Whenever the subject of Intelligent Design turns up, it is always in the context of believers in ID attacking evolutionary biology. The ID’ers have a list of claims about “Darwinism” that they insist make evolution impossible. A popular one now, for example, is that there is not enough time for natural selection to produce enough gene mutations to explain the fossil record. A fair description of ID is that it is a list of arguments and assertions about evolution wrapped around a set of central claims.
One of those claims is that creation, as we observe it, must be the result of design and therefore a designer. They never describe the designer, as most people just assume they mean God, but the designer could be space aliens, in theory. A certain type of self-described Christian finds this appealing. They assume the designer is God, as they have an understanding of God that is much more personal. They believe God is highly involved in the granular details of human existence.
Now, it should be pointed out that this understanding of God is outside Christian tradition and perhaps even anti-Christian. Early Christians, like the Jews of the period, were highly influenced by the Greek understanding of the world. For them, the universe was an orderly place operating by fixed rules. You can’t have a covenant with God, after all, if the universe is a lawless place controlled by a fickle creator. That would make God’s covenant with man just another trick played by him on mankind.
Intelligent Design is occasionalism. While the natural world seems to operate along a set of knowable rules, God often intervenes to change results. He is always in that space between cause and effect, ready to alter the relationship according to his design. God created the platypus for reasons only known to God. If he chooses, he can make the Nile flow south or the sky turn pink. The proof of this, according to Intelligent Design, is the variety of species alive today, as well those no longer in existence.
In fairness to the ID’ers, occasionalism did creep into Christian theology in the Middle Ages, as the Christian West came into contact with Islam. Nicholas of Autrecourt was a 14th century French theologian, who was a critic of the orderly view of the natural world and a proto-occasionalist. David Hume dabbled in the ideas, but stopped short of claiming a creator or designer. Modern ID’ers can therefore claim they are not way outside Christian tradition, but they would have to defend against it.
Another central claim of Intelligent Design is that the natural world is either the result of chance or design. This is the keystone of their theory, as Intelligent Design is not an affirmative argument in favor of a designer. Instead, they frame the debate as between two competing theories. Therefore, if one is shown to be invalid, by default the other must be true. It is a bit of rhetorical sleight of hand to avoid the central problems of Intelligent Design, which of course is that it can never be proven.
This aspect of Intelligent Design relies on a characterization of natural selection as random chance, like rolling of dice. It’s the claim that a football game is either the result of random chance or the game is fixed by the officials, either in advance or as the game proceeds to its conclusion. Obviously, this is ridiculous. The result of a sports match is not random and it is not predetermined or fixed. The result of a sportsball game, is the result of the players acting and reacting to one another, within a known set of rules.
That’s the case with evolutionary biology. Random mutations in the genome are one aspect of the evolutionary process. Environment obviously plays a role here. Sexual selection is another. Human intervention is another. After all, people have killed off whole species. People have killed off whole groups of people. Like the sportsball game, there are multiple actors, acting and reacting, within a set of rules that science does not fully understand. Evolution is not an argument in favor of chance.
The point here is Intelligent Design is built, in part, on a false dichotomy. Natural selection is not random chance, at least not how most people understand what random chance means. Further, even if natural selection is unable to explain everything, there are other forces, like sexual selection, that come into play. Even if everything about evolutionary biology is wrong, it does not make Intelligent Design true. It simply means we have no good answer understanding the natural world.
This again comes back to the question as to whether Intelligent Design is at odds with Christian theology. The Sphynx cat exists and we know why. The ID’ers would argue that it is an example of design, but that presupposes the breeders were either directed by God or compelled by God to create the breed. That means man has no agency and that sin cannot truly exist. This argument for Intelligent Design comes dangerously close to the argument that man has no free will, which is heretical on its face.
This is why ID’er focus all of their energy on the negative argument, making various claims about evolutionary science. That way, the discussion is always on the science, rather than the theology. This rhetorical sleight of hand is also dishonest, which raises another theological problem for ID’ers. How can something be in line with Biblical teaching if it is based on a falsehood? Maybe the ID’er have a way to explain this, but it is not something they choose to address in their books and articles.
The most serious issue with Intelligent Design is what it implies about God. A designer that is endlessly tinkering with his creation is not a designer with foresight. Alternatively, it is a designer that is a fickle trickster, tinkering with his creation for his own amusement, without regard for his creation. It is a designer that purposely makes flawed creations that harm his other creations. This is a designer burning army men with a magnifying glass and blowing up the model train trestle. That’s not God. That’s the Devil.
From a mainstream Christian perspective, Intelligent Design has some serious theological problems, with occasionalism being the main one. The one way to solve the theological problems is to move the designer back to the beginning, where the Bible writers preferred to place him. The classic watchmaker model, where God sets the universe in motion, according to a fixed set of rules, with evolution possibly being one of them. That leaves room to debate evolution, but does not make God a villain.
For sites like this to exist, it requires people like you chipping in a few bucks a month to keep the lights on and the people fed. It turns out that you can’t live on clicks and compliments. Five bucks a month is not a lot to ask. If you don’t want to commit to a subscription, make a one time donation. Or, you can send money to: Z Media LLC P.O. Box 432 Cockeysville, MD 21030-0432. You can also use PayPal to send a few bucks, rather than have that latte at Starbucks. Thank you for your support!