Lifetree Cafe Features Disgraced Atheist Professor and Intelligent Design Promoter

Yeah, you read that title correctly.  Dr. Bradley Monton is a former philosophy professor who has made a name for himself by advocating for the merits of intelligent design, despite being an atheist himself.  In 2009, he published a bookSeeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design.  The title alone must make evangelicals drool all over themselves.  The vindication ID-believers must feel from having an atheist professor seemingly in their corner has motivated Christian bloggers, reporters and podcasters to pass this guy around for interviews ad nauseum.

If you recall, my first experience with Lifetree Café was two weeks ago, when I attended a session called “Giving Up on God: The Rise of Atheism.”  It was a much more positive experience than I anticipated, and I recommend going to a Lifetree session if you’re interested in improving relations between theists and atheists.  This is a great place to start, especially when the topic of the week includes a reference to atheists. The last thing any of us want is to be represented by a strawman erected by Christians.  We’ve all been there I think.

From what I’ve seen about this week’s session, “In the Beginning: An atheist professor considers intelligent design,” Dr. Bradley Morton will be presenting the audience with his opinion on the topic of intelligent design, and reassuring Christians that their currently accepted version of how the universe and life came to be is still relevant, despite scientific progress in this area.  I wonder if, in the video, they will be informing the audience that Dr. Monton is a philosophy professor, not a physicist, biologist, geologist, or scientist of any kind.  Don’t get me wrong, he seems like a smart guy.  He graduated from Princeton and has more formal education than I’ll ever have.  I’m just curious as to how honest Lifetree will be about his credentials.  More to come on that.


On the merits of intelligent design, Monton says:

ID investigations are part of a long tradition in philosophy called Natural Theology—of looking for evidence in the natural world for the existence of God. Intelligent design has prima facie merit in being part of this long philosophical and scientific tradition. That’s one reason why I think it should be taken seriously.

Regarding opponents of intelligent design, he says:

I find the arguments of the opponents of ID too emotionally driven and not as intellectually robust as one would hope. I get upset with my fellow atheists who present bad arguments against intelligent design and then expect everyone to believe that they have somehow resolved the debate with these bad arguments.

When asked if ID should be taught in schools, Monton replied:

Did you know that the California teacher guidelines for K–12 students state that if a student asks about intelligent design, he should be told that it doesn’t belong in the science classroom—that he should talk to his family or pastor about it instead? Shutting down discussion and debate in this fashion is bad pedagogy. Teachers should be forthright about all of the evidence and tell students that issues regarding the origin of life are still open for debate.

Thank you for your sanity, California.  Here, Monton is rewording the old “teach the controversy” mantra that creationists have been pushing on public schools for decades.  His plea for teachers to be forthright about all of the evidence assumes there’s actually scientific evidence for intelligent design.  But there isn’t.  Intelligent design at its core is pure speculation based on incomplete knowledge. It’s a version of creationism that admits the Bible’s creation story is flawed and therefore attempts to revise it based on current scientific understanding.  There is no evidence that a creator has intervened in the natural formation of the universe or evolution of species.  None.  So I vehemently agree that ID has no place in a science classroom.  Religious studies, yes.  Science, no.

Monton doesn’t hold back on his views about other atheists, especially well-respected and admired ones like Lawrence Krauss, who is an actual physicist, not a philosopher who’s pretending to play one to get his point across.  When discussing Krauss’ work on his own blog, Monton states:

Krauss is a really smart guy in some ways, but horribly simple-minded in others. He represents a lot of what I don’t like about the contemporary atheist movement: treating theism as obviously wrong, and religious people as obviously misguided.

In a three-week span, Lifetree Café will be presenting Christians with video clips of two atheists (one former and one current) who don’t come close to representing the views of the majority of us.  It’s really unfortunate.  In many cases, Christians are attending these meetings with open minds to find out what really makes atheists tick, but are presented with strawman examples, or in this case, a needle-in-a-haystack creationism-friendly atheist who bashes the atheist community every chance he gets.

And while this particular Lifetree topic and video have been around since at least 2011, I’m quite surprised they’re still using an interview with Dr. Monton in it.  It’s very likely they haven’t found another poster-boy atheist/ID-advocate to take his place, and assume Christians watching this video won’t look into who this guy is.  After doing about 30 seconds of digging on who Bradley Monton is, I discovered he was forced to resign from CU-Boulder in 2014 due to alleged inappropriate relationship(s) with student(s), and hasn’t taught since, according to his CV.  The details of his violation(s) are sealed, as Monton reached a settlement with CU for $185,000 in exchange for his resignation.

Despite my discomfort with Lifetree’s approach to this topic and the subject they’re using, I plan to be in attendance at my local meeting on Monday 12/12.  Hopefully I can help to serve as a voice of reason when needed.  Truthfully, when I attended two weeks ago, I enjoyed the conversations I had and the welcoming atmosphere I encountered.  I’m looking forward to the next meeting and plan to let our readers know how it went.  Stay tuned.


Kevin Davis

Kevin Davis is the head writer and editor for SecularVoices, co-founder of Young Skeptics, and author of Understanding an Atheist. He is known for local and national secular activism and has spoken at conferences and events such as Reason Rally 2016 and the Ark Encounter Protest and Rally.

View all posts by Kevin Davis →

23 thoughts on “Lifetree Cafe Features Disgraced Atheist Professor and Intelligent Design Promoter

  1. Monton at first:

    ID investigations are part of a long tradition in philosophy called Natural Theology

    Monton later:

    Did you know that the California teacher guidelines for K–12 students state that if a student asks about intelligent design, he should be told that it doesn’t belong in the science classroom

    I think you answered your own (rhetorical) question, Prof. Monton. Natural theology doesn’t belong in biology class, it belongs in a philosophy or theology class.

    This is not to denigrate philosophy or theology; the history of the civil war doesn’t belong in a biology class either. Learning how to do a geometrical proof or read French also doesn’t belong in biology class. Lots of good and worthy subjects don’t belong in science classes. And while most scientists might disagree with the appellation ‘good and worthy’ being applied to ID, we can set that aside and hopefully agree that if some idea falls under the academic heading of ‘philosophy’ or ‘natural theology’, it probably deserves to be taught by a teacher trained in philosophy or theology (a mere biologist won’t be competent to discuss it), in a class dedicated to teaching how philosophy or theology is done and what things philosophers and theologians have concluded. Such electives are fully allowed in the US public school system. There are no legal barriers to pursuing that strategy. They just don’t want to, because that does not allow them to force unwilling unbelieving students to listen, or claim the cache of science for their idea.

    1. If I learned anything in math class, it was that cartooning on the desk was not acceptable.

      So why would a concept that boils down to “god did it”in the end be appropriate for biology class?

  2. Sounds like a philosophy-department equivalent of Donald Trump: a mediocrity whose business failed due to shady dealings (and sexual misconduct), who settled a lawsuit to keep his misconduct quiet, and who is now capitalizing on popular amnesia and prejudice to fail upward.

    1. Yeah, he apparently was forced to resign from the Univ. of Colorado for “sexual improprieties”. Another Geoff Marcy clone.

  3. I wonder if, in the video, they will be informing the audience that Dr. Monton is a philosophy professor, not a physicist, biologist, geologist, or scientist of any kind.

    Monton sounds a lot like David Berlinski, also a PhD graduate from Princeton in philosophy, who used to portray himself as a mathematician. Berlinksi purports to be a non-believer who appears to be an ID proponent. I wonder who Monton and Berlinski think the intelligent designer is.

    1. Argh!

      Trying to confirm a recollection I rewatched some months ago the Crossfire-/PBS ID-evolution debate.

      I had finally managed to forget Berlinski and his smug “I affirm nothing so you can’t refute me but I can say that I am not satisfied with your argument” attitude.

  4. ID investigations are part of a long tradition in philosophy called
    Natural Theology—of looking for evidence in the natural world for the
    existence of God.

    Yes and finish the sentence: how did that turn out?

    People used to think that the Earth was the center of the universe, because Teh Bible says so. Angels were necessary to push the planets around their epicycles. Now they know it ain’t so.

    With Kepler and Newton, people came to realise that the laws of gravity are sufficient to explain the orbits of the various planets around the Sun. More angels get the sack!

    Newton still held out hope that angels were necessary to explain the spinning of the planets on their axes. Later: the nebular hypothesis, gradually revised and improved. Angel unemployment hitting an all-time high.

    Then Darwin came along and explained that evolution through natural selection was adequate to explain the proliferation of varieties of life. The angels are gone now, and God himself has more free time on His hands with less and less work to do.

    20th century: Relativity eventually leads to the Big Bang hypothesis. Origin of the universe explained through physics, not theology. God has nothing to do but putter around in His garden.

    The entire history of scientific inquiry in a nutshell: more and more phenomena which used to require supernatural explanation are being explained as the natural workings of matter, no God required.

    1. Precisely so. Bravo.

      Edited to add: I’m not so sure gardening is a worthwhile pursuit for God. It didn’t turn out so well the last time.

      1. It wasn’t the garden that was the problem, it was the animals with thumbs he put in there with orders to deny their natural tendency toward curiosity and also a tendency to ignore warnings about mystery fruit with snakes in it.

    2. The Church has always worked contrary to scientific advancements.
      Copernicus’ claims were proven true, so the church had to back down.
      When the telescope was invented, we learned that stars weren’t holes in the firmament through which shone the glory of heaven.
      Who was against “desecrating” corpses to learn more about anatomy?

      I mean, their whole history in western culture is one of cock-blocking the advancement of knowledge, because knowledge threatens their little superstitious scam that has paid so very well throughout the centuries.

      It ain’t rocket surgery! They have special interests to protect; otherwise they’d have to get actual jobs n’ shit like the rest of us.

  5. And there’s your old “bait-and-switch” tactic. Keep going to the meetings. Eventually, I guarantee it, there will be a call to convert (or for those Christians to reaffirm their “commitment to Christ” or whatever phrase du jour is popular in that crowd).

    I remember a while back, PZ Myers committed to attending church services for a month in an outreach attempt to understand the perspective of the religious. He got as far as the second week and the Baptist preacher started telling the audience frank lies about his field of expertise (biology and evolution). It did not go well, and the outreach ended then and there.

        1. Isn’t that the point of all apologetics? It’s got nothing to do with expansion of the flock and everything to do with retention. Two things get me about this particular flavor of apologetics though. Like with all apologetics, the people who are coming, aside from the OP, are people who are already somewhat inclined to listen to an atheist or apistevist message, they either have one foot out the door of the church themselves, or, in the case of Steven, have a close family member or friend who’s already left. The sample is self sorting in that regard. The bigger issue is the extremity of the “bait and switch” the folks at Lifetree seem to be engaging in here. The whole exercise is structured to look like an open discussion, albeit with an apologist slant, but, in the end, everything is arranged to lead the would be wayward sheep back into the flock. This is why I called it “stealth apologetics” in the previous post.

          1. I guess whether it’s stealth or not depends on your perspective. You and I as outsiders glom onto it instantly — it’s far from stealth. But from inside the church-going community, it probably is pretty stealthy.

            Einstein’s theory of relativity applied to Christian apologetics. Observer dependent.

  6. I went to my local group two week ago and I’ll try to go to this one. I had a good time learning from the other attendees about how Christians think and I hoped I helped to dispel some atheist stereotypes.

  7. There is no evidence that a creator has intervened in the natural formation of the universe or evolution of species.

    I don’t know what created the universe, and neither does anyone else…yet.

    The possibility that there is or is not another “consciousness” in the Universe is an unfalsifiable hypothesis. The approximate number of stars (and planets) in the known Universe is 10^24. The stars we’ve observed so far have an average of 1.6 planets.

    The Drake equation implies that ~1/ 10^9 worlds has life on it. That then means 10^15 worlds support life or could support life. Even if one considers that the advent of multicellular life was a (μ ±7σ) event on Earth’s timeline of 4 billion years, there are ~1000 star/planet systems in the Universe, assuming Earth-like conditions cannot be unique in the Universe.

    Then there is the multiverse hypothesis, advocated by Krauss himself. It’s all a big mystery, no matter how you break it down.

    It’s enough to make anyone question the nature of Life, Sentience and the Universe. IMO, the evidence for a Christian/Muslim/whatever etc God is an equally small possibility (10^-24) given the evidence, so I respect his position of entertaining all possibilities.

    But I don’t respect his pandering to Christians, who are unwilling to consider any of the other (10^24 -1) other possibilities.

  8. Slightly off-topic, but last night I was watching NBC and saw an ad for the Ark Encounter!

    Your tax dollars at work? I’m in California, not likely to travel to see a fake boat unless there’s also music and free beer!

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