Archive for March 11, 2007

Christian Objections to Intelligent Design

Francis Collins, one of our leading geneticists and the longtime head of the Human Genome Project, has a new book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. The book gives an interesting account of Collins’ journey to the Christian faith and is an exploration of his thoughts on the interaction between faith and science. He doesn’t offer any revolutionary insights, but does talk about many interesting topics in a manner that is very accessible for the novice who is interested in this field.

One thing Collins describes is very helpful. Many people have asked me why a scientist who is a Christian would ever be opposed to intelligent design, and I haven’t been able to give a concise answer to that question. Collins offers a very helpful chapter on just that, and I’ll summarize some of his points below. All of this information is summarized from Collins’ book (pp. 181-195).

Intelligent design (ID), in its current form, is about 15 years old. It appeared in 1991 when Phillip Johnson, a Christian lawyer at UC Berkeley, published Darwin on Trial which first laid out the position. Michael Behe, a biochemist, introduced the idea of irreducible complexity (a key to the ID position) in the book Darwin’s Black Box.

ID has roughly three propositions

  1. Evolution promotes an atheistic worldview and therefore must be resisted by believers in God.
  2. Evolution is fundamentally flawed, since it cannot account for the intricate complexity of nature (e.g. bacterial flagellum, the blood coagulation complex, and the process of vision in the eye).
  3. If evolution cannot explain irreducible complexity, then there must have been an intelligent designer involved somehow, who stepped in to provide the necessary components during the course of evolution.

Collins admits these objections appear compelling, but goes on to present scientific objections to ID. First, he suggests ID fails to even qualify as a scientific theory. Theories not only make sense of experimental observations, but look forward as well. ID simply cannot suggest further experimental verification. “Outside the development of a time machine, verification of the ID theory seems profoundly unlikely.”

Second, “ID theory does not provide a mechanism by which the postulated supernatural intervention would give rise to complexity.” Further damaging ID theory is the recent development in cell and molecular biology whereby irreducible complexity is being shown not to be reducible after all. Collins suggests ID proponents have confused the unknown with the unknowable. For instance, the human blood clotting cascade (which I had the privelege of working on during my graduate studies) is slowing becoming understood as a system that has developed incrementally over time.

“So,” Collins concludes, “ID fails to hold up, providing neither an opportunity for experimental validation nor a robust foundation for its primary claim of irreducible complexity.” For Collins, ID is slowing being revealed to be a complicated “God of Gaps” approach where God is ascribed to various natural phenomena that the science of the day is unable to sort out. Futhermore, he believes that ID,

“portrays the Almighty as a clumsy Creator, having to intervene at regular intervals to fix the inadequacies of His own initial plan for generating the complexity of life. For a believer who stands in awe of the almost unimaginable intelligence and creative genius of God, this is a very unsatisfactory image (p. 194).”

Collins closes this chapter with admiration for the sincerity and faith of those who endorse and advance intelligent design. He also admits to undertsanding ID as a reaction of those who have faced outspoken evolutionists who portray evolutionary theory as demanding atheism. He then closes the chapter with these words, “To the believer and the scientist alike, I say there is a clear, compelling, and intellectually satisfying solution to this search for truth (p. 195).”  In the following chapter, Collins lays out his understanding of science and faith in harmony – a synthesis known in many circles as Theistic Evolution.  Perhaps I’ll outline that on another day.  What do you think of Collins’ response to ID?

March 11, 2007 at 1:29 pm 6 comments


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