Saturday, February 4, 2017

Reflections on the theory of Intelligent Design

There is a good deal of confusion today about what Intelligent Design (ID) is and how it relates to other forms of theistic evolution. Here are my thoughts on the matter.   

First, suppose we had access to a video record of every event since the Big Bang. Let us suppose further that this record confirmed that life originated from non-life in a ‘primordial soup,’ then continued to develop for hundreds of millions of years until human beings finally appeared. The existence of such a video would pose no threat to ID theory. In other words, ID theorists are not suggesting that a cosmic video record, if it existed, would conflict with the story of evolution. 

So what exactly are ID advocates proposing? 

In the Batman comic books, there is a villain who determines the fate of his victims by flipping a coin (“Heads you live; tails you die”). Suppose that one is trapped in such a scenario, but the coin lands on heads. (We’ll call this Scenario A.)

How would an atheist respond? The atheist would conclude that he was lucky. But how would a Christian respond? Looking back on the situation, the Christian would probably conclude that God had protected him. Even though he would of course still acknowledge that the coin toss was a seemingly random event, the Christian would nevertheless still perceive providence at work behind the scenes. However, the Christian would never offer the result of the coin toss as some sort of evidence for God’s existence. There was, after all, nothing remarkable about the result of the coin toss. It was a 50/50 shot. 

But now suppose that instead of tossing the coin once, the villain tossed the coin 100,000,000,000,000 times. Each time the coin landed on heads. (We’ll call this Scenario B.)

How would an atheist respond? Once he has satisfied himself that the coin toss was not rigged, the atheist would be at a loss. He could no longer appeal to luck. No one is that lucky! 

Now how would the Christian respond? Again, the Christian would believe that God protected him. This time, however, the Christian would be eager to offer the result of the coin toss as evidence of God’s existence! While the coin toss in Scenario A was unremarkable, the coin toss in Scenario B was extremely remarkable. Such ‘luck’ demands an explanation. 

So what does all this have to do with ID theory? Proponents of ID theory contend that certain events in the history of the universe – such as the emergence of life from non-life – are much more like the coin toss in Scenario B than the coin toss in Scenario A. (Thus, if the ID theorists are correct, atheists have a serious problem and theists have a powerful argument.) On the other hand, those theists who resist ID theory are not denying that providence was somehow at work in evolution; they are simply insisting that events such as the origin of life were more like the coin toss in Scenario A than the coin toss in Scenario B. 

Given the modern understanding of DNA, I think the ID proponents are (obviously) correct.

No comments: