What would happen if, tomorrow, scientists announced they had discovered indisputable proof that all life was intelligently designed? Theists everywhere would rejoice, no doubt, but what exactly would this discovery prove?
Proof of Design vs. Proof of God and Christianity
Back in my Christian days, I found my faith bolstered by arguments for design. Biological life was complex, and I was convinced that it could not have arisen without the help of an intelligent designer. But I did not find the arguments for Christianity nearly as compelling as those for design. Even if we were designed, it does not necessarily follow that we were designed by the God of the Bible. (Even the pro-design folks over at the Discovery Institute will admit to this.)
Design is consistent with the Biblical idea of creation, but it is also consistent with just about every other tale of creation. Design no more proves Christianity than it does Hinduism, or Greek mythology.
Proof of design would rule out all hypotheses about unguided abiogenesis; and it would then cause us to wonder who or what the designer is (or was) and how he/she/it/they came to be without a designer to form them.
So for Christianity, proof of intelligent design represents only the first hurdle. The Christian hypothesis would still have to compete with a myriad of other gods, aliens, myths, and hypotheses.
Other Explanations for Design
Raelians, for example, also believe in intelligent design, but they assert that all life on earth was engineered by human scientists that came here from another planet.
And there are other UFO cults and TV shows (like Ancient Aliens) that suggest we might owe our existence to other aliens, not god(s). Who knows, perhaps alien life formed millions — or billions — of years ago, and these highly advanced aliens now traverse the galaxy, seeding earth-like planets, so that upon their next visit these worlds will be ripe for vacationing… or harvesting! (Yikes!)
Or perhaps the Hindus are correct, and we were created by Lord Brahma, and the universe is continuously being destroyed and recreated with the help of Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva.
Philosophy professor Nick Bostrom from Oxford University offers another possible explanation: perhaps our reality is just a highly advanced simulation, created by our own distant progeny. There have even been experiments geared at detecting patterns that would be consistent with a simulation.
Or maybe eternal gods do exist, and we are them! Only… we don’t know it. Maybe we got so bored with eternal life (having seen and done everything a million times over) that we chose to relieve our boredom by temporarily erasing our memories and placing ourselves into a created world like this one, where we can experience newness and adventure once more. And perhaps, when we die, we return to the “real” world, and watch highlight reels of the various challenges and comedic situations we faced, and we share a good laugh with all our eternal friends. (By the way, if this turns out to actually be true, I want all my eternal friends to know I totally figured it out… and that this game sucks! Worst… game… ever. The graphics are okay, I guess, but on the next version let’s have more supermodels and fewer plagues.)
After all, if God requires no explanation for the origin of his spirit, then neither do we, and the odds are about equal that either God or man should happen first upon the scene. In fact, we could even reason that there is more evidence to suggest we came first, since our own existence is easier to establish than God’s.
Or maybe we came first and then secretly created God, and led him to believe he was alone to see how he would respond. Maybe we did this knowing he would create new worlds, that we could then place ourselves into! Like the movie Inception, we are now living in a creation, within a creation, of our own creation! We buried the illusion several layers deep so we’d never figure it out (aaaaaand I just figured it out; one more reason why this game sucks… it’s so obvious!).
I’m not seriously endorsing any of these views, I’m just saying that even if intelligent design were proven, there are many possible explanations for who designed life and how, and Christianity may not be the most reasonable of all possible hypotheses.
Even though the origin of life is still a mystery, it’s not the silver bullet many Christians imagine it to be. Proof of design would narrow down the possibilities, but it would not prove that immaterial spirits exist, or that gods exist, or that we are eternal, or that man is living in a fallen sinful state, or that heaven and hell are real; it would only prove that something else came first (and seeing as how we exist, such a possibility doesn’t seem all that impossible).
The something that created us could be anything. We might be the product of another god, or gods, or aliens, or alien humanoids, or even ourselves! We might exist in a real world, or in a simulation, created by any of the aforementioned candidates. Or we may owe our existence to something not yet identified, that created us using some methodology not yet understood.
Even if we were able to prove that the God of the Jews was the intelligent designer, we might still be wrong about Jesus, or Muhammad, or Joseph Smith. Or maybe God did create us, but then killed himself! The possibilities are endless, and every claim must stand or fall on its own merit.
But the simple fact remains that intelligent design has not been proven, so there still exists the very real possibility that we are not designed, and that we are nothing more than the product of chance emergence. All we really know is that we exist; maybe we’re the first, maybe we’re not.
“Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”
― Arthur C. Clarke
One final potentiality is that scientists may one day announce that they have discovered the order of chemical reactions necessary to create life. News to which Christians would, no doubt, respond: “Yes, but who designed the chemicals?”