Does “Intelligent Design” = “Perfect World?”
Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker says he is unconvinced by the theory of intelligent design. He argues, “Our own bodies are riddled with quirks no competent engineer would have planned,” such as “a retina installed backward”1 and “goose bumps that uselessly try to warm us by fluffing up long-gone fur.” What is more, Pinker adds, is that “the moral design of nature is as bungled as its engineering design. What twisted sadist would have invented a parasite that blinds millions of people or a gene that covers babies with excruciating blisters?” Consequently, Pinker concludes, there must be no “white-coated technician in the sky.”2
What should believers make of Pinker’s assertion that a flawed universe is evidence against intelligent design? The Bible has an answer, but not in the first chapter of Genesis. Genesis 6 depicts the chaos into which human civilization had devolved and describes the Lord’s reaction to the great wickedness that had spread through the human race since the creation of planet earth. Every thought, the reader is told, “was only evil continually” (v. 5). In response, God grieved that He had made man upon the earth and vowed to destroy almost all of them in the Flood (v. 6). The question thus arises: does this passage conflict with the earlier revelation that when the Lord made the world, He created it good? (e.g. Gen. 1:4, 10, 12)
Contrary to Pinker’s accusation, the fault lay not in God’s design. In its original state, the created order functioned precisely as it should have. But then a lie from the Serpent broke the stillness. The result of that lie was original sin. Adam’s transgression unleashed a horrible curse upon the cosmos (see Gen. 3). What God made good, people turned into a horrific mess. The Lord Himself grieved at what had become of His creation. Romans 8 relates that even the creation itself “groans” under the scourge of sin that affected the very fabric of the universe.
Design does not entail that the universe is currently perfect, only that the Author of the universe is perfect and has left evidence of His handiwork. In fact, God knows far more about the problems with the cosmos than we do—and the picture is worse than Steven Pinker lets on. Not only are there black holes, natural disasters, death, and disease, but also adulteries, violence against the innocent, and genocide. But these things are not accidents of random chance or some unfortunate holdover from natural selection, but rather the tragic aftermath of the rebellion of one man and one woman in the Garden against their Maker.
Advocates of intelligent design do not argue that because God made the world, all is right with the world. Explaining what went wrong, however, requires a little theology. Such a theology announces that the divine order and purpose for things has been rejected or forgotten. Only through a return to God, who in the person of Jesus Christ made the world, will the Creation be freed from its “bondage to decay” and restored to its original goodness.
Almost everyone agrees that man lives in a world gone wrong. Almost everyone would like an answer on how to fix it. The choice is between a dismal view of reality where the law of the jungle shows little regard for its inhabitants and a hopeful view in which a loving God has a plan to redeem a world that is in a flight from reality. If people living in a twisted and fallen world came to their senses and took their own suffering—and sin—seriously, they would surely seek help in the only Source of solace and confess at one with the saints, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”
Pinker's objection that the human retina is installed backwards is too facile. For a refutation of the option that the structure of the retina is evidence for evolution, see Peter W. V. Gurney, “Is Our ‘Inverted’ Retina Really ‘Bad Design’?” Answers In Genesis Website (April 1999), http://www.answersingenesis.org/tj/v13/i1/retina.asp (accessed September 27, 2005).
Pinker in the “Can You Believe in God and Evolution? Four Experts with Very Different Views Weigh In on the Underlying Question,” Time, August 15, 2005. A copy of this article is posted on Pinker’s website, http://pinker.wjh.harvard.edu/articles/media/2005_08_07_time.html (accessed September 27, 2005).