Is the Creator's Excess "Unintelligent"? Reflection on Robyn Williams "Unitelligent Design"

The Faith and Order Commission of the Victorian Council of Churches currently has its attention focused on the matter of “Intelligent Design”. I rather fear that, like the ship-board computer in Douglas Adam’s Hitchhikers Guide which has all its memory circuits tied up in trying to work out what a “nice cup of tea” is for Arthur Dent when it should be working out some way of diverting the missiles that have been fired upon the space ship, this will be a time-consuming and, in the end, a rather inconclusive exercise when we could be focusing on something a little more to the point.

Nevertheless, it has meant that we have been doing some interesting reading. After reading this morning’s edition of The Age, we might want to put Robyn Williams new book “Unintelligent Design” on our reading list. The Age has published an extract from this book, and I quote a few lines below:

“If God s intention was to put man on Earth, made in his own image, surrounded by parkland, creatures and, eventually, a spouse, why make such a large planet? The Garden of Eden could not have been much larger than Central Park — enough to enable Adam and Eve to have an amusing existence — so why all those big continents, deserts and expanses of ice larger even than the whole of Australia? And why a vast solar system with planets enough to make our own look puny? And why a galaxy within which distances are so huge that the sermon on the mount travelling at the speed of light would barely leave the neighbourhood and could reach the galaxy’s boundary only after unimaginable eons. And then there are the billions of stars other than our sun in the galaxy and then … trillions of other galaxies extending as far as one can imagine. And beyond that too. This is over-engineering, surely. Intelligent design it isn’t.”

He continues:

“To sum up: once the universe is given the physical settings it possesses, then its size and age arise accordingly. If God’s prime focus was to produce human beings, he has certainly gone a very long way around. If he were all-powerful and deter- mined, he could have chosen one of the infinite alternatives Rees has on offer. Maybe God wasn’t fussed about time passing or materials wasted. However, it does appear to be an almighty diversion. Unless he happens to be awfully keen on astronomy, that is.”

That sent me back to Ratzinger (aka Papa Benny), in his classic work “Introduction to Christianity” (Memo to reader: buy this book and read it now if you haven’t yet done so).

In the section “Excursus: Christian Structures”, Prof. Ratzinger listed six “structures” which “summarise the basic content of Christianity in a few easily graspable statements.” No. 4 in this list is “The Law of Excess or Superfluity”. Ratzinger writes:

“Christ is the infinite self-expenditure of God … [which points back] … to the structural law of creation, in which life squanders a million seeds in order to save one living one; in which a whole universe is squandered in order to prepare at one point a place for spirit, for man. Excess is God’s trademark in his creation; as the Fathers put it, “God does not reckon his gifts by measure.” At the same time, excess is also the real foundation and form of salvation history, which in the last analysis is nothing other than the truly breathtaking fact that God, in an incredible outpouring of himself, expends not only a universe but his own self in order to lead man, a speck of dust, to salvation. So excess or superfluity—let us repeat—is the real definition or mark of the history of salvation. The purely calculating mind will always find it absurd that for man God himself should be expended. Only the lover can understand the folly of a love to which prodigality is a law and excess alone is sufficient.”

In the mean time, with regard to the question of “Intelligent Design”, I am drawn to the idea, not so much of “Intelligent Design” as a scientific method (because that seems to posit a divine “Designer” right from the beginning which seems to me to go beyond what science can say as science) but intelligible” design. In other words, there is something intrinsic in the world which matches, pairs or is correlated to something intrinsic in my own thinking processes, that is, it is “intelligible”. Is it not a marvellous fact that I can look at the world around me and make sense of it (even if limited)? This “intelligibility” is itself something that can be scientifically noted and reflected upon, even it in the end, it might lead us beyond science to philosophy, and yes, even theology.

This is surely what Schönborn was getting at in his First Things essay “The Designs of Science”

“Instead, my argument was based on the natural ability of the human intellect to grasp the intelligible realities that populate the natural world, including most clearly and evidently the world of living substances, living beings. Nothing is intelligible—nothing can be grasped in its essence by our intellects—without first being ordered by a creative intellect. The possibility of modern science is fundamentally grounded on the reality of an underlying creative intellect that makes the natural world what it is. The natural world is nothing less than a mediation between minds: the unlimited mind of the Creator and our limited human minds. Res ergo naturalis inter duos intellectus constituta—“The natural thing is constituted between two intellects,” in the words of St. Thomas. In short, my argument was based on careful examination of the evidence of everyday experience; in other words, on philosophy.”

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