Exactly 150 years ago a book that changed the world was published. Blasting onto the world stage it was destined to become one of the most influential books in human history. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life is still relevant today and remains one of the best introductions to evolution by natural selection around.
Oddly, Mormon’s seem to be embracing things like the Creationist movement of “Intelligent Design.” ID as it is informally known. What? I mean really, What? Sure it has a name that sounds like it it ought to be something we believe, but is anyone actually looking at it? This is not something Mormon’s should be tempted by. Really.
As I’ve argued before, there is a far more nefarious subtly here, that might actually explain why there are so many atheists hanging around the evolution water cooler (an observation I don’t dispute). It started with Reverend Paley. A harmless enough chap who found God everywhere he looked. He asks us to consider a pocket watch found in the sand along the beach. He says you can’t look at it and imagine that the whole thing just fell together by itself and so you can infer a designer. Only he said it much more eloquently as only 18th century writers can.
But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch appened to be in that place ; I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that, for any thing I knew, the watch might have always been there. Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for the stone? why is it not as admissible in the second case, as in the first? For this reason, and for no other, viz. that, when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive (what we could not discover in the stone) that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose, e.g. that they are so formed and adjusted as to produce motion, and that motion so regulated as to point out the hour of the day; that, if the different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, of a different size from what they are, or placed after any other manner, or in any other order, than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have been earned on in the machine, or none which would have answered the use that is now served by it.
Natural Theology was the name that got associated with this. Sounds like a good idea. Just like ID. In fact some people interpret this, from the Alma 30:44 in the Book of Mormon, as something right out of Natural Theology:
Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.
I see this scripture as being about the relationship of creation to its creator rather than a statement about the kind of inferences we can make about God’s existence from the facts and laws of the universe.
In general, these kinds of arguments don’t work well and aren’t convening. Many people see the same things and don’t have a testimony of God. The facts of astronomy testify of a universe with law-like qualities, but the source of those laws can’t just be read from the existence of those laws. It takes some work–you have to get to Moroni 10 to get to the heart of what is actually convincing.
Darwin read Paley. In the mean time he also discovered how to explain complexity without intervention. And many of the religious who hung their hat on Natural Theology left the fold. That’s because they are trying to make inferences about God from missing data. There’s a hole here. God must fill it! But then an explanation comes along, and God has less role to play then He did before and their Faith in Him shrinks proportionally. This is formally called the “God of the Gaps.”
The problem with the kind of inferences can be illustrated with this thought experiment. Suppose science figures out how life started on the Earth? There has been some very interesting progress in this direction. All it needs is a chemical system that has the necessary ingredients for evolution (variation, inheritance and selection) and it’s off to the races. But for the sake of argument I’ll agree we don’t have an answer yet. But what if we get it? What if we can show exactly, repeatedly, and with very clear explanation how it got started? Suppose we can start it anytime we want in a test-tube? Further, in our thought experiment, suppose we find this story not only laid out in the geological history on Earth, but we find it on Mars. Maybe even Europa or Titan. Suppose science cracks this problem spectacularly? Do you quit believing in God? Is this current lack of explanation for the ‘hows’ of life starting on Earth somehow the basis of your faith? Why offer it as evidence then? This is the classic case of the God of the Gaps. That’s why these arguments are so harmful. They pit faith and science as enemies and ultimately they turn out to be as bad of theology as they are science. If evolution is true, then it’s a part of our faith, as chemist Henry Eyring said.
This is why the Intelligent Design movement fails so badly. It seeks to put God into explanatory gaps. We can’t explain it yet! Proof that God must be involved! It’s too complex! Too hard to explain! What’s that you say? Science just explained it? No matter here is something else that science can’t explain! Proof God must be involved! Wait, What’s that? . . . You can see where this leads. A God that inhabits a smaller and smaller place as the explanatory gap shrinks. This is why it seems we have so many atheists today, the believer’s world is badly conceived and articulated with these kinds of arguments. And Atheists have taken this as their representation of what Faith is. It’s a sickly kind of faith that can’t be maintained in the presence of a fully conceived scientific understanding of the physical universe.
God is too magnificent. Too important to let these kind of silly arguments be used in His defence. It diminishes Him. God is there whether evolution is true or not. To me it magnifies him to understand the universe and life more completely and more fully. Evolution is a wonderful thing. It explains so much. Underscores the beauty and rarity of the world and all the evidence points in that direction. Your God may be hiding under a rock in the gaps left by science. Mine stands in majesty in and through all things. Including the wondrous evolutionary history of our planet.