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 book, Seeking 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.