Thursday, August 20, 2009

An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design

(Conversantlife.com) 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.

9 comments:

bobxxxx said...

An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design

This proves that even some atheists are compulsive liars and/or bloody stupid.

For example, critics frequently conflate ID with creationism so as to make it an easier target to defeat.

Intelligent design = God Did It.

Creationism = God Did It.

You want to dispute that? Lots of luck.

The words "intelligent design" were chosen by Christian theocrats not long after the Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that "Creation science" was not science and can't be taught in a public school science classroom.

In 2005 a federal judge made the exact same decision about intelligent design. This judge had no choice. It was just too obvious to everyone that intelligent design is a religious belief, and massive evidence was presented at that trial that showed beyond any doubt there's nothing scientific about intelligent design (for the same reason there's nothing scientific about creation science).

Nice try Christian theocrats, but you didn't get away with sticking disguised religious ideas into our schools in 1987 and 2005, and you will never get away with it in the future.

Some Christians reply "What are you biologists afraid of? Why don't you let biology teachers teach both sides?"

The problem for Christian theocrats is there is absolutely no debate in the scientific community about the basic facts of evolution (including the fact people share an ancestor with chimps). Christians want to force biology teachers to talk about a debate that doesn't exist. This matter was settled more than a century ago. Evolution is fact. All alternatives are religious myths.

"Creation science" and now "Intelligent design" are code words that mean MAGIC.

Using different words for magic does not make magic any less childish.

What the Christian theocrats are doing is trying to make their children (and everyone else's children) to dislike science. Teach about supernatural magic in a science classroom and students will get bored fast. Take out or dumb down the most important concept of biology (evolution), and students will get bored with it.

A student who finds a subject to be boring learns to hate it. And that's why America has to import scientists.

The best biology teachers agree with this famous quote "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." These biology teachers make evolution a major part of every single biology lesson every single day. The result is their students learn to love science because evolution is extremely interesting.

I suggest the following book because it's enjoyable to read, easy to understand, up to date (published in 2009), and it's the best possible book for a non-scientist to understand how evolution works, and to understand the thousands of pieces of evidence for evolution. "Why Evolution is True" by Jerry Coyne.

Christians have no idea what they are missing. It's much more rewarding to study science than complain about it. The history of life as explained by evolutionary biology is thousands of times more interesting than the childish idea that every species was created with a magic wand.

Comment moderation has been enabled. All comments must be approved by the blog author.

That's interesting because it means I probably just wasted my time.

bobxxxx said...

"0 comments:"

Some friendly advice. If you actually published comments instead of censoring everyone, you might get somebody to come here more than once.

Dan Grossenbach said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan Grossenbach said...

Bob,

Thanks for your thoughtful comments on Aaron's post of Sean's article. For clarity, I'll try to summarize your main argument so please tell me if I have this right:

PREMISE #1 - ID is creationism in disguise and renamed because of a 1987 court decision. Judge Jones in 2005 agreed based on the evidence that ID is not science.

#2 - There is no debate because all scientists agree ID is false and it can't be disputed that we all decended from a single common ancestor.

#3 - ID is nothing more than "magic" and even obstructs valid science

#4 - ID is a Christian attempt to sway kids away from science by boring them. Evolution is exciting and must be true for science to make sense. It's so bad that America has to "import" scientists because the Christians are so successful of keeping evolution out of schools.

CONCLUSION: Therefore, ID is "childish...magic" and those who think it's a reasonable concept (even atheists) are "liars or bloody stupid."

You are obviously interested in this topic so that is something we share. However, I challenge you to overcome two major problems with your argument before offering my rebuttal. First, you need to offer reasons your premises are true. I don't think this is an easy task since there are excellent reasons to doubt them (it's your burden for raising them so I'll save my objections for now). And the other problem is your logic. Even if they were all true, your conclusion doesn't follow from the premises. Even if ID were false, why do you think they are intentionally deceptive (liars) or poorly reasoned (stupid)?

Aaron said...

Dear Bobxxxx...if that is your REAL name : )

Thank you for your thoughts and comments. Dan made some great points and I would like to piggyback off of his comment and say a few things in response. I have placed your comments in bold below, with my responses underneath.

This proves that even some atheists are compulsive liars and/or bloody stupid.

Rather than engage in ad-hominem fallacies right out of the gate, perhaps you could present some arguments. Have you read the book that Sean is discussing or is this perhaps a hasty conclusion?

In 2005 a federal judge made the exact same decision about intelligent design.

I would caution you from jumping to conclusions based on a court decision (hopefully you do not still believe black people are property due to the 1857 Supreme Court Dred Scott decision). But your comment here brings up an important point.

The question of whether or not intelligent design is science is actually NOT a scientific question. It is in fact a philosophical question. Therefore, this question should be properly answered by philosophers of science, not any Joe Shmoe scientist wearing a white lab coat with a bunsen burner in the background. In fact, scientists in general are unqualified (along with judges) to answer this question. Lo and behold, philosophers of science defend intelligent design as science.

You also might want to check out the book Traipsing into Evolution for the numerous problems and examples of false and contradictory assertions made during the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover case.

The problem for Christian theocrats is there is absolutely no debate in the scientific community about the basic facts of evolution (including the fact people share an ancestor with chimps).

First, you need to define what you mean by "basic facts of evolution." Second, based on the "basic fact" that you listed (people sharing a common ancestor with chimps), this statement is completely false and makes me wonder how much time you have really taken to study this subject. You might want to check out Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing by William Dembski. Not every scientist is a Darwinist.

Christians want to force biology teachers to talk about a debate that doesn't exist.

This statement is interesting. If this is the case, why would you leave a comment on this blog and attempt to debate a subject for which there is no longer any debate?

This matter was settled more than a century ago.

You mean when Darwin, who knew nothing of genetics, DNA, the cell, intermediate fossil forms, and irreducible complexity, published his book The Origin of the Species? If you are basing your conclusion on Darwin and his century old information you are about 100 years behind the times in terms of scholarship my friend.

Aaron said...

...continued from previous post...

Evolution is fact.

This statement is just one of the many examples of assertions that you make. An assertion is not an argument. As Dan mentioned, you need to provide some reason and evidence for your assertions before they become arguments. You may be able to get away with those bald faced assertions on other blog sites but not here my friend! : )

If evolution is a fact, and I am taking what you mean by “evolution” to be the grand metaphysical atheistic version, please give me your best explanation for the existence of the universe. Why is there something rather than nothing? Please give me your best explanation for the origin of life. Please give me your best explanation for the origin of the cell. Please give me your best explanation for the Cambrian explosion. Please explain how evolution can account for irreducible complexity. Please give me your best explanation for cosmological constants as well as the anthropic principle. Please provide me with examples of mutations which increase genetic complexity.

In addition, you seem to be assuming naturalism as a philosophy throughout your comment. But again, this is something you need to argue for, not merely assume, otherwise you are simply begging the question.

I suggest the following book..."Why Evolution is True" by Jerry Coyne.

Thank you for the recommendation. Have you read any books that argue against your own point of view? If so, which ones? If you would like some more recommendations please let me know.

Comment moderation has been enabled. All comments must be approved by the blog author.

That's interesting because it means I probably just wasted my time.


Not at all my friend! We welcome your comments.

"0 comments:"

Some friendly advice. If you actually published comments instead of censoring everyone, you might get somebody to come here more than once.


Actually, we don’t censor comments here, but thank you for the presumption of innocence. We probably don’t have a lot of comments because we don’t have a lot of traffic. So tell your friends and do come again!

RichardW said...

Hello. I speak as a long-time critic of ID, who has a limited degree of sympathy with Bradley Monton's position. I haven't read his book, but I've been reading his blog for a while (which is how I came here).

I share Bradley's rejection of attempts to impose simplistic demarcation criteria on science, like natural/supernatural and falsifiable/unfalsifiable. I've argued that rejecting ID for being "supernatural" is not only bad logic, but it plays into the hands of ID advocates, allowing them to focus on this bad argument and distract attention from the valid arguments against ID. It also allows them to dismiss the authority of the scientific community, on the grounds that mainstream scientists would reject ID regardless of any evidence, and so can't be trusted to judge the evidence fairly.

In fact, the insistence that science cannot address the supernatural seems to be aimed not just at keeping religion out of science, but also at keeping science out of religion. It's the "accommodationists" (as they've recently been labelled in the blogosphere) who insist on such a strict demarcation. A significant number of atheists oppose this idea, arguing that the natural/supernatural dichotomy is not well-defined, and that claims do not become immune from scientific scrutiny by virtue of being labelled "supernatural".

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).
.
Essentially, I agree. Science is not precisely defined and, although we generally know it when we see it, the boundaries are fuzzy, and near the boundaries it becomes rather pointless to worry too much about which side of the boundary we're on. The important question is not which side of the boundary ID lies on, but whether the inference to ID is a valid one.

Nevertherless, as long as the leaders of the ID movement claim that it is a valid scientific inference, and as long as the arguments made by those leaders remain as egregiously bad as they currently are, I will continue to refer to ID as "pseudoscience". I accept there may be other proponents of ID who make more nuanced arguments that don't deserve that name. Judging from what I've read, Bradley tends to focus on those more nuanced arguments. But I think it's perfectly reasonable for critics of ID to focus on the ID movement which is getting all the public attention and making political waves.

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.
.
I think it's unfair to say they're intended to "suppress" debate. ID critics have discussed and refuted the usual ID arguments at considerable length. Many articles and a few books have been written that do just this. There have also been face-to-face debates. Naturally, many ID critics feel there's no point in constantly repeating the same old debates, so will often make some excuse to avoid doing so. When they do debate, the demarcation criteria are often used as an extra argument, not as the sole one. Moreover, since the leading ID advocates are not just making academic arguments, but are campaigning to have their arguments taught in public school science classes, some harsh rhetoric is justified.

To show you I've already paid my own dues, I'll link to my detailed critiques of Dembski's work:
http://www.talkorigins.org/design/faqs/nfl/ (with links to Dembski's vacuous replies)
http://www.talkreason.org/articles/Designer.cfm

My disagreement with Bradley is that he seems to be conflating (a) some nuanced arguments that can be made in support of an ID position with (b) the egregious nonsense put out as science by the leading ID advocates.

TomH said...

Richard,

How do you know that there is such a thing as science? You claim that "you know it when you see it," but how do you know that you know what science is? Perhaps your knowledge is merely opinion.

Intelligent design = engineers did it

Tom

onein6billion said...

"He gives a fictional example of a pulsar that pulses out Morse code."

When this really happens, please feel free to give scientists a call. Until then, ID will continue to be ignored.

"There is no debate because all scientists agree ID is false"

There is "negative" ID and "positive" ID. "Negative" ID claims that "evolution cannot evolve this". It has been refuted in every case.

Scientists agree that any attempt at a "positive" ID is scientifically meaningless and useless. I see "design" in the DNA code is just not worth anything scientifically.

So Monton is a philosopher that thinks scientists should "give ID a chance". But so far, the negative assertions are wrong and the positive assertions are useless.