Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Offending God with our Intelligent Designs

"Why not try Intelligent Design? What are the scientists afraid of? Can't their theories stand up to the controversy?"

Those questions are being asked at school board hearings all over the country, by the very tiny minority of people who really think it is worth the trouble to bother. (Let's be honest: the majority of American citizens really are not expending energy on either side of this debate.) These questions can be answered with a bit of common sense. Never mind what the scientists are or are not afraid of. There is a plain and simple answer which has nothing to do with science:

Intelligent Design is an utterly blasphemous doctrine. It is an insult to God, and to every monotheistic faith on the face of the earth!

It is particularly demeaning to the Christian faith. We are assured by Paul that it is through Jesus Christ that all the worlds were made. But "intelligent design" obscures this fundamental truth. Unlike their sinister cousins (who espouse that hideous hybrid "creation science") the ID advocates are coy about the name of the designer. And that is a problem. Just who IS this intelligent designer? Are they talking about the intergalactic computer AC, from an Isaac Asimov story? The last line of the story is "Then AC said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light!" Are we going to write textbooks about how this computer set off the Big Bang? I don't think so.

Let's be straight about this. To those who know there is a Creator, that Creator has a name. It is not "the intelligent designer." It is a name so holy that it was hidden in the letters JHWH, pronounced in various ways. It can be indirectly referred to as Adonai, meaning "my Lord," or simply as The God, or to Trinitarians the name of Jesus may be invoked. To traditional Lakota is it Wakan Tanka. In some traditional west African languages it is Chukwa; Chukwa is supreme even to those who pray to intercessors carved in wood. No language or religion in the world adores a skilled watchmaker in a cosmic laboratory with all the latest equipment. That is an occasional theme in science fiction. It is not good science. It is not the fruit of faith.

There are many very improbable measurements in the scientific record. These do suggest that our existence in this universe is not a mere accident. These facts should be taught, routinely, but only the facts. For one example, if the strong nuclear force were about 5% weaker than it is, the isotope of hydrogen known as deuterium would be impossible. That would make a series of other thermonuclear fusions impossible, which would mean no oxygen or carbon would ever have been made. Life as we know it would be impossible. But if this same force were 2% stronger than it actually is, stellar cores would blow up before any oxygen or carbon were made. Besides, only a very special resonance between helium, beryllium and carbon atoms, accounts for the amount of carbon in the universe. However, if the same resonance existed between carbon, helium and oxygen, so much carbon would have been transformed into oxygen that life would still be impossible.

Fortunately for us, all these forces and resonances are set just right. Why are they set just right? As a matter of science, we don't know. Fred Hoyle, a highly skilled astronomer and a convinced atheist, remarked that "a common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics." And don't be hard on Hoyle for doubting that God is; without Hoyle's years of research, we wouldn't know these facts about the strong and weak nuclear forces, and the resonance between certain elements in the cores of stars. Believers owe a great debt to Hoyle. But what believers have, that science cannot provide, is a revelation of truths beyond the scope of science.

Let's not be shy about who or what Hoyle's superintellect might be. Let us not demean our holy and awesome God by reducing his august majesty to that of a mere "superintellect." Leave that to the science fiction writers. Further, do not DARE to subject the existence of God to a scientific test. If you have a Ph.D in some branch of science, don't you dare to suggest that your scientific training somehow adds to the certainty that, when God told Moses "I am" – he meant it. Paul wrote "We walk by faith and not by sight." Why are people of faith looking to science to prove what we already know?

There are certain pompous fools who proclaim in the name of science to have proof that there is no God. The names Dawkins and Bozarth come to mind. Their strongest supporters can be found among the theologians of the Southern Baptist Convention. SBC does not deny that God is, and is with us. But SBC theologians agree that science leaves no room for God. Therefore they reject well established science, just as Bozarth and Dawkins reject God. The whole debate is incredibly silly.

C.S. Lewis explained the relationship between prayer, or faith, and events in the natural world, when he wrote the series of columns known as The Screwtape Letters. This book is probably the best exposition of Christianity since the four Gospels. It is certainly the easiest for mere Christians to understand. "If the thing he prays for doesn't happen, then that is one more proof that petitionary prayers don't work; if it does happen, he will, of course, be able to see some of the physical causes which led up to it, and 'therefore it would have happened anyway.' Thus, a granted prayer becomes as good a proof as a denied one that prayers are ineffective." (That was logic from the mouth of a devil, but believers must rise above this logic, not get snared by it.)

Stack up everything science has discovered about the empirics of the universe, the manner in which elements are made in the core of stars, the radiation from the initial burst of light at the first moment of time, the various forms of life and their relation to each other. It all amounts to "some of the physical causes" which resulted from the initial command. A human can look at this evidence and say "it would have happened anyway," or that it "just happened randomly." A human can also look at it and say "this is what we can observe in the natural world, as the result of God's commands creating the heavens and the earth." The question, which of these two perspectives is the truth, cannot be found in science. The science would be exactly the same either way.

We need to keep science classes focused on what science is competent to reveal. Science is not competent to fill in the gaps in our scientific knowledge. Science is only competent to tell us what has been observed by human sight, measured by human hands, detected by instruments of human design. Science classes should not be teaching that there is no God, or that science disproves Genesis, or that we live in a morally neutral universe. For all we materially know, that may be true. But science cannot prove it. Science also cannot prove that God is. The question, if there is a question, lies totally outside the scope of science.

When children have spent Monday through Friday learning astronomy, and then show up at Sunday school spouting "everything began with a big bang," Sunday school teachers merely need to point out that God revealed this to Moses in Genesis 1:3, long before we had telescopes to predict or detect this event. When the kids say "life began in the seas," we must be prepared to show them that God explained this to Moses in Genesis 1:20. If a science teacher told their students that Jonah could not have been swallowed by a whale, because of the screen of baleen at the back of the whale's mouth, anyone familiar with the Bible will point out that Jonah was swallowed by a great fish. God could have chosen, or made, any kind of great fish God chose.

When biology class teaches recent evidence that our ancestors went through a "genetic bottleneck" about 50,000 to 200,00 years ago, any pastor worth their salt can tell those same students "That is probably an empirical trace of being in the garden east of Eden for a long time." But we do not need this sort of exact parallel. We simply need to recognize that science has made a very precise study of the material world, which we can rely on for empirical results and interpretations. God lies before, after, beyond, as well as throughout that universe.

There is no series of experiments to test for the existence of God. God is not a hypothesis. We should step letting well-intentioned educated fools treat God as a matter for scientific investigation. We must be free to talk about the Creator, not an intelligent designer. We should do that in churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, tabernacles, where we can freely NAME the Creator, not by sight, but by faith.

For those who wish to read on this in more depth and detail, click the link on the left side of the screen that says "Biblical Evolution." That is a shamelessly self-serving thing for me to say, since the link leads to a web page about my own book, With God All Things are Possible: A Third Look at Creation.

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