Natural Theology, Unguided Processes and Apologetics
Tue, 16 Sep 1997 21:11:31 EST5EDT

Paul Arveson wrote:

>After listening to Howard Van Till's lecture on 'Is evolutionary continuity
>a heresy' at Messiah College, it occurred to me that in a sense Van Till
>too is a believer in 'design'. However, he places design not at the level
>of individual species or phyla but at the level of the fundamental physics
>of the universe. I think Einstein had the same view; perhaps all
>physicists do. At any rate, I think there is a sense in which Christians
>all believe in design somewhere -- the question is just where it is to be
>found. Lately the focus has been on biology, because that is a science
>that is relatively young and full of 'gaps'. It is thus fertile ground for
>eager apologists. But it is also easy for someone like Dawkins to say that
>living things are 'designoid' or apparent designs found by accident. The
>physicists here are more impressed with univerals such as the physical
>constants that 'appear' to be finely tuned to enable biology to exist.

Am I a "believer in 'design'"?

As I have said before, that depends on the meaning of 'design.' 'Design' in
the modern sense of the term, or 'design' in the Paleyan sense of the term?

In modern usage, 'designed' ordinarily means 'thoughtfully conceptalized for
some purpose.' In that sense of the term, I, with all Christians, believe the
universe to be 'designed.' Paul is quite correct to report that I believe the
universe to be a Creation that was thoughtfully conceptualized by God for his
own purposes.

But today's proponents of 'Intelligent Design,' like the 18th-century
clergyman William Paley, use the term 'design' in a dual sense. According to
ID proponents, to be the product of 'Intelligent Design' is not only (1) to be
the product of thoughtful conceptualization (an action of Mind) BUT ALSO (2)
to have been assembled by the action of some extra-natural agent who imposes
some particular form on raw materials or extant systems that are not
sufficiently equipped to actualize that form by the employment of their own
capabilities of organization or transformation (the action of some form of

This use of the term 'design' (a use not always evident to readers, it seems)
is based on the "artisan metaphor." In Paley's classic illustration, one
person -- the artisan/watchmaker -- not only thoughtfully conceptualized the
watch, but also fabricated it from materials that were not capable of
self-organization into a watch.

My concept of the Creation is that it was from the beginning gifted by God
with all of the capabilities of self-organization and transformation that
would be required to make something like evolutionary continuity possible.
In that case, the forceful imposition of particular new forms (either on raw
materials or on extant forms) in the course of time would be unnecessary. This
high expectation of the "giftedness" of the Creation does not in any way rule
out extraordinary divine action. God is as free as ever to act in any way that
is consistent with his own nature.

To me, the essential meaning of 'to create' is 'to give being.' This meaning
stands in contrast to the concept (a form of special creationism), 'to impose
a new form on substances whose being lacks the capabilities to achieve that
form by the exercise of its God-given gifts.'

Enough said for now.

Howard Van Till