A Theologian Evaluates Intelligent Design: Part 3 of 3
In my past two installments, I noted five things I like about Intelligent Design and five things I don’t. I conclude with my final (and apparently unique) criticism of ID.
Unlike the political, scientific, or philosophical criticisms of ID, my final criticism is explicitly theological. Of course, most of the other criticisms of have direct or indirect theological dimensions.
My criticism has to do with the theological implications of the ID idea of irreducible complexity. As far as I can tell, the notion of irreducible complexity and the lack of creaturely causation it implies undermine a coherent view of God’s love.
The basic idea of irreducible complexity is that some organisms are so highly sophisticated that the evolutionary forces — natural selection, random mutation, self-organization, etc. – cannot account for them. A designer – God – must have specially acted to create them.
Presumably, Christian ID supporters believe that God has been active and creative throughout history. Most Christians are not deists. To put it differently, God has always been creative in the emergence and ongoing life of every creature and species. Christians who affirm the general theory of evolution would also likely argue that God acts as Creator in both micro and macroevolution.
ID supporters presumably believe that creatures also contribute as causal actors in the world. In some way, shape, or form, creatures and creation play a contributing role in God’s creating activity.
The first chapter of Genesis illustrates this creaturely co-creating well. God calls upon creation many times to “bring forth” creatures of various kinds. This idea of divine-creaturely cooperation persists throughout the Bible.
So… here’s the rub:
If creatures and God are always active together in the creation story – with God taking the lead as Creator, of course – what does this mean for the idea of irreducible complexity? Implied if not outright stated in the theory of irreducible complexity is the idea that God had to “step into” or “intervene in” the evolutionary process to “design” unilaterally some complex organisms.
The natural course of things, say ID advocates, cannot account for this design. The creation of irreducibly complex organisms required God to forsake the natural contributions of creatures. God had to act all alone to create some complex organisms.
Philosophers call this kind of unilateral activity “a sufficient cause.” A sufficient cause entirely explains the existence of what it produces. No other factors or actors contributed.
What’s wrong with the idea that God occasionally acts all alone — as a sufficient cause — to design an irreducibly complex organism?
To put it simply: this means that God’s creating irreducibly complex organisms is not an act of love.
Let me explain.
Acting all alone when creating would not be loving for at least two reasons. First, love requires relationship. Relationship requires cooperation and collaborating, at least to some degree.
Acting all alone as a sufficient cause amounts to forcing one’s way on others. This is coercion. Almost everybody believes that love and coercion – when coercion is defined as total control – are incompatible.
The God in whom Christians believe is foremost a Lover who would NEVER acts unloving. The steadfast love of the Lord endures forever, say the writers of the Bible!
A God who always loves and never coerces would always act in relationship. God would never act as a sufficient cause. God’s loving and creating action would persuade, call, woo, lure, summon, inspire, and empower others. God creates in cooperation with creatures.
The second reason we should not think that God acts all alone to design irreducibly complex organisms is that God’s acting all alone – being in complete control of the situation or creature – implies that God has the capacity to control anyone at anytime and at any place. A God with this capacity would be morally irresponsible. After all…
a loving God who can completely control others should prevent the genuine evil of the world.
a loving God who can completely control others should provide crystal-clear and inerrant revelation.
a loving God who can completely control others should distribute the goods and resources of the world fairly.
Because genuine evil, ambiguous revelation, and injustice occurs, God must not completely control others. Whether this is God’s choice or something derived from God’s eternal nature is a question that theologians debate.
I personally believe that love is a part of God’s nature. God loves others necessarily and gives others freedom. God necessarily empowers others and calls creatures to love. I call this theory, “Essential Kenosis.”
Essential Kenosis says that God loves others and cannot fail to offer, withdraw, or override the freedom/agency God necessarily gives. This means that creatures, not God, are morally responsible for the evil, confusion, and injustice of the world.
In short, my major theological criticism of the ID theory of irreducible complexity is it undermines the central Christian conviction that God is love.
As a theologian, I am convinced that we must think consistently about God. And this consistent thinking should especially occur in the science and theology dialogue. If we truly believe that God’s defining attribute is love, Christians must think through issues in the science-and-theology dialogue in such a way that this conviction enjoys a central role.
Admittedly, it is easy to imagine how God lovingly creates and relates with animate creatures like worms, dogs, and people. These creatures have some responsive freewill or agency with which they can respond well or poorly to God.
It is more difficult to imagine God loving and relating to rocks, snowflakes, and air molecules. These entities don’t seem to have the capacity for freewill responses.
If God’s nature is love and God loves the whole world (Jn. 3:16), however, it makes sense to say God loves both animate and inanimate creatures. God’s loving creation of inanimate creation by giving them structure, integrity, and constitution also means that God also doesn’t entirely control – doesn’t coerce – inanimate creatures. This belief comes in handy when grappling with what philosophers sometimes call “natural evil” – blizzards, hurricanes, and erupting volcanoes.
All of this means that a theory of evolution that has both a necessary role for God as Creator and a necessary role for creatures as contributors is more compatible with Christian love than the ID theory of irreducible complexity implying that God coerces creatures occasionally to create complex organisms.
Instead of saying that God occasionally designs unilaterally through coercion, I find it more plausible to say that God is always creating and designing creatures. God never takes a holiday from creating, and creatures are never left out of the picture.
This creating and designing – which has occurred over millions and billions of years – is God acting as Creator in a relationship of love.