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An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design (Sean McDowell)

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An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design

Sean McDowell

 

One of the most stereotypes of intelligent design (ID) is that it is an evangelical Christian movement intent upon forcing religion into the classroom. The release of Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design (Bradley Monton, Broadview Press, 2009) officially puts this claim to rest. Defenders of ID do include evangelical Christians, but also Muslims, Hindus, agnostics, and now even atheists! University of Colorado philosophy professor Bradley Monton is ultimately not persuaded by the arguments of ID (which is why he’s an atheist), but he says that they do have some force, and they make him less certain of his atheism.

 

For those of you who have followed the ID movement, this should come as quite the surprise. Yes, an atheist actually defends the integrity and merits of ID! Monton argues that criticisms of ID-whether from atheists or theistic evolutionists-are largely unfounded, misplaced, and erroneous. Monton doesn’t so much defend the truth of ID, but he believes it is a reasonable, (somewhat) persuasive, and legitimate scientific project.

 

The best part of the book (from my perspective) is that Monton sees right through much of the rhetorical tactics commonly used by ID opponents. For example, critics frequently conflate ID with creationism so as to make it an easier target to defeat. Monton rightly observes that some ID arguments are not related to creationism at all and that such comparisons are “sloppy” (31).  Critics also love to claim that ID makes no predictions and is not testable. According to Monton: “I would say that intelligent design proponents are making a prediction: they are claiming that, if one looks, one will find evidence that there is a designer” (72).

 

Monton also criticizes Judge Jones’ ruling against ID in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (2005). Darwinists have continued to herald this ruling as an overwhelming defeat for ID. However, says Monton, Judge Jones’ arguments were “fundamentally flawed.” In his attempt to discredit ID, Jones argued that it is not a legitimate science because (among other reasons) it postulates supernatural creation.

 

Surprisingly, Monton argues that postulating supernatural causation is actually compatible with science! He gives a fictional example of a pulsar that pulses out Morse code. The message claims to be God, and can answer any questions that scientists formulate in their heads. If such a thing happened, shouldn’t the “God” theory be a legitimate option? This is a highly unlikely scenario, but it shows that at least (in principle) science can explore supernatural causes, despite the ruling by Judge Jones.

 

Ultimately, says Monton, we shouldn’t get caught up debating whether or not ID is science. The most important question is whether or not the claims are true (73).  Monton recognizes that proclamations against the scientific status of ID are largely meant to suppress debate so the actual truth-claims of ID can be avoided.

 

Professor Monton challenges both atheistic and theistic opponents of ID. For example, he critiques theistic evolutionist Kenneth Miller (author of Only a Theory) who claims that intelligent design closes down scientific investigation. According to Monton: “While theistic scientists could choose to stop investigating the world, and be satisfied with the answer ‘God did it,’ they need not. What theistic scientists can do is investigate questions like: ‘What structure did God choose to give the world?'” (112). Miller’s claim that ID is anti-science “doesn’t hold up.”

 

Surprisingly, Monton agrees that intelligent design offers the best explanation for certain features of the universe. He admits that there are currently no naturalistic explanations for why the universe exists, for the nature of consciousness, and a detailed scenario for the origin of life. Yet rather than believing in design he says: “The truth of the matter is that there’s no explanation at all” (37). To avoid the conclusion that God exists, Monton is forced to accept that certain features of reality simply don’t have an explanation. Rather than offering an alternative explanation, Monton challenges the notion of explanation itself.

 

Much more could be said about Seeking God in Science. It is certainly refreshing to read someone who desires to transcend the culture wars and to communicate his ideas in a respectful and generous tone. Supporters of ID can learn much from his style and substance, even if they ultimately disagree with his conclusions (as I do!). This is a watershed book in the history of ID, and is hopefully a sign of more to come.
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By Sean McDowell

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About treeoflifelondon

Tree of Life Church is a dynamic new church recently planted in London. We have branches in Dagenham, Guildford and Watford. Pastor Ben is a Christian who preaches the Word with integrity and anointing. He loves seeing Christians released into ministering into signs and wonders, perfect peace and being able to walk in their destiny.

8 thoughts on “An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design (Sean McDowell)

  1. Shamelessly Atheist

    Yet rather than believing in design he says: “The truth of the matter is that there’s no explanation at all”

    And that’s the whole problem with ID – it ISN’T and explanation. Rather, it simply begs the question- how were things designed? The ill-defined term (talk about word games) ‘design’ is devoid of information.

  2. treeoflifelondon Post author

    Well, obviously, ID is not the truth. The truth is found in the eternal Word of God. God made the world in six days, which answers the “how” question and defines the word “design”. The point the author was making though, and why I placed the article in my blog, is that there are people who do not believe in God but understand the world and the creatures in it look like they have been designed.

    I don’t know why the scientist concerned does not believe in God – it may not be intellectual reasons (it seldom is!), it could easily be moral ones!

    Blessings,
    Ben

  3. Shamelessly Atheist

    Well, obviously, ID is not the truth. The truth is found in the eternal Word of God. God made the world in six days, which answers the “how” question and defines the word “design”.

    No. First, I do not accept that the bible is the ‘Word of God’. Facts not in evidence! Nor does the bible answer ‘how’ at all.

    I don’t know why the scientist concerned does not believe in God – it may not be intellectual reasons (it seldom is!), it could easily be moral ones!

    How DARE you! How freaking DARE you! My reasons for rejecting the existence of a god are sound, based in reason and evidence, and I am prepared to defend them. To cast aspersions that I am immoral without any knowledge of who I am is insulting and offensive, and if you were standing before me your face would have a palm print!!!!

  4. treeoflifelondon Post author

    Do you truly fail to see the irony of threatening to slap me because I am suggesting that many who reject God’s existence do so for moral reasons? Surely a moral person would turn the other cheek?

    I didn’t actually call you immoral or cast any aspersions on you personally – I just said from my experience most people who reject the truth of God’s existence and love do so for moral reasons.

    It does make me wonder why this provokes such a strong response inside you.

    God is real. It is the fool that says there is no God (Psalm 14.1). You can clearly see from creation that there is a God, and you are a fool if you say otherwise. Romans 1 teaches us that God is obvious from the creation and from our own conscience.

    You clearly know and admit there is a sense of right or wrong, or you would not be so riled by your inference that I was saying you are immoral. That sense of right and wrong comes from God and is called your conscience. It is not part of an evolutionary process, it is part of the image of God inside you.

    I will pray for you this evening that you will see the truth of God’s Word.

    Regards,
    Benjamin

  5. Shamelessly Atheist

    Do you truly fail to see the irony of threatening to slap me because I am suggesting that many who reject God’s existence do so for moral reasons? Surely a moral person would turn the other cheek?

    I disagree. Turning the other cheek can be immoral. Are you a doormat? I am NOT.

    I didn’t actually call you immoral or cast any aspersions on you personally – I just said from my experience most people who reject the truth of God’s existence and love do so for moral reasons.

    Is that why you referred to me specifically in that sentence? I REJECT your explanation. It was aimed specifically at me. If you have any integrity you will do the right thing.

    It is the fool that says there is no God (Psalm 14.1).

    The bible can say what it wants. I do not accept it as authoritative since it has never been shown to be anything but written by humans. That is all I will say until an apology is forthcoming.

    You have a LOT to learn about atheists.

  6. treeoflifelondon Post author

    I genuinely was not referring to you personally in any sentence. I have just re-read what I wrote, and genuinely cannot see anywhere where I have done this.

    If you could please quote the sentence that has upset you and show where I am referring to you personally, then I will apologize. I am more than happy to apologize when I am wrong.

    BTW, turning the other cheek does not make you a doormat, it puts you in control of the situation. Love always leads to victory. You clearly have a LOT to learn about God’s ways and His Word.

    Blessings,
    Benjamin

  7. Shamelessly Atheist

    You know what? I was wrong. I am the one that should be apologizing. Your first comment is below mine and the scientist you were referring to was in the blog and not to me. I’m a scientist, and so you might well understand my confusion, especially when there are people out there that WILL say this to our faces. But I sincerely apologize.

    But with a caveate: your statement that we atheists come to our beliefs not because they are well-considered and reasoned but because there are things we do that we don’t want to be accounted for is pretty darned bigoted and wrong. I’ll stack my life up against any Christian’s and my reasons for nonbelief are very well thought out. And there is no denying that you made a blanket assertion which does, by my being an atheist, include me. And if you can’t back it up, then you will be challenged on it. Imagine if I said that all you Christians want to ram religious rules down our throats and subvert secular institutions to create a theocracy. That there are some Christians who would do just that is beside the point. It paints all Christians as such, which I think is wrong (especially when I know some Christians are staunch supporters of secularism). Do you see my point?

    There are times when turning the other cheek is the right thing to do. But there are also times when it is wrong, and to blindly say that only turning the other cheek is right is, I think, ethically unsound. Aquinas certainly thought that when he wrote .

    The evidence for evolutionary origins of ethical behavior is rock solid, actually, and I will take any testable hypothesis over an unfalsifiable claim every time. The evidence comes from a variety of field such as neuroscience, psychology, cognitive science, behavioral economics, anthropology and primatology. For instance, mice show greater distress at the suffering of familiar mice than unfamiliar ones; monkeys will starve themselves to prevent their cage-mates from receiving painful shocks; chimps have a demonstrable sense of fairness when receiving food rewards. I simply don’t entertain any unfalsifiable claim such as the one that God supplies our moral sense because there is no way for me to distinguish it from a guess.

  8. treeoflifelondon Post author

    I accept your gracious apology. I am sure the reasons you have for your faith that there is no God are well thought out. I simply do not have the faith to believe that the universe spontaneously generated, that life can come from non-life and that vertebrates can evolve from non-vertebrates. You clearly do have a faith in that, and I am sure you have reasons for that.

    It is wrong however to suggest your reasons for having a faith that there is no God are scientific reasons though, as science has never shown order come from chaos, has never shown abiogenesis ever and has never shown transitional life forms either in the fossil record or alive today. There is no scientific evidence at all that life has ever come from non-life: that is something you hold by faith. A faith I do not have, because to me it is not reasonable or logical.

    I believe in turning the other cheek when something is in proportion to a slap in the face. An implied insult would be an example. If someone was breaking into my house threatening my family, I would be causing a scene. Aquinas had 6 very strict rules about when you should respond with force – I agree with the general thrust of what he says, but not all of his particulars. I won’t go into detail as this is not the theme of the original post.

    There is no evidence for evolutionary origins of ethical behaviour by the way. It is rather amusing that you are using the behaviour of rats to extrapolate the behaviour of humans when you have no evidence at all that rats and humans are related. You stack up all the different fields that show that behaviour has an evolutionary source, but how you say that your belief system is not like a guess and mine is is simply beyond me.

    You are not an unbeliever – you are a believer.

    A believer in a universe where order comes out of chaos, life comes out of nowhere, and information as complicated as DNA code is written by random processes. I do not have faith to believe that. I believe in a universe where God created life, God created order, and God is the author of information. I believe a single, simple, spiritual entity is the creator and sustainer and author of our universe, you believe that our universe spontaneously generated and ordered itself. I admire that kind of blind faith, but I do not possess it!

    Blessings,
    Benjamin

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