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INTELLIGENT DESIGN: A PRIMER
If God is all-good and all-powerful, how can evil exist in the world? That's the problem of evil in a nutshell. The best response is the free-will defense: Evil is the trade-off God accepts in creating free creatures such as human beings and angels. God chose to create free creatures, and evil is the result of their sin. The sticking point has always been natural evil: How could the sins of Adam and Eve cause, say, the malaria parasite and tsunamis?
Now, intelligent design (ID) is about patterns in nature. It doesn't refer to God, sin, angels, and so on. ID supporters point to the parts of a flagellum that work together to propel a bacterium through fluid, or to the laws of physics that look as though they were fine-tuned for complex life.
So what has ID to do with the problem of evil? Apparently a lot, according to ID critics, who argue that the world is full of bad designs. Richard Dawkins has claimed that the mammalian eye is wired backwards, causing a blind spot. Any good engineer, he insists, would have done things differently. In the same vein, the late Stephen J. Gould appealed to the panda's thumb. He thought the panda's thumb was little more than a stump—good for nothing but stripping leaves off of bamboo.
While I don't think these are bad designs, let's assume for the sake of argument that Dawkins and Gould are right: How do their arguments disprove intelligent design? ID only claims that certain features of life and the universe are best explained by an intelligent cause—that some things in nature look designed because they probably are designed. There's nothing in the argument that says everything in nature is designed as well as it possibly could be. The Ford Edsel and Windows 95 could have been designed better. They were still designed.
But what about evil designs, such as the malaria parasite and the great white shark? Aren't these killing machines? For the sake of argument, let's assume they are. Again, how is that an argument against intelligent design? The guillotine was designed, after all, even though it was used for evil.
"Bad designs” and "evil designs” are still designs; neither of these arguments refutes ID. So why are these arguments so popular among ID critics? What's happening is that ID critics are smuggling in a theological objection under the guise of refuting ID. They're basically saying: God wouldn't do it that way—that is, an all-powerful God wouldn't design something poorly, and a good God wouldn't design something evil. Since there are bad and evil designs in nature, there is no God. QED.
To this, I respond: Nice try, guys. The problem of evil isn't an argument against ID. An argument for intelligent design is just that. Questions about evil and about the nature of the designer are separate questions.
Of course, if a design theorist wants to address the problem of evil as a theologian, he's free to do so. Then he will use all the theological resources at his disposal. What's interesting is that the scientific evidence might even bear on the answer.
The Fall of Man, according to Christian Scriptures, affected not just human beings but all of creation. The Apostle Paul wrote that all of creation is groaning as in pains of childbirth. That means that while the world is still God's good creation, it's not the way it's supposed to be.
By looking carefully, we might be able to distinguish the original design behind its degraded condition. For instance, some design theorists have suggested that many bacteria that kill us or make us sick might have gotten that way by mutation. They might have been harmless or helpful to humans in their original form. Or maybe we have become more susceptible to them.
At this point, such ideas are speculative suggestions. But they could motivate years of research by future scientists. Many of the arguments for bad design, such as the backwards wiring of our eye, turn out to be wrong when investigated. There are actually good reasons for the way our eyes are wired.
In the same way, the supposed evidence for evil design may, on closer inspection, dissipate under the bright light of new and open-minded scientific study. •
Phillip Johnson on the importance of ID. Michael Behe on ID and biochemistry. Guillermo Gonzalez on habitable planets. Don't miss a single one of the 33 new articles on intelligent design and evolution.
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More articles from Intelligent Design: A Primer
The Last Days of Darwin? by James M. Kushiner
What Does Information Tell us About ID? by William A. Dembski
Has ID Been Banned in Public Schools? by Casey Luskin
Do ID Proponents Get Persecuted in the Academy? by Caroline Crocker
What Happens When You Challenge a School's Science Curriculum? by Larry Caldwell
What Happens When You Write Positive Blog Posts About ID? by Mike Egnor
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