Surprise! Intelligent Design Is Theology

The Discovery Institute has a strange new post at their creationist blog today. It’s about theology — an unexpected topic for a group that promotes itself as a science outfit. Their post, which has no author’s by-line, is titled Is ID Bad Theology? No, but the Objection Is. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis, and occasional Curmudgeonly interjections that look [like this]:

On a new ID the Future episode [Ooooooooooooh! A Discoveroid podcast!], philosopher Jay Richards responds to Mark Vernon’s charge that intelligent design is bad theology.

Who are those people? We know nothing about Richards, other than the fact that he often hosts Discoveroid podcasts. As for Mark Vernon, the guy who said intelligent design is bad theology, Wikipedia says he’s a writer, broadcaster and journalist with a degree in theology from Oxford. He also has a physics degree and a PhD in philosophy from other schools. Let’s see how the issue plays out. The Discoveroids tell us:

No, Richards says, the charge itself is based on bad theology, bad reasoning, and a faulty understanding of both intelligent design theory and theism.

Harsh criticism, but why would a science outfit — which is what the Discoveroids claim to be — worry about theology? Maybe we’ll find out. The Discoveroids say:

First, in the context of biology, the theory of intelligent design doesn’t specify the identify of a designer or the specific means of causation. It merely makes an argument to intelligent design as the best explanation for certain features of the natural world.

Right. It’s like William Paley’s Watchmaker analogy. You know how it goes — if something looks designed, then by golly it is designed! The Discoveroids rely heavily on the watchmaker analogy, and claim that they have an amazing ability to detect design. Their post continues:

Second, even if it did involve arguing that the designer was God and that God had intervened at particular points in the history of the cosmos, such as in the origin of life or the emergence of human beings, it would hardly be blasphemy. Far from it.

Blasphemy? Why would a science outfit be concerned about such a thing? Astronomers never give it a thought. Neither do physicists, or any other scientists — including biologists. But the Discoveroids are concerned, and they respond to the charge.

It would be orthodox theism [Oh, then it’s okay!], an outlook shared by theists as diverse as Christians, Jews, and Muslims, just to name a few. Under theism, God is understood as free and able to create both ex nihilo (out of nothing) at the beginning of creation, and within the created order.

Is this making any sense to you, dear reader? Same here, but let’s read on:

God, Richards says, “is under no obligation to conform to Mark Vernon’s rules of tidiness and propriety.” Vernon has mistaken a narrow deism for theism and then charged theists with blasphemy [Gasp!] for considering God free to act within the created order.

That’s the Discoveroids’ defense of the charge that their “theory” of intelligent design is bad theology. They insist that it’s good theology. We’ll take their word for it.

Hey — right at the end of the post we’re told who Richards is — and it’s something we knew and should have remembered:

Richards is a senior fellow of Discovery Institute and co-author, with Guillermo Gonzalez, of The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery.

So there you are, dear reader. In case you were having doubts, the Discoveroids’ “theory” of intelligent design is theology. And not just any theology, it’s good theology. Don’t ever doubt it!

Copyright © 2021. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

13 responses to “Surprise! Intelligent Design Is Theology

  1. Richards is hewing to the standard theological line, so far as I can see. Like SC, however, I’ll be jiggered if I think that an Oxford-trained theologian would deny that God may, at His will, intervene in the created order. What I think is happening is some kind of strawman. I think Vernon suggested, not that God cannot, but that He need not intervene in the created order to accomplish this particular object of His will, that being the creation of a being that might come to know Him.

    To deny that is to posit that unspecified supernatural interventions were necessary to accomplish that purpose. But that is to limit God’s providence and foresight, to subject Him to circumstance, and to bind Him in time – and that is bad theology, emphatically so.

    Is that what the DI is positing? Who knows? They aren’t saying. The standard formula trotted out by Richards – “intelligent design as the best explanation for certain features of the natural world” – is infuriatingly vague. What features? When did this “intelligent design” take place? There is absolutely incontrovertible evidence that every feature of living things appeared in known time and sequence. Was there an intelligence that designed each one and introduced them in turn? That implies multiple interventions. How many were there? The DI won’t say.

    Of course the DI is also not saying who this designer was, which is an even more irritating little piece of handwavery. Richards’ insouciant sophistry, denying that it was necessarily God, the sole deity of the Abrahamic religions, because we won’t actually say so, is yet more irritating still. Think of it! This is an intelligence that designed the natural world, and that actuated that design and caused it to function, being in active control of it over vast gulfs of time; but we’re not saying that it’s God. You’ll have to make up your own mind about that. Why, it could have been space aliens!

    Who does Richards think he’s kidding? This is God. It’s the only thing it can be. And since that’s what they’re really saying, no matter how coy the intellectual fan-dance they perform, they are necessarily using theology.

    Very well then. Use it. Make your arguments. Show how divine interventions and impositions on the created order, apparently repeated ones, are consistent with omniscience and omnipotence and divine providence. If you’re not going to do that, admit that what you’re about is intellectually barren, pointless and useless.

    But suppose the DI actually does deploy a theology that works. They haven’t, and they won’t, but just suppose. Then, an even higher barrier awaits: demonstrate that such interventions actually happened. If you’re ever going to make any impression on science, you must move the argument on from speculations of theology to real events, data, observations, evidence.

    And of course, that is never going to happen.

  2. Eddie Janssen

    The Christian God existed before the beginning of time and space but did not create anything. The job was done by one (or more) of x existing entities.
    The Christian God did not exist before the beginning of time and space and so did not create anything. The job was done by one (or more) of x existing entities who also created the christian God.

    As a christian, pick the one which is the rock and which is the hard place
    (and there are more devastating variations…).

  3. Eddie Janssen, if I were a Christian, I’d answer “none of the above”.

    Try C.
    The Christian God exists, existed and will always exist both within time and space and independently of them. He created all things from nothing. There is no other. By definition, He alone is the only entity whatsoever that was never created, for He is the Creator, never the creature.

    To that God, all time, all space, all matter, all energy, all that ever existed, all that ever will exist, all that can exist, are a single perfectly known gestalt. All events, every interaction of every wave and/or particle that ever existed or ever could exist, are perfectly and completely known to Him, as is every outcome of every such event to the ultimate reaches of time. This gestalt would be completely static, except for the operation of free will, which is possibly an explanation for why free will was granted human beings – so that some other entity than the Almighty could effect change and movement. But that is speculation.

    Your A and B are reminiscent of the Kabbalah. I doubt very much that they were ever Christian notions – but of course I don’t know everything, and there’s enough skew turns and sideways paths in Christian thought to confound anybody.

  4. Eddie Janssen

    I agree completely. But the DI people (mostly christians) have to consider these two options as long as they tell us that “the theory of intelligent design doesn’t specify the identify of a designer”.
    Which should bring up some cognitive dissonance.

  5. D. Creation is God´ s action, not limited by space and time, by which everything exists.

  6. “The Discoveroids ….. and claim that they have an amazing ability to detect design.”
    They especially excel at making predictions with hindsight.

    “Is this making any sense to you, dear reader?”
    Yes, the anonymous god is omnipotent and hence can do whatever and whenever he/she/it wants. There are no restrictions. For the rebuttal I refer to TomS.

    “able to create both ex nihilo”
    But without a designer god creation ex nihilo is impossible – nothing can come out of nothing. Jaybird, being an IDiot, just has invalidated the First Cause Argument without realizing it by making it circular.

    “the Discoveroids’ “theory” of intelligent design is theology.”
    Well that’s what their Wedge Document is about, isn’t it? Reject methodological naturalism in favour of divine intervention, about which only theology speaks.
    They didn’t deserve the nickname IDiots for nothing.

  7. Simple answer to all theological questions, including the ones above: there is no god.
    ‘Nuf said.

    But OK, contrary to my habit, let me play along a bit.
    What exactly does separate good theology from bad theology? I ask because I think the theology of creacrappers as bad as the theology of many “respected” theologians, whether they teach at Oxford or not.
    If the answer is something like “consistency and coherence” then all theology is bad, because the concept of an intervening supernatural entity itself is incoherent. As a result it’s eg impossible to make any sense of the popular “God is love” – only the third word is intelligble.

  8. chris schilling


    You walk in the room as if you’re lookin’ for a dancer
    But all you find is some kid who’s got a cancer
    You try so hard to find purpose and an answer
    But everyone tells you: “Piss off! Go away!”
    Because something is happening here,
    And you don’t know what it is
    Do you, Mr. Jay?

    You raise you hand and say “Is this theology?”
    And somebody says “Well, what else could it be?”
    And then they laugh at you ‘coz you flunked biology
    Your so-called theory has had its day
    And you know something is happening,
    But you don’t know what it is
    Do you, Mr. Jay?

    You’re out of breath, you’re huffing and a-puffing
    It ain’t fair, ‘coz someone knocked out all your stuffing
    They all point at you: “Nothing came from a Nothing!”
    You turn to God, but you can’t think what to say
    Because something is happening here,
    But you don’t know what it is
    Do you, Mr. Jay?

    (Apologies to R. Zimmerman)

  9. Just substitute “Harry Potter” for “designer” and it reads just the same.

  10. @docbill1351
    ‘There was a lot more to magic, as Harry quickly found out, than waving your wand and saying a few funny words.’

  11. Harry drew his wand letting loose the spell, “Specifidy Complexus!”

    Nothing happened.

  12. Maybe he should have tried “Irredicibilis Complexus”? “Evolutionis Falsificatus”? “Altius Ontogeneticus”? “Cluncerius Duncerius”?

  13. Or the Forbidden Curse:

    Oogitus boogitus!