Sunday, November 4, 2007

Primer on Intelligent Design

What is Intelligent Design?
Over the centuries, various arguments have been offered to demonstrate that a god must exist. Intelligent design (ID) is a modern form of the teleological argument. Basically, the claim of ID is this:

What we see in the universe, on our planet, and in biological life is too complicated to have been created by undirected natural processes, therefore a supernatural intelligence must be responsible for it all.
In the universe there are dozens, if not hundreds, of physical constants that may have any number of values. Tweak any of them and the universe would be a vastly different place. There is no particular reason why any of these values should be what they are; they could have been totally different.

Considering the various values these constants could have taken results in trillions upon trillions of possible universes. In all of those possible universes, there is only one where life is possible: this one. That seems too incredible to be simple chance.

The earth is in the right kind of galaxy orbiting the right kind of star with the right kind of planetary neighbors to allow it to bear life. It has the appropriate orbit, rotation, atmosphere, geology, and geographical arrangement to make it an appropriate home for intelligent life. There is no reason why a planet suitable for intelligent life should exist at all, so the existence of our world seems unlikely to be mere chance.

To get biological life by purely natural processes requires not only a suitable world in a suitable universe. It requires proper chemicals to form and interact to create a self-replicating system in a hostile environment. It also requires vast amounts of information to be created by undirected natural mechanisms. Once a self-replicating biological organism stumbles into existence, its progeny must undergo random mutations that slowly transform them into the various species we see today. The vast improbability of these events occurring suggests that a supernatural intelligence created life on earth.

ID is not strictly Christian. Though many ID proponents are Christians, not all are. Some are adherents of other major religions, and there are also deists and other indeterminate theists in the ranks of this movement.

Usefulness of ID
For those who are of an atheistic or agnostic persuasion, the design argument can be useful in helping them realize that a divine creator does indeed exist. This includes people like Anthony Flew, a famous atheist who announced his conversion to deism in 2004.

It is also useful for giving support to believers who are being troubled by atheistic claims. In college, young believers often have their religious beliefs mocked and even attacked by those who tell them that they must shed their “superstitions” if they want to be intelligent people. Those who study the sciences have a certain amount of trouble with this, though it is common in the liberal arts too.

There are also those believers who simply encounter naturalistic ideas in the media. Design proponents give these people intellectual and even emotional support against the arguments of naturalism.

Limits of ID
First, ID does not lead to the God of the Bible. ID, strictly speaking, points to a god but not necessarily the God. Of course, getting a person to a god is one step closer to Christ, but you can’t stop with just the design argument.

Second, the design that ID proponents point to is not incontrovertible. Some argue that the apparent design in the universe is merely illusion. And, of course, some say the “design” is real but chance. While the argument is helpful to many people, others will not be persuaded; Christians need to have other material in their arsenals.

Next time we’ll look at a more controversial question: Is ID science?


Mike L. said...

"Christians need to have other material in their arsenals"

Instead, how about just recognizing that being a Christian does NOT mean forcing yourself to believe things that can't be true. Accepting evolution does not in ANY way mean rejecting Christ.

The best choice to help Christianity continue to be a viable option in the 21st century is to stop viewing it as an opponent of science. Accepting Christ as your savior and following his way of life of peace through justice is completely compatible with accepting evolution.

Genesis is not trying to explain the origins of the Earth. It is a "true myth" and the truth at its core is about the longing of Israel to return to the promised land. The story was written AFTER the exhile to Babylon and it is a symbolic telling about the fall of Israel and the hope for its return. It is filled with truth but it was never intended to be historically accurate.

ChrisB said...

What "can't be true?" Why?

Even though evolution is only a part of this debate, it is certainly the hotest part.

You can be a Christian an believe in some kind of evolution, but if you believe in the most prevalent version -- i.e., undirected -- it kind of makes things difficult.

viewing it as an opponent of science
ID proponents do not view science and Christianity as opposed. They view modern naturalistic science as opposed to theism of all forms.

Genesis...was written AFTER the exhile to Babylon
I think the evidence for the Pentateuch being written prior to the conquest of Canaan is pretty strong. Most of the time when I've seen an author argue the contrary it was due to an anti-supernatural bias.

Jon said...

Ah, yes, you have chosen the hot topic of ID. Nice summary of what ID is and isn't. Too many people reject ID without even knowing what they are rejecting. Also, too many people (purposefully?) use the term evolution without defining it. As you and Mike discussed, a Christian can believe in evolution, but what kind of evolution are we talking about? The term can mean anything from breeding dogs to the origins of life. These two things are vastly different, yet both come under the umbrella of evolution. I believe people on both sides need always to clearly define the terms they use. This might help eliminate some of the more unproductive arguments out there.

(By the way, I am speaking neither of you nor Mike. I am thinking of my own past experiences here.)

ChrisB said...

Jon! Nice to "see" you again.

I agree that people need to be clear about what they're debating. It really gets my goat when people try to pass off microevolution as evidence for macroevolution.

I covered the need for clarity a bit in an ealier post.

Jon said...

Yes, so you have written a post about clarity, and it looks like I made much the same comment on that post, too. Apparently I need to work for the Department of Redundancy Department.

ChrisB said...


Guess I really need to do something more on the topic of micro- vs macro-evolution. Hopefully in the near future...