Intelligent Design 2.0?

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 11 2015 @ 11:43am


That’s what Damon Linker calls Eric Metaxas’ claim (behind a WSJ paywall, alas) that science increasingly makes the case for God. His summary of Metaxas’ argument:

Metaxas’ argument is quite simple. As recently as a few decades ago, physicists presumed that life had most likely emerged and evolved spontaneously on planets throughout the galaxy and universe, producing a cosmos veritably teeming with intelligent beings. But in more recent years, scientists have become far more circumspect, noting the enormous number of factors that must be present — on specific planets, in particular star systems, and in the universe as a whole — for life to emerge and evolve. These factors — sometimes called “anthropic coincidences” — are so numerous and involve such stupefyingly improbable outcomes that they point toward the existence of a cosmic designer who established the precise conditions for the emergence and evolution of life on Earth. And perhaps only on Earth.

The problem with such arguments? Linker holds that all Metaxas has done is update natural theology, which stretches back to Plato and Aristotle, and “doesn’t demonstrate the existence of the God of the Bible”:

The biblical God actively creates the universe and each specific form of life, with human beings created in his own image. He is a jealous, and sometimes angry, God.

He regularly intervenes in human lives and history, even selecting the Jews to be his chosen people. He promises rewards and punishments (while often leaving the criterion of judgment mysterious). In two New Testament passages (Matthew 10:30; Luke 12:7), Jesus Christ claims that God cares about every hair on every single human head. The Christian theological tradition even goes so far as to propose that the creator of the universe became incarnate in human form, living and dying an excruciating death in a gratuitous act of love that makes possible the redemption of humanity.

What Metaxas is really showing in his column is a simplified form of natural theology, and not at all an example of theological reflection based on divine revelation. That isn’t a criticism. It’s a statement of fact — a fact that severely complicates any attempt to treat his scientifically based speculations as providing evidence for the God that most Americans profess to believe in.

The Roman Catholic philosophy Francis J. Beckwith likewise urges believers to resist the temptation to latch onto scientific evidence that seems – for the moment, at least – to support God’s existence:

God – as understood by the Catholic Church and by most other theistic traditions – is not a being in the universe, a superior agent whose existence we postulate in order to explain some natural phenomenon, but rather, Being Itself, that which all contingent reality depends for its existence.

In order to appreciate how this understanding differs from Metaxas’ Watchmaker God, suppose in a few years scientists tell us, after further research, new discoveries, and confirmed theories, that the arising of life in the universe is not that improbable after all. What then happens to Metaxas’ God? He is now superfluous, and Metaxas would have to concede that theists are once again irrational, as they apparently were when the (temporarily obsolete) God hypothesis was down for the count the last time science threw its best punch.

Given the arguments Metaxas summarizes in his essay, it is tempting for the theist to confidently tout such evidence. When faced with a cadre of globally accessible, and endlessly annoying, village atheists who posit the findings of science as defeaters to belief in God, there is nothing quite like the Schadenfreude of pointing out to the self-appointed guardians of reason that they have been hoisted upon their own petard. But you should not acquiesce to this temptation. For in doing so, you concede to the atheist his mistaken assumption that the rationality of belief in God depends on the absence of a scientific account of whatever phenomenon is in question.

Dreher nods, adding that “order in creation does not prove God, but it is a sign pointing to God”:

Even if God’s existence could be proved, it changes nothing; even the devil believes in God, but rejects Him. God desires to live in communion with us. Recognizing His existence with the intellect is only a start. He wants not our minds, but our hearts. In Kierkegaardian terms, God is a subjective truth — a truth that can only be known by appropriating it with the most passionate inwardness. We don’t know God like we know the Second Law of Thermodynamics; we know God like we know the love of our father.

(Julius Schnorr’s sketch of God the Father, circa 1860, via Wikimedia Commons)