Intelligent design vs. imperfect design

In a recent Huffington Post article, Michael Zimmerman contends that Intelligent Design arguments are fatally flawed. He begins by pointing to recent research suggesting that “the human genome is incredibly imperfect, or, in other words, very far from being intelligently structured.” From here he goes off on a bit of a diatribe against the intellectual bankruptcy of intelligent design, contending that it’s basic arguments are flawed (e.g., irreducible complex systems) and betray an ignorant retreat from scientific progress.

I have a couple of questions here, and I’d like your thoughts on both of them:

  • What do you think of the new evidence suggesting that there is more imperfection in creation than might be suggested by intelligent design proponents? How would you assess such evidence and what will you do with it in your own system?
  • What do you think of intelligent design in general? Do you find arguments from design convincing? Do you appeal to them in your own conversations with people?
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About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on May 12, 2010, in Apologetics and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Can of worms = opened. Will any crawl out?

    It has been proven, in my circles anyway, you can lose your job over this particular discussion (cf. Waltke).

    I personally don’t think I.D. is persuasive or useful. It is bad theology (e.g. what god/creator does it demonstrate? why should we care?) and no science – nothing constructive or testable has resulted as a consequence of this hypothesis. Also, why is this hypothetical god/demiurge called a “designer”? Seems like that is language left-over from a time when the world was seen as a machine. The God of Scripture created a world for reasons that seem to extend beyond achieving a purely mechanical symmetry in what He made.

    Aside: Could it be the case that the asymmetry of the world, the “not-quite-rightness” of it is part of the purpose? That instead of talking about God as an Intelligent Designer, maybe we should think of Him as a Theological Creator? That the Theological Creator, aka YHWH, created a world that would be beset with challenges and the need to be tended, maintained, and even improved (like a garden), by those He created for that purpose? (note: here is some Hebrew for you Marc – God created the world “tov” which means good. 🙂 It doesn’t mean perfect. It does mean that it is fitting for its creational purpose (which is a pretty strong theme of Gen 1-2). I don’t know.

    I know there are other ways to suss this out, e.g. “Well, after the Fall, physical creation became corrupted root and branch, so that everything we see now is the consequence of the fall (e.g. junk DNA, animal predation, etc.) and not the way things are supposed to be.” I am not as convinced of this tack as I used to be.

    All the same, I think investing theological capital in ID is a bad investment.

    • I don’t think I have to worry about the Academic Dean firing me at least. He and I are pretty tight.

      Good comments. But, I don’t think I’d go so far as to say that ID has not produced any testable hypothesis. Quite the opposite. ID proponents have consistently argued that if their “hypothesis” is true, there should be evidence of design in creation that could not have been produced by random forces. This can be tested (at least to some extent) by looking at the evidence in nature and determining if (1) there are indications of “design” (whatever that means) and (2) this design could not have been produced by random forces. That’s why ID spends so much time talking about things like irreducible complex systems and information transfer systems in nature. Those are areas where they feel that their hypothesis can be scientifically tested.

      So, I think it’s less a question of whether ID is testable and more a question of whether ID has held up well when tested in this way. Zimmerman’s argument is that it hasn’t.

  2. Honest (not rhetorical) question: Where are the results of these tests published? Who did the tests and under what conditions?

    It sounds like you are saying that ID has argued that we have all the pieces in place to do the testing. But it hasn’t done the actual lab work. The bacterial flagellum and blood clotting cases are not examples, or at least successful ones (cf. Miller’s critique in Finding Darwin’s God).

    • Oh, I’m not saying that they’ve performed successful tests in favor of ID, only that they provided hypothesis that are in fact testable (or, at least, some of them are). Of course, one of the problems with the basic shape of the ID argument is that I can’t think of any way that it can ultimately be proven (hence the criticism that it’s not really science). It seems that the best it can do is point at something and say that it’s too complex to have been produced by random forces. Then it has to sit back and see if anyone is able to prove otherwise. I’m not even sure how one could perform a test in support of ID (how do you construct a test demonstrating the non-existence of a random force?). But, you can construct tests that could conceivably falsify ID hypotheses. So, we should at least give them credit for making testable claims.

  3. I’d be curious to know what others think about Pat’s suggestion that the imperfections in nature may be part of God’s creative design rather than ramifications of the fall. Anyone want to engage that one?

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