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Robert Asher’s “Impoverished Creator” vs. Intelligent Design

Casey Luskin

Ashernew.jpgIn his book Evolution and Belief: Confessions of a Religious Paleontologist, anti-ID paleontologist Robert Asher says that if non-random origins point to design, then ID must be arguing that (theologically speaking) a random or unguided origin means God wasn’t involved in any way. He therefore charges that ID implies an “impoverished Creator.” He exclaims “Some deity!” (p. 33) Here Asher has badly misunderstood ID. However, his misunderstanding is common — especially among theistic evolutionists like Asher.

ID doesn’t promote a theological doctrine that claims to explain God’s actions in every instance. ID is a scientific theory that claims that sometimes we can scientifically detect design, and sometimes we can’t. Just because we can’t scientifically detect design in a particular instance doesn’t mean that we’ve claimed, theologically speaking, that God was entirely absent from that event or process. All theists who support ID affirm that God is behind, in some sense, every event. “Natural cause” never means (for theists anyway) “not caused by God.” I’m not aware of any ID theorist who is also a theist and who has ever claimed otherwise.

Asher is a theistic naturalist. He claims that God must always use secondary material causes, and is never allowed to act in nature in a scientifically detectable way. ID proponents critique naturalism because it tends to presuppose materialistic answers to all questions about how life arose and diversified — just, in fact, as Asher does. Rather than ID impoverishing God, I think theistic naturalists impoverish God if they claim God must always use secondary, material causes.

There are two potential extreme positions in this debate: (A) Everything is detectably designed and God never uses material causes, or (B) Nothing is detectably designed and God always uses “material” causes. Ironically, even as ID critics (wrongly) accuse ID proponents of adopting extreme position (A), it is ID-critics themselves, including many theistic evolutionist proponents of theistic naturalism, who seem to adopt extreme position (B). This makes for bad science because it presupposes scientific answers before all the evidence is considered, and bad theology because it tries to dictate to God what He ought to do. In science and theology alike, it enshrines presuppositions. In contrast, ID rejects both extreme positions, and lives by this motto: “Don’t presuppose the answers. Follow the evidence where it leads.”

Photo credit: Robert J. Asher, Cambridge University Department of Zoology.

Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.

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