Friday, October 8, 2010

Reviewing Intelligent Design

Intelligent design (ID) has been much in the news over the last few years. Advocates of ID assert that an intelligent cause is indicated by such things as the fine-tuning of the universe for life and the complexity of even the simplest cell. This conclusion has been fiercely contested by many Darwinists, who believe that everything can be explained in terms of purely natural causes. Darwinists charge that science should restrict itself to natural causes and that ID, to the extent that it posits supernatural causes, is thereby non-science. Here we review two recent books promoting intelligent design.

Darwin Strikes Back: Defending the Science of Intelligent Design by Thomas Woodward, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Mich. 2006. Paperback, 223 pages.

Thomas Woodward, professor at Trinity College in Florida, is a specialist in the rhetoric of science. In this book he scrutinizes the struggle between ID and Darwinism over the last decade or so. He introduces the key players on each side. These include ID proponents such as Michael Denton, Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, William Dembski, and Jonathan Wells, as well as ID critics such as Richard Dawkins, Michael Ruse, and Eugenie Scott. Woodward describes the main ID arguments in detail, particularly as they relate to the origin of life. Among these are the irreducible complexity of proteins and cells, Dembski's explanatory filter, problems with the fossil record, and flawed arguments for naturalistic evolution. Woodward examines Darwinist responses to ID arguments and subsequent ID rebuttals to the Darwinists. He concludes that the case for ID has withstood the Darwinist attack and that the ID movement is gaining momentum.

This book is timely and well written. Woodward's review of the chief books on both sides will be useful references for those who want to study ID in more depth. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to understand the issues involved in ID and who wants solid ammunition against Darwinism.

Nevertheless, a word of caution is in order. Like many supporters of ID, Woodward limits himself to scientific arguments; no biblical evidence is discussed. He merely presents the case that the universe bears marks of intelligent design, stopping short of speculating about the identity of the designer or how the design was imposed. As such, the book is a good attack on Darwinism but does not present a detailed Christian alternative. Indeed, many defenders of ID have no problem with evolution as such, as long as it is somehow directed by God.

Why the Universe is the Way it is by Hugh Ross, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Mich. 2008. Paperback, 235 pages.

In many ways Hugh Ross's book complements the previous one. Ross is the president of Reasons to Believe, an apologetics organization that promotes Old Earth creationism but rejects evolution. This book is largely an update of material found in earlier books written by Ross over the last two decades.

Whereas Woodward concentrated on the biological indications of design, Hugh Ross examines the astronomical evidence. Why, he asks is the universe as vast, old, and dark as Big Bang cosmology entails? Why do we live on this particular planet? Ross argues that the universe in general, and the earth in particular, are fine-tuned for the existence of intelligent life and for the development of science.

Ross cites many features of the universe that certainly suggest design. Much of the evidence, however, depends strongly on the assumed correctness of Big Bang cosmology, which Ross claims has been confirmed beyond reasonable doubt. Such a high assessment of big bang cosmology is, however, unwarranted. Ross ignores major problems associated with big bang cosmology and exaggerates the deficiencies of alternative cosmologies.

Regarding apologetics, Ross goes much further than Woodward in arguing that the evidence indicates not just any designer but specifically the God of the Bible. According to Ross, the Bible accurately predicted the major features of the origin and history of the universe thousands of years before science was developed. He asserts, "on all counts scientific investigation perfectly verifies the biblical details". This remarkable predictive success, argues Ross, affirms the reliability of the Bible. Hence we can trust what the Bible has to say regarding the deeper purpose of the universe and its future transformation into the New Creation.

Did the Bible really predict big bang cosmology, as Ross claims? Taking a verse such as "who stretches out the heavens" (Job 9:8), Ross infers that the Bible teaches that the universe has expanded continuously from the beginning. Ross even has a graph purporting to show that the alleged biblical rate of cosmic cooling closely matches the astronomical observations. This seems rather a hermeneutical stretch.
Further, to get the desired biblical timescale Ross stretches the creation days into long periods of time; to get the desired order of creative events, he argues that the Sun and marine life were actually created on Day 1, rather than on Days 4 and 5. All of this involves dubious exegetical gymnastics. In fact, Ross's "biblical predictions" are not really predictions at all: they were not read into the biblical text until recently, after the fact, under pressure to conform to naturalistic science. Thus, Ross's "proof" of the scientific reliability of the Bible is not convincing, particularly as it requires a major rewrite of Genesis.

Summing up, positively, this book contains various interesting pointers to design in astronomy and has the commendable apologetic goal of convincing unbelievers of the biblical God. Ross rightly challenges the naturalistic interpretation of science. Unfortunately, he has still bought far too heavily into mainstream science, thereby compromising biblical truth.

1 comment:

  1. Here's the problem (well, one of many). The ID proponents now tell us that they are NOT making a case for anything supernatural, they only wish to argue that what we see around us MUST have had a designer.

    There is a logic problem with that however. Let's assume that we find a designer for the things we see, some alien race from another planet. Well, the next logical question is, who created them? Surely they had to have had a creator too. Then who created the designer's designer and so on. Eventually you are left with one of two possibilities...

    1. There is a supernatural creator of the first race of creators OR

    2. The original creators evolved naturally.

    But if #2 is correct then why couldn't OUR world have evolved naturally? If #1 is correct then they ARE indeed arguing for the supernatural which is outside the realm of science.

    Can't have your cake and eat it too guys!


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