The Battle over Intelligent Design

This last weekend, while visiting my hometown of beautiful Wichita, KS, I engaged in a lively discussion re: the teaching of Intelligent Design in schools. Certainly this is a hot topic right now.

This last weekend, while visiting my hometown of beautiful Wichita, KS, I engaged in a lively discussion re: the teaching of Intelligent Design in schools. Certainly this is a hot topic right now. The article that prompted our discussion is one you may have read in the KC Star. Specifically, a professor at KU who is being told to teach intelligent design thinks it mythology, and thus will name and classify his course as such. An e-mail he had written was ‘pirated’ and placed on a right-wing message board. In his e-mail, he rants against the Christian Right, as well as fundamentalists with their “fat faces” and so on.

My family was surprised and shocked that I stated that this whole discussion interested me very little, that I could understand the KU Professor’s point (maybe not agree with what he states, but I can understand how he’d feel that way), and namely that I wish sometimes the whole topic would just go away. They countered with the familiar battle cry of “We must take a stand”….. “We are in a cultural war” and so on.

In fact, much of the discussion going on re: these topics is very relevant to an excellent book I am reading entitled “Blue Like Jazz” by Donald Miller. I bought the book on Saturday and have already read about 10 chapters of it.

The book emphasizes what I was trying to talk about the other night with my family. It is not that “Creation VS Intelligent Design VS Evolution” is a bad topic. It is just that more and more people (especially the current 20-somethings in my classrooms and younger) are largely apathetic to this subject. More importantly, they are turned off by these arguments and sadly turned off the rest of Christianity as well. My guess is that if you asked a college student what a “Christian” is, or what came to mind if they heard the word “Christian”, they would say something like “They are that group of people who hate abortion, are against gay marriage and against evolution.” No mention of Jesus….just the issues we seem to be fighting for. If that is the case, how sad this is.

I further explained my opinions to my family (none of my thoughts are original, certainly). My feeling is that this generation is NOT going to be ‘converted’ with “new scientific proof that the Bible is true!” Nor will they repent by Christians sharing “The 4 Spiritual Laws” or “The Bridge Illustration” (of course, there will always be exceptions). They are going to be converted largely by narratives and testimonies and people who take an interest in them. This generation seems to say things like “I like the Jesus I read about in the Bible, but I don’t care for ‘Christians’ per se.” This could largely be due to all the coverage of Christians is in regards to three topics: Creationism, homosexuals and abortion. That is why I wince when I read constantly about this Intelligent Design fighting that is going on. (Do you think the professor who made these comments is further or closer to becoming a Christian after all of this??? I wonder if the death threats he is receiving is helping him understand the love of Christ for him?) This Intelligent Design is dividing people at the college I teach at…..everyone is bickering back and forth defending their point. Ugh.

The scientific/logical/a=b=c approach falls on deaf ears with this generation. Thus, what I was trying to say was this. I think a lot of Christians (with the Intelligent Design debate) are trying to still reach kids with the ‘scientific’ approach (‘We can PROVE God! Just look at these facts!’). But, I fear the negative repercussions of the debate (the fighting, the nastiness, the petitions signed to remove this KU professor) is drowning out the discussions that should be going on, and may be going on.

While the generation of my father and others of us may be reached by memorizing John 3:16 and Romans 3:23, this next generation I think will be touched more by reading the entire Gospel of John and thinking “I like this Jesus fellow.” This will hopefully lead to them taking a fresh look at Jesus, the fact that he is God, and a relationship with Him. They will become Christ followers not because of media coverage of Christian issues (“CNN” OR “Focus on the Family”…..we can’t just blame the ‘liberal media’) but DESPITE the coverage of Christian issues.

Also, I know there are many in this generation who are hurting tremendously, and no one is paying attention to them because the Christians in their world of influence are too busy with other issues or political topics. That is a tragedy. Jesus reached people by spending time with them individually. He did not lead a ‘political campaign’ against the Romans. Where in scripture does it talk about Jesus organizing a campaign against the Roman government (which treated Christians horribly…..much worse than now in the USA…..I laugh when Christians imply we are ‘persecuted in America!’…….we live in Disney World compared to other countries!)?. This was largely why people were disappointed with Jesus. He seemed disinterested in the political issues of the time, and instead focused on the needs and hurts of society’s fringe.

Hey, Bloggers, I encourage you all to read the book I mentioned (as well as another book I read and loved by Donald Miller entitled “Searching for God Knows What”) and tell me what you all think. I will warn you. The author, Donald Miller, is someone who would be labeled as ‘liberal’ by many. I suspect he is not a George Bush fan, for example, although he doesn’t rant against him.

Thoughts on the book? Thoughts on Intelligent Design? Am I a heretic? Some in my family may think so! (not really : ) )

16 thoughts on “The Battle over Intelligent Design”

  1. The most unique thing about Blue Like Jazz, I think, is the stance from which it’s written. It features a lot of things that we don’t automatically accept, including where it comes from (the Pacific Northwest, a hot bed of not us). Also, the essays are written with a kind of honesty that is rare, and it doesn’t end with a set of rules to follow to become a better person.

    It would be hard for Christians now to distance themselves from those topical points, abortion, homosexuality, and creation, and I’m not sure we need to. But to be defined as the whiny or forcefully arrogant people who keep arguing about things nobody else considers debatable, does put us on an island.

    Is this ok? It is for the Amish. Until recently, it’s been ok for Catholics. It is for Mormons. They’ve all been singled out and ostracized , by choice or not, and over the years have defined themselves as “other”. Catholics don’t use birth control, Mormons don’t drink coffee, Amish don’t do anything…

    I think we want to be in the world but not of the world in a way that demands constant attention on our parts. How can we get beyond being 3 issue people? If we want to reach the world instead of leave the world, we’ll have to have an answer.

  2. Professor, I agree with you. It’s so easy to rail on a given issue, and easy to demonize those who hold different viewpoints if you don’t know good people who are on the other side. In many cases, I think many Christians don’t really know people on the other side (they clearly know people who would take a different position than theirs, but they don’t know it because it doesn’t come up in casual conversation).

    I have “evolved” in my thoughts and stance on evolution and intelligent design. A few years ago I would have been an avid ID person, not holding to the young earth view of Creation Scientists, but being more of a Hugh Ross old earth guy. I would have had a hard time giving any ground or cred to evolution evidence or viewpoints. But now a few years later, I’ve just gotten so weary of the arguments. And, I read the Bible a bit differently now as well, which allows evolution to fit with my theology of creation. I’m not saying I’m totally bought into evolution – I honestly don’t know, and I don’t expect to find out in this lifetime, and I’m losing no sleep over it. I’m just acknowledging that God could have used it as a means of creation. And, like you prof, there are such bigger gospel issues like love, grace, justice, mercy, etc.

    And, yes professor, you are a heretic. Welcome to the club (it takes one to know one).

  3. As a sidebar, I noted in that KC Star article, that the head of the KU Religon dept is also the faculty advisor to the resident athesists and claims to be “one of them” in that email. Seems an odd choice for staff selection.

  4. A sad follow up to our story………

    Mon, Dec. 05, 2005

    Mirecki treated at hospital after beating

    Associated Press

    LAWRENCE, Kan. – A professor whose planned course on creationism and intelligent design was canceled after he sent e-mails deriding Christian conservatives was hospitalized Monday after an apparent roadside beating.

    University of Kansas religious studies professor Paul Mirecki told the Lawrence Journal-World that two men who beat him were making references to the class that was to be offered for the first time this spring. Originally called “Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies,” the course was canceled last week at Mirecki’s request.

    The class was added after the Kansas Board of Education decided to include more criticism of evolution in science standards for elementary and secondary students.

    “I didn’t know them,” Mirecki said of his assailants, “but I’m sure they knew me.”

    Messages left by the Associated Press on Mirecki’s cell phone were not immediately returned Monday night.

    One recent e-mail from Mirecki to members of a student organization referred to religious conservatives as “fundies,” and said a course describing intelligent design as mythology would be a “nice slap in their big fat face.” Mirecki has apologized for those comments.

    Lt. Kari Wempe, a spokeswoman for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department, said a deputy was dispatched to Lawrence Memorial Hospital after receiving a call around 7 a.m. regarding a battery.

    She said Mirecki reported he was attacked around 6:40 a.m. in rural Douglas County south of Lawrence. Mirecki told the Journal-World he was driving to breakfast when he noticed the men tailgating him in a pickup truck.

    “I just pulled over hoping they would pass, and then they pulled up real close behind,” he said. “They got out, and I made the mistake of getting out.”

    He said the men beat him on the head, shoulders and back with their fists, and possibly a metal object.

    Wempe said Mirecki drove himself to the hospital after the attack.

    Mirecki told the student newspaper, The University Daily Kansan, that he spent between three and four hours at the hospital. He said his injuries included a broken tooth.

    “I’m mostly shaken up, and I got some bruises and sore spots,” he told the Journal-World.

    Wempe said Mirecki described the suspects as two white men between 30 and 40 years of age. One of the men was described as wearing a red visor-like ball cap and wool gloves. Mirecki said the men left in a large pickup truck

    Wempe said the department would investigate “every aspect,” but couldn’t discuss specifics.

    Andrew Stangl, president of the Society for Open Minded Atheists and Agnostics at the university, described the attack as “bizarre and terrifying.” He said Mirecki, who is the group’s faculty adviser, was adamant that the beating was related to the recently canceled course.

    “That absolutely shocked me,” he said, “because people don’t do that in a civilized society.”

    Sen. Kay O’Connor, a Mirecki critic, said there is no excuse for someone physically assaulting the professor – regardless of their politics.

    “I have zero tolerance for thugs,” she said. “There is never an excuse to behave in such a manner. This was just thugs. They used a flimsy excuse, if they had one, to behave as thugs. They can talk about the ID (intelligent design) course if they want to, but that’s not an excuse.”

  5. It’s hard not to get smeared with this kind of thing. Christians have been tied to some of the worst things in American, and even world, history.

    I’ve got to believe that the Devil is thrilled by this.

  6. One comment and one question.

    Regarding the horrible and unfortunate beating of the university professor: I see that Christians (or opponents of this man) are at least willing to distance themselves from the attackers, and rightly condemn the act as wrong and a tragedy. My first response was that it is too bad some Muslim leaders do not do the same when people claiming to be Muslim do violence in the name of Allah. Let us continue to be like Jesus, regardless of what others who claim Him might do.

    The question, addressed to bwhite, on evolution. I have heard some folks claim that evolution is not the process a loving God would choose to develop life. The thinking goes like this:

    Evolution proposes that changes are made over time by random mutation. The vast majority of random mutations are not beneficial (X-Men aside), resulting in a short or even tragic life of the mutant. A God who would use thousands (millions?) of harmful mutations to produce one beneficial one is not a God we can love or follow.

    So from a philosophic point of view (not religious or scientific), evolution doesn’t seem to hold water. What are your thoughts?

  7. There are always these, “I can’t believe in a God who would…” arguments that don’t seem to work (see Shallow Atheist on this blog).

    I still don’t think I’ve ever met a person who was unconvinced regarding the existence of God, argued into believing, and then became a dedicated follower. I have met people who had trouble believing and then came to belief, but it was through the exercise of their own will, the overcoming of their own lack of faith, and the witness of Christians they observed and talked to about it.

    Settling for this morally vacant random experimentation development is the coldest, loneliest, saddest postion imaginable. Tragically, such a person is in very serious need of God, yet has effectively ruled him out. Again, the Devil must be pleased.

  8. “Evolution proposes that changes are made over time by random mutation. The vast majority of random mutations are not beneficial (X-Men aside), resulting in a short or even tragic life of the mutant. A God who would use thousands (millions?) of harmful mutations to produce one beneficial one is not a God we can love or follow.”

    My comments on the above. (I realize they were addressed to Brian W., and I am not him, but I will throw my two cents in).

    This goes along with what DT said, but I have trouble in my very human condition stating things like “God would not do something like this”, or “A loving God would create the world in THIS way, which I will now describe.” Somehow, God has managed to be God for many years without my helpful input or advice on how He should do things.

    God is God and, however He created the world, He created it the way He did using the process He desired. Certainly, there is some mystery in it and that is the beauty of it.(e.g. “Why go to the trouble of creating vast galaxies millions of light years away when we will never visit them?….Why go to all the trouble of creating such bizarre fish that live in darkness thousands of feet below the ocean’s surface? Hardly anyone sees those fish! What a waste of energy!”)

    Let me rephrase another sad fact of life (and death) much in the manner of the quote above.

    “The finiteness of life presents a reality in which a human is born, and, soon thereafter, their body starts the long process of breaking down and dying. This includes a gradual demobilization of the physical capabilities, as well as a mental weakening that can continue for years. In many cases, an individual’s final decade (or two or three) can be filled with physical pain, loneliness, a feeling of worthlessness, and in some cases, a total mental breakdown and dementia. An aged person faces each year in a worse state of physical and mental decay than in that of the previous year, all the while knowing that the eventual end is death. A God who would create thousands (millions) of human beings, most of which will experience this inevitable and painful disgrace is not a God we can love or follow.”

    Again, I don’t think we are in any position to judge how God should or should not “do things.” The above argument is pretty much the way things are as a human. And I do believe in God. How do I reconcile these things? Or do I need to?

    I have also not heard evolution stated in regards to verbage such as ‘harmful mutations’. “Harmful mutations” are evident, however, if one visits a hospital. Couldn’t mental retardation, cerebral palsy, blindness, etc. all be called “harmful mutations.” From our human standpoint, couldn’t that be considered cruel? From our human standpoint, an eternal conscious torment in hell for those who are not saved certainly doesn’t seem befitting to a loving God. Perhaps He needs us to give the OK for what is acceptable and what is not. Or maybe not.

    So perhaps evolution is not the way, but I don’t think the aforementioned argument is a valid argument in which to disprove it.

  9. I understand that theology is not the best response to evolutionary discussion, as it assumes a belief in God. Having said that, isn’t most of what we read above a result of the fall?

    We are not living as God designed us, we are living as our on-going consequence of allowing the world to fall, and then adjusting to a fallen world, right?

    I’ve been applying this in my head to floods, tsunamis, drought, you name it. Not so much a “why would a loving God…?” as “this is a fallen world, the next one will be much different.”

    On the human side, when people ask how God could allow innocent death at the hands of terrorists, my assumption is that God gave the terrorists free will, and that’s how they tragically exercised it. If innocents were always protected, that wouldn’t really be free will. Instead, it’s on us to look out for the helpless, and sometimes we choose not to.

  10. I hadn’t visited in a few days, and when I finally did this morning I notice the question posed by skipper and the “2 cents worth” responses by djayt and professor. They did most of the “heavy lifting” on this topic for me, and in a nutshell, I highly agree with the responses they gave.

    I guess for me the bottom line is this: it’s not hard to look around the world and see things that just don’t sync up with a just, merciful, or “efficient” God — prof and djayt offered many examples. In my mind, I think the fall explains some (maybe much) of this, but there are other things (especially some of the things that prof offered up like the galaxies and the deep sea fish) that are more perplexing. But, let’s try this…

    Could it be that at least in some cases, God just exercises his will for his pleasure, and he gets great pleasure out of creating galaxies and deep sea fish that no human will ever see? Maybe the very process of macro evolution (if indeed he used that process) could be an example of this. Maybe it gave God great pleasure to create and set in motion a process that would be perpetually creating.

    We tend to be highly anthropocentric — i.e., believe the whole world, and indeed the whole universe, revolves around humans. While I would not want to deny that humans are the pinnacle of God’s creation and at the center of God’s ultimate plans, could it be that God has a much bigger view of things, and that maybe we have lost sight of the sanctity of ALL creation? In Genesis 1, God clearly thought his creation was “good” prior to the creation of humans. We tend to value non-human creation in how it affects US and gives US pleasure. Maybe much of the mystery in creation — especially the stuff that has no apparent connection or benefit to humans — can be explained by God justing “having fun” creating — creating for his pleasure.

  11. Good comment bwhite. I would allow that God could create much for His pleasure and glory. Psa 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

    I would buy into the idea that things can change over time, but only based on God’s on-going plan of creation. The evolution word leads me to think, by definition, ‘a change for the better’, but based on randomness.

  12. Hey guys, I appreciated reading your perspectives. They are enlightening, and I’m enjoying talking with you in this way.

    Djayt, I at first thought you assumed that I am using my philosophic rejection of evolution as a reason for faith in God: that is not my intention at all. I am not making an argument that an atheist would appreciate, but instead I’m asking how a Christian (believer in a loving God, etc.) could accept evolution as God’s idea, since IMO it includes an awful lot of suffering. Bwhite and professor both seem to be in this camp (God could have used evolution to create life on earth), so I’m trying to pursue this a little more, to get a better understanding of your views of God.

    I agree with you both that it is somewhat presumptuous for me to say what God will and will not do. However, I do believe God has given us enough clues to make some valid inferences about his character. It is my understanding of his character which leads me to this philosophic conclusion: God does not act in an arbitrary or capricious way. His work is perfect and intentional. What do you think? Is it possible to “know” what God is like, even if we can’t know what he’ll do next? So, back to evolution: does it sound like the action of Someone who describes his work as good, perfect, and just?

    Bwhite, I’d like to add on to your comments on anthropocentrism (extra credit for using a six syllable word). Surely there are many times when we humans cannot see what God’s intentions are. Your examples, professor, are insightful: why create those far-away galaxies, or those fish we’ll never see? Of course, these are confusing issues to me only if I believe humans to be the purpose and center of all creation. I often suffer from what my daughters call “COU [center of universe] disease”.

    In my attempts to recover from this disease, I’m having doubts about whether we are actually the center of God’s plans after all, or even the pinnacle of God’s creation. Sure, human beings can occasionally do some “pinnacle” things, but we spend an awful lot of time doing non-pinnacle things as well. I have a hard time seeing this wildly unpredictable but generally destructive human race as a pinnacle. Anything that needs saving, restoration, redemption, and wholeness is hardly a pinnacle. Am I being too harsh?

    Regarding God’s plans, I tend to bounce hard off of verses like [bible]1 Sam. 12:22[/bible]. It appears to me that there’s something else going on here, which may just be that God is demonstrating that he can have “for his name” a people who will say No to themselves and Yes to him. The emphasis is on God, not on the people.

  13. Would God author a plan that called for harmful and short-lived mutations on the way to the “evolved” outcome? I have no idea, and have gone well beyond the scope of anything I’ve ever even thought about.

    I do agree, however, that at least part of the purpose of the Bible, and the incarnation itself, is that we can know something about the nature of God. And what we can divulge certainly doesn’t leave much room for a kind of mad scientist leaving generation after generation of failed fish flopping on the beaches of time. But is that truly what evolution does? Again, I’ve gone so far afield that I won’t guess at that.

  14. Much of the struggle in the above comments stems from the question of whether God would use such a vicious and arbitrary system to accomplish His goals. It seems the struggle is only apparent when we concede many of the critical points of the evolutionists. Descent, (shouldnt it be ascent?) with modification, transitional forms, homolous structures due to common descent, cross species transitionals, these are hardly proven components of capital E Evolution. I think from a science standpoint the ID / Evolution debate runs far deeper than trying to rationalize How God would have used the PROVEN? mechanisms of evolution, and how this affects our perception of His person and character. It calls into question the very mechanism in play.

    Well this might be nice group to chat with…

  15. Put that way, any discussion that follows the pattern of, “would God do this, would God do that?” still assumes God.

    Is that really the question? Is this argued in so many forums, so passionately with such wide range of reasoning because the arguing parties believe they are talking about the existance of God?

    Certainly some non-Christians think so and take it as disingenousness on the behalf of a Christian agenda.

    Is it possible to have this discussion/debate without it becoming an altar call? Or is this where and how we should be fighting? A discussion that’s based on homolous structures is not one I’m ever going to be able to entertain. That far out of my league on the science front, I’m going to be at the mercy of the specialists. In other words, when I hear an evolutionist speak on that level, I can’t judge it, and when I hear ID on that level, I can’t judge that, either.

  16. djayt :I dont think Id is asking “would God do this or that” And I agree with your
    ” Certainly some non-Christians think so and take it as disingenousness on the behalf of a Christian agenda.” assessment. And it does get dep out there, I have a snorkel.

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