Friday, May 27

Is The Intelligent Design Movement a Christian Movement?

It can be said that the Intelligent Design movement (ID) was first formulated by William Paley (1743-1805), who developed an analogy about a watchmaker. Paley proposed, "the watch must have had a maker; that there must have existed, at some time and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use."[1] Regardless of attempts to try and refute this example, the concept itself has continued to grow, particularly in recent years under the likes of Stephen Meyer and Michael Behe of Discovery Institute. But is ID necessarily Christian? (Photo credit: LeisureGuy)

The concept of ID affirms that all living things are designed and also demonstrate what is known as irreducible complexity. Behe originated the term irreducible complexity, which he defines as, "composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning."[2]  Biochemistry of vision, mammalian blood-clotting pathway as well as the heart, lungs, and brain serve as examples of irreducible complexity.

Whether or not an organism displays design can be demonstrated through what we call an "explanatory filter." Dr. Georgia Purdom provided such a filter: "1. Necessity - did it have to happen? 2. Chance - did it happen by accident? 3. Design - did an intelligent agent cause it to happen? This is a very logical, common-sense approach used by individuals every day to deduce cause and effect. For example, consider the scenario of a woman falling: 1. Did she have to fall? No, but she did. 2. Was it an accident? 3. Or was she pushed? If we apply this explanatory filter to living organisms, a feature must be designed if the first two answers are no."[3]

Behe, in his explanation of irreducible complexity, cites the e coli bacteria's flagellum motor as an example of irreducible complexity. The flagellum is "an incredible microscopic outboard motor which e coli use to move around in their environment. It is made up of 40 individual, integral parts including a stator, a rotor, a driveshaft, a u-joint, and a propeller. If any of these parts are removed, the entire system will fail to function. Some of the flagellum's components exist elsewhere in the microscopic world. These parts also function as part of the Type III transport system. Thus, they could have been borrowed from a Type III transport (a process known as cooption). However, the majority of the e coli's flagellar components are unique."[4]

The anthropic principle and the teleological argument have been used by proponents of ID, however, most of ID's arguments are scientific in nature. But is the Intelligent Design movement actually Christian? Not necessarily, no. It is only creationist in that the theory posits that the complexity of living as well as non-living organisms indicates an intelligent cause. For this reason, many tend to group ID with creationism. William Dembski succinctly points out, "ID is three things: a scientific research program that investigates the effects of intelligent causes; an intellectual movement that challenges Darwinism and its naturalistic legacy; and a way of understanding divine action."[5] The theory of ID focuses on what has been designed as opposed to who, what, when, how, or why it was designed. It is important to note that the ID movement also does not rule out evolution as a possibility, it does not attempt to explain all designs. The movement also claims to not be religiously motivated, but scientifically motivated, thus the reason that what has been designed is focused on rather than the designer. There are atheists who do not deny the strong evidence for design, but are unwilling to acknowledge the existence of God. 

Some who accept Intelligent Design interpret the scientific data under the assumption that the earth was actually seeded by an extraterrestrial race, ancient astronauts or distant explorers. This theory is gaining more and more adherents in recent years, yet has very little data to support it. Regardless, ID does not address either God or aliens. It necessitates a Designer, but does not specify the Designer. The Young Earth creationist organization, Answers in Genesis, points out:

Flagellum Motor (Click to Enlarge)
"The Intelligent Design Theory is not biblical creationism. There is an important distinction between the two positions. Biblical creationists begin with a conclusion that the biblical account of creation is reliable and correct, that life on Earth was designed by an intelligent agent—God. They then look for evidence from the natural realm to support this conclusion. Intelligent Design theorists begin with the natural realm and reach the conclusion that life on Earth was designed by an intelligent agent (whoever that might be). This is not a completely accurate assumption, however, as those in the IDM do not specify a creator and do not necessarily accept the Bible as historical.."[6]

ID is careful not to associate itself with Christianity. While it is true that several advocates and promoters of ID are Christian and do utilize their research to benefit Christianity in terms of Creationism, for the most part, the ID movement tries not to associate itself with any particular religion. ID is based upon the presupposition that the supernatural do exist, whereas naturalism presupposes that the supernatural does not exist. Though ID claims to be neutral science, it still works on the basis of presuppositions. Paley's natural theology movement in the 1800's did not continue as well as it should have because it failed to answer, if the universe and everything in it are designed, then who designed the universe and everything in it? Likewise, the ID movement does not specify a Creator, which consequently opens the door for Hindus, Muslims, etc. to use Intelligent Design arguments as support.

For the Christian, Romans 1:20 relays, "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - His eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made so that people are without excuse." All men know and can clearly see the evidence of God through His creation, but whether or not the individual chooses to accept or deny this is a personal choice. 2nd Peter 3:3-6 and Colossians 1:15-20 describe the link between God as Creator and God as Redeemer. The ID movement does not specifically recognize the God of the Bible as the Designer nor does it recognize Him as Redeemer. God's role as Creator is foundational and essential to His role as Redeemer.

Is the Intelligent Design movement specifically a Christian movement? No, the ID movement does not specify the God of Christianity as the Creator of the Heavens and the Universe. Again, for the Christian, the Creator, or Intelligent Designer, will remain the Abrahamic God. Nehemiah 9:6 says, "You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you," and we conclude with Isaiah 44:24, which conveys, "...I am the LORD, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself."

Troy Hillman

[1] Paley, William. Natural Theology: or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature, reprinted in 1972 by St. Thomas Press, Houston, Texas. 3. Print.
[2] Michael Behe. Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. 1996. Print.
[3] Purdom, Dr. Gerogia, and Ken Ham. The New Answers Book 2. 5th ed. 2. Green Forest, Arkansas: Master Books, 2009. 136. Print.
[4] "What is Irreducible Complexity?." Got Questions. Got Questions Network, n.d. Web. April 2011. .
[5] Dembski, William. "Science and Design." First Things. 86 (1998): 21-27. Print.
[6] "Forms of Creationism." Answers in Genesis. Answers in Genesis, n.d. Web. 27 May 2011. .

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