“The Lord God is subtle, but he is not malicious.”
“I have second thoughts. Maybe God is malicious.”
Can the Intelligent Designer of life create malicious designs? If the flagellum and other parts of bacteria are intelligently designed, it would raise the question whether microbially-based diseases and plagues are intelligently designed. It seems the best inference from the evidence is that even malicious designs are also intelligently designed.
How can we resolve the problem of malicious design with intelligent design? There are a number of ways some have come to terms with this. The following list is not exhaustive by any means, just slapped together:
0. there is no intelligent design, so it’s not a problem
1. the intelligent designer of malicious designs is malicious, so it’s not a problem, he’s just a bit more malicious than we suppose
2. ID doesn’t have anything to say about bad design or malicious design
3. postpone trying to find an answer and study other questions
4. if the intelligent designers are Extraterrestrials (like Hoyle supposes), they are under no obligation to be benevolent and could well be malevolent
5. there is a benevolent intelligent designer (God) and malevolent intelligent designer (the devil)
6. the intelligent designer is indifferent to our notions of malice, so he essentially doesn’t care
7. some other solution (let the UD commenters offer their opinion)
Now, supposing that the Old Testament God is the Intelligent Designer, Richard Dawkins famously said of the supposed malice of God:
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
To which David Berlinski responded, “These are, to my way of thinking, striking points in God’s favor.”
Given that the Old Testament is full of examples of God sending (if not creating) cruel plagues, it stands to reason, from a theological standpoint, malicious design exists. Even in the New Testament, Jesus describes all sorts of malicious Intelligent Design visiting humanity in the form of plagues. Death being visited on Ananias and Saphira, blindness descending on Elymas the Sorcerer, worms eating Herod, and all the plagues of the Apocalypse.
So from the standpoint of Christian theology, God creates malicious designs. If you’re not a Christian, then trying to solve problem of malicious design and the notion of a loving God isn’t a problem. But if you are a Christian, then the explanation of why all the bad things in the world are happening cries out for an answer. I’ve stated before, that one possible explanation is that God makes heaven more meaningful by making the present world miserable. (See 2 Cor 4:17 and Romans 8:20).
But then, what about the genocide in the Old Testament, how is that justified? Even though this is not strictly a question about ID, the objection to genocide in the Old Testament is still used against ID, so I feel it is worthwhile addressing. The materialist critics have raised the issue in UD threads, and I feel it would be helpful to provide responses to their difficult questions.
Surely it would break my heart if I were in the Old Testament and had to do the things that God commanded the children of Israel to do in the conquest of Canaan. Were they murderers for doing what they did? Well, are executioners charged with carrying out justice, murderers? I say no. If the children of Israel were merely the executioners of God’s judgment, then they aren’t murderers.
But how then can God find such guilt in little babies that He should feel justified in destroying them in the way the children of Israel carried out His judgment? One solution is to say that God doesn’t find guilt in the children, and that they died for some other reason. For those that accept ID is true, but don’t believe the Bible is God’s word, a solution is to say that the children of Israel were murderers and that the Old Testament is just spinning their acts of genocide to be something good. Surely everyone has an opinion on the matter, and I will not venture to say who is right or wrong. Few answers are consoling, and perhaps the right answer is even terrifying.
How is it possible God finds guilt in a little baby? I will venture my humble opinion by saying God left answers for us in the pictures of intelligently designed biology. When we exterminate other creatures for our own good will and pleasure (like that rat or cockroach), we don’t think of ourselves being unjust, in fact, just the opposite. Hard as it is to accept, perhaps in the scheme of things, humans apart from God’s mercy and love, are like those detestable cockroaches which we give no thought to exterminating.
Did the cockroach suffer cruelly when I terminated its life? Yes, but in the scheme of what I view as the greater good, my malicious act toward the cockroach was a good thing. He may not think so, but I do. In like manner perhaps, we are a lot less “good” in the universal scheme of things than we suppose.
What, if in fact, we are the villains in the Divine Drama without realizing it. God’s grace is the grace that enlightens us to our true position in the scheme of things. Apart from his mercy, perhaps we’re not as deserving of His goodness as we presume. So if God terminates someone’s life, even if by human standards it seems horribly cruel, in the end that is not the standard by what He judges as good or bad. Sometimes we don’t know if the suffering is because of one’s guilt in God’s eyes or if God had a higher purpose (as was the case in Jobs life).
Thus when God ends the life of humans violently (be it through natural disasters or wars or plagues), he has a right to do so. He may recruit the forces of nature, microbes, humans or various malicious intelligent designs to execute judgment. That is my view, and it is not a popular one, but if the intelligent designer of life is the intelligent designer of the plagues that destroyed Egypt and the plagues that will continue to injure humanity, it would seem He is an Intelligent Designer that is to be feared.
The question then is how we can find it in ourselves to love a God who can do these things? This would almost seem like asking a cockroach to worship me after I just exterminated its family! Now, if we feel we deserve a good life and heaven, I suppose it would be hard to love God, but if we feel we deserve a bad life and hell, and instead are granted eternal life, our viewpoint changes, and it becomes possible to love God.
But, those are my views, and I don’t mean to argue that they should be the views of the readers, or that I’m even close to being right. I’m sure many will find my solution to the problem of malicious design and an Old Testament God an awful solution. That’s fine, but we can’t run away from the evident fact of malicious design, and if the Intelligent Designer is the Old Testament God, we can’t run away from the fact of the malicious designs he has created in this world.
At UD the following related essays have been offered:
4. Contingencies for failed designs: Airplane magnetos, contingency designs, and reasons ID will prevail
[Update 9/3/2012 9:30 PM EST: Eric Anderson was kind enough to point out Barry’s thread on William Lane Craig, the OP now includes a link to that thread]