Tuesday, August 21, 2007

God's ID

In a couple of recent posts on creation (here & here), I touched on the argument from design. This is an old and often used apologetic strategy. Thomas Aquinas the medieval theologian made use of the appearance of design in nature as one of the five "proofs" of God's existence. William Payley the 18th century apologist popularised the argument from design with his famous illustration of a watch that just could not have been created by random forces. The modern Intelligent Design movement represents an attempt to use design arguments to refute atheistic Darwinism and prove the existence of a great Designer. Evangelical Christians have been quick to welcome "ID". But the Bible does not use arguments from design to prove or infer God's existence. It simply states, "In the beginning God created" (Genesis 1:1). We accept this by faith. This is not a blind or irrational belief. Every human being has an inbuilt sense of God that is reinforced by what God has revealed of himself in creation. In the face of such internal and external revelation, it is unbelief that is blind and irrational.
But as I suggested in my earlier posts, the design argument needs to be carefully qualified. ID apologetics often fails to take into account the disastrous effects of the fall upon the natural environment. Arguing from this present creation to prove the existence of God has the potential to cause all kinds of problems.
ID spokesmen argue that a design demands a designer therefore a designing god must exist. But even Christian proponents of intelligent design admit that ID cannot disclose much about the nature of this god beyond the notion that he designed the universe. Some non-Christian ID theorists have speculated about what a designer god may be like. This is cosmologist Paul Davies' vision of god,
"...it is possible to imagine a supermind existing since the creation, encompassing all the fundamental fields of nature, and taking upon itself the task of converting an incoherent big bang into the complex and orderly cosmos we now observe; all accomplished entirely within a framework of the laws of physics. This would not be a God who created everything by supernatural means, but a directing, controlling, universal mind pervading the cosmos and operating the laws of nature to achieve some specific purpose". (God and the New Physics by Paul Davies, Penguin, 1990, p. 210).
Davies hopes that, "Such a picture of God might well be enough to satisfy most believers." (p. 211). It certainly does not satisfy me! Could Psalm 104 be addressed to such a god? Could it save me from sin? Could I make it my chief end to glorify this "supermind" and enjoy it forever? Davies' god falls far short of the God of the Gospel. A distinctly Christian apologetic cannot be content with simply arguing for some kind of designer god.
Does the argument from design, then have any role in Christian theology and apologetics? In my opinion, ID may not legitimately be used to argue from design to a designer god. But ID may be used to demonstrate that the fundamental Christian presupposition regarding God's existence and creative power is borne out by reality. Stuart Burgess does this successfully in his book He made the stars also (Day One Publications, 2001 - here). Burgess begins by setting out the biblical account of creation, "By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, all the host of them by the breath of his mouth" (Psalm 33:6). He then goes on to show that the cosmos with its order, design and beauty reflects the power and wisdom of the Creator. Observed reality is consistent with underlying biblical presuppositions. The book succeeds in giving the reader a real sense of wonder at God's amazing universe. Burgess also reminds us that our Maker has acted to save us from sin through the Lord Jesus Christ. Geoff Thomas, wrote in the foreword , "Both our world and the heavens seem to sparkle with a new identity as a consequence of this book." That is exactly what creation apologetics should do.
God's ID as in his identity as the Triune Lord of covenant love is only disclosed in the fullness of biblical revelation. Speculation regarding his identity on the basis of intelligent design is a contradiction of the most basic principles of Christian theology. We cannot truly know God by our own powers of reasoning. He must disclose himself to us. God has done this above all through his Son, Jesus Christ. The revelation of God in Christ is received by the Spirit's witness in and through the Scriptures. Christians are not theists in the general sense of the word meaning that we believe that there is a god. We believe in the mighty God of the Gospel. As our Creator and Redeemer, he alone is worthy of our adoration and praise. It is him that we proclaim to a world of lost sinners,
Look to me and be saved,
All you ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there
is no other.
(Isaiah 45:22)


Andrew and Carolyn said...

A really good, thought provoking post, Guy. Your statements articulate many of my own sentiments on this issue. ID can quickly become a life ring which evangelicals cling to in the face of declining influence and a (supossed) lack intellectual credibility in our secular age. You strike a good balance between crediting the creation with declaring God's glory and convicting man's conscience, and weighing the more harmful implications of ID.

The opening of Robert L. Reymond's 'New Systematic Theology' is good on this as he eschews the normal formula of showing the rational arguments for the existence of God.

Exiled Preacher said...

Hi Andrew,

Yes, I'm trying to assess ID from the point of view of presuppositional apologetics. Reymond is helpful on this as is John Frame. I got IVP's New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics from Aber. It has a useful article by Frame on Presuppositionalism.

The big problem with the whole ID project is that it's dominated by scientists and engineers. They don't always have a strong enough grasp of the theological implications of their arguments.