This is the fifth in a series of posts looking at the book The Language of God by Francis S. Collins, Director, National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), National Institutes of Health (NIH). Part Three of this book deals with faith in science and faith in God – reconciling the conflict.
Science purports to explain the natural world. But does the very nature of the world itself provide a convincing argument for the existence of a creator and thus, at least in the minds of many, prove the existence of God? Is there incontrovertible evidence for Intelligent Design?
Before we go further let me point out that all Christians in science, including Dr. Collins, including me, believe that God created the world intelligently, with design and purpose. Intelligent Design as commonly discussed today is something different – and to this we now turn.
The concept of Intelligent Design (ID) developed in large part as a response to three basic propositions: (1) the popular approach to evolution promotes an atheistic world view and thus must be resisted by believers; (2) evolution is fundamentally flawed and cannot account for the complexity of nature; (3) if evolution cannot explain irreducible complexity then there must be an intelligent designer who stepped in at the appropriate times to provide the necessary components.
Professor Michael Behe (Ph. D. Biochemistry, University of Pennsylvania) has suggested that biological systems contain constructs, such as the bacterial flagellum, that are useless until fully assembled and cannot be explained by normal evolutionary mechanisms. Such irreducibly complex natural systems demonstrate the existence of an intelligent designer. Dr. William Dembski, (Ph.D. Mathematics, University of Chicago; Ph.D. Philosophy, University of Illinois, Chicago; MDiv Princeton) has put the description of ID on a more rigorous mathematical footing.
ID is challenged however, on both scientific and theological grounds. First: ID can not be proven, it can only be falsified. Thus it is philosophically interesting, but scientifically useless. Second: statistical and probabilistic arguments are suspect. Historically such arguments have simply highlighted ignorance – indicating that some natural piece of the puzzle was as yet lacking or misunderstood. Third: it seems likely that many examples of irreducible complexity are not irreducibly complex after all. In particular Dr. Collins outlines the cracks that are appearing in the suggestion that the blood clotting cascade, the eye, and the bacterial flagellum provide examples of irreducible complexity. Answers are not currently available for all proposed examples – but do we really want to base our understanding of the world on “gaps” which may, but more likely will not, remain gaps in the future?
This leads to a serious objection to ID – it is a “God of the gaps” theory and such theories have a dismal history. Dr. Collins puts it thus: A “God of the gaps” religion runs a huge risk of simply discrediting the faith. We must not repeat this mistake in the current era. Intelligent Design fits into this discouraging tradition, and faces the same ultimate demise. (p. 193)
Dr. Collins also suggests that ID results in an unsatisfactory view of God as creator – because it denies what he sees as “the almost unimaginable intelligence and creative genius of God” in the very nature of our God-given world.
These considerations lead to a couple of questions for conversation.
I am sure that some who read this will disagree with some of the points made, so … Is “Intelligent Design” a useful concept? What flaws might there be in the above argument?
And this leads us back to a very real concern for our world today: How can we as believers, standing in awe of the Creator God, dispel the popular view – a safety net for atheism – that evolution disproves God and proves that the world is in its very being fully and only natural and material? Where should the line be drawn?
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