Intelligent Design?

I find interesting the “New Atheism” versus “Intelligent Design” confrontation (most trenchant in the USA), which can have the ‘appearance’ of science versus religion. Prominent new atheists are Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens, and on my shelves are “The God Delusion” and “God Is Not Great”, both superbly written, containing plenty I agree with, while also, I think, overstating their case. 

Hitchens says that “religion poisons everything” – an arguably extravagant claim. It can reasonably be argued that religion has in fact inspired some good, and atheism some harm – Bolshevik Russia and Nazi Germany come to mind. Human nature is what it is, both good and bad, whether people are religious or atheistic.

Dawkins suggests that, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom, no design.” That’s not, however, a scientific statement, but a personal viewpoint. Having also, on my shelves, a guide to the incredible, multi-functional, skilfully integrated, breath-taking complexity of a living cell (see above) I’m less sure about that. The leap from dead molecules to the simplest replicating cell is enormous. As Dawkins himself acknowledges, evolution needs life to exist before it can start, and can’t currently explain how life began.

I also have “Cosmic Chemistry” by John Lennox and “Return of the God Hypothesis” by Stephen Meyer. Both argue a case for intelligent design on scientific grounds. They deal with the precise initial distribution of energy-matter, and fine-tuning of the laws and constants of physics, without which there would be no life, if even a universe. They also deal with the vast amount of exactly sequenced, coded information required in DNA to guide the necessary structuring and functioning of living cells. In our experience, vast quantities of meaningful information, in digital code or language and literature, are generated by intelligent minds. Can such be generated by a random, bit-at-a-time process over however many millennia?

Both, then, argue a scientific case for ‘intelligent design’, but where they, I think, also indulge in overstatement is in claiming that design necessarily entails a divine designer, in their case the God of the Jewish-Cristian scriptures. That opens an invitingly wide door for the new atheism, and the going-nowhere debate that invariably ensues. 

So I’m looking for some ‘middle way’ between militantly materialistic scientism, and authoritatively unsubstantiated biblicism. In the meantime, grab a seat and a coffee. Here’s a fascinating 20 minute animation of the wonders that go on inside a living cell. Despite its sub-microscopic size, it’s like a vast, vibrant, streamlined ‘factory’, crammed with a variety of production and assembly lines, and specialised ‘machines’, ‘workers’ and ‘transport vehicles’, all inter-relating with a unified, synchronised efficiency. Can this have arisen out of a random, bit-at-a-time process, even over a period of ten billion years, or does it suggest an intelligent origin of some unknown, or even, unknowable kind? Could it be that “in the beginning was Mind(without any definite, or indefinite, article in front of it)?

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