Design, Designers, and the problem of evil

I've been holding off on answering question #3 for fear that the answer is either too easy and I'm missing the point or impossible to answer and therefore stupid to attempt. Both of those things may be the case. I'm taking a shot anyway. Q #3: Obviously "evolutionists" have an agenda to spread their naturalistic philosophy (according to Phil Johnson, among others). Once you get rid of their desire to get God out of the picture, what do you have left? Once you accept through faith that God made the universe, there's no evidence from evolutionists that "demands a verdict." Hasn't Intelligent Design (ID) proved that evolution is wrong scientifically/empirically? >It might be helpful to first spell out what we mean by "design". You'd think it would be a no-brainer, but the definition of design is one of the two crucial points in the middle of this argument. There are two influential takes on the design argument that try to deal with both sides of the evidence fairly. One is promoted by Del Ratzsch, a physics professor at Calvin College; the other by (among others) Michael Ruse, History and Philosophy of Science prof. at Florida State. Both have attracted a large number and variety of followers. Ratzsche's position is based on a more nuanced understanding of Paley's early-1800s design argument. He basically lays out what it means for something to be designed:
  1. "a pattern is an abstract structure which correlates in special ways to mind, or is mind correlative
  2. a design is a deliberately intended or produced pattern
  3. to be designed is to exemplify a design" (Nature, Design, and Science, 2001: 3).
Ratzche's definition of "designed" and "pattern" is basically the one agreed to by most ID people. That position can really be summed up as "it looks too complicated to be accidental, so it must be designed." Ruse's position is slightly more subtle. For him, there is a difference between what appears to be designed and what actually is designed. In his terms, this is a distinction between adaptedness (undesigned) and artifactuality (designed). Before you proclaim how silly this is, think about skipping stones. A flat, palm-sized stone that you could skip across a pond is not an artifact (until you use it)--it's a rock. A flat, palm-sized disk made out of stone is an artifact, whether you skip it or use it as a coaster. It's difficult to see exactly why, but we know the difference between something intentionally made by a human and something natural, raw, and unaltered. Ruse is saying even though the universe looks complex that it doesn't automatically mean that it was designed that way. Natural laws shaped the planets and stars and rocks. The argument is that natural selection acting upon variation in the organisms shaped the trees and the birds and the kangaroos. Fair enough, say Intelligent Design theorists, but then explain how natural selection formed things that seem obviously designed, like the eye and the circulatory system. Ruse and others would admit that those things are unfathomably complex, but not necessarily artifacts, not necessarily designed. Adaptation to the environment is extraordinarily powerful--life is a motivating factor for living things--and these things could have arisen through the combination of natural selection and accidents like mutations, population bottlenecks, inbreeding, etc. But the second point of the discussion--and this is the real crux of the issue, the thing that drove Darwin himself crazy--is much more challenging for both sides. IF the universe is designed and the complex characteristics of living things carefully, lovingly, and beautifully fashioned by God (or another Intelligent Designer, as the ID theorists would be quick to interject in their religiously non-confrontational and perhaps a bit wishy-washy sort of way), THEN why is the designing done so well on the one hand and so capriciously on the other? Why do you have killing and death in horrible ways in the animal kingdom? Why do you have parasites that serve no purpose other than to tear-up the body and mind? Why do some organisms exist (like poison ivy and tapeworms and mosquitoes, for instance) that serve no other purpose then to irritate other organisms? Why is there so much waste, so many imperfections, animals and plants born maimed or incapable of survival from the get-go? Why is there so much suffering and evil even in the natural world? The real question is the problem of evil question. That is what Darwin, Dawkins, Gould, Ernst Mayr, Carl Sagan, and all the rest really want to grasp. That is the question that ID (not to mention Creation Science) cannot possibly answer: if some things are so complex as to lead us to believe they are designed, why are they often designed to inflict pain or irritation or disease or death, and why are other things so poorly designed as to waste so much for so little gain? I would posit that this question of theodicy is really at the heart of most atheistic evolutionism, when it rears its head. So, doesn't that then leave us with two answers: either (1) there is no God and this is all a big joke (the confrontation position) or (2) the devil did it/God allows this pain to test us (the religion-and-science-don't-overlap position)? I'm not sure. I think there is a third answer that leans more heavily on the character of God in creation (the engagement position), but that will have to wait for another day. Before then, I want to hear from you. Especially those that disagree with this analysis. Or those that think they can come up with the best "solution" to the problem of "natural evil" and a "designed" universe.


Blogger Ray said...

The real question of evil that you mention is clearly important. Just as important though, for someone who supports the ID approach, is being able to answer why there are so many parts of nature that appear to be remnants, of no real use today. The human body, of course, has many examples of this - the appendix is the most common example. Also, because of the way our hips have rotated forward to allow upright walking, we are the only mammals for which childbirth is a very dangerous undertaking (without the benefit of modern medicine).

This doesn't seem to be a very good "design". I believe it was Richard Dawkins who wrote extensively to prove how an entirely naturalistic, evolving system could adapt in such a way, that when you look at the final result, it looks "designed".

1/27/2005 1:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


A thought provoking post. It makes me wonder if anything posted in the blogging world will eventually find itself in your thesis, class discussion or published material.

On your Q3:
Given science's proclivity of answer refinement, I am surprised that the scientific community has yet to ask for a specific identity of the designer and a unified agreement among the competition. For now, it appears to be a discussion based on Judeo-Christian ethics vs. atheists and anti-theists. Personally, I like clarity and specifics, but this will create an (us) vs. (them, atheist, antitheist and heretics). Thus, people will get their feelings hurt, and complain of being judged without agreeing that they could be wrong and must change their ways, and thinking. Turning from ones ways is never an easy task, especially when one's intellectual ego is called to repentance. I have acknowledged many times the errors of my intellectual ways, and it is never a gratifying experience. Not only are our bodies not perfect, neither are our feelings, and especially our minds.

Regarding the problem of evil, I have some atheistic friends who have no problem with evil. They reduce life to reproduction, survival and pursuit of happiness as they see fit. Seems rather opportunistic and convienent as long as their dogma is adhered to.

As a Christian, I think that the problem of evil is further confirmation on the truth of orthodox Christianity. The Christian Bible does not mince words or dodge the problem of evil, nor the believers response to it. Clearly, we are called to a unique "other worldly" response to evil. When one views evil from a consequence of imperfection, helplessness is inevitable. But, if the perspective changes to what impact may I choose to change the circumstances... lives are impacted. My belief is that the Mother Theresa's of the world are made due to their belief that the God of the Bible is present and He is not silent (borrowed from F. Schaeffer).

In closing, is it possible that a dictionary definition cyber-link for words like theodicity could be included? that way we can know and be consistent when using new vocab. words .


1/28/2005 7:57 AM  
Blogger e said...

matt--very perceptive comment. I think the philosophy undergirding much of the ID argument is Judeo-Christian. You don't see too many Muslims or any Buddhists getting into discussions about this stuff. But I think the ID want to bring together agnostics and "non-practicing" religious people under their umbrella too. All in all, the design argument in its various forms has been around since the 1500s if not earlier and I don't see it going away since its simply not possible to get people to stop making the jump from complexity to design to designer (and we shouldn't stop people from making that connection either). On the other hand, philosophical naturalism has been around for about 300 years or so, too, and though it's reliance upon evolution for some sort of "natural world" justification is newer, it's not likely to disappear. You're absolutely right--as long as people want one side to be true at the expense of the other, there will always be name-calling and people will hate each other. I'm not sure how to get around this, though: you want to and should defend your beliefs. Not really examining your beliefs shouldn't be the way that people go about being nonconfrontational either. In other words, "niceness" at the expense of intellectual honesty or integrity seems like a bad excuse.

Good suggestion about the dictionary links. I'll try to find something like that. Sorry for relying so much on vocab words. I want to get better at not doing that....

1/29/2005 9:33 AM  
Blogger John McCollum said...


So, what do YOU think? Are we designed, or are we not?

Is your critique of Intelligent Design merely tactical, or do you have a problem with the notion of God-as-designer?

(I know the term 'designer' is loaded. I think you know more or less how I define it -- that God had a plan for the human form and all other forms as they exist now, and that He created man and this universe for a specific purpose -- we may quibble about the processes God used to design us, but a view that God did not design us seems patently un-Jewish and utterly non-Christian. But I haven't been to grad school, so I might be missing the point ;-0 )

1/30/2005 9:51 PM  
Blogger brian estabrook said...

Read my blog. Answer my questions. You huge Nordic sissy. (wink)

1/31/2005 10:42 AM  
Blogger e said...

As everyone has already sorta poked around and identified, it's tough to answer this question head-on. I always wanted someone who would just say "It's X and not Y." But I don't think the answer is so airtight.

Another way of saying it would be: believe whatever you want, as long as you call it a "belief-only" type of belief. I'm okay with that for many things in my life, but I want something more like "belief-and" in this case. In other words, I want to be able to say I've looked around enough to know that I am standing upon semi-solid ground both intellectually AND faith-wise. (as as aside, i don't mean "intellectually" to exclude feelings based understanding. I think i mean that feelings can be changed, somewhat rapidly sometimes, to meet present circumstances. therefore, if i throw up what i feel-to-be-true, it holds somewhat less water than something i both feel and know to be true. make sense?)

Anyway, I promise to post soon about this very issue. I need to wrestle first, sorry.... :-)

1/31/2005 5:57 PM  
Blogger John McCollum said...


I think it makes sense.

Using that epistemological framework, would you say that your belief that, for instance, Jesus physically rose from the dead is something you both know and feel to be true, something you only know to be true, or something you only feel to be true? Or something that you wish to be true, but you neither feel nor know to be true?

Just trying to get a handle on how you would approach other tenets of the faith using the approach, or at least classification, you suggest.



2/01/2005 6:40 AM  
Blogger e said...

john, very very good question...although i think one can sidestep it somewhat by making the claim that the resurrection, incarnation, and miracles in general are unique events. science does nothing, or very little, with unique events. science wants processes to analyze and assumes regularity.

under this assumption, one can attribute certain types of phenomena--namely things that occur regularly--to natural laws and science's job is to find out and describe what those natural laws are. a religious explanation could through out different meanings/explanations for those natural laws, but the descriptions of them don't necessarily need to be different. i'm not saying they aren't or shouldn't be, just that they don't need to be.

so, in the case of the resurrection, we could say that it doesn't usually work that way and study, instead, the process of decay. but we could still hold on to a belief of the resurrection. it's just that science has to remain silent on that issue--there's no evidence that it CAN assess. those who say that there's no evidence therefore it didn't happen are arguing from underdetermination (i.e., lack of evidence) and that's not a defensible position. in either case--whether we believe in the resurrection or not--we're making a faith claim (a la Kierkegaard) and that's okay. but it's not scientific.

in that case, i'd say--who cares? science is only one epistemic attempt to get at knowledge. and its restrictions are many.

we could and have tried to treat the whole creation story that way. in this case, we have regularity, we have a process, we have a "natural law" and yet there's argument about what that natural law means. some would argue that since there seems to be conflict that either science or religion is wholly wrong. others would argue that they are talking about different things and therefore should stop talking about it. i'm arguing that there's a third way that takes both the interpretation of the process and the description of the process seriously.

i know this is not a full answer, but it's a start i think.

2/01/2005 2:44 PM  
Blogger e said...

and please excuse my misspellings and lack of sentence structure.

being in a hurry makes for sloppy thinking and writing.

[it didn't for GK Chesterton, though, which is why he's such a good writer. what the heck am i going on about? stop talking/typing, self!]

2/01/2005 2:48 PM  

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