Bill Menke's BLOG Page: Intelligent Design

According to a recent article* in the New York Times, the flagella of bacteria point towards intellegent design of living things by God. I like that! The flagellum is a neat little biological device, a whip-like propeller powered by its own little molecular motor. Its one of the few examples of a wheel in nature.

Intelligent Design is an idea propounded by conservative Christians (among others) as an alternative to Evolution. Its purpose is to offer an alternative explantation for the existence of life. However, I wonder if these proponents have noticed a theological problem inherent in this idea: Intelligent Design says as much about the Creator as it does about the the Creation. Are its proponents sure they want to say the things that Intelligent Design implies?

The problem is explored in JBS Haldane's (1982-1964) famous quip, made in a response to a question regarding what Nature told him of the Creator, that God apparently had "an inordinate fondness for beetles". Well, there are about 400,000 species of these insects. One of every four species on earth is a beetle! I have no problem with a micro-manager God who designs the flagellum on a heavenly equivalent to CAD/CAM display. I don't even begrudge God the right to whip off a bunch of beetle designs, although 400,000 raises my eyebrows. But then again, I once flipped through a coffe-table art book showing watercolor after watercolor of birch trees painted by Andrew Wyeth. They were all really superb!

The problem really only comes to light when I realize that God has to design absolutely every living thing for Intelligent Design to work as an explanation. And there are some species which have extremely unsavory habits. Is it really a good idea to envision God as specifically designing the Guinea worm (a nasty parasite that bores it way out of the legs of children) or the cowbird (who sneeks its egg into another bird's nest, so that its chicks can throw out the original nestlings and take their place)? Nature, though it can be beautiful and awesome, just doesn't embody human (or Judeo-Christian) morality. I doubt that one can simultaneously assert both Intelligent Design and the notion of a good God. Intellegent Design just does not maintain sufficient distance between the Creator and the imperfect Creation.

*Laurie Goodstein, Expert witness sees evidence in nature for intellegen design, New York Times, October 18, 2005.