Editor’s Note: This is crossposted at Professor Scot McKnight’s Beliefnet blog, Jesus Creed. The first post in this series is found here.
Intelligent Design and the Deity
In the predominant narrative, Charles Darwin was a humble scientist who proposed a strictly scientific theory. Upon publication of The Origin of Species in 1859, religious folks like Bishop Wilberforce voiced theological objections to it; and thus began the most salient episode in the ‘war between science and religion.’ Many Christians adopt a similar narrative, but suggest this was all a misunderstanding; Darwin’s theory simply has nothing to do with religious or philosophical questions.
If I may be so bold, I’d like to suggest that both narratives are wrong.
(For a good, short critique of the “conflict thesis” of science and religion, see God’s Undertaker by Oxford’s John Lennox.) If one reads The Origin, the fact that Darwin is presupposing certain views of God and creation fashionable in Victorian England is striking. This theory involved more than strictly scientific questions from the beginning.
One such theological conception common in this debate (touched upon by RJS in a recent post) involves whether God is a “tinkerer.” Kenneth Miller, Catholic Darwinist of Brown University, sums up this view well. He thinks that neo-Darwinism’s view of God is better than ID’s:
The God of the intelligent design movement is way too small…. In their view, he designed everything in the world and yet he repeatedly intervenes and violates the laws of his own creation. Their God is like a kid who is not a very good mechanic and has to keep lifting the hood and tinkering with the engine.
As C.S. Lewis was fond of pointing out, divine action does not require the breaking of laws of nature. So let’s set that aside and make two other observations.
First, if ID is only the proposition that an intelligent cause explains some features of nature better than mere material causes, then the ID advocate is not necessarily committed to intervention in the process of creation. God could (intelligently) set up nature to unfold a certain way. He need not intervene in “gaps.” All ID requires is that intelligent design was involved and that the effects of this design are empirically discernable.
Michael Behe, for example, thinks there were probably not any interventions by God in creation. Other ID theorists think otherwise.
Second, and more to our point, as post-modern philosophers of science often point out, even the questions we ask are from a certain frame of reference. Miller seems to ask, ‘Why would God create a world which he has to tinker with?’ But wouldn’t it be equally valid to ask, ‘Why would God design a process in which he isn’t going to be involved?’
Is “tinkering” really the only way to look at it? Tinkering is a rather loaded term. Did Monet “tinker” or did he add detail, richness, and complexity? Would Monet have been a better artist if instead of tinkering with paintings he created a machine which relied upon a random number generator to manufacture them without his involvement? It might have saved him some work, but it wouldn’t have let him be an artist. (And one supposes God isn’t too concerned with saving work.)
St. Thomas often relied upon the principle that effects cannot be greater than their causes. In this regard, wouldn’t it be odd if the creator of artists should not also be an artist?