Shades of the Enlightenment!

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For presentation to the Evangelical Theological Society, Southwest Regional Meeting, March 24, 2007, 9 a.m., at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas.

Abstract

This paper focuses on the epistemological similarities (and dissimilarities) of today’s "Intelligent Design Movement" and the Deism–oriented Enlightenment of the late 1700s. The controversy of origins, which largely focuses on Creation doctrine, is theologically foundational to Biblical Christianity, because the God of the Bible, from the Bible’s very first verse, has primarily defined Himself as the Creator. But the study of origins involves more than Biblical theology, because it also involves natural revelation, as Paul indicates in Romans chapter one. Accordingly, how Christians treat the doctrine of Creation is affected by their interrelated understandings of Who God is, of how He communicates, of how to interpret His Bible, of how to interpret His natural revelation, etc.

During most of the latter half of the 20th century, the Christian community faced three major options regarding what to believe about cosmic and human origins: (1) the secular version of evolution; (2) several varieties of "theistic evolution" (theories postulating that God "used evolution" to make His creation); and (3) a religious (and typically Bible-argued) version of young-earth creationism ("YEC"), which frontally rejected all evolutionary concepts, elements, and compromises.

However, at the close of the 20th century, one more option emerged, unlike the other three options: the "Intelligent Design Movement" view of origins (herein "IDM"). Some of the IDM’s essential elements, in theory and in practice, are comparable to those of the humanism–based Enlightenment, a special revelation–ignoring form of humanism which emerged in Europe (and America) as the deism of the late 1700s.

For example, the IDM, like the Enlightenment deists, avoids appealing to the Bible as authoritative "special revelation", opting for an epistemological methodology of empirically based human reason. Theological implications of this self–imposed limitation are analyzed, with an introduction to IDM by one of its leaders (William Dembski), followed by some YEC analysts’ observations, educational ministry concerns, theological criticisms — and some relevant Scripture.

Shades of the Enlightenment! The "spirit" of the Enlightenment has returned (epistemologically speaking), — or else a "kindred spirit" has, — in the form of the so–called "Intelligent Design Movement" ("IDM"). But, are IDMers and Enlightenment deists really "birds of a feather", theologically speaking?

Today’s IDMers wear today’s fashions and they argue from data which is quantified using computer technology, — so IDMers would not be mistaken on today’s streets for François-Marie Arouet Voltaire or Thomas Jefferson. However, is there a basic theological difference between Voltaire’s (or Jefferson’s) "human reason" epistemology and the recent IDMers’ "let’s-leave-the-Bible-out-of-this-discussion" epistemology? Déjà vu? But why ask? Because today we repeatedly see Intelligent Design Movement gurus, with closed Bibles, recycling the old deists’ humanistic methodology of "human reason".

Keywords

Intelligent Design Movement, deism, humanism

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