Faithlife Sermons

The Lost World of Genesis One-Session 16

Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  33:46
0 ratings

Current Debate About Intelligent Design Ultimately Concerns Purpose

Having now covered the biblical and theological issues, we are ready to move into the discussion of contemporary issues. Specifically the next several chapters explore the impact of this view of on our understanding of evolution, Intelligent Design and public education.
As we begin, it is most important to keep in mind that the view presented in the preceding chapters is what philosophers would label as

“teleological”—by which they mean that the view involves God working with intention, purpose and a goal in every aspect of his role as Creator (which includes originating and sustaining).

The obvious result of this is that all of creation is, by this definition, intelligent, and likewise, all of it is designed. Nothing could be considered accidental. Nothing happens “by itself,” and origins are not just found in the outworking of natural laws. Nothing is really coincidence. In one of Orson Scott Card’s novels one character quips, “Coincidence is just the word we use when we have not yet discovered the cause.… It’s an illusion of the human mind, a way of saying, ‘I don’t know why this happened this way, and I have no intention of finding out.’ ”
Likewise, the fact that we believe that God did X does not mean that it is no longer subject to scientific investigation. Everything that exists and everything that happens is, in Christian thinking, ultimately an act of God. Yet in the layer cake model we have presented, that does not mean that scientific or historical inquiry should be cut off—they still have the potential of leading to understanding at a different level.
In recent decades a movement referred to as Intelligent Design has become prominent. Throughout the ages scientists have always admired the cosmos as evidencing design, though in more modern times, many scientists are more likely to talk about the “appearance” of design. The Intelligent Design movement (ID) insists that this appearance of design is not illusive, but is the result of an unidentified intelligent designer.
One of the primary ways the Intelligent Design movement has offered evidence for its contention is through the identification of what they call irreducible complexity. They have identified structures that require a multitude of parts that need to be functional all at once for the structure to continue to exist and do its job, therefore concluding that the structure could not have evolved one piece at a time. They make no consistent claims about the nature of the designer. They believe that these irreducible complexities show the weaknesses of Neo-Darwinian evolution (the reigning paradigm for understanding biological origins), but they have not gotten to the point where they have alternative scientific mechanisms to promote. In other words, ID does not offer a theory of origins. It offers conclusions from observations in the natural world and posits that those observations argue against the reigning paradigm of Neo-Darwinism. It must be noted, however, that even as many might grant weaknesses in the reigning paradigm, ID would only be one among many possible alternatives.
Protagonists of ID would like their claims and particularly their critique accepted as science. In the political realm, some have tried to force its adoption as an alternative to be offered in public education. The difficulty they face is that if there is intelligent design, there must logically be an intelligent designer. Given the existence of a designer, it would logically be inferred that such a designer is not simply playing games or being artistic, but is working with a purpose.3 Science is not capable of exploring a designer or his purposes. It could theoretically investigate design but has chosen not to by the parameters it has set for itself (back to the layer cake analogy). Therefore, while alleged irreducible complexities and mathematical equations and probabilities can serve as a critique for the reigning paradigm, empirical science would not be able to embrace Intelligent Design because science has placed an intelligent designer outside of its parameters as subject to neither empirical verification nor falsification.
In short, teleological aspects (exploration of purpose) are not in the realm of science as it has been defined and therefore could not be factored into a scientific understanding. ID could be considered as contributing to the scientific enterprise when it is offering a critique of the reigning paradigm because it offers scientific observations in its support. But it does not contribute to the advance of scientific understanding because it does not offer an alternative that is scientifically testable and falsifiable. Its basic premise is a negative one: that “naturalistic mechanisms (i.e., natural selection, random mutation) cannot fully account for life as we know it.” ID does not deny the operation of naturalistic mechanisms—it simply finds them insufficient to offer a comprehensive explanation of all observable phenomena. It cannot offer at present a scientific hypothesis proposing alternatives. Consequently it can only offer inferences regarding science that can only be tracked currently by leaving the realm of science. Nevertheless proponents of ID would make a lesser claim that design itself is detectable and researchable and therefore can be subject to scientific investigation—the design element, not the nature or existence of the designer. They offer no theory of origins nor do they attempt to interpret the Bible or contribute to theological thinking.

Some would say that it is just plain and simple logic that some things are the product of design.

Design seems to be a common thread that runs through the whole of nature. Time and again, in cases that have been cataloged since the dawn of biology, nature reveals that (1) its inhabitants are remarkably suited to fit their environment and (2) the various parts and systems that constitute organisms are remarkably suited to work in concert with one another.
No one finds a watch on the beach and thinks that it is a relic of nature; no one looks at Mount Rushmore and concludes that it is the result of wind and erosion. But when these products of intelligent design are recognized, the process to understand them becomes a historical one, not a scientific one. To recognize them as products of design is to remove them from the arena of scientific investigation.
Intelligent Design has been criticized as being a God of the gaps approach. “God of the gaps” says that if there is no known naturalistic explanation of an observable phenomenon, that phenomenon is attributable to God. The unfortunate result of this way of thinking is that as scientific knowledge grows and more phenomena are explained, the role of God shrinks away. While ID vehemently denies being a God of the gaps approach, the logical hurdle is that if they believe that naturalistic explanations are insufficient, design in nature can only be established beyond reasonable doubt if all naturalistic explanations have been ruled out.6 Proving a negative logically requires that all possibilities have been considered, which in turn requires that all possibilities are known. As a result design cannot be established beyond reasonable doubt (it would be presumptuous to suggest that knowledge is so exhaustive that all possibilities are known), and it can only fall back on the claim that the currently proposed naturalistic mechanisms do not suffice. Design is thus attributed to observable phenomena that carry characteristic hallmarks of design (in an ID way of understanding) that cannot be explained by naturalistic mechanisms. This list ends up looking very much like the God of the gaps list.
Neo-Darwinism (N-D) is in no more attractive a position. While ID says that irreducible complexity provides evidence for design, N-D swings the pendulum in the opposite direction. It responds to the claims of irreducible complexity by proposing components that might have come together to produce what now appears to be irreducibly complex. Even if such an explanation cannot be found, or is criticized as being far-fetched, the underlying assumption is that there must be one (presumably because all phenomena must be the result of naturalistic mechanisms). Both then are ultimately based on metaphysical premises. ID has defined itself to allow a metaphysical acceptance of purpose (teleology), while some proponents of N-D presuppose by definition a metaphysical acceptance of “dysteleology”—that there can be no purpose or goal. In effect then ID suggests that there is warrant for opening scientific investigation to teleological possibilities. Mainstream science contends that dysteleology must be retained in its self-definition. At this point they are not willing to rewrite the current rules of science to allow for either intelligence or design. Having said this, it must be reiterated that whatever definitions of science may be and whatever scientific methods may be allowed or disallowed, the existence of purpose is unaffected.
Perhaps there are other naturalistic mechanisms beyond random mutation and natural selection that offer better explanations for observable phenomena (and along the way show more promise of explaining how presumably irreducibly complex phenomena came to be). Just such approaches are constantly being proposed and developed. What has been referred to as “meta-Darwinism” includes a variety of (independent) proposals for naturalistic mechanisms that do not supplant natural selection and random mutation, but relegate them to a different role in the developmental process of organisms. These proposed mechanisms include endosymbiosis, developmental mutations (evo-devo), multilevel selection and complexity theory (self-organization). Of course these do not resolve the metaphysical issues if they still operate with dysteleological presuppositions. Some, to their credit, attempt to be neutral with respect to teleology. The stricture remains against making any explicit appeal to purpose in scientific explanations. To appeal to purpose is to shift to a different kind of explanation (e.g., metaphysical, theological).
Consequently we find that even as ID proposes that N-D fails to provide adequate naturalistic mechanisms to explain the existence of “irreducible complexities,” the response of science has not been to admit that there must be a designer. Instead critique from a variety of sources has prompted continuing work to offer alternative naturalistic mechanisms that will remedy the inadequacies of N-D. This is how science works—it seeks out other scientific explanations. If scientists simply threw up their hands and admitted that a metaphysical, teleological explanation was necessary, they would be departing from that which is scientific.
The question is whether we can assume such hard and fast lines of distinction between the scientific and the metaphysical. It is true that observations can be put into one category or the other, but the fact is that such a categorization is artificial because none of us has a worldview comprised of only one of them. Science and metaphysics blend together in life. Can science be taught with no metaphysical aspect? Should metaphysics be isolated from the sciences? These questions will be dealt with in future chapters.
In conclusion, this chapter has introduced ID as both a critique of N-D, in which sense it alleges to be scientific, but also as offering an understanding of the world that is ultimately teleological—purposeful—in which sense it departs from the realm of scientific investigation and theorization.
The view of Genesis offered in this book is also teleological but accepts that all of creation is the result of God’s handiwork, whether naturalistic mechanisms are identifiable or not, and whether evolutionary processes took place or not. God has designed all that there is and may have brought some of his designs into existence instantaneously, whereas others he may have chosen to bring into existence through long, complicated processes. Neither procedure would be any less an act of God.
Technical Support
Behe, Michael. Darwin’s Black Box. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.
Dembski, William. Intelligent Design. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1999.
Fowler, Thomas B., and Daniel Kuebler. The Evolution Controversy: A Survey of Competing Theories. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007.
House, H. Wayne, ed. Intelligent Design 101. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008.
Johnson, Philip. Darwin on Trial. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1991.
O’Leary, Denyse. By Design or By Chance? Minneapolis: Augsburg, 2004.[1]
[1] Walton, J. H. (2009). The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (pp. 124–130). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.
Related Media
Related Sermons