At the time that I’m writing this, there are 219 comments on Young’s review of my book. (See here for my reply to Young’s review.) I haven’t gone through the comments yet; I’m going to record my thoughts here as I go.

(1) Gary Hurd writes:

Very good review. Very sad that there are nitwits with tenure.

But has Hurd read my book? If not, then how can he fairly evaluate whether Young has accurately characterized my book? And even if Hurd has read my book, I still don’t think he would on that basis have enough evidence to deem me a “nitwit”. I assume that that implies a certain lack of intellectual ability, but to determine that, I’d think that Hurd would want to read at least a fair sample of my ~25 published articles in philosophy. Even if Young’s review is right, perhaps I’m just the sort of person with a mixed record — I’ve written a number of good articles and a bad book. I don’t see how that would justify the characterization of me as a “nitwit” (as opposed to, say, the characterization of my hypothetically bad book as “the sort of thing a nitwit would write”).

(2) Glen Davidson writes:

But it’s bizarre that Monton lumps biological ID and cosmological ID together, because cosmological ID deals with the real problem that the universe is not adequately explained, while biological ID deals with their real problem that life is adequately explained (there are gaps in knowledge, but the theoretical parameters we have appear to be adequate at our present level of knowledge).

Well, I don’t lump them together; I discuss the cosmological and biological arguments separately in Chapter 3. And I agree that the gaps in our understanding are quite different in the two realms. But with regard to the biological side, there’s one issue I didn’t talk about in the book, because I didn’t feel ready to talk about it, and I still don’t really, but I just wanted to flag it — we don’t have any good understanding of how consciousness can arise in a purely naturalistic, materialistic universe. So I’m not convinced that the theoretical parameters of biology we currently have are really adequate to explain all that we know about life.

(3) RDK writes:

Unfortunately Monton is just another example of why philosophers are useless creatures. Add him to the list of people outside of science who think they can tell scientists how to go about their business.

How am I telling scientists how to go about their business? I’m disagreeing with what some scientists say about intelligent design, but just because someone doesn’t have a PhD in a science, it doesn’t follow that they’re not allowed to disagree with someone who does have a PhD in a science.

(4) Wheels writes:

I don’t really agree with the philosopher-bashing going on. On another note, I just found out that Monton is associated with ARN, the Discovery Institute’s mouthpiece in the philosophy community.

Yes, the philosopher-bashing was a little much, wasn’t it? And for the record, I’m not associated with ARN — they asked if they could put me on their “featured authors” page, and I said “yes”. Charles Darwin is also on their “featured authors” page, so I figured it wasn’t a problem.

(5) raven writes:

I wonder if Monton is trying to finagle some Templeton foundation money. They seem desperate to find people who aren’t the usual creationist lunatics.

No, I’m doing just fine financially, thanks. But anyways, my understanding was that the Templeton Foundation didn’t like intelligent design. If I decided I wanted to get Templeton money, I would write like Paul Davies does — with vague suggestions that physics provides evidence of a more fundamental spiritual reality. Anyone who’s read my book will see that that’s not at all what I’m doing.

(6) Robinson writes:

Personally, I ascribe to “Lastthursdayism”. Everything and everyone was created instantly with complete memories. Bradley Monton only thinks he remembers writing “Seeking God in Science” and you only think you remember receiving a proof copy of the book last Spring. See? It explains everything completely.

I would say “I like it!” but that would just lead to more philosophy-bashing. :)  More seriously, there is a whole philosophical literature on skepticism, and on how best to reply to it. This book is a good place to start.

(7) Paul Burnett writes:

But I cannot understand how Monton, purportedly an atheist, could determine that the “Intelligent Designer” is Jehovah, the Creator God of Genesis.

(Monton is working with the same information dataset used by another eminent philosopher, Harun Yahya, who has come to a slightly different conclusion.)

Of course Monton is a closet intelligent design creationist. And as a cultivated tool of the Dishonesty Institute, his authentication certificate as an atheist seems to have expired.

This doesn’t make much sense to me. I’m not a Christian, and even if it turns out that intelligent design is true, that is compatible with the designer being non-Christian, or even non-supernatural.

Also, for the record, Yahya is not an eminent philosopher, and as far as I can tell he and I have very different beliefs about the nature of reality.

Also, I’m not an intelligent design proponent, I’m not a cultivated tool of the Discovery Institute (they’ve never given me money or advice), and I am an atheist. If there were authentication certificates, I’d show you mine.

(8) Frank J writes:

Has anyone asked him simple questions about “what happened when”? Michael Behe, Hugh Ross and Ken Ham take 3 mutually contradictory positions. Surely Monton should be able to take a “best guess” as to which, if any of those 3 are correct.

Anyone who has read my book would have no doubt as to what I’d say here, but for the record, I’d agree with Behe.

(9) TomS writes:

Is there any defense of ID in the book? A defense of ID would presuppose a description of it, and that would be something new.

I do give a well-thought-out description of ID, and it is something new! This is what Young is talking about when he writes “[Monton] devotes what seems like an interminable chapter trying to tell the ID creationists exactly what they are saying”. I do go on for a bit on the topic, but that’s because I’m motivated by TomS-style thinking — one needs to say more precisely what the content of intelligent design theory is, and intelligent design proponents haven’t done a good job saying that.

(10) Matt Young weighs in, thankfully:

I don’t want this to sound like damning with faint praise, but Professor Monton is not a nitwit, and he is not a creationist. I apologize if I made him appear to be either. …

I still think it is not a good book, but that is at least in part because its author is too credulous and studiously avoids the clear fact that ID creationism is a political movement, not a scientific or philosophical movement, and not because he is a creationist, closet or otherwise.

Thanks Matt! Blog comments can get out of hand sometimes. Where I disagree with Matt is that I think intelligent design is a scientific or philosophical theory (it doesn’t matter to the truth of intelligent design which category you put it in), and as such I think the theory should be evaluated on its merits.

OK, this has been fun, but I need to go. I’ll respond to more comments later.

Matt Young has posted a review of my book at Panda’s Thumb. The review is pretty critical, so I thought I’d weigh in.

First, I want to point out that Matt and I have talked in person, and he’s a nice, fair-minded guy — unlike some professors I’ve dealt with, he’s able to handle disagreement in an intellectually respectable manner. Second, I want to thank Matt for taking the time to read my book, and to write up the review.

But all that said, I think he’s wrong or unfair with regard to various things he says about my book.

(1) [Monton] says he is just going to evaluate the arguments, as if the context of the arguments were wholly irrelevant

Well, yes, when it comes to philosophical or scientific arguments for a conclusion, it doesn’t matter who is giving the argument, or what their agenda is; what matters is whether the argument is good or bad (valid or invalid, sound or unsound, etc.) I spend a couple pages defending this line of reasoning at the beginning of my book. Young doesn’t give an argument that I’m wrong about this, though he seems to be suggesting that I am.

(2) He admits that your beliefs or preconceptions can influence your reasoning, but seems to think that he is immune.

I’m not immune from having my preconceptions influence my reasoning, but I think that a difference between some people and me is that I try hard to overcome any misleading preconceptions I might have. Early in my philosophical career, Philip Kitcher’s book Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism was one of my favorites; I considered myself a staunch creationist-opposing atheist. But intelligent design is different — even though I think intelligent design is ultimately false, it’s more intellectually respectable than creationism was, and it deserves to be treated with more intellectual respect. (I’m not arguing for that thesis here, but it’s part of the point of my book to defend that thesis.)

(3) Ignoring the Wedge Document gives him permission to accept the disingenuous claim that the designer need not be supernatural

The thesis of intelligent design can clearly be formulated in such a way that the designer need not be supernatural. It’s unfair, in 2010, to attribute to intelligent design proponents some thesis that they say they’re not arguing for, on the basis of some document that was written in 1998.

Intelligent design opponent Elliott Sober recognizes this, but (in his paper “Intelligent Design Theory and the Supernatural — the ‘God or Extraterrestrials’ Reply”) he tries to argue that, when the intelligent design doctrine is coupled with certain other ostensibly reasonable doctrines, then it entails that the designer is supernatural. Sober’s argument fails for multiple reasons, as I show on pages 42-46 of my book. My refutation of Sober is pretty definitive, in my opinion, so I encourage people to look at it.

(4) More than once, Monton seems to say that the lack of a compelling argument against a given premise is equivalent to evidence in its favor, or at least that the argument is “plausible.”

I don’t think I ever quite say that, though actually I’m not sure whether or not that is correct. It raises an interesting issue in philosophy of science regarding what counts as evidence. Suppose that some reasoner, Emma, thinks that thesis P is implausible, because she finds compelling an argument against thesis P. What happens if Emma comes to realize that the ostensibly compelling argument against thesis P is actually a bad argument? Does that now provide evidence in favor of thesis P? For Emma, at least, it might.

(5) In particular, he says that a false theory should not necessarily be ruled out of science class—Newtonian theory is technically false. This argument could give sophistry a bad name; even if you think that all theories are technically false, good theories are useful within their ranges of validity. ID creationism is not useful anywhere.

Judge Jones claimed that, since intelligent design theory has been shown to be false by the scientific community, it follows that intelligent design theory is not a scientific theory. By pointing out that Newtonian physics is false but scientific, I’m just showing that there’s a flaw in Jones’ reasoning. I’m not being sophistical; I recognize that some false theories are useful, and that whether one should teach a theory in science class depends in part on how useful the theory is.

(6) Monton argues first that science is not committed to methodological naturalism. Then he sets up a straw man, that science could not investigate evidence in favor of the supernatural if it is committed to methodological naturalism; therefore, science is not committed to truth.

I don’t think I’m setting up a straw man here; I think the problem is that the proponents of methodological naturalism aren’t always completely clear on what exactly they’re endorsing. In my book, I distinguish between strong methodological naturalism, which holds that, no matter what, science can’t consider supernatural hypotheses, and weak methodological naturalism, which holds that, given the current evidence we have, science shouldn’t take supernatural hypotheses seriously, but if the evidence changes, then it should. Young makes clear that he’s endorsing weak methodological naturalism when he writes:

If we found enough miracles for which we could not develop a naturalistic explanation, we might, by a diagnosis of exclusion, tentatively accept the supernatural hypothesis (but we need to be very sure that we have considered and rejected all the possibilities).

But Judge Jones seems to be endorsing strong methodological naturalism, when he writes “while ID arguments may be true … ID is not science”. Jones was influenced by Pennock’s testimony on this issue; I talk a lot about what’s wrong with Pennock’s reasoning with regard to methodological naturalism in Chapter 2 of my book, but for a taste, see here.

There’s lots more I could say, but let me close with a couple final points. I have some critical things to say about the biology-based intelligent design arguments in my book, which Young did not discuss. A version of these criticisms appears in my paper “Design Inferences in an Infinite Universe”, which has just come out in Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion, Volume II. If you don’t have a copy of my book, then I encourage you to take a look at this paper.

I am not a knee-jerk defender of intelligent design, but nor am I a knee-jerk critic. I’ve seen a number of bad arguments for intelligent design, but unfortunately I’ve also seen a number of bad arguments against intelligent design. The point of all my discussion of intelligent design is to look at the best arguments that can be given on both sides of the debate, because that’s what will most elevate the cause of reason.

Part II of Jay Wile’s review of my book has been posted here.

A nice review of my book has been posted by Jay Wile here.

Video of the debate I moderated between William Lane Craig and Francisco Ayala is now available.

I’ve had the suspicion that most philosophers are (like me) inclined toward atheism, but now there is solid evidence to back this up. The impessive PhilPapers survey results have just been released, and 73% of philosophy faculty surveyed accept or lean toward atheism, while only 15% accept or lean toward theism.

Interestingly, amongst philosophy graduate students, only 64% accept or lean toward atheism, while 21% accept or lean toward theism (and the numbers are about the same for undergraduates). Do more people in general nowadays become atheists as they get older, or is there something about getting more philosophy training that makes it more likely that one will drop belief in God, or is there something about the getting-a-job process that leads theist grad students to disproportionately not become professors?

Word is spreading that acclaimed philosopher (and atheist) Thomas Nagel has praised Stephen Meyer’s new book Signature in the Cell. Nagel writes:

Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design (HarperCollins) is a detailed account of the problem of how life came into existence from lifeless matter – something that had to happen before the process of biological evolution could begin. The controversy over Intelligent Design has so far focused mainly on whether the evolution of life since its beginnings can be explained entirely by natural selection and other non-purposive causes. Meyer takes up the prior question of how the immensely complex and exquisitely functional chemical structure of DNA, which cannot be explained by natural selection because it makes natural selection possible, could have originated without an intentional cause. He examines the history and present state of research on non-purposive chemical explanations of the origin of life, and argues that the available evidence offers no prospect of a credible naturalistic alternative to the hypothesis of an intentional cause. Meyer is a Christian, but atheists, and theists who believe God never intervenes in the natural world, will be instructed by his careful presentation of this fiendishly difficult problem.

Brian Leiter’s strong reaction is typical:

Nagel has become a disgrace. He was a philosopher who made some significant contributions, but in areas far afield of this one.

{In the original version of this blog post, I critized Leiter’s reaction; while I do disagree with Leiter, I now think that my particular criticism was unwarranted.}

For more by Leiter on this issue, go here. People in Leiter’s shoes should perhaps wonder if it’s not the case that Nagel, an incredibly smart and (at least until recently) well-respected philosopher, has “jumped the shark”, and instead it’s the case that Nagel’s position is more reasonable than they realize.

Thomas Lepeltier just emailed me, letting me know that his new book is out: Vive le créationnisme!: Point de vue d’un évolutionniste. Based on my limited French, it looks interesting.

UPDATE: Someone kindly emailed me a translation of the page I linked to above:

Creationism gets people scared. We accuse it of all wrongs. It threatens both science and democratic society. Hence the regular calls to combat it in the name of rationality and secularism. Isn’t it time to once and for all get done with this anachronistic religious doctrine that’s being spread under scientific pretences?

Not quite, affirms Thomas Lepeltier. In this iconoclastic text, where he discusses the possible scientificity of creationism, he advances [an argument] that those who want the disappearance of creationism under the pretext that [creationism] wouldn’t be a scientific theory, but rather only a religious doctrine, promote, without realising it, a society where all dissent from all dominant scientific theories will have disappeared.

If that’s what the opponents of creationism want, the spirit of criticism which they pretend to be defending is under risk. Under the domain of reflection – like in politics, if we are democratic – shouldn’t it always be necessary to congratulate ourselves over the existence of contradictors, even when we consider them to be wrong? In short, in light of the simplistic turn of the contemporary debates on creationism, this is a work of urgent pertinence.

William Lane Craig has written up his thoughts on his debate with Ayala, and he also made a positive mention of my book. (If you register for free at his web site, you can get his thoughts here; otherwise the most important parts have been quoted here.)

Here’s what he had to say about my book:

Another interesting feature of this debate was the moderator, a young philosopher from the University of Colorado, Boulder, named Bradley Monton. Though a self-confessed atheist, Monton is convinced that the typical refutations of ID that pass muster today are in fact fallacious, and so he has written a book defending not only the scientific status of ID but even its being taught as an option in public schools! Having read his remarkable book in preparation for the debate, I was able to quote “our esteemed moderator” to good effect during the debate itself to counter Ayala’s assertion that ID was not science.

 

I was the moderator of the debate that happened last night (Thursday, November 5, 2009) between philosopher William Lane Craig and biologist Francisco Ayala. Both are Christians, but Craig was arguing that intelligent design is viable, while Ayala was arguing that it is not viable.

The web site for the debate is here. An mp3 audio recording of the debate is here. I’ve been told that the video will eventually be available for download.

I figured that Craig would come across as the better debater, simply because Craig is masterful at that sort of thing, as has been discussed here. Advice for how to debate Craig is available here and here, but unfortunately it appears that Ayala did not read up on this. Ayala didn’t really engage with Craig, but instead presented his own information, ignoring the arguments that Craig was giving. This topic is a new topic for Craig — when we talked backstage, he confirmed that he hasn’t published or debated on the topic of biology-based intelligent design arguments, and had Craig gone up against a competent anti-ID philosopher of biology like Kitcher or Sober, Craig might have lost.

Here is an interesting assessment of the debate by the blogger Ranger:

It was a terrible performance by Ayala, who is considered by many to be the best public proponent of evolution in America. As I think I’ve stated here before, I generally side with the theistic evolutionists, and had my hopes up. In the end, I’m frustrated and getting so sick and tired of all of the hand-waving and lack of solid argumentation on the side of evolution.

1. In his conclusion, after literally offering no argumentation in response to Craig’s points, he says something to the effect of “Let me tell you something, there is lots of evidence for the mechanisms of evolution in thousands of articles and books by people who know the scientific method.” Great! Then it should be really easy to present a good argument against Craig based on those thousands of articles, right?

2. Craig brought up Behe, and Ayala responded in two ways…one he simply asserted that Behe has been refuted. I’m assuming he means by Ken Miller, as the those arguing in favor of evolution have almost made a cliche out of saying “Miller obliterated Behe at Dover and in “Only a Theory.” I’ve got OAT, read it, enjoyed it, but also know that Behe has responded and I agree with Behe that Miller didn’t satisfactorily give an answer…so the cliche (usually offered by those who have actually read neither Behe or Miller) gets old. If it’s been so clearly refuted and if you are one of America’s best spokesmen for evolution, then simply explain why Behe’s arguments fail. If you feel that you need to educate America in this regard, then do it! Don’t fall back on the “priesthood” of science with assertions about the thousands of articles written by people who understand the scientific method.

3. Nobody was talking about Paley, so why did Ayala keep arguing in reference to Paley and the eye? Craig brings up Behe’s arguments, and Ayala responds to Behe’s arguments by arguing against an argument from 250 years ago that neither Craig nor Behe makes? That was odd to say the least…and didn’t do his side any favors.

Let me be very honest and say that I’m actually coming around to a position of thinking ID might be viable (in a Christian universe, which I believe to be our universe) partially because I’m sick and tired of the hand-waving and lack of good response from scientists who claim to be experts.

The debate was sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ, so a cynical person might say that they were hoping Ayala would do so poorly. I don’t think that’s the case though; I think their hope was to have a fair, reasoned, engaging debate. And despite Ayala’s less-than-stellar performance, I think that overall the debate was a good experience for the audience. I’d like to publicly thank the organizer Matt Bazemore, as well as his assistants, for all the work they did to put this event together.