Origins & Design 19:2
Issue 37

Readers Reply to "Design and Evil"

From the Editors:

In Origins & Design 19:1 (Summer 1998), we published a commentary by Biblical scholar and theologian Rikk Watts (Regent College) on “design and evil.” The existence of both natural and moral evil was central to the rise of philosophical naturalism in general, and evolutionary theory in particular. Charles Darwin, for instance, saw the existence of what he regarded as poor biological engineering (suboptimality) and apparently malevolent design (dysteleology) as prima facie evidence that God could not have directly created the world. This viewpoint continues to undergird much evolutionary reasoning in our own day, and poses a difficult challenge to theories of intelligent design. Thus, we have encouraged open discussion of the problems. Professor Watts’s brief article drew a fair amount of correspondence; two such letters, each taking issue with Professor Watts, are published below, with Professor Watts’s reply. We continue to invite correspondence and article submissions on the topic of natural and moral evil in relation to intelligent design.

Irrationality Squared

To the Editor:
Rikk Watt’s article, “Design and Evil: Some Musings of the Coming Controversy,” may well be a cynical and destructive hoax perpetrated at the expense of design-oriented creationists. According to Watt’s logic, the way to establish the validity of an inherently irrational proposition--such as his proposition that--is to “trump” the irrationality with one or more others that are even more irrational! But imagine the ridicule this will bring from opponents. For example, if irrationality is the ultimate criterion by which validity is established, by what criterion might the invalidity of propositions beproved? Think about it.

John W. Patterson
Professor of Materials Sciences and Engineering
Iowa State University
Ames, Iowa

Don’t Let Theology Stand in the Way

To the Editor:
This is a response to the lead-in provided by the editor for Rikk Watts’ commentary, “Design and Evil” in Origins & Design 19:1. The editor prefaced Mr. Watts’ commentary with:

The problem of the existence of evil (both “natural” and “moral”) gave Charles Darwin perhaps his most compelling argument against the intelligent design of the universe, life, and humankind.

I think the existence of “evil” neither adds to nor detracts from the possibility of intelligent design (or evolution). I can see how it might speak towards the motivations and “nature” of a specific kind of an intelligent designer, but I believe that is a different matter. I think “evil” is only a problem for those who wish to couple a hypothetical designer in biology to their preferred vision of a divine, moral arbitrator.

I feel that religious preferences or presuppositions should not be used for eliminating possible actions of designers from consideration because it may unnecessarily limit the inquiry. If one is going to consider extranatural assembly as a scientific question then everything goes on the table; even possibilities that one might feel are religiously unacceptable. For example, some believe evolution could not have happened because it necessitates death before the fall of man; that possibility simply taxes their personal, “theological picture” too far. But what if it is uncomfortable? I do not feel it is productive to deny potential models for the sake of avoiding the theologically unpalatable.

Perhaps it would be better to shelve the problem of “evil” for now in the study of life’s origins; at least until one has established a strong position for extranatural assembly in evolution. The editor continued from above:

Darwinist philosopher Michael Ruse questioned the character of a divine designer who would allow evil.

Ruse’s argument really only applies against a specific kind of designer with specific traits, not against the general notion of design per se. It surprises me that “design theorists” who are seeking to detect extranatural assembly in biology should be vexed by Ruse’s statements. Ruse’s argument may be directed against a form of designer in whom some may believe, but this is a problem about the potential nature of the divine that may lie far, far away from the more proximate biological questions at hand. It might be better to focus on the “smaller” but closer problems first, to see if those approaches have much success.

This is not to say that a discussion about the nature of evil is uninteresting or unimportant from a philosophical perspective, or that the “moral traits” of a designer, should one exist, would have no effects on biology. My point is more narrow: That such worries should not limit the one’s inquiry into the specific causes of biological development. Otherwise one might not progress much further in these scientific inquiries than those who prematurely curtail their explorations because they cannot work their way beyond the possibility of an ancient earth.

Tim Ikeda

Response from Watts

John W. Patterson accuses me of attempting to validate an inherently irrational proposition by “trumping it with more irrationality.” But I think he has confused “response” with “validation.” If I have tried to “validate” anything, it is only to suggest that a sovereign and good God’s “irrational” response to the real presence of evil in his creation seems to me to be congruent with the nature of the problem. Trying to “validate” (justify, explain?) the origin of moral evil, however, is exactly what I say cannot be done. Contrary to his expectation, ridicule is the one thing I’ve not met. I suspect this is because most people I have spoken to are well aware of the difficulty of this problem no matter where they stand.

Tim Ikeda’s observation that the existence of evil in itself does not invalidate the existence of design is to my mind correct. On the other hand, I’m sure Tim would agree that human beings are not merely mobile brains dispassionately observing life and hence Michael Ruse’s understandably passionate rejoinder. If certain kinds of order (e.g. beauty in design) seem to imply “good,” then the question of the character of a designer cannot be long ignored. I cannot explain the origins of moral evil nor can I reconcile it with the existence of a good, sovereign God. But I can point to the mystery of a very tangible cross and a resurrection that followed. Perhaps the fact of creation and the life of Jesus are far more closely connected than we might have otherwise imagined.

Rikk Watts

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File Date: 6.1.99