The Real Issue of Intelligent Design

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The Theory of Evolution is perceived to maintain a view that what exists today is a result of random occurrences, all culminating “by accident” in this reality. The argument of Intelligent Design challenges this assertion, declaring instead that what exists today is clearly the result of some forethought, created as a result of intentional thought. Supporters of Intelligent Design maintain that we have what we have today because this was what was planned – and a simple and honest review of reality clearly demonstrates this. Supporters of Evolution disagree; we have what we have because that is just what happened – and a simple and honest review of reality, they maintain, clearly demonstrates this lack of forethought. This would seem to be the issue – were we planned or are we simply the result of randomness? There is another issue, though: can we even answer such questions given solely our perceptions of the reality around us?

            The above presentation of the Theory of Evolution is actually simplistic. Evolution does not maintain that what exists today is solely the result of randomness. It maintains that inherent within nature there is some force that directs the causation sequence in a certain direction. The resultant cause and effect is thus not solely the result of total randomness. The argument of the evolutionists, though, is that this natural direction in nature is still not enough to show intelligent design; there is still too much in nature, they maintain, that highlights, to them, a lack of directed conclusions and demonstrates a lack of forethought.

            Proponents of Intelligent Design disagree. They look at the structure and inherent beauty in much of Creation and declare that this clearly shows a Master Designer. It is important to recognize that it is this concept of a Master Designer that is the true focus of the argument for intelligent design. Being a proponent of evolution and a critic of intelligent design does not necessarily mean that one must be an atheist. The issue is not one necessarily of a Creator. Proponents of evolution do not have to maintain that there was no Divine starting point for life or being as we know it. The question may be: what occurred after the original “Big Bang”? Was there direction after this point? Was there a culmination of design in what was created? Evolutionists basically argue that, aside from some rules built into the system – such as survival of the fittest – what occurred was no longer directed, what emerged was the result of randomness. Proponents of Intelligent Design specifically argue against this conclusion. That what was created was what was intended to be created – and, they contend, an honest evaluation of the facts would support this.

            From a totally objective perspective it is actually inherently difficult to say who is right. This is because, honestly, no one is truly objective. Obviously, I accept the theory of Intelligent Design but could I say, objectively, that this has been proven absolutely and clearly from what is the present result of this Creation? The fact is that I cannot really make that assertion for I am no longer objective. My belief in God and Torah obviously directs me to accept the view of Intelligent Design. My recognition of Hashem preceded my contemplation of reality. I would maintain, as the Kuzari stated many times, that reality/logic never conflicts with Torah but I cannot honestly state that the former clearly proves the latter. I am already biased. This point is significant. The argument between the Evolutionists and the proponents of Intelligent Design would seem not to be simply whether there is a Master Designer of our present reality. The argument would really seem to be whether our present reality objectively proves the Existence of a Master Designer. The truth is that this is a challenge to answer for both sides are not objective.

            In the same vein, Evolutionists can also not maintain that our present reality objectively proves a lack of a Master Designer. Attitudes and concepts of God precede any study of this reality. Rabbi Shalom Carmy, The Nature of Inquiry: A Common Sense Perspective, Torah U-Madda Journal 3 speaks of a secular bias and the reality that, in the world of secular thought, there is a clear pre-existent tendency to reject the interplay of a Divine Entity in the workings of this world. There is, thus, a bias to perceive our reality as not pointing to a Master Designer. Yet, there would seem to be another assumption inherent in any attempt to argue that a specific result demonstrates a lack of forethought in creating that result. A person in reaching such a conclusion would have to assume that he/she has knowledge of all possible forethoughts and, thereby, has the ability to classify a reality as being without forethought.

This opens a whole new perspective on this issue. Given reality as we perceive it, it seems that people have a disagreement whether this reality points to a Master Designer or not. This, though, is ultimately a question we really cannot answer. If there is a Master Designer, it is possible that the determined design could not be seen by others such as us, human beings. So a lack of perception of a design within reality could not give any indication of whether or not there is a Master Designer. The lack of such perception could simply just indicate that we have no idea of the structure or purpose of the design. An argument that there is no Master Designer is thus inherently problematic. The most that we could say is that what exists does not indicate to us any forethought – but that does not mean that there really was and is no forethought. We just simply can’t understand it.

Proponents of a Master Designer, though, have to fully understand the repercussions of such a possibility. Not understanding the design also does not necessarily point to the reality of a Master Designer either. The only way a proponent of a Master Designer could maintain an argument that reality clearly points to this truth is if the design is totally understandable and obvious to all. The argument that the design of reality may be beyond our comprehension also points to a conclusion that the determination of an existence of a Master Designer may also be beyond our capabilities to discern. Those who argue that reality clearly points to the existence of a Master Designer must, thus, find all of reality comprehensible; the design must be clearly perceivable. Otherwise, the most such a person could maintain is that a lack of a perceived design does not necessarily indicate a lack of a Master Designer; the design may just not be comprehensible to us. This would still not be satisfactory to one who wishes to argue that reality points to the existence of a Master Designer.

The issue of intelligent design now takes on a new perspective. Those who maintain that reality does not indicate to us a design are limited in their conclusion in that there is a possibility of a design that we do not comprehend. They cannot absolutely state that there is no Master Designer. Those who wish to maintain that reality does clearly indicate a design, in order to maintain such an argument, must show that the design is obvious. The minute they would retort to a defence that any weakness in seeing a design is simply an indication of our lack of comprehension must result in the acknowledgement of the failure of their argument. Once it is argued that the design is incomprehensible, one cannot maintain for certain that there is or was a design. The proponent of the opinion that design is perceivable would, thus, seemingly be forced to reject any incomprehensibility in reality.

This conclusion would seem to have major repercussions within the realm of Jewish thought. In that even Moshe Rabbeinu could not understand the design of reality in that, for example, he could not understand the place of justice (see T.B. Brachot 7a) – and, in fact, it would seem to be a fundamental principle of Torah that all of God’s ways are not comprehensible to the human being, almost by definition – there would seem to be a weakness in an argument that reality clearly points to a Master Designer. That which is incomprehensible, which would seem to point to the absence of design, rather is seen as pointing to a more significant principle – that God’s design is ultimately beyond our human grasp. Such a conclusion, though, must necessarily lead to an inability to argue that design is also obvious. Recognizing our own weakness in comprehensibility, though, is deemed to have more value than the ability to prove design in reality. It also removes from us the need to attempt to see a perceivable design when there would not seem to be one. It allows us to accept reality for what it really is.

Yet, in still accepting the reality of a Master Designer, we also cannot simply accept the chaos and lack of order or design. This initiates a new aspect of the debate over the existence of a Master Designer or not. The issue may not be in the question of whether reality clearly shows this or not but, rather, in the way that we view reality. One who accepts the reality of a Master Designer must accept a reality of forethought and, no matter how seemingly impossible it may be to see this foresight, would always need to be motivated to attempt to understand it, at least on some level.

  This is the powerful challenge facing the Torah Jew in the acceptance of God as the Master Designer. On one hand, a person must be careful that in the motivation to find design in reality, one does not simplify reality thereby. On the other hand, an option that suggests there is no reason behind the reality also cannot be deemed acceptable. The modern issue of how we relate to the argument that there is a genetic basis for homosexuality is a good example of this dilemma. On one hand, given that God clearly forbids homosexual behaviour, it would seem unfathomable that he would create a drive of this nature. The trend of most theists is thus to reject any argument that this drive has a genetic basis; this would seem to be contrary to a theory of design and order. Yet is the dismissal of this perceived evidence also not a potential attempt at simplification in order to perceive design more easily? Accepting design in the creation of a homosexual drive while forbidding this behaviour presents a powerful challenge – but this may be exactly what is demanded of us. And our directive is to attempt to understand.

Within Torah, I would contend, the real issue of a Master Designer is thus not in whether reality points to this or not but rather the effect on reality of such a perception. Acceptance of a Master Designer changes the way that we look at reality. In a certain way, this change may actually have a negative consequence, pushing individuals to see reality in a more simplistic way in order to see the design more easily. We must be careful of this possibility. But there is a much broader consequence of this acceptance of a Master Designer. We are called upon to see reality as having forethought, period.

There are arguments within the world of psychology that life is better lived (or, simply, liveable) if one can find meaning, i.e. some perceived and even personal value for which to live. This is the basis of Victor Frankl’s Logotherapy. This is not the same concept as is presented here. One could meet the psychological goal of meaning by becoming a devoted baseball fan, finding personal value and meaning in the pursuit of the activities of the world of baseball. This, though, is an invented perception of value and order. The person reads a perception into reality which allows the individual to have some personal, positive impression. This is not the same as seeing reality as reflecting forethought. A question of forethought in this regard would be: why did God create baseball? What is the purpose of this activity in existence? The issue is not personal. The issue is reality. The search is for an objective reason.

 Existence can be a challenge. The details of life can be disturbing. We encounter constantly possibilities for pain and suffering. The human being needs a motivation to overcome these difficulties in order to continue to meet the challenge that is existence. The details of pleasure can offer some of that motivation; however, in order to ensure that a search for the details of pleasure continue to outweigh the confrontations with the details of pain, individuals usually need to find a notion of the gestlalt that defines life in a manner beyond the details. This is what is meant by “meaning” as understood in the realm of psychology. We search for something that ties together the details and creates for us some type of order, a design for our lives. Within the realm of psychology, the motivation for meaning is from us; we want a design in our lives.

For many people, the theological notion of a Master Designer may simply also be projected from the person for thereby the personal design of one’s life is given more value and thus more strength. Whether one defines, in this regard, a Master Designer or simply outlines a personal meaning for one’s life, the goal may be the same – to thereby give an order and design to one’s life to thereby continue in the face of the challenge of existence. The true challenge inherent in the acceptance of a Master Designer – especially when one accepts this concept in the face of an understanding of the nature of this design – lies, though, in the recognition that thereby one is not simply trying to find a purpose in one’s life but, rather, a purpose to existence as it is. A doctor may go on a mission to a Third World country and thereby find a personal meaning to his existence. Acceptance of a Master Designer means, however, that the issue does not stop there; the further challenge is to try and understand why the situation that demanded this doctor’s intervention existed in the first place or to learn how to live with this further question (or both). Why is it the way it is? This is the unique question that exists with the acceptance of a Master Designer. Whether reality points to an existence of a Master Designer is not the real issue. With the acceptance of the truth of a Master Designer, the real question becomes: why is the design the way it is?

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht

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