Fransciso Ayala says intelligent design is an “atrocity” and “disastrous for religion” because it makes God directly responsible for all of the evil in the world. Ayala apparently believes he can get God “off the hook” for all of the evil in the world by setting him up as a remote deity – along the lines of the wind-up-the-clock deity believed in by, say, a seventeenth century deist – who, while He may have set the initial conditions in the universe, has not tended to it since and therefore cannot be blamed if the evolutionary train has gone off the rails in his absence. Rubbish. Ayala is pushing bad theology to support his bad science.
Let us examine Ayala’s claim that evolution gets God off the hook. His logic apparently runs something like this: As a Christian he concedes that God is the primary cause of the universe. Nevertheless, he says, God established numerous secondary causes, including Darwinian evolution, which is responsible for the vast complexity and diversity of life. But evolution is a creative force that is far from perfect, and such things as genetic defects, the cruelty in nature, and the defective human birth canal result from this imperfect process.
Now here is where Ayala’s argument gets interesting. Ayala seems to believe that by laying the imperfections in living things and the obvious cruelty in the world at the feet of a secondary cause (i.e., evolution), the primary cause (i.e., God) is relieved from “responsibility” for the aberrations resulting from the imperfect secondary cause.
Ayala’s argument runs squarely counter to elementary logic. Christians believe that God is omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing) and omnibenevolent (unlimited in goodness). The universe is contingent. God did not have to create it. He chose to create it. Not only that; He chose to create a universe in which evil is possible. And not only that; in His omniscience God knew perfectly (not probabilistically) exactly what the consequences would be of His decision to create a universe where evil is possible. God knew evil would exist in the universe He created at the moment He created it. Therefore, in a certain sense (call it an “ontological sense”) God is responsible for the existence of evil. Please do not get me wrong. I am not for a moment suggesting that God is morally responsible for the evil in the universe. But it seems inescapable that He is responsible in the sense of establishing the conditions in which it is possible for evil to exist.
Even if this were not the case, one would still have to contend with the combination of God’s omnipotence and omnibenevolence. Suppose I am standing on a sidewalk. I see a car is about to come up on the sidewalk and strike the person in front of me, and all I have to do to save her is reach out and give her a gentle tug backwards. If I allow that person to be struck and killed by the car when it was well within my power to save her, two things are true. My conduct has not conformed to the good, and in a very real sense I am responsible for her death. In his omnipotence God is well able to stop all evil if He chooses to do so. If God does not stop the evil He is well able to stop, is He not responsible for it?
Where does this leave Ayala’s argument? His logic does not bear up under the slightest scrutiny. Exiling God to the “primary cause” hinterlands does not get God “off the hook” for the existence of evil in the world. Intelligent design does not “make God responsible for evil.” In the ontological sense we have discussed, God is responsible for existence of evil before intelligent design theory speaks. Therefore, Ayala’s argument fails utterly.
What about the theodicy? How can we reconcile the existence of evil with an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God? The answer revolves around the existence of free will. Just as He had a choice regarding whether to create the universe, God also had a choice concerning the kind of universe to create. He could create a universe in which love and also evil are possible, or He could create a universe in which love and also evil are not possible. But He could not create a universe in which love, but not evil, was possible. Why? Because both love and evil are the results of choosing. In an important sense they are the opposite sides of the same coin. When a person loves, he chooses the good for the other, and when a person commits evil he chooses that which is not the good for the other. And just as you cannot have a one-sided coin, you cannot have a universe in which it is possible to love (to choose the other) but not possible to commit evil (to not choose the other).
God chose to give us the capacity to love. He gave us the ability to choose (or not) the other. In short, He gave us a terrible, awful, wondrous gift – free will. But when He gave us the capacity to love, he also gave us the capacity to commit evil. And scripture teaches us that all evil, both moral evil and natural evil, is the result of man’s choice to commit evil, which resulted in the fall.
Ayala displays an appalling ignorance of the scriptures when he suggests that “intelligent design” makes God responsible for evil. The scriptures teach quite clearly that evil is the result of man’s choice. This is an elementary doctrine, a doctrine with which Ayala, a former priest, must be familiar. So it is a mystery why he slanders ID the way he does.