus Christ, God's new image for us.

We are a part of this thing called the universe, the created order God has called good. Why must we fight so hard to convince ourselves we transcend it, or God took some kind of special, separate track to create humans apart from all the things God is about the business of creating and sustaining by God's Spirit?

Sam, was that intelligent enough for now? :)


  1. Anonymous7:08 PM

    Intelligent design is minimalistic in its claims; it does not claim that the God of Israel is in fact the designer, it often (according to its defenders) makes the claim that observation of phenomena allows one to conclude legitimately that it is the product of intelligent design. This theory has no defense against David Hume's remarkable Dialogues. There Hume showed that it was equally reasonable to conclude that many designers cooperate in the constrution of the world (like human beings do in making all sorts of things). He also argued that it was also equally reasonalbe to conclude that the world is a large organism that has no creator. Intelligent design has no intelligence to itself. Christians should have no part in supporting it.


  2. Greg is, as always, more intelligent than I, so wins in the "most intelligent post" category this week. Agreed, it's a useless argument for Christians. Aliens are just as likely the designers as the God of Israel. Thanks for the Hume reference!

  3. But now the question arises: How are we to interpret the truth and purpose of the Biblical creation story? And how does that interact with our relationship to scripture overall? If the story of creation is allegorical, does the same apply to ressurection? If not, why?

  4. HOW are we to interpret? The same way as always... continued dialogue and engagement with the whole Church.

    It is a false dichotomy to set a mythic story against a different genre in the biblical witness. We can say that the creation story is mythic (i.e. points to a deeper truth, not a false story), since there are two separate stories in Genesis. Gen. 2 is not an expansion of Gen. 1, it is a totally different story. Look at the order in which things are created. Humans are first in Gen.2, not last as in Gen. 1. Even Luther interpreted the beginning chapters of Genesis to be about our political life, and not about some order in the world... not that he would have doubted that either, but he didn't treat Genesis as a literal account.

    The resurrection can be understood to be actual because it was written in the midst of a story that was purporting to tell of a specific event. In fact, it was THAT event which forced all the other stories about Jesus to be written, so that we might understand who it was that was raised from the dead. And of course, we have Paul who points out for us that if the resurrection did not happen (or is allegorical, I would further say), then we are most to be pitied.

    Much of the biblical witness points to the resurrection of all the dead, and Jesus is the beginning of that day.

    However, why does your question arise when faced with ID, Sam? ID has little to do with the Christian creation story.


  5. It may be the case that a lengthy post I wrote vanished, in which case I'll need to re-write it after our STS general retreat. But I would ditto Brian's point, ID has little (nothing) to do with the actual Christian story, creation or otherwise, so why the worry...

  6. Anonymous9:54 AM

    If philosophers and theologians agree that Intelligent Design has little to do with the creation story;


    Biological scientists and philosophers of science agree that Intelligent Design has little (or nothing) to do with science;


    Why are we engaged in this apparent battle to the death?

    The answer is found by following the money trail. Who funds Intelligent Design (hint: it isn't the National Science Foundation)? The Intelligent Design fluff is funded by conservative foundations which usually have some mention of (fundamentalist) evangelism in their charter and mission.

    In other words, the foundations want to impose their view of Christianity on everyone, and I do mean everyone. Kierkegaard was a godless pagan to these yabos.

    I don't care if a school district wants to teach Intelligent Design, so long as they teach it in the right venue: a current events class, a civics class, or a philosophy class. It isn't biology and doesn't belong in the biology classroom any more than Medieval Philosophy belongs there.


  7. Dennis,

    ID might be science... if they can ever produce an experiment to help bolster the irreducible argument. One such experiment is supposedly in the works. (Nothing like the hype, is there?)

    Until any experiment is done however, ID is less science than cold fusion.

    In the Parish

  8. From the New Yorker...


  9. Anonymous9:06 PM

    Interesting discussion. As a point of educational history, my biology teacher in the 60's gave provided out class with both theories of evolution and creationism, and then left it to us to make our own decision, and not what was mandated as correct science by the school district. No theory has enough basis to be considered absolute.
    Clint's mom