Changing the world with ID?

A measure of the "Intelligent Design" movement and how conservative Christians can relate to it

Timothy G. Standish, Ph.D., is a research scientist at the Geoscience Research Institute, Loma Linda, California.

A new movement is emerging in the scientific world. Called Intelligent Design (or ID), the movement asks a question: "Is it possible to detect intelligent design, if the designer is unknown?" The answer is a simple "Yes."

The only time complication seems to arise is when this question is asked of nature. Is it possible to detect intelligent design in hieroglyphics? Yes. Is it possible to detect intelligent design in flint arrowheads? Yes. Is it possible to detect intelligent design in the pews of a church? Yes. Is it possible to detect intelligent design in the incredibly complex and elegant molecular machines within our cells? Many would say that to even ask this question is going too far.


Two and a half years ago I attended a conference at Baylor University called "The Nature of Nature." One of the most striking scenes of the conference was a confrontation at the end of Michael Behe's presentation.

Mike is a leader in the ID movement. The confronter, a molecular geneticist I idolized in graduate school, demanded that Mike admit in public who the intelligent designer is.

It was a surreal scene, with huffing and fuming on one side while Mike smilingly directed us back to the science he had been discussing.

Demands for clarification about who the implied designer is are common from opponents of Intelligent Design theory. If design is detected in nature, it only seems logical to ask who the designer is. Some people are, obviously, uncomfortable with what would appear to be the answer.

Interestingly, some believers in the biblical Creation are also demanding that ID state who the Designer is. Presumably the reason is not because they fear the answer, but because they view ID as somehow inadequate unless the answer they espouse, Jesus Christ (see John 1:1-3), is clearly stated.

Henry Morris, founder and president emeritus of the Institute for Creation Research, recently published an article entitled "Design Is Not Enough!'" in which ID is framed as inadequate unless God is acknowledged as the Designer. Mark Looy, another Christian at The Institute for Creation Research (ICR), suggests that ID theorists "are merely rejecting evolution (or at any rate the 'random' explanation of evolution) in favor of a generic notion of intelligent design, and this does not go far enough."2


Scientists committed to the philosophy of materialism believe the scientific study of Intelligent Design goes too far in rejecting the materialist Darwinian explanation of life's ori gin and by suggesting that an intelligent designer can be inferred from the evidence for design in nature. They wish ID would get off the fence, admit it is creationism and thus, in their opinion, become totally irrelevant.

On the other hand, some creationists believe ID theorists don't go far enough; they wish ID would get off the fence and join them in their battle to convince the world of the Bible's accuracy. It is ironic that from the perspective of believers and unbelievers, Intelligent Design is an uncomfortable fence sitting position.

Does, then, ID go far enough when a designer is inferred but not named? The answer is: Yes, No, and Maybe.

From the perspective of science, ID goes exactly as far as it needs to go and no further. ID goes just as far as the empirical evidence warrants, as does all good science.

Nature is clear that design was involved in the production of life. The evidence presented in books like Darwin's Black Box remains unrefuted and logically consistent with data from nature. No logically coherent natural cause for life has been proposed which accounts for the observed irreducibly complex molecular machines and information in living things, without appealing to speculative stories lacking empirical foundation.

On the other hand, ID clearly does not endorse the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; or the time scale of a six-day Creation within the last few thousand years.

Though not surprising or disturbing, this has caused some creationist Christians to believe ID does not go far enough. This view arises from an unfair expectation of what ID, or more specifically nature, can tell us about the God who gave us both nature and revelation.

Only so far

In Romans 1:20, Paul says: "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are with out excuse."

Clearly nature can get us to step one: realizing that there is a Creator. And this is what ID does. But it seems unlikely that, in its fallen state, the creation can tell the whole gospel story in terms we can understand.

The creation may paint clearly the broad brush-strokes of God's creative power, pointing humanity on a quest to know Him, but to take the quest further requires faith and understanding of Scripture.

For believing Christians, the answer to the question of whether ID goes far enough may be "No" if more is demanded of ID than ID can give. Science cannot fulfill the gospel com mission, and to suggest that it can, should, or might is silly.

If ID does go far enough from a scientific perspective, but yet does not scientifically prove Scripture true, or tell the gospel story, or identify the Designer as the Judeo-Christian God, what is an appropriate Christian response?

The most productive response, "Maybe," is illustrated by the Bible story of Moses and the burning bush, when Moses asked God for His name: "And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? What shall I say unto them?" (Exod. 3:13).

God's response, given in verse 14, is essentially what ID tells us: "And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you" (Exod. 3:14).

Going the distance

To His people enslaved in Egypt God says, Don't worry for the moment about exactly who I am. The important thing is that "I AM."

It was only later, after Israel had left Egypt, that God revealed more about Himself at Mt. Sinai. Moses and the people of God had to first understand that God the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob existed before they could act.

Once they acted, by leaving Egypt, God provided a more detailed revelation of Himself.

In the modern world God's people need to first understand that he exists that "HE IS" before they can take the next step: understanding who He is as revealed in Scripture.

ID is a plough, turning the sod and preparing old hard ground for planting. If Christians leave off with just ploughing, weeds will grow up and the field will be useless. To ensure the harvest, it is our job as Christians to be enthusiastically sowing and weeding.

Maybe ID is enough to start the process of opening minds to the Creator, but Christians must pick up their part of the load if souls are to be led all the way to the heart of God. Christians may choose to sit on their hands complaining that ID does not go far enough, thus ensuring that it does not.

Alternatively, we may carry our divinely initiated role by providing a logical and coherent Christ-centered follow-up to the revelation of nature, proclaiming to "every nation, kindred, tongue and people" (Rev. 14:6) that the Intelligent Designer revealed in science is indeed the God who gave His life blood for the sins of the world.

1 Henry M. Morris, 1999. "Design Is Not Enough!" Back to Genesis, 127a. <

2 Mark Looy, "It's Intelligent, But Is That Good Enough?" < docs2/42S7gc3-24-2000.asp>.



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Timothy G. Standish, Ph.D., is a research scientist at the Geoscience Research Institute, Loma Linda, California.

November 2003

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