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What is the problem with Intelligent Design?

Intelligent Design (ID) theory fails both scientifically and theologically. Unlike the creationists, ID advocates permit belief in evolution as descent with modification over time. Unlike research scientists, however, ID advocates are not satisfied with naturalistic explanations. They claim that Darwinian principles such as random variation combined with natural selection do not suffice as explanations for development of one species from a previous species. They refute gradual change in evolution, claiming that nature is incapable of self-organization, incapable of gradually developing new and more complex organisms. What is required, says Intelligent Design, is the intervention of a transcendent designer. Punctuated into the process of gradual change are leaps in complexity caused by a supernatural intelligence. Intelligent interventions into nature are virtual miracles, not subject to naturalistic explanation. Robbed from restricting itself to naturalistic explanations, Intelligent Design theory would prevent scientists from pursuing science as they know it.

What ID actually does is provide a philosophical reflection on enigmas or gaps in evolutionary history, reflection that suggests the existence of a transcendent designer. Such analysis or speculation functions as proof for the existence of God. This is a legitimate enterprise for a philosophical theologian. If it would turn out that ID provides a valid argument for God’s existence, ID advocates should be congratulated. But, in the meantime, we need to call this what it is, namely, philosophical speculation. It is not research science into biology, nor does it contribute to laboratory science.

Intelligent Design theory falls short on theological grounds too. Although ID does not claim to be a full theological scheme, it leaves us with a misleading picture of God. The intelligent designer who intervenes falls far short of the intelligent and compassionate God of the Christian faith. The alleged “intelligence” of the intelligent designer borders on the laughable. According to ID, God would need to intervene in evolution for nature to produce complex systems such as the eye, which is designed for seeing. Now, if God designed the eye, then why do so many of us need to wear glasses? If God actually designed the human eye, why could God not have done a better job? Inadvertently, ID describes a God of only modest intelligence engaged in rather marginal tasks. This is a trivial picture of God.

What is missing is not only divine intelligence but also divine compassion. The God Christians read about in the Bible is a redeeming God. NRS John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” If this passage describes the God in whom Christians place their faith, then one might ask of the intelligent designer: why did you not design the world so that we could see without glasses? Why did you fail to design a world so that we could avoid being victims of predators, diseases, stupidity, sin, and death? If God intervened at various stages in evolutionary history, then why did God sidestep taking redemptive action? Why did God design a natural world in which predators eat prey every day, and where 90% of species have gone extinct? Why believe in a God who could design nature better but willed not to do so? The theological failing of ID is that its intelligent designer becomes a trivial God so lacking in compassion that the nature we inherit is blood “red in tooth and claw,” as the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson once wrote.

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