Saturday, January 26, 2008


Remaking God

Last week's Chicago Tribune Magazine had an interesting piece on "theistic evolutionism," a not very good term for what is admittedly a theological position. In essence, it entails attempts, mostly by religious scientists, to reconcile a belief in God with the scientific facts of biology in particular and with science in general. Among the major figures in this effort ... I hesitate to call it a "movement" ... are the familiar names of Kenneth Miller and Francis Collins (though I have my doubts Collins really belongs). Less well known perhaps are Howard Van Till, Simon Conway Morris and theologian John Haught (who testified for the plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller case).

The article is instructive and everyone, atheists included, should be aware that the theological reaction to science is not exhausted by the likes of young-Earth creationism and the dishonest machinations of Intelligent Design. Indeed, the theistic evolutionists make the point that ID is, as far as they are concerned, not only bad science but bad theology:

Intelligent design's shortcomings as science are immense, but its theological problems may be just as profound. The God of intelligent design is a master craftsman who leaves virtually nothing to chance. That's unsatisfying to Cambridge University paleontologist Simon Conway Morris, who says many of his objections to intelligent design stem from his Christian faith. "It's theology for control freaks, with God as an engineer."

The image of God as a micro-managing autocrat leads to some awkward paradoxes. For example, supporters of intelligent design often point to the flagellum, the complex molecular motor that allows bacteria to move, as an example of something that evolution could not have produced. Yet if God designed even the tiny flagellum, why stop there? Intelligent design implies that the creator's blueprint knows no limits. And if God designed every last element of life, that makes him minutely responsible for nature's cruelty and failures as well as its beauty.

"It gives you a God who cared enough to make the motors for bacteria, but wouldn't stop the motors of the planes on 9/11," Van Till says.

Instead of seeing the apparent randomness of the variation that fuels evolution as an argument against a personal God, theists of Haught's and Miller's stripe see it as an expression of God's love for his creation:

A detailed design would have limited the paths that living things could take. Instead, [Haught] says, God's love led to a world that's always open to new directions for life, without the need for overpowering divine supervision. ...

"Love persuades, it doesn't force," Haught says. "God doesn't compel the world to be a certain way, and that's because of how love works. God lets things be, and lets the weeds grow up with the wheat."

Irony rears its head at this point.

Many boosters of intelligent design find the self-humbling God of evolution too weak and passive to inspire belief. Somewhat oddly, many scientific atheists feel the same way.

"The only kind of theism that's reconcilable with evolution is one in which everything happened without any supernatural intervention," says Jerry Coyne of the U. of C. "You strip the specialness of human beings out of it, you strip the origin of life out of it, the soul." For Coyne, the only God worth believing in is one whom modern science has rendered implausible.

A theology of evolution risks turning God into an "attenuated deity," says William Dembski, one of the founding architects of intelligent design. Haught "sees God's hands in creation as fundamentally tied" ...

In a very real sense, these atheists and creationists share the same theology and only disagree about its viability. They agree, however, that the more nuanced theology of the theistic evolutionists does not satisfy their needs in this cultural clash and both wind up attacking those who try to reconcile science and their beliefs.

Me, I'm mostly on Darwin's side, who perhaps deserves the last word on this, given his place in engendering the argument:

I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe what he can.

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I held a theistic evolutionary view for years, but eventually concluded that Christianity and evolution are ultimately incompatible. I won't bore you with the details of how I reached that conclusion. Nevertheless, I think nonbelievers like myself should encourage and work alongside of theistic evolutionists in many situations. We can agree to overlook theological distinctions because we share many common interests that need to be defended and expanded.
We can agree to overlook theological distinctions because we share many common interests that need to be defended and expanded.

Those who demand 100% agreement, usually wind up with a party of one.
I always wondered why theologians never took a stronger stance against the ID crowd. The bible never said that God sat down with his calculator and designed the heavens and the earth, it says, God spoke the heavens and the earth into existence. Seems like a real dig at God, to say he had to think about it. It also seemed when you search the bible for the concept of Design, it something that man does, and never something that God does.

Secondly, it seemed that if God wanted us to see “PROOF” of his design, he would not have hidden so deep. First he had to wait 2000 years for man to discover the flagellum, and take the chance that Dr. Behe wouldn’t have realized it was in fact, proof of god. (Man that was a close one).

Wouldn’t it have been easier to write on each tree, and each blade of grass and each giant panda, “Made by God”?
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