C.S. Lewis on Intelligent Design

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Yet despite their wide base of support from the Christian right, intelligent design theorists do not consider themselves creationists.  Creationism begins with a religious text, they point out, whereas intelligent design begins by studying the complexity of life.  Ernest Richardson emphasizes that the movement is not religious:

Intelligent design says nothing about whether a person has or should have a relationship with a creator (if there is one), and says nothing about whether there are or should be any obligations or duties owed to a creator (if there is one).  Nor does intelligent design require belief in, reverence for, or worship of a supernatural power [….] Intelligent design simply says nothing of whether the intelligent cause is a supernatural or non-supernatural intelligent cause.  (Richardson 1)

While supporters insist that intelligent design is not a religious ideology, its opponents vigorously disagree.  In their 2005 book Creationism’s Trojan Horse, Barbara Forrest and Paul Gross show extensive evidence that intelligent design has clear ideological roots in the creation science movement.  Forrest notes that intelligent design proponents use methods of education that appear more evangelistic than scientific.  Rather than publishing research in peer-reviewed scientific journals, intelligent design scientists marshal “an aggressive public relations program, which includes conferences that they or their supporters organize, popular books and articles, recruitment of students through university lectures sponsored by campus ministries, and cultivation of alliances with conservative Christians and influential political figures” (Forrest 2002).

Many renowned scientific organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Royal Society have declared intelligent design to be pseudoscience.  Importantly, the International Society for Science and Religion has stated that intelligent design is “neither sound science nor good theology” (ISSR 2008).  Furthermore, teaching intelligent design in science classes has been declared unconstitutional by the 2005 federal court ruling of Kitzmiller et al. vs Dover Area School District.

The myth of intelligent design

Just as British society was pregnant with the myth of popular evolutionism in Lewis’s day, so too is our culture primed to accept the myth of intelligent design.  On the one hand, our health-obsessed, techno-savvy American culture demands a scientific explanation or solution for virtually everything.  Modern Christians are no exception-hence the popular compulsion to provide a scientifically defensible understanding of Creation through intelligent design.

On the other hand, the postmodern world has a consumerist outlook on truth.  The world says we may pick and choose what we believe, even if our resultant worldview contains major logical contradictions.  If all truth is relative, logic really does not matter.  Conservative Christians have rejected this kind of relativism by defending the inerrancy of Scripture, yet they have largely succumbed to it by rejecting science:  in order to avoid an uncomfortable conclusion about their animal past, they choose to believe the inconsistent messages of intelligent design.

Importantly, intelligent design sets up a false dichotomy where atheistic evolution and intelligent design are the only available options.  Some intelligent design researchers-including the prominent biochemist Michael Behe-do believe humans may have had a common ancestor with other animals  (Behe 1996).  But this important point is completely ignored by the majority of conservative Christians who accept intelligent design because the movement seductively suggests to them that evolution is about atheism, whereas intelligent design is compatible with a belief in God.

Molecules are not what we are but what we are made of

Lewis recognized that the biological theory of evolution is not inherently atheistic.  It makes no metaphysical statements, despite what militant atheists and intelligent design theorists would have us believe.  Rather, any metaphysical statements that become attached to evolution are not the fruit of inferential, empirical science but are instead logical deductions from presupposed beliefs about the existence or nonexistence of God.

Aside from its scientific failings, the ultimate problem with intelligent design, as I see it, is that in trying so hard to prove the existence of God, its advocates fail to bring him worship.  In Psalm 19, David wrote, “[t]he heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”  This verse tells us far more about God and his creation than twenty years of intelligent design research, which has yielded no information about the nature or attributes of its hypothesized Designer.

Even if we could somehow achieve a complete molecular understanding of how our bodies work and how our species arose in the first place, we would still have a deficient understanding of what it means to be human.  After all, molecules are not what we are but what we are made of (see even The Voyage of the Dawn Treader).  For the Christian, the image of God is an essential part of human nature that apparently has little to do with our physical composition.  Our genetic continuity with other forms of life, therefore, need not distract us from our chief purpose in life, which is to willfully and joyfully worship God in all that we do.

Kathryn Applegate

The Scripps Research Institute