View by:  Subject  Theme  Question  Term  Person  Event

Conclusion: What is at Stake Theologically?

We have in the intelligibility of the universe and in its suitability for life arguments from design that are emerging from within the scientific community. From this scientific picture of the universe, theologians make the interpretive leap to the existence of an intelligent designer - a Creator with an investment in life, and an even, apparently, intelligent life.

Do we see design in this highly improbable "unified system of mutually adjusted and mutually supporting adaptive structures" (Alston 1967, p. 86). Is it reasonable from this to suppose that an intelligent being created the universe? If we do see design it is hard not to make the leap to thoughts of an intelligent designer. It is a Cheshire cat sort of thing. While we may imagine a designer without a design a design; without a designer would be a surprising thing indeed!

Even if we grant that this is a reasonable inference, it is still a bit of an interpretive leap not something all impartial observers would automatically conclude. The evidence of design does not coerce a conclusion that there is a designer. But if it is a reasonable inference, theologically it gives us something.

But it does not give us everything. Natural theology can take us so far and no further. Evidence of design gives us a designer but not yet "God" in the sense of the creator of all things visible and invisible, infinite in goodness, wisdom, and power.

If I were to answer my own question posed in the title, what is at stake here theologically, I would have to say not as much as we might imagine. In the argument from design we have a pointer toward God, not a proof for God.

Whether one believes or does not believe, is a question of interpretation. Any conclusion we reach is "underdetermined by the data." But what do we make of the fact that design is everywhere apparent?

For believers...it feels like a substantial confirmation of our belief in God. There is a consonance between what we see here and what we believe. There is a reason to believe that it is not unreasonable to believe.

For the person who does not believe in God...the evidence of design in the universe is a source of fascination and wonder - not unlike the experience to which believers refer when they talk about encounter with the mysterium tremendum.

Does the universe as a whole have an "end' in the sense of a telos, a purpose? In actualizing maximal value? In the evolution of conscious being capable for relation and moral development? In the glory of God? What is a suitable candidate for "in Tennyson's words, the 'far off divine event, toward which the whole creation moves'? (Alston 1967, p. 86). And how would we show that the process manifests progress toward this end? Many questions remain here. I look forward to our exploring them further.

Contributed by: Dr. Anna Case-Winters

Cosmic Questions

Was the Universe Designed? Topic Index
The Argument from Design: What is at Stake Theologically?

Conclusion: What is at Stake Theologically?

Early Greek Philosophy and the Early Church
The Middle Ages: Classic Formulation
The Scientific Revolution: Challenges and New Forms
18th and 19th Centuries: New Form and New Challenges
20th Century: New Forms and New Challenges
Contemporary Forms: Intelligibility and Suitability for the Emergence of Life


Anna Case-Winters

A revised version of this paper was published in Zygon, March 2000, vol. 35, no. 1, pp. 69-81.

Related Media:

The Anthropic Principle
The Argument from Design
Did the Universe Have a Beginning?
Was the Universe Designed?
Are we Alone?
Interview Index
Hubble Deep Field Animation
  Media Index

Other Resources:

Big Bang Cosmology and Theology
Glossary Terms
Bonus Material Home...