Editor’s Note: This article is by John Oates, not John Oakes. In fact, I disagree
with some of the points in this article. Nevertheless, I feel it is quite well
researched and written and contains many points the reader will find useful
and instructive. J. O.
Intelligent Design: Are we fighting against God?
John H. Oates
Granite State Church of Christ
June 15, 2007
Has God intentionally designed the world so that he is not evident through rational
inquiry alone? The proponents of intelligent design say emphatically no! Evidence
for God abounds in nature. In this essay, however, I wish to suggest 1) that
the evidence for God in nature is not that compelling; 2) that while there are numerous
instances of apparent design in nature, there are likewise countless instances
of apparent unintelligent design; 3) that the Bible does not support the search for
evidence of God in nature; 4) that it is a very real possibility that God has
gone out of his way to hide his existence from purely rational inquiry; and
therefore 5) that those who champion intelligent design may very well be at cross
purposes with God.
The cornerstone of the intelligent design edifice is the supposed insufficiency
of any attempts at a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life. Of all
the scientific theories of origin, the theories regarding the origin of life
are by far the weakest. It is often claimed that science really has no idea how life
originated. While I think this is an overstatement, the problem has proved to
be extraordinarily difficult. Nevertheless, I find nothing in the laws of nature,
nor in the Bible to preclude a naturalistic origin of life. The increase in
entropy demanded by the second law of thermodynamics applies only to isolated
systems. The second law therefore does not preclude an increase in order locally,
which indeed is observed in innumerable instances, including, for example, the formation
of crystals, the development of the zygote, and the exponential increase in
DNA under the polymerization chain reaction. The argument based on the extreme
probabilities associated with assembling large bio-molecules is a straw man
? the theory that is debunked bears very little resemblance with any theory
advanced by researchers in recent years1, 2, 3, 4, 5. While anything close to a consistent
theory is probably not even close at hand, there have been many similar instances
in science. Numerous phenomena have defied explanation for hundreds of years.
The wave-particle duality of light is one example. This was a subject of controversy
back in the days of Isaac Newton (and before), and yet was not finally resolved
until the development of quantum mechanics in 1925. The wave-particle duality
of light was therefore an unexplained phenomenon for more that two hundred and
fifty years. Lord Kelvin is thought by some to have once said, ?Heavier-than-air
flying machines are impossible.? Given all the failed attempts that he had likely
1 Leslie E. Orgel, ?The Origin of Life on the Earth,? Scientific American, October
2 Julius Rebek, Jr., ?Synthetic Self-Replicating Molecules,? Scientific American,
3 W. K. Johnston, P. J. Unrau, M. S. Lawrence, M. E. Glasner, D. P. Bartel,
?RNA-Catalyzed RNA Polymerization: Accurate and General RNA-Templated Primer
Extension,? Science, Vol. 292, 18 May 2001, pp. 1319-1325.
4 Jeffrey L. Bada, ?Origins of Life,? Oceanography, Vol. 16, No. 3/2003, pp.
5 Robert Shapiro, ?A Simpler Origin for Life,? Scientific American, June 2007.
would not have been unreasonable to make such a statement. What was lacking
was a method to lift these machines off the ground. Of course that method was
later discovered. In the same way, the present lack of a method for the origin
of life does not prove anything, except that the problem is a difficult one. Nearly
all the arguments against a naturalistic origin of life, when analyzed, amount
to little more than a statement that the right scenario and the right mechanism
have not yet been discovered. This is acknowledged by everyone in the field. There
are thousands of possibilities to consider and test experimentally, and the
possibilities continue to expand with every new discovery. These days people
have become accustomed to rapid scientific discovery. I have often read accounts belittling
the current (by some reckonings) feeble attempts to solve this problem, notwithstanding
the continuous advances that have been made these past fifty years. Some have
suggested that if a solution has not been discovered in fifty years, then there is
no solution, and that scientists should therefore abandon the search and embrace
intelligent design. The truth is that by any fair assessment the problem of
the origin of life, given the extreme complexity of life and the paucity of evidence
that remains afterfour billion years, is clearly the most difficult problem
that science has ever faced6. The lack of a solution in fifty years of research should
not surprise anyone. If there is no solution in a thousand years, perhaps then
we should question the pursuit. To my mind, however, it is disreputable, even
disgraceful, for scientists to abandon the pursuit. ?It is the glory of God
to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.? ? Proverbs
25:2. And yet abandoning the pursuit is the only recourse for those who rely
on miraculous intervention. There is no other way to know whether God has intervened
than to continue the search.
But let it be supposed that scientists are clueless regarding how life might
have originated on earth. I still think it is a bad idea to assume that a naturalistic
origin of life is impossible, and to therefore advocate intelligent design.
The church has a very long history of supposing that numerous phenomena, since
explanations were wanting, must necessarily have required miraculous intervention
by God. This practice of invoking miraculous intervention by God to cover gaps
in scientific understanding is referred to as the God of the Gaps fallacy. Innumerable
?times naturalistic explanations have been discovered for phenomena that previously
were not understood, and for which God had been proffered as the explanation7. As one scholar
8 has put it, ?The problem is that such gaps ? tend to close up with the advance
of scientific knowledge, thus putting religion in the embarrassing position
of constant retreat.? This repeated embarrassment has strengthened the resoluteness
and often the belligerence of atheists who, upon such an occasion, find opportunity
to ridicule the faith. Given the extent to which intelligent design has been
advertised to the public, there is the potential for huge embarrassment to the
church if an origin of life is discovered in the lab.
6 The understanding of consciousness, I suppose, is a more difficult problem,
if this even falls within the realm of science.
7 A few instances include: earthquakes, lightning, the movement of the planets,
and the synthesis of biomolecules.
8 Lawrence M. Principe, Science and Religion, The Great Courses, The Teaching Company.
While the evidence for a creator gleaned from creation is powerful and conclusive
to many, it likewise fails to compel many. Why is it that almost universally
the top sci
entists, the Nobel Laureates ? those individuals who devote their
lives to studying nature at its deepest levels ? almost universally find no
evidence for God in creation? I would suggest that the answer is that the evidence
is simply not that compelling. For every supposed irrefutable proof there is,
from my perspective, a reasonable alternative naturalistic explanation. Is the
extreme fine tuning of the constants of nature proof of God? Not if there are
an infinite (or extremely large) number universes. We have no way of knowing
whether the observable universe is all there is, or whether this universe is merely
one bubble on an infinite space-time sheet hosting innumerable similar universes.
Is the beginning of time at the Big Bang proof of a creator? Not if the (observable)
universe is merely the result of a random quantum fluctuation in the space-time fabric.
Where did all the matter come from, if not from God? One very real possibility
is that all the positive energy in the universe is exactly cancelled by negative
gravitational energy9. The case for a creator inferred from nature is simply not that
compelling. Perhaps the reason is that God never intended to reveal himself
in this way. Moreover, it seems to me that intelligent design proponents spend
insufficient time addressing the many instances of apparent unintelligent des
ign, or disteleology. Vestigial characters abound in nature. There are innumerable
species of flightless birds, and countless underground and cave-dwelling species
that have lost their sight but nevertheless retain vestigial eyes that are reduced
or degenerate and are often covered with skin. Instances are not limited only
to anatomical structures, but encompass behavior as well, including elaborate
courtship displays and pseudo-mating in species which reproduce asexually. In
humans, vestiges include wisdom teeth which fail erupt from the gums, the vermiform
appendix, and goose bumps, the apparent purpose of which is, in response to
a chill, to fluff up fur which is no longer there; or, in response to fear,
to present a larger appearance to a potential predator. Since the advent of full genome
sequencing innumerable instances of disteleology have been observed in the form
of pseudogenes10 and ancient repetitive elements11, both of which are functionless genetic accidents
shared between several species. The most remarkable find, however, has been
the discovery of the obvious chromosome fusion event12 leading to human chromosome
2, complete with fused head-to-head telomeres and remnant centromere. It is
extremely hard for me to imagine that this is somehow a design feature. The
instances of disteleology, therefore, seem to me to outweigh those of teleology.
?Intellectual honesty demands that these issues be addressed squarely. Those
who fail to do so may be udged guilty of spin tactics for neglecting to present
the other side.
9 Alan H. Guth, The Inflationary Universe, 1998, Vintage, p. 12.
10 Edward E. Max, ?Plagiarized Errors and Molecular Genetics,? http://www.
11 Francis S. Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for
Belief, 2006, Free Press, p. 135-137.
12 J. W. Ijdo, A. Baldini, D. C. Ward, S. T. Reeders, and R. A. Wells, ?Origin
of Human Chromosome 2: An Ancestral Telomere-Telomere Fusion,? PNAS 1991;88;9051-9055.
But does not the Bible proclaim that God is evident in nature? Do not the heavens
declare the glory of God? The following verses are often quoted as a mandate
from the Bible to search for scientific evidence for God in creation: 18The
?wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and
wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may
be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For
?since the creation of the world God?s invisible qualities ? his eternal power
and divine nature ? have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been
made, so that men are without excuse. ? Romans 1:18-20
1The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2D
ay after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. 3There is
no speech or language where their voice is not heard. 4Their voice goes out
into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. ? Psalm 19:1-4
But these verses provide no such mandate. It is a violation of the text to suggest
that they support the view that God?s existence is manifest through philosophical
and scientific inquiry. There is nothing in either verse that remotely suggests
that God?s existence is to be inferred through the recondite laws of nature. Rather,
just the opposite is proclaimed: God?s nature is plain to see, is clearly seen f
rom what has been made. If God is not clearly seen in the grandeur of the heavenly
expanse, in the power of a sunset, or in the eyes of a mother at the birth of
her child, he is not going to be any more plainly evident after trudging through
twenty pages of probability calculations. Furthermore, these verses are clearly making
the rhetorical appeal that aesthetic qualities of creation ? the grandeur and
glory of creation ? point to corresponding qualities of God. It is likely that
Paul had the deuterocanonical Wisdom of Solomon in mind as he penned Romans
1For all men who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were
unable from the good things that are seen to know him who exists, nor did they
recognize the craftsman while paying heed to his work ? 5For from the greatness
and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.
? Wisdom 13:1, 5
Therefore the majesty of God, his eternal power and divine nature are plainly
seen and are clearly evident from aesthetic, not rational qualities of the creation
? from the greatness and the beauty of created things. Moreover, it would not
surprise me if God chose to hide himself ? to create a world where he is not
evident through intellectual inquiry alone, because God has never desired a
mere intellectual belief in himself. The demons have this sort of belief (James
2:19), and yet clearly their faith is not pleasing to God. The Bible is replete
with indication of how God has chosen to hide himself from intellectual inquiry: 25A
t that time Jesus said, ?I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because
you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to
little children. 26Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.? ? Matthew
18For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but
to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written: ?I will
destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.?
20Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this
age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since in the wisdom
of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the
foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22Jews demand miraculous
signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling
block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called,
both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the
foolishness of God is wiser than man?s
wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger
than man’s strength. ? 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Is not 1 Corinthians 1:21 saying that it was God?s wisdom not to reveal himself
to the intellect of man? If God had wanted to reveal himself in this way, why
would he not have revealed himself in a more obvious manner, in such a way
as to stop all debate? If God has intentionally designed the world so as to hide
his presence, is this then not deception on God?s part? When we perform scientific
investigations we are, in a sense, asking questions about nature. In many instances
God is free with answers. But when we ask of nature whether or not God exists,
we get no answer. It would be deception if God gave us a wrong answer ? but
giving no answer is not being deceptive. God has indicated to us the way to
find him: ?You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.?
? Jeremiah 29:13. We will find God when we seek him with all of our heart.
There is no indication that we will find him if we seek him merely with our
mind. The deist position that God is no longer active in his creation seems
to me to be at odds with numerous verses in the Bible. For example, ?Are not
two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart
from the will of your Father.? ? Matthew 10:29. (Also Proverbs 16:1, 9; 19:21.)
But if God is active in his creation, should he not be evident? For the past
several years I have worked in the field of signals intelligence. Great effort is
devoted to hiding signals so as to preclude detection by an adversary. Signals
are designed to be featureless and are pseudorandomly buried far below the thermal
noise level so as to deny detection. Furthermore, in the case that signals are
detected, cryptography is used to further hide information behind pseudorandom
sequences. This work is performed in secure facilities which routinely employ
background noise to prevent secure conversations from being overheard. Windows are textured
and equipped with white-noise sources to prevent laser interferometry from detecting
voice modulation of the windows. A few years ago it struck me that if God wanted
to hide his activity in the world, he could easily do so, in a similar manner,
by masking his activity in a sea of pseudo-randomness, well below the noise
floor, and beyond possible detection. The current and longstanding theory of
phenomena at atomic and subatomic scales is quantum mechanics. In the past one
hundred years since its development there has never been a single observation
violating the theory. Quantum mechanics and its relativistic counterpart, quantum
field theory, continually produce predictions with unfathomable accuracy. The
difference, for instance, between the measured and predicted values of the g-
factor of the electron is less than one part in a trillion. Inherent to the
theory is that quantum events are non-deterministic. The timing of the clicks
of a Geiger counter, for example, cannot be predicted, even in principle. These
events are viewed as being random and therefore uncaused. This randomness provides
a mask behind which God could easily hide his activity in this world. This is
pure speculation, of course. We know, owever, that God operates in this world,
and there is reason to believe from the Bible that he wishes to conceal his activity.
If we then find the laws of nature so perfectly designed so as to provide ample
room for God?s activities to be veiled, it is not an unreasonable speculation
that God does in fact operate behind this veil.
The view that perhaps God operates within the physical world behind the veil
of quantum indeterminacy, free from detection, is common enough. A number of
writers13, 14, 15, 16 have observed the possibility, though not all necessarily supporting
the view. Jim Baggott3 has this to say And what of God? Does quantum theory provide
any support for the idea that God is behind it all? This is, of course, a question
that cannot be answered here, and I am sure that readers are not expecting me
to try. Like all of the other possible interpretations of quantum theory discussed
in this chapter, the God-hypothesis has many things to commend it, but we really
have no means (at present) by which to reach a logical, rational preference
for any one interpretation over the others. If some readers draw comfort from
the idea that either Spinoza?s God or God in the more traditional religious
sense (Western or Eastern) presides over the apparent uncertainty of the quantum
world, then that is a matter for their own personal faith.
Indeed, quantum indeterminacy provides a means, within the current laws of physics,
not only for God?s agency, but man?s agency (free will) as well.
13 Kenneth Miller, Finding Darwin?s God, Harper Perennial, 2002, pp. 250-251.
14 Paul Davies, The Mind of God, 2005, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, pp. 191-192.
15 Jim Baggott, Beyond Measure: Modern Physics, Philosophy, and the Meaning
of Quantum Theory, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 262.
16 Del Ratzsch, The Battle of Beginnings, 1996, InterVarsity Press, pp. 186-188.
For many years, however, it was believed that quantum indeterminacy had little
impact at macroscopic scales. Subsequently, in the second half of the twentieth
century, chaotic phenomena were discovered. One of the most astonishing finds
was that infinitesimal perturbations driving non-linear phenomena can lead to wildly
divergent effects. In 1972 Edward Lorenz presented a paper entitled, ?Does the
flap of a butterfly?s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas.? The answer
to the question posed in the title of the paper is an astonishing yes! That is,
through the so called butterfly effect, it is a very real possibility that a
disturbance as minute as the flap of a butterfly?s wings could set off an event
as significant as a tornado. Recently it has been recognized that through chaos,
quantum indeterminacy is amplified to macroscopic scales.17 The remarkable conclusion
is that any non-linear phenomena leading to chaotic behavior is influenced by
innumerable events that are uncaused in this world. Of particular note is that the
human brain is manifestly and necessarily non-linear, and not surprisingly chaos
has been observed in human brain waves18, 19, 20.
One common complaint of this view is that while quantum events are random, randomness
provides no more room for the hand of God than does strict determinism. However,
all that science can determine is that quantum events appear random. If communications
?engineers can devise pseudorandom sequences which appear random at all levels
of inspection, certainly an infinite intelligence can do even better. The events,
therefore, which quantum theory hypothesizes as random, are, according to this idea,
not completely random, but are somehow influenced by God and other free agents
to direct their sphere of influence in this world to a desired end. Evolutionary
theory has been opposed in many Christian circles on many grounds, notwithstanding the overwhel
ming evidence in support of the theory. One of the grounds for dismissal has
been a revulsion over the idea that innumerable chance events have determined
the current array of biota, and in particular, man. For example, Stephen J.
Gould has remarked: But [life?s] actual pathway is strongly underdetermined by
our general theory of life?s evolution. This point needs some belaboring as
a central yet widely misunderstood as
pect of the world?s complexity. Webs and
chains of historical events are so intricate, so imbued with random and chaotic elements,
so unrepeatable in encompassing such a multitude of unique (and uniquely interacting)
objects, that standard models of simple prediction and replication do not apply.
? History includes too much chaos, or extremely sensitive dependence on minute
and unmeasurable differences in initial conditions, leading to massively divergent
outcomes based on tiny and unknowable disparities in starting points. And history
includes too much
17 Murray Gell-Mann, The Quark and the Jaguar, W.H. Freeman and Company, 1994, pp.
18 P. Faure and H. Korn, Is there chaos in the brain? I. Concepts of nonlinear
dynamics and methods of investigation, C.R. Acad. Sci. Paris, Sciences de la
vie / Life Sciences 324 (2001) 773?793.
19 H. Korn and P. Faure, Is there chaos in the brain? II. Experimental evidence
and related models, C. R. Biologies 326 (2003) 787?840.
20 When I told my wife Karen this, she remarked that she has known for years
that chaos reigned in her mind!
contingency, or shaping of present results by long chains of unpredictable antecedent
states, rather than immediate determination by timeless laws of nature. Homo
sapiens did not appear on the earth, just a geologic second ago, because evolutionary
theory predicts such an outcome based on themes of progress and increasing neural
complexity. Humans arose, rather, as a fortuitous and contingent outcome of
thousands of linked events, any one of which could have occurred differently
and sent history on an alternative pathway that would not have led to consciousness.
? H. sapiens is but a tiny, late-arising twig on life?s enormously arborescent
bush ? a small bud that would almost surely not appear a second time if we could
replant the bush from seed and let it grow again.21 I see no reason, however, for revulsion
over this idea. Behind the veil of quantum indeterminacy God is able to direct
asteroids toward or away from the earth, initiate or halt mass extinctions,
cause or prevent mutations, begin or end ice ages, direct earthquakes, hurricanes
and tornadoes, all according to the purposes that he has established, all within
the laws of physics, and all beyond human observation. Returning to the original
question I posed: Has God intentionally designed the world so that he is not
evident through rational inquiry alone? I believe that he has, and let me summarize
the three main reasons: 1) there is no compelling evidence in nature for God?s
existence; 2) there are several indications in the Bible that God has hidden
himself from purely rational inquiry; and 3) the laws of nature are masterf
ully designed in such a way that God could, if he chose to, operate within the
world, free from detection, behind the veil of quantum indeterminacy. It is
as if God has said ?This far you may come and no farther; here is where your
proud inquiries halt.? I am therefore concerned that those who promote intelligent
design are waging a war that cannot be won, and that perhaps God is opposed
to. Whatever good the intelligent design movement has achieved so far, this
good has been achieved at the cost of alienating much of the scientific community.
If indeed God has hidden proof of his existence in the constants of the universe
and in the genomes of Earth?s biota, then time may bear this out. However, if
instead he has hidden his own activity in quantum indeterminacy, not wishing to
reveal himself to man?s intellect through the laws of nature, then I am afraid
that we will promote intelligent design to the detriment of the church, only
to find that we ourselves are fighting against God.
21 Stephen J. Gould, The Evolution of Life on the Earth, Scientific American, October