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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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Is Postmodernism a Myth? (Sean McDowell)

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Is Postmodernism A Myth?

Sean McDowell

 

In the early 1990s interest in postmodernism exploded in the church. Books widely appeared as bestsellers and conferences featured seminars about doing ministry in a postmodern world. While people disagreed about exactly what was meant by “postmodernism”-and they still do!-there was considerable agreement that the world was leaving the modern era behind and wading into the unknown waters of the postmodern matrix.

 

In Postmodern Youth Ministry, for example, Tony Jones argues that postmodernity is the most important culture shift of the past 500 years, upending our theology, philosophy, epistemology (how we know things), and church practice. It is an “earthquake that has changed the landscape of academia and is currently rocking Western culture.” (p. 11). Thus, to be relevant in ministry today, according to Jones and other postmodernists, we must shed our modern tendencies and embrace the postmodern shift.

 

For the longest time I simply accepted that we inhabit a postmodern world and that we must completely transform our approach to ministry to be effective today. But that all changed when I had the opportunity of hearing philosopher William Lane Craig speak at an apologetics conference not too long ago. “This sort of [postmodern] thinking,” says Craig, “is guilty of a disastrous misdiagnosis of contemporary culture.” (“God is Not Dead Yet,” Christianity Today, July 2008, p. 26). He argues that the idea that we live in a postmodern world is a myth. This may strike you as awfully bold. How can he make such a claim?

 

For one thing, says Craig, postmodernism is unlivable and contradictory: “Nobody is a postmodernist when it comes to reading the labels on a medicine bottle versus a box of rat poison. If you’ve got a headache, you’d better believe that texts have objective meaning!” (Reasonable Faith, 2008, p. 18) Craig speaks to tens of thousands of (mostly non-Christian) college students around the world every year and his conclusion is that we live in a cultural milieu that is deeply modernist. Reason, logic, and evidence are as important today as ever (although he’s careful not to overstate their importance, too).

 

Postmodernism and Apologetics

 

But this is not all Craig has to say! In the introduction to Reasonable Faith, Craig provocatively claims, “Indeed, I think that getting people to believe that we live in a postmodern culture is one of the craftiest deceptions that Satan has yet devised” (p. 18). Accordingly, we ought to stop emphasizing argumentation and apologetics and just share our narrative. Craig develops this idea further:

 

And so Satan deceives us into voluntarily laying aside our best weapons of logic and evidence, thereby ensuring unawares modernism’s triumph over us. If we adopt this suicidal course of action, the consequences for the church in the next generation will be catastrophic. Christianity will be reduced to but another voice in a cacophony of competing voices, each sharing its own narrative and none commending itself as the objective truth about reality, while scientific naturalism shapes our culture’s view of how the world really is (p. 18-19). 

 

In a personal email, Craig relayed to me that he believes postmodernism is largely being propagated in our church by misguided youth pastors. While he meant the comment more to elicit a smile than to be taken as a stab in the back, I can’t help but wonder if he is right.

 

If our culture were so profoundly postmodernist, why have the “New Atheists,” as Wired magazine dubbed them, been so influential? Popular writers such as Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins have recently written bestselling books attacking the scientific, historic, and philosophical credibility of religion in general and Christianity in particular. Their writings have wreaked havoc on many unprepared Christians. If our culture were postmodern their challenges should have fallen on deaf ears.

 

Postmodern Youth

 

While studies show that youth are significantly relativistic when it comes to ethics, values, and religion (e.g., Soul Searching, by Christian Smith, Oxford Press, 2005), they are not relativistic about science, mathematics, and technology. When discussing morality and religion, I have heard many young people say things such as say, “That’s just your truth. I have a different truth.” But I have never heard a young person say this about a claim in the realm of science or math. Modernists believe that science is the sole purveyor of truth while religion and ethics belong in the private, subjective sphere. It seems to me that the thinking of young people is more influenced by modernism (and specifically naturalism) than postmodernism.

 

Nevertheless, there does seem to be some postmodern influences in our culture. There is a latent cynicism about knowing truth, a deep suspicion of authority, and an awareness that bias affects people more profoundly than we would like to admit. But ultimately I think Craig is right-the claim that we live in a postmodern culture has been greatly exaggerated and oversold to (and by) the church.

Thanks to the New Atheists (Sean McDowell)

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Thanks to the New Atheists

Sean McDowell

 

 

I would like to take this opportunity to officially thank the New Atheists. By “New Atheists,” I am referring to Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great) Sam Harris (Letter to a Christian Nation), and all the other recent atheists and agnostics who have been so viciously criticizing the Christian faith. Given that I am an evangelical Christian, you may be thinking, “Why on Earth would you want to thank them?” Let me explain.

 

Many of you are familiar with William Dembski, one of the leading architects for the intelligent design movement (my co-author for Understanding Intelligent Design). In 1988, he finished what he thought was his last graduate degree in mathematics from MIT. What struck him so significantly was how readily his colleagues regarded Christianity as passé. They completely dismissed it as lacking intellectual vitality and did not even consider it worth engaging. They certainly didn’t think it was dangerous and in need of eradication (as the New Atheists do).

 

As a Christian committed to the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus, the easy dismissal of Christianity troubled him. How could they simply dismiss Christianity with hardly a second thought? Dembski decided to pursue further studies in philosophy and theology, which, of course, helped prepare him for his contribution to the ID movement. Although unheard of just a few decades ago, ID has now grown internationally and pressed Western intellectuals to seriously entertain the idea that the universe is the product of design, not chance.

 

To be sure, many intellectuals vehemently reject Christianity. But here is the good part: they can no longer ignore it. This suggests that the naturalistic worldview that has for so long dominated Western culture is crumbling and Christianity is again on the table for discussion. The discussion is certainly not always friendly. In fact, Dawkins has become famous partly for his venomous attacks on Christianity. In The God Delusion he says the Christian God:

 

…is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction. Jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic-cleanser; a misogynistic homophobic racist, infanticidal, genodical, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” (p. 31).

 

Like Dawkins, many Western intellectuals now treat Christianity with open contempt. But (ironically) this is progress. The dead are no longer remembered. The living are ridiculed and despised. While the arguments of the New Atheists certainly need to be rebutted (by the way, there is nothing actually new about them except their attitude), we should be gratified by their need to refute Christianity. If Christianity was not making progress, these books would be unnecessary. Christianity is making powerful intellectual inroads, even at the highest levels of academia. We have a way to go, but things are moving in the right direction. My thanks to the New Atheists for pointing this out.

Run Through Romans (chapter 3:1-21)

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In Romans 1, Paul tells us two rather alarming truths: firstly, that all the nations of the world are involved in a spiral of increasing unrighteousness.  Secondly, that the justice of God means that God must punish all unrighteousness.

In Romans 2, Paul destroys any hope that religion or religious ritual might protect us from the wrath of God.  Everyone has done unrighteous deeds therefore everyone is unrighteous, therefore everyone must be judged by God as guilty and sentenced accordingly.

In Romans 3, Paul now shows that both Jew (religious people) and Gentile (unreligious people) are unrighteous.  He further nails down anyone who might be trying to say “I am not that bad” by looking at every single person on the earth and pointing out: “Yes, you are that bad.”

But also in Romans 3, Paul lets us see the light at the end of the tunnel.  He lets us see that although no human being can stand before God innocent and be acquited because of their perfect lifestyle, maybe there is an alternative route to being righteous.  Let’s run through the text:

1What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?

 2Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God. #

Because Paul in Romans 2 is so scathing of the ineffectiveness of religion, and in particular the Jewish religion, that he feels he must say that there is benefit in being religious.  There is a benefit in being part of the Jewish nation, and the benefit is this: the Jewish people were trusted with the oracles (the words) of God.  The Jewish people were trusted to receive the Word of God and preserve it.   Here Paul is talking about the Old Testament, more specifically the law of God.  The Jewish people were told the whole law of God – all 613 commandments. 

None of the other nations knew about God’s laws, although we know from Romans 1 that ignorance of the law is not an excuse for being unrighteous due to the conscience and creation.  However, the Jews were trusted with all of God’s law.  Psalm 19 tells us that the law of the Lord is perfect.  The Jews were given something perfect: a perfect standard of how to live a perfect live. 

 3For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?

Now Paul is saying that just because people did not receive or accept the law, and because the Jewish people many times rejected the law, that doesn’t actually matter.  God had faith in them, God gave them the law, God’s law is still the perfect standard.

This lie seems to have permeated our society.  That if we reject God’s law and decide it is not real or not for today or whatever, that we think that the law doesn’t apply.  But crimes against the law of God are statutory crimes – whether you know the law or not, it still exists.  You would have a better chance of assuming that gravity is not for today or not real and jumping off the top of Canary Wharf and flying around London than assuming that God’s laws are not for today or not real and expecting to survive the judgment day of the Lord.

Sean McDowell used an excellent illustration of this in a sermon I heard recently.  He said that society treats God’s law and God’s revelation like ice cream flavours – you have your favourite flavour and I have mine, and it doesn’t really matter.  However, he says that God’s law and God’s revelation are more like a medical prescription.  You cannot just choose which medicine you like – you have to take the medicine prescribed or you will not recover.  God’s law is real and relevant – just because the laws of the nation have changed does not mean God’s law has changed.

 4God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.

Or more simply put: if you disagree with God about the standard to be righteous, then you are wrong and God is right.  Here Paul quotes Psalm 51.4, which in the NLT reads: “You will be proved right in what you say, and you will win your case in court.” You have to realize that one day you will stand before God and he will declare you righteous or unrighteous.  If you try and stand based on your good deeds, you will be found unrighteous because you have sinned.  You have done the things listed in Romans 1.  You have broken the Ten Commandments: you have told lies, you have stolen things which are not yours, you have used the Lord’s name as a swear word. 

Now if you say that these standards for whatever reason do not apply to you, then God is telling the truth and you are lying.  God will win the court case and you will be sentenced to hell.

 5But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man)

This is a powerful argument Paul is making.  Many people have shyed away from hell, and mocked hellfire preachers.  Now Jesus said more about hell than anyone else in the Scripture, so are people who are not talking about hell being Christ-like?  No.  However, I will qualify this: Jesus spoke about hell to his disciples, not when preaching the gospel.  When he preached the gospel, Jesus Christ healed the sick and preached about the kingdom of God.  He preached the gospel, which means good news.  At this stage in our study of Romans, we have not actually gone through what the gospel is fully, though we have spent time on it while looking at Romans 1.16-17.  All that needs to be said is that you don’t evangelise by telling people: you are going to hell.

Why? Because telling people that they are going to hell makes no sense to them.  They don’t know the law of God mostly.  They don’t know that they are unrighteous.  Telling someone who is not aware they are guilty that they are going to receive a sentencing is nonsensical and they will not listen. 

If however, you explain to someone the way Paul has done through Romans 1-3 that they are unrighteous because they have broken the perfect law of God and that religious acts and good deeds cannot make them innocent, then they are likely to listen to you.  Their own conscience will start to remind them of the times they have done things that they did not want to do, and the Holy Spirit will be hovering over them and convincing them of sin, and then they are open to the gospel.

What Paul is essentially saying in this verse is that because we are unrighteous, because we are guilty – then for God to judge us on judgment day shows that God is righteous, that God is innocent.  If a judge just let criminals off, that judge would be as guilty as the criminals.  Those people who expect mercy from God simply because He is good are mistaken: God is not going to show you mercy and the reason why He will not show you mercy is because He is good.  His goodness means that He must punish all unrighteousness.

 6God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?

 7For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?

The more we reject God’s judgment and act unrighteousness, the more truthful God will be when He judges us for being unrighteous.

 8And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.

Paul is saying here: if our sin makes God act in a good way, the answer is not to sin as much as you can.  When we reach Romans 6, we will deal with this fully.

 9What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;

In Romans 1, Paul shows us the Gentiles are all unrighteous.  In Romans 2, Paul shows us the Jews are all unrighteous.  Just in case you have missed the point, Paul is about to show that everyone is unrighteous:

 10As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

 11There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

 12They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

 13Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:

 14Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:

 15Their feet are swift to shed blood:

 16Destruction and misery are in their ways:

 17And the way of peace have they not known:

 18There is no fear of God before their eyes.

The above description applies to every human being on the earth.  It applies to you and it applies to me.  Verse 10 sums up Romans 3 – there is none righteous, no, not one.  This is the key message of this chapter: if you think you are righteous, if you think on judgment day you will be found innocent before God, you are completely wrong.  I will not go through vv. 11-18, but if you have any shred of self-righteousness – if you believe you could be worthy before God on the basis of your goodness – I suggest you read it, meditate on it and study it until you know that there is nothing in you that could please or impress God.

 19Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.

Now Paul is telling us something very important.  The whole purpose of holding your life up to the law of God and showing you that you are unrighteous, that you do not fear God, that you do not live right, that you will be judged on the day of judgment is for one reason only: so that you will have your mouth stopped and be guilty before God.

The law was not given to you because God knew that if He only gave you enough strict instructions you would be able to obey them all and please Him.  The law was given to you because God knew that you can not obey it and that the law would shut your mouth and show you that you are guilty before God.

Before the law of God was revealed through Moses, people did not shut their mouth and did not think they were guilty before God.  Cain was protected by God after he murdered Abel, and Cain’s descendent felt that meant he could murder who he liked.  And in today’s society, generally a lawless society, people do not shut their mouths – they say things that are so inappropriate, so disrespectful to God.  They do not know they are guilty.

This is such a key point.  Many Christians still feel that they impress God with their actions.  No – the law was not given so you could impress God by keeping it.   The law was given so that you know that you could never impress God by keeping it.  You could never do all the things in it.  You could never even keep the Ten Commandments.

 20Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Can you see Paul’s point?  By doing good things no flesh – not you, not me, not Mother Theresa, not anyone shall be justified.  The word justified simply means “made righteous” or “declared innocent”.  Can you see the purpose of the law – it is not for you to obey and for God to give you brownie points for obeying it so well.  It is to show you beyond the shadow of a doubt that you are not innocent before God at all.  You are guilty.  You are unrighteous.  You are damned to hell by God’s goodness and justice and righteousness because you are unrighteous.

 21But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;

Romans 1-3 is a serious message, and it needs to be understood.  You are not righteous because of your actions.  You are not righteous because of your religious rituals.  You are certainly not righteous because of your attempts to obey God’s law.  You are unrighteous because of your actions.  Your religious rituals cannot change the fact that your actions have made you unrighteous and guilty.  Your attempts to follow God’s law cannot undo your unrighteous actions and besides you fail to follow the law again and again.  The purpose of the law was not to show you a way to be good, but to show you that you are not good.

When you truly understand that, and only when you understand that, are you ready for the good news of the New Testament.  And this is the good news of the New Testament in one sentence: But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested.  Paul spends three chapters stripping every human being – religious or not, Jew or Gentile – of any form of self-righteousness.  Self-righteousness is your attempt to stand before God and presumptiously declare yourself good enough for God based on your actions.  If you can read Romans 1-3 and still feel you can stand before God and declare yourself good enough for God based on your actions, you must be spiritually blind and have a very hard heart.

But once you realize that there is nothing you can do to make yourself good enough for God and that you are unrighteous and deserve hell on earth and hell when you die, Paul then decides you are ready for the good news: there is another way to be right with God that has nothing at all to do with the law of God.  In fact, it has nothing to do with anything you can do or have ever done or ever will do. 

And tomorrow, we will examine what this way is.

As always any questions or comments are more than welcome.

Every blessing,

Ben

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