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The Consequence of Electric Light: On Intelligent Design

The creation idea is used to take away the sinister quality from nature.. Faith is an attitude toward the world.. Faith is not a substitute for knowledge but a reflective relation with knowledge.. Faith begins from its own reasons. Where faith begins, thinking begins again.

Reflections on a More Intelligent Design

By Hans Weder

[This 2006 address is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.uzh.ch/about/portrait/dies/2006/Rede_2006_Weder.pdf Hans Weder is rector of the University of Zurich.]

"One cannot use electric light, radio equipment and modern medical and clinical methods in cases of sickness and simultaneously believe in the New Testament world of spirit and miracles. Whoever thinks he can do this for his person and generalizes this for the Christian faith makes Christian proclamation unintelligible and impossible in the present." (1)

These sentences were expressed in 1941 in the middle of the Second World War. To some religious contemporaries, they seemed like blows of a demolition hammer tearing down an inhabited house. Rudolf Bultmann, one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, made this crystal-clear diagnosis in a little one-horse town called Alpirsbach in the Black Forest. His address on "The New Testament and Mythology" opened the conference. However the explosiveness of the address shattered the program of the meeting. The attendees put aside the schedule and devoted the whole time to discuss Bultmann's theses.

What seemed to some as the epitome of destruction of religion triggered an unparalleled worldwide reflection on the church and theology. The inner core of the deep conflict was the simple question whether faith in God can survive in the context of the modern age. Is living out faith worthwhile? Bultmann posed this question to the New Testament. A century of historical research showed that the worldview of the New Testament, the most important original document of Christendom, was alien to modern people. It seemed antiquated with its three storeys - heaven, earth and the underworld. "Heaven is the dwelling of God and the heavenly beings, the angels; the underworld is hell, the place of torment. The earth is the site of natural and everyday events, provisions and work, filled with orders and rules and also the showplace of the works of supernatural powers, God and his angels and Satan and his demons." (2) Bultmann called this worldview mythological. People always spoke of supernatural interventions from the outside. What is understood today as sickness was ascribed to evil demons. What we call a happy deliverance was interpreted as a divine miracle. Jesus of Nazareth, whom we see as an extraordinary person, was described as a pre-existent divine being, the Son of the Most High. Believing in such a miracle world is no longer possible in the modern age, according to Bultmann.

While the sentences quoted at the outset were perceived as demolishing blows, their author was hardly intent on destruction. Rudolf Bultmann focused on the honesty of faith or the veracity of religion. Message and worldview are different in the New Testament. The message stands for itself and does not seek to establish a certain worldview. Truthful religious texts, according to Bultmann's thesis, do not proclaim a worldview. They only speak of a world that concerns human existence, more exactly the existential situation of persons before God in the world.

The message of the New Testament must be freed and demythologized of its mythical garment. This cannot happen by simply eliminating the mythical elements since message and worldview are intensely interwoven. The royal way in dealing with mythical garments is interpretation, not reduction. Demythologizing the New Testament message, according to Bultmann, has to occur as existential interpretation. In other words, the objective reality of demons is not central but rather the existence of the person, an existence that knows about the sinister power of evil that often seduces human existence.

That the person can no longer believe in mythical divine beings and their supernatural effectiveness in the world is the consequence of electric light. Bultmann insists. That he need not believe in such beings is a consequence of the New Testament message which concentrates on the person's existence in the world, not on objective ideas about the world. Therefore every religious message must be interpreted existentially.

Bultmann's diagnosis of the situation of religion in the modern age dates from 1941. More than six decades have passed since then. What is today's reality? A glance at the religious landscape of the present age shows that religion has become more diffuse and arbitrary than ever and also more diverse and vigorous. For more than two centuries, the thesis that the process of secularization advanced and religion became obsolete was widely accepted in theology and the social sciences. This secularization thesis is false. The return of religions, fundamentalism and the clash of cultures are prominent. The return of the gods describes the situation of religion in modern culture. (3) People take their own lives with an explicit mythological explanation. Hoping to gain an honorary place in Paradise, they detonate dynamite belts on their own bodies and drag others, both innocent and culpable in their eyes, into death.

While for Bultmann, worldviews were not themes of truthful religion, whether explained mythologically or scientifically. The worldview of evolution theory is now occasion for many to declare the status confessionis. Demonstrations against the evolution theory are organized in the United States and courts summoned to fight its dominance in the curriculum of schools.

For some time the philosophy of life of so-called intelligent design experienced an amazing boom. Whoever searches for this keyword on Google receives around 10 million hits. The central thesis of this movement is clear and simple. Intelligent design reflects the idea that certain characteristics of the universe and its living beings can be explained better by an intelligible cause than by an unguided process like natural selection." (4) This idea that vital features of the universe and life imply a planned or "intelligent" construction is two hundred years old at least. More than a half-century before Darwin's "Origin of Species," the English theologian William Paley introduced the clockmaker-analogy (this motif was already prominent in antiquity). If we found a clock in a field, we would immediately assume it was not produced by blind natural processes but by a constructive human mind. Just as imperatively the practical cooperation of different body parts in a living organism suggests a Creator. On first view, the analogy is winning. The analogous arguments are also fascinating.

Michael Behe's argument of irreducible complexity is most interesting. (5) Behe explains what he means with the help of a simple mousetrap. It consists of particular elements like the bed, metal hammer, quill and so on. The thing can only function as a mousetrap when all the elements are correctly put together. In his opinion, this is also true for complex processes within a cell or within the flagellum, the organs of bacteria. "Dozens of different kinds of proteins are necessary for a working flagellum. In the absence of almost any of them, the flagellum does not work or cannot even be built by the cell." (6) This complexity is irreducible, according to Behe, as it is inconceivable that the flagellum arose through the accidental and gradual addition of individual elements. An intelligent design implying a divine designer is assumed to explain the complexity.

As fascinating as the argument may be, it can be refuted with the theory of evolution. Admittedly, the mousetrap first functions through the interplay of all the elements. However the individual elements could have very different functions before they were assembled in a mousetrap. The bed could have been a paperweight; the foundation and quill together could be a paper clip and so forth. This is also true for biochemical elements. Facing representatives of the evolution theory, Behe said: "The point which science has long understood is that bits and pieces of supposedly irreducibly complex machines may have different = but still useful - functions." (7)

Under the catchword of intelligent design, a passionate conflict is underway between two worldviews: the picture of a world arising through accident and necessity and the picture of a world that leads back to the intelligent plan of a Creator. On both sides, positions are articulated with empirical arguments. Each side accuses the other of unscientificness. The followers of intelligent design see God's footprints in the present; evolutionists protest they cannot discover these footprints.

Both sides do not make clear the nature of their disagreement. What Rudolf Bultmann called the uniformity of the world is central. The theory of evolution understands reality as a watertight connection between factors and effects. Unlike this calculation with natural realities, intelligent design introduces a supernatural external designer to whose plan the world owes its interdependence.

Evolution theory is a prominent example of how modern science generally understands itself. It describes the real etsi dues non daretur as a self-contained unity of natural realities. This is called the methodical atheism of science, an atheism that is only a methodical concept and has nothing to do with an anti-confession. This methodical concept has proven very successful and can solve countless enigmas of the world in a structured way. Where a puzzling phenomenon appears, better theories are sought until a natural explanation is found. Unsolved mysteries should not throw modern science off track; they are merely a reason to apply this secular science more resolutely.

From the perspective of theology, the fundamental error in the conflict between evolution theory and intelligent design is the following. While it seems a battle of scientific worldviews, it was in reality a struggle over the importance of faith alongside science. The claim of intelligent design of being an alternative scientific theory is a fatal self-deception. A scientific proof cannot prove transcendence. Whoever seeks to establish God's footprints scientifically forces the deity into this world and blurs these traces that could convince us of deity.

However the methods of the other side in this battle are also dubious. In June 2005 the physicist Bobby Henderson founded a new religion whose deity was called FSM: Flying Spaghetti Monster. Its followers called themselves Pasta-fari. Abandoning adherents of intelligent design to absurdity was its obvious purpose. Henderson tried to invalidate creationist theories with the evolution theory ad absurdum. In an open letter to the Kansas school board, he insisted that his dogma of the spaghetti-monster be communicated in instruction like the creationist. While the vexation of the physicist is understandable, the uncouthness of his proposal is alarming. Trust in science is weakened when scientists lose the standard in religious things.

The size of the new religious movement naturalized in the US is reason alone not to simply mock or pass over the phenomenon. (8) Whoever dismisses the theses of intelligent design must at least face the social-psychological question why persons feel the need to identify footprints of deity in the world. Certainly, religion generally can be seen as a personal misunderstanding, sickness or flow on the chain in which humanity is economically shackled. This happened in the religious criticism of the 19th century. But whoever argues on the basis of evolution theory may not stop with the idea of development in biology. The cultural and religious development of the human species must also be taken seriously. Existence, self-perception and reflection in the human mind belong to the development of the universe.

"The discoveries of our culture could bring the unrelated or hostile antithesis of science and faith, world experience and religious interpretation into a productive relation to each other. Recall the text emphasized by most creationists, the well-known creation account from Genesis in the 5th or 6th century B.C. (9) The creation of the world and humankind are described there in the perspective of divine working days. The first day brings the creation of light and the distinction of light and darkness. On the second day, the living space for people and animals was created in that the chaotic primeval flood was separated from the firmament. The differentiation of land and water and the plant world followed, then the sun, moon and stars, the fauna in the water and the air and their ability to reproduce, then the fauna, then humankind and finally on the seventh day as the crown of creation, the rest of deity which is also given an important place in the human life rhythm.

In its historical context, this creation account refers back to knowledge at that time. A "broad integration of ancient Oriental themes in the natural world" occurs there corresponding to the knowledge of the time." (10) The text does not emphasize this knowledge as such. Rather the repeated assessment of the created ("And God said that it was good") refer to a central motif of the creation account. The goodness of the living space is stressed to convince the reader that this natural world is his place and home where he can live - in a time when the superior force of nature was an elementary experience of humankind. The creation idea is used here to take away the sinister quality from nature. While the knowledge of time concentrates on the functioning of the world, the religious declaration aims at its dignity in the eyes of people. Knowledge develops conceptions about the world. Faith is an attitude toward the world.

This distinction of knowledge and faith should be considered in today's conflict over intelligent design. The knowledge of the present is summed up in the theory of evolution. The theory of intelligent design joins the claim of scientificness with the religious idea of a Creator. Nevertheless religion is not charged with offering a better knowledge to existing knowledge. Rather religion aims at cultivating a meaningful relation with knowledge. Developmental biology gives a presentiment of the inconceivable complexity of a cell. Religion can accentuate the astonishment over this complexity. Whoever comes to the idea of God given the complexity of life does not think of the function of things but their dignity. Perhaps the world is best understood when its function and weight are recognized.

Intelligent design often bases the religious declaration on a deficit in knowledge in that the evolution theory cannot explain something. Truthful religious declarations do not live from unsolved enigmas whose solution is pulled out of a metaphysical hat. Its theme is different. What is central is the mystery that governs in many enigmas of the world and can sometimes be discovered in what human reason has already unraveled. The deeper the knowledge about the constitution of the world, the more likely a person gains a presentiment of its mystery. Faith is not a substitute for knowledge but a reflective relation with knowledge. Therefore faith does not begin where thinking ends but vice versa. Faith begins from its own reasons. Where faith begins, thinking begins again. (11)

If religion aims at a contemporary association with knowledge, it must be positively interested in its reality. Bultmann's way was turning away from the objectivizing statements of worldviews and turning to existential interpretation, speaking of God in the horizon of human shock and affliction. Can one speak religiously about human existence in the world without saying something about the being of the world? Whoever looks at the world from his existential situation before God must also dare a glance at the whole. But what language is appropriate? Deducing from the secularity of science, the use of the word "God" with regard to the world has become impossible and meaningless for some.

For this question, let us turn to another great theologian of the 20th century: Eberhard Juengel, former systematic theologian at the universities of Zurich and Tubingen. One of his many published books has the programmatic title "God as the Mystery of the World. On the Theology of the Crucified in the Conflict between Theism and Atheism." (12) Juengel focuses on the situation of speaking for God on the background of modern thought. In his opinion, the conflict between faith and science manifest at least since the Enlightenment - a conflict that has also occurred within theology as a science - is a conflict over God's necessity. The decisive argument for the theory of intelligent design is always that a phenomenon cannot be explained by evolutionary biology. Therefore the assumption of an intelligent divine Designer is necessary.

Conversely, that God is not necessary is the most important result of modern science and defines the situation of speaking for God in the modern age. That God is not necessary, according to Eberhard Juengel, is also an ancient theological insight. As Thomas Aquinas said correctly, "God is supra ordinem necessarii et contingentis, sicut est supra totum esse creatum." (13) God stands above the necessary and the contingent and over all created existence. God's non-necessity has its scientific foundation in that the world is intelligible without the assumption of divine intervention. In contrast, the old theological insight shows another way. God is not necessary because God is more than necessary, not less than necessary. Eberhard Juengel emphasizes this fact in the following concise formula:

1. The person and his/her world are interesting for their own sake.
2. God is interesting for his sake.
3. God makes interested persons interesting in a new way for his own sake. (14)

The first sentence respects the secular order of the world and the order of modern science. The second sentence encourages speaking for God that does not vindicate itself with the definition of the world or seek a home in the gaps of the world. Whoever speaks for God must have reasons that lie in God's being, not in the being of the world. Lastly, the third sentence postulates a gain in speaking for God. Where it really happens, people and the world are understood differently than in a secular way. What kind of speech would reflect these three sentences?

In my opinion, the religious metaphor can express Juengel's three insights. Long ago it was recognized that religious language has a special affinity to the visual. In the theological hermeneutic of the 20th century, graphic religious language was closely analyzed. Its metaphorical structure was discovered and described. The basic structure of the metaphor can be illustrated in a sentence at the beginning of Baudelaire's poem "Correspondences": "Nature is a temple." A predicate from another area is added to a subject. Unlike am explanatory sentence that carries out a simple predication, the metaphor works with the tension between subject and predicate. The semantic achievement of Baudelaire's sentence is reached in that the addressants know nature in reality is not a temple. Nature is the sum of all realities arising evolutionarily. The temple is the place of encounter with God. The metaphorical predication of the temple to the subject nature is based on a semantic error. The "is" is always an "is not." The metaphor is understood on one side when one remembers that nature is not a temple.

Baudelaire's sentence can serve as an example of religious speech so far as nature is interpreted religiously here as a place of encounter with God. There are many comparable religious sentences: "This child is a gift of heaven." "Our meeting is a divine destiny." "The rescue of the miners is a miracle." In Baudelaire's sentence, the worldliness of nature is respected and is a presupposition for positive understanding. The significance of these metaphors rests on the ontological difference between subject and predications. The metaphor gives a new possibility of understanding to addressants by enabling them to understand nature as a temple. Accordingly the metaphor discovers dimensions in nature that cannot be read in any book on natural history. It assigns qualities to the temple that seem to contradict its nature as a delimited holy district. The truth question puts such metaphors c0mpletely in the hands of addressants. The metaphor can be regarded as true when there is evidence for it. Still metaphors are not arbitrary. They live from the fact that their semantic error is obvious so to speak. Metaphors can be recognized as true when they are experienced as discoveries, not inventions.

Let us apply this to the controversy over intelligent design, the confrontation of evolution and creation, cosmology and creativity. The origin of the new is a central theme both in religion and in cosmology. A metaphor that connects both areas could be: "The origin of the new in the world is a divine creation." If this sentence were understood as an explanatory sentence and a real predication, we would be able to explain the thesis of intelligent design that the genesis of the new refers to deity and has no natural explanation. But if the sentence is understood as metaphor, it works with the above-mentioned semantic tension. A naturally explainable process of the cosmos, the genesis of the new, is understood in a new way as a reflection of divine creativity. The worldliness of that process promotes and does not hinder understanding.

"The origin of the new in the world is divine creation." Consider both halves of this metaphor. In the realm of astrophysics, to begin with the secular half, the new arises in that a star originates from accidental fluctuations in the fog out of interstellar gas. The new that arises cannot be derived from the old. The star here is new in the sense of an unforeseeable event, a surprise. The arising new does not occur everywhere. It appears in definite places under definite conditions of an imbalance. (16) The new arises in a spontaneous but not arbitrary or accidental way. In this connection, some speak of strange attractions that make the gas into the definite form of a star.

Concerning the religious side of the metaphor, divine creation - "at least in the Christian religion" - is qualified in that the creating is out of nothing. Why does something exist and not nothing? The crucial tension of our metaphor is between the created new and the arising new, between creation and transformation. One only understands when one knows that the astrophysical transformation from dust to stars is different on principle from the creation where non-being is called into being.

What is united in the metaphor is revealed on both sides. The predicate enables the subject to understand and the subject gives the predicate a new understanding. In our metaphor example, the predicate "divine creation" is opened up through the subject "origin of the new." The new arises as something that transcends the foreseeable as surprise and the unforeseeable although nothing but the known natural laws were at work. The connection with astrophysics is an interpretation and not a mere illustration. The idea of divine creating is anchored in world experience even though world experience and God experience are not the same. Expressed rather coarsely, whoever knows how the new arises in the world gains a presentiment of the surprise of creating out of nothing.

The subject, the genesis if the new, is opened up through the predicate of divine creation. The evolutionary process includes a depth dimension that goes far beyond the particular cosmic development. The origin of the new is revealed as a trace of divine creativity. The worldly and provisional process of the genesis of the new is opened up in its significance for the final and divine. The metaphor responds more to the question about the importance of the origin of the new than to the question why the new arises in the described way. The metaphor creates space for a faith that sees a truth bearing the world and comforting humanity in its transitoriness.

The metaphor only offers a new understanding without logically forcing that understanding. The genesis of the new to keep with our example can be entirely understood without recourse to divine creativity. The world is interesting for its own sake. The religious metaphor deepens and does not replace knowing understanding. The religious metaphor does not live from the logical pressure of the deficit or from the gaps in world explanation. God is interesting for God's own sake. The deepened understanding presupposes daring in connecting divine truth with coincidence.

Where the world can be understood entirely from itself, the religious interpretation must resist the temptation of coercion. Religious perception of the world depends on naturalness and agreement of people. Agreement is only possible in a realm of freedom where one can say No in dignity to a possible interpretation. Beyond necessities, the religious interpretation seeks the free Yes of the addressed. To that end, God makes people and the world interesting in a new way.

Religious language beyond necessity assumes that the addressed can judge religious perception as not necessary. In any case, this necessity can not be proven scientifically. Ludwig Wittgenstein said: "For a proof of God, one should be convinced of God's existence. However believers who present such proofs analyzed and justified their faith with reason although they themselves would never have come to faith through such proofs... Life can educate one to faith in God... Experiences can also do this as in different kinds of suffering but not visions or other sensory experiences showing us the existence of this being." (17)

The defenders of intelligent design try to break the necessity of the faith of science. This is scientifically problematic and theologically dubious. Intelligent design means gaining security and persuasiveness and losing the freedom to believe. The reflection level of the religious culture of the West allows designing more intelligently the relation of science and religion, faith and knowledge.



Rudolf Bultmann, Neues Testament und Mythologie. Das Problem der
Entmythologisierung der neutestamentlichen Verkündigung, in:
Hans-Werner Bartsch (Hg.), Kerygma und Mythos I. Ein theologisches
Gespräch (= Theologische Forschung, 1), Hamburg-Bergstedt
S. 15-48, hier S. 18.
Ebenda, S. 15.
Vgl. Samuel P. Huntington, Der Kampf der Kulturen. The Clash of
Civilizations. Die Neugestaltung der Weltpolitik im 21. Jahrhundert,
München etc.
1997; Martin Riesebrodt, Die Rückkehr der Religionen
und der «Kampf der Kulturen», München
2004; Friedrich Wilhelm Graf,
Die Wiederkehr der Götter. Religion in der modernen Kultur,
"The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the
universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause,
not an undirected process such as natural selection." So die Definition
auf der Homepage des Discovery Institute (www.discovery.org).
Michael J. Behe, Darwin's Black Box. The Biochemical Challenge to
Evolution, New York etc. 1996.
Intelligent Design? In: Natural History, April 2002,
S. 73-80, hier S. 74.
Kenneth R. Miller, ebenda, S. 75
Ulrich Gäbler, Wiederkehr der Religion?
(= Basler Universitätsreden, 103), Basel 2005.
Gen 1,1-2,4a; dazu Odil Hannes Steck, Welt und Umwelt.
Biblische Konfrontationen, Stuttgart etc. 1978, S. 70-85.
Ebenda, S. 92.
Pensées de M. Pascal sur la religion et sur quelques autres sujets qui ont
esté trouvées après sa mort parmy ses papiers, Paris 1670, S. 267.
Eberhard Jüngel, Gott als Geheimnis der Welt. Zur Begründung der
Theologie des Gekreuzigten im Streit zwischen Theismus und Atheismus,
2001, S. 43.
Arnold Benz, Die Zukunft des Universums. Zufall, Chaos, Gott?
1998, S. 22-24.
Ebenda, S. 129.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Vermischte Bemerkungen,
Suhrkamp 1977, S. 161f. Hervorhebungen im Original

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