William Dembski, he of intelligent design fame, has written a poignant account of taking his autistic son to a gathering run by a popular faith healer, in the hopes of obtaining some miraculous autism healing—a healing which, as events turned out, would not even be offered, let alone consummated. The faith healer of course revealed himself as little more than a conjurer of theater and coinage; and after having endured the multi-hour ordeal of a long drive, a needless wait, blaringly loud music and the insipid amusements of a traveling medicine show, Mr. Dembski's wife and autistic son, summoned at long last to approach the stage for some personal healing and prayer, found themselves more than an hour later effectively shunned and turned away. The entire family drove home bitterly disappointed, if somewhat wiser about the nature of popular revivalist gatherings.
In many ways, Mr. Dembski's account is one of the more moving articles I have read in recent years—and this coming from a man for whom I share hardly a thread of common understanding. But if Mr. Dembski and I share little in the way of a common philosophical background, we do share a commonality of experience, for I too have an autistic son, one of nearly the same age as Mr. Dembski's. Thus I can commiserate completely. In fact, I cannot help but be touched greatly by Mr. Dembski's story and I cannot help but feel within the very depths of my soul the bitter anguish and confusion that must have been experienced during that distressing ordeal. But of course it is not Mr. Dembski's anguish and confusion I am feeling—I am feeling the anguish and confusion that must have been experienced by his autistic son.
It is an oft-told story: salvation was at hand—so remarkably close at hand—if only it had been recognized and accepted.
There was indeed a miracle being offered to Mr. Dembski at that revivalist gathering, a miracle offered so quietly, so humbly, so simply, that amidst all the dancing, all the singing, all the hearty exhortations—and amidst all the tinkling of collection plates—it might have gone so easily overlooked. The miracle being offered to Mr. Dembski on that bitterly ironic night occurred at the very moment of his autistic son's rejection (and how Christianly ironic is that?), just one more rejection in a long line of rejections—from doctors, from school administrators, from nearly the entire human community, and (dare he confess it) from Mr. Dembski himself. But at the very moment of that one further rejection, that forced turning away from this so-called minister of god and the turning back towards a reassessing father—now there was a moment worthy of a hallelujah chorus.
And to Mr. Dembski's credit, at least on this particular occasion, he was not entirely immune to the poignancy and gift of that telling moment. Quietly accepting his autistic son back into the family fold, driving his children home at that ungodly hour, waiting until each had fallen asleep to discuss with his wife the doubts now arising within his troubled soul, Mr. Dembski had taken those first, faltering steps towards the altar of his own salvation—hallelujah, indeed.
But how to encourage him to take all the remaining steps? How to inspire him to face all the challenges yet to come? Do we dare to remind Mr. Dembski that in the story he cares about most, the father does not reject the unwanted son.
If there is an entity deserving of the name “God,” then that entity must exist in the here and now, and I do not mean in the here and now of any particular church, I mean in the here and now of each and every moment. The discovery and acceptance of this world as this world truly is—not as we humans desire or demand it to be—there will be found the glory behind both science and religion. And accepting autism for what it is, welcoming both its offbeat demands as well as its profoundly transformational impact upon the entire human species—there might be found the admittedly narrow path that one day uplifts all mankind.
Let Mr. Dembski begin his reconstructed catechism with that lesson and that lesson alone. And after he has begun to master it, after he has incorporated it deeply within his being, only then might I be willing to sit and talk with him about something called intelligent design.