Occasionally, one hears Intelligent Design (ID) accused of being theologically shallow. Now, no doubt, many of the advocates of ID are theologically shallow, as are many of the opponents of ID. But the question is whether there is anything theologically shallow about holding ID to be true. As far as I can tell, ID is something like the following two-part thesis:
(a) Some of the biological features of organisms are designed by non-human intelligent agency; and (b) this fact can be known on the basis of biological study of these features (together with the application of mathematical, conceptual and/or other tools).The reason for the "non-human" qualifier is that otherwise (a) would be uninterestingly satisfied by artificially selected features in domesticated animals.
What, then, is theologically shallow about ID? Part (a) has always been accepted by Jewish and Christian theists, and does not appear at all shallow—indeed, it is connected with a depth of reflection on providential divine involvement in the world, creation, the problem of evil, and so on. Unless the claim is the implausible one that Judaism and Christianity are at root theologically shallow, the theological problem would seem to have to be not with part (a), but with part (b).
Now, if one has a strongly anti-rational theological stance, one might think that any attempt to argue to a conclusion about divine activity on the basis of empirical data is reflective of a shallow rationalism. If so, then one will think that (b) is indicative of a theological shallowness. But I do not think (b) is indicative of a theological shallowness. In fact, it seems to me to be a deeper view to say with Aquinas that God is both an unfathomable mystery and yet his existence and the fact of his creating the world can be known on the basis of observed data. (I am not saying Aquinas advocated ID—he did not—but he did think that we could get to the existence of God, and to some facts about God's creative activity, on the basis of philosophical reflection on things we have observed.) Maybe there is something particularly shallow in holding that science should be a part of one of the routes to knowledge about God's creative activity, but I do not see it. Indeed, it seems to me to be a rather deep view to think that God is imaged in our world in all kinds of ways, and since science tells us about our world, it is relevant to knowing about God.
Perhaps, though, it is not the bare statement of ID that is theologically shallow, but what is shallow is something else. Two options come to mind. One is that the motivations of ID proponents are shallow. Perhaps, ID proponents think that the only way to justify belief in God is through scientific data. That is, indeed, a shallow view. Or maybe they think that only by positing scientifically discernible divine involvement can one save the doctrine that God designed human beings. That might be a shallow view, unless there are some deep arguments behind it. But it does not seem to me to be right to call a view shallow just because the proponents of it are motivated by another view which is shallow.
The second option is that what is shallow is not so much the two-part claim of ID, but the way that ID proponents flesh out the claim, e.g., by asserting that there is evidence of miraculous divine interventions. Again, even if this fleshing out were shallow, it would not follow that ID itself is a shallow doctrine, but that it is fleshed out in a shallow way.
But I want to consider the latter criticism a bit further. Why would it be shallow to say that God created some organisms through miraculous interventions? Now, if one thinks that all claims of miraculous interventions are theologically shallow, one will say this. But that is a sweeping generalization that seems hard to justify. There does not appear to be anything particularly shallow to the idea that God's ways of manifesting his love in creation are not bounded by the laws of nature. Now, it might be shallow to claim that God could not do such-and-such non-miraculously. But it does not seem shallow to claim that he could do such-and-such miraculously, nor that he did. Granted, this view may be unattractive to those like Leibniz who think a good designer always makes something that runs just fine without him. But is denying this standoffish view of divine activity shallow? If anything, positing a world where God sometimes works in and through natural causes, and sometimes beyond them, seems to lead to a richer view.
None of this is an argument for ID. In an earlier post, I have argued that at least the Dembskian variety of ID fails, and I do not know any variety of ID to succeed. But it is important not to criticize views on spurious grounds, such as the accusations of theological shallowness.
In any case, I am not even sure that p's being is "deep" is any evidence for p, or that p's being "shallow" is any evidence against p.