What are the Politics of Intelligent Design?
Prepared Remarks by John C. Rankin [with slight edits]
Panel Discussion (a/k/a Mars Hill Forum 107):
February 27, 2006, Columbia University Political Union
The politics of intelligent design revolve around “theological baggage,” the fear of imposed religion. It percolates everywhere, like a geyser set to erupt with great force, scalding all those in close proximity.
Let me make three observations:
First: The most important question is what preceded the Hot Big bang.
Second: The original basis, in human history, for science and the scientific method, is found in Genesis 1 and the Law of Moses.
And third, I seek always to make a proactive case for what I believe.
The proactive basis is the biblical theology, the ethics of Genesis 1-2 – what I call “Only Genesis.” Indeed, there is no more intelligent and comprehensive source for liberal arts inquiry than what is found here.
The Bible is a story line claiming to be true as it defines the good order of creation, its painful reversal, and the reversal of the reversal. Pagan religions have no such good order, and assume war, distrust and sexual chauvinisms as natural. The Epicurean swerve of proto-evolutionary secular thought, while rejecting the Greek pantheon, still could not rise above pagan ethics.
In Genesis 3, the reversal begins as brokenness of trust, and cascades across human history. Then, the Messianic promise begins, reverses the reversal, and restores the original trajectory of goodness.
Only Genesis can be summed up in ten positive assumptions.
First: Only Genesis has a positive view of God’s nature.
Yahweh Elohim is greater than space, time and number, his nature is good, and his unlimited power is the power to give.
None of us can even partially understand what is greater than space, time or number – we live within its boundaries that provide definition for our lives. The only written concept in history that can is the Hebrew nature of the name of Yahweh Elohim.
If we consider cause and effect, all the way back to the Hot Big Bang, any prior Cause must not only be greater than space, time and number, but also have a greater personality, since our personalities are thus derived. Again, only Yahweh Elohim qualifies
Also, in terms of cause and effect, how can we suppose that non-life produces life? It is contrary to observable data. Only theological baggage hinders an embrace of the logic that Life, capital “L” produces life, small “l.”
In Genesis 1:5, God said, “Let there be light,” a unique grasp of the trigger for the Hot Big Bang, and as we measure its echo and expanse ever since.
Second: Only Genesis has a positive view of communication.
Communication requires light, and the Bible describes the physics, ethics and spiritual domains of light versus darkness. Where light is present, darkness by cannot be. Thus, openness in communication, honesty and integrity, is a sine qua non of biblical faith – the power to live in the light.
On the one hand, does the language of “apparent age” or “ready-made fossils” equal openness to the data, or fear of it? On the other, does not the language of “apparent design” have the same problem?
Was Darwin open to the data when he knowingly disputed Paley’s common designer argument without defining or explaining it? Darwin only set forth his homological assumption, not addressing the larger morphological argument. Also, is not the common designer argument simpler than the common descent one – sans theological baggage? The debate Darwin avoided is still with us.
Third: Only Genesis has a positive view of human nature.
Are we directly made in the image of God, or are we evolved animals through the process of mutation, natural descent and the survival of the fittest?
In God’s image, we are made for peace, order, stability and hope; to live, to love, to laugh and to learn. Who does not prefer these qualities to “the survival of the fittest?” Despite T.H. Huxley’s fears, the late nineteenth century on forward saw evils of the greatest magnitude in the name of “social Darwinism.” The historical church has its great sins too, but without biblical excuse.
There are two main theories among biblical literalists concerning the days of creation – the “day-age theory” and the “24-hour theory.” The former misuses the Hebrew term for day, yom, not realizing that context modifies translation; and the latter is literalistic not literal, not respecting the literary genre in place. The days of creation in Genesis 1 are not written to describe long ages of time, for the context assumes a standard 24-hour period defined by the rotation of the earth circumnavigating the sun. But the 24-day theorists also have a large problem – the sun, moon and stars are not made until the fourth day.
The Framework Theory of Genesis 1 takes into account the poetically parallel Hebrew structure of three sets of domains and three sets of rulers over those domains, where the purpose of the days of creation is a literary device to give eternal purpose to our literal weeks. The moral nature of work and the satisfying rest of the Sabbath are always in view. Here teleology, purpose and hope are intrinsic; but foreign to Darwinian evolution.
God starts with the most remote, and moves to the most immediate; the logic of the Hot Big Bang is consistent here. Then he starts with the lowest form of life and moves to the highest, and the building of the food chain is likewise consistent. Every form of life is made directly by God, and reproduces after its own kind. This cannot reconcile with macroevolution of one species changing into another; it has no problem with microevolution within a given species. Man and woman are made directly by God, after his own kind; and they are not descended from lower forms of life.
Theological order is the nature of the biblical days of creation, not a time element. Scientifically, I believe in the plausibility of an ancient universe and an old earth, though given the uncertainty about the speed of light being a constant, both could be much younger. Theologically, all was made in preparation for our common ancestors, Adam and Eve, created by God some 6,000 years ago. Man and woman are the “crown of creation,” not where a geo-centered or helio-centered universe is ever assumed, but where this universe is structured to provide for human life here on earth – the anthropic principle, where we enjoy the beauty of it all, love God and love one another.
Fourth: Only Genesis has a positive view of human freedom.
The first words by Yahweh to the first man, Adam, in Genesis 2, are words of freedom. The Hebrew language is rooted in the metaphor of an unlimited menu of good choices on the one hand, versus the one poisonous choice on the other. In other words, the goodness of life is a gift, and gifts cannot be imposed by definition – such imposition would be evil. Thus there is no freedom to say yes to God without the equal freedom to say no. The true banquet of freedom is robbed by brokenness of trust, the root level definition of sin. Thus, I honor the power of informed choice for all people equally, and theological baggage can be disposed.
In contrast, from the Babylonian Genesis on forward, pagan religions assume that we are slaves to capricious deities; and Epicurean or Darwinian evolution assumes we are slaves to a universe that spits us forth without purpose, and swallows back up our “short brutish lives,” to quote Thomas Hobbes.
Fifth: Only Genesis has a positive view of hard questions.
This power to love hard questions is a cognate of the power of informed choice, traced across the pages of the Bible, and it is the essence of the rabbinic teaching style quintessentially modeled by Jesus. It celebrates a level playing field where all questions are received equally. If intelligent design, or a biblical view of creation, is without merit in challenging Darwinian evolution, what is there to fear?
Sixth: Only Genesis has a positive view of human sexuality.
Genesis 1-2 is unique in affirming the equality and complementarity of man and woman, unlike the deep male chauvinisms of pagan religious origin texts, and unlike the survival of the fittest ethos of Darwinian evolution. Not our focus tonight, but hugely important.
Seventh: Only Genesis has a positive view of science and the scientific method.
In Genesis on forward, the text assumes and describes reality consistent with scientific observation. Whereas all pagan religions viewed the sun, moon and stars as deities or animate objects, Genesis 1 uniquely does not. In fact, Moses, in redacting the text, went out of his way not to call the sun and moon by their common names which were related to Babylonian or Egyptian deities. He called them “the greater light” and “the lesser light.” Ancient Greek philosophy pursued many good scientific instincts as it protested pagan religion, but had no positive historical assumptions apart from intuitively honoring the image of God within all of us.
The scientific method is based on the principle of falsification, where if one test disproves 1000 others, the theory must be recalibrated. Hebrew prophets were required to have a 1.000 batting average, and if they were wrong once, they were falsified and could forfeit their lives. There is no such concept in pagan religion. Jesus embraced the same principle of falsification, and hence no biblically serious Jew or Christian can ever be anything less than completely honest in scientific inquiry.
Eighth: Only Genesis has a positive view of verifiable history.
Genesis 1-2 identifies who the first man and woman are, where exactly they lived, who their descendants were, and then the Bible traces the genealogy all the way to Jesus. This verifiable history has no concept of mythology, unlike pagan religion. When I watched “2001: A Space Odyssey” in 1968, even then the opening scene had all the trappings of myth construction.
Ninth: Only Genesis has a positive view of covenantal law.
The first covenant God made with Adam and Eve was the gift of freedom, and all covenantal law in the Bible thereafter is in service to the restoration of freedom. Thus, unlike pagan and secular tyrannies, covenantal law in the Bible has the foundation to say no to the self-serving egos of political manipulation.
Tenth: Only Genesis has a positive view of unalienable rights.
In our Declaration of Independence, the Creator is appealed to as the only Source for the unalienable rights of life, liberty, property and hence the power to pursue happiness; and these rights are legally codified in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. This Creator is the God of the Bible, not a capricious pagan deity, nor an Enlightenment ahistorical deistic concept. It is the very Creator whom King George III knew he could not overrule.
Genesis 1-2 defines life as the gift of God, it defines human freedom (or liberty) as the gift of God, and it defines stewardship over the planet (e.g., the power to work and secure property, and to freely buy, sell, trade or lease the same) as the gift of God; and all together provide the power to be blessed (a word for happiness).
Darwinian evolution provides no basis for civil rights; the survival of the fittest is the rule which governs all biological life
Darwinian evolution can be argued with much consistency, but only given its starting point. It does not address the prior reality of cosmological cause and effect, so its starting point is arbitrary. The question of what precedes the Hot Big Bang is truly the first question before any subsequent questions can be fully addressed.
Here is the question: Does this foundation of Only Genesis dispense with theological baggage that poisons the debate over intelligent design? Who is not attracted to its uniquely positive views of God’s nature, communication, human nature, human freedom, hard questions, human sexuality, science and the scientific method, verifiable history, covenantal law and unalienable rights?
But alas, one final question: Why did God make the dinosaurs? Well, he loves all people equally, loves scientific inquiry, he loves the Smithsonian, and it helps with their fund-raising.