Monday, September 03, 2007

Intelligent Design Credo (2)

In addition to believing in intelligent design, I have a high view of the authority of the Bible. How do I reconcile these two things – specifically, perhaps, in the case of Genesis 1? Now this is somewhat speculative, and doesn't necessarily represent either solid science or solid theology – just my own thoughts. I know Christians who believe all sorts of things about Genesis 1 – from Young Earth Creationism to – well, I guess the perspective of people like Michael Behe, whose position is actually almost indistinguishable from that of a theistic evolutionist. People aren't Christians because of what they believe about Genesis 1: being a Christian means being a follower of Christ, which means accepting that Christ is my king, and giving up ultimate authority over my life to him. I'm not going to argue that somebody is a bad Christian because he or she has a different view of Genesis 1 to me – unless this is accompanied with the concept that God actually isn't able to do anything at all in the universe, at which point I would argue that they had bigger problems than their interpretation of Genesis 1.

But what about me? Well, I don't believe that Genesis 1 represents a lab book account of how creation happened, and particularly not one written from the perspective of a hypothetical human observer. It is more about God's relationship with his creation. The idea of “days” in Genesis 1 and 2 is already complex – the seventh day for God starts but doesn't end, and it's possible to see this idea chased through the whole Bible. So should we understand days 1 to 6 as being simply human 24 hour periods? I suspect it's not as simple as that. In addition to which, there was no human observer for the first days; there was no sun to mark the supposed periods of time until the fourth day; and so on.

My hunch is that the six days represent six periods of creative activity for God, and that this corresponds to six occasions in the history of the universe when natural process “on its own” would not have been sufficient for the universe to develop as it has. If they are chronological, then there are obviously significant differences in the account as it is presented and the conventional understanding of how the universe developed. On the other hand, there are some similarities – for example, I have always thought that Genesis 1:3-4 is a much more aesthetically pleasing description of the early universe than the rather facile term, “Big Bang”.

Anyway, given all this, here are my thoughts about how to marry Genesis 1 with an old universe and the appearance of life on earth over the course of the last 4000 million years. Please note that I would not use these thoughts to drive a research program, nor would I propose to set them before a high school class. These are just my musings on how what the Bible says might relate to what science has observed.

Day 1: Light. Light divided from darkness - “Day” “Night” This might correspond to the Big Bang, followed by the universe becoming transparent – a process that took, if I remember my cosmology right, about 300,000 of your earth years.

Day 2: An expanse between the waters to separate water from water - “Sky” Speculative, here, but I wonder if this relates to the appearance of chemistry – molecules – in the universe.

Day 3: “Land”, “seas”, land vegetation Again, speculative, but I'd suggest the formation of the solar system, the earth and initial biogenesis – perhaps taking several hundred million years, about 4500 Myrs ago. Or maybe the formation of heavy molecules, following the first wave of heavy stars/supernovae, 12000-10000 Myrs ago.

Day 4: Sun, moon, stars When they appear in the sky – perhaps the atmosphere becoming transparent; perhaps also the formation of the moon, and the final configuration of the solar system, perhaps 3500 Myrs ago. Or when the solar system is formed, perhaps 4500 Myrs ago.

Day 5: Water animals, birds Perhaps roughly corresponding with the Cambrian era – the proliferation of different forms of multicellular life, about 500 Myrs ago.

Day 6: Land creatures, humans Perhaps roughly corresponding with some time in the last 200 Myrs.

At each of these stages, conceptually what would be happening was that the natural process on its own would not be sufficient to lead to where we are today, and God would have been intervening directly, or indirectly – for a short period or for a longer one – to ensure that the outcome of events was what we see today.

What would this mean, in terms of science, if it were true? I would suggest that we would expect there to be developmental “discontinuities” at these points. Whereas most of the events in the history of the universe would appear to follow “natural” processes, our examination of events at these times of God's creative activity would reveal something “guided” - sequences of events that were not random, or which at least appeared incredibly “lucky”. We may also expect to see significant “front loading” of design – features encoded in organisms which have far greater value for organisms developing at a later stage than they do for the organism in which they are first seen. I realise that this is somewhat vague: I haven't given it lots of thought, yet.

However, even these thoughts are significant. Darwinism is very good at generating explanations for all sorts of phenomena and events. However, the reasonableness of these explanations sometimes needs to be given some thought. Would it be appropriate, under a darwinian paradigm, for a relatively simple organism, perhaps with only a few cells, to have genetic mechanisms that are appropriate for a much more complex, multicellular organism? Surely the sort of biochemical problems that a simple organism needs to solve could be dealt with in a much more simple way than with a mechanism that happens to scale to the level of a developing mammalian embryo? How could darwinism favour a mechanism that is more complex, but scaleable, over one that is simpler but specific? What is the common ancestor of both flies and mice, say, that would have homeobox genes, and would have an advantage in this specific solution being present, and not a more straightforward one, with no reference to the future evolutionary development of that organism? Because darwinism, of course, is blind to the future – it is concerned only with what gives a benefit now. This is just one question, relating to an area about which I happen to know a little.

This also highlights the fact that the whole debate about whether or not there is a designer is not a straightforward one to have. If a designer has acted in this sort of way, then even if the designer is detectable, the means of directly detecting the designer may be very limited. This would not mean, however, that a designer is not necessary.