Misunderstanding Design

Over the past 10 years, there has been a substantial growth in the promotion of the design argument for the existence of God by believers in God. Thanks to Michael Behe and William Dembinski, and other authors, a whole new vocabulary has also come into being with terms like "irreducible complexity" and "intelligent design" being tossed around by religionists and atheists in all kinds of applications. It is fairly obvious that these terms need careful definitions. For example, if there is intelligent design, does that mean that there is also unintelligent design?

In skeptic and atheist literature, much is made of the fact that such things as the design/Designer argument are invalid arguments since they have no way of producing new discoveries or scientific understandings. A recent quote from Skeptical Inquirer, August, 2001, page 74, states it well:

The statement "Design implies a designer" demands just as big a leap of faith as "I know that my Redeemer lives.". Intelligent Design proponents do not attempt to prove it from simpler statements, nor do they offer evidence. They devote much effort to finding design in the natural world, and then they take the leap of faith.

Intelligent Design.doesn't help us do science. Adding ID (Intelligent Design) to our assumptions doesn't tell us the value of the Hubble constant or explain how migrating birds find their way. All ID does is give IDers a warm, fuzzy feeling.

This comment and others like it make it clear that the arguments for the existence of God from design and perhaps the whole field of apologetics is misunderstood by the writers. Creationists make the same error when they refer to everything as a miraculous act of God and then denigrate the efforts of scientists to understand how things in the cosmos came to be as they are. We would like to attempt to clarify what we feel the real argument is that is being made. If the argument is clear, perhaps some of the antagonism between science and faith can be eliminated.

Design arguments are a part of a general logical discussion, not an end in themselves. Both religionists and atheists seem to look at design as an expression of awe. What we mean by this statement is that someone looks at something in nature and says, "Wow, that is amazing so there must be a god." This is really a reworking of the old "god of gaps" argument where when someone cannot explain something, they say "well, since I can't explain how it got the way it is, god must have done it." It has been the history of man to do this, but certainly in the 21st century nobody should be making such an argument.

Scientist on one side and dice on the other

The design argument is really the third step in a logical flow of ideas. The first idea is that there must have been a beginning to whatever it is that we are considering. This is a scientifically testable proposal and can be applied in most discussions in science. If the idea in question began (as opposed to having existed eternally), then the next question is whether it was caused or whether it is self-existing and thus uncaused. Again there are many ways of testing the concept of cause both philosophically and by scientific experiment. If it is obvious that there was a cause, the next question is to ask what caused it. There are two general choices available to this question of cause. It is either a product of intelligence or it is a product of chance. It is this last choice that the design question has bearing on. Chance can be tested by scientific experiment and by statistical analysis. It can also be looked at on an intuitive level by the man on the street with an eye to what is reasonable to believe.

There has been, is, and will be debate on all three of these steps. We have had numerous articles in this journal over the years on each of them, but in this article we only want to make the point that the design arguments do not take a god of gaps position, nor do they stand by themselves.

Design arguments are not a vehicle of science, but an application of science. Skeptic literature attempts to denigrate the design argument because it has no use scientifically. The quote from Skeptical Inquirer given on the first page of this article makes the point very clearly. "Intelligent Design.doesn't help us do science. Adding ID to our assumptions doesn't tell us the value of the Hubble constant or explain how migrating birds find their way. All ID does is give IDers a warm, fuzzy feeling."

Jet engine technician working One of the things going on here is an attempt to vilify religion as an enemy of scientific progress. The design argument does have some positive messages for science as well as other disciplines, but suggesting that understanding and design eliminates science is myopic and illogical. When China got control of an American spy plane not long ago, what did they do? They knew the plane had been designed by intelligence and they went through the plane piece by piece and figured out by scientific techniques what every part did. Recognizing that the plane was designed did not change the spectra of the metals in the plane. The semiconductors in the electronic gear were not changed in any way by recognizing how the plane came into being.

I have heard believing scientists describe their research as a process of understanding how God did what He did. The design discussion is an application of science to a particular question. It does not interfere with, alter, nor denigrate science.

Belief in design benefits science as well as other disciplines . Western science was rooted philosophically in a belief in an intelligently designed cosmos. If you really believe everything in the cosmos is the product of mindless chance, why would you try to understand it? Modern atheists like Richard Dawkins in books like The Blind Watchmaker have tried to make a case for mindless chance, but their attempts have been successfully challenged by numerous authors from all kinds of backgrounds and disciplines--many of whom we have reviewed in past issues of this journal.

The fact is that people like Newton, Pascal, and Maxwell clearly stated their position that science was a valid pursuit because the cosmos had purpose and design that could be understood. The application of science to the needs and condition of mankind also is affected by how we view the cosmos. Einstein's statement that "Religion without science is lame, but science without religion is blind" makes the point well. A designed world with all of mankind as designed beings in the image of the Creator sends the message of using science to relieve pain, suffering, and needs of all people. Remove that design message and replace it with survival of the fittest by chance and selfishness becomes the law of all intelligent beings.

Design arguments have no negative impact on science except when science is being used to exploit, destroy, or harm the population of this planet. We would suggest that the horror stories of experimentation with human subjects from World War II were an example of what happens when a population becomes viewed as not being the product of design. As atheists and believers look at the arguments for design, we would hope they would separate scientific experimentation from apologetic discussion and allow constructive dialogue so that there is no restriction of thought or valid experimentation.

It has been said that the more we know of the creation, the closer we get to the Creator. This is a truism. If you believe the creator is blind forces operating in an eternal cosmos by chance, the statement is true. If you believe the creator is a personal God who created the cosmos with purpose, intelligence, planning, and order, it is also true. Let us all work to improve our understandings of the real issues involved. 

--John N. Clayton

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