TC Verbum No 13 Oct 2008

By James Danaher, Nyack College, NY USA

Verbum: Welcome to Verbum—a page of thoughtful comment and insight giving perspectives and overviews of topical issues. It appears in both our print and electronic editions. Reproduction and wider circulation is encouraged. Please acknowledge as "Verbum: WEA Theological News Oct 2008"

Intelligent Design

Was there an intelligent design behind the creation of the universe? Many think that this is a question worth asking today, since we know that the world is considerably more complex than Darwin imagined it to be. The number of monkeys banging on typewriters needed to create the order we find in today’s world would be exponentially greater than the followers of Darwin had imagined. Christians in particular, seem extremely pleased with this development, but I fail to see why. Adolph Hitler had a design for the world, as did Joe Stalin, George Bush, or Pope Alexander VI. Furthermore, they all had some sort of intelligence behind their designs.

So why would we necessarily be happy about the world having a designer? Perhaps if it were a matter of a benevolent designer, but order does not necessarily imply benevolence, as the above examples attest. Furthermore, even if the designer of the universe was benevolent, that does not necessarily mean that he/she/it had a benevolent design for my life. Indeed, I could be a mere pawn designed to create goods such as compassion, mercy, and charity in others.

I think the only meaningful question concerning design is whether there is a benevolent design for my particular life. This kind of design may seem hard to prove or support with evidence. In fact, however, we can have evidence for such a personal, benevolent designer, but it will not be the kind of modern, scientific evidence that we seek when trying to support the idea of intelligent design for the universe.

The evidence that there is a designer who wishes to give my life a more benevolent design than I could fashion myself only becomes visible when we follow Jesus’ prescription and enter into a certain poverty. It is only in what we might call a state of poverty, where we are no longer capable of providing a design for our lives, that we become aware of a design and provision beyond what we create for ourselves. Most people in the modern developed world are able to create their own design for their lives in ways that people in poverty are not. It seems hard for us to imagine poverty being a good thing, but Jesus tells us that those who are truly blessed are the poor. Certainly there are aspects of poverty that are undesirable, but the one great advantage of poverty is that in such a state we are without the means to create a design for ourselves, and we are able to become aware of another designer and provider at work in our lives beyond ourselves.

Of course, as we have said, the evidence for such a designer is not the kind of which modern science would approve. It is not objective but requires the subjective commitment of a genuine seeker of truth. Like the pearl of great price for which we must abandon all else, the evidence we seek only comes when we have spent all of our resources, and are without the means to create a design for ourselves. So long as we are able to make provision and provide a design for our lives, we are unable to see God’s design for our lives.

It is for that reason that Jesus so often mentions the blessedness of the poor, since it is only in our poverty that we can see a more intelligent design than the one we fashion for ourselves. Likewise, this is one of the reasons Jesus so often warns us against wealth, since wealth affords us the luxury of creating our own design, but such a luxury makes it extremely difficult to see God’s provision and design for our lives.

Further reading:

  • The Way of the Heart. Henri Nouwen.
  • “The Saint.” New Blackfriars. October, 2008