Who (among Christians) doesn’t believe in intelligent design?

February 24, 2016

Recently, our very own United Methodist Church made news by preventing Seattle-based intelligent design advocacy group, Discovery Institute, from sponsoring an information table in the exhibit hall of our upcoming General Conference in Portland, Oregon. This is the first year that the UMC has allowed outside organizations to have such tables. These organizations help foot the bill for a very expensive conference.

Apparently, the Discovery Institute’s message is so dangerous that the UMC has to protect conference-goers from being exposed to it.

And what is that message? According to the Discovery Institute itself, the message is that “life and the universe show evidence of being the result of purposeful design rather than unguided processes.”

Taking the Discovery Institute’s claim at face value, what Christian doesn’t believe this? Who (among Christians) doesn’t think that the universe offers evidence of purposeful design? What’s wrong with an organization that attempts to make that case?

The committee responsible for the decision appealed to our Book of Discipline’s Social Principles, one of which (¶ 160 § F) says:

We recognize science as a legitimate interpretation of God’s natural world. We affirm the validity of the claims of science in describing the natural world and in determining what is scientific. We preclude science from making authoritative claims about theological issues and theology from making authoritative claims about scientific issues. We find that science’s descriptions of cosmological, geological, and biological evolution are not in conflict with theology.

Among other things, something called “science” doesn’t make authoritative claims about anything; scientists do. Inasmuch as scientists say that geology, biology, and cosmology can account for the creation of our universe and the origin and development of life independent of a Creator, these scientists are wrong. Indeed, they are making “authoritative claims about theological issues,” which also violates our Social Principles.

If officials at the UMC don’t think that scientists often make these claims, they’re not paying attention.

I get it: any scientific description of “how we got here” will leave God out. Because the scientific method excludes the metaphysical by definition. Therefore, while any such scientific description may be truthful as far as it goes, it will never go far enough.

Again, what’s wrong with saying so—especially to an audience of Christians?

33 Responses to “Who (among Christians) doesn’t believe in intelligent design?”

  1. Michael Hester Says:

    This is a bit if an overreaction. The exact term “Intelligent Design” refers to a specific line of thought proposed by a specific group. Personally, I have no problem with them having a table there, but there are plenty of people that believe the universe was designed intelligently that don’t subscribe to “Intelligent Design”.

    • brentwhite Says:

      That’s in part why I qualified the statement by saying, “taking the Discovery Institute’s claim at face value.” If they have some other purpose in this context, they’re not saying. They did tell the UMC, however, that they’re not interested in getting their ideas in science textbooks—which is another reason the UMC said they opposed them.

      But if I asked you, “Do you think that life and the universe offer evidence of purposeful design?” then you would surely agree with this, wouldn’t you? What Christian believer wouldn’t?

      I think the UMC concedes too much ground to science in this paragraph in the Book of Discipline, without addressing the real challenge that many scientists often pose to believing in God as Creator.

      Science is limited. It can only take us so far—which is not very far at all—toward understanding how we got here. Inasmuch as the Discovery Institute and other organizations play a role in clarifying this, I’m all for them. They certainly don’t deserve to be shunned—especially by a group of Methodists whose first-hand understanding of these issues is mostly limited to a ninth-grade science textbook that they only half-understood decades ago!

      Meanwhile, there are actual scientists on the payroll at the Discovery Institute—not to mention one fiercely contrarian polymath named David Berlinski who, intellectually speaking, can take on all comers.

      They’re not a bunch of crackpots.

  2. Tom Harkins Says:

    I agree that there are only claims of people claiming to be “scientists”; not “science says.” Plenty of “scientists” say things that contradict what other “scientists” say, with considerable frequency.

    Also, I agree that the Book of Discipline’s Social Principles statement that “We find that science’s descriptions of cosmological, geological, and biological evolution are not in conflict with theology” cedes way too much ground. In as much as “science” claims there is no direction to the universe (which is what “secular scientists” teach), that is incompatible with scripture. If all ID is saying is that the universe is not “directionless” but instead “intelligently designed,” then it is absurd to exclude them from a “Christian” forum! I am incensed!

    Of course, as you know from my prior comments as to earlier posts, I believe secular evolution is further inconsistent with scripture not only “generally” but also “specifically” as it denies the historicity of Genesis 1 & 2. Jesus himself invokes the Genesis account as being historical in speaking of Adam and Eve, for goodness sake! I guess the UMC is prepared to pass that off as well!

    • brentwhite Says:

      Right… Let’s ask everyone to put their cards on the table: if evolutionary biologists say that (inasmuch as evolution happened) evolution is an unguided process, then that, too, contradicts the Methodist paragraph cited above. I think that’s the message that most kids in school are getting, right? (It’s the message I got in school.) If the UMC isn’t going to point out that contradiction, I’m glad organizations like the Discovery Institute will.

      • Morbert Says:

        This probably needs some unpacking.

        Biologists say evolution is unguided insofar as it operates through the standard laws of physics and chemistry.

        Biologists (in their capacity as biologists) don’t say there is no telos. Evolutionary biology is silent on the issue.

        Creationist groups like the Discovery institute aren’t making a metaphysical argument for the existence of God a la William Lane Craig. They are explicitly misrepresenting science.

      • brentwhite Says:

        So you’re saying that there may be a telos, but biology isn’t in a position to say? I can go along with that. I only wish more scientists and science educators would remain “in their capacity” as scientists and science educators!

      • Grant Essex Says:

        If you really want to “bend your mind”, watch this little crash course in virtual reality:


    • brentwhite Says:

      But you know as well as I do that it’s also a question of “respectability.” No one wants to risk being perceived as unintelligent, and that’s how our culture paints anyone who raises questions about (especially) evolution. Never mind that in many cases these are people who know the science a lot better than you or I. Maybe they’re wrong, but at least they’re not simply “taking on faith” that these scientists are telling us the truth.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Yeah, respectability is the “big deal” that is behind most of this. Can’t recall exactly how it goes, but I believe there is a verse somewhere that says something like, “Beware when all men speak well of you.” And I would add, especially, all “unsaved” men; particularly, the “intellectual” ones.

  3. bobbob Says:

    it’s one of my fave topics. OH BOY!!! it is dangerous for any faith-based system to concede origins to science. but of course, science is faith-based itself. science can never satisfactorily answer the question of why something rather than nothing? it can’t. gravity is not nothing. physical laws aren’t nothing. and if they insist that the laws are indeed the ‘nothing’ starting, they concede the intelligent-design argument. as you know from your EE bkgnd, those laws are not devoid of intelligence. also, they and we believe in something that is eternal. Sagan categorically said so. Dr Neil too.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Right. Way back in 2010, I posted this: https://revbrentwhite.com/2010/05/18/a-new-clue-to-explain-existence-spare-me/

      It’s just laughable that someone could purport to explain “existence” by appealing to the preexistence of some kind of particle. “O.K., where does this particle come from?” And then Hawking does the same with quantum gravity. “O.K., where does that come from?” That very aggressive atheist physicist Lawrence Krauss apparently wrote a book about how the universe can come “from nothing,” except “nothing” in his case is not nothing in a philosophical sense—it’s nothing in the sense of a physical vacuum, with laws and physical structures already in place. Where did they come from?

      It’s a category error. Philosophically, nothing means not anything at all—including vacuums and quantum gravity or any physical laws.

      In what sense did Sagan and now deGrasse Tyson say they believe in eternity? Do they take the universe and physical laws as a “given” throughout eternity? Since those things, philosophically, don’t exist necessarily, then that evades the question, “Who created them?”

  4. Grant Essex Says:

    One thing about “settled science” that is always seems to be true: In twenty or thirty years, today’s settled science will be found to have been either incomplete, or downright wrong.

    My own view is that science is slowly, but surely, proving the existence of GOD!

    PS: and archaeology is slowly, but surely, proving the veracity of what’s contained in the Bible…

  5. Grant Essex Says:

    PPS: The restless mind of man still struggles with discovering the reason for his existence. What is his purpose? What will give meaning to his life. I can see no way to find a satisfactory answer in the world of science only. It is an endless search.

  6. Tom Harkins Says:

    Morbert, I am curious about your statement: “Creationist groups like the Discovery institute aren’t making a metaphysical argument for the existence of God a la William Lane Craig. They are explicitly misrepresenting science.” What are they “misrepresenting,” exactly? Evolution (whether of the stellar or biological varieties–the nomenclature doesn’t matter to me) says the “process” is “undirected” from any “outside” influence, correct? ID proponents say that is wrong, that there is “Intelligent design” guiding the “process.” So, ID is not “misrepresenting” secular evolutionary “science”–it is “disagreeing” with it.

    • Morbert Says:

      ID attempts to make scientific arguments against evolution. They misrepresent scientific bodies of knowledge in these arguments.

      Contrast this with philosophers like William Lane Craig, or scientists like Francis Collins who do not misrepresent science, but instead make metaphysical inferences from scientific research.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Morbert, you are, of course, assuming that your understanding of nature is the correct one. Many scientists (i.e., defined as persons with Ph.D’s in various scientific fields, as many in the ID field are) believe in an “ordered” universe, “designed.” In my estimation, this comports better with actual observations than a “random” explanation (“undirected”). So, again, this is not a case of misrepresentation, but of a legitimate difference of opinion.

      • Morbert Says:

        You’re still conflating ID with theology and metaphysics. Terms like “unguided” mean different things to different people. We must be precise in what it is we are stipulating.

        ID is not simply the position that God is why there is something rather than nothing. Francis Collins and William Lane Craig argue that God is responsible for the existence of the universe and the order it exhibits, but neither are ID proponents.

        ID is the position that non-random selection of mutations cannot account for some biological features, or for the complexity and functionality exhibited by living organisms. It is rejected by the scientific community.

        I.e. it is true that many scientists believe God created the universe, and that evolution is purposeful. It is not true that many scientists subscribe to ID, a fringe position.

        I never thought I’d see the day where I would align with William Lane Craig. But in the link below, he gives a run-down of the important difference between “unguided” as used by the theist and the biologist.


      • Tom Harkins Says:

        I read you link to Craig’s comments. He is confusing to me. He seems to argue that secular evolutionists can believe in “teleology” in some sense. You can correct me, but I don’t think that is the case. “Direction” toward some goal, whatever that goal may be, still infers a “director” of sorts.

        You say ID is a “fringe” position. By that I take you to mean a “small minority.” Since when has “large majority” been a measure of correctness? What did the “majority” believe in the time of Copernicus? For that matter, at the time of Darwin? Indeed, on a “worldwide” scale, even true Christianity is a “minority” position. “Narrow is the way, and few there be that find it,” Jesus said. So, I have no problem with lining up with the “minority” if that position makes better sense of the world I actually see around me.

      • Morbert Says:

        Actually I might have spoken too soon regarding Craig. I’ve found instances of him making scientifically incorrect statements and referencing ID proponents like Michael Behe.

      • Morbert Says:

        To avoid problems with nomenclature, let me articulate three positions:

        1) There is nothing ontologically prior to the universe. It has no cause, and it is all that exists.

        2) There are reasons to believe God created the universe.

        3) Natural mechanisms like Darwinian evolution cannot account for the history, diversity, and complexity of life.

        Claims 1) and 2) are philosophical claims. Claim 3) is a scientific claim.

        If intelligent design is the name given to position 2), then many scientists accept intelligent design. If intelligent design is the name given to position 3), then the overwhelming majority of scientists reject intelligent design.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Okay, I see your second comment that you will be out of pocket. I will be as well until Monday since I do these comments at work and will be heading out before long.

        Let me give you my brief reply to your “three options” in the interim. I think as a matter of “science,” there are perfectly good reasons to argue against Claim 3. To have “standing” to argue that position as a matter of “science,” I just have to point out that some physical phenomena are much more susceptible to a better explanation, such as “directive guidance” (or, indeed, “instantaneous creation”) than mere “natural mechanisms like Darwinian evolution.”

        Of course there are plenty of such phenomena. The human eye, the complete “integration” of a large number of highly complex interactive “systems” in the human body, to mention just a couple. How any “Darwinian natural mechanism” is supposed to explain the “amoeba to man” sequence is entirely beyond me–and beyond the Ph.D.’s who support ID as well.

      • Morbert Says:

        P.S. Only saw your latest post (February 27, 2016 at 3:51 pm) just now. Have to run but I’ll respond to it directly when I get a chance.

      • Morbert Says:

        Regarding the scientific validity of ID: Short of delving into the fine details, we can at least observe the near universal support of Darwinian explanation of life’s diversity among scientists, and especially biologists.

        We can put forth different possible explanations. i) Darwinian evolution is true and the scientists have affirmed this. ii) Darwinian evolution is not true but was the best explanation until recently. It will be supplanted by ID. ID proponents like Michael Behe are just ahead of the curve iii) Darwinian evolution is not true and there is a materialist conspiracy that imposes dogmatic allegiance to the Darwinian explanation of life’s diversity.

        Position ii) is hard to defend. While our recent ability to investigate molecular biology did raise a lot of interesting questions about the development of molecular scale system, research has steadily affirmed evolutionary explanations. If Behe et al were ushering in a paradigm shift, we would expect the opposite trend. 20 years after his initial publication, Darwinian evolution is still going strong.

        Position iii) is also hard to defend. As mentioned in previous posts, many scientists are atheists, but many are not. If the widespread acceptance of Darwinian evolution were simply due to dogmatism, we would expect things like slumping publication quality, ineffective research initiatives, sectarian divides in the community etc. etc.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        “Short of delving into the fine details.” While of course I don’t expect you to give a “biology course,” nonetheless in general “public discussion” of evolution, the “details” are quite frequently missing. Particularly is this so, to my observation, when it comes to “development” of complex biological systems such as the human body, where a substantial amount of interlocking, highly complex arrangements, failing any one of which there would be no life, are observed. Even the “lowly” amoeba, as the proposed “launching pad” for other biological life, itself constitutes an interactive and complex system. How it supposedly resulted from inanimate matter is puzzling, to say the very least. An infinitely wise and omnipotent creator, such as the one posed in belief systems going back to the dawn of human literature (Jewish, Christian, Islam), makes a lot of sense as the cause of such observations. The supposed “gradual process” of cosmic, and certainly biological, evolution is “non-explanatory.”

        As far as your “possible explanations,” I think they are overly simplistic. What “scientists have affirmed” are all kinds of things by all kinds of “scientists.” Do you recall, for example, “Lucy”? Highly touted at the moment–now totally passé. Different “scientists” often contradict others in substantial ways. In fact, the primary thing that the “secular” scientists all seem to agree upon is simply your dogma: “Darwinian evolution is true.”

        Whether there is some “nefarious scheme” afoot is a more complicated matter. For one thing, there are thousands of “frauds” existing on our planet, and have been since the dawn of time (check out the notable start with the “Serpent,” elsewhere identified with Satan, and Eve). People are always “deceiving and being deceived,” the scripture says. There are “blind leaders with blind followers, both of whom will fall into the ditch.” Why should the “field of science” be supposedly exempt from this general state of the population? I don’t see any reason. So, there are some people who “know” that some of what they propose is false (recall the “cold fusion” report?), and some people who “listen to the ‘authorities'” without really checking out the matter further themselves.

        Many “evolutionists” make truly notable contributions to science. However, I would submit that has precious little to do with “evolutionary theory” and instead is simply “working with the raw materials at hand.” I would propose we might just leave out “origins” hypotheses from science classrooms altogether, evolutionary or ID or creationism. Let’s just analyze observable systems and come up with medications and other valuable contributions to society.

      • Morbert Says:

        Details might be missing in public discussion, but they are definitely there for people to read. But unless we get into specifics there’s not much I can address.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Okay. Can you give me the “ladder” that evolution went by from the amoeba to anything else, and particularly the ladder by which it reached human beings? (Can’t just start with “monkeys.”)

      • Grant Essex Says:

        Heck Tom, forget the ladder I would just like to see one rung. Just one, sure enough, transitional fossil. From reptile to bird, or from reptile to mammal, or whatever else is supposed to have happened. We have a gazillion fossils of species, and not one “transspecies” example among them.

      • Morbert Says:

        Sorry for the delat. Been busy these last few weeks. When I get a chance I’ll discuss the emergence of multicellularity on the main stem of this comment section.

  7. Tom Harkins Says:

    [This comment apparently did not post earlier; sorry if it ends up as a “repeat”]

    Morbert, I am curious about your statement: “Creationist groups like the Discovery institute aren’t making a metaphysical argument for the existence of God a la William Lane Craig. They are explicitly misrepresenting science.” What is being “misrepresented”? Secular evolutionists say that “evolutionary” processes (whether of the stellar or biological variety–I don’t want to get hung up on nomenclature) are undirected by any “outside” influence. ID says that it is directed by an “Intelligent Design.” So, ID is not misrepresenting the secular evolutionists–it is disagreeing with them.

    • bobbob Says:

      correct. disagreeing is often misinterpreted as misrepresentation. I am not a bad scientist just because I remain skeptical. that is the whole premise of science is it not?

  8. Grant Essex Says:

    “Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning.”
    C. S. Lewis

  9. Grant Essex Says:

    I commend for your reading, “The Language of God”, by Francis Collins. A scientist’s view.

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