Atheists Against Darwinism

Mr. Peter Stephen Williams, MPhil

Peter S. Williams
Assistant Professor in Communication and Worldviews
Gimlekollen School of Journalism and Communication
Kristiansand, Norway


Intelligent design theory claims that 1) empirical evidence warrants
2) a scientific design inference using 3) reliable design detection
criteria. Philosophia Christi published my paper “The
Design Inference from Specified Complexity Defended by Scholars Outside
the Intelligent Design Movement: A Critical Review
” (Philosophia
, Vol 9, Number 2), which defended the third of these claims
by reviewing the work atheists and theistic evolutionists. This paper
defends the second of these claims, likewise by reviewing work by agnostics
and atheists.

“A log is a seeming solid object, but a wedge can eventually
split it by penetrating a crack and gradually widening the split. In
this case the ideology of scientific materialism is the apparently solid
log. The widening crack is the important but seldom-recognized difference
between the facts revealed by scientific investigation and the materialist
philosophy that dominates the scientific culture.” � Phillip E. Johnson

It was one of the “Top Ten Darwin and Design News Stories for 2008”[2]
according to Access Research Network[3],
a leading Intelligent Design (ID) website:

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-know skeptic 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 . . . Another example of this
trend was . . . 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.[4]

These events followed atheist Jerry Fodor’s article “Why Pigs Don’t
Have Wings”[5],
critiquing evolutionary psychology and the adaptationalism it builds
upon; and Steve Fuller’s Science vs Religion? Intelligent
Design and the Problem of Evolution
(Polity, 2007), which defended
the “heuristic value”[6]
of ID. And the trend has continued, with A.N. Wilson (an Oxford educated
writer who returned to Christian faith in 2009 after two decades of
revealing his doubts about evolution in response to a question posed
in the New Statesman about whether one can ‘love God and agree
with Darwin’:

I think you can love God and agree with the author of The Voyage
of the Beagle
, the Earth Worm, and most of the Origin
of Species
. The Descent of Man, with its talk of savages,
its belief that black people are more primitive than white people, and
much nonsense besides, is an offence to the intelligence – and is obviously
incompatible with Christianity. I think the jury is out about whether
the theory of Natural selection, as defined by neo-Darwinians is true,
and whether serious scientific doubts, as expressed in a new book
Why Us by James Le Fanu, deserve to be taken seriously. For
example, does the discovery of the complex structure of DNA and the
growth in knowledge in genetics require a rethink of Darwinian ‘gradualism’.
But these are scientific rather than religious questions.[8]

In Why Us? How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves
(Harper Press, 2009) James Le Fanu[9],
an apparently agnostic physician and writer[10],

The Ascent of Man from knuckle-walking chimp to upright human seems
. . .  almost self-evident, yet it conceals events that are without
precedent in the whole  of biology . . . This discrepancy between
the beguiling simplicities of evolutionary theory and the profundity
of the biological phenomena it seems to  explain is very striking
. . . Here the greatest virtue of Darwin’s proposed  mechanism,
its simplicity, might seem its greatest drawback � that it is far
too  simple
to begin to account for the complexities of life
. . . There is . . . more than  enough evidence already to suspect
that Darwin was less right than is commonly  perceived.[11]

And there’s more to come, as Bradley Monton’s Seeking God in
Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design
is published by
Broadview Press in July 2009.[12]

The above jointly signal a breakthrough for Phillip E. Johnson’s
“wedge” strategy for legitimising scientific consideration of the design
hypothesis. I will analyse this breakthrough in two phases. Phase one
is the endorsement by agnostics and atheists of Johnson’s philosophy
of science
. Phase two (which builds upon and signifies the success
of phase one) concerns the extent to which Michael J. Behe’s argument
in The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism
(Free Press, 2007) is endorsed by Thomas Nagel’s essay. I will argue
that Nagel’s reticence about ID results from philosophical inconsistency.

Phase One: The Wedge Strategy

“My colleges and I want to separate the real science from the
materialist philosophy.” � Phillip E. Johnson

Phillip E. Johnson, the so-called “god-father” of the ID movement[14],

In a lifetime of studying and participating in
controversies, I have learned that the best way to approach a problem
of any kind is usually not to talk or even think very much about the
ultimate answer until I have made sure I am asking all the right questions
in the right order.[15]

This wisdom underlies Johnson’s “wedge strategy” for shaping the
evolution debate:

The most important crack in the modernist log
is the difference between two distinct definitions of science. On the
one hand, modernists say that science is impartial fact-finding, the
objective and unprejudiced weighing of evidence . . . On the other hand,
modernists also identify science with naturalistic philosophy. In that
case science is committed to finding and endorsing naturalistic explanations
for every phenomenon � regardless of the facts. This kind of
science is not free of prejudice. On the contrary, it is defined
by a prejudice. The prejudice is that all phenomena can ultimately be
explained in terms of purely natural causes, which is to say unintelligent

Johnson’s strategy is a success, not because ID has yet succeeded
in replacing Darwinism as the majority scientific paradigm, but
because atheistic and agnostic scholars now openly champion Johnson’s
philosophical paradigm. Monton’s defence of the scientific status
of ID exemplifies this seismic shift:

rejection of the supernatural should not be a part of scientific
methodology . . .  scientists should be free to pursue hypotheses
as they see fit, without being  constrained by a particular philosophical
account of what science is . . . If science  really is permanently
committed to methodological naturalism, it follows that the  aim
of science is not generating true theories. Instead, the aim of science
would be  something like: generating the best theories that can
be formulated subject to the  restriction that the theories are
naturalistic . . . science is better off without being  shackled
by methodological naturalism . . . ID should not be dismissed on the
grounds that it is unscientific�[17]

Fuller gives Johnson credit for this shift:

Johnson hammered home the historically correct
observation that naturalism is, strictly speaking, a metaphysical position
with which many scientists and the scientific establishment have identified,
especially since the ascendancy of Darwinism, but which is not necessary
for an adequate � or perhaps even fruitful � account of the means and
ends of scientific inquiry . . . Johnson, has stressed � in a way that
his fellow lawyer Francis Bacon would have appreciated � the need for
standards for appraising the scientific status of knowledge claims that
are not inherently biased against a newcomer.[18]

In Darwin on Trail (IVP, 1991) Johnson drove a “wedge” between
metaphysical deduction and scientific inference: “I assume” wrote Johnson,
“that the creation-scientists are biased by their pre-commitment to
Biblical fundamentalism�”[19]
There was nothing revolutionary in this analysis. But Johnson applied
a parallel analysis to Darwinism: “The question I want to investigate
is whether Darwinism is based upon a fair assessment of the scientific
evidence, or whether it is another kind of fundamentalism.”[20]
He pointed out that defining science as “reliance upon naturalistic
(a definition entailed by metaphysical naturalism, but accepted as a
methodological restraint upon science by many non-naturalists), turns
Darwinism into a foregone conclusion:

If science is to have any explanation for biological
complexity at all it has to make do with what if left when the unacceptable
has been excluded. Natural selection is the best of the remaining alternatives,
probably the only alternative. In this situation some may decide that
Darwinism simply must be true.[22]

Johnson’s claims were nuanced: “I do not think that many scientists
would be comfortable accepting Darwinism solely as a philosophical principle,
without seeking to find at least some empirical evidence that it is
(Nor are creationists comfortable accepting their model of creation
solely as a theological dogma.[24])
But as Johnson observed: “there is an important difference between going
to the empirical evidence to test a doubtful theory against some plausible
alternative, and going to the evidence to look for confirmation of the
only theory that one is willing to tolerate.”[25]

For Johnson, belief in the doctrine of creation “does not
imply opposition to evolution”[26]
as a model of creation, since “a Creator might well have employed
such a gradual process as a means to creation. ‘Evolution’ contradicts
‘creation’ only when it is explicitly or tacitly defined as fully
naturalistic evolution
Hence Johnson advocates philosophical neutrality concerning evolution:

I am a philosophical theist and a Christian. I
believe that a God exists who could create out of nothing if he wanted
to do so, but who might have chosen to work through a natural evolutionary
process instead. I am not a defender of creation-science, and am in
fact not concerned . . . with addressing any conflicts between the Biblical
accounts and the scientific evidence.[28]

As Johnson said in the second edition of Darwin on Trail:

I am not. . . taking sides in a Bible-science
conflict. I am interested in what unbiased scientific investigation
has to tell us about the history of life . . . This project does not
imply opposition to “evolution” in all the senses of that highly manipulable
term . . . Darwinists tell us that . . . natural mechanisms like mutation
and selection were adequate to perform the job of creation. I want to
know whether that claim is true, not just whether it is the best naturalistic
speculation available. . .[29]

According to Johnson:

scientific evidence, when evaluated without an overwhelming bias
toward  materialism, does not support the Darwinian creation story
. . . the evidence  actually supports the supposedly discredited
view that an intelligent  designer outside of nature had to be
involved in biological creation.[30]

However, these are secondary and tertiary issues for Johnson, whereas
getting our philosophy of science right is primary in developing
a fruitful debate on origins

Johnson navigated a trail similar to that blazed by Alvin Plantinga’s
articles “When Faith and Reason Clash: Evolution and the Bible”[31]
and “Evolution, Neutrality, and Antecedent Probability: a Reply to Van
Till and McMullen”[32],
in which he argued:

a Christian . . . believes that God has created
and sustains the world. Starting from this position . . . we recognize
that there are many ways in which God could have created the living
things he has in fact created; how, in fact, did he do it? . . . Did
it all happen just by way of the working of the laws of physics, or
was there further divine activity (activity not restricted to the upholding
of matter in existence and concurring in the causal transactions expressing
its nature)? That’s the question, and the way to try to answer it .
. . is to ask two others: first what is the antecedent probability of
his doing it the one way rather than the other? And second what does
the evidence at our disposal suggest? . . . Starting from the belief
in God, we [i.e. Christians] must look at the evidence and consider
the probabilities as best we can.

Johnson advanced the debate by arguing that it isn’t just those with
a belief in God who should privilege scientific evidence over philosophical
prejudice when trying to explain biological complexity: Anyone willing
to acknowledge a distinction between science and materialism should
do the same

Validating the Wedge

It’s easy to find scientists whose thinking validates Johnson’s warning
about the “prejudice that all phenomena can ultimately be explained
in terms [of] unintelligent causes” leading to “endorsing naturalistic
explanations for phenomenon – regardless of the facts.”

  Geneticist Richard Lewontin admits:

It is not that the methods . . . of science somehow
compel us to accept a material explanation of the . . . world, but,
on the contrary, that we are forced by our . . . adherence to material
causes to create . . . a set of concepts that produce material explanations,
no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying. . .[34]

“Moreover”, says Lewontin, “that materialism is absolute, for
we cannot allow a Divine foot in the door
. . .”[35]
Fodor affirms: “Getting minds in general, and God’s mind in particular,
out of biological explanations is a main goal of the adaptationist programme.
I am, myself, all in favour of that�”[36]

Nagel observes:

The theory [of evolution] does not claim to explain the origin of
life, which  remains a complete scientific mystery at this point.
Opponents of ID, however, normally assume that that too must have a
purely chemical explanation.[37]

Assume is the right word. Biologist Franklin Harold asserts:
“Life arose here on earth from inanimate matter, by some kind of evolutionary
But he admits: “This is not a statement of demonstrable fact, but an
Indeed, it’s an assumption maintained in the teeth of contrary evidence.[40]
Paul Davies calculates the odds against producing just the proteins
necessary for a minimally complex life-form are “something like 1040,000
to one.”[41]
In the 50th Anniversary edition of New Scientist,
Davies confirmed: “One of the great outstanding mysteries is the origin
of life,” and admitted that “nobody has a clue”[42]
how it happened. Gregg Easterbrook asks:

What creates life out of the inanimate compounds
that make up living things? No one knows. How were the first organisms
assembled? Nature hasn’t given us the slightest hint. If anything, the
mystery has deepened over time . . . if life began unaided under primordial
conditions in a natural system containing zero knowledge, then it should
be possible – it should be easy – to create life in a laboratory
today. But . . . no one has come close . . . Did God or some other higher
being create life? . . .Until such time as a wholly natural origin of
life is found, these questions have power.[43]

Atheist Fred Hoyle (writing with mathematician
Chandra Wickramasinghe) concluded that design is the only reasonable

the enormous information content of even the simplest
living systems . . . cannot in our view be generated by what are often
called “natural” processes . . . There is no way in which we can expect
to avoid the need for information, no way in which we can simply get
by with a bigger and better organic soup, as we ourselves hoped might
be possible . . . The correct position we think is . . . an intelligence,
which designed the biochemicals and gave rise to the origin of carbonaceous
life . . . This is tantamount to arguing that carbonaceous life was
invented by noncarbonaceous intelligence. . .[44]

Hoyle and Wickramasinghe didn’t identify their
“non-carbonaceous intelligence”, but noted:

the scientific facts throw Darwin out, but leave
William Paley, a figure of fun to the scientific world for more than
a century, still in the tournament with a chance of being the ultimate
winner . . . Indeed, such a theory is so obvious that one wonders why
it is not widely accepted as being self-evident. The reasons are psychological
rather than scientific.[45]

As Michael Ruse warns: “A great deal of the underpinning of discussions
on the origin of life have been more philosophical than anything based
in brute experience.”[46]
In other words, Johnson was right.

Ruse on “Nonliteralist Antievolution”

As we’ve seen, it’s easy to find Darwinists whose thinking comports
with Johnson’s analysis of the theory’s philosophical foundations. However,
in a speech delivered to the American Association for the Advancement
of Science in 1993, Michael Ruse explicitly agreed with Johnson:

Johnson [is] arguing [that] the kind of position
of a person like myself, an evolutionist, is metaphysically based at
some level, just as much as the kind of position of . . . some creationist
. . . I must confess . . . I’ve been coming to this kind of position
myself� I was inclined to say . . . creationism is not science and evolution
is, and that’s the end of it . . . Now . . . I’m inclined to think .
. . we should recognize� that the science side has certain metaphysical
assumptions built into doing science� Certainly, I think that philosophers
like myself have been much more sensitized to these things� by trends�
in the philosophy of science . . . So . . . however we’re going to deal
with creationism, or new creationism [i.e. Intelligent Design Theory]
. . . we should also look at evolution and science, in particular, biology,
generally philosophically I think a lot more critically . . . And
it seems to me very clear that at some very basic level, evolution as
a scientific theory makes a commitment to a kind of naturalism, namely,
that at some level one is going to exclude miracles and these sorts
of things, come what may
. . . I think . . . that evolutionary theory
. . . certainly seems to be the most reasonable position, once one
has taken a naturalistic position
. So I’m not coming here and saying,
give up evolution, or anything like that. But I am coming here and saying,
I think that philosophically that one should be sensitive to what I
think history shows, namely, that . . . evolution, akin to religion,
involves making certain a priori or metaphysical assumptions,
which at some level cannot be proven empirically . . . And I think that
the way to deal with creationism, but the way to deal with evolution
also, is not to deny these facts, but to recognize them, and to see
where we can go, as we move on from there.[47]

Ruse still assumed that science should be defined so it “excludes
miracles and these sorts of things.” But while the scientific status
of ID is an important question, it isn’t an essential question. As Nagel
comments: “a purely semantic classification of a hypothesis or its denial
as belonging or not to science is of limited interest to someone who
wants to know whether the hypothesis is true or false.”[48]
The significant thing about Ruse’s lecture was that he explicitly
conceded Johnson’s point
about “metaphysical assumptions” which
“cannot be proven empirically” playing a significant role in one’s assessment
evolutionary theory. Nevertheless, once this admission is made,
it’s hard not to reject “methodological naturalism”, for as Monton argues:
“a consequence of [methodological naturalism] is that the aim of science
is not truth.”[49]
He points out that Judge Jones (who presided over the Dover trial[50]):

seems aware of the fact that his demarcation criteria entail that
the aim of science is not truth. He writes that “while ID arguments
may be true, a proposition on  which the Court takes no position,
ID is not science” . . . But if science is not a  pursuit of truth,
science has the potential to be marginalized as an irrelevant social

Ruse implicitly concedes that methodological naturalism (MN) carries
this liability:

Your invoking God. And that’s just not acceptable
in science . . . I’m not denying the possibility of non-natural causes.
My question, rather, is whether in doing science it is necessary to
invoke non-natural causes? Or, if we agree by definition that science
cannot invoke non-natural causes, whether it is necessary, therefore,
to accept that there are questions about the world that science cannot
answer because they demand non-natural answers?[52]

Ruses’ intransigence notwithstanding: “The inadequacy of methodological
naturalism [is now] widely acknowledged by philosophers of science,
even among those who are atheists. . .”[53]
As Jeffrey Koperski affirms:

If the best explanation for some new phenomenon
is design, even supernatural design, it would still count as a scientific
explanation. It borders on academic incompetence to pretend that science
has strict boundaries and then gerrymander those boundaries to keep
out the riffraff. Philosophers of science in particular should know

Monton argues that there is no consensus among philosophers or scientists
in favor of MN:

The way to refute intelligent design is not by
declaring it unscientific, but by showing that the empirical evidence
for design is not there. . . it is a mistake to try to argue against
ID by declaring it unscientific. . . If our goal is to believe truth
and avoid falsehood, and if we are rational people who take into account
evidence in deciding what to believe, then we need to focus on the question
of what evidence there is for and against ID.[55]

Fuller thinks there’s a consensus against MN among philosophers
of science:

neo-Darwinists are inclined to slide from observing (correctly) that
[ID]  challenges the metaphysical naturalism of contemporary biology
to inferring  (incorrectly) that [ID] challenges the established
methods of scientific  inquiry. . . However, [ID] does not challenge
science, only the artificially  restricted conceptual horizons
within which science is practiced under the neo-  Darwinist regime
. . . [ID’s] attempt to embrace a philosophy of science that  extends
beyond naturalism does not reflect the eccentricity of a reactionary
scientific movement. On the contrary, it probably represents the mainstream
opinion of philosophers themselves.[56]

He condemns MN as:

a neologism designed to capture two things at
once that the history of the scientific method has tended to keep separate
. . . the contexts of discovery and justification. This separation explains
the studied neutrality that philosophers of the scientific method have
tended to adopt toward “metaphysics,” including both naturalism
and supernaturalism. . . Not surprisingly, the scientific community’s
recent legitimatory appeals to methodological naturalism have appeared
to sit uncomfortably even with philosophers who oppose [ID]�[57]

Richard Dawkins likewise rejects MN and defends the scientific status
of ID:

God’s existence or non-existence is a scientific
fact about the universe, discoverable in principle if not in practice
. . . The presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is unequivocally
a scientific question, even if it is not in practice � or not yet �
a decided one.[58]

Ruse and Johnson agree that evolution is “the most reasonable position,
once one has taken a naturalistic position.”[59]
But what if one does not take a naturalistic position (methodological
or metaphysical)? Approaching the question of origins without a “commitment
to a kind of naturalism” doesn’t entail rejecting evolution as the best
available scientific account of biology. It does mean following the
scientific evidence

Nagel on the Scientific Status of ID

Nagel believes “that the response of evolutionists to creation science
and intelligent design should not be to rule them out as ‘not science.'”[60]
He argues that Darwinism and ID are methodologically equivalent: “Either
both of them are science or neither of them is.”[61]:

The denier that ID is science faces the following dilemma. Either
he admits that  the intervention of such a designer is possible,
or he does not. If he does not, he  must explain why that belief
is more scientific than the belief that a designer is  possible.
If on the other hand he believes that a designer is possible, then he
can  argue that the evidence is overwhelmingly against the actions
of such a designer,  but he cannot say that someone who offers
evidence on the other side is doing  something of a fundamentally
different kind . . . It is difficult to avoid the  conclusion that
the two sides are in symmetrical positions. If one scientist is a
theist and another an atheist, this is either a scientific or a nonscientific
disagreement between them. If it is scientific . . . then their disagreement
is  scientific all the way down. If it is not a scientific disagreement,
and if this  difference in their nonscientific beliefs about the
antecedent possibilities affects  their rational interpretation
of the same empirical evidence, I do not see how we  can say that
one is engaged in science and the other is not. Either both conclusions
are rendered nonscientific by the influence of their nonscientific assumptions,
or  both are scientific in spite of  those assumptions. In
the latter case, they have a  scientific disagreement that cannot
be settled by scientific reasoning alone. . .[62]

Nagel complains that the “ID isn’t science” objection amounts to
an unfair and implausible rigging of the ground-rules of science:

The contention seems to be that, although science can demonstrate
the falsehood  of the design hypothesis, no evidence against that
demonstration can be regarded  as scientific support for the hypothesis.
Only the falsehood, and not the truth, of  ID can count as a scientific
claim. Something about the nature of the conclusion,  that it involves
the purposes of a supernatural being, rules it out as science.[63]

As I will argue, the claim that ID “involves the purposes of a supernatural
being” is misleading. This aside, Nagel’s point about double standards
is a good one:

From the beginning it has been commonplace to present the theory
of evolution  by random mutation and natural selection as an alternative
to intentional design as  an explanation of the functional organization
of living organisms. The evidence  for the theory is supposed to
be evidence for the absence of purpose in the  causation of the
development of life-forms on this planet. It is not just the theory
that life evolved over billions of years, and that all species are descended
from a  common ancestor. Its defining element is the claim that
all this happened as the  result of the appearance of random and
purposeless mutations in the genetic  material followed by natural
selection due to the resulting heritable variations in  reproductive
fitness. It displaces design by proposing an alternative. No one
suggests that the theory is not science, even though the historical
process it  describes cannot be directly observed, but must be
inferred from currently available data. It is therefore puzzling that
the denial of this inference, i.e., the claim that the evidence offered
for the theory does not support the kind of  explanation it proposes,
and that the purposive alternative has not been displaced, should be
dismissed as not science.[64]

Nagel argues that the supposed problem with the design hypothesis:

cannot be just that the idea of a designer is too vague, and that
nothing is being  said about how he works. When Darwin proposed
the theory of natural selection,  neither he nor anyone else had
any idea of how heredity worked, or what could  cause a mutation
that was observable in the phenotype and was heritable. The  proposal
was simply that something purposeless was going on that had these
effects, permitting natural selection to operate. This is no less vague
than the  hypothesis that the mutations available for selection
are influenced by the actions  of a designer. So it must be the
element of purpose that is the real offender.[65]

However, if the “purpose” in question can be “vague” without this
vagueness being problematical, then it must be un-problematical if this
vagueness extends to a refusal to specify the “purpose” in question
as divine (as Nagel assumes). It’s upon the issue of “purpose”
or “design” per se that we should focus, for as Nagel observes:

We do not have much scientific understanding of the creative process
even when the creator is human; perhaps such creativity too is beyond
the reach of science.  Leaving that aside: the idea of a divine
creator or designer is clearly the idea of a  being whose acts
and decisions are not explainable by natural law. There is no
divine scientific psychology.[66]

Let’s not “leave that aside”. Nagel raises an issue that re-enforces
the probity of focusing upon “design” as an explanation, rather than
upon the secondary question of divine design. Fuller comments
upon the “heuristic value” of design detection criteria and design explanations,
like those used by ID, which are “accepted in settings less fraught
with theological controversy”; noting that: “The most extreme version
of this application appears in NASA’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence,
or SETI, project�”[67]
The observation that personal agency and internal states of agents (human
and non-human) are routinely cited as scientific explanations holds
true despite the fact that, as Nagel notes, the creativity routinely
referenced therein might itself turn out to be beyond the reach of a
naturalistically defined science.[68]
That is, no one thinks that if some form of mind-body dualism is true,
then forensic science isn’t a science after all because it explains
with reference to something that doesn’t fit within a naturalistic worldview!
One needn’t have a settled view upon the mind-body problem to justifiably
count forensic science as a science. Likewise, one needn’t assume that
design explanations per se are necessarily naturalistic in order
to within one’s rights in counting such explanations as scientific:

The fact that there could be no scientific theory of the internal
operation of the  divine mind is consistent with its being in large
part a scientific question  whether divine intervention provides
a more likely explanation of the  empirical data than an explanation
in terms of physical law alone. To ask  whether there are limits
to what can credibly be explained by a given type of  scientific
theory, or any theory relying only on universal physical laws, is
itself a  scientific question. An answer to the question that asserts
such limits on the basis  of empirical evidence is still a scientific
claim, even if it also proposes an  alternative cause whose internal
operation is not governed by the kind of natural  law that science
can investigate. I suspect that the assumption that science can
never provide evidence for the occurrence of something that cannot be
scientifically explained is the principal reason for the belief that
ID cannot be  science; but so far as I can see, that assumption
is without merit.[69]

Going Soft on Methodological Naturalism

One can distinguish between hard and soft methodological
Hard methodological naturalism (HMN) excludes intelligent causation
from science – exiling many fields of study currently considered scientific
(e.g. forensic science, SETI) and ceding epistemological competency
to philosophy. Soft methodological naturalism (SMN) excludes explicitly
supernatural causation
from science, but permits explanations framed
in terms of intelligence. Those who (like Fodor) believe that
explanations framed in terms of intelligence are ultimately reducible
to naturalistic metaphysics, those who (like Nagel) take an anti-reductionistic
position, and those who are agnostic on this question, can all accept
SMN. This is a pragmatic reason for practicing at least some
science within SMN: Accepting SMN allows science to function as a “big
tent” for people of all worldviews. Rather than theists doing “theistic
science” a la Plantinga, and atheists doing “naturalistic science”
(HMN definition) a la Ruse, we can all co-operate in science
(SMN definition).

SMN doesn’t entail adopting or rejecting ID. SMN permits ID to count
as science just as effectively as the outright rejection of “methodological
naturalism” advocated by Monton, Nagel, Fuller et al. SMN
the epistemological competency of science (like HMN), but
without subverting it (unlike HMN). Whether an intelligent cause
is supernatural or not, it is still an intelligent cause, and
true to note it as such within scientific theory making.

ID isn’t Theistic Science

According to Nagel:

the campaign of the scientific establishment to rule out intelligent
design as  beyond discussion because it is not science results
in the avoidance of significant  questions about the relation between
evolutionary theory and religious belief,  questions that must
be faced in order to understand the theory and evaluate the  scientific
evidence for it.[71]

Nagel reckons: “evolutionary theory as a complete explanation of
the development of life is more plausible to someone who does not believe
in God than to someone who does.”[72]
In more general terms he explains: “the empirical evidence may suggest
different conclusions depending on what religious belief one starts
with. . . the evidence does not by itself settle which of those beliefs
is correct. . .”[73]

Nevertheless, Nagel acknowledge that “ID is very different from creation
and that “there is a distinction between the arguments for intelligent
design in biology and the traditional argument from design for the existence
of God.”[75]
Indeed, ID simply claims that:

intelligent agency, as an aspect of scientific
theory making, has more explanatory power in accounting for the specified,
and sometimes irreducible complexity of some physical systems, including
biological entities, and/or the existence of the universe as a whole,
than the blind forces of . . . matter.[76]

As such, ID is compatible with “all those teleological views that
allow for the empirical detection of real design.”[77]
Such views include, but aren’t limited to, theism. As Behe comments:

my argument is limited to design itself; I strongly
emphasize that it is not an argument for the existence of a benevolent
God . . . I myself do believe in a benevolent God, and I recognize that
philosophy and theology may be able to extend the argument. But a scientific
argument for design in biology does not reach that far. . .[78]

Nagel uncharitably ignores Monton’s recommendation “that. . . we
simply take proponents of ID at their word that the doctrine they are
endorsing. . . is not inherently theistic.”[79]
In discussing “the relation between evolutionary theory and the despised
Nagel asserts:

For legal reasons that alternative is called intelligent
design, with no implication that the designer is God, but I shall assume
that we are talking about some form of divine purpose or divine intervention.
Nevertheless, there is a distinction between the arguments for intelligent
design in biology and the traditional argument from design for the existence
of God. ID . . . is best interpreted not as an argument for the existence
of God, but as a claim about what it is reasonable to believe about
biological evolution if one independently holds a belief in God that
is consistent both with the empirical facts about nature that have been
established by observation, and with the acceptance  of general
standards of scientific evidence. For legal reasons it is not presented
that way by its defenders. . .[81]

Nagel interprets ID as an exercise in what Plantinga calls “theistic
(albeit one that has tendentiously branded itself for legal reasons[83]).
However, as Stephen C. Meyer explains, this is incorrect:

According to a spate of recent media reports .
. . intelligent design is just biblical creationism repackaged by religious
fundamentalists in order to circumvent a 1987 United States Supreme
Court prohibition against teaching creationism in the U.S. public schools
. . . newspapers, magazines and broadcast outlets in the United States
and around the world have repeated this trope. But is it accurate? As
one of the architects of the theory of intelligent design . . . I know
that it isn’t. The modern theory of intelligent design was . . . first
proposed in the late 1970s and early 1980s by a group of scientists,
Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley and Roger Olson, who were trying to
account for an enduring mystery of modern biology: the origin of the
digital information en-coded along the spine of the DNA molecule. Thaxton
and his colleagues came to the conclusion that the information-bearing
properties of DNA provided strong evidence of a prior but unspecified
designing intelligence. They wrote a book proposing this idea in 1984
. . . Contemporary scientific interest in the design hypothesis not
only predates the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against creationism, but
the . . . theory of intelligent design, unlike creationism . . . is
an inference from empirical evidence, not a deduction from religious

There is an in-principle reason why ID cannot be conflated with natural
Behe explains:

a raft of important distinctions intervene between
a conclusion of design and identification of a designer . . . if one
wishes to be academically rigorous, one can’t leap directly from design
to a transcendent God. To reach a transcendent God, other, nonscientific
arguments have to be made. . .[86]

Monton (following Dembski[87])
argues that there can be situations in which “it is possible to get
scientific evidence for the existence of God.”[88]
However, unlike Monton’s hypothetical example, the data-set ID draws
upon doesn’t include propositional communication, and thus cannot constitute
direct evidence for the existence of God. There is a distinction between
detecting design and revelation.[89]

Atheist Sam Harris acknowledges that there is a logical gap between
the conclusion of intelligent design and the conclusion that the designer
is God: “Even if we accepted that our universe simply had to be designed
by a designer, this would not suggest that this designer is the biblical
God. . .”[90]
This gap can be illustrated by thinking about crop-circles. Crop-circles
are obviously designed. Some believe the source of crop-circle design
is extra-terrestrial. Yet, no matter how skeptical we are about aliens,
it would be irrational to argue that “Since aliens don’t exist, crop-circles
aren’t the product of design”! Likewise, however skeptical we are about
the existence of God, it would be irrational to argue that since God
doesn’t exist, nothing in nature is the product of design. As Monton

The intelligent cause could be God, but it need
not be. It may be that living things on Earth were created by a highly
intelligent alien civilization . . . It may be that the whole universe
we experience is really just a computer simulation being run by highly
intelligent non-supernatural beings, as Nick Bostrom (2003) argues is
plausible. It takes just a bit of creativity to come up with other possibilities.
. .[91]

God is a sufficient but not necessary cause of design in nature.
Arguments for design needn’t be viewed as arguments for God – at least,
not without considerations from outside ID being brought to bear: “intelligent
design theory by itself makes no claims about the nature of the designer,
and scientists currently working within an intelligent design framework
include Protestants, Catholics, Jews, agnostics, and others.”[92]
Dembski reports: “I’ve seen intelligent design embraced by Jews, Muslims,
Hindus, Buddhists, agnostics and even atheists.”[93]
The inference to design is prior to inferences to any particular designer,
and stands or falls on its own merits. Recognizing distinctions between
intelligent, supernatural and divine design is
not a rhetorical move on the part of ID theorists. As Behe observes:
“diligence in making proper distinctions should not be impugned as craftiness.”[94]
Monton acknowledges: “ID is not inherently supernatural, and hence ID
can count as science even if the restriction to naturalism is part of
the scientific methodology.”[95]

Discarding Nagel’s conspiracy theory, we can agree that:

ID. . . requires only that design be admitted as a possibility .
. . it would be  difficult to argue that the admission of that
possibility is inconsistent with the  standards of scientific rationality.
Further, if it is admitted as a possibility, it  would be difficult
to argue that the presently available empirical evidence rules it
out decisively. . . The conceivability of the design alternative is
part of the  background for understanding evolutionary theory.
To make the assumption of its  falsehood a condition of scientific
rationality seems almost incoherent.[96]

Still, given Nagel’s explicitly theistic interpretation of
ID, it’s noteworthy that he not only defends its scientific status (if
ID is science even if it includes reference to God, it can hardly fail
to be science when it doesn’t do so), but thinks it correctly captures
the epistemic relationship between the hypotheses of theism and evolution.

Phase Two: A Naturalist on The Edge of Evolution

“I recognize that there is a significant debate amongst evolutionists
as to how far natural selection goes.” � Michael Ruse

One of the most significant ID publications of recent years is
The Edge of Evolution
: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism,
(Free Press, 2007) by Michael J. Behe. In “Public Education and Intelligent
Design”, Thomas Nagel proclaims a significant degree of agreement with
Behe’s argument, whilst professing agnosticism concerning Behe’s conclusion
of design.

Nagel states: “My own situation is that of an atheist who, in spite
of being an avid consumer of popular science, has for a long time been
skeptical of the claims of traditional evolutionary theory to be the
whole story about the history of life.”[98]
In Nagel’s view:

Sophisticated members of the contemporary culture have been so thoroughly
indoctrinated that they easily lose sight of the fact that evolutionary
reductionism  defies common sense. A theory that defies common
sense can be true, but doubts about its truth should be suppressed only
in the face of exceptionally strong  evidence.[99]

Thus Nagel apparently agrees with Behe that the burden of proof is
on those who doubt design:

a person who conjectured that the statues on Easter
Island . . . were actually the result of unintelligent forces would
bear the substantial burden of proof the claim demanded. In those examples,
the positive evidence for design would be there for all to see in the
purposeful arrangements of parts to produce the images. Any putative
evidence for the claim that the images were actually the result of unintelligent
processes . . . would have to clearly show that the postulated unintelligent
process could indeed do the job. In the absence of such a clear demonstration,
any person would be rationally justified to prefer the design explanation.[100]

It’s worth noting Fuller’s comment that: “As long as evolutionists
cannot bridge the model gap between the possible and the actual in their
core domain . . . the conceptual space remains for alternative
explanatory scenarios for the emergence of the cell and other prima
intelligently designed features of nature.”[101]
If it ‘looks like a duck, walks like a duck, swims like a duck and sounds
like a duck’ then it should be assumed to be a duck, in the absence
of sufficient evidence to the contrary.[102]
Franklin Harold admits: “there are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts
of the evolution of any biochemical or cellular system, only a variety
of wishful speculations.”[103]
It should take more than “wishful speculations” to trump the prima
evidence for design.[104]

Behe distinguishes between common descent and adaptationism, accepting
the former but rejecting the latter as the explanation for (most of)
the former[105]:

Random mutation, natural selection, common descent
� three separate ideas welded into one theory . . . In brief, the evidence
for common descent seems compelling . . . Second, there’s also great
evidence that random mutation paired with natural selection can modify
life in important ways. Third, however, there is strong evidence that
random mutation is extremely limited.[106]

Fuller distinguishes between:

observable, often
experimentally induced, “microevolution” in the laboratory, and more
speculative inferences concerning “macroevolution” in the distant past
based on the fossil record. The neo-Darwinian synthesis consists largely
of an extended promissory note to the effect that these two senses of
“evolution” are ultimately the same.[107]

Arguing for macroevolution from the fossil record doesn’t show that
common descent is explicable in terms of an extrapolated micro-evolutionary
process. Indeed, most of The Edge of Evolution is devoted to
showing that, far from making good on Fuller’s “promissory note”, a
straight-forward extrapolation from the evidence of microevolution shows
that the macro-evolutionary explanation is all but empty (the merits
of design as an alternative explanation is an separate issue). Behe
urges: “Properly evaluating Darwin’s theory absolutely requires evaluating
random mutation and natural selection at the molecular level.”[108]
Nagel agrees:

Are the sources of genetic variation uniformly
random or not? That is the central issue, and the point of entry for
defenders of ID. In his recent book, The Edge of Evolution, Michael
Behe examines a body of currently available evidence about the normal
frequency and biochemical character of random mutations in the genetic
material of several organisms: the malaria parasite, the human immunodeficiency
virus (HIV), the bacterium E. coli, and humans. He argues that those
widely cited examples of evolutionary adaptation, including the development
of immunity to antibiotics, when properly understood, cannot be extrapolated
to explain the formation of complex new biological systems. These, he
claims, would require . . . mutations whose random probability, either
as simultaneous multiple mutations or as sequences of separately adaptive
individual mutations, is vanishingly small. He concludes that alterations
to DNA over the course of the history of life on earth must have included
many changes that we have no statistical right to expect, ones that
were beneficial beyond the wildest reach of probability . . . he believes
that random mutation is not sufficient to explain the range of variation
on which natural selection must have acted to yield the history of life
. . . This seems on the face of it to be a scientific claim, about what
the evidence suggests, and one that is not self-evidently absurd. I
cannot evaluate it; I merely want to stress its importance for the current

Nagel carefully distinguishes skepticism about adaptationalism from
advocating design: “Skepticism about the standard evolutionary model
is not limited to defenders of ID.”[110]
Nagel re-iterates the significance of Behe’s argument:

even if one merely regards the randomness of the
sources of variation as an open question, it seems to call for the consideration
of alternatives . . . A great deal depends on the likelihood that the
complex chemical systems we observe arose through a sufficiently long
sequence of random mutations in DNA, each of which enhanced fitness.
It is difficult to find in the accessible literature the grounds for
evolutionary biologists” confidence about this.[111]

He references:

Confidence expressed by Jerry Coyne . . . in his review of The
Edge of  Evolution
: “Behe furnishes no proof, no convincing
argument, that [protein-  protein] interactions cannot evolve gradually.
In fact, interactions between  proteins, like any complex interaction,
were certainly built up step by mutational  step, with each change
producing an interaction scrutinized by selection and  retained
if it enhanced an organism’s fitness” (The New Republic, June
18, 2007,  p. 42).[112]

Behe does not argue that protein-protein interactions “cannot
evolve gradually”, but that “complexes with more than two different
binding sites � ones that require three or more different kinds of proteins
� are beyond the edge of evolution.”[113]
And Behe does furnish “proof”:

Where is it reasonable to draw the edge of evolution?
. . . On the one side are our very best examples � from humanity’s trench
war with parasites � of what random mutation and natural selection are
known to do. We know that single changes to single genes can sometimes
elicit a significant beneficial effect. The classic example� is that
of sickle cell hemoglobin, where a change to one amino acid confers
resistance to malaria . . . More rarely, several mutations can sequentially
add to each other to improve an organisms’ chances of survival. An example
is the breaking of the regulatory controls of fetal hemoglobin to help
alleviate sickle cell disease. Very, very rarely, several amino acid
mutations appear simultaneously to confer a beneficial effect, such
as in chloroquine resistance� in malaria� a “CCC,” a “chloroquine-complexity
cluster,” . . . A CCC requires, on average, 1020, a hundred
billion billion, organisms � more than the number of mammals that has
ever existed on earth. So if other things were equal, the likelihood
of getting two new binding sites would be . . . the square of a CCC,
or one in ten to the fortieth power. Since that’s more cells than likely
to have ever existed on earth, such an event would not be expected to
have happened by Darwinian processes in the history of the world. Admittedly,
statistics are all about averages, so some freak event like this
happen . . . But it is not biologically reasonable to expect
it, or less likely events that occurred in the common descent of life
on earth . . . complexes of just three or more different proteins are
beyond the edge of evolution.[114]

Nagel cautions Darwinists:

It is not enough to say . . . that the incapacity
of evolutionary mechanisms to account for the entire evolution of life
has not been conclusively established. That is not required for an alternative
to be considered seriously, provided the alternative is not ruled out
in advance on other grounds. Those who offer empirical evidence for
ID do not have to argue that a completely non-purposive explanation
is impossible, only that it is very unlikely, given the evidence available.
That is a scientific claim, though a contestable one.[115]

This is precisely what Behe argues. Indeed, peer-reviewed scientific
debate about Behe’s empirical argument is ongoing.[116]
Whilst withholding agreement from Behe, Nagel affirms that no empirical
refutation of ID:

has ever been offered, let alone established.
What have been offered instead are necessarily speculative proposals
about how the problems posed by Behe might be handled by evolutionary
theory, declarations that no hypothesis involving divine intervention
counts as science, and assurances that evolutionary theory is not inconsistent
with the existence of God.[117]

Against Reticence: Why Thomas Nagel Should Embrace ID

In Nagel’s view: “A theory that defies common sense can be true,
but doubts about its truth should be suppressed only in the face of
exceptionally strong evidence.”[118]
Nagel is “skeptical of the claims of traditional evolutionary theory.
. .”[119]
The conjunction of these propositions surely leaves Nagel endorsing
“common sense”, by which I take him to mean the universally acknowledged
impression of design in nature. After all: “The evidence for [evolution]
is supposed to be evidence for the absence of purpose in the causation
of the development of life-forms on this planet . . . It displaces design
by proposing an alterative”[120]
Failure to establish an alternative is failure to displace design.

Moreover, Nagel views Behe’s critique of the extrapolation from “micro”
to “macro” evolution as a methodologically correct argument that,
sound, supports his own skepticism about Darwinism. Yet, despite
the fact that he thinks no empirical refutation of ID “has ever been
. . . established”[121],
Nagel is reticent about ID. Why? He confesses his reticence has a metaphysical

I do not regard divine intervention as a possibility, even though
I have no other  candidates.[122]

That is, since a) he has no candidate for the role of designer besides
divinity, and b) he regards divine design as impossible, he concludes
that he can’t embrace ID (Nagel’s argument is explicitly person relative).

Regarding a) it’s unclear if Nagel thinks there’s something relevant
to his agnosticism about ID in the fact that (i) he lacks a prior belief
in any actual candidate designer, or (ii) in the fact he can’t
think of a hypothetical designer candidate, besides God. Of course,
(ii) can only feature as a factor in Nagel’s argument on the condition
he regards divine design as impossible. Moreover, Nagel
most plausibly means (i), both because this interpretation follows naturally
from his focus on possibility in the preceding clause about divinity,
and because it seems unlikely that he can’t conceive any designer candidates
besides God.

Given that Nagel means (i), the implied assumption – that rationally
accepting a design inference requires prior belief in a plausible designer
candidate – is false. Suppose the SETI program discovered a signal telling
us how to build a working warp drive engine. It would be irrational
not to attribute such a signal to design, even if we had a prior
belief in the non-existence of extra-terrestrials! Design inferences
don’t depend upon a prior belief in the existence of actual designer
candidates. They depend upon the belief that it’s possible that
a designer might exist: “ID . . . requires only that design be
admitted as a possibility . . .”[123]
Moreover, this assumption is bound up in Nagel’s recognition
that the common sense design alternative to Darwinism carries the presumption
of truth (since real design entails a real designer, and real
designers must of course be possible).

Regarding (b), Nagel admits: “I recognize that this is because of
an aspect of my overall worldview that does not rest on empirical grounds
or any other kind of rational grounds.”[124]
This unwarranted presupposition adversely affects Nagel’s assessment
of ID:

I do not think the existence of God can be disproved.
So someone who can offer serious scientific reasons to doubt the adequacy
of the theory of evolution, and who believes in God, in the same immediate
way that I believe there is no god, can quite reasonably conclude that
the hypothesis of design should be taken seriously.[125]

Nagel doesn’t embrace ID because he doesn’t believe in God.
That’s like rejecting a design inference from crop-circles because one
doesn’t believe in aliens! To take a design inference seriously, one
need only regard the existence of a designer per se as a possibility.
And recognition that the design hypothesis enjoys the presumption of
truth (something Nagel appears to acknowledge) includes the recognition
that the existence of a designer per se is a possibility! Nagel’s
reticence about ID rests upon a failure to recognize that the design
hypothesis provides the embarkation point, rather than the terminus,
to debate over the nature of the designer.


Johnson’s question about the relationship between worldviews and
scientific theorising has proved to be the right question:

In my mind the most important thing is to get
people to ask the right questions, not to try to tell them how to
the questions. In a sense, all who are willing to address
the right questions are participants in our program regardless of what
answers they want to give . . . the right question has been whether
science and naturalism are really the same thing, or whether scientific
evidence may be moving away from the materialist answers. If someone
thinks this is a good question which deserves fair-minded investigation,
he or she is travelling side-by-side with us � even if he or she thinks
that naturalistic science will eventually solve its problems. . .[126]

Many critics remain willing to deploy the “it’s not science” objection
against ID. However, Johnson’s log-splitting question has successfully
shaped a growing debate about origins. Not only are an increasing number
of atheists prepared to travel “side-by-side” with Johnson’s philosophical
point that there is a distinction between science and naturalism
that means ID is a scientific theory; but growing acknowledgement
of this point appears to have opened up space for atheists to express
dissatisfaction with Neo-Darwinism as a scientific explanation.
Monton is standing on solid and mainstream ground in arguing
that “We shouldn’t get caught up debating whether ID counts as science;
the focus should be on the empirical arguments for and against ID.”[127]

When one combines Nagel’s acceptance that ID is science (even
if it were to explicitly identify God as the designer
!) with the
fact that he all but endorses Behe’s Edge of Evolution argument,
and the fact that Richard Dawkins concedes life on Earth might
be the product of design (just so long as the designer/s have a naturalistic
one can see that the  “wedge” has gone mainstream:

The goal of the Intelligent Design Movement is
to achieve an open philosophy of science that permits consideration
of any explanations toward which the evidence may be pointing . . .
visibly making evolutionary naturalism the subject of critical investigation
based on evidence, rather than allowing it to rule by default as the
unquestioned philosophical position to which science must by definition

Endorsement of the scientific status of ID by the likes of Dawkins,
Fuller, Monton and Nagel represents a genuine breakthrough for the “wedge”.
What Johnson calls the “modernist log” is no longer cracked: it’s split.