Architect Frank Lloyd Wright was more than an impersonal “intelligent designer.” He was a living person. People could know him personally. Hiding God behind the impersonal label of “intelligent designer” is misleading. Further, God’s method of creation is through evolution. Call it slow-motion creation beginning 13.7 billion years ago, and it is still going on today! People can know him personally.
Let’s imagine that you are a high school science teacher. You divide your class into small groups and assign each one a science problem to solve. The problems have varying degree of difficulty, but you know the solutions; they don’t.
After a few days each group has solved its problem, except a group with the more difficult one. The leader is a devout believer. He informs you that there is no natural solution. So there has to be an intelligent design behind the natural phenomenon. It is irreducibly complex (or something), and a hidden intelligent designer must have zapped it.
A sneering skeptic—as distinct from a reasonable one—from the back of the science lab chuckles at the believer. “We found a solution! Why can’t you!” You intervene. “This problem’s a little more difficult. Just be patient.” You point the baffled student in the right direction, and the next day his group solves it. The believer has learned a valuable lesson. This simple formula is risky because it stops science (the arrows mean “leads to”):
Our ignorance → falling back to intelligent design explanation
Call it the Ignorance Formula. The scientist who is a reasonable skeptic gets nervous because the formula may stop the flow of rigorous experimentation and further research. “We can’t solve it. Let’s give up and attribute a designer or a god in disguise to the natural phenomenon!”
It is no good to reassure the skeptic that the natural phenomenon is so astronomically rare and improbable that only an intelligent designer can be the explanation for how it happened. He will reply that as the centuries have advanced, science has sorted out highly improbable natural phenomena. Again you reassure him, “Not this time. Now will you believe in my intelligent designer / god?” No.
The skeptic is right. The Ignorance Formula has been shattered time and again. The more tightly believers hold on to it, the more foolish and anti-science they appear.
So this formula now kicks in:
Our increasing knowledge → a decreasing god = bad theology
It is a bad idea to take refuge or hide behind the god-of-the-gaps explanation.
The problem with intelligent design as it is currently explained is that it assumes that a designer—and we all know the intelligent design advocates mean God—has to zap or nudge his creation along: Zap! Zap! Zap! Zap! It is as if he couldn’t do it right the first time. This too is deficient theology and science.
Let’s get right to it, leaving behind the vague intelligent designer and being honest enough to discuss the God of the Bible.
Taking the best confirmed experiments from a variety branches of sciences and standing it next to the biblical God, we can affirm that when God spoke the universe into existence 13.7 billion years ago, he issued this command: “Evolve!”
One word of his creative power built into the universe a creative imprint, such that the entire universe is moving along and culminating in his ultimate plan. So here is how evolution and intelligent design can be reconciled:
Evolution = God’s Design
Credentialed Christian scientists call this equation evolutionary creation. It used to be called theistic evolution, but this term is unsatisfactory because it is like saying theistic photosynthesis or theistic gravity. The emphasis is now where it belongs—creation.
For our limited purposes here, the equation says that God did it right the first time 13.7 billion years ago: ZAP!!!! Thus, one word of his power set everything in motion over all those billions of years. Light was created. Stars formed. Planets came about. Other elements. Call it slow-motion creation, but powerful and unstoppable.
God, the real “intelligent designer,” fully gifted his creation. He does not need to nudge it along with any other zaps.
As the universe evolved, the earth formed about 4.5 billion years ago, with parameters that turned it into the friendly planet for life and ultimately human life. All life responds to eco-systems. Chemical reactions happen in living beings—cells, plants, insects, lizards big and small, eventually mammals and so on—so that they can live successfully in the systems. If a life form dies out, such is the system. Survival of the fittest and most adaptable.
Let’s go farther out from the earth. God’s creative act is so powerful, within the parameters of the secondary causes he built into the universe, that if we discover evidence on a planet for dead cells or other building blocks for life that never evolved, then that does not take away from the existence of God. Life follows the secondary causes imprinted on the universe, but the cells and building blocks did not have the right conditions to evolve to more complex life forms. C’est la vie or “that’s life.” So be it.
Further, it will not surprise me if one day scientists replicate how life came from non-life—it’s all in the chemistry. For me, that chemical interaction is also part of his creative imprint, his creative impulse.
So our belief in God must come from the top down. God stands above it all and sustains it all. But he does not micromanage it. His daily intervention happens in the salvation and redemption of humankind.
A critic objects. “It’s the Ignorance Formula all over again! Maybe scientists will find that there is an infinite number of universes, like the bubbles of infinite foam. Our universe is one of those bubbles. We’re just the lucky universe!”
Then we have to ask where the infinite foam came from. And why does each bubble submit to certain parameters, such that we don’t have ridiculous universes, like a planet with nothing but elephants that evolved to feed on marbles? (Think about it. If there really is an actual infinite number of universes, then all combinations, even the craziest ones, have been actualized.) How to overcome such absurdities? Parameters must be set in place. Again the question: where did those parameters come from?
To step behind our universe is highly speculative. Once one problem outside our universe gets solved (if it does), millions of other will emerge.
However, the critic is right up to a point. The Ignorance Formula is being resurrected again. In that case we will need to pursue other lines of argument to point towards God’s existence, like the argument from human desire all around the globe (for God or the divine), personal miracles, the religion, properly interpreted, which promotes the true betterment of humanity, and so on.
But it goes deeper than mere arguments.
In a mild defense of the finiteness of humanity, it is one thing to discover scientific facts on our own planet and even in the expanding universe. Our planet and universe are finite (the universe may be growing towards infinity, but it is not actually infinite). Fine.
However, our finite minds cannot figure out and will forever remain ultimately ignorant of infinite things like God. It is impossible by definition to figure him out, for finite containers cannot contain the infinite, like the ocean in a thimble. But a portion of the Infinite can fill the finite container.
Eventually, we have to take a step of faith and trust that God indeed created the whole thing and set it in motion. It is evolving towards his final plan (redemption and a new creation in Christ). Ignorance may be inappropriate for science searching into natural things, but our absence of information is not inappropriate for the Big Issues of finite human existence in the face of the most powerful, infinite Being conceivable.
SERIES ON GENESIS 1-11
Evolution = Intelligent Design = God’s Design