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Friday, August 12, 2016

Intelligent Design, part 2

My friend Jonathan Huddleston (my most reliably acute critic) pointed out that I really didn't do enough to substantiate the thesis in my last post. In particular, Jonathan asked why God couldn't be the creator in the traditional, orthodox sense (the one who causes all things to be, including the processes of nature) while also "tinkering" (the term I used in my earlier post) by setting up particular structures in the way suggested by ID theorists.

It's a good caveat. Of course there's no reason God couldn't do both. Theologically, my objection to ID is not so much the claim that God created "irreducibly complex" structures that couldn't have evolved naturally, but rather the confusion of this kind of "intelligent design" with the concept of creation. This confusion is demonstrated every time someone says, "but doesn't anyone who believes in God as creator believe in intelligent design?" 

Either ID is a scientific, not a theological paradigm, or it's bad theology. That was how I framed the title of my previous post, but I should have made it clearer in the body of the text. If ID is a purely scientific claim, then of course it's not bad theology. And of course believing in a God who can intervene supernaturally in creation keeps open the possibility that God might so intervene to establish these specific structures.

But I would still argue that an orthodox doctrine of creation is a reason to be slow to accept such scientific claims. That is to say, if most scientists agreed that ID was correct, I'd have little problem adapting my theology to deal with it. But my theology does not make me more likely to think it's correct, except in the sense that of course I believe God is capable of doing this. 

Traditionally, when God acts in creation in a way not accounted for by the normal "laws of nature," we call it a miracle. And miracles are typically a response to the sin and brokenness that have marred creation. To be sure, there is a minority tradition in Christianity holding that the greatest miracle of all, the Incarnation, would have happened even in the absence of the Fall. And that tradition may well be correct. But in that case the Incarnation would be an exception--and it's also possible that in an unfallen world it would not seem like a "miracle," inasmuch as we would see how all the rhythms of creation are attuned to the divine presence and point toward the ultimate union of Creator and creation in Christ.

I believe, like Greg Boyd (and following a hint in C. S. Lewis), that creation as we know it has been marred before humans entered the picture. (To be clear: I don't go as far as Boyd, and in my discussion of his "warfare theology" I rather emphasized my disagreements--but I am persuaded by the basic thesis that the world as we know it bears the mark of demonic activity as well as of God's good purposes.) It might be that God needed to intervene in response to the marring of creation, and that ID theorists are picking up on signs of that intervention. 

But most adherents of ID support it because they believe it meshes with Christian belief better than a more conventional evolutionary paradigm does. (This is one of the reasons why many people have trouble taking it seriously as science, although I don't think it's a fatal objection. It might be that only people with religious reasons to question the dominant paradigm are open to alternatives, and that the alternative will turn out in the end to be true. I think this is unlikely, but it's possible.) That's the position I'm arguing against. In fact, if anything ID theory tends to confuse people about what creation is, and (conversely) appeal to people who already have a less than orthodox view of God and creation. 

So I repeat my original thesis: ID is either not theology at all, or it's bad theology. If it's simply a claim about certain empirical phenomena, then it's not theology. The phenomena might be signs of divine action within creation, and certainly an orthodox theology could accommodate this kind of "divine intervention" if that's what the evidence pointed to.

But if ID is taken to be, itself, evidence of God the creator, then the creator it points to is something less than the God of orthodox Christianity. And the entire conversation has further obscured the key claim of orthodox Christianity that natural processes are themselves signs of God's creative power.

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