Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The errors of Intelligent Design – It is Poor Theology (Guest Post)

I had a conversation with a church leader who suggested Christians should adopt ID as evidence for the existence of God. This troubled me since he implied orthodoxy includes accepting the design argument and to challenge this is tantamount to denying God as Creator.

ID within the context of Natural Theology
Natural theology formed a central point in Christian theology with Aquinas articulating his influential argument from Design as part of his doctrine of creation. In the Reformed tradition prior to Barth, theologians spoke of God revealing himself in two ways; firstly, through the ‘book’ of natural order and secondly, through scripture although the latter is more fuller and complete than the former. With the implications of Darwinian evolution and the failure of Paley’s analogy of the watchmaker, natural theology went into crisis. A naturalistic explanation of the world seemed to undermine the Genesis account of creation and erode the authority of scripture.

Barth, attempting to reclaim theology for the church from the legacy of Schleiermacher, dismissed natural theology as undermining the revelation of God in Christ as witnessed by the scriptures. God reveals himself wholly in Christ. We cannot ascend to a knowledge of God through human reason. In his famous disagreement with Brunner he stated a clear "Nein!" arguing human beings can not cooperate with God in the act of revelation, God reveals Himself through the Word. Since then natural theology, including the argument from design, has been left struggling.

ID is an updated, re-worked, modern version of Paley’s Watchmaker analogy and as such, is open to the same barrage of criticisms levelled a century ago. ID thinkers (and in particular evangelical Christians who uncritically adopt ID), however, seem to have not dealt with the broader theological concerns raised by the failings of natural theology over the 20th Century. In particular ID raises theological concerns in three areas:

God of ALL Creation
In the Biblical and theological witness God is Author, Maker and Sustainer of ALL things without exception. The Old Testament Psalms and Prophets declare Gods active work in creation and his current involvement within it. Within the New Testament revelation of God in Christ, Colossians declares ‘in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible…and in him all things hold together’ (1.16,17) and John ‘All things came into being through him’ (1.3). Nature is not a ‘quasi-independent entity’ (Denis Alexander) but rather, as McGrath argues in his new Scientific Theology, nature needs to be replaced with a doctrine of creation as God present and active within the world.

However, ID postulates a split universe, with some organisms brought into life through ‘natural processes’ (as explained adequately by science) and those which have components of ‘design’. Michael Behe writes “If a biological structure can be explained in terms of those natural laws, then we cannot conclude that it was designed”. (Darwin’s Black Box’, The Free Press, 1996, p. 203.). However a two tier universe of ‘designed’ and ‘natural’ is alien to the biblical writers as God is the Creator of ALL. A doctrine of creation affirms ‘natural laws’ are in fact terms to explain the handiwork of God in creation.

ID postulated the theory of irreducible complexity to explain the origins of biological phenomena such as bacterial flagellum. They reasoned due its ‘irreducible’ structure natural selection is an inadequate theory to account for its origins concluding an ‘intelligent designer’ as the cause. This, I argue, is classic God-of-the-gaps. Take a current scientific mystery (which the community was aware of!), claim it’s unexplainable in naturalistic terms then postulate God as the cause. As I mentioned in my previous post, in the ten years since Behe’s book a range of scientific literature has been written giving a naturalistic account of the origins of the organism Behe refers to. This argument plays into the hands of militant atheists such as Dawkins and Dennett who effectively argue the case of naturalistic explanations thus seemingly squeezing God out of the physical universe.

Conclusion: The Foundation of Faith
By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible” (Hebrews 1.3)

We access and encounter the God of bible through the medium of faith. God is not an object to be considered or objectified, but rather a person to be known. ID undermines this essential Christian principle. Faith, rather than meaning ‘blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence’ as presented by Dawkins, is an epistemology built on reason, conviction and the historical revelation of God in Christ. Thus the ‘natural world’ must be understood in this framework. McGrath argues that the term ‘nature’ is a mediated category, not a neutral ontological term and therefore is better understood within a Christian theological framework which encompasses the natural world and by implication natural science. It is through faith in Christ we understand the natural world and come to a revelation of God.

Simon Hardwick of The Lost Message


At 10/31/2006 2:04 AM, Anonymous byron smith said...

ID is an updated, re-worked, modern version of Paley’s Watchmaker analogy and as such, is open to the same barrage of criticisms levelled a century ago.
I assume you mean is open to the same barrage of theological criticisms? That is, the science might have been updated, but not the theology?

I think this is the most telling point against ID, but I'm still looking forward to the rest of the series.

At 10/31/2006 8:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Byron,

I assume you mean is open to the same barrage of theological criticisms? That is, the science might have been updated, but not the theology?

Yes, that is exactly what I meant. Sorry my writing didn't make that as clear as I'd hoped!


At 10/31/2006 12:20 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Simon, blame the tired proof-reader!

At 10/31/2006 5:00 PM, Anonymous One of Freedom said...

Excellent series Simon. This was the best post so far.

At 10/31/2006 8:26 PM, Anonymous Stephen said...

I would be interested in knowing your own theology of creation. An atheistic account of evolution denies that there is an intelligence behind the process, and denies that it is telos oriented.

Surely a theistic account of evolution must say the opposite: that the Creator supplies the intelligence which guides evolution toward a predetermined end.

My struggle is that at least some of the evidence supports the atheistic account of evolution. I'm currently posting on extinction episodes as a challenge to thestic evolution.

How does your theology of creation account for such data? Do you even describe yourself as a theistic evolutionist, or do you prefer to be agnostic on the whole question?


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