Adam Blatner

Originally, mid-2005, revised slightly, February 6, 2009
    This article is presented in conjunction with two other papers on this website:
   (1) Science versus Religion: A fairly brief abstract of the position (at present).
   (2) The Fine-Tuned Universe a presentation of the Intelligent Design argument at its best, a sympathetic treatment, noting especially the cosmological variables, aside from the contemporary argument about evolution.


This paper is a critique of the problems attending some current interpretations of the Intelligent Design argument. Specifically, I am
 challenging the pretense at rationality in attempting to connect the possible divine Designer with the God described in the Judaeo-Christian tradition.The connection between Intelligent Design and a rational appeal to traditional Judaeo-Christian belief is at the core of the controversy. Even if the ID argument were true, though, it does not follow that the existence of a Divine Intelligence would be anything at all like the kind of God described in traditional scriptures. Rather, it involves radical leaps of faith, and by "faith," I mean not a positive optimism about life and existence---I'm all for that----, but rather an affirmation of beliefs that have little or no actual rational foundation. Again, I have no objection to the entertainment of such beliefs as structuring myths for personal meaning, but such beliefs do not merit being applied within the category of objective truth, arrived at by processes of adequate reasoning---and thus having implications for political action in the community.

So, to proceed with an analysis of the several leaps of faith involved in traditional religion:

God's Purpose

The first leap of faith is the irrational belief that a God that would design the cosmos has a more definite purpose for humanity–an assumption I suggest is quite arguable.

To begin with, in any argument, plausible alternatives need to be cleanly addressed: In this case, one argument sets up a more extreme polarity, either atheism or belief. However, a more prevalent choice is between deism and superstitious traditionalism. Deism is an openness to accepting the presence of a guiding Spirit in the Cosmos, though this God is not at all like that described in the Judaeo-Christian scriptures, nor is any validity perceived in any of the religious institutions or related writings. A number of other religions, from Native American Indian beliefs in the Great Spirit to the South-Asian Hindu belief in Brahman, hold this general attitude. It is one that requires few doctrinal beliefs, but rather simply acknowledges a "greater wholeness" that is the source of value. It's also closer to the God described by the Western philosophers, Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne, among others–and I confess to be rather sympathetic to this approach.

Many of the more intelligent people who express an interest in ID are closer to deists than adherents of a doctrine that upholds a Biblical concept of God.  Nevertheless, for argument's sake, let us consider the possibility that God does indeed have a purpose. How detailed is that purpose, or how general? How believable is it that this purpose would be presented one time in history, in extensive detail, adapted to the historical and cultural conditions of the recently liberated ex-slave Hebrews, in the midst of becoming the nation of Israel. This presentation was later given to several prophets as the kingdom of Israel was reduced by the Assyrians to the smaller kingdom of Judaea, and then through the time of exile to Babylon and the return a century or so later. Finally, there is a supposed continuing revelation to a few key figures in the history of early Christianity. On the other hand, might it not be more likely that the Divine Purpose for All of Humanity might be more cross-cultural, trans-historical, and general? For example, consider the alternative that God "says" in various ways, not just to the inhabitants of Earth, but also to sentient life on a million (or million million) planets, "Let there be life, and creativity, and consciousness when it evolves, and let it all move towards increasing degrees of differentiation, integration, beauty, novelty, harmony, creative conflict, evolution... and let's see what happens next. I'll lure it all toward love and responsibility." But beyond that, as to which specific rules shall be imposed, this Deity does not command. Of course, it could also be that this commandment or purpose is implicit in what is given, as if God didn't need words to say, "Here's the world, do something better with it." It's a theology that demands great responsibility and offers many other benefits, without having to bring up a myth of a fall, a need for a savior, and scores of other doctrinal beliefs that arise out of a particular culture.

To repeat, the argument from design in no ways suggests a person-like God, much less one that would have specific commandments for humanity. As an alternative, for argument's sake, even if I granted all this, here's my alternative single commandment: God speaks, in the hearts and inspirations of all mystics: "Okay, here's consciousness, now evolve yourself towards civilization." (And by the way, I question that humanity has moved as a whole far beyond late childhood or early adolescence, figuratively speaking, in its own evolution as a species. Our most civilized civilizations will doubtlessly be viewed as near-barbaric by future generations.)  In terms of argumentation, obvious alternatives must be addressed, and I know of no theologians who have rationally argued against this alternative and, to me, relatively more plausible explanation.

Building on Fragments

Traditional religionists seem to perceive in ID the idea of God, associating their own patriarchal imagery with this creative source. They also note that certain passages in the Bible might be interpreted as being consistent with this cosmology. The logical flaw here is that a number of other creation stories can also show certain similarities to what scientists have found. For example, J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of the famous Hobbit book and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, wrote a back-story book, The Simarillion, in which he presents a creation story, fictional, that portrays God as creating something more like music, to begin with, which only later takes visible form. Recent "string" theories, attempting to find the underlying unity among the various qualities of matter and energy, also draw on musical metaphors. A further contemporary scientific theory is that of proposing multiple universes, with our own being only one variant, compatible with our own type of life. Olaf Stapleton, a science fiction writer in the 1940s wrote a book, Star-Maker, which similarly generates images and ideas that might be consistent with this current theory. The point is that a few elements of vaguely consistent facts do very little to support a great theory.

There are those who seem to strive to make religion objectively true–and that's the problem, actually–this desire to impose rationality on an essentially irrational enterprise–who build on selected fragments that support this or that historical event. For example, if it were found via archaeological evidence that a certain battle did occur, would that lend support to the Bible being historically accurate? Only in the tiniest, most indirect way; 99% of the story may have been the political elaboration of what was only a seed of half-truth.

This pulling out of passages from diverse chapters in a very large book are then presented to suggest that all the prophets were "on the same page," so to speak, foretelling certain events, referring back to certain events, all to generate an illusion that the Bible is coherent and consistent–if it's interpreted correctly. In the field of rhetoric, the art of persuasion, this approach is technically called "casuistry," subtle but misleading reasoning, also known as sophistry.


Anthropomorphism is the name for the human tendency to project human characteristics onto animals and other elements in nature. In children's drawings, the sun and wind may be depicted as having a face, as may be some trees, and so forth. Animals are described with human-like intentions. The Graeco-Roman gods and those in many other mythic systems similarly engage in a variety of all-too-human behaviors. So, too, with the god of the early Bible, who is depicted as jealous, demanding, unforgiving, savagely cruel, and so forth. It requires much scholarship to explain these stories away, an amazing type of mental contortions to reconcile the various actions and stories about God while treating the whole scripture as even figuratively if not literally true.

Limitations of Time and Setting

The argument that there is a rational basis for religion is faced with another challenge. To accept this requires a further leap of faith–and by now it's looking less like leaps of faith than a frantic dance of a kid with bare feet on hot sand at the beach! There's nothing rational to support that a Divine Being would work this way: They assume that the God of the world and the universe would wait till a specific time in history, and a specific location, ignoring the great civilizations of Egypt, India, China, Crete, and the more deeply established cultures world-wide that hadn't developed the peculiar and fragile technology of writing. Ultimate truth would be revealed here, to this small band of special people, and to no others! As some wit said in a bit of rhyme, "How odd of God to choose the Jews!" (This is not mere anti-semitism. I have a Jewish background and honor the richness of my ethnicity. But I deny any of Judaism's assumptions as pure myth-making, followed by the attitude of traditionalism, an attitude that lends authority to the past that is more sentiment than rationality.)

Traditional religion draws on the assumption further that God, having waited throughout human history for this small "window" of about two thousand years at the most, in the relatively localized setting, then stops the revelation, withholds it from future generations. Well, the Muslims suggest that Allah actually tried again, corrected the distortions, but that was really it. Except the Mormons suggest that there was another revelation--and that's really it; though some continuing revelation happens to the duly ordained elders. But no revelations are going out to the rest of the world, no true prophets in other religions, other cultures.  This seems rather far-fetched.

Similarly, how reasonable is it to accept the idea that a unique and relatively brief string of local prophets was the vehicle for authentic revelation? Remember, there is an alternative plausible option: Were God to have opinions as to human evolution, might God not more likely continuously and consistently offer revelation through the inspiration of prophets born in every generation and in every people?

The Plausibility of the Bible

This text at first glance seems not to be direct message of guidance from God to humanity. Rather, a staggering leap of faith–we can hardly call it reason–is required, an assumption that a Divine Revelation would be embedded in a host of stories that evolved into what we know as the Judaeo-Christian Bible, in spite of the fact that in that text, many of those stories seem quite unrealistic, their lessons are obscure, and the rules proposed frequently seem rather odd and seemingly related again to the circumstances of this one small middle-eastern tribe.

Any study of the story of the Bible, the way that certain texts were included in the canon, others not, and the status of marginal texts, the apocrypha, accepted in certain religious traditions and not in others, and so forth, leads to a pretty obvious challenge to faith: One must convince oneself that it is rational to believe that all these political decisions and processes were firmly Divinely guided, so that the texts included were the "right" ones. Then why doesn't Divine guidance operate in other contexts to prevent the gross foolishness of governments throughout history? (Don't say it was because these were holy endeavors! Why didn't God prevent many popes, televangelists, and other hypocrites from being grossly corrupt?)


As you see, the argument for traditional religion may appeal at a level of myth-making–and for that purpose, I have no significant objection. It's the edging of faith and preferred imagery into an assertion of absolute and objective truth that creates the problems.

Thus, it is yet a further leap of belief that flies in the face of reason to assert that although the scriptural text is ambiguous, duly accredited interpreters can

A corollary, and a further stretch of any pretense to rational thought, is the assumption that the scriptures have not been corrupted by the frailties of copying and translation, nor have they been consciously or unconsciously distorted by the biases of the political interests of the editors. Note that there is no reason to assume that religion is more pure, more free of political distortion, than secular political and economic interests. We should also consider that editorial distortion in history tends to be magnified over time. (Consider the results of having ten people play the parlor game of "telephone," in which each person in turn passes along a message after one listening. The result is invariably humorously quite different from the way it started.)

Is there any reason to believe that God intervened and continues to intervene, only to select authorities, miraculously, to inspire each authorized translator or copyist to do the "right" thing? (The rationale for this is so weird, and must respond to an equally plausible alternative: Why didn't God just continue to send new prophets with the same, clear, message, stated without all that other stuff?)

Thus, is there any reasonable argument that the transmission of these early messages have any but the barest fragments of historical validity? I include fragments rather than suggest total fabrication because archaeology does continue to unearth this or that hint, as I mentioned before. For example, the discovery that there is some evidence that a battle mentioned in the scripture seemed to happen around the time it was alluded to, or that some king also did, indeed, live and rule around the time mentioned. Come on, this is hardly evidence that the text is literally accurate! For example,  a recent book about King David suggests that this person's activity, taken in historical context as far as scholarship can assess, might have hardly ruled as a "king" as we think of one, but perhaps was more of a "cheiftain" of a tribe. History can glorify far beyond the realm of truth. That aristocrats were "noble" is an example of the way that the children of successful gangsters and hoodlums, by consolidating their power, then elevate their brutal power grabbing into governance.

A Purity of Transmission

Another problem with traditionalism is an implicit belief in the validity of transmission. For a message to be believed, the messenger should be seen as a pure transmitter, uncorrupted by motivations to distort the message. That is, one might reasonably expect that those carrying forward a succession of authentic authorities would, as evidence of their divine protection, exhibit only the most morally pure behavior. Historically, however, the opposite is true. The priesthood (and Papacy), Jewish and Christian, were known to lapse into the most horrendous forms of corruption, violent persecution of opponents, and non-holiness in general.

By what line of reasoning, then, can we consider that any of the material passed down is valid? There are plausible arguments that the early stories are, in fact, significantly distorted to appease the reigning authorities, especially the Romans. The anti-semitic threads inserted in the Gospels and at other points, affirmed by numerous church fathers, and only recently renounced by the Roman Church authorities, is only one element. If that were deeply flawed, might not there also be scores of other socio-political flaws regarding current ethical and social norms?

The Ambiguity of the Lessons

A ninth leap of faith addresses the illusion that texts are clear. How can an argument pretending to be reasonable explain how other reasonable arguments have been marshaled to support now-discredited doctrines?: Sacred texts have been interpreted with great confidence to support the institutions of slavery, the divine right of kings, absolute tyranny, the great witchcraft persecutions, the persecutions of the Jews for much of the last two millennia, the horrible oppression of non-dominant and aboriginal people, the abuses of colonialism, the subjugation of women, and the continued persecution of homosexuals and those who advocate birth control, plus scores of other evils.)  How can such an ambiguous text, so easily mis-interpreted, be considered a reliable source of truth?  (Is there a reason to believe that contemporary religionists are more right today than a century ago?)

The Scriptures Contain Beauty and Wisdom

A tenth leap of faith or non-logical argument is that, since a great body of work as the Bible, or the Quran, or Book of Mormon, or other text, can be found to contain many noble truths, inspirational passages of great beauty, or perceptive insights, therefore, by reason of this virtue, it generalizes to the less obvious inner nobility of the rest of the text. This is not a logical argument, but rather a dynamic of idealization. If a given person or, in this case, text, can be found to have numerous noble elements, then the person or text as a whole may be judged as noble. The many aspects of the person or text that are ignoble are ignored. As far as the major scriptures of traditional religion, the ratio of problematic passages to clear ones, or brutal and tawdry episodes to noble sentiments, still remains far too high.

Again I want to affirm the right of people to cleave to those images and stories that are meaningful! However, it's not the same as saying that they're objectively true historically, or that their implied ethics or obligations applies to everyone in every age.

Non-Scriptural Tradition

Another major problem in traditional religion is that it is encrusted with centuries of culture-bound and historically-bound customs, interpretations, and so forth. Often a given doctrine is the product not only of the Biblical text, but also of the continuing custom. Yet these beliefs become blended with the others. My point is simply that adherence to religion involves yet a further group of irrational leaps of faith.

Traditional religionists cannot claim any semblance of rationality when even the particulars of how to practice are so easily confused and a thousand sects and denominations break off. (With a mischievous twinkle in my eye, I suggest this fantasy: It is revealed by God that one of those sects indeed had the absolute truth, and all the others were corruptions of the Devil! If that were so, how do you think all these folks would work that out?)

Fear-Based Religion

A twelfth leap of faith involves the belief in Hell as a punishment. Many traditional religionists claim that it is compatible with reason that much of their belief rests on a fundamental and mind-boggling paradox: The Source of All Creation has created a vast Torture Chamber and will condemn a large section of all that is created to be tortured eternally unless they voluntarily affirm in their inner hearts that a certain man was really God. Furthermore, that this system is a reasonable consequence of a (somehow get your mind around this one) ultimately "Loving" God who is merely demonstrating a level of justice that, because of His rank, he is entitled to do, based on His Omniscience. Of course, such "justice," on earth, would be rejected as being infinitely more arbitrary and cruel than the most cruel of human tyrants.

A corollary is that much of the religion requires this belief, or what then does salvation mean? Salvation means saved, but saved from what? Mere oblivion? That's not so bad. The whole enterprise and its economic foundation for the support of a professional clergy rests on the need to keep people in a state of desperate fear.

Within the myth of the presently dominant Christian belief, the claim to rationality becomes even shakier. We are expected to believe as rational that a man-God, Jesus, is the Christ, the messiah, and as proof of his glory, God permitted Him to be tortured to death (for that is what crucifixion does), because his suffering "pays the debt" for all humanity. There is then the implication that there is some rationality in the doctrine that unless one believes in this man-God and his action, the debt isn't paid, and the non-believer then has to be punished by torture for all eternity.

It gets even weirder. What is the nature of this alleged "debt" that must be paid in the aforementioned myth or doctrine–to be accepted as ultimately true? It's for humanity's crime!  It seems that some primal ancestor, oh, about a thousand generations back, apparently disobeyed this ultimately Loving God and thus all his or their descendants get to be tortured forever, unless the debt is paid for this disobedience.

As for those believers who will concede that this story of the Fall is probably myth, the challenge is then to justify the whole line of ideas that unfold from it–that salvation is needed, and that a man-god was sent to "pay a debt" that satisfied a grudge-holding father-god, the whole catastrophe.

The final irony in this last series of mythic elaborations is that people find this edifice of ideas to be coherent, believable, while the mythic stories of other cultures seem quaint, odd, superstitious, and the result of a primitive mode of thinking. These heathens, exercising less rational modes of being, are justly treated with a degree of patronizing arrogance. They should be converted, by force, if necessary; and further, because of their decadence, they may be if not overtly enslaved, then covertly exploited, through complex economic and political arrangements.

The Problem of Bias

I confess my own bias, which is to suspect that advocates of traditional religion are themselves very biased in various ways, and that these biases can distort their capacity to reason accurately, logically. Bias, though, can also lead to a process of rationalization, by which specious reasons may be woven together to give a satisfactory illusion of reason, while in fact being brittle and vulnerable to careful examination and criticism.

Traditional religion for the most part involves systems that operate to the benefit of a class of people who then work to rationalize the system. In this case, religion operates to fleece the people and support the priest-class. Those clergy and televangelists who claim not to be priests are, in this socio-economic view, merely hypocritically playing with words. They elicit money to relieve guilt and fear. They sell the belief that you pay your money to the priest-class and keep them happy, and pay more money for expensive churches and other religious institutions, and then you won't be tortured. I will allow an interesting peculiarity of the the mind: Many believers and clergy are well-intentioned, and on the whole, very nice people, doing much good in the world. They are sincere in their belief, and have managed to rationalize effectively, marshalling enough coherent reasons to give themselves the illusion of being rational. The self-deception and ultimate unconscious hypocrisy lies in the fact that they're ignoring the basic assumptions that are grossly irrational.

Others in the traditional religion claim that this religion isn't fear-based. They themselves just consciously adhere to the kinder, nobler and very selected passages and teachings. They claim that their God and their Jesus is all about Love. However, any analysis of their source material immediately exposes the darker mythic elements.

There are other texts that are filled with inspirational and loving passages, and these books aren't then interspersed with other more threatening and confusing passages.


As I say, if folks want to believe this for themselves, fine. One can believe in different ways. There is believing that something is factually and objectively true. There is another type of belief, such as, "I have the cutest grandchildren in the world!" Or Mac Davis singing, "I believe in Music, I believe in Love!"  However, the mixing of relational belief, a deep sense of connectedness to certain images, with rational argument or objective truth, is a mixing of two different logical types.

Worse, this mixture then is used as a rationalization, using pseudo-reason to justify imposing their prejudices on others, using civil law, group pressure, and political influence. Now they are trying to suppress rationality in the name of rationality, extending intelligent design as a gentle background concept to Biblical support for Creationism and the conservative doctrine that goes with it. And they are claiming to be rational. Unless I hear a stronger line of logical discussion that accounts for this elaboration or series of leaps of faith that over-extend the argument for intelligent design, the whole effort fails in its claims to rationality.

The final irony is that personally, I am becoming more spiritual, ever more convinced of not only the existence of a Divine Source–though one very unlike the image in traditional religions–, but also convinced of the idea that this source is not apart from us, judging, rewarding or punishing in an afterlife; but rather, that God is (in part) us, and the Cosmos, and we are all involved in the creativity into the moment and the immediate future, and this creation is glorious!

I welcome email discussion, especially if it follows the rules of the game of civility and reason.
explain things correctly–i.e., the officially designated authorities, hierarchically ordained, priests, theologians, doctors of divinity, etc. Their authoritative status suggests that they're reasonable, but in fact it is hardly rational for the apologists for the Judaeo-Christian tradition to suggest that the text contains "deep lessons" that can only be discerned by certain learned or accredited authorities–authorities who, because of their status and source of income, have every motivation to preserve their prerogatives and the system that supports them. It is interesting, moreover, that  in spite of their learning, these experts continue to differ widely as to the interpretations to be given to the sacred text. Again, this may be deeply true at some mythic level, or at least seem so for those who choose to believe, but leaps of faith should hardly be equated with reasoned argument.