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Evolution vs. Intelligent Design: Philosophy or History?

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I’m  wondering how much of the creation/evolution debate is caught up in the labels of “Evolution,” “Creation,” and “Intelligent Design.” I say this because of the popularly understood notions of what these labels mean. While you personally may not regard evolution as beginning with the idea that God does not (or must not) exist the published works indicate that the evolutionary idea propagated in public schools does begin from that starting point. I think for most Evangelicals this is where the rub gets raw. Most of us do not object to the teaching of evolution as a theory to explain the process of life or even origins (though we disagree), rather we object to teaching evolution as a finally proven conclusion with no room for another possibility, or leaving out the possibility that the evidence could point to a Designer.
The commonly understood ideas of “Creation” or “Intelligent Design,” for those who have not explored the topic beyond reading the general press reports, gravitates toward 6-day creation positions, Young Earth vs. Old Earth, miraculous intervention (spontaneous creation by an outside force) and so on. In point of fact, Intelligent Design is not necessarily about any of these issues. Intelligent Design is about whether observation of the evidence can lead to a conclusion that creation is the result of an intelligent agent. Or in the case of some, whether the observation can lead to a conclusion that the process of evolution apart from an intelligent agent is the best explanation. Even some in the Intelligent Design movement still regard evolution as the best scientific explanation for the process of creation, but not its origins.
In the whole debate of whether or not Intelligent Design is science, let’s remove the preconceptions that seem to go along with the terms Evolution, Creation, and Intelligent Design. In fact, let’s remove those labels all together and simply place all of these issues under the banner of “Origins.” Possible questions could then be:
  • Can the observable, cumulative evidence lead to the conclusion that evolution, without an intelligent cause, is the preferred method of explaining scientific origins?
  • Can the observable, cumulative evidence lead to the conclusion that an intelligent agent, with or without evolution, is the preferred method of explaining scientific origins?

This is much better than simply saying, “There is no God,” or “God did it.” If there is no God then we can embark on discovering the process. If there is a God, we can still embark on that same discovery. Better yet, notice what is not said in my questions. They don’t assume “God” in the Christian sense, or Islamic, or Hindu, or anything else, only an “intelligent agent” that is purposefully undefined. The questions don’t assume Young Earth or Old Earth theories specific to different wings of the creationist debate. They don’t assume opposing theories of evolution such as Process- or Spontaneous Evolution. Nor do these questions assume that evolution is necessarily excluded from the debate as a process whereby life on earth propagated. They simply frame the central issue of the debate. Is creation or in this specific case, the origin of life “caused” or “uncaused” by an intelligent agent? That is the specific issue that Intelligent Design raises—with or without religion. More to the point: Does (or can) the available evidence indicate a designer?

Finally, let me raise one more issue. Some people say that religion does not belong in science classes. Forgetting for the moment that the modern scientific process was birthed out of religious principles found in Catholicism and the Protestant Reformation, there is an assumption by many that religion deals with the “philosophy” of life over the “facts” or “history” of life. Perhaps I’m not framing this part of my discussion very well, if so, forgive me. Religion, in the case of Christianity, is notabout philosophy. Its very foundation is that God is a real person in real human history, past, present, and future, interacting with man in that history.

The Bible portrays God as much an equal part of the normal flow of history and life as you and I. There is a tendency by some to regard Christianity as a philosophy that like many philosophies are interesting mental exercises in theory, but not truly connected to real life, or in this case, history. The Bible itself is often regard as a book of philosophy instead of how the text presents itself, as a collection of historical accounts.
If Christianity and Intelligent Design (the two are not synonymous) are nothing more than philosophies then yes; they belong in a philosophy class as opposed to a science class. This is important because in the final analysis the debate over origins is not really a debate about science; rather it is a debate about history and reality. Putting aside the specifics about Intelligent Design for a moment, Christianity asserts that God is a real person who exists, and not only injected Himself into human history but that He is the originator of that history. In this sense Christianity and Intelligent Design do have something in common. One is predicated on the idea of a Creator; the other can lead to that idea. Evolution as it is taught in public schools today begins with the premise that there is no Creator and in fact I believe it goes further by beginning with the prejudice: There must not be a Creator. And THAT is an untestable assumption/hypothesis that does not belong in a science class.
If there is a Creator as the intelligent agent behind creation then we must ask questions about what our responsibilities might or might not be to that Creator. This where the rub gets raw for many opponents of Intelligent Design, or even Christianity in general, the notion that the normal evidences of life lead to the idea of a Creator to whom you and I might be responsible. Some might think that this is a big jump to go from the debate over origins to personal responsibility to a Creator, but I don’t think so. Evolution is routinely and consistently offered in schools and the media as the scientific evidence that there is no Creator, and thus, there is no objective morality or standard of behavior. Thus we see that science and religion in this case are not as separate as many opponents of Intelligent Design might feign. If the evolutionary theory of origins is popularly used in classrooms to make the case that there is no God (and it is used in this way regularly), then why can’t observations leading to conclusions of an intelligent agent allow students to entertain the idea that the opposite might also be true? This does not threaten the science in any way; only the preconception that some have that science must be devoid of God in order to be science.
If science is in part the discovery of how things work, then automatically discounting the possibility of an intelligent agent for our origins stops short of what could be the greatest discovery of all. Assuming the possibility of an intelligent agent does not stop the questions. On the contrary, it invites an entirely new class of questions and discovery about the meaning of life. For some, that is the greatest discovery of all.