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.