The Layers of Intelligent Design

First, the primordial cosmos:  the earth was “without form and void”.   This is not something other than matter.   (You actually can’t imagine something other than matter.  Even when you imagine energy, you create a picture drawn from visible aspects of matter.)

What God made was, rather, unorganized matter.   The language suggests “random” – the only apophatic concept we own, meaning “without pattern”.   Notice, this first stage of creation has no moral color.  Which is surprising, since we are inclined to sense randomnity as ominous.    (Our bias is born from the threat to life, limb and fortune humans feel in random events.)  It is not bad, it is just not done.   Later, when God says it is “good”, His first known value judgement, it is not because He fixed something bad, but because he finished His science project.   So there are degrees of good before the Fall, and this spectrum of goods is far wider than a mere nuance.    No, the movement from starting a work to finishing that work offers full joy; Fall and Redemption do not add any depth to God’s experience.

There is no reason to think the ensuing drama wipes out these first categories:  the Beginning, the Good, and the Very Good.   Humankind imposes an alien meme, the Bad, which obscures but does not obliterate the first pattern of joys.

During Creation Week God organized the stuff on a macro scale by adding light, and atmosphere, and history, trigonometry, and bugs.  Light, alone, would flip a switch making the heavens and earth into a self sustaining machine and would energize the chemical substrate.    Physics can fill in the rest.  (I’m not interested in connecting the text with what our instruments see, but in seeing what is in the text.)

There is no reason to think this work obliterated or exhausted the primordial and formless stuff, which was not evil or needing cleansing (sorry, Manichees), but just needed organizing.   I believe we still see this original stuff with eyes and augmented eyes.

When we look at the night sky we see a stamp of “design”, which the biblical writers sing of,  but their vision of Yahweh’s mark on creation is not what we usually mean by “design”, which is something like “handmade pattern indicating a purpose”.   Rather,  they see size, scale, and pretty lights.   Art for art’s sake.

The fabrication of the Garden, later, will reveal that this Creation,  whatever it looked like, though it is “very good”,  has no clear human purpose, except as raw material for a further ordering.   So even before the Fall there were at least two strata in the created universe that were not meant to look “designed”, even to unfallen human perception.   If you could transport back in time to the moment when God cried “very good!” and startled the great cranes from their brakes, you would not see anything with a purpose.  You would see pretty.  You would not see architectonics.   Yahweh’s aesthetic is remarkably childish, or child-like.

Now we come to the Garden.  Pre-fall Eden seems to mean little to Christians except that it evokes nostalgia for their tropical vacations.  Meanwhile we argue with the evil evolutionists about design in the natural world.   But Eden is crucial for grasping what God did and why.   The distinction between the garden and the wide world is precisely the degree of apparent order.    And, in this context, the word “order” means something like “pleasant to humans”.    It was an island of suitableness within the infinite ocean of the Creation, which was itself on top of, or imposed on, the deep layer of formless stuff.   The idea was probably that the Garden would grow and take over all the Creation, which of course never happened.   So the Garden was the one place visibly designed by God for humans, and only there.   We do not perceive this Divine design now.   A flaming sword has been set at its door. So – the created “order” we do perceive now is a level of order that God thought was very good but not yet particularly suitable for humans.

4.   The Creation, fallen.   Whatever degree of design the original creation displayed — something less than what God had in mind for us — must be broken down now, to some unknown degree.    And our vision is also broken.  So we actually are looking  through 3 or 4 dark glasses.

I realize I am speculating here.  The point is not to nail all this down into creedal clarity.   The point is that the concept “design” is used by biblicist culture-warriors as if it means one precise thing.   It is either “evidence of design” or, I guess, “evolved by chance”.    I find this dichotomy laughably simplistic — from a biblically literalist point of view.    In contrast, the biblical concept of design is richly nuanced, and not nearly mined, to date.   We do the biblical picture great trauma by talking about it so superficially.

Those of us who aren’t so certain to argue that we see “design” in the physical universe are often looked down on by our more dogmatic brethren.   As if we don’t really believe the Word.   Not so; we just see more in it than you, and see more that we don’t clearly see.    It’s hard to fight over something you know you aren’t seeing clearly.

John 9: Jesus talks about design

The sermon today really was about the healing of the blind man in John 9, though it might be hard to see that from these notes:

1. Man chose a random universe. If this part is left out, the rest makes no sense. And this is the part secularists insist on leaving out, so that the rest makes no sense. In other words, they choose a random universe, re-capitulating Adam’s choice. 5 minutes later, they object to the very notion of a federal head.

2. Bad things happen, randomly. See: statistics.

3. God stops some bad things. This is an assertion. By definition, it is untestable, as are all assertions about the intangible universe. That it is untestable means exactly nothing, unless you’ve already decided that all truth is testable. That decision has nothing to do with the nature of the world, and everything to do with how you want to spend your short time in it. It makes sense to hold that all truth is testable, if there are no truths outside the means of testing. That the testers can’t see this logical circle is my personal all-time greatest mystery of life.

4. Love does not excise bad things from the relationship, but instead builds them into the relationship, the design. The artist integrates mistakes. ( All watercolorists will now say “amen”.) So, in the end, love is the intelligent design. We cannot know the universe as it was built originally; the stamp of design from the act of creation has been written over by the palimpsest on our retinae. Love is the intelligent design. This is also an untestable assertion. You can either live in this universe, if you like, or another kind, if you like. Why you like what you like will always be perceived by yourself as an axiom. The theological term for axiom is “ex nihilo”; the phenomenological term for the same…well, phenomenon…is “miracle” . Since the atheist mind simply labels things that appear in his mind as axioms, he actually has more experience with miracles than the rest of us. He has merely internalized them.

5. The materialist might not allow for “love”, it might be just “the will to survive”. Yet, in this view, isn’t the will to survive just another random event, seen from the inside? So, the species has the will to survive, because the sun exists, but that the sun exists means nothing at all. It just exists. Therefore, the cessation of the will to survive is the loss of nothing at all. Therefore, to live is not preferable to suicide, and suicide is not preferable to life. But the materialist is left with: “It is axiomatic for me to want to live.” I believe you — but all you are saying is that this impulse drops into your brain from an unknown source. Suppose Hitler would have an impulse to kill you. In the end, isn’t the war between his impulse and yours simply two particles, colliding at random?

We Know the Garden In the Act Of Drawing It

The proper object of our knowledge is the Creator.  He made it all, including my organ of knowing, and this “all” that He made is the Garden.   The entire world we know is the Garden, seen from from far away, in exile.

We observe the world via reason but we do not know it, because reason is observing from an objective distance, a spatial point where any other reason can stand and repeat the same observation.   This detached, repeatable observation we call science.  It is the spectatorship of exile.   It yields useful information, through which we master and improve the world.

By definition, science excludes all cognition that others cannot share.  So if I hold my position always on this detached, objective vantage point which allows my reason to see, I cannot have unique knowledge.   I can

Full knowledge is participatory love.   Our knowledge of God is through the agency of love, but is often called “mysticism” when it impinges the cognition.   Our knowledge of The Garden is in the artistic act, which is simply an exercise of loving the warm light as it kisses the molecules.   Knowledge is useful, but the the lover is indifferent to its usefulness.

So knowledge is interpenetration; it is cognition of the inner essences of created things.   Michelangelo saw the inner essence of the stone when he released the angel from the prison of extraneous marble.

So, art is a mode of friendship.

Memorial Day 2008

see also Memorial Day 2007.

So God enters human flesh under a military dictatorship.  During His short mortal life the freedom fighters try to enlist Him but He declines; He has other interests.  This lack of interest in political freedom is one of the things that gets Him tortured to death.  He does not resist His torturers.  He had taught His followers to not return violence for violence. His chief follower wrote letters to literal slaves and was not interested in talking to them about freedom.

Two thousand years later the Christian churches celebrate in their services “those who died to protect our way of life”.  In my church this weekend we literally studied the passages in Revelation describing the martyrs, who submit to the sword for their confession that Jesus is king.   We study the martyrs, who do not resist, and we celebrate those who kill to protect our freedom to live and work where we want.   We would die for Jesus, but kill for everything else.
It’s at this point the disclaimers have to be added, because it is easy for the reader to hear something I am not saying:

  • I do respect the heroism of the men of Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, Normandy.  Those men, “who gave the last full measure of devotion”, might indeed have been better men than I, every last one.  They were certainly braver than me.   And they gave me a precious gift of freedom, yes.
  • The American military has acted, in its history, with as much nobility and rightness in its causes as any military in history.  Jane Fonda and fellow travelers are idiots.
  • I do not believe that countries can or should follow the ethic of Jesus.  The state wields the sword, not the shepherd’s crook.  Political pacifism is just another word for suicide.  Anybody who thinks good things will happen from trying to be nice to Hitler, Saddam, or that Iranian sociopath is, well, cf Jane Fonda.
  • I do appreciate there are libraries of books on the theory of Just War.

But. I am not able to reconcile the churches’ celebration of war dead with the NT ethic.  They gave us something good, but not something so good that Jesus thought it was important enough to Him to talk about,  or us to die for.  These values we did not get from Him.