Fred Hoyle was an atheist, but also a freethinker who embraced intelligent design. I have just been re-reading his 1983 book, The Intelligent Universe, and I think Hoyle’s viewpoint deserves a more honest consideration than it usually receives.
Hoyle was a very famous Cambridge (UK) physicist, astronomer, and cosmologist. He supported the idea of an eternal universe and worked out how it might be possible – a theory called The Steady State. He did not like the idea that the universe had a beginning, a notion he famously deprecated in public using the term “Big Bang”. The name stuck. Eventually, so much evidence accumulated for the Big Bang that Hoyle was left almost alone in holding to the idea of a universe with no beginning. But Hoyle is also justly admired for working out how the heavier elements are formed in supernovae and for his tireless work in bringing science to everybody.
In the debate over evolution, Hoyle is usually spun as a believer in Panspermia – the idea that life on earth was seeded from elsewhere in the universe. Other scientists have also believed in this, from Arrhenius to Crick. Perhaps it is necessary to spin Hoyle in this way because the truth would be unbearably painful for those who view Darwinism as proof of atheism. And the truth is that Hoyle absolutely disbelieved in Darwinism. He thought that there is intelligence “out there” in the cosmos, and perhaps in past time, that is directing the progress of life on Earth. In The Intelligent Universe, Hoyle meticulously demolishes Darwinism in great detail and with scientific precision. He even goes after Darwin himself, suggesting that Darwin only understood how evolution might work after he received Wallace’s letter detailing the role of natural selection. Hoyle returns time and time again to quote Wallace, whom he evidently admired.
What all this shows is that it is perfectly respectable to be an atheist, a disbeliever in Darwinism, and a supporter of ID. Religious individuals (like me) might be chagrined if atheists took up ID in large numbers (rather unlikely) but I think at this point it would be better to embrace more diversity in the debate rather than less. At least we should agree that supporting any mischaracterization of Hoyle’s viewpoint as Panspermia rather than ID is fundamentally hypocritical.