Monday, April 02, 2018

Inconsistency in the intelligent design debate

I came across this video on YouTube this morning and thought I'd share my thoughts on something that jumped out at me. One of the criticisms people often make about natural theology is that none of the theistic arguments prove that the being at the end of the argument is really God. Even Christians, like Ronald Nash, have criticized natural theology for this reason. So I find it interesting that when it comes to intelligent design, it's always the people supporting the arguments for intelligent design who will say that the evidence does not warrant the conclusion that God is the intelligent designer even though they'll readily admit that they think it's God (for some other reason apparently). But then it's the critics who always insist that it must be God. In this clip, Eugenie Scott said, "Either the designer is God or somebody with the same skill set." Her argument is essentially the same as people who defend natural theology. The arguments of natural theology attempt to establish that the explanation for things like morality, the contingency of the universe, the beginning of the universe, the design in the universe, etc. has to have the same attributes that we would associate with deity and is therefore some sort of deity. Critics will say that even if they are sound insofar as they establish the existence of a being with these various properties, that is not sufficient to establish that the being in question is God because of all the attributes of God that they do not establish, like omnipotence, omniscience, the ability to answer prayers, etc.

So consider the argument from design. Natural theologians, like William Lane Craig, will use the exact same arguments that Intelligent Design people like Stephen Meyer use, only Craig claims the evidence warrants the belief that the intelligent designer is God while Meyer denies that the evidence is sufficient to identify the designer as God.

My impression is that a lot of people on all sides of the debate will say whatever is expedient. If an atheist is in a debate with a Christian apologist on the existence of God, and the Christian makes an argument for God from intelligent design, the atheist will say that even if there is an intelligent designer, that doesn't prove it's God. But if the same atheist is in a debate with an intelligent design scientist/philosopher over whether or not intelligent design is science or religion or whether it's creationism in disguise, he'll insist that the intelligent designer must be God and the intelligent design advocate ought to just admit it.

Likewise, if a Christian is trying to defend intelligent design in the context of wanting to have it taught in a public school science classroom, he will insist that the theory does not identify the designer regardless of what he personally believes. When accused of being coy, the Christian will insist that intelligent design theory will only go as far as the evidence allows, and while the evidence shows that there's an intelligent designer, it is not sufficient to show that the designer is God, which is why they don't identify the intelligent designer as God. But if that same Christian is in a debate with an atheist over the existence of God, he will gladly use the argument from intelligent design to try to prove that God exists.

Christians and atheists need not be inconsistent on these points. A Christian could admit that intelligent design does not prove something as specific as the god of any particular religion, but that the existence of a person who designed all biological life does serve as a premise in a larger cumulative case for the existence of something very much like the Christian God. An atheist could say that the evidence for intelligent design, if sound, may not entail the existence of the Christian God, but it certainly would justify belief in a supernatural intelligence. After all, if we are talking about an intelligence who designed all biological life, then whatever kind of life the designer itself is, it can't be of the biological sort.

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