8/09/2005

Intelligent Design's Impossible Dilemma

When I was a pre-schooler, and during its open season, my mother took me nearly every week to the Fossil Grove, a 300 million year-old petrified forest in Victoria Park, within spitting distance of our home.
What the pictures don't tell you is that the echo inside the Grove is incredible - I haven't been there for a long time, and would imagine that the noise from the Clydeside Expressway is now pretty intrusive, but at that time you could hear a pin drop when you stepped inside the pavilion. It was always hot and dark, and the duckboards seemed really creaky underfoot.
I loved it.
Mum is also a sucker for TV shows like 'Walking with Dinosaurs'. She adores all that stuff, and has no philosophical problem about re-fuelling the car, but mention the theory of evolution - WHOOOSSSHHH!!!
My maternal grandparents were both Achill Islanders, and one of the best arguments for Intelligent Design theory must be the ability of the ethnic Irish to shout while debating, because it just couldn't have developed naturally.
The whole evolution/ID thing has been puzzling me for a while. In the UK it is just not an issue. I don't know whether this has anything to do with the fact that we are a more secular society than the USA, or else because we have dumbed down so thoroughly that the origin of species is of less cultural importance than the origin of ringtones, but it is certainly not the live issue it is over the water. The most likely reason is that there has never been the same level of controversy surrounding the role of religion in schools.
If anything the debate in the west of Scotland is more likely to focus on there being too much religion in schools, rather than too little.
But taking ID as a theory, and even trying to be objective after reading its massively critical Wikipedia entry, from my angle it's fundamentally flawed. Its apparent inability to withstand the rigours of Occam's Razor and falsifiability notwithstanding, I am no scientist; its flaws are all philosophical.
To say that an 'Intelligent Designer' shaped the course of nature is obviously an appealing one to people of the Christian faith, but all designs have purposes, they are the products of deliberate acts; if we are designed then we must be designed deliberately, for a reason - what is the reason?
Although advocates of ID might argue this point, one could conclude that the reasons might include the worship of God and the acceptance of His Son's message.
But hold on a second - if we are designed for that purpose, does that not negate the principle of 'free will' central to Christian teaching? The exercise of free will is a deliberate, not random, act - what would be the point of designing us and then giving us the choice to refuse what is presumably the completion of the design, joining Him in Heaven? To design on that basis would be a random act, a waste of the designer's time.
Designers design things to work in specific ways every time all of the time. Human beings don't perform to that standard - they do dumb, stupid, thoughtless things every second of the day; some even write cheeky blog entries about their mommas (don't worry, I can assure you she'll get her own back)! On an extreme level, pure Creationism and Intelligent Design are incompatible - if Eve's inability to withstand temptation in the Garden of Eden was a consequence of Intelligent Design, then the design is fundamentally flawed.
The behaviour of humans is often entirely random. I once had a client who had been a psychiatric patient for so long that when he was out of hospital he wanted to be in and when he was in he wanted to be out. Although he once turned up at the office reeking of whisky and shouting that 'Jesus worked for the DA!' (for the avoidance of doubt, we don't have DA's in Scotland), his behaviour was by and large predictable - he would behave the same way again and again.
Most of the rest of us aren't like that - and this is where the design falls apart. We 'choose' to behave in ways that may hurt or help ourselves. Often, the choices we make impact upon others. The water-cooler is a great place to see the doctrine of the survival of the fittest in action.
However, Christianity teaches that salvation comes by moving from the 'random way', with its possibly damaging consequences, to the 'deliberate way', through commitment and profession. The critical element in this process is faith. One must believe in God to be redeemed, and what point is there in belief if our lives are designed? Indeed, Catholicism recognises both the random nature of the Universe and His power over it by its use of the noun 'intercessions', and the concept of prayer. What would be the point of praying to a God who has designed the course of our lives?
If ID is taken to its logical conclusion, then every aspect of our lives must be designed, otherwise the design is incomplete. The outcome of every struggle must be part of the design; it must be pre-ordained. It doesn't matter if it's a struggle over a parking space or an internal struggle between faith and disbelief.
Its ultimate logical conclusion is that the acceptance of God is part of the design, thus negating free will.
On that basis, I cannot accept it.
I'm sure its adherents have the greatest belief in it - but it just doesn't work for me.

1 Comments:

Blogger Canadi-anna said...

But hold on a second - if we are designed for that purpose, does that not negate the principle of 'free will' central to Christian teaching?

No, I don't think so.
We can't know what our 'purpose' is; it might be as simple as amusing our creator, or it could be simply to exist, to perpetuate the species and serve one another.

Most people attempt to fulfill some of these aims, but that's assuming there was any point to human life beyond the creator sharing his creation with other cognisant entities.

Assuming God did intend for us to follow Christ and join him in eternity, if we, in our infinite wisdom, choose another path -- how are we different from children whose parents have planned for them to be doctors or athletes or to join the family firm? If these people choose their own paths, are they wasting their parent's time?
God must have expected that we would be as random as we are -- and I think he must have hoped for that -- otherwise he'd be playing with dolls rather than interacting withg living, thinking, sentient beings.
Even if one doesn't believe in God as a personal, responsive being, it is helpful to think of him as a father. Although we didn't design them, parents have a concept of their children before they are even born. Although there is the instinctive goal of keeping the race alive, there is also a more personal hope of passing on part of ourselves (genetically, intellectually and vocationally).
Those seem like goals our creator would have for us, no?
Despite our best hopes as parents and our grand intentions for our kids, they have free-will. This is a gift that enables them to know the hopes we have for them, but also to find their own way. Kids often don't fulfill our expectations -- but they still have a purpose -- just not the one we might have wanted for them.
If we don't come to God in the way he hoped-- or at all--we still serve a purpose -- we simply don't fit the hopes or aspirations.
If the end goal God has for us is to join with him in eternity we can relax, because there is no completion to God's design because his love is infinite. We might put limitations on his love and his forgiveness, but they are our limitations, not his.

I don't believe God's intentions for us fixed, at least not fixed on him and his glory.

Not everything that is created fulfils its intended purpose -- but sometimes happy accidents are a joy and a blessing.

To think that God has fixed planned for mankind, gives him a kind of rigidity more suited to humans who resist change and growth. I think God's plans for us as individuals and as a race, are far more simple than we can believe and our randomness is part of it.

5:33 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home