Friday, November 11, 2005

What of Intelligent Design?

The pastor of my Church wrote to our congregation that Intelligent Design distorts the Lutheran understanding of God--that the creator is not accessible via reason or rationality, but by faith and grace. That is, we cannot know Him by looking around us or through scientific means, but instead must believe through what has been presented us in Scripture. In other words, that the Christian community should abstain from the debate on ID. My response follows:

Dear Pastor,

Interesting piece on Intelligent Design. I was recently talking to my parents and we somehow came to the issue of secular church activities. From what I understand, Lutheranism postulates an almost infinite separation of religion and ethics ("by faith alone")--morality naturally flows from faith, but does not bring it about. Catholicism is at the opposite end of the spectrum, with a crucial link between secular behavior and spiritual faith. Wesleyan denominations and other Protestant groups fall somewhere in between. Consequently, our emphasis is not on earthly concerns.

The criticisms of Protestant evangelism have always flummoxed me, as I've never once heard an ELCA sermon mention the contentious political issues of the day (ie abortion, same-sex marriage, stem cell research, etc). Certainly the groups most antithetical to Protestantism, like the ACLU, scream more vociferously about the aforementioned issues than any well known Christian leader I am aware of, save maybe for fringe elements like Jerry Falwell. So to read your words on it was a (nice) surprise.

I have a few questions, however. Do we then reject the Thomistic arguments for the existence of God? The teleological argument (Thomas' fifth way) seems essentially the same as the contemporary theory of creation by Intelligent Design. What the ID crowd argues is the same thing Thomas argued 750 years ago. It's done a heck of a job standing the test of time. But it's only a theory--I am unclear as to how it purports to know God in a "clearly perceptible" way. The theory gives rise to vague theism--the nature of God himself is not posited (at least not that I'm aware of). ID seems to me a probabilistic rather than definitive argument.

Another powerful argument of a more personal nature is Pascal's wager. It's always made sense to me--the best an atheist can hope for is the worst a genuine believer can. If God does not exist, then both rot in the ground at death. But woe to the non-believer at the time of crossover if He does. I realize that Luther and Melanchton (to a lesser extent) saw it is as a sign of weak faith that one would demand a rational explanation of God, when the supernatural is so likely beyond the reaches of empirical verification. To me, though, it helps supplement the faith I am only tenuously able to hold.

Back in the temporal world, I do not see why ID cannot be mentioned alongside evolution. I am a strong believer in Darwin's theory--looking at humanity from the perspective of evolution provides answers to so much of what many ID advocates believe about society: The maternal instinct, the culture of life, the inclination toward cultural homogeneity, the discomfort with homosexuality, and so on. And those who fervently push evolution without knowing the first thing about it (The full title of Darwin's famous work is The Origin of Species: By Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life--the last part mysteriously seems to get left out all the time!) do so largely because of their opposition to Christian values specifically and occidental culture in general. If they were more familiar with the theory, or other Darwinian works like Descent of Man, I do not believe they would so adamantly fight against ID. The ID crowd, if they were more familiar, would on the other hand welcome evolution as a part of God's larger intelligent design.

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