Through a Glass Darkly
In my last post I expressed reservations about the overall project of the ID movement. In this installment, I would like to go in a different direction and emphasize instead some of the common ground that we share.
BioLogos enthusiastically endorses the idea that the universe is intelligently designed and we certainly believe that the creator of the universe is intelligent. We consider the evidence regarding the fine-tuning of the universe to be provocative and compelling. Our reservations about ID certainly do not derive from any rejection of the rationality of the universe. Our concern, repeated quite often on this site, is that ID tends to focus too strongly on what science doesn’t know, rather than what it does know. ID appears to lack appropriate confidence in the ability of science to find answers to the many questions currently on the table. But this is not the whole story.
I want to acknowledge the real similarities between fine-tuning arguments and arguments made by ID. I think these similarities are such that they essentially make ID and BioLogos two ends of the same spectrum, with broad areas of overlap and agreement in the middle. There is a tension between the ends of the spectrum but not necessarily incompatibility across the board.
My primary concern about ID is that it promotes the idea that nature has gaps in it that God must intervene to fill. Nature, by these lights, is powerful and capable of accomplishing much but some things require that God must “step in” in an unusual way and accomplish this task outside the normal course of nature. This seems piecemeal and incoherent to me. BioLogos embraces the idea that God accomplishes these things working through the laws of nature, not apart from them.
Not all ID theorists insist on this however. I had a chance to chat with Michael Behe when we were on a panel a few months ago at Brigham Young University; I pressed him to find out just how far apart we were. I knew he accepted common ancestry and rejected young earth creationism, just as we do at BioLogos. Behe insisted that “design is empirically detectable” but he did not insist that such design requires intervention by God.
Perhaps it would be most appropriate to say that ID “tends to slip into god-of-the-gaps,” rather than equating it with god-of-the gaps, as its critics tends to do.
On the other hand, I acknowledge that the BioLogos perspective slips too easily into deism—the view that God starts things off and then leaves them to run on their own. This view is often caricatured—in Darwin’s Proof Cornelius Hunter says it makes God a “distant memory”—but this is unfair. As a parent, to use a helpful analogy, I have built playground equipment for my children and then let them play on it without hovering over them constantly. But it is completely wrong to say that I just left my kids to play on their own and became a “distant memory.” Likewise, God can create autonomous creatures with free will but that does not imply that God then has to lose interest and wander off to some other project. God can remain engaged with those creatures in any way that God wants.
Even with these acknowledgments, however, the actions of the Creator God of traditional Christianity cannot be constrained only to acts of origination “in the beginning.” And the fine-tuning argument is all about beginnings.
The central problem here, which is too involved for the present discussion—or any discussion for that matter—is divine action. I don’t think this problem is worse from the BioLogos perspective, however, despite the possible affinity for deism.
Consider the popular young-earth creationism position where God creates everything over six days. Given God’s relationship to time, is this really any different than God creating over 14 billion years? In either case we are confronted with the transcendent mystery of God’s action in the world. Is it really any different to ask how God creates a cow in 24 hours or 24 million years?
Or consider the ID problem. If God does intervene in natural history to make a cell, or a flagellum, or hemoglobin, or eyes, how does God do that? Or, if God does it without intervention, how does he do that? How long did it take? Did God do it at the level of the gene or everywhere all at once? Is it any more mysterious to claim that God constructed complex structures along the way as special projects, than to claim that God constructed such structures by working through the laws of nature?
It seems to me that all Christian positions on origins share a commitment to a mysterious and transcendent divine action and we might as well acknowledge that we are all in that boat together. The conversation needs to be about what is revealed in the details of the creation, not who can explain exactly how God works (for nobody can!). We should all start with the affirmation that the world is the product of a transcendent intelligence and then inspect that world to see what we can find out.
Along the way we must content ourselves with partial insights, constantly reminding ourselves that we—BioLogos, ID, young earth creationism—see “through a glass darkly.”
Karl Giberson directs the new science & religion writing program at Gordon College in Boston. He has published more than 100 articles, reviews and essays for Web sites and journals including Salon.com, Books & Culture, and the Huffington Post. He has written seven books, including Saving Darwin, The Language of Science & Faith, and The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age.