by Jay W. Richards –
For over fifty years, the British philosopher Antony Flew has been the English-speaking world’s most intellectually serious public atheist. He first engaged Christian apologist C.S. Lewis at Oxford in 1950, and has pursued scholarly defenses of atheism until recently. He has always argued that there just wasn’t enough evidence to believe in God. Now, at age 81, he’s changed his mind.
So what did it for Flew? It wasn’t a religious conversion. In an interview with philosopher Gary Habermas, he attributes his new view not to any religious text but to scientific evidence, in particular, evidence of intelligent design: “I think the argument to Intelligent Design is enormously stronger than it was when I first met it.1 In an interview with the Associated Press (Dec. 9), Flew said his ideas have some similarity with American intelligent design theorists.”
Flews change of mind may be the most visible result so far of the work of the intelligent design (ID) movement. It’s also a microcosm of the changing state of the materialist worldview that captivated academic culture for most of the last century.
THE MATERIALIST LEGACY
Science left the nineteenth century with a simple view of the universe. Too simple, as it turns out. The official materialistic gloss on natural science went something like this: (1) The universe has always existed, and so we need not address the question of it s origin. (2) Everything in the universe, large and small, submits to a few well understood, deterministic laws. (3) Life initially turned up as a result of luck and chemistry. (3) Cells, for their p art, are basically little blobs of Jell-O. And (4) virtually all those complicated adaptations of organisms result from a starkly simple process called natural selection: this almost miraculously creative process merely seizes and passes along those minor, random variations within a population that provide a survival advantage.
The positivist interpretation of science (and of knowledge generally) provided indispensable support to this picture of the world. Positivism, a program designed to purge metaphysics from science, forbade scientists from appealing to intelligent agency when trying to explain either the features of the natural world, or the natural world it self. Such a stricture obviously applied to a divine agent, but it eventually became clear that it applied to agents in general. Everything, at bottom, was thought to be reducible to the impersonal interactions of physical laws and matter, and nothing else mattered. In fact, many senior physicists had concluded that physics was basically a complete science. There was little left to do except tidy up here and there.
THE BOOK OF NATURE REASSERTS ITSELF
But almost as soon as this Procrustean bed was made, the real world began to kick out. The startling revelations of the quantum realm suggested that the world was not quite as submissive as the materialists had expected. Then astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered that the light from distant galaxies was red-shifted, indicating that the universe is expanding. This and other details suggested the universe had come into existence in the finite past-that it has an age. This flatly contradicted the earlier picture of an eternal and self-existing cosmos.
Then, in the 1960s and 70s, physicists began to notice that the universal const ants of physics, such as the forces of gravity and electromagnetism, seemed to be finely-tuned for the existence of complex life. To astrophysicist and atheist Fred Hoyle, this suggested the activity of a “superintellect.”
But even in a universe fine tuned for life, there remains niggling problem of the origin of biological information, which stubbornly transcends its chemical medium in the same way the letters and sentences of a book transcend the chemistry of ink and paper. We see this starkly in molecular biology, where the presence of information encoded along the DNA molecule look suspiciously like an extraordinarily sophisticated computer code for producing proteins, the three-dimensional building blocks of all life. Move up a level and we find complex and functionally integrated machines that look quite inaccessible to the Darwinian mechanism. Moreover, such structures look very much like the systems produced by intelligent agents, who can foresee a future function and actualize it.
Then there is the three dimensional complexity of animal body plans, which so out strips our understanding of the informational systems present at the lower levels. Finally, there are human agents themselves, which are so unexpected in materialist terms, that many actually try to deny their existence. (Another deliverance of materialist reasoning that has obvious logical problems.)
Still more recently, in the middling region between the universal const ants of physics and the origin of life itself, new and unexpected evidence for design has emerged. This is the subject of The Privileged Planet2 which I wrote with astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez.
Since the argument is new and probably unfamiliar to most readers, I’ll describe it more detail.
Many scientists in astronomy follow an idea called the “Copernican Principle,” which suggests that our Solar System is typical and that the origin and evolution of life must be quite likely, given the vast size and great age of the universe. Accordingly, most assume that the universe is probably teeming not just with life, but with complex, intelligent life.
But the scientific evidence has stubbornly pointed in the opposite direction. Were now learning how much must go right to a get a habit able planet. The list gets longer all the time. Complex life in particular probably needs many of the things that we Earthlings enjoy: a rocky terrestrial planet similar in size and composition to the Earth, with plate tectonics to recycle nutrients, and the right kind of atmosphere; a large, well placed moon to contribute to tides and stabilize the tilt of the planet s axis. That planet needs to be just the right distance from the right kind of single star, in a nearly circular orbit-to maintain liquid water on it s surface.
It also needs a home within a stable planetary system that includes some outlying giant planet s to protect the inner system from too many deadly comet impacts. That planetary system must be nestled in a safe neighborhood in the right kind of galaxy, with enough heavy elements to build terrestrial planets. And that planet will need to form during the narrow habitable window of cosmic history.
Since the mid-1990s, astronomers have been able to detect planets around other Sun-like stars. And they have taught us an important, if unadvertised lesson. Planetary systems are not all alike. In fact, mounting evidence suggests that the conditions needed for complex life are exceedingly rare, the probability of them all occurring at the same place and time, minuscule.
Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee argued just this point in their best-selling book Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe Ward and Brownlee obviously challenge the letter of the Copernican Principle. But they don’t challenge its spirit. Intuitively, you might think that such a precise configuration of life-friendly factors suggest s that Earth is part of some cosmic design. Ward and Brownlee, however, argue that although the conditions that allow for complex life are highly improbable, perhaps even unique, these conditions are still nothing more than an unintended fluke. The universe, after all, is a big place, with some 1022 stars in the part we can see. With so many opportunities, maybe at least one habit able planet will turn up just by chance.
But what if were not merely the winners of a blind cosmic lottery? What if our existence is the result of a conspiracy rather than a mere coincidence? Is there any way we could tell? In The Privileged Planet we argue that there is. The fact that we inhabit a terrestrial planet with a clear atmosphere and water on its surface; that our moon is just the right size and distance from Earth to stabilize the tilt of Earth’s rotation axis; that our position in our large spiral galaxy is just so; that our sun is its precise mass and composition: all of these and many more are not only necessary for Earth’s habit ability; they also have been surprisingly crucial for scientists to discover the universe.
To put it more technically and more generally, measurability seems to correlate with habit ability. Measurability refers to those features of the universe as a whole, and especially to our particular location -in it both in space and time -that allow us to detect, observe, discover, and determine the size, age, history, laws, and other properties of the physical universe. It’s what makes scientific discovery possible.
Those rare pockets of habit ability in our universe, as it happens, also allow for the most measurement. They’re the best overall places for scientific discovery. This is interesting because you might expect this if the universe were designed for discovery, but not if you were a card-carrying materialist.
Of course, we need a lot of examples to justify our argument for this marriage between life and discovery. Still, I can illustrate it with one brief example.
PERFECT SOLAR ECLIPSES
A rare convergence of events allows Earthlings to witness not just solar eclipses, but perfect solar eclipses, where the Moon just barely covers the Suns bright photosphere. Such eclipses depend on the precise sizes, shapes, and relative distances of the Sun, Moon, and Earth. There’s no law of physics or celestial mechanics that requires the right configuration. In fact, of the more than 65 major moons in our Solar System, ours best matches the Sun as viewed from it s planets surface, and this is only possible during a fairly narrow window of Earths history encompassing the present. The Moon is about 400 times smaller than the Sun. But right now, the Moon is about 400 times closer to the Earth than is the Sun. So, the Moons apparent size on the sky matches the Sun s. Astronomers have noted this odd coincidence for centuries. And, since the Sun appears larger from the Earth than from any other planet with a moon, an Earth-bound observer can discern finer details in the Sun’s chromosphere and corona than from any other planet. This makes our solar eclipses more valuable scientifically.
The recent pictures of solar eclipses sent back from the Opportunity rover on Mars nicely illustrate how much better our solar eclipses are. The two small potato-shaped Martian moons, Deimos and Phobos, appear much too small to cover the Suns disk, and they zip across it in less than a minute.
It s intriguing that the best place to view tot al solar eclipses in our Solar System is the one time and place where there are observers to see them. It turns out that the precise configuration of Earth, Moon and Sun are also vital to sustaining life on Earth. A moon large enough to cover the Sun stabilizes the tilt of the rotation axis of its host planet, yielding a more stable climate, which is necessary for complex life. The Moon also contributes to Earths ocean tides, which increase the vital mixing of nutrients from the land to the oceans. The two moons around Mars are much too small to stabilize it’s rotation axis.
In addition, its only in the so-called Circumstellar Habitable Zone of our Sun-that cozy life friendly ring where water can stay liquid on a planet s surface-that the Sun appears to be about the same size as the Moon from Earth s surface. As a result, we enjoy perfect solar eclipses.
That alone seems fishy. But here’s the part that suggests conspiracy rather than quirky coincidence. Our ability to observe perfect solar eclipses has figured prominently in several important scientific discoveries, discoveries that would have been difficult if not impossible on the much more common planets that don’t enjoy such eclipses (not to mention the vast majority of places where such eclipses play no role).
First, they helped disclose the nature of stars. Scientists since Isaac Newton (1666) had known that sunlight splits into all the colors of the rainbow when passed through a prism. But only in the 19th century did astronomers observe solar eclipses with spectroscopes, which use prisms. The combination of the man-made spectroscope with the natural experiment provided by eclipses gave astronomers the tools they needed not only to discover how the Sun’s spectrum is produced, but the nature of the Sun it self. This knowledge enabled astronomers to interpret the spectra of the dist ant stars. So, in a sense, perfect eclipses were a key that unlocked the field of astrophysics.
Second, in 1919, perfect solar eclipses allowed two teams of astronomers, one led by Sir Arthur Eddington, to confirm a prediction of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity -that gravity bends light. They succeeded in measuring the changes in the positions of starlight passing near the Sun’s edge compared to their positions months later. Such a test was most feasible during a perfect solar eclipse. The tests led to the general acceptance of Einstein’s theory, which is the foundation of modern cosmology.
And finally, perfect eclipses give us unique access to ancient history. By consulting historical records of past solar eclipses, astronomers can calculate the change in Earth s rotation over the past several thousand years. This, in turn, allows us to put ancient calendars precisely on our modern calendar system.
These are just three ways in which perfect solar eclipses, produced by conditions that help create a habitable planet, have fostered scientific discovery. And this is only one example of the correlation between habitability and measurability. There are many more such examples.
THE WORD IS NOT OUT
I hope this brief foray into the evidence for intelligent design convinces you of at least one thing: that at the beginning of the 21stcentury, we look out at an utterly different world from that envisioned by the materialistic science of the late nineteenth century. It is a world charged with design, a cosmos that points beyond itself to a transcendent and intelligent cause.
Add to this new evidence of design the philosophical problems with positivism itself. Perhaps the most severe one was this: positivists claimed that only statements that can be verified by the senses are meaningful or at least scientific. That statement, however, cannot itself be verified by the senses. This means that, by its own accounting, it is meaningless, or at least “unscientific.” At the same time, any criterion liberal enough to avoid contradiction and accommodate actual scientific practice let metaphysics in as well. Such problems eventually led to the demise of the entire positivist enterprise. The positivists themselves openly admitted this. For instance, in a BBC radio interview, Brian McGee asked A.J. Ayer, the father of logical positivism, what the main defect of positivism was. Ayer replied that the main problem was that it was “nearly all false.”3
But despite the evidence for design and the official collapse of positivism, the word is not out! On the contrary, the materialistic definition of science inherited from the nineteenth century still prevents us from considering this new evidence. The problem is so acute that some scientists are willing to posit infinite panoply of unobservable universes, just to explain away the fine tuning in our universe. A bad philosophy still stands in the way of a fair look at the evidence of nature.
This strange situation led Phillip Johnson in the 1990s to ask a singularly pregnant and subversive question: If the materialistic definition of science and the scientific evidence are in conflict, should we go with the definition or the evidence? To ask the question, as they say, is to answer it. Scientia means knowledge. The essence of natural science is the search for knowledge of the natural world. Knowledge is an intrinsic good. If we are properly scientific, then, we will seek to be open to the natural world, not decide beforehand what it is allowed to reveal.
The materialistic definition of science is no mere philosophical trifle. It dictates what may be discussed, funded, and published, at least within official circles. This cultural and institutional power makes materialistic science look like an unyielding structure, extending invincibly into the clouds like Jack’s Beanstalk. But if the evidence is as I have described it, then that monolith must surely have its weak spots. So it must, and so it does, just where it doesn’t fit the natural world. These are it s fissures, it cracks. Research that focuses on just those cracks-those pressure points-might work like a wedge, which, when driven in deeply , splits a structure wide open, and liberate science and culture from the intellectual prison of the materialist worldview.
Such was the vision that led in 1996 to the founding of a program called the Center for Science & Culture, at the Discovery Institute, a think tank in Seattle. Since then, the program and the wider intelligent design “movement”, which has a strong presence at several other institutions (notably Biola University in Southern California) and includes hundreds of individuals, have come a very long way.
WHAT ID HAS ACCOMPLISHED
I can speak directly to the contributions of the Discovery Institute, where I have been for almost seven years. Discovery Institute supports research and writing at pressure point s in a variety of natural sciences-those places in nature where the evidence for design is strongest and the case for materialism is weakest. Why must such research be supported by a private organization? The answer should be obvious. Because of the unfortunate hangover from nineteenth century materialism, much of the scientific establishment rejects out of hand proposals that seek to consider the viability of intelligent design.
The key areas in developing a scientific case for ID include all the evidence mentioned briefly above. Some of the best-known “pressure points” are information-rich molecules like DNA, and tiny molecular machines, such as the bacterial flagellum, which biochemist Michael Behe immortalized in his best selling book, Darwin’s Black Box.4 Behe argued that the flagellum and many other molecular machines are “irreducibly complex.” They are like a mousetrap. Without all of their fundamental parts, they don’t work. Natural selection can only build systems one small step at a time, by traversing a path in which each step provides a present survival advantage. It cannot select for a future function. Only intelligent agents possess such foresight.
But not all of the important work we have supported is in natural science per se. Some of the work is conceptual. Materialism, after all, is a philosophy, even if its contemporary purveyors try to confuse it with science. Thus, the intelligent design community features a number of able philosophers who are dismantling the bankrupt philosophy of materialism.
Moreover, ID needs a strong philosophical framework. For most of Western history, detecting the activities of intelligent agents has been a mostly intuitive enterprise. Books such as The Design Inference5by philosopher William Dembski have dramatically strengthened the case for design by bringing it into the publicly accessible realm of objective argument and empirical evidence, and out of the murkier realm of intuition.
And then there are the laborers in the social sciences and humanities. The materialistic worldview has always had profound cultural consequences, most of them bad. Just think of the effects of Darwin, Marx, and Freud on the modern mind. The cultural prestige of materialism rests largely on the illusion that it is grounded in science. But what if it is built on sand, as the withering of Marx and Freud already suggests? What if reductionism in physics and biology are equally at odds with the evidence and it just hasn’t been officially announced yet? What if the natural world, looked at fairly, exhibits evidence of purpose and design? What would that mean to the social sciences, to the high and popular arts?
Finally, because of our concern for both science and culture, we have focused not only on academic research, but also on how that research is received in education and public policy circles. Among the self-appointed skeptics, who see the public sphere as their exclusive jurisdiction, this has led to widespread metaphysical panic.
In early 1996, there had been little published work advocating intelligent design in natural science. Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, by Michael Denton, and The Mystery of Lifes Origins, by Walter Bradley, Charles Thaxton and Roger Olsen were both published in the mid-1980s and laid important groundwork. But it was Phillip Johnson’s Darwin on Trial in 1991 that reached a wide audience and catalyzed an intellectual movement.
National Review, and have appeared on Fox News, PBS, NPR, CNBC, CBC and CNN.
Since 1996, the intelligent design community has been extraordinarily successful in publishing books. In fact, we have exceeded our most optimistic early projections. Fellows of the Center for Science & Culture specifically have published over 40 books, some with popular trade and Christian presses, and others with prestigious academic presses like Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, and Michigan State University Press. There have also been several other significant books by individuals not affiliated with Discovery, all defending various aspect s of design.
Similarly, ID authors have published numerous scientific and academic articles, including a cover story in Scientific American and a group of essays in a special issue debating intelligent design in Natural History, which for many years published a regular column by Stephen J.Gould. Conferences and debates about intelligent design have been held at Yale, Harvard, Baylor, Calvin, Biola, Oxford, Notre Dame and the American Museum of Natural History. Most of these events were the first of their kind. Without doubt, the debate over intelligent design has reached a high level of scientific, academic, and popular discourse.
Although we still have a long way to go, the media coverage of ID has clearly improved. In 1996, Phillip Johnson was the only nationally-known figure in the intelligent design movement, and national coverage was limited to only two or three op-eds written by intelligent design proponents themselves. In 1999, when ID started attracting regular third-party media coverage, most of it was negative. Since then we have started to receive fair and even favorable media coverage in newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, The W all Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The London Times, The National Post, Time and U.S. News and World Report. ID theorists have published many editorial columns, including pieces in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The American Spectator, The Weekly, and National Review, and have appeared on Fox News, PBS, NPR, CNBC, CBC, and CNN.
Although ID received some favorable coverage in Christian media as early as 1996, that coverage has become frequent and widespread in more recent years. ID is often featured in the pages of Christianity Today, World, Books & Culture, the National Catholic Register, First Things and Touchstone. (Notice that it inhabits both evangelical and Catholic publications.) And probably not a day goes by without some ID proponent being interviewed on a talk radio show somewhere in the US.
All this coverage helps increase the public awareness of ID. But the public reception of science is mediated largely by science documentaries. Television documentaries have been profoundly important outlets for good and bad science for decades. It was Carl Sagan’s popular Cosmos series on PBS that in the 1980s brought scientific materialism to millions, with its vaguely doxological opening line: “The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.”6 In building public knowledge of design theory, such documentaries are essential.
Happily, in the last few years, three documentaries on ID have been released. The production quality of both equals or exceeds the typical science documentary on PBS or Discovery Channel. Icons of Evolution, produced by Coldwater Media, deals with the case against Darwinism and focuses on science education. It has been widely disseminated, and has aired on network affiliates in Ohio and Texas. Unlocking the Mystery of Life, produced by Illustra Media, makes the case for the intelligent design of life. In April 2003 NETA, the largest independent buyer for PBS, offered Unlocking to the PBS affiliate market. Unlocking has since been broadcast in almost every major PBS market, often during prime time. It is available on the PBS website (www.pbs.org) in their biology section, and has even been featured as a top selection for science and math on the PBS website, alongside documentaries by Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan. Third is The Privileged Planet: The Search for Purpose in the Universe, which is based on the book with the same primary title. This documentary was just released this fall, and extends the case for design well beyond biology.
Science Education Policy
Finally, there have been seminal breakthroughs in science education policy. Prior to 1996, Darwinian orthodoxy was virtually unchallenged in public school science education. In the 1980s, a series of ill-conceived attempts to require creationism in public schools established bad legal precedent, and made it difficult for teachers to question any aspect of Darwinian Theory in the public schools.
But in 2001, the United States Congress approved the so-called Santorum amendment, which called for public schools to teach the controversy about subjects such as biological evolution as p art of the No Child Left Behind act.7 Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania) first introduced the language as a mostly symbolic sense of the Senate, and it passed 91-8. That could easily have been the end of it. But nearly identical language survived the committee that reconciled the Senate and House versions of the bill, and was included in the conference report of the act itself, which was signed into law . As p art of the conference report, the Santorum language gives guidance to state legislators and judges in interpreting the act.
In response to this federal legislation, in 2002-03, the Ohio State Board of Education approved a provision requiring student s to learn scientific criticisms of Darwinian evolution. Then, in February 2004, the Ohio board went on to develop and adopt the first science curriculum structured specifically along the lines of this teach the controversy approach. The brave decision of the Ohio board is a profound victory for academic freedom, and represents a loosening of the stranglehold of Darwinian fundamentalists over public science education.
Similarly, after a months-long debate over science textbook adoption in Texas, several major textbook companies fixed errors relating to the so-called icons of evolution (well known textbook evidences for Darwinism that are misleading or false, like the famous diagrams by Ernst Haeckel comparing vertebrate embryos.) These actions have national implications, since Texas is the second largest market in the country. The changes made by publishers for the Texas market are likely to be preserved in many other st ates as well. These policy and educational victories have established precedent s for the debates that lie ahead in other states.
OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
The ID movement now finds it self in a paradoxical situation, in which each victory creates new opportunities, and therefore, new challenges. In the wake of the decisions in Ohio, for example, many other states are examining their science standards. The federal No Child Left Behind education act requires all 50 states to do this by 2007. But the act does not include penalties for states that fail to live up to it’s “teach the controversy” standard. This means that every state will debate the issue separately. Unless shrewd individuals take up the cause in their own states, the status quo is almost certain to prevail. In science education, the status quo is Darwinian dogma, immune from all critical scrutiny. In fact, any such scrutiny is portrayed by critics as religious, and therefore impermissible.
This takes place as the opposition to ID has stiffened. Barry Lynn, of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, has publicly threatened lawsuit s against school districts that even allow ID to be discussed. “The Supreme Court has rejected the idea of balanced treatment between science and pseudoscience,” he said. “And it would cost school boards a tremendous amount of money to fight this.” And just recently, the ACLU and Americans United have brought a suit against a school district in Dover, Pennsylvania, which has called for intelligent design to be required in public school science classes. The board acted unwisely in my judgment and the judgment of Discovery Institute. Nevertheless, it is clear that the ACLU et al. want to prevent not only public criticism of Darwinism and materialism, but also public discussion of ID.
At least fifteen books have been written in an attempt to discredit ID, many focusing on ID s philosophical illegality and the supposed religious motives of its leading proponent s. In the last year alone, eight such books were published. Those who oppose ID retain immense power-in scientific organizations, university departments, the media and the legal system. Virtually every official science organization has felt compelled to issue some denunciation of ID, and especially its bearing on science education.
It’s hard to overestimate the hostility toward ID in most secular, and many religious, university department s. Not surprisingly, there is now a distinguished roster of scientists and other academics who have suffered intense hostility and even job threats as a result of their association with design theory. Still, it doesn’t do anyone any good to dwell on such indignities and injustices. With such important issues at stake, this is the cost of the fight. The materialists may have the power, but we have the evidence and the arguments.
Still to Come
In a few short years, the intelligent design community has come a long way. But what does the future hold? I expect the book of nature to assert it self whether or not ID ultimately succeeds as an intellectual movement. Still, ID theorists have much left to do if they are to contribute to a long term shift in the science and worldview of our culture in our generation. While a growing number of books are exploring the implications of intelligent design out side the natural sciences, there are still crucial pieces of the scientific case left to complete. Much of this work will appear in book form, as did many of the foundational texts of modern science, such as Darwin s Origin of Species . But at least some of the research must appear in scientific journals. No one involved has any illusions about how difficult this is. Scientific journals tend to perpetuate the reigning paradigm.
Many design theorists already publish in the mainstream, peer-reviewed literature. What is difficult is to publish in peer-reviewed science journals while critiquing materialism, and arguing explicitly for intelligent design. This is well nigh impossible, for obvious sociological reasons. Consider, for instance, the recent complaint by Lynn Margulis, herself a vocal critic of intelligent design:
More and more, like the monasteries of the Middle Ages, today’s universities and professional societies guard their knowledge. Collusively, the university biology curriculum, the textbook publishers, the National Science Foundation review committees, the Graduate Record Examiners, and the various microbiological, evolutionary, and zoological societies map out domains of the known and knowable; they distinguish required from forbidden knowledge, subtly punishing the trespassers with rejection and oblivion; they. . . . determine who is permitted to know and just what it is that he or she may know.8
Given such constraints, it might seem miraculous that just this summer, ID theorist Stephen Meyer published an article in a peer-reviewed biology journal arguing for intelligent design as the best explanation for the Cambrian Explosion of animal life. The article in question appeared in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.9 The Proceedings is published at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.
What do you suppose happened? Did critics of ID finally concede that ID really was scientific after all? Hardly. They initiated a witch hunt against the journal s editor, Richard Sternberg. Thankfully, none of the critic’s accusations were true.
Sternberg followed standard review procedures exactly. But the incident provided a good stiff dose of reality. We have no more won the war than had the Allies after the invasion of Normandy. Enormous resources and intellectual labor must still be marshaled to turn the beachhead into victory.
ID and Apologetics
At this point, then, any report on the intelligent design movement will be incomplete. But if it succeeds, what would be its value for apologetics? Some Christians have argued that intelligent design “doesn’t go far enough.” For them, the case of Antony Flew might look like Exhibit A. When Flew says he believes in “God,” he doesn’t mean he’s put his trust in the God and Father of Jesus Christ. He’s referring to the generic “God of the
Philosophers”-a First Cause, postulated on the basis of evidence and rational argument. Although he says he remains open to the possibility of a special revelation, he certainly hasn’t undergone a full conversion to Christianity. So, the critic might ask, what good is ID for Christian apologetics?
I think this concern, though understandable, is mistaken. Certainly none of the argument s for intelligent design can establish that God became incarnate in Jesus, died to save us from our sins, and was raised from the dead. But that is because we don’t learn these things by studying the evidence from natural science. It doesn’t follow that design
arguments are problematic.
Contemporary intelligent design arguments appeal, not to the book of Scripture or even historical evidence, but simply to the book of nature. They appeal to publicly available evidence from the natural world, especially the natural sciences. The Bible it self tells us that the natural world reveals some things about God (Psalm 19:1-4, Romans 1: 20). That doesn’t mean that nature reveals everything.
Nevertheless, ID still has profound apologetic value, if only as a ground clearing operation. Success for ID would mean defeat for what is surely the chief obstacle to Christian belief in the modern world: scientific materialism. Just imagine how much easier apologetics would be if it were widely taken for granted that the materialist worldview was defunct.
That’s the minimalist point. More strongly, I think one can make a cumulative case argument for theism based on evidence for design in biology, astronomy, physics, and cosmology. In fact, it was just such a case that persuaded the worlds leading atheist, Antony Flew, that there is a God. And, to state the obvious, to move from atheism to theism is to move toward Christianity. For apologetics, that’s a move in the right direction. From there, the Christian apologist can introduce other lines of argument, such as a historical defense of Christ’s resurrection. Surely such a defense is easier to make if Gods existence is granted.
The case for intelligent design can’t establish everything Christian’s believe in. But it’s a valuable first step. If you’re interested in apologetics, then, you should recognize the progress made in the intelligent design movement for what it is: very good news.
Jay W. Richards, Ph.D., is Vice President and Senior Fellow of Discovery Institute in Seattle. He is the Jay W. Richards, Ph.D., is Vice President and Senior Fellow of Discovery Institute in Seattle. He is the author of The Untamed God (InterVarsity, 2003) and co-author with astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez of The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery (Regnery, 2004).
“Atheist Becomes Theist: Exclusive Interview with Former Atheist Antony Flew.” To be published in the winter 2005 issue of Philosophia Christi. Find it at http://www.biola.edu/antonyflew/.
2The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery (Washington DC: Regnery Publishers, 2004).
3B. McGee, ed., Men of Ideas (London: BBC, 1978), p. 131.
4(New York: The Free Press, 1996).
5(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 1998.
6Carl Sagan, Cosmos (New York: Ballantine Books, 1993), p. 4.
7For more details on the Santorum language, go to: http://www.discovery.org/csc/resources/resourcesSantorumStatement.php.
8Lynn Margulis, “Big Trouble in Biology,” Slanted Truths, ed. Lynn Margulis and Dorian Sagan (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1997), p. 265.
9“The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories,” Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 117 (2): 213-239, 2004.