They're Digging in the Wrong Place...
Proponents of Intelligent Design (ID) claim there's all kinds of evidence that life was designed by some intelligent designer, the nature of which they claim to have no opinion on. (But really, they think it's someone whose name rhymes with "please us.") They don't define what constitutes evidence of design, of course, nor what would prove or disprove it, nor do they have answers for why lots of life seems built from already existing available parts (as evolutionary theory predicts) rather than by any designer at all, let alone one meriting the title "intelligent."* But, what's funny, is they fail to see the very strong evidence for intelligent design in the very myths that made them come up with ID in the first place.
So, suppose you're designing a religion. Of course, your religion is true and all the others are bullshit, but how do you get people to believe the truth instead of someone else's bullshit? Hmmm. Well, for one thing, it would be good if your religion somehow encouraged believers to spread it, right? Because those pansy religions like Buddhism that don't inspire evangelists and missionaries aren't growth industries. Heck, Buddhism died out in India, for God's sake, and how many people are converting to Taoism or Shinto these days? But how do you motivate your believers to spread the word rather than just sitting on their butts waiting for enlightenment to come a'knocking?
Well, let's see. What do people love. I mean, love love love. So much that they'll choose it over sex? I know: Being right, particularly when you can be condescending and patronizing and rub someone else's face in it! (Ask yourself how many times in your relationships you chose winning an argument -- being right -- over sex. See?) There's a real rush getting to say, "You'll be sorry," and "I told you so!" So, if we can design our religion to give our followers an excuse to do that, we get both a bunch of self-motivated salesmen (evangelists, missionaries, proselytizers) and we get a big selling point for those salesmen to use ("If you join our religion you can go around being smug and condescending to the infidels too!")
So, what's our excuse? After all, even though people love being assholes about being right, they hate thinking of themselves as assholes. They like to feel like they're the hero even when they're the asshole. And what's better for that than when you get to say, "I'm doing this for your own good"? It's awesome when you can say that. You get do whatever asshole thing you wanted to do, like beat your kids, all the while feeling sanctimonious and not at all like an asshole. That'd be great if we could design our religion so you get to do that.
Eureka! How about this: Create a religion where we believe that those who don't believe will have bad things happen to them. Not like those wimpy old pagan gods whose followers believed that other peoples' gods protected them too. No! Because then we can go around being condescending assholes to everyone else and feel great about it because we're saving them from the bad things that will happen to them (that our God will do to them) if we don't. Awesome!
And that's exactly what Paul did when he designed what we now think of as Christianity. It's a perfect, self-protecting loop: I believe in Jesus. I believe only those who believe in Jesus will be saved. I believe those who are not saved will suffer eternal torment. So I have to go around knocking on peoples' doors at nine o'clock on a Sunday, don't I? Because I have to save them from the fate I know is ahead of them. Even if they don't want me to, because they're just ignorant children who need me to lead them to the light. I have a duty! The fact that I get to be right, smug, self-satisfied, sanctimonious, and condescending isn't really why I do it. I do it for them.
And another little brilliant aspect of the whole thing is that you always get to feel like you've won every argument. If you convert them, well then they admitted you're right, and that feels sooo good. But if you don't, well, they'll find out how wrong they were when they end up in Hell! Yeah!
I don't think it's an accident that Christianity, a religion largely shaped by one man (Paul), happens to be set up that way. It's clearly designed to take advantage of some of the worst impulses in people and make them seem like virtues (believing things for no good reason is another of those impulses). Paul learned from the mistakes Judaism had made that kept it small, such as being Jewish being a "burden" (not a good selling point), making new male converts cut off part of their penises to join (another bad selling point), and having a belief system that promotes killing unbelievers rather than converting them (which doesn't help increase your following as much as one might hope).
He took the concept of the one, true, jealous God of monotheistic Judaism and made him jealous of anyone worshipping other gods, not just the Jews. He added teeth that jealousy by throwing in a little eternal damnation. And gave his followers an excuse to be sanctimonious pricks and feel good about it. And, wah-la! Sanctimonious pricks have flocked to Christianity ever since.
Christianity wasn't designed by God anymore than species were. The intelligent design in Christianity clearly points to an earthly designer, because the god of Christianity just doesn't make any sense. (Three gods in one, that God dying on the Cross somehow saves us all from sins someone else committed, and that somehow an omnibenevolent God tortures people eternally for making a bad choice, just for starters). If proponents of ID can't even spot the clear marks of design in their own religion, how could they possibly spot them in life, even if they were there?
* Such as the mammalian eye having its light-sensing cells behind a bunch of other stuff like blood vessels and nerves that block the light, which no remotely competent designer would dream of doing.