The debate concerning intelligent design and evolution has revealed some confusion about the concept of religious faith.
What constitutes religious faith? Traditionally, religious faith refers to a belief in a particular revelation, a specially delivered message, something we couldn’t figure out by reason alone.
Thus, the Jewish people have faith in the revelation they believe was given to Abraham and is contained principally in the Torah.
Muslims believe in the message given to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel and recorded in the Quran.
Buddhists believe in the revelation that came to Siddhartha Gautama and will lead them along the eightfold path to Nirvana.
To sum up: religious faith is the “leap” required to accept a revelation as true. And once this leap of faith is made, one becomes a member of a like-minded community of believers and enters into their customs, practices and rituals.
On the other hand, an intelligent design theorist thinks more along the following lines. He observes, say, the traveling pattern of our own planet Earth, streaking faithfully through the skies and around the sun at approximately 65,000 mph and rotating at approximately 1000 mph. In addition, the Moon’s orbit around us is also quite steady.
In fact, these orbits are followed with such regularity that we humans have translated this reliability into our days, months and years. Furthermore, our exact distance from the sun allows life to flourish here. Indeed if we were only a slight distance farther from the sun, we would freeze; a slight distance closer, we would fry.
An intelligent design theorist would find it very difficult to attribute this particular earthly pattern to random luck, or to some kind of blind force unaware of itself or of its own intentions. He would find it difficult because from his own human experience, he has learned that chance does not ordinarily produce such order.
Rather, his experience tells him that order is caused by some agent that is not a part of the orderly construct itself: a nest implies a bird, a roughly strewn dam across a stream implies a beaver and a lighthouse of Legos in a kindergarten classroom implies a deft young assembler. By this process of reasoning, the theorist arrives at the conclusion that there is very likely a designer of this universe.
But this conclusion requires no “leap” of religious faith. It is nothing more nor less than an opinion or conviction based primarily on logical inference. By itself it required of him no commitment, incorporates him into no community, enlists him into no religious culture of practices and rituals.
We really shouldn’t equate a cool intellectual conclusion based on inferential reasoning with an ardent religious faith based on a special revelation.
Dan Mattimore is an instructor at Bryant and Stratton College, Southtowns Campus.