Intelligent design? Did God have to intervene?

Intelligent design has caused huge division, particularly in the United States. In a nation that is predominantly Christian, the debate is not just between atheists and theists. Rather, even within the Christian community, there is deep divide about the influence that God had in bringing about human life. In this article, we set aside the question of whether or not God exists. Instead, starting with the premise that God does exist, we ask whether or not intelligent design makes sense.

The real question is: After God created the universe, did he continually intervene so as to bring about the evolution of life and human beings, or did this happen as a result of natural processes such as genetic mutations and natural selection? Many Christians feel that the natural selection viewpoint implies that life and the evolution of humanity is something akin to a random occurrence or accident, and that given the complexity and special nature of human beings, such a viewpoint cannot possibly be correct. Furthermore, if each and every one of us has a soul, and the human body is a vehicle for this soul, how could it not have been designed? Other Christians, however, have seen the compelling evidence for natural selection as the driver of evolution, and feel that to disregard this evidence is to bury our heads in the sand.

So, can we believe in God, believe we each have a soul, believe in heaven, and yet not believe that God created and designed human beings? The answer is that we do not have to. As we shall see, whether we believe that evolution was driven by divine intervention, or by the forces of nature, it is still quite correct to say that God created and designed human beings. The reason is simple: if God is both omniscient and omnipotent, then when he created the universe, he knew exactly how life would evolve and how human beings would come about. It is similar to shooting an arrow at a deer: although our action may be to simply pull an arrow against a bowstring and subsequently release, anyone would agree that by doing so, we kill the deer. It would be absurd to argue that the laws of gravity and momentum killed the deer, and that we had no part in it. Similarly, for an omniscient God, creating the universe such that human beings would evolve, and directly creating human beings, amounts to the same thing.

Hence, the dispute is not over whether God created human beings. Instead, it is the less controversial question of whether the initial creation was enough to bring about human beings, or whether God subsequently intervened to bring them about. Those arguing for the latter viewpoint are effectively arguing for a less powerful god, because their viewpoint raises the question: “why did God have to intervene?”.

Returning to our arrow analogy, suppose that God were to shoot an arrow at a deer. We then ask, would the arrow take its course and hit the deer, or would God have to subsequently intervene to ensure that the deer is struck? Two possibilities that might require intervention are (1) if the deer were to move, or (2) if the wind were to change and blow the arrow off course. This implies that there are forces outside of God’s knowledge, such as the wind, or the will of the deer. Therefore, intervention is required if God is not completely omniscient.

Even if God is omniscient, intervention may still be required. Suppose that the deer is far away and the arrow cannot reach it. God may not be able to achieve the force necessary to strike the deer without breaking the string of his bow. The argument here is that, if God is bound by the laws of nature, then it may not be possible for him to create an initial universe in which human beings are guaranteed to evolve. This implies that God is bound by the laws of nature, and thus his omnipotence has limits.

So we are left with two cases in which intervention is required: The first is that God is not completely omniscient, and thus his initial creation may not lead to the results that he wants, necessitating later intervention. The second is that God is not completely omnipotent but is rather bound by the laws of nature, and that it is impossible to create a creation that leads to human beings within the bounds of these laws.

As a final point, we note that we can also disregard divine intervention as a possibility, and yet still not believe that genetic mutations and natural selection alone explain the evolution of human beings. To make a final return to the arrow analogy, the path of an arrow cannot be completely described without considering the phenomenon of air resistance. Similarly, there may be a third, completely natural factor, that has also contributed to evolution. Currently, scientists tell us that such a factor is unnecessary to explain the observed evolution of life, but perhaps that will change.

As always, the goal of this site is not to argue for one position over another, but rather to encourage people to think about why they believe what they do. For those who believe that God created human beings, we point out that such a belief can be perfectly consistent with natural selection. For those who insist upon subsequent divine intervention, we ask them why: is it because God is not completely omniscient, or because he is not completely omnipotent? Or perhaps you will come up with another reason, such as that he changed his mind about how the creation should look. Whatever your viewpoint, we encourage thinking about it, challenging it, and asking whether it really makes sense. It is sad that people become so emotional and caught up in this debate over intelligent design, and yet despite their willingness to attack the convictions of others, they have seldom investigated their own.

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Integrity: honesty about beliefs

Integrity is an important aspect of spiritual inquiry. We must be congruent in our words, actions, and thoughts. However, many of us do not actually believe what we say we believe. We claim to believe in God, and yet in our hearts we are atheists. Or we profess to the world and to ourselves that we are atheist, but deep down we believe in God. This lack of integrity causes problems in our spiritual development, and also impedes the progress of those around us.

It is commonly said in psychology that the first step in progressing forward is acknowledgement – to be honest with ourselves. The same is true of spirituality. It is very difficult to make spiritual progress if we do not first admit our own beliefs. It is like using a map to find directions, but without knowing where we start from. We must be honest with ourselves, and we must also be honest with others. If we are not honest with others, then we usually end up lying to ourselves, and furthermore, our dishonesty may lead them astray. In addition, we must respect the right of others to be honest and open about their own beliefs without fear of judgement.

Religion is a major cause of people’s dishonesty about their beliefs. The reason is that many religions, particularly the theistic ones, tell us what we ought to believe. In fact, we are often told that believing some certain set of things is what will determine our salvation. This is a problem, because it leads people into trying to convince themselves that they believe something, whereas belief is not a choice. We cannot consciously change our beliefs. We can only question them with an open mind, and allow them to evolve of their own accord.

Hence, instead of trying to believe this or that, in accordance with society’s beliefs or what our religion tells us to believe, we should focus on discovering what we truly believe. When we learn to recognize these closely guarded beliefs, we open the door to change. We should never be ashamed of our beliefs, and nor should we try to make them one way or another. All we have to do is be honest about them, maintain integrity, and challenge them and question them on every step of the way.

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