The Other Esquire Article
In addition to the article I described on Wednesday, the current issue of Esquire has a second article about ID, entitled “The Case for Intelligent Design,” by Tom Junod. It's not a case William Dembski or Michael Behe are likely to appreciate, however. Since it is not freely available online, here are a few excerpts:
Religion can't change science because it can't change the terms of creation, and science is creation's handmaiden. Can science change religion? Of course it can; everything can change religion, which is one of the reasons religion is so pissed off. History, economics, immigration, epidemics, art, music, even literature: Religion is the opposite of science in that it is a wholly human endeavor, and so it responds to the touch of other human endeavors. Indeed, religion's success - and harrowing lack of success - may be measured by how responsive or how resistant it has been to the challenge of new interpretations. As a matter of fact, religion has never responded particularly well to the challenge of science and has often resisted in the only way it knows how - by taking recourse in fundamentalism. In its effort to teach intelligent design as sceince, intelligent design is often seen as a tool of fundamentalism, and it may very well be. But by melding religion and science - by teaching science as religion, if you will, - intelligent design may provide the undoing of the fundamentalism it is said to serve and open the way to a subversive, even heretical understanding of the Judeo-Christian God. (Emphasis in Original)
Junod is building up to an argument that will be familiar to regular readers of this blog: That by invoking God to explain specific things like flagellae and blood clotting cascades, the ID folks are laying at God's feet all of the examples of poor design in nature. This is a serious theological problem for the ID folks. They have no remotely plausible answer for it. Theistic evolutionists can avoid the problem by arguing, for example, that an evolutionary process of the sort we observe was necessary if the creation was to be separate from God himself. Young-Earthers can get around the problem by blaming the sin of Adam and Eve for causing the world to become corrupted. But ID folks can't use either of these options.
He is unknowable scientifically; in the topsy-turvy logic of intelligent design, that's how we know he's there. But he is also unknowable theologically, a supernatural being that exists to engage in experiments of nature. And so intelligent design, which started as a challenge to Darwinian orthodoxy, turns out to be a challenge to the orthodoxy of Western religion, because its Designer is not just really, really smart but also really, really limited, morally. We are used to framing our supreme beings in terms of absolutes. But the Designer of intelligent design can either be absolutely intelligent or absolutely innocent of the earth's own suffering. He can never be both.
Quite right. The problem with Junod's argument, however, is that it gives fundamentalism too much credit for self-reflection and serious thought. Fundamentalists support ID as a compromise forced on them by numerous hostile court decisions. They would prefer to teach a more overt sort of creationism, but that is currently not possible. So they embrace ID as the best they can do right now.
Junod goes on to describe his own idiosyncratic take on Christianity:
I remained a Christian - I remain a Christian; nominal, provisional, skeptical, but a Christian nevertheless - simply because the universe does not feel dumb and mechanistic to me, and because the countless minor miracles from which I've benefitted do not feel like dumb luck. The universe feels intelligent to me, and it feels generous (though not necessarily benificent), and the miracles, such as they are, feel like functions of the universe's generosity, which is to say they feel like dispensations of grace. And grace feels mysteriously aligned to the alignment of the world described by Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount - that is, a world turned upside down by the unsettling element of love. Of course, with all this talk about feeling I'm well aware that I would probably feel differently about the universe were I starving to death and watching my children starve to death in a land stricken by famine and war. But here I am, for no other reason than that I'm here, and I remain Christian for much the same reason that the scientists behind intelligent design have ended up professintg their nonscientific heresy: because the universe feels different than Darwinan orthodoxy says it should, and seems to make different demands.
I suspect that Junod is here expressing the views of a great many sensible religious people. They are views I couldn't disagree with more. I agree with Richard Dawkins, who has famously said:
The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.
Junod is making a huge concession when he implies that his sense that the universe is intelligent and purposeful is really just a function of his status in life. He believes the countless “minor miracles” he has experienced are evidence of divine purpose. Would the starving people he mentions be justified in viewing their suffering as an argument against divine purpose, or as evidence that God is evil? If not, then what becomes of his argument?
I suspect that Junod's argument is a classic example of remembering the hits and forgetting the misses. He describes the countless minor miracles in his life as evidence of purpose, but I'm sure he could come up with other instances in his life where rotten luck prevented him for obtaining some good outcome. What conclusions does he draw from those experiences?
Let me close this blog entry by reproducing Junod's closing:
It's trippy, sure. But it's the theology for the Cult of the Really, Really Smart God. And hey I'm in. For 150 years, Christians have responded to the revelation of Charles Darwin either by trying to beat it back with their Bibles or by remaining agnostic to its implications - “I as a Christian have no trouble believing that God used evolution to make me.” Well, dammit, you should, because Christian orthodoxy and Darwinian orthodoxy simply cannot coexist as orthodoxies: One of them has to give. And intelligent design is the first indication that one of them is. For all its problems, it should be taken seriously, and the Christians who so glibly advocate its teaching should be aware of the questions it raises. Should intelligent design be taught in schools? Hell yes, but not as science, because it's not science. It's theology, and should be taught as such - as an attempt to fashon a new understanding of God from the persuasive challenge of evolutionary theory. Evolution not only creates; it keeps creating. The God of intelligent design is a new God - the God of the new, new covenant if you will - in that he takes the rap. He is the old God the God of the Bible and the God of Cavalry, in that he also takes the fall.