In an article published October 1 in the New York Times, “Evolution as Zero-Sum Game”, Kenneth Woodward makes an interesting observation:
The danger in intelligent design is not just that it is bad science but that it seeks to enlist evidence from science in the service of religious truth. … But the designer God of intelligent design is no more necessary to Christianity (or other monotheisms) than was the deistic God of Newtonian physics. In both cases, God ends up being made in the image of an intellectual system.
And in a column in the Lawrence Journal World today, Leonard Pitts writes,
I would argue that faith and science are in some ways more complementary than contradictory. But it’s telling that where they do conflict, as in the question of human origin, it’s always people of faith who beg for validation. … There is an unbecoming neediness about these constant schemes to dress religion up as science. Why are some people of faith so desperate for approval from a discipline they reject? …
We inhabit a universe vaster than human comprehension, older than human wanderings, more wondrous than human conception. And in the face of that, we do the natural thing. We ask questions and seek answers.
That’s not a denial of God. It is evidence of Him.
Let me comment on Woodward’s quote first: Deism is an out-dated theology based on the 17th century’s clock-work view of the world. Deism reflected the scientific paradigm of the times in which the world inexorably and thoroughly followed strict mathematical laws of nature. Deism is seen as inadequate theology by mainstream Christians because it denies the active will of God – a God who is everpresent in the outflowing of natural law in ways that are beyond our comprehension. In addition, what we now know of quantum mechanics renders deism inadequate theology because the universe doesn’t unfold in a rigorously deterministic manner.
Now we have intelligent design: a sort of reverse deism in which God’s intervention is necessary to accomplish those things that natural causality cannot do by itself.
It seems to me that in both cases we wind up with a watered-down God, “made in the image of an intellectual system”, rather than a God who transcends both the physical world as well as our attempts to fully understand His nature.
The irony of this in reflected in Pitts’ comments. This subservience of theology to science is at the hands of the very people who most feel that the role and validity of religious belief is in jeopardy. It seems to me that the “unbecoming neediness” they display in concocting “these constant schemes to dress religion up as science” belies quite a bit of insecurity about the God they profess to believe in.
They live with a pervasive cognitive dissonance, I think – simultaneously wanting to inspire people to believe in God and to give Him the glory He deserves for all of creation and at the same time limiting Him by making Him merely a reflection of the current state of scientific understanding.
Real religious faith transcends this viewpoint, a viewpoint which is both petty and arrogant: petty because it reduces God to merely being an “image of an intellectual system”, and conversely arrogant for believing that through science we can determine what God can and cannot do.