The Counterpoint Series published by Zondervan seeks to bring together different views on controversial and not-so-controversial topics to foster the charitable discussion of across the spectrum of Christian belief.
The basic format of the book is that each author presents their view in an essay, to which each of the other authors writes a response. Then the author responds with a rejoinder. This is a bit like a debate format, except each author gets to consider and edit their responses.
Well-versed in the young earth and progressive creationist views, I read this book for the interaction between the evolutionary creation and intelligent design views. And it did not disappoint. Up to a point.
The most substantial point of debate for the essay for me was with the biologos contributor regarding the risk of the argument and the interpretation of the evidences presented in rebuttal. One of the challenges in these kinds of debates is that I am a non-specialist in the biological sciences. That said, most people are not specialists in the biological sciences either. Or geology, astronomy, or climatology. At some point we choose someone to trust. It’s all a bit specialist in the science side to be able to know who is most informed and interpreting the evidence properly.
Reading up on intelligent design in Creation, Evolution and ID, it seems that a large part of ID is concerned with responding to the challenge for naturalists posed by the origin of biological information, rather than irreducible complexity which is probably what most people think of when they think ‘intelligent design’ – the concept was mentioned but a couple of times in the entire essay by my recollection. At least, this is what Meyer focused on, particularly in terms of the question of causal adequacy: What natural processes are causally adequate to explain the origin of the information system of the genetic code? What kinds of causes are sufficient to give rise to the observed effects? For information such as we find in DNA, the IDs argue, only some kind of intelligence is sufficient for this kind of effect. In contrast to Francis Collins, the position elucidated by Meyer was NOT about God tinkering at key points or saying this feature is designed v evolved, but rather a question as fundamental as the origin of life itself… To paraphrase some naturalists quoted by Meyer, without information, there’s no life…
Reflecting on the debate, I was challenged in some ways and became more convinced of some convictions. Importantly, there is a risk in whatever approach one takes of tying one’s faith too heavily to a particular scientific understanding. Not only because of our own limitations, scientific knowledge is constantly growing and changing over time. Whilst Ken Ham thinks that’s a good reason to embrace his view, in Hugh Ross’ testable creation model, Ross welcomes change, taking the position of observing the direction in which evidence accumulates, with regard to the age of humans, creatures, the earth and universe. Nevertheless, the interpretations given of ancient texts read through the lens of modern science would have made little to no sense to the text’s original audience. While Ross has helped me become familiar with the evidence for an old universe from astronomy – and his book Why The Universe Is The Way It Is is an excellent introduction to these evidences and the universe’s teleology – the concordist approach is too big a stretch of the text.
We can do more to appreciate the whole picture and the details of God’s majesty and creative power every moment and include others in that experience. We can’t witness the creation, yet everything we see has been created by an outworking of God’s natural laws in operation (like babies, sunsets, plants) and what his laws and providence enable to happen (i.e. engineering medicine phones) as serving human needs too. None of it is miraculous in the sense of a suspension of regular laws of physics but it is miraculous because none of it existed before. It is gift.
In its own existence, the creation tells us about how great God is. All that is before us, is here because of Gods sustaining power and word. Yes, even with all our human tragedy. Knowing some of the specifics can enhance our appreciation of that and maybe some of us rightly fall in love the wonder of it all and want to spend their lives discovering the depths…
But unfortunately we can’t all be experts, and much of the scientific discussion often requires specialist knowledge, and so I feel may be we miss the forest before us for the tree rings by taking a reductionist approach when the beauty and integration of natural world in all its beauty and power of God is apparent, apparently, in creation. Not to take anything away from the importance of the debate on our search for truth or the expertise of the interlocutors, but some aspects of the debate is not likely to be accessible to those not already conversant in the details and so the book loses some of its impact.
The book is good in its clear articulation of the key views and would be good for newcomers to the debate. I am challenged by:
- Ham’s passion for evangelism (though not his method or interpretation, or necessarily even what he sees as at stake)
- Ross’ dedication to developing a testable scientific creation model (though his concordism is a big stretch at times)
- Haarsma’s gentle and reasonably critical approach
- Meyers clarity in his piece – although it was relatively narrow in scope, I realised I had believed a strawman re the central thesis of ID.
Unfortunately intelligent design is often reduced to the idea of irreducible complexity. However, the idea of causal adequacy for information – what kinds of causes can produce the observed effects – is a consideration I feel deserves greater attention as potentially a stronger argument for the existence of God than complexity. Intelligent agents are to our knowledge the only causes sufficient for producing the effects of information systems.
Does this mean I will convert to intelligent design? In a sense I already am. I believe there is an intelligent designer behind it all. But the intelligence and the design is seen not just in the minutiae of the cell but in our creaturely bodies and in the grand picture; the way the parts function together as a whole; the flow of nutrients and chemicals around the globe that allow life to exist; the water cycle, the seasons; how each organism plays a role in a broader ecosystem. The way it all works together.