Design, the Designer, and a Singing Lion

Neo-Darwinian evolutionists of our day do not deny that the natural world has many characteristics that give the appearance of design. They call this a case of “apparent design,” denying that it is “actual design”; in other words, the depth, complexity, and integration we observe in nature simply looks like the product of an intelligent designer but they aren’t. Rather, they are the outcome of purposeless natural processes that have been plugging along, unguided, for eons. (A naturalistic orchestration Richard Dawkins has called the “blind watchmaker.”) By contrast, Intelligent Design proponents observe the appearance of design in nature and attribute it to an intelligent agency.

I spend much time pondering how the same observations in nature can produce such drastically opposing viewpoints concerning the origin, complexity, and diversity of life. Nothing strikes me as more absurd than seeing the world as a fortuitous accident, claiming that the laws of nature alone have produced sentience and human rationality from nonliving matter. But in the end, metaphysical pre-commitments, not everyday sense, tend to rule one’s perspective on such things. If you are a materialist, only material explanations will do, and anything else is ludicrous; repugnant, even.

I’ve been re-reading C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, this time aloud to my son (what a delight this is!). A passage in The Magician’s Nephew is startlingly relevant to this worldview dichotomy. For context, the scene (which gives me chills every time I read it) involves Aslan’s creation of the world of Narnia from a dark, formless place to one filled with light, life, beauty, and the self-awareness of certain chosen creatures. There are several human witnesses to the musical unfolding of his magnificent creation, but one of them perceives things very differently than the others:

When the Lion had first begun singing, long ago when it was still quite dark, [Uncle Andrew] had disliked the song very much. It made him think and feel things he did not want to think and feel. Then, when the sun rose and he saw that the singer was a lion (“only a lion,” as he said to himself) he tried his hardest to make believe that it wasn’t singing and never had been singing–only roaring as any lion might in a zoo in our own world. “Of course it can’t really have been singing,” he thought, “I must have imagined it. I’ve been letting my nerves get out of order. Who ever heard of a lion singing?” And the longer and more beautiful the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring. Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed. Uncle Andrew did. He soon did hear nothing but roaring in Aslan’s song. Soon he couldn’t have heard anything else even if he had wanted to.

May you hear the Lion singing and embrace the song in all its splendor.

Blessings,

Melissa

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28 thoughts on “Design, the Designer, and a Singing Lion

  1. Personally, I think a universe in which we do not find “design” is actually one of the biggest testaments to the Creator. After all, if we are able to point to “this” or “that” as evidences of God in creation, we have started down the path of making God look a whole lot like ourselves (a constant danger in metaphysics).

    Rather, we should embrace the mystery and unknowableness of the universe and be awed that although it eclipses our understanding, God is yet the creator, sustainer and artificer of all—even if this has happened in ways that we could not possibly uncover, delineate, or control.

    • existdissolve: You’ve made a similar comment about design in the universe before. As rational creatures made in the spiritual image of the Creator, I don’t think it’s any stretch at all to establish that the Creator is a rational being, even if we had nothing more than the laws of physics to judge from. That’s not anthropomorphizing God. That there is a comprehensibility about many things in the cosmos is testament to His benevolence. I know I don’t know you personally, but based on some of your comments, I believe you might really like A Meaningful World by Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt. I just finished it for a class recently and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a re-reader for sure. Let me know if you check it out.

  2. Romans 1 and Psalm 19 makes it clear that evidence of God’s existence and nature is easily seen, but as Romans 1 explains, people suppress that knowledge. Man is blind and dead in sin. It is because of sin that man suppresses the universal knowledge of the reality of God.

  3. @Melissa–I’m not sure I understand. You said that you don’t think it’s a stretch to “establish that God is a rational” being, even if “we had nothing more than the laws of physics to judge from.” But how is this so? The extension of rationality to God from the human person presupposes something of a transcendental, meta-physical understanding of the nature of personhood, something which is categorically beyond the pale of physics. So how could we establish that God is a rational being “from physics alone” when the fundamental premise of the imago dei is, in fact, trans-physical?

    The fact is, physics can neither establish nor disprove the nature or existence of God…and personally, I’m more than happy to keep such a boundary in place. The nature of faith, after all, is not rooted in physics or “evidence,” but rather in the existential, trans-experiential committing of oneself to the call of God over and against human rationality. The moment that we feel we can root the reasonableness of faith in evidence or physics is the very moment that we have lost the plot, so to speak.

    • I don’t think we’re on the same page, exactly. What I meant by that statement was that because the material world is governed by comprehensible, consistent, mathematical laws, we can infer that the creative agent responsible for the material world and its laws is a rational being. There is no reason that multiple systems of mathematics should map onto the material world so perfectly–unless a rational being designed it to be so. I believe that the creation can indeed reflect truths of this type about the creator.

      I’m an evidentialist, but my faith is not “rooted” in evidence. However (and I already know you disagree with this) I do think that the evidence available to us can contribute to our knowledge of God’s attributes. I believe this is a manifestation of His benevolence toward mankind.

    • @Melissa: Although I agree that evidence has a place, I probably have less faith in its power than you do. I am Reformed in my theology and presuppositional (i.e. Reformed) in apologetics.

    • @Henry: I’m very sympathetic to presuppositional apologetics. In my graduate program, we are taught both angles. As a matter of fact, my current class (Essential Christian Doctrine) is taught by an excellent professor who holds to Reformed theology.

    • Nice. What have you read in presuppostional apologetics? I think I recommended a while back that you read “The Ultimate Proof of Creation” by Jason Lisle of Answers in Genesis. It is a helpful primer on the presuppositional approach (specifically influenced by Greg Bahnsen) with application to the origins question. One nice thing about that book is that it includes real emails sent to AIG with Lisle’s responses so that you can practice applying what you learn in the book. I learned of this book from a friend at a local creationism ministry who attended Lisle’s Ultimate Apologetics lectures.

      James White is a great example of a current apologist who follows the presuppositional approach.

    • Between 2001 and 2008, I read a great deal of material from AiG. I have not read the Lisle book you’ve recommended, though. I have some of his lectures on DVD. I’m not committed to YEC or OEC, but I’m doing a lot of exploring in the OEC area right now. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on your position.

    • My main issue with OEC is the problem it creates for the representative headship of Adam, which is the basis of the representative role of Christ. I consider OEC proponents fellow believers, but I do not think they have fully thought through the implications.

      I wrote this article for a local creationism ministry in which I address logic from a presuppositional perspective. I apply Lisle’s book.

      http://tasc-creationscience.org/sites/default/files/newsletters/2010/mar10.pdf

    • Thanks for the link to your article. I just downloaded a copy. If I have questions about it, is it okay for me to email you at the address that shows up on my blog dashboard?

  4. @Henry–I’m not sure I see the Pauline author making an argument “for design.” The writer’s point is that sinfulness has poisoned the entire orientation of humanity so that even in the things in which they should find wonder and awe (e.g., the creation), they rather find something of which they can make another idol to the idol of self-willing.

    As the author clearly states, it is the nature of God which is revealed in creation, not the other way around. The author’s intention is not to argue for “design” in creation; but rather that the sinful mind of humanity finds itself increasingly and overwhelming incapable of acknowledging God in any aspect of the reality which it seeks to recreate for itself.

    Another thing that’s interesting here is that the author pretty clearly acknowledges that any thing of God that one might find in creation is in direct proportion to one’s orientation to the creator. That is, it is the interplay of a right orientation to God and a participation in creation which unveils the nature of God who is ultimately the artificer of it. But what is strikingly absent is the creationists’ assertions that such conclusions are self-evident on the basis of their natural phenomenon, rather than on the basis of the observer’s relatedness to the Creator.

    And of course, there is nothing in these texts which suggests any particular *mechanism* for creation, which makes them fundamentally poor choices for proof-texts to begin with.

  5. I was not saying that Paul was arguing for design. He isn’t. I was responding to what appears to be a rejection of considering evidences for the existence of God, such as in your statement: “After all, if we are able to point to ‘this’ or ‘that’ as evidences of God in creation, we have started down the path of making God look a whole lot like ourselves.” If I have misinterpreted you, then please tell me.

    While I support pointing to evidences of God, evidence alone will not convince someone. Someone who refuses to believe will not be convinced by any evidence (Luke 16:31). An unbeliever is dead (Eph 2) and blinded (2 Cor 4:4) in sin and cannot believe without the work of the Holy Spirit (John 6).

    Ultimately, the evangelist or apologist must do what he can to present/defend the gospel and then leave the results to God. Only God can change the hardened heart so that it can receive the Gospel, but believers have the privilege to be instruments in spreading the Gospel.

  6. If one is left simply to “leave the results to God,” then I guess I don’t really understand the place which trotting out token “evidences” has in the process of evangelism. Most specifically, I don’t understand it because of the odd confusion of epistemological domains that is occurring in your suggestion.

    That is, you offer that it is God (a metaphysical conception) that is ultimately responsible for and solely capable of revealing truth (again, metaphysical) of God to individuals. Yet you also suggest that evidences (*supposedly* phenomenological) are incapable of convincing someone who doesn’t already believe the suggested evidence. So…if only those who already believe the evidence *can* believe the evidence, what’s the point of the evidence, again?

    And how, exactly, is “design” somehow synonymous with evangelism? My suggestion is that the Church should concentrate on actual matters of importance, rather than wasting so much time and energy on topics which ultimately do not matter–like origins.

    • Yes the results are ultimately up to God, but here we encounter the old issue of evangelism vs. the sovereignty of God. Yes God is sovereign, and yes he commands us to evangelize. He ordains both the ends and the means. Paul used evidence and reason in his evangelism (Acts), but he also acknowledged the sovereignty of God (Rom. 9). I said that evidence alone is not sufficient because the unbeliever is blinded by his sin and needs the work of the Holy Spirit before he will believe (John 6; 2 Cor. 4:4).

      When engaged in evangelism, we do not know what the results will be with a given person, but we are commanded to evangelize nonetheless.

      I never equated design with evangelism.

  7. “the material world is governed by comprehensible, consistent, mathematical laws, we can infer that the creative agent responsible for the material world and its laws is a rational being. There is no reason that multiple systems of mathematics should map onto the material world so perfectly–unless a rational being designed it to be so.”

    I guess I’m just a lot more anthropic in this regard. We see a comprehensible, consistent world because, well, we exist to see it. If it weren’t this way, it’s unlikely we’d be around to comprehend it, so the fact that the universe is the way it is…is really all we can infer from it. To extend any feature of the physical universe (e.g., “all” that there is) to the metaphysical is ultimately an act of deliberate epistemological transcendence of everything to which we have epistemological and phenomenological access. We cannot “infer” God from the universe; rather, we have to leave behind the universe, in a sense, in order to get at the concept of God (at least a concept of God that is more than a pure anthropomorphizing).

    To me, that it appears we are capable of doing such a thing is a stronger argument for the existence of God than is the apparent (and, really, epistemologically manufactured) ordering of the universe. But such an argument is superior, I think, because it avoids some of the pitfalls of materializing God (which I think your perspective ultimately does) and concomitantly preserves the inherent irrationality and crisis of faith. Our capability of knowing God (on the basis of human rationality) leaves us in darkness, so it is only the full commuting of oneself into this darkness of unknowing in which the light of the Father is capable of illuminating our hearts.

    • “We see a comprehensible, consistent world because, well, we exist to see it. If it weren’t this way, it’s unlikely we’d be around to comprehend it, so the fact that the universe is the way it is…is really all we can infer from it. ”

      Wow, that’s almost verbatim Richard Dawkins.

      http://www.discovery.org/a/91
      (See objection #3 under section III)

    • Hi Melissa–

      I read the response to the objection on the link you posted, and I don’t find it very compelling.

      Why, after all, is our existence improbable in a single-universe scenario? We have no data about other universes (real or failed or non-existent), so from the pure perspective of statistics, it is actually 100% likely in all known circumstances that our universe, as-it-exists, should exist…and that we should exist within it to know it as-it-exists.

      The opposite argument is precisely equivalent regarding the “probability” of such a universe existing based on the assumption of a deity. Given that we have no metaphysical knowledge of God attempting to create other universes, or of a deity’s natural inclination to create or not create universes such as ours, there is nothing inherent to the assumption of a deity that would increase the probability (or improbability) of our universe existing as it does over and against any other imaginable configuration.

      So whether one assumes a deity uses some naturalistic mechanism to create the universe or that the universe exists as it does because it simply does, probability and likelihood have *nothing* to do with the conclusion. We can imagine all we want that it may be unlikely for our universe to exist as it does based on speculations about the configurations of universes that do not exist. However, from the perspective of the single universe that we know, it is not only extremely natural that a universe like ours *should* exist, but there is also a 100% likelihood that it would exist as-it-exists because of the sheer fact that it does, in fact, exist as it does.

      The last bit I found interesting was the dredging up of the firing squad example. Rather than debunking the weak anthropic principle, this analogy actually confirms it. The premise of the analogy is that faced with such unexpected results, one would be forced to conclude that the reason the prisoner was not killed was because the firing squad deliberately missed…after all, what are the chances that 50 trained sharp-shooters would miss?

      But in actuality, this analogy fails because, whereas with the universe our data set is limited to the single universe which we know, the sharp-shooter analogy presumes multiple data sets. Obviously, when this incident is viewed in light of the thousands of other “samples” in which the prisoner winds up dead, one would question why this outcome occurred over and against the more common outcome of certain death.

      However, with the question of the origin and development of the universe, we have no such wealth of other data. Ours is the only universe that we know and is, in fact, the only universe that we *could* know. Therefore, there can be nothing within this single data point that could lead us–as in the example of the firing squad–to conclude that there is something *odd* or *improbable* in the outcome that we find. Odd compared to what? Improbable in light of what?

      Rather, given that this universe is all that we know, the sheer fact that it exists should not be a source of skepticism, but should rather be one of the only pieces of data of which we can have reasonable epistemological surety.

    • One more thought on this :)

      I think the fundamental fact of the single-ness of the universe can rebut every argument for “design,” for it is simply impossible to argue beyond the closed data set of the universe to which we have access.

      In continuing to read the article you posted, I noticed the opening illustration of the “Mars Dome.” The writer argues that we would naturally presume it was designed…and I agree. But why would we assume it was designed? Precisely because it bears some resemblance to other things that we have designed. The “designed-ness” of the structure is not a pristine, objective fact that suddenly strikes us when viewing it; rather, in its formation we see similarities and comparisons to other structures that we’ve designed.

      But as with the argument in my previous post, the universe is different than a Martian structure, or the odd coincidence of apparent poor-marksmanship by a firing squad. With each of these, we have scads of data against which to formulate judgments regarding the probability of each, and specifically in relation to the Martian structure, we have our own experiences of human design in which to root our conclusion.

      The universe, however, has no corollary. We know of only one, and what we experience of it informs our understanding of what universes *must* be like. But since we cannot compare the universe to other universes, and because we cannot ourselves construct and manipulate our own universes (by which we could compare *the* universe to), we can find no reasonable position from which to assert that the universe’s existence and configuration is more or less probable when assuming or denying the agency of a deity. We can certainly try to extrapolate our experiences of human design onto the processes of the universe; however, because we cannot ourselves manipulate or remake the same, upon what can we base the claim that this or that feature of the universe is designed or not?

    • The fundamental difference between our views is that I have no problem with drawing analogies between the material universe and known cases of intelligent agency. If one agrees with the basic premise that man possesses somewhat reliable cognition (and based on the success of many scientific disciplines, I think that’s a reasonable conclusion), then I think it’s exactly Uncle Andrew’s brand of intellectual denial to say there are no correlations between known design and the cosmos. Multiverse theory is a drastic leap into the realm of zero evidence, but directly observing and studying the stunningly complex language system in DNA (which I’ve done in genetic research labs) and deducing that it is a product of intelligent engineering is not a stretch by any means. You simply don’t have to have other universes to compare to this one to have justification for a design argument. Based on millennia of human experience, we know hallmarks of design when we see them. And, as I know we’ve already disagreed upon, I concur with Shedd’s simple statement that “The existence of the rational universe implies that of a rational first cause.”

  8. “If one agrees with the basic premise that man possesses somewhat reliable cognition (and based on the success of many scientific disciplines, I think that’s a reasonable conclusion), then I think it’s exactly Uncle Andrew’s brand of intellectual denial to say there are no correlations between known design and the cosmos.”

    I’m not denying that humans have come to possess some knowledge of the universe as-it-exists (or, more appropriately, have created models that consistently support what they presuppose the universe is like). But I’m not sure I see how this “success of many scientific disciplines” is necessarily supportive of the discernment of some kind of divine agency within the structures of the universe. To your point about the correlation of “known design” and the cosmos, is it that these correlations actually exist, or is it rather that they represent the extension of an overly speculative desire to find such within the cosmos (whether for ideological ends or otherwise)? Given the present and significant rift in thinking on these issues within the scientific (and ancillaries) community, it’s clear that the overwhelming “reasonableness” of design-in-the-cosmos has yet to be established. While some will certainly be conspiratorial and suggest that the rift is purely ideological, I still argue that it is primarily an issue of evidence (or, in the case of universes, the lack of evidence).

    RE: the example of DNA, I’m not sure I understand the correlation that you’re assuming between complexity and design. Just because something is at or beyond the capabilities of a human mind would, it seems, have very little to do with whether the same phenomenon had achieved such complexity by virtue of being designed that way or by virtue of simply existing that way. And the argument is actually self-defeating, for there would appear to be no clear threshold at which something is simple enough to *not* need to been designed or, conversely, achieves an adequate complexity to automatically require the assumption of design.

    In such a milieu of confusion and lack of specificity, we find ourselves actually having to say that all things must necessarily bear the marks of design. While this is certainly the desired goal of the “fine-tuning” adherents, we find a very disingenuous foundation within their thinking. After all, if nothing is “simple” enough to not absolutely and necessarily bear the marks of “design,” then every argument about the fine-tuning of the universe is completely vacuous. If we cannot nail down what “must” be designed (and therefore inherently bear the marks of design) and what need not illicit such a conclusion, then there remains absolutely no “unlikelihood” that our universe could be anything other than it is without having been designed. The rhetoric of the “improbability” of conditions coalescing as they have goes away, and all that we are left with is the pervasive and inescapable autocracy of “design” that would render even the simplest scientific experiment to be absurdly incoherent and pointless.

    “Based on millennia of human experience, we know hallmarks of design when we see them. ”

    Correction: we have limited knowledge of the hallmarks of OUR design when we see them. And this is precisely my point. We presume design in houses because we build houses, and we’ve had varying experiences of houses through our shared histories. Thus, in the fictional example of the Martian structure, we would probably assume design because bits of it resembled experiences of other structures.

    But the universe is not a house. We don’t build universes, nor do we experience universes, plural (only the one, and that in a very limited and closed way). While one might presume design by correlating the relative complexity of a man-made structure to the complexity of a DNA sequence or a radio wave or whatever else, the correlation is presumptuous and speculative. It is rather like a manner of projection of our own creativity into the structures and processes of the universe…but despite the projection, there is nothing objective within this correlation that can be demonstrated as a token of “design.”

    As a Christian, I certainly believe that the universe is created and designed by God; however, I believe that this happened in a way completely beyond comprehension or articulation. This means that on the pure basis of studying the universe, we would not find “God.” God’s creation of all was not on the level of materialistic processes and mechanisms, so I think it is presumptuous and wrong-headed to presume that we would find these mechanisms when studying the cosmos. And if we did find them? Well, I think we would really have only found ourselves, and whatever “God” we believed this would have uncovered behind the curtain would be no God at all. It would only be a bigger version of ourselves, flung into the distant past and arrayed with better brainpower and resources than our own.

    So the question remains: Can God be discerned in the universe? Most definitely. But it is not on level of materialism (which is what you propose, ultimately). We are certainly created in the image of God, not materially, but relationally. Therefore, it is in this transcendental experience of faith through which God is discerned in creation. We see God in what is seen; it’s not on the basis of what is seen, but rather through our union with God. Outside of this crisis of faith, the universe is just a universe.

    • Good grief, you have a lot of time to write!

      The points you’ve discussed here are explored in depth in the Wiker and Witt book I mentioned several comments back, and not in the way you would expect. The arguments go quite a bit beyond the standard ID fare (though I love standard ID fare). Wiker and Witt go for a completely integrated approach to the subject. I hope you’ll give it a look. It really is an excellent read!

      Blessings,
      Melissa

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