Thursday, January 18, 2018

Identity of Intelligence

In our last post we dealt with the positions of two famous commentators concerning the origin of living things—Stephen C. Meyer and Perry Marshall. For Christians, believing the God of Creation acted in an intelligent manner to design the physical universe, and more particularly, the living humanity which inhabits our planet seems like a “given.”

Stephen C. Meyer directs the Discovery Institute, a well known organization promoting the paradigm of Intelligent Design, a concept which has been in mainstream discussion for several decades. The general idea that God created the universe and and its physical processes has been present in Christianity, Judaism, and other major religions for several thousand years. In order to remind readers of the tenets of the ID paradigm, we quote one of the defining statements of the Discovery Institute: “Intelligent Design refers to a scientific research program, as well as a community of scientists, philosophers, and other scholars who seek evidence of design in nature. The theory of Intelligent Design holds that certain features of the universe are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection…”

Intelligent Design, according to the Discovery Institute, is opposed to the position of most secular scientists in our day who claim that science investigates only natural cause and effect in our cosmic environment. Intelligent Design leaders present ID as a “scientific research program.” Most of the scientific community has denied that ID is scientific and takes pains to paint ID with the brush of pseudoscience. This claim is energetically made, along with the claim that all scientists investigating the natural world must use the investigating strategy of MN—methodological naturalism—wherein intelligent causes either do not exist or may not even be considered as an explanatory possibility. Scientists respond to objections of theists by claiming that MN is used only as a heuristic tool. That is to say, MN is only used only for the purpose of learning something in our investigation process.

If life originated and historically changed due to an intelligent cause we inquire, “What is the identity of that intelligence?” Is the intelligent Judeo-Christian God the source and originator of life and its changes on our planet? Is there, perhaps, an extraterrestrial source explained by the theory of panspermia? Or is intelligence an intrinsic universal characteristic of our universe which extends to Planet Earth? Ideologically, there are substantial differences in these views. Those who believe in Intelligent Design to explain life on Earth are accused of promoting a religious rather than a scientific position. Most ID proponents would agree that ID is both scientific and has clearly religious implications. ID proponents have attempted to demonstrate that the theory is supported by many scientific principles such as the principles of cause and effect. The science community elects to enter the origins discussion at the level of natural effect, loudly claiming that assigning cause to a supernatural Creator is a religious concept. They propose various other natural causes instead.

The Intelligent Design movement avoids explicitly naming God as the Intelligent Designer, possibly to avoid the accusation it is merely creationism in disguise and to preserve the credibility of ID as a valid scientific theory. Stephen C. Meyer, in his most recent major tome, Darwin’s Doubt, (2013) shares his deeper personal thoughts: “The ability to detect design makes belief in an intelligent designer (or a creator, or God) not only tenet of faith, but something to which the evidence of nature now bears witness. In short, it brings science and faith into real harmony.” In Meyer’s earlier classic, Signature in the Cell, (2009), he states, “I personally think that the evidence of design in biology, considered in the context of other evidence, strengthens the case for theism and, thus, my personal belief in God. Subjectively, as a Christian theist, I find this implication of intelligent design ‘intellectually satisfying.’” These sentiments are secondary, however, to Meyer’s primary campaign to present the ID concept as science.

The hesitance of some evolutionary creationists and some old earth creationists to link themselves to the paradigm of Intelligent Design is somewhat difficult to explain. Personally, I know many fine Christians who avoid the label for various reasons. Meanwhile, the scientific proposals of Meyer in the two classic works mentioned above, totaling nearly 1000 pages, are red meat for those with both a theistic worldview and a scientific mind. We heartily recommend these books.

Stephen C. Meyer is primarily concerned with the reality of intelligent design in living things as manifest in the majesty of genetics. In contrast, Perry Marshall makes the case for cells themselves as intelligent entities owing to the wonders of epigenetics.  In a future post we investigate whether these contrasts conflict with a theistic world view.

If you are interested in our previous, detailed discussion of ID, you may want to check out this link: