A Christian Takes the Wrong Train
He's reluctant to teach ID at Christian school

In light of Antony Flew's recent statement that recent advancements in science which have supported the concept of intelligent design has led him to accept the idea that there is a god (even if that god is only a deistic-type of god), it would seem that more people would be open to its teaching. Despite the naysaying by many atheists, the acceptance of the existence of a creator by the former champion for atheistic thought does make it less tenable for atheists to argue that no one could reasonably believe the arguments of ID (which, incidentally, does not say that there is a god, but rather simply that there is some type of creator--the idea that that creator could be god is a philisophical understanding, not a scientific one). Yet, there are teachers and scientists who continue to belittle this rising science. It is especially disappointing when it comes from a Christian science teacher.

Take, for example, the story of Richard Colling, a Christian science teacher who teaches biology (including evolutionary biology) at a "fundamentalist Christian college" according to the Wall Street Journal. Of course, in his view, there is no divide between Christianity and evolution. The article, entitled "Tough Assignment: Teaching Evolution To Fundamentalists," says the following about Professor Colling's views:

His central claim is that both the origin of life from a primordial goo of nonliving chemicals, and the evolution of species according to the processes of random mutation and natural selection, are "fully compatible with the available scientific evidence and also contemporary religious beliefs." In addition, as he bluntly told me, "denying science makes us [Conservative Christians] look stupid."

* * *

He finds a place for God in evolution by positing a "random designer" who harnesses the laws of nature he created. "What the designer designed is the random-design process," or Darwinian evolution, Prof. Colling says. "God devised these natural laws, and uses evolution to accomplish his goals." God is not in there with a divine screwdriver and spare parts every time a new species or a wondrous biological structure appears.

Unlike those who see evolution as an assault on faith, Prof. Colling finds it strengthens his own. "A God who can harness the laws of randomness and chaos, and create beauty and wonder and all of these marvelous structures, is a lot more creative than fundamentalists give him credit for," he told me. Creating the laws of physics and chemistry that, over the eons, coaxed life from nonliving molecules is something he finds just as awe inspiring as the idea that God instantly and supernaturally created life from nonlife.

To rephrase, Prof. Colling appears to believe that God created the random process that led to evolution, and so it is really God who is behind the whole process--He just isn't there personally directing where evolution goes. Yet, according to the quote, God "harness[ed] the laws of randomness and chaos" to create beauty and wonder. Maybe Prof. Colling is being too nuanced for me, but I don't see a substantive difference between saying that God "harness[ed] the laws of randomness and chaos" and "God designed" the universe--the underlying claim of those who, like me, support intelligent design as a science and see it as philosophically leading to the existence of God. But, Prof. Colling has little nice to say about ID:

Prof. Colling reserves some of his sharpest barbs for intelligent design, the idea that the intricate structures and processes in the living world -- from exquisitely engineered flagella that propel bacteria to the marvels of the human immune system -- can't be the work of random chance and natural selection. Intelligent-design advocates look at these sophisticated components of living things, can't imagine how evolution could have produced them, and conclude that only God could have.

That makes Prof. Colling see red. "When Christians insert God into the gaps that science cannot explain -- in this case how wondrous structures and forms of life came to be -- they set themselves up for failure and even ridicule," he told me. "Soon -- and it's already happening with the flagellum -- science is going to come along and explain" how a seemingly miraculous bit of biological engineering in fact could have evolved by Darwinian mechanisms. And that will leave intelligent design backed into an ever-shrinking corner.

This is the old "God of the Gaps" argument. One statement of this argument has been made by Mr. Cline, author of the about.com atheism/agnosticism pages, in his on-line article "The Design Inference."

This is key: underlying nearly ever design argument, you'll find the assumption of ignorance of something and then the conclusion that since we don't know, then a god must be the proper explanation. Ignored is the question of whether or not an unknown and possibly unknowable god, using unknown and possibly unknowable methods, for unknown and possibly unknowable reasons, can ever be considered a rational "explanation" for anything. After all, it certainly doesn't provide us with much in the way of new and useful information. All that has happened is that our ignorance has been slightly reworded and not at all ameliorated. About.com: Agnosticism/Atheism, Argument from Design

Several things may be said in response to this objection. First, I am personally willing to admit that there is some truth to the fact that God is in the gaps. It is not, however, the gaps of human knowledge, but in the gaps of naturalism itself. Christians do not believe, for example, that thunder is caused by God. Christians are perfectly satisfied with and wholeheartedly agree and accept the scientific explanations for the cause of thunder in a purely naturalistic realm. At the same time, Christians know that God is the cause of thunder. No, He doesn't cause thunder by beating on drums or bowling in heaven. Christians don't even believe that God reaches out of heaven and throws lightning bolts at the earth which causes thunder. Those are infantile notions of what Christians believe. But at the same time, we see God as being the ultimate cause of all of these things because the very universe that was put together by God is held together by his sustaining power. (Hebrews 1:3) Thus, it is ultimately God who causes the lightning to strike, even though he is not personally throwing the lightning bolts but instead is maintaining and sustaining the universe which allows for the striking of the lightning and the rolling of the thunder.

Having stated the foregoing, that is not to say that the Argument from Design is limited to this type of input from God. No, the Argument from Design states that the universe shows such design, complexity and elegance that it cannot have come from solely natural causes. This is the key to the response to this objection. In arguing for God's creative hand which is everywhere visible (Rom. 1:20), Christians are not saying simply that "we don't know how it happened, so it must have been God." No, we are saying "it could not have happened naturally, so it must have been an outside creator, and given the facts that we can deduce about this creator from the cosmos He created, He must be God."

Which of the two approaches does Mr. Cline use when he says: "underlying nearly ever design argument, you'll find the assumption of ignorance of something and then the conclusion that since we don't know, then a god must be the proper explanation"? Obviously, it is the first. But that isn't the argument being advanced. If Christians assumed that because something was unknown then it must have been God acting directly, Western science (which has its birth in the Christian west) would never have come into being. Why should it if everything unknown could simply be attributed to God? No, Christians have forever argued for God's creative hand, but have always looked first for physical explanations. If a physical explanation is found, then that doesn't bother the thinking Christian at all, nor does it make the Argument from Design any weaker.

While I appreciate the fact that Prof. Colling is attempting to integrate his faith and his intellect, he is going the wrong way. 10 years from now, it won't be the case that ID will be painted into a corner, but rather the other way around. I encourage Prof. Colling to revisit this vital area of scientific growth.


David said…
Great post. Keep up the good work!

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