Pat Robertson vs. the pope.

Science, technology, and life.
Nov. 14 2005 7:53 AM

Pat Robertson vs. the Pope

Is the intelligent designer loving or vindictive?

Talk to the designer 
Click image to expand.
Talk to the designer

The intelligent design movement has a new problem. The designer, it seems, is unpredictable.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Last Tuesday, voters in Dover, Pa., ousted advocates of intelligent design from their school board. Since then, two religious leaders who purport to know the designer have come forward, ostensibly on his behalf.

In Rome, Pope Benedict XVI chided people who, "fooled by atheism, believe and try to demonstrate that it's scientific to think that everything is free of direction and order." The pope recalled that in the Bible, "The Lord awakens the reason that sleeps and tells us: In the beginning, there was the creative word. In the beginning, the creative word—this word that created everything and created this intelligent project that is the cosmos—is also love."

Meanwhile, in Virginia, Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson warned residents of Dover, "If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected Him from your city. And don't wonder why He hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that's the case, don't ask for His help, because he might not be there." Later, Robertson issued a statement explaining that "our spiritual actions have consequences. ... God is tolerant and loving, but we can't keep sticking our finger in his eye forever."

Which is it? Does the designer operate by love or punishment?

A core principle of modern science is that theories have to make predictions. A belief that doesn't make testable predictions isn't a theory and can't be taught in science classes.

Proponents of ID claim that complex systems found in nature—the cell, the bacterial flagellum, the immune system—are evidence of "intelligent activity" by a designer. But what kind of intelligence? Is the designer brutal or loving, jealous or forgiving? Look at the ancient crocodilelike predator we just dug up. Its mouth is a perfect killing machine. Does the same intelligence that designed us design our murderers?

Is the designer love, as the pope suggests? Or does the designer turn on you if you stick a finger in his eye? Robertson says our spiritual actions have consequences, but he can't tell us whether problems will arise in Dover as a result of the school board ouster: "I'm not saying they will," he shrugs. Nor can he tell us what the designer will do if such problems arise: "He might not be there," says the televangelist. And even if Robertson eventually figures out what he thinks, how can we decide which version of the designer—Robertson's or the pope's—to teach in biology class?

"If they have future problems in Dover, I recommend they call on Charles Darwin. Maybe he can help them," Robertson joked the other day. Since the immediate problem in Dover is figuring out which theories are scientific, that's not bad advice. At least Darwin is predictable.


War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 11:13 AM Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
War Stories
Sept. 23 2014 4:04 PM The Right Target Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 4:09 PM Vince Vaughn Will Star in True Detective Season 2
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 1:50 PM Oh, the Futility! Frogs Try to Catch Worms off of an iPhone Video.
  Health & Science
Sept. 23 2014 1:38 PM Why Is Fall Red in America but Yellow in Europe? A possible explanation, 35 million years in the making.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.