Advocates of “Intelligent Design” annoy me in more ways than one. In addition to their willful misrepresentation of science and their political strategy of targeting schools and school boards, they misrepresent religion, too. As Nancey Murphy points out in an interview in the December 27 edition of the Christian Century,
Christians have traditionally understood God to act in two ways: by performing special acts (special providence, signs, miracles) and by constantly upholding all natural processes. The ID movement assumes that God works only in the first way. Therefore, to show that God has acted, the ID movement believes one has to identify an event in which no natural process is involved. This is their point in trying to argue that particular events in the evolutionary process cannot be explained scientifically.
In effect, then, the advocates of ID limit the realm of the sacred to whatever lies beyond human comprehension or rational explanation. Worldwide, few truly religious people from any tradition would make such an elementary mistake. ID advocates are as reductionist as the scientists they critique.
Another thing that annoys me about ID is the slight-of-hand substitution of a designer for a Creator. In the Greek Orthodox confession of faith, God is described as the Poet/Maker of Heaven and Earth – the one who shaped and called things into being – and this view is consistent with the creation stories in Genesis. ID, by contrast, posits an engineer. Note the difference between the ancient and modern myths: world-as-poem, human-as-creation-in-clay implicitly recognizes the essential integrity of beings; world-as-product does not. And if Creation is nothing but product, then of course God is free to violate its integrity at will.
By contrast, Murphy stresses
the view – held by most liberal theologians – that God’s action does not violate the laws of nature. Actually, because I don’t give “laws” the ontological status that many do, I would not speak of violating the laws of nature but of violating the nature of creatures. God creates beings with their own powers and propensities, and does not violate their basic natures in interacting with them.
The interview offers many more such tidbits for those who have access to the magazine in their local public library. Meanwhile, Chris Clarke takes on a creationist biology textbook currently championed by some ID supporters. Again, what really grates isn’t so much the ignorance as the hubris.
The devotee of Teilhard’s noösphere, the extropian with his imagined Manifest Evolutionary Destiny, the well-intentioned Marxist with his inevitability of change, all fall to the same teleological demon, shackled to the Great Chain of Being. And once we set ourselves apart from the rest of “creation,” we begin to resent our ties to the earth. Of what importance is a snail, a rotifer, a tiger? We begin to imagine – and to implement – a world in which we are alone.
And to implement – yes. The poet always remembers what all too many engineers forget: that words and images have immense power, and can create and destroy worlds.