A Theologian Evaluates Intelligent Design: Part 1 of 3
I’ve been thinking and reading about the Intelligent Design (ID) movement and its ideas for some time. I’m ready to put my evaluation in writing.
My varied roles and activities in the science-and-religion dialogue allows me to view ID from multiple perspectives. After reading widely, attending dozens of conference over the years, and enjoying multiple in-depth conversations, I can now report to having mixed feelings about Intelligent Design ideas and the movement.
Given the volatile rhetoric in the debates of ID, a person with mixed feelings might feel like a lone duck. Most people think Intelligent Design is either the most promising development in recent years or the most depressing. For most, it’s ID: Love it or Hate it.
I’ve decided to write a three-part blog series on ID. A clumsy by descriptive title for the series might be, “Five Things I Like about ID, Five Things I Don’t, and One Theological Issue that Should Carry More Weight in the Debate.” (The title’s length would have been perfect in the eighteenth century!)
I know my title will likely please few people. But it reflects my mixed views on Intelligent Design. And given my commitment to evaluate important issues as fairly as possible, it probably stands to reason that I see assets and liabilities in Intelligent Design.
The first part of my series will explore five things I like about ID. Here they are:
First, most ID folk are eager to speak about the world as, in some sense, God’s creation. I share this eagerness. After all, I believe God created the heavens, earth, and all living creatures.
I admit to preferring the historic Christian language of “creating” over “designing.” But I share the ID view that the world is God’s handiwork. In this sense, I am a creationist.
Second, many ID proponents are angry that some prominent scientists draw anti-God or no-God conclusions from science. I join ID advocates who criticize the argument that science in general or evolution in particular negates grounds for believing in God. I stand alongside ID supporters who reject atheistic fundamentalism.
Some ID folk are unsatisfied with the modern tendency to compartmentalize science and theology. They rightly recognize that we can’t keep science and religion entirely separate. The human quest to speculate about how all life fits together – implicit in both theology and science — eventually shows the folly of the view that we can neatly separate the two.
Just as parents can keep quarreling children separate in the minivan for only a short time, we cannot keep science and theology separate for long. Harmony requires interconnected relations.
The dissatisfaction with compartmentalization means that ID sympathizers often bring issues of science to bear on Christian faith. Although I don’t always agree that the particular ideas being proposed are compatible with or evidence for the truth of Christian theology, I appreciate their motive. I seek to unite scientific knowledge and vital Christian piety.
Fourth, I appreciate the ID movement, because it doesn’t rely on a literal reading of Genesis. It doesn’t require a person to regard the Bible as a science book. The vast majority of biblical scholars and theologians – conservative, moderate, or liberal – urge us NOT to interpret biblical creation stories as literally supportive of the details of contemporary science.
ID folk don’t ask their listeners to agree with the Bible, for instance, when it says that the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds (Mt. 13:31). While this statement may have reflected the truth of what passed as science in biblical times, contemporary people know that many seeds are much smaller.
Not requiring us to regard the Bible as a book of science allows us to affirm the classic Christian view that the Bible’s primary purpose is to encourage us to find salvation. ID permits one to affirm the old saying that the Bible tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go. I like to say the Bible tells us how to find abundant life, not the science of how life became abundant.
Fifth, I agree with the ID affirmation that life is not entirely the result of random mutations and pure chance. Of course, the vast majority of scientists reject the view that evolution involves completely random mutations and pure chance.
It remains an open question in the minds of many whether evolution has ultimate purpose, however. I join ID supporters in seeking overall explanations for life that emphasize ultimate purpose and include an essential role for a creative and loving God.
So, that’s what I like about Intelligent Design. In a future post, I’ll tell you what I don’t like.