Monday, 10 November 2008
More Thoughts on Intelligent Design and Theodicy
Deus absconditus (the hidden God) is not clearly and widely manifest in the world, but here and there, like touches of dappled sunlight, divine action seems to break through. The rest, though, is darkness of human sin and the inescapable unpleasantness of physical existence.
The most obvious challenge to "Intelligent Design" is that it is merely a form of "God of the Gaps" theology, in which God is invoked to explain things that are currently beyond either our theories or our imagination. Natural selection is perfectly adequate to explain (say) mammalian morphology, but when it comes to (say) the mechanism of ciliary action, we don't have surviving instances of any intermediate stages, and we can't imagine what they might have been, so the propenents of ID usher in God as the explanation. This seems both unscientific and intellectually feeble.
Might it be reasonable to expect God's action in creation to be similar to his apparent mode of action in the here-and-now universe? Most of the time it is a chaotic maelstrom of mere material cause and effect, on which the mischoices of the human will are superimposed; but where an opening exists, God is able to act. Where a human soul opens itself in prayer, there is an option for the divine. The problem with applying this to the non-human world is that it requires some kind of vitalist theory of the universe: the heterodox notion that something analogous to free will is possessed by elements within inanimate nature. Without this, there is no logic to the occasions on which God acts: why should he so beautifully design the biochemistry of the cell, and then sit back while parasitic insects chew their way through the larvae of other species? I am not convinced.