Intelligent Design Is Dead: A Christian Perspective

For a person of faith, Intelligent Design is not just an unnecessary choice; it is a harmful one. It reduces God to a kind of holy tinkerer. It locates the divine in places of ignorance and obscurity.
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Casey Luskin recently published a post titled "It's Time for Some Folks to Get Over Dover" at Evolution News and Views. It is a rehashing of some perceived problems with Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, the 2005 case in which Intelligent Design (ID) was declared a form of creationism and therefore unsuitable for the science classroom. In his post Luskin declared, "Rumors of ID's death are greatly exaggerated."

This remark seems to be aimed at bloggers like Jason Rosenhouse, who, in a Science Blogs post in November, declared ID dead:

In the nineties and early 2000s, ID seemed to be producing one novel argument after another... it was [then] possible to wonder seriously if ID was a serious intellectual movement, or just another fad that would die out on its own. That verdict is now in. ID is dead.

Rosenhouse is right. ID has no future. His arguments -- that over the last few years ID proponents have given us nothing new, that it is mired in the past, that it has merely been recycling its arguments -- are all convincing. He rightly points out the scientific weaknesses of ID while simultaneously shining a light on the strengths and recent successes of evolution.

In sum, Rosenhouse does an admirable job dismantling ID from a scientific point of view. But there are other perspectives from which the folly of ID is evident. One of them takes us back to a Christian astronomer who worked at the dawn of the scientific revolution.

In October 1604 Johannes Kepler was living in Prague and was deeply into his work on Mars that would later reveal the planets' elliptical orbits. He was sidetracked from this study to comment on a new star, or nova, that appeared that month a few degrees north of Scorpius. In his short work De stella nova, published in 1606, he wondered what could have caused such an event. He considered a number of possibilities, but on this question his own astronomical theory was silent.

He began to consider special creation: a deliberate, separate act of God unconnected with any other natural event, direct and special tinkering by the divine hand. But in the end he withdrew from that conclusion, writing "before we come to [special] creation, which puts an end to all discussion, I think we should try everything else." Over 400 years ago, Kepler understood that to claim special creation is to put an end to scientific inquiry.

Kepler did not reject special creation because he put limits on God. Nor did his rejection flow from a desire to push God out of his work. Instead, it sprung from his conviction that God's creation is not founded in obscurity, darkness, and confusion. He believed, in a way that far outstripped his contemporaries, in the comprehensibility of God's creation, because it was God's creation. Kepler's fundamental axiom may be stated:

The universe has been designed; therefore it must be comprehensible.

Jump forward now to 1996, arguably the heyday of ID. That is the year Michael Behe came face-to-face with his own difficult scientific problem: the evolution of the bacterial flagellum, a tail-like rotor that aids in cellular locomotion. The complexity of the flagellum led Behe to conclude that it could not have evolved through any of the standard mechanisms of evolution.

Whether or not this is true is not important for my purpose. What is important is that, unlike Kepler, Behe went on to claim special creation. He had the flagellum in mind when he wrote in Darwin's Black Box, "It is a shock to us... to discover, from observations science has made, that the fundamental mechanisms of life cannot be ascribed to natural selection, and therefore were designed." Behe has led us to the fundamental axiom of ID, a sharp contrast to that of Kepler:

The universe is incomprehensible; therefore it must have been designed.

Although ID supporters do not name God as the designer in their official work, they are no less cagey about their Christian commitments than Kepler was about his. Yet they have opted for the path Kepler rejected, and, in so doing, "put an end to all discussion." That Kepler refused that road out of reverence for God is a tremendous irony.

Kepler reminds us that religious people do not need to shrink from science and its naturalistic methods, because they more than others have a rich tradition in which to locate these things, a context that allows them to take science seriously but not too seriously, and a strong bulwark against the lull of materialism.

For a person of faith, ID is not just an unnecessary choice; it is a harmful one. It reduces God to a kind of holy tinkerer. It locates the divine in places of ignorance and obscurity. And this gives it a defensive and fearful spirit that is out of place in Christian faith and theology.

Looking upon the new star in September 1604, could Kepler have envisioned stellar evolution, mass-transfer binary stars, and explosive carbon fusion? No, and so he remained silent. His humility, his belief in the richness of creation, and his expansive faith allowed him to admit ignorance while leaving the door of causal science wide open.

ID denies its proponents that freedom. Having opted to close the door on science, they steal from themselves the opportunity to see nature more deeply. In so doing they dig in their heels, refusing to be drawn, Kepler-style, closer to the creator God they all believe in. This is the great irony of ID.

Because ID is established in scientific ignorance, it cannot last. It is passing even now. And its religiously-motivated rejection by Kepler 400 years ago suggests that the seeds of its demise were planted even then. In this long view, it may be that ID never even managed to arrive.

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