Intelligent design and the problem of evil

Intelligent design—the idea that a designing intelligence plays a substantive and empirically significant role in the natural world—no longer sits easily in our intellectual environment. Science rejects it for invoking an unnecessary teleology. Philosophy rejects it for committing an argument from ignorance. And theology rejects it for, as Edward Oakes contends, making the task of theodicy impossible.1 I want in this lecture to address all these concerns but especially the last. For many thinkers, particularly religious believers, intelligent design exacerbates the problem of natural evil—intelligent design makes natural evil not an accident of natural history or a price exacted by evolution or a necessary consequence of creation’s freedom but an outcome fully intended by a sadistic designer. Or, as Robert Russell put it to me on the PBS program Uncommon Knowledge, “The notion of intelligent design is incoherent because it’s either a natural cause, in which case you don’t go anywhere, or it’s a divine cause, in which case you don’t have the biblical God.”2 The biblical God, presumably, would not design the rabies virus, the bubonic plague bacterium, or the mosquito.
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