My Journey to Intelligent Design

On this page I have briefly explained some of my background, including what my views on intelligent design and modern evolutionary theory are, and how I came to them. Many of the points I’ve adumbrated on this page will be explored in greater depth in my other writings on this blog.

So, how and why did I become an intelligent design advocate? It’s a long(ish) story…

I am, perhaps unsurprisingly, a Christian. I was raised in a Christian home and, with the exception of a period of ephemeral teenage agnosticism, I have remained a Christian my whole life. But that’s not why I support ID. Over the years my views on origins have fluctuated several times. As a teenager, when I began to give my Christian faith some thought, I became interested in the creation/evolution dispute. At that point I basically assumed the Young Earth Creationist (YEC) position and stuck with it for a while. After a little research however, I soon changed my mind and rejected YEC for a theistic evolutionary perspective.

Why the change of mind? Whilst perusing the shelves of my local Waterstones one day, I noticed a book in the science section. It was Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution written by Kenneth Miller, a cell biologist at Brown University. Being a YEC, I was naturally intrigued by the title of the book, so I eagerly found the nearest counter and purchased it. After some assiduous reading, I came to the realisation that YEC and anti-evolutionism is a profoundly mistaken viewpoint.

What interested me most about Miller was that in addition to being an orthodox neo-Darwinian, he’s also an orthodox Catholic. Of course, I was previously well aware that there are many good Christians who do reconcile their faith with evolution, but I had never taken the time to hear their side of the story.

In his book, Miller provides a detailed critique of YEC, intelligent design, and atheistic neo-Darwinism championed by the likes of Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. His main aim in the book is to show that there is overwhelming evidence for evolution and that it does not contradict Christian belief.

After completing the book, I was truly overwhelmed. Prior to reading it I knew next to nothing about biology, and for that matter, science in general. By contrast, Miller is clearly a smart and knowledgable biologist, a perspicuous expositor, and an extroverted and dexterous rhetorician. Later I learned that he is even more impressive when debating and lecturing (see here and here for example).

So that was it. Miller had won me over. I reluctantly yielded to the theistic neo-Darwinian narrative. Though still slightly muddled about some issues surrounding this new outlook, I eagerly left my YEC views behind me and embraced theistic evolution voluptuously.

As for intelligent design, apart from reading Miller’s account and apparent refutation of it, I just took his word for it, despite the fact that I didn’t really know much about ID. This, as it turned out, was where I went wrong. After a while I began exploring some of the work of design theorists and as I became more aware of what ID really is, I realised that Miller’s criticisms aren’t as successful as I previously thought. I slowly began to see that Miller’s responses to ID are littered with drastic misrepresentations and faulty reasoning. After truly understanding what ID is, it became clear to me that not only do Miller’s responses completely miss the mark, but he exhibits a lack of comprehension with regard to the basic claims of ID theorists. This got me rather annoyed. Once again, I had been too credulous and hadn’t sufficiently explored the viewpoints I was dismissing.

From then on, I became less certain of my views and more sympathetic towards the ID perspective, though, I wasn’t prepared to fully accept it. What vexed me further was that I found that the more I read and listened to critics like Ken Miller, Eugenie Scott, Barbara Forrest, and Robert Pennock, the more I felt that ID theorists were being misunderstood and perhaps wilfully misrepresented. After doing a lot of thinking and reading I eventually concluded (provisionally of course), that ID theorists like William Dembski, Michael Behe, and Stephen Meyer are essentially correct in claiming that the apparent design in nature is the result of an intelligent cause and that design can be scientifically detected. Furthermore, I came to believe ID to be a legitimate scientific theory, full of exciting potential to further inspire a fruitful scientific research programme.

So that’s a little bit about my journey so far. Where do I stand now? At the moment I still stand by the points I mentioned in the previous paragraph. As I have already stated, I find the criticisms raised by the likes of Miller and many other critics to be egregious and shoddy. And though there are, I’m glad to say, more charitable and fair-minded critics, I still find their reasons for demurring to be wrong-headed and think that good responses can be made to their arguments. In addition to being unpersuaded by the critics I have encountered, I’m of the opinion that ID theorists have made a very strong case for design and by extension have shown modern evolutionary theory to be inadequate and lacking the explanatory power needed to make the most sense out of biological systems.

Aside from my views on ID, there are a couple of other contentious issues that often crop up in this dispute, so I’ll nail my colours to the mast so no assumptions need to be made. With regard to whether I am a creationist or not, I would consider myself to be one, but only in the sense of being a Christian who believes that God is the creator of the universe. As a Christian ID proponent, obviously I believe God to be ultimately responsible for the design we find in nature. This conclusion, however, is one that I have reached for non-scientific reasons. This means that whilst I may be a creationist in one sense of the term, I do not advocate Creationism. I am perfectly happy to accept the age of the earth and universe that cosmologists have settled on, and I take the Genesis creation accounts to be largely figurative. I certainly deny that the Bible necessitates a literalist YEC view of the days in Genesis.

As for issues like universal common descent, whilst I am philosophically and theologically comfortable with the notion, I remain agnostic primarily because I see good cases being made for and against it. Not knowing which side has the better case, I feel obliged to remain undecided for now.

With regard to my views on neo-Darwinism and its relationship with theology, I happen to think they are compatible. This may come as a surprise to some, given that scepticism of evolution is often coupled with a perceived contradiction between evolution and theology. Having said that, I think they are perhaps not the most comfortable bedfellows and a fully naturalistic Darwinian view does, on the surface at least, seem to fit better with metaphysical naturalism than with the God I see in the Bible. Even so, I think one can be a Darwinian and a Christian, and still sleep at night. Even if I do think there is a tension between Darwinism and theology, that would not prevent me from accepting Darwinism. After all, every worldview has tensions and mysteries. As a Christian I must deal with the tension between the fact of God’s existence and the fact that there is horrendous, unspeakable suffering in this world. That does not mean that I must deny the fact of suffering if I am to be an intellectually fulfilled Christian.

Why am I saying all this? Because I want to emphasise that my views on ID and Darwinism are not the result of a perceived conflict between my faith and modern evolutionary theory. My position is not theologically motivated and I’m not trying to gain apologetic millage from ID to shore up my weak faith. It is primarily on scientific grounds that I accept ID and doubt Darwinism. In other words, though I began as a religiously motivated YEC, I soon fell in love with science (biology in particular), seeing it as an end in itself as opposed to seeing it as merely a means to a theological end. Theology and Christian apologetics played a minimal in my transition from being a theistic evolutionist to an ID proponent.

As I have already mentioned, this blog is focused primarily on science. My personal theological views will not be discussed elsewhere unless I have to. Much of what I have said in my account is not actually relevant to my position on ID. The reason I chose to write about these things was because ID proponents are too often scurrilously accused of having pernicious theocratic motives. Putting my cards clearly on the table here will hopefully mean I won’t have to explain myself elsewhere, or have erroneous assumptions made about me. I know that despite having said all of this, I will still have the usual endearing ‘creationist in drag’ insults hurled at me, but I quite enjoy those!

5 thoughts on “My Journey to Intelligent Design

  1. Pingback: Design Disquisitions: How/Why I Became a Design Advocate | Uncommon Descent

  2. I am not a YEC or a TE. You said that the first chapters of Genesis were figurative. So let’s see what God was communicating in a way that even primitive societies could understand.

    1. There was a beginning. The universe was created by God. (Matches with the scientific evidence for the big bang.)
    2. There was a process. God did not plop the world into being fully formed, it took some time. ( Matches with the scientific evidence of considerable (billions of years) but not infinite time)
    3. Gods creative power was involved in every step. TE is wrong. God did not start things up with incredibly clever initial conditions and just let it go. Each step of creation from forming of the planets, to forming the plants and animals, to forming man – each step involved the necessary intervention of God. (Matches with the abrupt changes shown in the fossil record which don’t seem to be compatible with even Neo Darwinism)
    4. The creation of man was special. (Matches with the scientific observation of mankind being qualitatively different from the animals ).
    5. God stopped. (Matches with the seeming halt to evolutionary progress we observe ).

    I can’t think any better way of communicating these 5 points through the vehicle of a primitive people than the story of the creation as told in Genesis.

  3. Thanks for your input, John. From a Christian perspective, I would be inclined to agree with your 5 points (though perhaps with some caveats). However, in my article, my aim wasn’t to argue for a particular model of Creation, but merely to document my personal journey. But some good points nonetheless.

  4. “I can’t think any better way of communicating these 5 points through the vehicle of a primitive people than the story of the creation as told in Genesis.”

    Until you realize you’re a being with an unlimited skillset, and then it seems like the worst idea ever.

  5. Greetings
    In seeking a reasonable solution to a childhood question some time ago I came upon the following online book: A surprisingly scientific, even scholarly approach to the issue of creation, young earth, and so forth. I saw from your “Why am…” page that you have come to accommodation with neo-Darwinism and theistic evo, apparently giving in on seemingly minor points of theistic principle in order to not reject the whole of modern scientific orthodoxy. I would challenge you to examine this book online, perhaps starting with the FAQs, and reply to me or to Dr. Brown directly with any issues you find with the math, physics, science or conclusions. I wish you the best and hope you find it interesting and/or useful. – Peter

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