Faith in Focus

Intelligently Designed



“Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” Rom 1:20,21


This Scripture text teaches that man knows God and something of His nature through what He has made. For this reason man is without excuse for not worshipping and thankfully serving Him. But for more than 100 years scientists have maintained that there is nothing in the universe that gives any evidence that God even exists, let alone what He is like.


Science Eliminated God

Scientists are like big children. They ask lots of questions. How does this work? Why does that happen? Where does this come from? A child is often satisfied with a general answer: God made it; God causes it to happen. But scientists want more specific answers. They are not satisfied with the general answer, God causes the moon to circle the earth. They seek, not the ultimate cause, but a proximate (near) cause. Sadly, however, most scientists are not believers. Over the past 200 years as scientists discovered more and more, the gaps in our knowledge of how the universe works began to decrease. As a result God was moved further and further into the background as unnecessary. Scientists began to believe that the remaining gaps would be filled through continuing investigation, observation, and study. Then we would have an explanation of everything. So why not dismiss God now since we won’t need Him in the near future anyway?

To give credence to this way of thinking—that God is only needed to give an explanation for what we don’t understand—the philosophy of naturalism (sometimes called materialism) lent its support. This philosophy claims that the world of nature, the world of matter and energy, is all there is. So, according to the philosophy of naturalism, every effect we observe in the universe must have a natural cause. If matter and energy is all there is, then the task of science is to discover the natural causes of all that happens in the universe. A supernatural intelligence is ruled out. So any explanation of the way this universe operates must be solely in terms of things within the universe. Any explanation that refers to something outside of nature is by (the new) definition not science.

For example, if the moon circles the earth, then science should seek to discover what natural cause is responsible for this effect. The ancient scientists argued that there must be some invisible hand (God’s hand?) pushing the moon around the earth because, as every child knows, if an object is not continually pushed, it quickly stops. Isaac Newton, in the 16th Century, said that the large masses of the moon and the earth cause a force of attraction called gravity between the moon and the earth. Thus the moon is pulled toward the earth while at the same time the inertia of the moving moon tries to keep it moving in a straight line away from the earth. The resulting tug-of-war means that the moon orbits the earth in a nearly circular path. How the earth could exert a force on the moon 380,000 km away was not explained. So early in the 20th Century, Einstein did away with this force-at-a-distance concept by saying that large masses actually change the ‘curvature’ of space so that the moon, while trying to move in a straight line, actually follows a curve because space is curved in the vicinity of the earth’s large mass.

It was all very neat and tidy. No God is needed to explain the motion of the moon around the earth. And so by extension there must be a natural explanation for everything! ... Well, that is a big leap of logic. Until the mid-19th Century it was certainly not acceptable that the existence of living things could be explained by natural causes. The now (in)famous Charles Darwin, however, changed that way of thinking. Within 50 years of the publication of his Origin of the Species, most scientists came to accept that natural causes could be found to explain the existence of all living things. Mind you, they didn’t know what those causes were. They didn’t know how the in-animate stuff comprising the un-living earth so arranged itself as to become alive. They didn’t know how reptiles became mammals. But that didn’t matter. Dawin had convinced them that such causes could be found. And the philosophy of naturalism was so deeply imbedded in the minds of scientists that they were sure it must be possible to find such causes even for the origin of living things.



Science Redefined

So in the 20th Century science came to be defined as the search for the natural causes of all things. Science and religion, it was believed, must be kept separate. The one must not be allowed to intrude into the domain of the other. Religion has to do with the non-material, the spiritual realm. (For most scientists this realm was non-real. Religion for them was useless fantasy because it concerned what did not exist as far as they were concerned.) Science on the other hand has to do with matter and energy, the real stuff of the universe and all that exists. Science seeks to find the “laws of nature” to discover the physical causes of the effects we observe. Religion seeks to palliate worried souls who can’t accept the hard reality of the universe as it actually is.

Even Christians fell into this trap. In the book Science Held Hostage, the authors Van Till, Young and Menninga (at the time professors of science at Calvin College) tell us that “science is the investigation of what can be known from within the physical world itself, without reference to anything that is nonphysical” (p.19). This is similar to a 1981 resolution of the American National Academy of Sciences’, "Religion and science are separate and mutually exclusive realms of human thought whose presentation in the same context leads to misunderstandings of both scientific theory and religious belief." What is really meant by this kind of language is that science is not allowed to refer to God. Scientists are not allowed to develop a theory for the development of the universe or the earth or living things that requires the guiding hand of an Intelligent Designer. Only physical processes and natural causes are allowed.

What an unthankful, atheistic, God-hating perspective has come over the world of science. This way of thinking about science is far removed from the perspective of Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, Johannes Kepler and most other scientists of the 17th and 18th Centuries. They understood science to be the study of the marvelous works of God leading to a greater appreciation of the wisdom and power of Him who made the heavens and the earth and all that is in them.


Intelligent Design is Necessary

But science can’t and doesn’t operate without reference to intelligent design. Science would be crippled if intelligent design could not be a factor in its considerations. Consider the science of paleontology (the study of fossils and early man). For some time certain chipped flint stones called eoliths were considered to be indicators of early man. Why? because they were considered to be designed and shaped by an intelligent being for a specific purpose. But further observation showed that such chips could be caused by the tumbling action of a mountain stream. Thus what was considered to be an artifact (something designed by an intelligent being for a specific purpose) was later consider to be the result of natural forces. So the study of eoliths was moved from paleontology to geology. Why? because it is much more likely that such chipped stones come from the tumbling action of a mountain stream than from the designing hand of early man. Note carefully that if intelligent design is not allowed to be a consideration in science, then such decisions could not be made.

On the other hand if you were doing some geological studies in the Black Hills of South Dakota and came upon four giant faces in the granite (faces resembling four U.S. presidents) you would certainly not attribute these remarkable formations to wind and water erosion. No, you would immediately conclude that this was the work of an artisan with a special purpose in mind. Why? because there is absolutely no evidence that wind and water erosion, regardless of how much time elapses, produces faces of U.S. presidents. If you tried to argue with the geology professor that such erosion is theoretically possible, therefore you prefer not to resort to a cause which depends on intelligent design, the professor would consider you mentally deranged. If you refused to believe your professor, he could produce historical evidence in the form of design drawings, news articles and eye-witnesses that in fact these four faces were the work of artisans.

  But in the case of historical sciences like paleontology and historical biology (which studies how living things have changed over time) we have no (non-biblical) design drawings, no news articles and no human eye-witnesses to provide evidence for design. And since the Bible is a religious book, its teaching regarding the design of the universe and living things is not allowed as evidence.

Nevertheless it is necessary to make judgments about design in these disciplines. This must be done to avoid fraud in the field of historical biology. The famous Piltdown Man discovered in 1911 is a well known fraud. But very recently other fraudulent “evidences” for evolution have caused major embarrassment as well as giving testimony to the gullibility of scientists who seek support for the supposed naturalistic causes of the evolution of all living things.

A few months ago National Geographic published the first pictures of a fossil creature that looked like a bird-dinosaur. It was hailed as a missing link, supporting a new theory that birds evolved from dinosaurs (contrary to the older theory that they evolved separately). But as was later discovered, the dinosaur looking tail had been artifically attached to the fossilised bird bones by some clever and now much richer Chinese farmers. [Proving without doubt that Chinese farmers have advanced farther on the evolutionary path than U.S. scientific journalists.]


Supernatural Design?

Ah, you say, distinguishing human intelligent design is important in science, but intelligent design by God is different. If God is allowed in the picture, then Christian scientists will have an easy way out. Whenever a difficulty arises, they will say, “God did it.” Scientific investigation will be killed. Science therefore cannot allow God as a cause. I beg to differ. The history of science teaches that belief in God was a powerful motivation to do hard scientific work.

So I ask, why is a supernatural designer not allowed in science? Naturalistic scientists will not allow God as a cause since their philosophy rules God out. But this naturalistic viewpoint is not a matter of scientific investigation. It is a matter of pre-scientific definition. So I ask, since one’s philosophic viewpoint (whether naturalism or theism) is not a matter of science, why is the naturalistic perspective allowed but not the theistic?

  Few scientists even well into the 19th Century would have had any difficulty with the statement of Isaac Newton, “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.” But after Darwin all that changed. The statement of George Gaylord Simpson in his book The Meaning of Evolution, p. 345, indicates the ‘official’ dogma of the scientific guild for the past 100 years: “Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind.”

But once again many scientists are beginning to acknowledge that intelligent design must be allowed in scientific theories. They are doing so because intelligent design is too obvious to avoid. The evidence is found everywhere, especially in the biological sciences. The book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, by Michael Denton, 1985, marked the beginning of a revolution in science called the Intelligent Design movement. Why? because as Denton powerfully and clearly argues, there is no way imaginable that the complex structures (the DNA molecule in particular) which are found in every living thing can be the result of natural processes. These structures (biochemical machines) are obviously designed for a specific purpose.


Design, But No Designer

Despite a deep seated naturalistic belief, scientists have seen the obvious design in living things. In the words of Richard Dawkins of Oxford (an ardent defender of Darwinian evolution), living beings are only “complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” The evidence for design is quite obvious but this evidence is, according to Dawkins, only an ‘appearance’. It’s as though Nature (the non-god of the naturalist) intended to deceive us. Dawkins seems to think that modern scientists are clever enough to see through Nature’s deception to the (supposed) reality that nature has no building plan behind it.

Only it isn’t working. The Intelligent Design revolution is well underway. There is a large group of post-doctoral scientists from many different philosophic and religious perspectives who have begun producing volumes, both on a popular level and at a very technical level, arguing for the obvious—intelligent design in nature. And not only arguing but actually doing science from the perspective of intelligent design. There is a reliable scientific method, formalized by mathematician and philosopher William Dembski (in The Design Inference, Cambridge University Press, 1998), for detecting designed objects and distinguishing them from the products of chance and impersonal laws. Scientists already use the design inference intuitively in fields such as cryptography, archaeology, paleontology and forensics. In these fields human design must be discovered. Now the design inference is being formally applied in biology and cosmology where non-human (or rather super-human) design is in evidence. The conclusion which some scientists are accepting is that nature's fine-tuned laws, the DNA sequences in living cells, and the irreducibly complex biochemical systems in living things are intelligently designed.

But interesting, sad and ironic is the fact that many of these intelligent design scientists still do not believe in the Intelligent Designer! Somehow they live with a contradiction: the universe and living things in particular are intelligently designed but there is no Intelligent Designer. “The fool has said in his heart, There is no God.”

Despite the cries of ‘foul’ from some quarters, the intelligent design movement is gathering strength. As Christians we may give thanks to God for this development. It is a confirmation of our faith and an unwitting acknowledgement from science that “the heavens are telling the glory of God” and that “His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made”.


Mr Bruce Hoyt is the Minister of the Reformed Church of Hastings.

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Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / / revised July 2000 / Copyright 2000