Evolution and Intent

I’m reading Alvin Plantinga’s latest book on the relationship between Christianity and evolution.

One of the thing that comes clear quickly is that much of the disagreement between believers in theistic evolution and those who assert that evolution not only entails atheism but demands it involves intent. The Christian claims that the process involved intent, the atheist claims it did not.

I have a couple of thoughts on that.

Intent itself is a very interesting thing both scientifically and pastorally. I just finished reading “Incognito” on the brain and part of what that book wishes to assert is that our conception of intent itself is rather illusory. We do things because the parts of our mind that are not accessible to conscious volition demand it and other parts of our mind create a narrative in which we imagine ourselves the free agents. What strikes me is an implicit suspicion on the part of materialism that intent by thinking creatures doesn’t exist at all. It would be interesting to explore the ramifications of such a position.

It is also interesting to me that a good deal of legal work, relational work, and pastoral work involves intent. If someone looses control of their car and careens into a crowd of people intent becomes a vital issue legally and pastorally.

If the 9/11 hijackers simply wished to hijack aircraft and hold them for ransom but were colossally bad pilots and by some incredible coincidence managed to plow their hijacked airliners into some of the most symbolic buildings in America we would remain upset but the incident would be viewed differently by many.

Intent is a crucial element of how we live our lives and how we view our world. A world without intent is somehow not interesting to us at all. It is enormously consequential for the relational level that we all value and find often of utmost importance to our identities.

Pastorally the question of God’s intent in many things comes quickly to the fore. Did the God intend that some evil which might devastate one’s family happen to us? People struggle to maintain their relationship with the God based on their perception of God’s intent. Every time there is a natural disaster with great loss of life the conversation surround God boils down to a question of intent. Did the God intend to kill that many people?

Lord’s Day 10 of the Heidelberg Catechism in fact is all about shaping expectations regarding intent. It is a naked assertion of the benevolent intentionality of the God. The assertion is that in fact this approach to our relationship with the God is more preferable than harboring suspicions regarding the God’s intent for our lives.

Many others, in fact walk away from belief in the God precisely over this matter.

An irony in all of this is the fact that even in our most mundane relationships intent is an enormously difficult thing for us to arrive at certainty within.

My sons play basketball, and they are fine players but they have spent their share of time on the bench. As a parent I have spent games speculating about the intent of the coach with respect to my son. I go around and around wondering about the coach’s intent.

Other significant relationships likewise live deeply within this economy. Was my spouse sending a message with some action? Was my parent or my child saying something with that look or refusing eye contact?

Presuming intent is a speculative business, one that we in fact are not very good at.

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About Paul VanderKlay

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
This entry was posted in philosophical reflection. Bookmark the permalink.

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