Intelligent Design

Much has been written in the blogosphere in the last week and a half about the Texas science curriculum director who was fired for sending an email to friends suggesting that she thought more highly of evolution than 'intelligent design' (ID). (I find this amazing given the fact that well over 95% of the scientists of the world hold an evolutionary worldview.) I first learned about this story in Wired, which directly led to Wired science blogger Brandon Keim's blog about my version of Evolutionary Christianity, and then, the next day, his interview of me. Since then, however, this Texas story has been written up nearly everywhere.

While I appreciate the heart and soul of the intelligent design movement and respect its key proponents at the Discovery Institute, ultimately I believe ID is a dead-end path. The main problem with ID, as I see it, is that it trivializes God and dishonors science. The phrase itself, 'intelligent design', presupposes a view of the world as a created object rather than as a divinely creative reality in its own right. One of the great modern revelations, which could not possibly have been revealed in biblical times, is this: divine immanence is measurably real! The Universe as a whole (including planet Earth) is creative at all nested levels: atoms, molecules, cells, organisms, planets, and galaxies alike, with increasing complexity emerging over time. More, we don't merely believe this is true, we know it. Reinterpreting traditional insights and doctrines in light of this fact is the Great Work of religion in the 21st century. ID presupposes an otherworldly designer outside the system - transcendent, but not immanent nor omnipresent.

It's not a surprise to me that the scientific community has so roundly rejected intelligent design as an explanation for how the world became complex. ID fails to appreciate the revelatory nature of the worldwide, self-correcting scientific enterprise. It also perpetuates in people's minds a 'God of the gaps' view of time, space, and matter. That is, wherever there's a gap in our understanding, that's where God's activity is. To my mind, this is an inconsequential and trivialized understanding of the divine. An evolutionary God is so much more real than this—indeed, undeniably real!

'Intelligent design' as a term first appeared in 1989, two years after the teaching of 'biblical creationism' in public schools was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Its definition differs from creationism in that it is not tied to a literal interpretation of the Bible or Qur'an. Most of the leaders in the ID movement, in fact, accept that the Universe is billions of years old.

Unlike creationism and intelligent design—both belief-based approaches critical of mainstream science—Evolution Theology as a worldview and 'evolutionary spirituality' (Part IV of TGFE!) as a personal practice are knowledge-based approaches grounded in our best and most current scientific understandings of this evolving Cosmos and its human expression.

In my opinion, the courts are right to reject the teaching of intelligent design in public schools, at least in science classes. But I predict that the perspective offered in Thank God for Evolution! will be embraced by public school officials and the courts alike. Having endorsements from five Noble laureates and many other scientists, theologians, ministers, and cultural leaders across the theological and philosophical spectrum, including Eugenie C. Scott, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education, should help. In contrast, I can't imagine any of these science and religion leaders backing a book espousing intelligent design. (For those not familiar with Genie Scott, she and NCSE are the main defenders of teaching evolution in public school systems throughout the United States.)

"Michael Dowd illustrates in Thank God for Evolution that there are many ways to be a spiritual person, and that all of them are enriched by an understanding of modern science, especially evolution. This is a creative, provocative book that sheds light on just about any spiritual path one might be on. Many will find their faith revolutionized." — Eugenie C. Scott, Ph.D., Executive Director, National Center for Science Education