Yesterday blogger Stephen J. Bedard at the “Hope’s Reason” blog posted a review of my book You’re not as Crazy as I Think. Bedard enjoyed the book and gave it a very positive review. (And he notes in the review that The Atheist Missionary, a regular reader at my blog, had recommended the book. As a result, TAM gets a free lifetime subscription to the back-catalogue of my blog posts. Full access, 24-7! Lucky TAM!)
But then just as I was wrapping up the review I came upon a criticism.
It began like this: “That is not to say that this book is perfect.”
Now all in all, that isn’t too bad. After all, it really is equivalent to saying “That is not to say that this book is equal to scripture.” It’s hard to quibble with that.
Then Bedard explained his one objection more fully:
I was disappointed in his chapter on evolution and intelligent design. My problem was not the position he took but that in this chapter he ignores his own advice. He seems to accept that intelligent design is a disguise for young earth creationism and that thinking Christians should accept evolution.
So is this a viable criticism?
The first six chapters of You’re not as Crazy as I Think lay out the disciplines of truth-seeking and intellectual engagement. Among the points I make is that we commonly rationalize the fact that people hold views diverging from ours by imputing to them an intellectual deficit. Intellectually we think that they must not have the information we have or they would surely agree with us. And when we present that information and they still don’t agree with us? At that point we are liable to appeal to a more stringent intellectual deficit: maybe they’re just stupid. But the most serious charge of all is moral deficiency: maybe they refuse to accept our views as true because they’re wicked.
Rarely if ever do we articulate this reasoning process in a formal way, but we tacitly appeal to it all the time. (I give examples in the book.) We do so because marginalizing the dissent of others to our opinions is a way of restoring stability when we find people disagreeing with us. It effectively provides a bulwark to protect our opinions against the doubt created by articulate opposing opinions.
The final four chapters of the book look at four specific groups that conservative Christians commonly marginalize by imputing to them a cognitive or moral deficit: liberal Christians, animal rights activists, evolutionists and atheists. (For those who don’t like the term “evolutionist” I share your distaste. Nobody describes themselves as a “Gravityan” because they accept Newton’s theory of gravity or a “Plate Tectonicist” because they accept the theory of plate tectonics. But evolutionist is the term we have and it has a widespread and popular currency, so having stated my reservations I’ll stick with it just the same.)
In each of these chapters the argument is not that the reader should adopt the position. And surely it would be strange for an evangelical apologist like myself to be arguing that, for example, people ought to become atheists. Nor was I arguing that Christians ought to become “evolutionists” (i.e. to accept the theory of Neo-Darwinian evolution). All I did was present evidence that those who accept evolution are not cognitively or morally deficient and that some of the main theological objections to it are spurious. The fact that I accept evolution is quite irrelevant to the argument. All I was looking for is that Christians not dismiss out of hand the consensus of a highly trained and extraordinarily informed group of thousands of experts who have all converged through an assessment of evidence on the same opinion of common descent. To attempt to restore the security of belief by imputing to all these individuals cognitive and/or moral deficits is simply inexcusable. So I don’t think I ignored my own advice. Rather, I was carrying through the argument of the other chapters. Nor did I commend evolution to the reader. Rather, I commended to the reader a cease and desist order on the marginalization of highly intelligent and diverse doxastic communities.
Finally, do I think that intelligent design is just creationism warmed over? Not at all. I’m puzzled by the statement since I have always defended intelligent design (and I’ve written many articles in this blog on just that topic; I also appeal to Dembski’s design filter in a chapter in God or Godless). However, I do disagree rather strongly with Bedard’s apparent assumption that ID is somehow inconsistent with evolution. It isn’t. As I’ve pointed out in the past, ID is a philosophy of science, not a scientific theory. It is a philosophy of science which proposes that design inferences are legitimate in scientific explanation, and it seeks to lay out criteria for when design inferences are, and are not, legitimate. A person could sign onto this project while believing in Neo-Darwinian evolution since the main claims of Neo-Darwinian evolution are not in any way inconsistent with the project of ID. Even if a person is a Neo-Darwinist who believes that all “random” mutations are by definition metaphysically undirected (a claim that seems to me to be a tendentious philosophical postulate) that individual could still be open to the ID project in other areas such as the identification of cosmic fine-tuning at the origin of the universe. So ID is consistent with even the most prima facie ID-hostile Neo-Darwinian position.
In closing, I thank Bedard for his generous and irenic review. But I thought the points he raised in the above-quoted section called out for a response.