I have just read an interesting post at Christopher Schwartz’s Weblog -which if I have understood correctly-argues that a transcendent God cannot be understood by observing His creation- which limits the role of scientific method in the debate about the existence of God as well as the use of the ‘argument from design’ by theologians. Schwartz says in his post ‘Quantum Religion’ that
..One friend, call him Spinoza, says that the spiritual and material are but two sides of the same substance; another friend, call him Descartes, says that the two are cleaved apart — the everlasting alongside the contingent. The first says to the second: you forget that the spiritual is also created, and so, however different it may be from the material, it must necessarily be just another dimension of the given cosmos. To this the second replies: perhaps you’re correct, but then you risk rendering quantifiable the unquantifiable.
These are very important distinctions to make theologically and conceptually, especially if we are determined to avoid the heresy of Intelligent Design. If we search too hard for fingerprints of the craftsman, we risk not only doing injustice to the activity of science, but to the activity of religion as well. Indeed, a question the Intelligent Design movement is afraid to countenance is whether ultimately religion must speak of an impossible kingdom beyond the horizon of evidence, lest it cease being about faith and become an ideology no better than Material Dialecticism…
I would agree that God is ‘unknowable in His essence’ in the sense that a God who can be fully understood by His creation is not God in the sense of being beyond all creation. Having said this I think the evidence of order in the universe is a convincing argument for a creator or at the very least a structure to reality- which amounts in my opinion to pretty much the same thing (Even if we take the sceptics view that the structure is only imposed by human perception, that very structure in itself suggests a created order..). Therefore I am not hostile to the ‘argument from design’ although I would agree that in its naive form it can present a rather mechanistic view of God’s role in the universe.
In the context of the relationship between science and religion I certainly agree it is a fruitless task to try and prove the existence of a transcendent God by analysing His creation, as for me God has a greater existence in the ‘world of ideas’ than the ‘material world’. (Having said this I do not believe God has a merely subjective existence in the human imagination but rather that the world of ideas is perhaps that spiritual realm distinct from the material realm in which such a divine being exists. (Though I appreciate the counter argument that says that this apparently non-material world of ‘mind’ is part of the ‘material universe’ of human brain activity and also the argument that a transcendent God is beyond even this ‘world of ideas’…). In the words of Bahá’u’lláh
To every discerning and illuminated heart it is evident that God, the unknowable Essence, the Divine Being, is immensely exalted beyond every human attribute, such as corporeal existence, ascent and descent, egress and regress. Far be it from His glory that human tongue should adequately recount His praise, or that human heart comprehend His fathomless mystery..