I’ve been thinking about belief in God, the theory of evolution, and a lecture by Dr. Francis Collins that I attended last year, in part due to recent articles in The New York Times and National Review.
According to The New York Times, a film producer recently stirred up the evolution-creationism war following the release of his film, which argues “freedom of thought and freedom of inquiry have been expelled from publicly-funded high schools, universities and research institutions.” The victims in the film are those who have asserted supernatural involvement in development of life on earth. The atheistic evolutionists who were interviewed for the film feel like they were caught in a bait-and-switch scheme, claiming that the original premise on which they participated in the interviews was not reflected in the final product. Read the article from The New York Times here.
Although I wish academic freedom were an absolute right, I also wish the theistic parties in this discussion wouldn’t appear so devious. I can’t help but feel frustrated by this ongoing debate. I was fortunate to attend a lecture by Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, at the C.S. Lewis Foundation’s Summer Institute in July 2006. Collins is a convinced Christian, challenged and ultimately converted by Lewis’ work Mere Christianity.
Collins is also a convinced evolutionist, who spent a chunk of his lecture giving succinct refutations of each of the following points of view: atheism, agnosticism, creationism, and intelligent design. Certainly most people would agree that Collins has the expertise to speak on the science behind his presuppositions. His case, made in layman’s terms, was impressive.
Collins’ refutation of intelligent design involved his assertion that questions previously unanswered by science are now answerable by science. Intelligent design proponents once made much of their headway by pointing to unexplained biochemical changes in the chain of evolution. Because the changes were unexplained by science, the intelligent design proponents argued, the changes must have required God’s direct intervention for the biochemical processes to advance and for life to continue evolving. Collins said he thought new research accounts for the advancement of evolution through naturalistic processes.
However, Collins made it clear that he thought God kicked it all off in the first place. The difference between him and the intelligent design proponents was and is that Collins saw a completely naturalistic, evolutionary chain in the development of life on earth, while the intelligent design folks thought God had to intervene at certain points to keep the ball rolling. But Collins put God at the very beginning of the naturalistic, evolutionary chain.
A recent article in National Review added, at least for me, some ballast to Collins’ point of view, although it looks at the debate from a different angle than that addressed in Collins’ lecture. In the Oct. 8 edition, Jim Manzi wrote in part about some of Richard Dawkins’ presuppositions, and how those aren’t necessarily solid:
Dawkins himself, in The Blind Watchmaker, is clear about the fact that evolution requires pre-existing building blocks. He writes, “The physicist’s problem is the problem of ultimate origins and ultimate natural laws. The biologist’s problem is the problem of complexity. The biologist tries to explain the workings, and the coming into existence, of complex things, in terms of simpler things. He can regard his task as done when he has arrived at entities so simple that they can be safely handed over to the physicists.”
Dawkins, then, has punted the problem to the physicists. Specifically, he cites The Creation, a book by Oxford physics professor Peter Atkins that addresses this question. Dawkins says that Atkins claims the original units of creation do not demand anything as grand as a Creator. But Atkins has come to have second thoughts. In a speech in Edinburgh earlier this year, Atkins had this to say: “I must admit that we simply do not know how the universe can come into being without intervention.”
This “intervention” is not necessarily the same kind of “intervention” endorsed by intelligent design. Atkins refers to the universe coming into being, not to individual biochemical changes along the way to life as we know it. Atkins is saying that he cannot account for what kicked it all off. He cannot account, essentially, for what Aristotle called the “Prime Mover” behind the origins of life and the universe.
After I read what Atkins said, I recalled Carl Sagan’s statement that nothing ever existed in the universe except matter. Granted, Sagan and his works are no longer players in the ongoing debate, as new research has produced new books and ideas, but the question of where matter came from could be seen as equally baffling as the question of where God came from. No one can answer it.
But why not call Collins’ point of view “the other intelligent design,” or “the better intellgient design” – the view that says we can scientifically account for how life evolved, but we cannot scientifically account for its First Designer, for its Prime Mover?