Saturday, February 4, 2017

Batman and the Theory of Intelligent Design

There is a good deal of confusion about what Intelligent Design (ID) is and how it relates to other forms of theistic evolution. Here is my attempt to clear up some of that confusion.

First, it is important to understand that ID proponents, such as Michael Behe, believe the Earth is billions of years old and accept the theory of common descent. Furthermore, they make no attempt to reconcile the Genesis narrative with modern science, nor do they insist that God intervened miraculously in the natural order.

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 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.)

Now the atheist can no longer appeal to luck. No one is that lucky! Thus the atheist is forced to conclude, along with the Christian, that the coin toss was somehow rigged. At some level, design was clearly involved.

So what does all this have to do with ID theory? Proponents of ID theory contend that certain events in the evolution 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.

As noted above, ID proponents do not insist that God intervened miraculously in the natural order. For example, while Michael Behe believes God could have intervened miraculously, he also suggests that God might have created the universe in such a way that the design for the first living cell was built into the universe from the Big Bang and simply unfolded over time. Furthermore, as noted above, the debate is not over Scripture. ID proponents have absolutely no interest in reconciling Genesis with modern science. The debate is over the nature of the world. ID proponents claim we live in a Scenario B world. Other theistic evolutionists claim we live in a Scenario A world.   

Given the modern understanding of DNA and molecular machinery, I think the ID proponents are correct.

[For my take on the relationship between the Genesis narrative and modern science, see my previous post, The Big Bang and the Age of the Universe.]

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