Intelligent Design and Apologetics

by Craig Rusbult, Ph.D.

The ideas below were originally in a section about "Apologetics and Intelligent Design" in a links-page for Intelligent Design in Science between the introduction and ending (in green) that are still in the links-page:

      Why should anyone feel a need [as in my earlier definition of apologetics] to "defend the rationality of Christianity"?  For a long time, skeptics have asked, "If God is powerful and loving, why does he allow evil in the world?", and other tough questions.  After Darwin, some scientists (like Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins) have claimed that "everything evolved naturally, so God was not necessary and does not exist."
      Consider two responses to this claim about evolution:  1) some Christians challenge the scientific claim that "everything evolved naturally";  2) all Christians should challenge the non-scientific claim that "natural" means "without God," and should explain why — even if the formative history of nature was totally natural (notice the "if") — this would not show that "God was not necessary and does not exist."   {#2 is one of the "easy theological questions" in METHODS OF CREATION}
      During debates about Intelligent Design, sometimes Christians try to "win points" by using theological principles to imply that #1 (which includes Intelligent Design and some theories of creation) should be avoided, or that #2 is a weak defense (because natural creation doesn't let us know that God created) so (if we want a good apologetic argument against Sagan and Dawkins) #1 should be considered necessary.  Are either of these claims — that #1 (ID,...) is unwise or is necessary — theologically justifiable?
  These two claims are illustrated in the following examples:

      Phillip Johnson, the pioneer of modern Intelligent Design, says:  "God is our true Creator.  I am not speaking of a God who is known only by faith and is invisible to reason, or who acted undetectably behind some naturalistic evolutionary process that was to all appearances mindless and purposeless.  That kind of talk is about the human imagination, not the reality of God.  I speak of a God who acted openly and who left his fingerprints all over the evidence." (from Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds, 1997)
      Is this a statement about science, or theology, or both?  Is he claiming that God did not "act undetectably behind some naturalistic evolutionary process," or that God would not create in this way, but instead would "act openly and leave his fingerprints all over the evidence," or perhaps he meant both?  And what idea(s) does this paragraph communicate to his readers?
      Due to the ambiguity of what Johnson wrote, for many readers it will reinforce the idea — which is stated clearly, without ambiguity, by other writers and speakers — that natural-appearing creation is not really "creation" because God would create in a way that is detectable, as proposed by Intelligent Design.  They think #2 is a weak defense, so #1 is necessary.  Why?  Because if we want to know that God did it, then it has to be a miracle.  They want scientific evidence for creation (which is the goal of #1) so they can argue against the scientific claims of skeptics like Sagan and Dawkins.  They think #1 is stronger for apologetics, compared with #2.

      The second illustration doesn't require a specific source, because (if you've read much about origins) you have seen the phrase "God of the gaps," which is often used as an accusation against an opponent.  Although "GOD OF THE GAPS" is a term with many meanings (and usually the intended meaning isn't clarified), a common implication is that if someone thinks God created using miraculous-appearing action (as in #1), they are denying that God also works by using natural-apearing action.

      There are Bible-based reasons to reject a claim that #1 either should be avoided, or is necessary.
      Regarding a claim that #1 (ID,...) should be avoided because it implies "God is not involved in natural process," in the Bible we see that God is active in the world using two modes of action — usually in ways that seem natural, and occasionally with miracles — so we don't have to make an either/or choice between divine action that is natural-appearing and miraculous-appearing.  Of course, all Christians should challenge (in #2) any implication that "natural" means "without God," that "if it isn't a miracle then God didn't do it," that natural events "count against God" in our worldview-thinking about divine action.
      Regarding a feeling that #1 is necessary because God would create non-naturally in a detectable way to clearly show that he created (so it's more persuasive for apologetic arguments and for evangelism), in the Bible we see that God does not always try to be maximally persuasive.  For example, after his resurrection Jesus did not appear publicly in downtown Jerusalem;  and God does not give everyone a compelling Damascus Road experience, as with Paul in Acts 9.  God seems to want a "balance of evidence" so we have some evidence (personal, interpersonal, scientific, historical) for and against various worldviews, but there is no proof.  Therefore, each of us has freedom to choose what we want to believe (which is influenced by how we want to live) and the lack of certainty forces each of us — no matter what we believe in our unique personal worldview — to live by faith in what we believe.   {for more about evidence and proof, see CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS & POSTMODERN RELATIVISM}