Is intelligent design antithetical to a belief in theistic evolution?

I’ve been thinking about this original question a bit lately, as one of the ID stars, Stephen Meyer, has a new book coming out at the end of March.

As several have mentioned in this thread, there is a range of views among IDers, from young earth to accepting common ancestry. And most of us evolutionary creationists think God is intelligent and in some sense designed things. So the difference between us and IDers is less about the conclusions than about how you get to those conclusions.

Meyer’s new book is The Return of the God Hypothesis. And it appears to be straightforward natural theology: scientific premises are used to generate a theological conclusion. In his case: the universe had a beginning, fine-tuning of physical constants, and information in DNA ought to lead us to believe that there is a personal creator God.

So, I agree with his conclusion. What concerns me about the argument to get to that conclusion is two-fold: 1) Typically (I’m not commenting on Meyer’s book here, since I haven’t seen it), ID adopts some alternate version of science from what has emerged through the consensus. They vociferously reject charges of “god of the gaps”, but there is usually just a semantic difference with what they’re positively claiming: the scientific explanations aren’t able to completely explain some phenomenon, and so an intelligent designer is invoked as the “hypothesis” that does completely explain that phenomenon. My first concern is that people who already accept the conclusion are now given more fuel to distrust the consensus science. That might result in some short-term gains in bolstering the faith of such people, and even in attracting some others to that conclusion (I know a couple people who became theists because of such arguments), but I fear it is not a productive strategy for the long-term. Science has a way of figuring things out and advancing such that what was previously thought inexplicable does ultimately have a natural explanation.

Concern #2 is that people who don’t accept the conclusion to begin with are driven further away from considering it because of the non-standard science employed. They react with: you want me to believe in God and this is the best argument you have? Never mind.

Of course IDers have responses to these, but I think it points to the essence of the disagreement between most IDers and most ECs. Instead of that kind of natural theology, we tend to favor what Alister McGrath has called a theology of nature. That takes the theological conclusions and works them into an interpretation of nature – rather than taking scientific premises and arguing for theological conclusions. Our approach interprets science in the light of theology. But it accepts the consensus findings of science.


If you have seen God’s providence in the lives portrayed in scripture, in the lives of Christians over the centuries and including the lives of those living today, it makes perfect sense (and is completely rational) to be an evolutionary providentialist. (Remember the timing and placing of carcinogenic mutations in a kidney, not to mention unused 10 mg hydrocodone tabs. :grin:) It’s by design.

This is such a good distinction. It should be highlighted somewhere in the common questions or something so we can point people to it in the future.


This strikes me as the more fruitful direction in which to proceed. Let science fill in the picture of what is known empirically. Then let theology tell us how we can find meaning in the way we fit into that picture. The empirical investigation should proceed without the blinders of previous commitments. Theologically, people should have faith that they can continue to recognize what we are and how we fit no matter how much we learn about our world. Putting on the brakes on the empirical investigation to favor an earlier theological interpretation is cowardly in a spiritual way. But I guess this is where the conflict between our conservative and progressive inclinations shows up in religion.


That is very much like Gould’s “Non-overlapping Magisteria”

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Yes I agree, and it’s not what I’m claiming. When NOMA says that science gets the facts and religion gets values, I always thought that religion gets the short end of the stick!

I think both science and theology deal with facts. E.g., I think it is a fact (or at least the claim to a fact) that Jesus rose from the dead. But then both have a role in how the facts of the other are interpreted.


I think that is the polemical edge lurking behind NOMA for many.

Another approach is to see religion/philosophy as the larger context within which science freely operates. That makes it …
less like this … … … … … and more like this.

Which, to be sure, can be just as polemical the other way. But partisan strife aside, one can still assess for accuracy on various points. “Religion” here should be thought of more loosely as Philosophy, and need not be organized or formal religion only.

To be fair, Gould did say that the border between them can be blurry.


In response to the highlighted sections:

[And I now see I’m probably being utterly stupid: all you accept is the conclusion: ‘there is a personal creator God’, none of the premisses. If that is so, my apologies. (Although what the term ‘personal’ achieves is to raise more questions than answers: more is less). Even so, assuming just the conclusion, mine stands.]

If the universe were unique, i.e. were the only universe, as well as having a beginning, then it would be of transcendent significance. But by rational uniformitarianism extended beyond the scientific, it isn’t. There is no natural reason for it to be. God does not change.

Fine-tuning of the (dimensionless physical) constants is not a given at all. Self-tuning by nature is equally valid. Nature is from eternity after all. See above. But if God oms in the key of c and a few other notes, He always has. Not just 13.8 Ga ago. God does not change.

What information in DNA ought to lead us to believe that there is a personal creator God? Or is that dependent on a single universe and anthropic constants?

I am not driven away from the posit of God by the failure of the non-rational and non-scientific premisses that pre-empts any syllogism. I am driven away from the extremely limited view of God as creator and saviour.

You do not address the theology of nature. Nature is eternal. Therefore God transcends that. Science cannot be interpreted in the light of theology, it’s the other way around. And that affects God in other ways utterly antithetical to the God of Western Christianity: His somewhat limited capability to save.

Do you have any evidence that anything existed ‘before’ the big bang for ‘natural laws’ to be uniform on and for the material to submit to? Could it be maybe just your faith, your faith in your ‘rationality’ and rationalistic presumption, and that it is just what you want to believe that you promote with such assurance? Reason is not the chief source of knowledge, revelation and testimony are, the revelation and testimony that come from this universe (and quite possibly only universe), for starters.

It’s not my rationality. It’s rationality. Which transcends evidence. The evidence is of nothing but - assured - continuous, uniform, dysteleological law and order at all scales. That is the testimony and revelation of the universe obtained by reason alone. Can you put a figure on ‘possibly’? That God changed 13.8 Ga ago?

Religion is not a subset of philosophy. Science is empirical rationalism; experimental philosophy. Religion is a finding of science; observing human behaviour. The propositions of religion are barely ever, if ever, philosophical. That isn’t partisan. There is no warrant for proposing purpose in (eternal) nature. But - orthogonally - One.

I don’t suggest that it is. In my broader sense of thinking of ‘religion’ as a worldview - in the sense that everybody has one - I’m just using those words loosely as synonyms for each other. I’m not putting these forward as any formal or correct definitions of either one. We can consult dictionaries for that. It’s just me using multiple words to get at what I’m meaning.

Maybe use worldview then? : ) Belief system.

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Um, you have to have a universe first.

Sorry, the certainty of your rationality turns into conjecture early on, like when you get to before 10^-32 or so seconds after the big bang.

No you don’t for rational uniformitarianism beyond the empirical. And it’s no conjecture. It’s rationality.

It would be irrational to propose that God thought nothing natural for eternity and then did it for the first time 13.8 Ga ago. Not even conjectural, to paraphrase Pauli.

A lot of what you are labeling as ‘rationality’ is mere conjecture. Mislabeling something does not change the fact.

It’s interesting that you use Paul positively sometimes and eschew him at others. Likewise the words of Jesus. You also do not know God’s relationship to time and ‘natural eternity’ – if you had more experience with his providence or were more accepting of it even second hand, you would realize that his omnitemporality fits reality quite well, and that all of his thoughts are ‘instantaneous’. You are quite right that “It would be irrational to propose that God thought nothing…”

And you still have to have a universe first for it to reveal itself.

I mislabel nothing. I never eschew any of Paul. Or Jesus. I don’t know what you mean.

Since an intelligent design proponent is not a creationary evolutionist, what could they be other then a young earth creationist?

Well, an old earth creationist. Both YEC and OEC reject biological evolution. OEC accepts an old earth while YEC rejects and old earth.

“Theistic evolution would expect a step by step gradual process that occurs through the natural processes we see operating today.”
And there is the rub.
Where do we see step by step gradual processes where each step can be both selectable by natural selection and add to any positive directional change leading to new fully functional feature? And how does natural selection simultaneously clean out all the many more nearly neutral and just marginally negative changes that are accumulating at the same time so as to counter genetic entropy?

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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