Atheism Intelligent Design

One reason an atheist philosopher endorses intelligent design

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Consider some feature of the universe, such as its beginning to exist (assuming that it did begin to exist). There are various competing explanations we can consider for such a feature, and one of those explanations will be that the feature was due to an intelligent cause. We may judge this explanation to be the best one but it doesn’t follow that the explanation is true. The right account could be that there’s no explanation at all for why the universe has the feature that it does.

Thus, if the doctrine of intelligent design is as I’ve stated above, with the claim that the best explanation for the features is an intelligent cause, then I endorse intelligent design. I can do this, as an atheist, because I reject the inference that the best explanation is true or even likely to be true. My opinion is that it’s probably the case that the true account is that there’s no explanation at all.

Bradley Monton, author of Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design (Broadview Press, 2009), p. 36.

However, Monton carefully distinguishes that view from the idea that “the best explanation is that there’s no explanation”, noting:

If “no explanation” is the best explanation for the event, then “no explanation” is an explanation. But if  ”no explanation” is an explanation, then it follows that there is an explanation for the event. But if there is an explanation for the event, then the claim that there’s no explanation is false.

Presumably, he feels the way many do about the origin of life, that there may be no explanation, but that does NOT mean that no explanation is the best explanation, just the one we are stuck with.   Comments?

5 Replies to “One reason an atheist philosopher endorses intelligent design

  1. 1
    Mung says:

    But notice the condition under which he would endorse intelligent design. (I love how he calls it a doctrine.)

    He would endorse it under the condition that he didn’t have to accept it because he could just say well, for that I think it’s just as probable that there is no explanation.

    This really left me scratching my head. Huh?

    The best explanation is that there is no explanation, or that the best explanation is indeed the best explanation, but there’s no reason to believe that it is true?

    And look at his choice of event. The universe beginning to exist. He is confusing the intelligent design argument with other arguments for the existence of God.

    The book is much better than some others that have been published, but the author still seems confused about ID.

    Here’s a quote from earlier on the same page:

    The final explanation I want to put on the table is that an intelligent cause chose to make the uranium atom decay when it did.

    Thus, we can believe that an intelligent cause is the best explanation for the decay, while also believing that an intelligent cause had nothing to do with the decay.

    In what world?

    Again, he has a much broader concept of Intelligent Design than you or I do. Who here would offer up “Intelligent Design” as a plausible explanation for when an atom of uranium decayed?

    Now, if I’ve missed the point of the OP, let me know. But since when is “there is no explanation” a better explanation then ANY alternative?

    Is “there is no explanation” a better explanation than an explanation we know to be false?

    Can we ever know that the claim “God did it” is false? So isn’t “God did it” always at least a better explanation than “there is no explanation”?

    The subtitle of this book is “An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design,” but he’s not defending the version of ID presented here at UD.

  2. 2
    Bruce David says:

    Dr. Monton claims he is an atheist, but he sounds suspiciously like an agnostic to me. How is “there is no explanation” different from “I don’t know what the truth is”?

  3. 3
    Frost122585 says:


    You wrote:

    “How is “there is no explanation” different from “I don’t know what the truth is”?”

    The answer, sadly, is that many people REJECT God, or the concept of a similar designer. One of the main reasons for that is the issue of evil and apparent “poor design.” Obviously for the Theist all that is required to address these problems is theology, and for the secular IDist all that is required is to investigate what exactly is being interpreted as “poor design” and figure out if and how that is a malfunction of a prior original design. Remember, for an IDist designs CAN degrade over time. Cars rust, buildings dilapidated etc.

    So the issue is the REJECTION of God or the concept of a designer capable of accounting for the evidence. Of course I am both a Theist and an IDist and so I don’t see a reasonable argument for rejecting the conceptual legitimacy of a designer as an explanation.

  4. 4
    Peter says:

    A very impressive feat of academic maneuvering. As a philsopher it would be in Dr. Monton’s best interests to have a subject to endlessly debate. This would ensure a long and successful academic career. However, some in academia hate ID – so what to do? – defend your right to debate ID/evolution while acknowledging that ID is not true. That way Dr Monton can debate a subject which carries significant importance to many people while not ruffling too many feathers in the biology department. Obviously survival of the fittest. I endorse him. While I disagree with his understanding of the science, I heartfully endorse any move to lessen academic censorship.

  5. 5
    jasondulle says:

    I wonder if Dr. Monton is an anti-realist. He sounds like it. Regardless, his extreme skepticism of the approximate truth of inferential explanations seems unfounded. I doubt that he displays the same level of skepticism about materialist explanations. What would it take for him to think an inference to the best explanation is, in fact, the right explanation?

    I disagree with Dr. Monton that “no explanation” is an explanation. Someone who says, “there is no explanation for X” is not saying, “There is an explanation for X, and ‘nothing’ is the explanation.” Rather, he is saying, “there is no Y sufficient to explain X.” He seems to be making the same mistake that some people make when they interpret the phrase “the universe was caused by nothing” to mean “the universe was caused by something, and ‘nothing’ is that something” rather than “the universe was not caused by anything.”

    Furthermore, for Dr. Monton to believe there probably is no explanation, then he must deny the universality of the principle of causality and/or the principle of sufficient reason, which seems to shoot science in the foot.

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