Designing Intelligence

With the recent Kansas Board of Education decision and the results in the Dover, Pennsylvania Board of Education elections, the Intelligent Design debate seems to be all the rage. It’s not really that interesting a debate, mostly being a rerun of the standard evolution versus creationism stuff with some new catchphrases. Even as a religious debate it’s not really terribly interesting from what I can see; the idea that God created the universe, then allowed it to evolve to where it is today seems entirely satisfactory, and doesn’t even undercut the Bible as much as considerations like “why does God let evil exist?”

But to my mind, the real fun in religious debates is in accepting all the premises, and seeing where that really leads.

So let’s forget the fossil record, genetic science, knowledge about breeding animals, and whatever else that might be relevant, and think instead about Platonic ideals of God. If God is all that’s good, all that’s wise, all that’s loving and caring, and Man is made in His image, what does that mean for the question of whether we evolved from bacteria and apes or appeared fully formed, ejected from Eden? If you or I were perfectly loving, perfectly wise, knew everything and could do whatever we wanted, and what we wanted was to make beings in our own likeness, what would we do?

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Genesis 1:27

And for reference, that’s a justifiable line of argument — if we are indeed made in God’s image, however flawed and imperfect we might be, when we look at what is best and brightest in our soul’s we must see the image of God, however blurred. For what else would we see?

Well, we don’t actually have to be omnipotent to try for that — we just have to be virile and fertile, and indeed people have children every day. And at their best, parents do many things for their children: provide for their well-being until they can look after themselves, pass on our knowledge and wisdom so they don’t have to face the world in ignorance and stupidity, help them grow strong and fit, provide challenges and support, and gradually introduce them to the problems of the real world, until eventually acknowledge them as equals — an adult themselves, whose opinions and worth are equal to our own.

If anything, that in fact understates things: as adults your children shouldn’t be your equal, they should be better: wiser, kinder and more able. They should benefit not only from your knowledge, but should build on it — it’s not for nothing that we expect each Olympics to involve records breaking, or every generation’s average IQ to be higher than that of the previous. At their best, debates like that over Kyoto don’t question whether the highest priority is to provide a better world for the next generation, but rather whether that’s best achieved by preserving the environment as it is, or by developing the economy so that we have the knowledge, the ability and the resources to better protect and recover it in the future.

For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children:

That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children:

That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments:

And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God.

Psalm 78, 5-8

And that’s the point at which arguments for strict creationism seem to fall apart, to me. Certainly, creating a person from the void would be a grand achievement, but loving parents share the glory of their children’s achievements, and if creating mankind were a grand achievement for God, would it not be a grander achievement for a monkey? And for a loving parent, would it not be more loving and more joyful to watch your child make that triumph? Would your child’s flawed work not inspire greater wonder and pride, even than the more perfect form you might have created yourself? And as a grandparent, would your joy not grow further as you watched your children’s children grow and mature and achieve new heights?

If one were to imagine a bacterium made in God’s image, would you really expect it and its children to achieve anything less than what you see around you?

Which is more awe inspiring, more Godly? Creating the world, or creating a single cell that can create the world?

Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field:

Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.

Matthew 13:31-32

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