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Intelligent Design edited by Robert B Stewart
What We Believe
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Intelligent Design edited by Robert B Stewart
» Intelligent Design
 Sir John Polkinghorne, Nancey Murphy, Wolfhart Pannenberg, William Lane Craig, Francis Beckwith, Alister McGrath – professors, authors, theologians, and philosophers whose names are synonymous with the philosophy of science and theology dialogue. These prominent figures, known across the globe for their vast and varied appraisal of the relationship between theology and science have never before had their contributions combined in one publication devoted to the uniquely controversial topic of Intelligent Design (ID). Our book of interest, Intelligent Design: William A. Dembski and Michael Ruse in Dialogue, brings together fourteen scientists and academics from a range of disciplines, adding to those already mentioned the scholars most familiar with specifically the ID and evolution debates. The book that results does not fit into the standard ID/evolution offerings. It avoids falling into either the tired two-camp portrayal or the failed attempts at feigned objective, unbiased treatments. Instead it presents the insights on evolution and ID from within each scholar’s particular field of expertise and unique vantage point, their cards on the table for all to see. The culmination results in an intriguing guide for just about anyone interested in this ongoing source of conflict in the public and scientific arenas. On the heels of the Kitzmiller v. Dover case declaring ID was not science, this book serves as a much needed resource to any seeking to distill what the recent and significant developments in science, theology, philosophy, and law mean for the future of ID, Darwinism, evolution, and the related concepts of theistic evolution and creationism.
 Readers familiar with the debates will likely lament the absence of contributions from those who have weighed in on these debates significantly in the past: Michael Behe and Philip Johnson from the ID community, Richard Dawkins and Richard Lewontin as two models of evolution advocates, and Francis Collins and Kenneth Miller as proponents of specifically theistic evolution. The absence of these particular voices, however, indicates the true value of the book at hand. It represents less a silencing of their positions than it does an opportunity to hear from those who failed to secure a seat at the table in the past. This book’s new collection of individuals include those of the Fitzmiller legal team that opposed ID inclusion in Dover, PA schools (Wesley R. Elsberry and Nicholas Matzke), a creationist (usually the common straw man of both evolutionists and ID proponents), as well as agnostics, alongside the expected Christian defenders of ID.
 In the introduction, editor Robert B. Stewart admirably paints the background against which the reader may appreciate the main arguments, history and challenges surrounding ID. A professor of philosophy and theology in his own right, Stewart weaves together the array of voices including his own reasons for engaging in this topic as a scientist and member of the academy. His introduction brings the newcomer up to speed on the primary developments leading to the position that has come to be called ID, as well as the recent setbacks ID has encountered in the rulings of various court cases. Also of note is the context out of which the book arose. Stewart organized a conference at which several of the book’s contributors were present and presented papers. Hurricane Katrina’s devastation caused the conference to be relocated and delayed. The book that results documents the value and success of Stewart’s efforts, not only to bring about that conference, but in encouraging the dialogue of competing explanations of the origins of human life.
 William A. Dembski and Michael Ruse, familiar sparring partners in the ring of evolutionary philosophy and science, begin the book evidencing once again their brilliant arguments, engaging illustrations, and profound disagreements. They present the reader with what their live audiences have learned well – the debate between ID advocates and evolutionists is multifaceted, multi-disciplinary, has far-reaching implications, and can be carried on in a convivial and good-humored manner. Dembski and Ruse provide an entree into the basic disagreements addressing such topics as specified complexity, irreducible complexity, probability, and the nature of science. The debate finds both sides explicitly distancing themselves from the apparent polar positions of creationists and atheistic evolutionists. A Christian and an agnostic, the two scientists engage in a familiar “I’m unconvinced by the evidence and your argument” back-and-forth on this subject, while arriving at final positions not as dissimilar as some might expect. Their latest research, arguments, and witticisms combine to successfully pique the interest of the reader, and their interaction with a panel of the contributing authors demonstrates why one finds their monikers headlining this latest contribution to the debates about the ID movement and evolutionary science.
 Another veteran in this field, Martinez Hewlett, offers what is hoped to be a “peaceful middle ground” in his chapter on theistic evolution. William Lane Craig, in the following chapter, claims no credentials for speaking to the biological factors under discussion, but weighs in on the implications of the naturalism often tied to evolution, both by advocates and critics. These two chapters, neither of which argues for ID (Hewlett as an evolutionist and Craig as an agnostic on this topic), articulate several important distinctions that the bipartisan debate often confuses as it reaches the public. Namely, there are false equations that are often attributed to proponents of each side of this debate, whether in media outlets or by those holding vocal minority positions at the extremes of the debate. The terms creationism, theism, Christianity, ID, evolution, naturalism, materialism, and atheism are often misleadingly grouped into a two-party schema with taglines and bumper-sticker slogans portraying the positions as more political than scientific. Craig and Hewlett demonstrate by their arguments and their positions that such reductionisms present false dichotomies wherein individuals may take on and sometimes defend aspects of one side of the debate thought to be a corollary of their own position. Later Hal N. Ostrander alludes to the same point, referring to the Anthropic Cosmological Principle – the universe is constructed in a highly improbable manner conditioned uniquely for human life to exist. This principle is widely acknowledged by physicists who posit various hypotheses, conducting experiments to investigate this or that related phenomenon without any recourse to an intelligent “Designer.” From these chapters, the reader may conclude, first, that apparent design need not include theistic conclusions and, similarly, that evolution does not necessitate atheism as an implicit corollary.
 While the above authors strive to highlight distinctions between commonly conflated categories, Wesley R. Elsberry and Nicholas Matzke demonstrate with impressive concision the closeness of the ID community to that of their creationist predecessors. Given the insistence of ID proponents that their brand of ‘design’ does not inherently imply God, this chapter is a must read for those who want to understand why Judge Jones’ ruling in the Dover case was worded as it was and how this wording was catalyzed by the evidence. Some will find this chapter the nail in the coffin that lays ID to rest as ‘creationism in disguise.’ Of course, the book does not end there as Francis Beckwith offers a dissenting opinion on Judge Jones’ interpretation of “religious motives” found in his ruling on Fitzmiller v. Dover. Beckwith does not counter the argument put forward by the prosecution (nor does anyone else in the book dispute the evidence presented by Elsberry and Matzke), but instead challenges the opinion given by the judge on the basis of first amendment rights, legal precedent, and the wording of Judge Jones’ opinion regarding religious motive. These chapters are primarily parochial as they address the American legal context, but are nonetheless valuable for their extension of the discussion to its implications upon the larger culture.
 Several more chapters address elements of ID-evolution beyond those of mere biology. Alister McGrath brings his talents for reducing arguments to their key components to bear on the thought and life of his Oxford colleague Richard Dawkins. McGrath counters Dawkins’ rhetoric with his own addressing Dawkins’ logic and motives, but leaves the reader wanting as he fails to turn from his criticisms toward constructive proposals. The primary thrust of this chapter appears to be discrediting Dawkins, and by doing so to create a distinction within the common conflation of atheism and evolution.
 J. P. Moreland’s application of the ontological, epistemological and methodological commitments of ID and evolution to the field of psychology assumes a naturalistic evolutionary model that the book’s other contributors challenge. Consequently, his conclusions that the field of psychology better corresponds with the assumptions of ID convinces only insofar as one embraces his explicit assumptions regarding ID and evolution. However, once again, the horizons of the discussion are at least extended beyond the biological.
 Similarly, Ostrander and Murphy consider the implications of divine action for physics (cosmological as well as quantum levels) and the philosophy of science as a whole. Might intelligent design and evolution both be compatible with the findings of Heisenberg, Schrödinger, and Einstein? In what manner might divine action be thought of as transcendent, imminent, and/or interventionist? More questions are raised than answered, but the fruitful nature of these trajectories may be indicated by their resonance with current research in quantum mechanics as well as modern theology.
 John Polkinghorne and John Lennox seemingly take up all of the above concerns in their eloquent and even-handed manner, the former from a thirty-thousand feet perspective and the latter with a critical yet optimistic appraisal of the future of ID. Each gives attention to the scientific and theological implications, modeling the humble and intelligent spirit of the book as a whole. Interestingly, the final chapter is reserved for a cautionary tale by Kenneth Keathley. Keathley shares with ID readers the history of the flat earth debates of the sixth century. The moral of the story, for Keathley, is that Christian creationists are justified in their rejection of ID if the Christian doctrine of creation is compromised by ID – specifically the concept of an inherently good pre-fall cosmos and humanity. No ID response follows and no corresponding concern appears in the previous chapters, perhaps indicating ID proponents’ desires to refrain from commenting on specifically Christian theology.
 The renowned systematic theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg offers a fitting afterword to the book. He reflects on the nature of science and theology and the manner in which the two disciplines relate one to another. Citing both T. F. Torrance and Michael Faraday on field theory, Pannenberg suggests that the way forward for the scientist and Christian will not be so dissimilar as the current state of the ID-evolution debate might lead one to think.
 Intelligent Design: William A. Dembski and Michael Ruse in Dialogue offers excellent resources for newcomers to the topic as well as those who are quite familiar with the two prominent positions but have not yet considered the implications of ID/evolution for the fields of psychology, philosophy of science, and the relationship of this debate to theological claims beyond the existence of a deity. Echoing the words of the editor, “I know of no other book that brings together such highly qualified authors from such diverse fields to consider this topic.” While an editor is supposed to offer such commendations a reviewer need not, and it comes as a pleasure when one is able to do so.
© October 2008
Journal of Lutheran Ethics (JLE)
Volume 8, Issue 10
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
All rights reserved.
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