I’ve been speaking very broadly in my previous posts. In this, I want to hone in on a single issue to clear up some misunderstandings. I want to talk about Intelligent Design.
There are many reasons why I do not believe in capital-I, capital-D Intelligent Design (ID), and this is only one of them. But what is ID? I contrast ID with the notion that God designed the universe intelligently, because these are different sorts of things. ID is a specific set of claims, not the notion that the universe has an intelligent designer. It states that God guided evolution in such a way so as to overcome problems with the complexity of organisms. Their claim is that some evolutionary developments are so complex as to require an outside influence (God). This they call irreducible complexity.
My position, which is a far more broad position of theistic naturalism, is such that I believe God exists and that he created the universe such that evolution would occur.
As a short aside, I want to clarify that calling this “theistic evolution” is not a very good term, even though many say they ascribe to something by this name. Evolution is a part of a naturalistic worldview, but there are other fields of study: abiogenesis, cosmology, astronomy, etc. “Theistic naturalism” is a better term for a Christian view which encompasses all of these.
The difference between ID and theistic naturalism is tremendous. ID would have God making constant adjustments, pushing organisms to higher and higher levels of complexity. In my position, which is surely not unique to me, God has arranged the universe such that it does its work with a relative degree of autonomy outside of that first step. These are very different levels of involvement. What are the implications of these differences?
A short maxim captures the essence of these differences: “perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away” (Antoine de Saint-Exupery). That is, perfection is a sort of efficiency, not merely a result.
My studies in computer science focused intensely on efficiency. In fact, one could consider this one of the chief aims of advancement in the field: do the same thing with fewer resources and less time spent processing. If you can make a program that runs in a fraction of the time of another and achieves the same result, the faster program is better than the second.
But this is not merely an issue for computer programmers, though it happens to be a very specific focus for them. Every discipline I can imagine would rather do more with less than less (or the same) with more. This is a sort of criterion which I think we can safely apply to God, as well. If God can accomplish the same result with a smaller degree of effort than an alternative, we should call this smaller move a better move.
It might seem presumptuous to try to apply this to God, but consider a first alternative: we would call a greater expenditure for the same result a better move. This does not seem right. The other alternative is to remove value judgments from God’s actions, wherein we lose the ability to call them “good.” This seems even less likely. It stands to reason that we should call the minimal effort expended for the same result to be the best course of action.
Now bear in mind that I am not saying that some of God’s actual actions are not the best actions; I am saying that potential actions that God could take are up for evaluation against one another. This difference exemplifies itself in the very way by which Christ appeared to the world. The Jews wished for a military Messiah who would ride in triumphantly on a horse wielding a sword; instead, they received an unarmed wanderer who rode to his death on a donkey. Granted, God could have conquered death any way he chose, but he did so in the most humble of ways.
So now let us turn back to the question of ID versus theistic naturalism. God according to ID is one who must constantly intervene in the processes which he set up. He is constantly working to make the earth and the rest of the universe the exact way he desires it to be. Theistic naturalism, though, is very much the opposite, and it achieves the same result.
Honestly, God according to ID doesn’t sound a lot like God. He sounds like a bad engineer who has to get out and push the car he designed every once in awhile, because it doesn’t do what he wants it to do. God according to theistic naturalism sounds like the brilliant designer which we presently understand God to be. That is not to say that God does not preside over his creation, but he doesn’t need to give it a constant push; he’s smarter than that.
If offered the choice between these alternatives, I would very much choose the God of theistic naturalism, because he sounds like the far more powerful and intelligent God. The God of ID, on the other hand, does not sound very intelligent by comparison.
Final note: the theologians are going to tell me after reading this that we can’t directly attribute human characteristics to God. I am aware of this. It would be tedious to specify every time that I called God “intelligent” or a “designer” that I mean this mostly by analogy based on revelation.