Transcendent design

I was asked yesterday my opinion of “intelligent design.” I am usually cautious when answering such questions – they are often loaded! Not in this case however – and I was happy to acknowledge my unhappiness with the term – for two reasons.

  1. It has been hi-jacked by politicians falling over each other to win the allegiance of an ascendant lobby that applies the term, inadequately in my view, to creationist doctrine. This raises my second objection.
  2. The term is theologically inadequate. It is reductionist in effect, if not in intent. Why not “transcendent design” or “immanent design” or some combination of these (there must be a good German word that would achieve this)? To maintain an argument that in effect, to make its point, diminishes God to mere intelligence opens up the slippery slope to idolatry, fashioning the Creator in our own image.

I realise my objection frustrates the classic “creationism/evolutionism” debate that is undergoing some bizarre revival. Nevertheless, there it is.

Published by wonderingpilgrim

Not really retired but reshaped and reshaping. Now a pilgrim at large ready to engage with what each day brings.

9 thoughts on “Transcendent design

  1. Yes, but isn’t the term far preferable to that of “spontaneous origin” or “big bang” or something like that which which denies any creator type input at all and ascribes creation (and consequentially all of reality) to blind chance?


  2. No. To do so is to relegate oneself to a discourse that ultimately demeans the concept and the reality of a “designer” to our own constructs. We have to pull the designer down to the boundaries of our own intelligence to continue the discourse. The best scientists I know maintain a respectful open-ended stance to that which is unknowable and unprovable. Moses had the best response when he asked who he should say was sending him on his task – not “Intelligent Designer” but YHWH – “I am being who I am being.”


  3. Interesting thought! I wonder whether Moses’ theology of a Creator God was informed by the post enlightenment science/faith debate, the vocational response of his ancestor Abraham or the blessing he received from his encounter with the mysterious high priest Melchizedek? To what extent did his nurture in the courts of Pharoah and the sciences of Egypt affect him? The beginning of his own encounter with a personal theology began with the name of the One who summoned him from the midst of a bush that appeared to be aflame. One who at the same time terrified, comforted and transformed Moses into an albeit reluctant leader. A God who will not submit to the microscope or test-tube! I still maintain that the science/faith discourse is fraught with problems and I think I will maintain my awed caution 🙂


  4. Agreed – there were no “un” believers back then – just believers in different gods. But, I think we would agree that there really are no “un” believers now either – just believers in gods – some of which demand rational and empirical forms of worship and theology. Actally, I think we’re on the same page!


  5. Yep, it’s possible we are. I also think it is important that the Church responds well and positively to the new conversations that are opening up between the proponents of science and faith. Both can serve each other well.


  6. yes, but let’s agree that both theologians and scientists approach the topic with appropriate humility. We are dealing with things that cannot be “reduced” or “empiricised” (is that a word?) since they makeup the totality of which we are a very small though significant part. Psalm 8 springs to mind.


  7. Indeed. Came across this quote last week – “In each field of inquiry…we must be faithful to the reality we seek to know and must act and think always in a relation of relentless fidelity to that reality. This is why we cannot oppose natural science and theological science to each other as though they could or had to contradict one another, but must, rather, regard them as applying the one basic way of knowing faithfully to their respective fields and must seek to coordinate the knowledge they yield through the appropriate modes of inquiry and thought they develop.” (Thomas F Torrance in The Ground and Grammar of Theology). Although this carries the risk of “compartmentalising” approaches of enquiry, dialogue between the two is possible when we “bracket” ourselves into the mode of discourse that is the homeground of the other. This requires, as you suggest, great humility, for we are then vulnerable to receiving insight from the other.


  8. Interesting discussion – I appreciate it. I also am of the mind that using the term “intellegent design” reduces the divine to something that fits nicely into our own image.

    A couple of weeks ago, I was hunting in the mountains, descending with an unexpectedly heavy load, and my 5 decade + old knees were complaining mightely. It occurred to me that to presume for even a moment that these knees were the result of some sort of “intellegent design” was not only silly, but downright insulting to whoever the designer might be…

    I like the notion of remaining humble in what we think that we know. We think that we know much about the origins of the universe, and the workings of evolution. Some of what we think we know will turn out to be wrong, and some will certainly continue to hold credibility. At the end of the day, there are always going to be certain pieces of the puzzle that we don’t understand. For all of us, this unknown is still “magic”. Some of us assign this magic to a Creator and a Knower, some of us can’t accept this. Does it really matter?

    I like our Christian Paradise myth/story in this regard. It was, after all, a squable over the nature of “knowledge” that got us kicked out of Eden in the first place. Perhaps we can find a granule of Truth in this story, and accept that “knowledge” must fit within a larger framework of wisdom and acceptance of the unknown.

    Thanks for the thoughts.



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