The Prelator

Weblog of Patrick McKay

Chance Encounters

Posted by darklordofdebate on July 20, 2008

Yesterday I had the most remarkable experience. I decided to go hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park on a beautiful trail to a lake called Loch Vale. However, I left home about an hour later than I had planned because I slept a little later than I had intended and was delayed in leaving by a stomach ache. So when I got to the park around 10:30 I saw a sign that said the parking lot at the trail-head was full and to use the shuttle bus (it is a national park after all). I arrived a moment too late to catch the bus and had to stand in line for the next one.

While waiting in line I suddenly became aware that the two people behind me were talking about evolution and intelligent design. This naturally perked my interest, and I turned to see a girl about my age talking to a man in his late 20s or early 30s. The girl mentioned she went to a Christian college in California (Azuza Pacific University as I found out a little later), while the man was from the University of Colorado at Boulder. The girl was talking about a number of creationism seminars she’d taken and they were having a lively discussion on the subject. What really startled me however, was that the man, who identified himself as an atheist, said he was currently writing a book providing an atheist’s defense of intelligent design!

Just then the bus came and we boarded, and the two sat in the seat in front of me. After a few minutes I overcame my shyness and asked him more about what he had said. He said he was indeed writing a book called “An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design,” in which he refutes what he thinks are bad arguments against intelligent design as a science and presents what he considers ID’s best arguments in favor of it–arguments that its proponents often fail to make themselves. He and the girl then went back to talking, and the bus soon arrived at the trail-head, whereupon the odd pair headed down the trail at once while I had to stop to get my pack ready for my hike.

I thought that was the last I had seen of the two, but it turned out they took the same trail as I did and I caught up with them a couple hours later by the shores of a beautiful alpine lake, where they were eating lunch amidst a group of about 15 other college age kids. My curiosity got the better of me and I sat down to eat my lunch next to them, where I found out that they were actually a group of students attending a summer philosophy seminar at CU. The atheist, who I quickly discerned to be the leader of the group, turned out to be a CU philosophy professor.

When I got home from my hike, I checked out the man’s website which he had given me on the bus: godlessphysics.com. His name is Bradley Monton, and that address actually forwards to his personal page at CU, where he has an article describing the book he is writing as well as a link to an intriguing article he wrote a couple years ago refuting the judge’s arguments in the Dover School Board case, in which he argues that intelligent design is indeed scientific (even if he thinks it is ultimately false) and that it is intellectually dishonest and ultimately harmful to science to dogmatically reject it on the grounds that science can only consider naturalistic causes.

What a most unusual atheist! In this he acknowledges what I’ve always thought was the greatest problem with the Evolution/Intelligent Design debate–the fact that the deck is unfairly stacked against Intelligent Design from the beginning since evolutionists have successfully defined science in terms that automatically reject it by definition. In other words, as long as science presupposes what Monton calls methodological naturalism, there can be no room for debate since the terms of the debate are defined in such a way as to exclude the very possibility of considering the actual merits of ID’s arguments. Monton argues this is ultimately harmful to science since it locks it into a predetermined set of conclusions–where a supernatural explanation must be rejected at all costs even if it is literally starring you in the face (Monton gives the hypothetical example of a pulsar sending a message from God in Morse code).

While it seems Monton ultimately rejects Intelligent Design’s arguments (indeed I would think he would have to in order to be a logically consistent atheist), he thinks that the battle over intelligent design is being fought in the entirely wrong place–over definitions rather than substance. Rather than argue about whether ID is or is not science, he says the scientific community should take Intelligent Design for what it claims to be–a scientific theory, and then figure out whether or not its arguments are actually TRUE. In other words, treat it as a scientific claim and either confirm or refute it as such. Ultimately, he says, science should be concerned with truth, and any form of science that insists on dogmatically adhering to methodological naturalism risks marginalizing itself by automatically rejecting a predetermined set of conclusions that could nevertheless turn out to be true–thus requiring science to argue against known truth.

Here then is an atheist I can respect! Unlike many I’ve seen, he actually acknowledges that the other side has legitimate points to make and that they should be respectfully considered. Rather than dogmatically clinging to his own opinions while at the same time accusing Christians and other proponents of ID of closed-minded intolerance, he actually practices the tolerance that many in liberal academia claim to follow but refuse to apply to those they themselves consider to be “intolerant” or “unscientific.” If only more men in academia were like Monton, the debate between Evolution and Intelligent Design might actually be productive. As it is, as long as one side retains the ability to simply define opposing views out of the game entirely, no productive discourse can occur, and science as a whole is the worse off because of it.

P.S. Since Prof. Monton also has blog on WordPress in which he has posted several fascinating articles on this subject, I’ve linked it from my blogroll.

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6 Responses to “Chance Encounters”

  1. bobcu said

    “Here then is an atheist I can respect!”

    Yeah. Because he respects your childish magic. He sounds like a wacko to me, or maybe he just wants to make money from gullible customers.

    Monton argues this is ultimately harmful to science since it locks it into a predetermined set of conclusions–where MAGIC must be rejected at all costs even if it is literally starring you in the face (Monton gives the hypothetical example of a pulsar sending a message from A MAGIC MAN in Morse code).

    Most definitely Monton is a wacko.

  2. island said

    I went to Monton’s site to explain to him where I think that you guys are making your mistake, but his comments are closed, and I can’t readily find an email on him.

    Anyway, the unfounded leap of faith occurs when Monton wrongly assumes that evidence that indicates that there is purpose in nature, requires a designer, because it does not.

    You can have real purpose in nature, in the form of a “final cause” that brings us into existence simply because there is some good physical need for it, for example, and this will be the default scientific position on it, (in lieu of direct evidence for ID), should science ever get its act together to realize that Einstein was right about this too, as usual.

    There is no reason to leap beyond a natural solution that includes purpose in nature to assume that a non-material solution to the problem is indicated.

    Surely the meta-physicist knows that Occam determines this without any need for breaking the continuity of the scientific method.

    Sorry god, “we have no need of that hypothesis”… even if we aren’t here by accident, because that fact alone doesn’t justify the leap.

  3. Dave said

    The real problem, in my opinion, is that even if Intelligent Design was proven beyond all doubt, this design would likely be limited to the abiogenesis of life and not of individual species. To claim that humans were designed as humans is ludicrous in light of the evidence for evolution.

    But, even if it did show that humans were designed as humans, even this would provide no support for the Christian’s ideas of God. Let’s be honest here, most ID proponents are Christians and are promoting Intelligent Design as a watered down version of what they really believe which is some form of Biblical Creationism.

    To allow Christians to make the leap from some unknown designer of the first reproducing cell (or humans) to Jesus did it or whatever, is simply wrong. Yet, this is exactly what they are trying to do. They are trying to keep science teachers from undermining what they are teaching their kids at home already; that God created humans in His image, etc.

    If there is an intelligent designer of life, that is for science to figure out on its own. At some point, science may hit a brick wall and the only answer may indeed be that there was some intelligence involved. However, we are not yet at that point. There is still much to learn and so far, nothing we’ve discovered requires a designer. If this changes, I will welcome it but it certainly doesn’t mean that any religion is right about their God. Just because ID may agree with one attribute of God does not mean that if ID is true, then God exists.

  4. […] Intelligent Design   My blog has now been mentioned at various other blogs (such as here and here and here). I appreciate the supportive words, and I appreciate the constructive criticisms. I […]

  5. Olorin said

    The problem with intelligent design is not supernaturalism per se. The problem. one that its proponents do their best to hide, is that THERE IS NOT A SHRED OF SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT IT. Believe thee me, the first person who comes up with solid evidence that any life form was intelligently designed will be on a fast track for a Nobel prize.

    But, so far, in the words of IDer Michael Behe, at the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial in 2005, “There are no peer reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred.”

  6. I have neither sufficient religious conviction to support ID, nor enough biology education / indoctrination support Darwinism. I am therefore faced with a not uncommon dilemma, that being what I ought to ‘think’ when the experts themselves have opposing -often violently opposing- opinions. (Much the same situation presents itself surrounding issues of global warming, corn ethanol, economic bail-outs etc.)
    What I do in cases like this is to decide which side is making the most noise -what side is the most vehement in demanding that their side is the only right side, and finally, what side gets the most funding for having the particular position, and come down on the other side.
    Clearly “God” is a problematic answer to scientific questions. Clearly one must allow a certain valence to the views of deeply religious people. Clearly there are those who take their religious beliefs pretty dang seriously indeed. But the shrillness -the screaming demands that we all regard evolution, (a damn good theory by any measure), as FACT and if we don’t regard it as fact, or we will end up throwing science and scientific education in the toilet in America. This makes my decision pretty easy. Evolution ain’t quite answered all the questions just yet.
    Finally, it’s interesting that when I ask some questions about evolution based on a pretty good understanding of probability, (and an understanding of biology well beyond high school Bio.), I find that some other people have answered these questions with “GOD” in one way or another. I repeat myself, “God” is a problematic answer to scientific questions. But the fact that you do not like them-guys’s answer to my question, does NOT make my questions go away.

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