Monday, 27 August 2012

Are these atheists and agnostics really covert creationists?

This article was originally published at Uncommon Descent.

We’ve all heard it before. Time and time again the somewhat tiresome and predictable Darwinian propagandists, in a fit of florid indignation, assert that intelligent design will be the death of science and the dawn of theocracy. The claim that ID is nothing more than warmed-over creationism is one that has been thoroughly addressed by ID proponents, yet, the vacuous claim continues to be thrown around.

Over at Evolution News And Views, John West recently highlighted the upcoming release of Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False (Oxford University Press, 2012), a new book by New York University’s atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel. Those immersed in the debate over ID and Darwinism will be familiar with Nagel’s open scepticism towards neo-Darwinian theory and his sympathetic attitude towards ID theory. Though Nagel does not accept ID, he goes as far as to say that it has much merit and that it is science. Good on him! Nagel’s views on this issue can be found in his 2008, Philosophy & Public Affairs article Public Education and Intelligent Design. It will be good to read more about his views as they are further expressed in his new book Mind and Cosmos. West includes a couple of delicious quotes from chapter 1 of Nagel’s book:
In thinking about these questions I have been stimulated by criticisms of the prevailing scientific world picture… by the defenders of intelligent design. Even though writers like Michael Behe and Stephen Meyer are motivated at least in part by their religious beliefs, the empirical arguments they offer against the likelihood that the origin of life and its evolutionary history can be fully explained by physics and chemistry are of great interest in themselves. Another skeptic, David Berlinski, has brought out these problems vividly without reference to the design inference. Even if one is not drawn to the alternative of an explanation by the actions of a designer, the problems that these iconoclasts pose for the orthodox scientific consensus should be taken seriously. They do not deserve the scorn with which they are commonly met. It is manifestly unfair.
I believe the defenders of intelligent design deserve our gratitude for challenging a scientific world view that owes some of the passion displayed by its adherents precisely to the fact that it is thought to liberate us from religion. That world view is ripe for displacement…
With Nagel’s book coming out, and reading of his continued openness towards ID, it caused me to reflect more upon the increasing number of atheists and agnostics who are coming out and critiquing Darwinism and/or supporting ID. This fact has been highlighted before, but it is one that needs to be emphasised more. The fact that there are many non-religious ID advocates is often ignored by critics who find it a personal inconvenience. In 2008, Access Research Network reported that:
Atheists and Agnostics Defend ID. Darwin v. Design public debates took an interesting turn in 2008 as atheists and agnostics took up the torch for ID and Christians went to bat for Darwin. This surprising role reversal was most evident at a November 7 debate in Texas where agnostic Dr. David Berlinski, a well-knowskeptic of Darwinism, and Dr. Bradley Monton, an atheist philosopher of physics both defended intelligent design while theistic evolutionist Dr. Denis Alexander, a biochemist and editor of Science & Christian Belief, and well-known atheist and physicist Dr. Lawrence Krauss defended evolution. Monton explains in a podcast interview why intelligent design deserves a place at the table in the scientific debate, despite extreme pressure to the contrary from his Darwinist peers. Another example of this trend was agnostic philosopher and sociologist Steve Fuller’s defense of ID in his newest book Dissent over Descent and the ensuing public debate about the book in the online pages of the New Humanist. Meanwhile atheist New York University Law professor Thomas Nagel authors an article defending the constitutionality of teaching ID.
Scepticism about Darwinian theory amongst the non-religious is not a new thing. Afterall, it was agnostic biochemist Michael Denton who was primarily responsible for the birth of the ID movement with his book Evolution: a Theory in Crisis (Burnett Books, 1985). Nonetheless, it is interesting to note the increasing number of critics, especially over the past few years. Recently we have had the following non-religious attacks upon Darwinism and support for ID:

-Atheist philosopher Bradley Monton defending ID as a scientific theory in his excellent book Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design (Broadview Press, 2009).

-Agnostic mathematician David Berlinski attacking Darwinism (and constructively critiquing ID), in The Deniable Darwin & other essays (Discovery Institute Press, 2009).

-Atheist philosopher Jerry Fodor and atheist cognitive scientist Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini attacking Darwinism in What Darwin Got Wrong (Profile, 2010).

-Atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel attacking Darwinism and defending ID in his article Public Education and Intelligent Design and in his recent book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False.

-Philosopher and sociologist Steve Fuller, a secular humanist, defending ID in Dissent Over Descent: Intelligent Design’s Challenge to Darwinism (Icon, 2008), and Science vs Religion? Intelligent Design and the Problem of Evolution (Polity, 2007).

-Agnostic physician James Le Fanu challenging Darwinian materialism in Why Us? How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves (Harper, 2009).

Apart from the above publications, there are various Darwin-doubters and ID proponents who are prominent in the blogosphere. These include:

-Atheist philosopher James Barham who openly rejects Darwinism and accepts the reality of teleology in nature.

-Dennis Jones, an agnostic ID proponent who runs his own blog devoted to ID and also runs a vibrant facebook discussion group.

Now, I’m not pointing these publications and academics out in order to prove that ID is not a form of creationism, there are additional reasons for thinking so. Even so, it is very telling. Thomas Woodward writes in Darwin Strikes Back: Defending the Science of Intelligent Design (Baker Books, 2006), ‘…reports of such scientific endorsements and help for ID work weaken the position that ID is “religion, not science.”‘ (p154) Further commentery on the rejection of Darwinism and support for ID on the part of atheists can be found in this fantastic article Atheists Against Darwinism. by philosopher Peter S. Williams.

I want to ask the ID critic this question:

How do you honestly square the claim that intelligent design theory is merely a new strain of creationism with the fact that it has increasing support from people who’s worldviews inherently reject religious belief? Are these atheists and agnostics really covert creationists?

Give me a break!

The Barbera Forrests and Robert Pennocks of this world, who babble inanely about ‘ID theocrats’, are flamboyantly wrong.


  1. Psiloiordinary have you purposely missed the irony?

  2. If the case against ID was that it was *necessarily* a trojan horse for theocracy, creationism, or whatever, then showing some sincere non-religious people who think ID is pretty neat would be pretty good evidence against that (not necessarily decisive, but explanations like 'they're being duped', or 'they're all closet christians' seem pretty implausible).

    But the case made against ID, I presume, is the much more defensible one the ID *as it is practiced* (if not necessarily in principle) is a trojan horse for/warmed up creationism. To make this case you'd want to point to things like the wedge document, the behaviour of the ID movement (e.g., and cheekily, why ID-supportive articles appear on apologetics blogs), it's prior historical antecedents with creationism, etc.

    Importantly, the fact that there are sincere atheists who are sympathetic to ID *does nothing to rebut this argument*: that there are these sincere irreligious people (and, we should add, a very small minority of the relevant philosophers/scientists/whatever) supporting ID for the 'right reasons' like honestly finding it a better alternative to evolutionary theory does not mean the bulk of the ID support is not for the 'wrong reasons': that trying to knock over evolutionary theory will help religious evangelism, identifying evolutionary biology as the bulwark of aspects of society they want to get rid of, etc.

  3. yes, seemd those are covert creacionist.

    It´s interesting most of then are philosophers and not scientist so, they aren´t putting any evidence on their claims, only old ID arguments.

    while Thomas Nagel claims to be an atheist, a reading of his books shows a lost of religious ideas and Bradley Monton actually claims there is evidence for god... yet still claims to be an atheist...

    not credible!


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