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Why should religious people object to “Intelligent Design”?  


Iain Palin
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12/07/2018 5:41 am  

Why should religious people object to “Intelligent Design”?

“Intelligent Design” – hereafter simply called ID – is the successor to “Creation Science”, an attempt to justify the “Young Earth” version of literal Biblical Creationism through allegedly scientific findings and to gain scientific credibility for that worldview. Attempts in the US to have CS taught in schools as a scientific subject were struck down in the courts as it was shown that their position is in fact religious rather than scientific. ID is therefore less overtly religious and Bible-based and apparently more scientific in its approach. It points to an “irreducible complexity” that supposedly exists in certain structures and processes in living organisms, claims that these could not possibly have come about by evolution through natural selection, and that therefore an intelligent designer (the word God is carefully avoided) must have created them.

It is all, of course, bogus, a part of the campaign by groups of organised and well-funded Christians and Muslims against their pet hate: evolution by natural selection. It is there to shore up an insistence that God created living organisms as they believe the Bible describes. It is part of a wider anti-science agenda on the part of people who want science only insofar as it supports the beliefs they already hold.

Failure to admit this makes ID objectionable on moral grounds and of course it is also a fail in scientific terms: their classic cases of “irreducible complexity” are both reducible and explainable in evolutionary terms, and their claim is just a more sophisticated variant of the old and long-discredited line about how structures the human eye could not possibly have evolved, that God must have made them. 

But why is ID, a religious approach masquerading as science objectionable on religious grounds (apart from the dishonesty, of course)? Why should religious people oppose it? I suggest two related grounds: it’s weak theology, and it paints a hugely disrespectful picture of a God who can’t do His job.

To begin with, it’s “God of the Gaps” theology: “We can’t explain this, therefore God did it”. Much used down the ages, but a God whose main job it is is to explain the gaps in our knowledge is always getting squeezed out and diminished as those gaps are filled in. As Christian theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it “ … how wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat.”.

The other major objection is that, to put it bluntly, if Someone designed our bodies He didn’t make a good job of it – more of a bungling amateur than a transcendent Intelligent Designer.
Our bodies contain structures and that make absolutely no design sense and are explicable only in terms of being evolutionary left-overs, from goose-bumps to the coccyx (tail bone) whose only purpose seems to be hurt a lot when accidentally hit. It also contains structures whose only purpose seems to be to do us harm if and when they do anything (such as third molars).

And we have more than a few things that an Intelligent Designer would certainly have designed better, including our eyes (yes, those same eyes previously held up as “proof” of direct creation), our joints, our teeth, and our appetite for what biologists charmingly call “recreational sex”.

As a Bahá'í, I have too much respect for the Almighty than blame him for the evident shortcomings of my physical body. 

The fact is that evolution of the physical body by means of natural selection has perhaps more, and more varied, evidence in its favour than any other scientific idea. If we believe in the harmony of science and religion, if we accept that ‘'Abdu'l-Bahá knew what He was talking about when He said “If religious beliefs and opinions are found contrary to the standards of science they are mere superstitions and imaginations”, we cannot simply dismiss this.

So why do so many religious people – including some Bahá'ís – fear and dismiss the idea of evolution? And how do we address those fears? That’s another topic.

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