Jan Ingenhousz

Jan Ingenhousz

A common atheistic argument against intelligent design is that we can’t fill gaps in our understanding of the natural world with a creator.  In light of some silly traditions in pagan cultures such as thunder being the gods fighting or bowling, or winter being when a goddess of nature was in a sad mood, that simplistic argument sounds rational.  Most of that mythology was inconsistent even when it was popular, and it has since mostly died out in the civilized world because its inherent predictions never squared up with natural and social observations.

The Biblical view is unique in that it has been preserved for ages and appears to be just as widely believed now as it ever was.  This is because its predictions are consistent and make sense.  The God of the Bible doesn’t claim to spontaneously appear clutching thunderbolts and eating ambrosia, and thus He never does.  He doesn’t claim to jump out and show Himself physically visible to the world, and thus He never does.  He says that the astronomical bodies exist as signs for different times and seasons, and navigators and farmers can testify that such a claim adds up.  He handed down hygienic rules that the ancient Israelites certainly could not have learned while under oppression in Egypt (ever tried an Egyptian donkey dung remedy?).  Today, the health advice still makes sense.  Yahweh announced that rainbows are a reminder that the earth will never again be destroyed by a flood.  This lines up with the Biblical creation model that there was no water falling from heaven like rain prior to the Flood.  Rain hadn’t happened before, and thus neither had rainbows.  Besides, what more encouraging sign that the land is drying up after rain than colors of diffused sunlight in the sky?  It still makes sense.

While touring through an old used bookstore on the square earlier this month, I came across a book that I couldn’t put down: The Beginnings of Modern Science: Scientific Writings of the 16th, 17th, and 18th Centuries (nerdy, I know).  While flipping through the antiqued pages, I came across this statement by Dutch Physician Jan Ingenhousz (1730-1799):

“We might conceive a little more of the deep designs of the Supreme Wisdom in the different arrangement of sublunary beings.  The stubborn atheist would, perhaps, find reason to humiliate himself before that Almighty Being, whose existence he denies because his limited senses represent to him nothing but a confused chaos of miseries and disorders in this world.” (pg. 459-460)

Ingenhousz was here concluding his observation that there are certain workings in the natural world that appear to be random, chaotic and senseless at first glance, but after further research it is discovered that they serve a well-designed purpose.  In light of Ingenhousz’s argument, atheists are the ones who are stubborn in their belief because of the limits of their knowledge.

On the contrary, American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson says “intelligent design is a philosophy of ignorance”.  Tyson thinks that God is invoked by scientists only when they can no longer figure out a problem (in fact, he refers to the Creator as “God of the gaps”).  Of course, that disregards the rich scientific heritage that the Biblical creation model has provided through the ages:

“As I try to discern the origin of that conviction [that the universe is ordered], I seem to find it in a basic notion discovered 2000 or 3000 years ago, and enunciated first in the Western world by the ancient Hebrews: namely, that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods, each governing his own province according to his own laws.  This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation for modern science.”

– Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Melvin Calvin in his work Chemical Evolution (now is that ironic or what?)

So, we have here a fascinating juxtaposition: Tyson asserts that Christians invoke the existence of God when they reach the limits of their knowledge, and Ingenhousz asserts that atheists invoke the absence of God when they reach the limits of their knowledge.  It is certainly something to think about.