Intelligent Design


The attempt to insert Intelligent Design into public school science classrooms is beyond misguided. It is anti-intellectual. In this and my next column I will explain why.

I have renewed appreciation for Galileo who, in the 17th century, wrote: “God is the author of two books: the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature, and He is a perfect author and does not contradict Himself. What we observe and note to be true in nature cannot be false, and if Scripture seems to contradict what we know, the problem is not Scripture, but human interpretation of Scripture. Scripture is a book about how to go to heaven; it is not a book about how the heavens go.”

I have read Genesis many times in the original Hebrew. The Italians say, “traditore tradutore” (every translator is a traitor). Chaim Nachman Bialik said reading the Bible in translation is like kissing your bride through her veil.

Three observations:

First, Hebrew Scripture is a magnificent work of religious thought, expressing the deepest religious beliefs and commitments of the people who brought it to the world. It speaks of human nature, purpose, and capacity for change and growth; our obligations to God; and God’s desire that we conduct ourselves with justice and compassion. Religion asks: Why? Science has a different and worthy agenda. Science asks: How? In reading the Bible as a quasi-science textbook, we strip it of its sacred sublimity.

Second Hebrew Scripture says nothing about creation ex nihilo (from nothing). The famous translation, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth” is misleading. Far more accurate is, “When God began to create heaven and earth, the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water, God said, ‘Let there be light.’” At the time God began to shape heaven and earth, there existed a watery chaos of primordial matter from which God shaped our universe. Creation is primarily, though not exclusively, the ordering of chaos. That is a religious idea, not a scientific statement, and I hear it as a resounding vote of support for science, which seeks to explain the order of the universe.

Third, divinely inspired or divinely penned, the account of creation in Genesis is religious poetry, and like prayer, loses its deepest meaning when interpreted literally. Consider the first three days of creation (light/dark; water/sky; land/water/vegetation) and the second three days (luminaries; fish/birds; land animals/humans). The first three days establish realms of earthly existence (sky, land, water); the next three days are devoted to populating these realms. Note the connections: 1-4, 2-5, and 3-6, with sabbath the crowning moment. The structure of the story reveals its meaning to the religious soul: Humans have a unique purpose, the full extent of which is revealed in subsequent chapters of Genesis. But chapter one provides a strong hint: God pronounces “It is good” on everything except humanity. Why? Because we must prove ourselves by choosing good. This is a religious idea that does not contradict evolutionary science.


Williams Jennings Bryan revealed the extent of his inability to grasp scientific reasoning and methodology when he said, “There is no more reason to believe that man descended from some inferior animal than there is to believe that a stately mansion has descended from a small cottage.” Indeed there is ample evidence. Ironically some of the very same people who are pleased to benefit from the medical and technological advances of scientific seek to slam the door shut when the equally incontrovertible evidence appears to contradict their cherished religious stories.

Vannevar Bush, son of a minister and inventor of the differential analyzer (a precursor to modern computers) explained in a speech delivered at MIT in 1953, “To pursue science is not to disparage the things of the spirit. In fact, to pursue science rightly is to furnish a framework on which the spirit may rise.” Indeed, the pursuit of science often derives from a religious conviction that our God-given intellects obligate us to pursue knowledge of the world God created.”

Albert Einstein wrote in 1931, “The cosmic religious experience is the strongest and the noblest driving force behind scientific research.”

Those who deny conclusions of science through a narrow reading of ancient texts (especially when read only in translation!) harm the intellectual integrity of our society. Science is founded on rational thought and solid methodology. It has brought immeasurable healing and progress to humanity. Science proceeds thanks to our God-given capacity for reason and creativity.

The so-called “theory” of Intelligent Design both misunderstands the term “theory” and misreads the Bible.
A scientific theory employs empirical data to model the behavior of physical phenomena, and permits predictions that can be verified or refuted through experimentation. “Intelligent Design” fails on both counts.

In my previous column, I dealt with issues of reading ancient religious literature. Let me add: Chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis are separate and contradictory creation accounts. Genesis 1 makes clear that multiple male and female humans were created simultaneously. Genesis 2, the Garden of Eden story, tells us that one man was created, and one woman sometime afterward. When they finally reproduced, they had three sons and no daughters, yet their two surviving sons married women. This is more evidence that reading the Bible as a quasi-scientific treatise is a drastic misreading. Genesis 1 teaches why the world was created, and Genesis 2 struggles with why we are mortal.

Many of those who champion “Intelligent Design” fear that science will breed atheism. For them, this story: Once Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov told his students, “There is no human quality that was created without purpose. Even base qualities can serve God.” A student asked, "Rabbi, surely atheism serves no divine purpose!" Rabbi Moshe replied, "This too can serve God through deeds of charity. If someone asks your help, you cannot turn him away with pious words, saying: ‘Have faith and rely on God!’ You must act as if there were no God, as if there were only one person in the world who could help this person - yourself.”

Rabbi Scheinerman wrote this article for the Carroll County Times.