Thursday, August 6, 2009

The real question about Intelligent Design

Edward Feser has been doing battle with atheists like Dawkins who have "taken an arrogantly polemical and condescending tone with defenders of religious belief," but acknowledges that there are members of that tribe who don't fit the description. Here, he notes one of those:
....Bradley Monton, who has just published Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design. Monton rejects ID, but regards it as worthy of serious consideration and eschews the usual straw men and ad hominem attacks. I have not yet read the book – I just ordered it – but I look forward to doing so.

.... I have been critical of ID from an Aristotelian-Thomistic perspective. But I have always deplored the thuggish, dishonest treatment ID theorists have received from most of their secularist critics. Monton hopes to move the debate to a more serious and fruitful level.

Monton is an honorable and courageous man. .... [more]
I, too, am skeptical of ID, but am nevertheless encouraged that there are those willing to critically engage it without questioning either the motives or the integrity of its advocates.

Tom Gilson, a supporter of ID, finds the book refreshing:
.... Monton is willing to evaluate ID according to what its proponents actually affirm about it. He devotes most of a chapter to working through what the Discovery Institute genuinely means in its most basic statement of the theory. Unlike many others, he sees no reason to suppose—at least until proven otherwise—that ID proponents are mendacious conspirators. He argues effectively that opponents’ most frequently-stated dismissals of ID (“it’s purely religion,” for example, or “it isn’t science”) fail when subjected to thoughtful analysis. ....

More than once in my blogging I have offered ID antagonists a bit of tongue-in-cheek “strategy advice.” I tell them, “I’m going against my own best interests with this, but if you want to attack intelligent design, you really ought to quit aiming at the wrong targets. You attack it as creationism, but it isn’t that. You attack it as being an anti-science campaign, but it isn’t that, either. You attack it as a theocratic political ploy, and that’s not what it is, either. Here’s my advice: If you want to defeat ID for what it really is, maybe you should to attack it for what it really is: a scientific and philosophical approach to exploring origins.”

Bradley Monton is not attacking intelligent design. He does ID proponents an obvious service by defining from a neutral perspective what ID really is, or at least what really matters about ID in the long run: not the cultural baggage that has been attached to it from various sources, but its genuine scientific and philosophical approach to exploring origins.

If ID’s opponents pay attention to his book, he might do them even more of a service than what he is providing for proponents. He might actually help them to get on the right topic, to aim at the right target. The real question is not whether ID is a pseudo-science, whether it is a cultural subterfuge, or whether it is “The New Stealth Creationism,” as it has been called. Monton shows that none of these are what matters. They may have some passing rhetorical or political interest, but the real question, the one that counts, is this: Is intelligent design true? .... [more]
Monton on ID (What's Wrong with the World), ID's Unlikely Defender


  1. "Comments are moderated. I will gladly approve any comment that responds substantively and civilly to what has been posted."


    I will gladly censor anyone who disagrees with me.

  2. Not true. Comment as indicated and find out.

  3. Forrest and Gross meticulously documented the history of the ID movement as a religious movement in their book "Creationism's Trojan Horse". Even more evidence that ID is nothing but creationism in disguise came out during the Kitzmiller trial.

    Until this evidence is refuted, the most reasonable conclusion to draw is that ID is what the evidence shows it to be: a religious movement disguising itself as science to avoid the holding in the Edwards case.

  4. But that approach doesn't address ID's arguments at all. It is precisely the kind of ad hominem argument that Feser refers to. Valid arguments can be made by people whose motives are suspect.

    Doubt about ID doesn't require attacks on the motives of its proponents.

  5. This isn't an ad hominem argument. If ID were merely another pseudoscience like, say, phrenology, then teaching it in the schools as if it were real science would be a horrible idea, and it would be properly criticized on that basis. It would not, however, violate the Establishment Clause to teach it.

    But because ID is a religious belief, teaching it in the public schools does violate the Establishment Clause, and it is entirely proper to attack it on its anti-Constitutional basis, as well as on its lack of scientific merit.

    As for the efforts of ID advocates such as Dembski and Behe to provide some pseudo-intellectual gloss on ID, both Dembski's "Explanatory Filter" and Behe's "Irreducible Complexity" have both been thoroughly discredited on their lack of technical merit. If there is another purported scientific argument for ID, I have not heard it.

  6. I'm beginning to wonder whether you read the post. It has nothing to do with whether or not ID should be taught in the public schools. As a matter of fact I agree with you about that.

    Monton apparently rejects ID and so does Feser, but, as Feser says, "I have always deplored the thuggish, dishonest treatment ID theorists have received from most of their secularist critics."

    Your last paragraph does address the issue. If it were that obvious, though, Monton wouldn't have a book.

  7. First of all, I disagree with Feser's assertion that ID proponents have the victims of "thuggish, dishonest treatment". Has the treatment of ID by the scientific and legal communities been harsh? Yes, absolutely. Has it been unfairly harsh? No, I don't think so. Pointing out that ID is a religious belief isn't unfair or dishonest because (a) it's true, and (b) the religious nature of ID is an essential consideration in whether it should be taught in the public schools. And because the teaching of ID in the public schools has been a contentious public issue over the past several years, it is eminently fair, even essential, for the religious nature of ID to be raised as an issue.

    It's great that you personally oppose teaching ID in the public schools, but unfortunately your sentiments are not shared by the rest of the ID community. There have been systematic, ongoing efforts to shoehorn ID into the science classes of the public schools. Just ask the school kids in Louisiana. Or Texas. Or Kansas. Or Dover, PA.

    Until these efforts to violate the Establishment Clause end, people of conscience have the right, and perhaps even the civic duty, to object to these efforts to introduce religious beliefs into the public schools. At a minimum, this will entail pointing out that ID is, in fact, a religious belief. I fail to see why this is unfair.

    In fact, these efforts to introduce this religious belief into the public schools seems to be the very focus of the ID movement. Certainly, doing new scientific research on this supposed "scientific theory" does not seem to be important at all to the ID advocates. If it were, one would think that the so-called scientific journal that the ID advocates founded to publish their original research (you know, because they've been "expelled" from the mainstream journals) would have had enough material to publish at least ONE issue since 2005.

    As for the scientific arguments for ID, I'd still like to see one that hasn't been refuted.

  8. I am neither in the ID community nor am I an advocate for it, as you could easily observe by reading other posts on the subject here.

    Once again, you are debating an issue not addressed in this post.

  9. I'll withdraw my implication that you are a member of the ID community, and an ID supporter.

    The efforts to teach ID in the public schools are relevant to your original post, because these efforts are the very reason why ID opponents are making the arguments that you cited in your original post.

    As I see it, the basic point of your original post was to support the position that Monton takes in his book: that opponents of ID should avoid arguing that ID is a religious belief, as this is a "straw m[a]n and ad hominem attack" Instead, opponents of ID should focus solely on the scientific claims being made by ID.

    But what Monton characterizes as "straw men and ad hominem attacks" are, to the contrary, essential to fully responding to the ID movement.

    While you did not raise the issue of teaching ID in the schools in your post, the issue is unavoidable. One cannot assert that it is unfair (a "straw man") to raise the religious nature of ID, and then, when someone points out the reason for arguing the religious nature of ID, claim that this reason is somehow irrelevant to the topic, or a red herring.

    As for ID opponents pointing out the scientific failings of ID, I'd refer you to Ken Miller's expert testimony in the Kitzmiller trial, or the following video of one of his talks:

  10. I don't agree - but continuing the exchange is probably fruitless. We are unlikely to come to a meeting of the minds.

    You are, of course, right about the reason ID became a political issue. Politics [which I taught] is notorious for using every argument and the kitchen sink. Science is, theoretically, at least, more scrupulous.

    Monton is neither a politician or a scientist, or a believer in ID, for that matter. He is a philosopher and apparently chose to address the arguments - and, in the process, treat its advocates with respect. That seems to me to be a good thing.

  11. You are probably right--we are unlikely to come to a meeting of the minds. But would you admit that, at least from the perspective of ID opponents, we are not making an ad hominem argument when we raise the religious nature of ID? Would you agree that, at least from our perspective, the religious nature of ID has serious Constitutional implications, and that we are raising this issue for what are, in our view, good faith reasons?

  12. I agree that concern about Constitutional issues are legitimate with respect to what is taught in the public school classroom. I don't doubt your good faith.

    My experience of thirty-five years classroom teaching in a very liberal school district leads me to doubt that teachers hostile to religion are any more likely than believers to leave their presuppositions at the classroom door or out of their comments to their classes.

    That is another argument.

    It seems to me clearly ad hominem to raise the religious identity - or even motives - of ID advocates in an effort to de-legitimize their arguments. To do that, you need to engage their arguments. The validity of a position doesn't depend on the identity of its proponent.


Comments are moderated. I will gladly approve any comment that responds directly and politely to what has been posted.