Sunday, 17 December 2006

Intelligent Design and the Tame Lion

I wish someone would make a proper attack on Intelligent Design on religious grounds; the closest thing there has been to it so far have been some typically intelligent remarks by Rowan Williams, which as usual were comically misrepresented by the newspapers.

Intelligent Design encapsulates what I am coming to think is wrong with the extreme evangelical church as represented by certain influential groups in America, and the danger of the milder evangelical tradition in which I was brought up. It is a confidence in knowing God which leads to a false and in the end patronising confidence that therefore you know what God is like. You know what he would do in a given situation: he’s become a character in your head. What Would Jesus Do?” seems to me the daftest thing to try to live by. Read the gospels, and you get a strong sense that he would probably do something quite unexpected; something uncomfortable or even frightening; not necessarily something that would make me feel good about myself if I were there. Something I had to think about hard and long before I could begin to understand what it meant. He does angry and difficult things sometimes and his disciples, who must have known him best of anyone, were usually left behind and confused, bewildered and asking the wrong questions. (Likewise his mother and family.)

Thinking that God created the world, and thinking that species change over time as the result of the selective breeding which comes about from competition over resources, are so clearly thoughts about two such different things, on such different levels, that if you find them completely incompatiable that seems to betray something about your views on God. Viz; that you know how he works; that you know what he would or would not allow to happen (if you think that natural selection is cruel); that you can define him and map him out. You’ve got a model of God in your head and that’s who you believe in. To some extent it is impossible not to do this, which is why Simone Weil said that when we pary to God we must imagine that he doesn’t exist – because our understanding of the word “exists” in relation to God is going to be wrong. Frankly I find that sort of thing a bit excessive, but I take her point; every time we think we’ve got God pinned down and sorted out we are making ourselves bigger and more important than him, and trying to put ourselves in control. I’m afraid I’ve never found a better way to put this than the bit in (the book of) The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe where the children are going to meet Aslan and when they’re told he’s a lion they say “Oh so he’s a tame lion?” And the Beavers are shocked and say “No, he’s not a tame lion”.

The paradox is that at the same time God has made himself knowable to us; he has given us the right to be his friends, co-heirs of Christ. So the evangelical willingness to pray to God about tiny things, like “where is my pencil case?” (a favourite of my childhood) is on the one hand a willingness to let God into every corner of my life and a belief in his total love for me, and on the other hand has a danger of my making up narratives to wind God into in order to control him. It’s a similar paradox to God, the greatest thing in the universe, becoming one of the smallest and most helpless, a baby with no home. At least, that’s how it seems to me now, but I hope my understanding will always continue to increase as I get older.

1 comment:

  1. Very good post. I wish more people would come to your conclusions.