This post will look at the theological problems behind Mature-Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design.
Mature-earth creationism is also called the appearance of age argument or ideal-time creationism. Phillip Gosse, Henry Morris, and John Whitcomb, Jr. have been proponents of this argument. In his 1875 writing, Omphalos, Philip Gosse introduced the idea that God created the universe to look old. The universe is not billions, millions, or even hundreds of thousands of years old; it just looks that way.
The biggest theological problem with mature-earth creationism is the implied trickery or dishonesty on the part of God. Why would God create a universe and give it the appearance of age? What’s the point? Would a loving, righteous God place dinosaur fossils in certain strata of the earth’s crust in order to dupe the creatures He/She seeks to have authentic, meaningful relationships with? Keith Miller, a Catholic biologist, writes that: “In order to defend God against the challenge [Creationists] see from evolution, they have to make him into a schemester, a trickster, even a charlatan. Their version of God is one who intentionally plants misleading clues beneath our feet and in the heavens themselves. … To embrace that God, we must reject science and worship deception itself.” Such a deceiving God is not worthy of worship.
In this section the focus is shifted to Intelligent Design. With regard to Intelligent Design, Christopher Southgate asks the question of whether it is the best option to pose. “It is a type of explanation that must always be vulnerable to Occam’s Razor; it introduces an extra entity, a designer, into the system – an entity that is untestable and uncharacterizable, over and above the range of entities included in an evolutionary explanation.” Catholic theologian John Haught states that one of the biggest problems with Paley’s argument from design is “the intellectual integrity of Paley’s core argument. How could one speak of observing “design” in nature? One observes nature, but one infers design in nature.” There is a significant difference between observation and inference. Bram van de Beek states that inferring intelligent design from nature simply means that we can recognize that our human intelligence as a complex phenomenon has similarities with other complex phenomena, but that inferring the existence of an Intelligent Designer is taking it too far.
David H Bailey raises an important issue: “[b]ut like Creationists, ID scholars have not yet produced a solid body of quantitative, falsifiable scientific hypotheses of their own; instead, they have focused their efforts on identifying weakness in the established evolutionary theory.” Haught goes further to say that “Intelligent design injudiciously passes over the disorderly, undirected aspects of evolution that are also part of the life processes. It ignores the darker hues in the Darwinian story that gives a tragic cast to evolution and thereby strain the credibility of any theology.” It could be said that Intelligent Design takes an easy way out and ignores the dark side of nature.
John Haught makes much of what he calls “the drama of life.” Bailey quotes Haught as saying:
If God were a magician or a dictator, then we might expect the universe to be finished all at once and remain eternally unchanged. If God insisted on being in total control of things, we might not expect the weird organisms of the Cambrian explosion, the later dinosaurs and reptiles, or the many other wild creatures that seem so exotic to us. We would want our divine magician to build the world along the lines of a narrowly human sense of clean perfection.
But what a pallid and impoverished world that would be. It would lack the drama, diversity, adventure, and intense beauty that evolution has in fact produced. …
Fortunately, the God of our religion is not a magician but a creator. And we think this God is much more interested in promoting freedom and the adventure of evolution than in preserving the status quo.
A world made by Intelligent Design would be perfect, but it would lack the drama of life. Conor Cunningham states that the God of Intelligent Design is not a god to worship. It is not a god worthy of worship. George L. Murphy, physicist and theologian, argues that “God does not compel belief of skeptics by leaving puzzles which science can’t solve.” Once again that seems to imply that God is playing games with people. God is fooling people and tricking them into believing. Cunningham goes on to say that the God of Intelligent Design “would merely be a domesticated god, a ‘natural’ god. This ‘god’ might have bigger biceps, a Jedi Knight of sorts. He might be merely Homeric, but he certainly won’t be Abrahamic. To worship him would be like worshipping a whale or a mountain – one worships it because it is big.”
God as Intelligent Designer
Niels H Gregersen, from the University of Copenhagen, points out that “the meaning of the term ‘divine designer’ is under-determined. …its content obviously changes as one goes from one level of abstraction to another, and from one application to another. Usually, the divine designer is tacitly assumed to be the Creator of all-that-is (and not only a forming principle), but historically as well as logically the idea of a creator is not entailed in the notion of design.”
Haught argues that “Paley’s image of God as the divine artificer of the world reduced God to the world’s level. Where was any sense of transcendence, mystery, or glory?” Van de Beek agrees that an Intelligent Designer would not be a transcendental power, but rather an immanent phenomenon. “[S]uch a perfectly designed universe would have no room for life, freedom, and new being. An initially fixed and finished universe would have no future. It would also be insentient and mindless.” Such a universe would be static instead of lively and dynamic. This argument is once again emphasised when Haught says that the perfectly designed world of Intelligent Design would be “dead on delivery. Since it would already be perfect, it would also be finished; and if finished, it would have no future.” The Christian faith is a faith which values the past, lives in the here and now, but also reaches forward into the future. In a perfect world, there would be nothing to strive towards, which in the Christian tradition is the consummation of everything in Christ. There would be no place for the “drama of life.” Haught explains how one might see God as the originator of novelty and the path of life. Indeed, the idea of common descent as such need not imply any diminishment whatsoever in the power of God to create. “Think of the Creator as bringing into being a world that can in turn give rise spontaneously to new life and lush diversity, and eventually to human beings. In that case, evolution is the unfolding of the world’s original God-endowed resourcefulness.” He goes on to state that “[t]he divine maker of such a self-creative world is arguably much more impressive – hence worthier of human reverence and gratitude – than is a “designer” who moulds and micromanages everything directly.” The God of evolution is a God of freedom and self-sacrifice. This God is a God of hope and promise, allowing the world to unfold, without coercing or manipulating it. Haught states that this “God of freedom and promise invites, and does not compel, the creation to experiment with many possible ways of being, allowing it to make “mistakes” in the process. This is the God of evolution – one who honours and respects the indeterminacy and narrative openness of creation, and in this way ennobles it.” The God of evolution is a humble, self-donating liberality that avoids any unmediated manipulation of things. A world that is perfectly design and created would be a static world, without novelty. Haught continues his argument as follows:
If you are the kind of theist or atheist who demands here and now a world with no design flaws, you are asking for an anaemic idea of deity and a divine creation devoid of a deeper, dramatic coherence. If a fixed and frozen universe is what you want, then you may insist of perfect design as envisaged by ID and most contemporary evolutionary atheism. But if you prefer a truly surprising and richly creative universe, then you may be religiously open to evolution. Isn’t it conceivable that Darwin’s three-part recipe for evolution wells up from a hidden dramatic depth of nature wherein there resides an inaccessible wisdom that those obsessed with perfect design simply cannot fathom?
Christian belief, at any rate, does not depend for its credibility on the existence of a world without design flaws. … Furthermore, if you explore the bible carefully, you will not find an elegant engineer there either. God’s intimate relation to the world is before all else one of liberation and promise rather than the imposition of design.
It is important to keep in mind that the Bible is a book which tells of liberation and promise in a world where all is not perfect. The Christian faith ought not to act as if we are not living in a world which is flawed, which is in constant change, and which has brokenness. The Bible is clear about the fact that all is not well and that God seeks to restore all things in time.
The next blog post will take a look at what I call “Unintelligent Design.”
Bailey, D H. 2010. Creationism and intelligent design: Scientific and theological difficulties. Dialogue: A journal of Mormon thought 43(3): 62-81.
Cunningham, C. 2010. Darwin’s pious idea: Why the ultra-Darwinists and creationists both get it wrong. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans.
Haught, J F. 2008. God after Darwin: A theology of evolution. Second edition. Boulder: Westview Press.
______2010. Making sense of evolution: Darwin, God, and the drama of life. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.
Miller, K B. (ed.) 2003a. Perspectives on an evolving creation. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans.
______2003b. Worshipping the Creator of the history of life, in Miller, K B. (ed). Perspectives on an evolving creation. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans: 205-207.
Morris, S C. 2006. The Boyle lecture 2005: Darwin’s compass: How evolution discovers the song of creation. Science & Christian Belief 18(1): 5-22.
Murphy, G L. 2003. Christology, evolution and the Cross. In: Miller, K B. (ed). Perspectives on an evolving creation. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans: 370-389.
Southgate, C 2008. The groaning of creation: God, evolution, and the problem of evil. London: Westminster John Knox Press.
Van de Beek, B. 2005. Toeval of schepping? Scheppingstheologie in de context van het modern denken. Kampen: Uitgeverij Kok.