Where Intelligent Design Fails to See Intelligence

January 8, 1944- The HMCS Camrose which helped sink a German submarine in the North Atlantic during Second World War. VAC | ACC/Flickr

January 8, 1944- The HMCS Camrose which helped sink a German submarine in the North Atlantic during Second World War. VAC | ACC/Flickr

By Ralph D. Winter

In saying that some of our creationists are glossing over the surprisingly prominent reality of intelligent evil in nature, I don’t mean that any of these ID people really deep down are unwilling to confront the enigmatic reality of evil. I just mean that, from the current discussion as seen in their written materials, that would appear to be the case.

As a matter of fact, I myself have all my life believed in what C. S. Lewis called “that hideous strength.” Yet only recently have I begun to reflect on the possibility that this hideous and intelligent evil must not reasonably be dealt with among us any longer merely by superficial references to the philosophical concept of sin and to a fall of man. Why? Because the mere idea of sin is not personifyable. Sin as an abstraction is defined by some as the departure from what is right. In that case the concept itself does not necessarily imply the potent and powerful existence of a diabolical personality any more than would a wrong score on a third-grade arithmetic test. The key question is, “Does it make any practical difference if we conceive of ourselves, on the one hand, as tempted by freedom to sin or, on the other hand, fighting against an evil one who tempts us intelligently?”

Note, for example, the huge difference, back in the days of the Second World War, between, on the one hand, the often nearly invisible icebergs that sent many ships to the bottom of the ocean and, on the other hand, the stealthy, intelligent submarines which caused far greater damage. What if the sinking of thousands of ships had been conceived of as merely the result of inanimate forces? What if scientists had not figured out a way to bounce underwater sound off steel-hulled submarines in such a way as to distinguish the difference between an iceberg and a submarine? This technique, to be called sonar, came late in the war, and implementing it took even longer. By that time not a thousand ships had been sunk, not two thousand, but six thousand ships crossing the Atlantic, loaded with food and war material, had gone to the bottom. It may be hard to believe but the outcome of that enormous war turned on the subsequent success in fighting these intelligent submarines.

It could be alleged that I am missing a main point. A conversation I had with Philip Johnson several years ago brought this forcibly to my attention. I began by congratulating him (and Michael Behe) on the potent logic of the ID movement, but I said, “When you look at your computer screen and if it says suddenly, ‘Ha, I just wiped out your hard disk,’ you have not the slightest difficulty in concluding that you have suffered the onslaught of a computer virus concocted by an intelligent, real person. Curiously, then, when we contemplate a real biological virus, which, though only a tiny assemblage, assails the health of an enormously larger human being, why do we have trouble concluding that we are dealing with an intelligent EVIL design?”

His answer, essentially, was, “Ralph, in my writings and public appearances I can’t even mention God much less Satan. I have a very specific battle to fight, namely, to take apart the logic of unaided evolution. That is all I am trying to do.” Okay, I have respected that response. I have not pestered him further. In fact, I am not even now endeavoring to fault the ID movement and its objectives.

Rather, I would ask a larger question. There are very many people, even Bible-believing Christians (not just non-Christians), who are to this day profoundly puzzled, perplexed, and certainly confused by the extensive presence in the created world of outrageous evil, created apparently by what we believe to be a God who is both all-powerful and benevolent. In coping with this, they may frequently attribute to God what is actually the work of an evil intelligence, and thus fatalistically give not the slightest thought to fighting back.

  • When my wife died in 2001 more than one person tried to console me by observing that, and I quote, “God knows what He is doing.”
  • When Chuck Colson’s daughter concluded that her brain-damaged son was, and I quote, “exactly the way God wanted him to be,” the impressively intelligent and influential Colson actually applauded her conclusion.
  • When Jonathan Edwards fatally contracted smallpox in his effort to try out a vaccine that might protect the Indians in Western Massachusetts, the vast majority of the hyper-calvinistically trained pastors of Massachusetts concluded that God killed him because, to quote them, “he was interfering with Divine Providence.” These pastors went on to organize an anti- vaccination society.
  • Going further back in time, a Mother Superior in Spain woke up one morning and detected a small lump in her forehead. She concluded that it must be God who was doing something to her presumably to deepen her devotion and nourish her character. When it finally turned out that a worm was burrowing there, and had broken the surface so you could see exactly what it was, she concluded that it was God’s worm. When she would stoop over to pick something up, and it would occasionally fall out, she would replace it so as not to obstruct the will of God.

These are, however, only a few examples compared to the thousands of times a day among even modern Evangelicals that some blatant evil goes unattacked because it is resignedly if not fatalistically assumed to be the initiative of God. I am not so much interested in the philosophical or theological aspects of this situation as I am in the resulting passivity before eradicable evil, the practical fatalism.

I will go one step further. If we are dealing with an intelligent evil, even our thinking about that fact may likely be opposed and confused by that same evil force, that evil power, that evil personality. Is there any evidence of this additional complexity? In what form would it appear? How could we identify it? 

This entry was excerpted from an essay Ralph Winter wrote in the Winter of 2003 entitled, "Where Darwin Scores Higher Than Intelligent Design." The full essay can be read here.