Immoral Design

There remains, however, a further “bad design” objection that we have not yet considered. Viruses, parasites, and other nasty organisms seem to be well-designed for bad purposes. Take the mosquito, for example. The design of the mosquito is, from an engineering standpoint, quite remarkable. It is annoyingly efficient at homing in on unsuspecting hosts who just wanted to enjoy a pleasant evening roasting marshmallows by the campfire. Nothing about the mosquito exhibits bad design in the sense of inefficiency or ineptitude. Yet, the design of the mosquito seems “bad” in a different sense: it appears to be designed for a harmful purpose. Why on Earth would a good and loving God create mosquitos?

This challenge, which I’ll call an immoral design objection, is not directed toward the ID movement per se, since ID makes no claims about the moral qualities of the designer. From a Christian perspective, however, the objection is both interesting and important. It fits within a more general objection to Christianity known as the philosophical problem of evil or the argument from evil. The literature on this topic is vast, and Christian thinkers have put forward many ideas as to why God permits so much suffering and evil in the world.Christian philosophers have developed two different kinds of responses to the argument from evil: theodicies and defenses. A theodicy is an attempt to explain (some of) God’s reasons for permitting at least some kinds of evil. An influential example is the “soul-making” theodicy defended in John Hick’s 1966 book Evil and the God of Love. (See also this Encyclopædia Britannica article on theodicy for a quick summary of traditional approaches to theodicy.) A defense, in contrast, rebuts the argument from evil without attempting to explain God’s reasons. A popular but controversial defense against the argument from evil is a view called “skeptical theism,” which you can read about in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entries on Skeptical Theism. I am presently working on a paper offering a different kind of defense, to which I’ll add a link after it’s published. For further reading on the problem of evil, I recommend Richard Swinburne’s book Providence and the Problem of Evil and Peter van Inwagen’s book The Problem of Evil. The philosophical problem of evil is too broad a topic to address here, but I will mention one fascinating idea that is pertinent to the immoral design objection and also to the inept design objections considered on the previous page. Some Christian thinkers have argued, based on scriptural evidence, that God is not the only spiritual being who has influenced the course of natural history.

God created the universe in the beginning, but the Bible also teaches that among His creatures are other spiritual beings who have been given limited dominion over some aspects of the created order. These created beings are powerful and intelligent; yet, unlike God, they are corruptible: many of them have been or will be judged for mismanaging their charges. Old Testament scholar Michael S. Heiser provides a captivating and compelling exposition of this often-overlooked biblical concept in his book The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible. As Heiser points out, numerous passages of scripture indicate that God sometimes allows supernatural created beings (other “elohim”) to participate both in making decisions about what happens in the natural realm and in bringing about the ends that God decrees. (For a perspicuous example, read 1st Kings 22:19-23.)Heiser discusses this example, along with a similar example from Daniel 4, in chapter 7 of The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2015).

Perhaps God’s work in creation was carried out in a similar way: God decreed the results he wanted, but the labor was performed by inferior beings. This possibility does not conflict with the scriptural affirmation that God created the world and its inhabitants. Elsewhere in scripture, we find many examples of creative work being attributed to an individual when we understand that, in fact, the work was performed by a team of servants under the direction of that individual. When we read that “Solomon built the temple” (1st Kings 6:14), for example, we know this is just a shorthand way of saying that he commissioned and directed the construction of the temple. This sort of locution is common in ordinary language. King Solomon himself probably never picked up a hammer or chisel. He used the authority of his voice to direct the temple’s construction, just as God used His voice to command that the earth bring forth living creatures (Genesis 1:24).

The Bible does not reveal whether other spiritual beings participated in designing biological life, but it does not foreclose the possibility. A host of spiritual beings were present,For additional support of this claim, see Chapter 3 of Heiser’s book The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2015). singing and shouting for joy, when God laid the foundations of the earth (Job 38:4-7). Did they have an active role in carrying out God’s work during the subsequent days of creation, just as they implement His decrees elsewhere in scripture? Heiser refuses to speculate,Although Heiser doesn’t speculate about the role of other spiritual beings in creation generally, he does argue that scriptural evidence precludes their involvement in the creation of humankind. He explains that the plural “us” of Genesis 1:26 means that God is addressing a group of created spiritual rulers, which Heiser calls “the divine council.” The divine council appears many times throughout scripture, and on some occasions they actively participate in God’s governance. However, according to Heiser, they do not participate in creating humanity:

What we have is a single person (God) addressing a group—the members of his divine council. … But if God is speaking to his divine council here, does that suggest that humankind was created by more than one elohim? Was the creation of humankind a group project? Not at all. … Genesis 1:27 tells us clearly that only God himself does the creating. In the Hebrew, all the verbs of creation in the passage are singular in form: “So God created humankind in his image, in the likeness of God he created him.” The other members of the council do not participate in the creation of humankind. They watch, just as they did when God laid the foundations of the earth (Job 38:7).

Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2015), 39-40.
but other Christian scholars have been less bashful in exploring this idea. C. S. Lewis toyed with the possibility in his fictitious but highly suggestive space trilogy.C. S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet (London: The Bodley Head, 1938); Perelandra (1943); That Hideous Strength (1945) Alvin Plantinga also makes a suggestion along these lines, noting that it could help to explain why animals already experienced suffering before the fall of man:

Indeed, some of these other creatures might be vastly more powerful than human beings, and some of them—Satan and his minions, for example—may have been permitted to play a role in the evolution of life on earth, steering it in the direction of predation, waste and pain.Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 59. In a footnote, Plantinga cites Lewis’s space trilogy as inspiration for the idea.

Similarly, ID theorist Michael Behe lists angels, “fallen or not,” as possible candidates for the role of designer.In context, Behe does not explicitly endorse the suggestion that angels played a role in creation. Here’s the relevant excerpt from his essay “The Modern Intelligent Design Hypothesis,” in Neil A. Manson (ed.), God and Design: The Teleological Argument and Modern Science (London and New York: Routledge, 2003), page 277:

I myself do believe in a benevolent God, and I recognize that philosophy and theology may be able to extend the argument. But a scientific argument for design in biology does not reach that far. Thus, while I argue for design, the question of the identity of the designer is left open. Possible candidates for the role of designer include: the God of Christianity; an angel – fallen or not; Plato’s demiurge; some mystical new-age force; space aliens from Alpha Centauri; time travelers; or some utterly unknown intelligent being. Of course, some of these possibilities may seem more plausible than others based on information from fields other than science.

The idea of spiritual beings playing significant roles in natural history might sound incredible, especially from our modern, western cultural vantage point. Nevertheless, it seems to me that biblical Christianity gives us the intellectual freedom to take these suggestions seriously, or at least to consider the explanatory possibilities they raise, not only for addressing immoral design (and inept design) objections in biology but also for responding to the problem of evil.

Is it Science?

One more objection to the ID movement claims that ID is not genuine science, even if it yields testable or falsifiable predictions that have not (yet) been falsified. This last objection, which is also raised against creationist hypotheses, usually rests on a specific philosophical view about scientific methodology called methodological naturalism. The final chapter of this book gives an introduction to scientific methodology, methodological naturalism, and the demarcation problem, so we’ll take up this objection there.