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Sympathy for Advocates of Intelligent Design

Intelligent design proponents took a hard blow last week when U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III, a Bush appointee, denied a Pennsylvania school district the right to teach intelligent design alongside evolution.

Judge Jones dubbed intelligent design “creationism relabeled.” Intelligent design is not science but the religious view of a particular group, he concluded, and the U.S. Constitution bars the teaching of religion in public schools. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
I heartily applaud this carefully reasoned decision, but I would suggest to fellow applauders we should pay close attention to the concern which prompted the creationists and now motivates the advocates of intelligent design.
 
Unless we can find an alternative way to address that concern, I am fearful that our society will suffer increasing polarization, with immense cost to both sides in the culture war.
 
What is the concern which prompts creationists or intelligent designists?
 
On the surface it would seem to be a desire for schools to offer a “biblical” view as an alternative to the “scientific.” But at a deeper level it has to do with how their children will have faith in a world that operates as the evolutionists depict it.
 
The basic motive hasn’t changed significantly since Darwin published The Origin of the Species in 1859. Suggesting that life evolved by natural selection left out of the scientists’ account a role for a Creator or Designer.
 
Darwin and other scientists recognized, quite properly–just as the saints have through the centuries–that God is not subject to their chief tools, which are empirical observation and rational reflection. What they did–and do–is simply to describe what they see and put together the overarching picture we call evolution.
 
Unfortunately, many conservative Christians have chosen as their key line of defense a theory of biblical inspiration that throws up a huge wall between science and faith–the theory of biblical inerrancy. Scientists offer a “human” view; they prefer a “divine” one based on the Bible.
 
The sad reality is that their effort completely misrepresents the perspective of the Bible itself. The Hebrew and Christian scriptures, as E.Y. Mullins remarked nearly a century ago–in a phase of the evolution controversy which centered on the Scopes trial–“Do not tell us how the heavens go, but how to go to heaven.”
 
The scriptures nowhere presume that human beings can demonstrate how God is at work in the world. God, and God’s action, is visible only to the eyes of faith.
 
Thence, as two persons observe the same happening, one may say–as in Jesus’ healing of demoniacs–“It’s a miracle!” and another may say, “By the prince of demons he casts out demons!” (Lk 11:15)
 
Any solution to this highly controverted issue would seem to require recognition of two relatively autonomous spheres–science and faith–which nevertheless respect one another enough to listen to the other. To paraphrase Jesus’ advice to Jewish citizens under dominance of Rome (Mk 12:13-17), “Accept from scientists the descriptive insight which they have and accept from believers what comes from faith.”
 
How, then, are we to teach our children to look at their world through the eyes of faith? It is critical here to recognize that the theory of evolution, even that which proposes natural selection or randomness, does not preclude a faith perspective.
 
Teilhard de Chardin, the great Jesuit paleontologist and philosopher, demonstrated that in The Phenomenon of Man. He fully accepted the evolutionary model but went on to argue, seconded by the great biologist Julian Huxley, that we cannot explain the upwards and forwards movement of the evolutionary process by a push from below, from the inanimate, to higher and higher levels of consciousness, as in human self-consciousness.
 
No. The evolutionary process is not just moving at random, headed who-knows-where. From the vantage point of faith we must posit, rather, a pull from above, from the Omega Point. Or, viewed another way, we would assume that divine Love fills all things and moves all things upwards and forward toward Itself.
 
Here we come to the age-old most critical question of all? Who is to help our children discover such a faith perspective?
 
Judge Jones has repeated what American courts have said over and over with great emphasis, “Not the schools!” Anyone who has attended public schools will know that a particular teacher has modeled faith and taught with her life, but if she taught science, she should have stayed with the demands of her discipline.
 
If not the schools, then who? Surely parents have the first and the weightiest responsibility. Then churches, communities of faith in their many expressions. Ultimately each seeking person whom, the saints would say, God is seeking.
 
Faith is not a package you can hand another. It is not a set of propositions. As Abraham Heschel once wrote, “Faith is a blush in the presence of God.” Schools can’t teach that.
 
I know that many creationists and intelligent designists are but … but … butting here: “But some who teach evolution make fun of religion. How do we counter that?”
 
Much of that would disappear if people of faith did not make rationally indefensible claims about the Bible and thus erect artificial barriers between faith and science.
 
Truth to tell, not many science teachers in public schools ridicule authentic faith or believers. If they do, they need to correct their manners.
 
E. Glenn Hinson is senior professor of church history and spirituality at the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky.