on 11 May 2007
William Dembski's book will undoubtedly provide Christians with just the sort of pseudo-scientific arguments they feel they need to combat the Darwinian bogey men. It will go down well in Christian theological colleges and will be welcomed by those who need to be reassured that, because it is the product of a Divine intelligence, all is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds.
But there is a snag, because embedded in the theory of Intelligent Design is a contradiction that is potentially fatal to belief in the Christian gospel. Dembski either does not know of this snag (which he should do) or he chose to ignore it (which he should not have done).
If you believe in an infinitely powerful and wise creator who stands apart from the universe, you are presented with a choice. Either you believe in a theistic God who intervenes in human affairs, or you believe in a deistic "intelligent design" God who, having formed the universe out of nothing and issued immutable laws for it to follow, withdraws and leaves it to run on without further intervention. You can't consistently believe in a God who intervenes in human affairs and yet does not intervene.
But here's the problem. Theism reduces God to a flawed creator who has to work miracles to keep his creation running in accordance with his will; while deism reduces God to a less than omniscient architect or designer whose design has resulted and continues to result in wars, starvation and general misery which he can't (or chooses not to) correct.
The contradiction implicit in believing either in an intelligent design God who (we feel) should intervene but doesn't, or a creator god who (we feel) shouldn't have to intervene, but does, is, I think, particularly fatal for the Christian religion, as belief in intelligent design rules out the need for the miracles of divine incarnation and bodily resurrection that are essential to the Gospel story; while belief in a creator who builds into creation original sin, eternal punishment and the need for salvation rules out the possibility of belief that the original design was the product of an omnipotent and omniscient intelligence in the first place.
The problem can be stated as a logical inference that might be expressed as "If design infinitely intelligent, then no requirement for Divine intervention; and if Divine intervention required, then design not infinitely intelligent."
The problem with Dembski's book is that it will reinforce the belief among Christians that that "science" can justify their beliefs. Sadly, the naivety of this belief only serves to discredit evangelists in the eyes of serious thinkers. Christians would do better to put Dembski and his like aside and make a leap of faith 'on the strength of the absurd', as Kierkegaard suggests in Fear and Trembling. Alternatively, they might consider studying Spinoza's argument for God and Nature being self-causing, and one and the same, infinite substance.