Saturday, March 27, 2010

Hanson on Obama

Please read this well-reasoned and persuasive essay by Victor David Hanson. Here is the conclusion:

In any isolated circumstance, we are willing to give the president of the United States a pass on a particular disturbing decision. But after 14 months of them, the Obama particulars add up to a remaking of America that is now clear and consistent: Grow government; redistribute income; establish permanent political constituencies of dependents; increase entitlements; hike taxes; demonize “them” while deifying their supposed victims; seek global neutrality abroad; and always play fast and loose with the truth.

What do we end up with?

You might call it: Chicago does socialism.

Friday, March 26, 2010

"The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not," warned Thomas Jefferson.

Some of my best friends are robots

Hi Douglas,

This is an automated message from a robot to let you know that your message has been received. A real human being will be responding to your inquiry shortly.

Indaba, the Super-Cool Email Robot


One young woman's way of exposing abortion's evils.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Steyn on "The Nationalization of Your Body"

Mark Steyn on Obama-socialized-medicine. I hope to God he is wrong about not being able to repeal it.

From Americans United for Life

Dear Friends:

After the last week of such intense work to try to keep funding and mandates for abortion out of health care, capped by the sudden collapse of “the Stupak bloc” which led to Sunday night’s tragic vote in favor of pro-abortion health care, the question on everyone’s minds right now is: what’s next? So I’d like to take a minute to tell you about AUL’s plans.
But first let me begin with a tremendous thank you for your support in the firestorm of this last week. The overwhelming response AUL received was deeply meaningful to the entire AUL team and a great encouragement. You are partners with us, so we work knowing that we are a team in the effort.

Together, we were able to really dig in during the lead up to the vote. AUL Action's “Life Counts” campaign was so significant that the New York Times and Politico both featured it.
I spent all of Saturday and much of Sunday at the Capitol while the AUL legal team was working at our offices near the White House and another part of our team was on the Hill making sure that the remaining “undecideds” had AUL’s legal analysis. In fact, the Washington Examiner ran an oped by our Sr. VP, Bill Saunders, about the Executive Order which was cited on the floor of the House by Congressman Sensenbrenner.

In the end, however, it came down to four votes. The bloc of Representatives led by Congressman Stupak, who had committed to casting a pro-life vote, failed to withstand the intense pressure from Speaker Pelosi and the President.

I cannot adequately express how heavy my heart was as I made my way back to the AUL office after Congressman Stupak’s press conference where he had announced that he cut an empty deal with the President.

When I arrived, however, I found our legal team already finishing up our newest piece of model legislation: a bill that would allow states to prohibit health plans offered through the Exchanges in their states from offering abortion coverage. I hope that encourages you as much as it did me!

We’ve already heard from legislators in Georgia and Kansas who want to get this legislation passed in their states. And let me assure you - we have more responses in the works, both on the state and the federal level. There is much more to come and a number of ways for us to respond pro-actively and aggressively. With AUL’s history working in the states with legislators across this country, and in the courts, we are uniquely positioned to respond to this new threat to Life. And we will.

On Monday, we spent some time together as a team, reviewing the events of the weekend; I told everyone assembled that we needed to focus on two central questions: What are we made of? And what do we believe?

The answer to the first question came in the form of that ready-to-roll piece of legislation. Our team may be tired, but we are relentless and we will press forward, creating a path toward restoring our culture of life.

The second question will keep us focused beyond this temporary setback. The answer is this: we believe that abortion is the great evil of our age. A surrender to complacency and discouragement is not an option. We are engaged in the great human rights struggle of our time. Our fight is waged with the abolitionist movement and the civil rights movement as our great heritage.

So let me conclude with a final reflection on that heritage. I had the privilege of beginning the day on Sunday at a non-denominational and bi-partisan service held in the Capitol Rotunda. It was awe-inspiring to sit in Statuary Hall, surrounded by statues of the great heroes of our history and the leaders of today.

The service was organized by a friend of mine and a friend of Life, Congressman Randy Forbes. We began by singing “Amazing Grace.”

This is a hymn that has deep meaning for many of us. I used it to sing my children to sleep all through the years when I paced the floor with restless babies. Those nights seemed endless then, but they are a sweet memory now.

Our times of challenge pass. History moves quickly and we have to seize the moment. “Amazing Grace” was written by the reformed slave-trader, John Newton, the friend and mentor of the great abolitionist, William Wilberforce. As I heard those beautiful words, sung a capella, in the soaring space of Statuary Hall, I knew a great peace about the day yet to unfold in front of us.

Of course the day ended in stunning disappointment. But Wilberforce and Newton knew those times too. Yet ultimately, they prevailed.

We have no promise that we will see the same triumphant outcome that they did. Although I believe that we will if we persevere.

In that time of unknowing, we press on. Last week my uncle sent me a column written by one of my favorite writers, Paul Greenberg:

Even if nothing practical comes of standing up for principle, something will have been accomplished. Future generations will know that this whole culture of death, of which abortion has been so central a part, was not imposed on America without resistance. Call it bearing witness. Voices in the wilderness have been known to prove prophetic. Some day, some way they will be heard. Or maybe not. But at least they will have been raised.

Or as Walker Percy [once wrote]: “To pro-abortionists: According to the opinion polls, it looks as if you may get your way. But you’re not going to have it both ways. You’re going to be told what you’re doing.”

Today I say this, to Nancy Pelosi and Cecile Richards:

You may have gotten your way. But you’re not going to have it both ways.

Friends, come with me and let us bear witness. That is what’s next.

Yours for Life,

Charmaine Yoest, Ph.D.
President & CEO
Americans United for Life

PS: Please contact us at to get more information about how to get your state legislators interested in passing the model legislation which will enable YOUR STATE to opt-out of the abortion mandate in the new health care system. Our goal is to see states all across the country passing this ban.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fatal Choice

Why Stupak went from a hero to a villian.

Apologetics Lectures Now in Video

Videos from my three presentations at University in Fort Collins should be here soon.

The Tail and the Face

This is from Melville's epic, Moby Dick, chapter 86. It highlights the difficulty in knowing God's face, although approached through a chapter on the difficulty of understanding and explaining the tail of a sperm whale.

The more I consider this mighty tail, the more do I deplore my inability to express it. At times there are gestures in it, which, though they would well grace the hand of man, remain wholly inexplicable. In an extensive herd, so remarkable, occasionally, are these mystic gestures, that I have heard hunters who have declared them akin to Free-Mason signs and symbols; that the whale, indeed, by these methods intelligently conversed with the world. Nor are there wanting other motions of the whale in his general body, full of strangeness, and unaccountable to his most experienced assailant. Dissect him how I may, then, I but go skin deep. I know him not, and never will. But if I know not even the tail of this whale, how understand his head? much more, how comprehend his face, when face he has none? Thou shalt see my back parts, my tail, he seems to say, but my face shall not be seen. But I cannot completely make out his back parts; and hint what he will about his face, I say again he has no face.

From the Book of Common Prayer

59. For Quiet Confidence

O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength: By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee, to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Beast?

My new printer is taking so long and making so many strange sounds to "initialize" that I wonder if it might be "the beast" (or R2D2) It gurgles, clunks, taps, clicks, hisses, and more. It even has a screen telling me what it is up to.

Old printers never did this. You plugged them in, and they printed. Mysteries and opacities abound unnecessarily in the world of technology.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Prayer for Congress

Dear Douglas,

I am sitting here at the dining room table -- more like the War Room -- planning with our SBA List team what could be the culminating battle of the fight to defeat this abortion-laden health care bill. Every minute, new information comes in about a wavering member of Congress or a tidbit of strategic information from Republican or Democratic leadership. Having jumped in, I realize now it is important to step back out for just a few minutes.Without prayer, I am 100 percent sure we will lose. With it, the consciences of wavering members can be lifted up and emboldened. While we are not a religious organization, we cannot succeed without prayer as the wind in our sails. So will you please take just a few minutes, join the 280,760 members of our SBA List family around our virtual dining room table and pray that this bill fails and our nation's children will be protected from the carnage that would result from its passage? This is a defining moment when prayer -- our most powerful lobbying tool-- cannot be left on the table.

The leaders -- especially Bart Stupak, Eric Cantor, Michele Bachmann, John Boehner and Mike Pence who have led the charge in these final days to protect Life and warn others that THIS IS NOT A GAME, need our support and prayer. Pray that they enter the battle this weekend with the same energy and courage and love they have shown thus far.Also, here is a list of undecided Members of Congress that so you can pray for each by name. These folks are under intense pressure on all sides. Their struggles do not go unnoticed, but pray that through all the clutter they see the clearest reminder of what this is about: the babies that will be lost if this bill passes.

Kathy Dahlkemper
Marcy Kaptur
Paul Kanjorski
Baron Hill
Solomon Ortiz
Earl Pomeroy
Chris Carney
Lincoln Davis
Alan Mollohan

My Dannenfelser family here will join you, and we will also be lifted up by this community, as I know you will.

For Life,

Marjorie Dannenfelser
President, Susan B. Anthony

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Personhood Amendment

Colorado Personhood Amendment Submits 46,671 Signatures - Ensures Spot on 2010 BallotPersonhood Colorado ^

Posted on Thursday, March 18, 2010 5:03:19 PM by EternalVigilance

Personhood Colorado
March 18, 2010

DENVER / Christian Newswire – Personhood Colorado, sponsors of the 2010 Personhood Amendment, today submitted 46,671 signatures to the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.
On March 4, the Colorado Secretary of State disclosed that 20.63% of the 79,648 signatures submitted by Personhood Colorado were invalid. As allowed by Colorado law, volunteers then had 15 days to replace the invalid signatures with new, valid voter signatures. That translated to over 1,000 signatures per day.

“Over the past few days, the massive quantities of signatures that poured in just amazed us,” remarked Gualberto Garcia-Jones, co-sponsor of the Personhood Ballot initiative.”That means that we collected over 2,600 signatures each day, about 2 signatures per minute. Some of our volunteers were working all hours of the day, and that is a testament to what we already knew – that Colorado citizens recognize the value of human life and have worked extremely hard to see that each human life is protected.”

The 700+ volunteer petitioners worked around the clock to gather signatures, frequenting churches, grocery stores, Tuesday Caucuses, and other public venues. Many college age church volunteers circulated the petition at Colorado St. Patrick’s Day Parades and college campuses.

“We were told that we needed to replace over 15,000 of our signatures,” commented Keith Mason, co-founder of Personhood USA. “We knew we could do it, because when you are working on such a critical, life and death issue, volunteers are passionate. We knew it would take a lot of hard work and determination, but we never expected such an outpouring of support. It is clear that the people of Colorado wanted to make a statement – that every human life should be protected by love and by law. This effort is more alive and vibrant than ever.”

“We’re so thankful for help from American Life League, Durago-based pro-life group LifeGuard, Personhood USA, and dozens of other pro-life organizations. With their help, we faced a daunting task and succeeded beyond our wildest expectations, glory be to God!” added Leslie Hanks, co-sponsor of the Personhood Amendment. “Now, we’re ready to begin campaigning for life and preparing for victory in November.”

For Interviews Call Keith Mason at 202-595-3500
Personhood USA is a grassroots Christian organization founded to establish personhood efforts across America to create protection for every child by love and by law. Personhood USA is committed to assisting and supporting Personhood Legislation and Constitutional Amendments and building local pro-life organizations through raising awareness of the personhood of the pre-born.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Urantia Book

[From my book, Jesus in an Age of Controversy.]

I once received a call from a young radio announcer for a Christian station, who wanted information on a Christian view of UFOs and life on other planets. After a few minutes the man reluctantly confessed that his interest was based on The Urantia Book, a revelation that supposedly supplements, corrects, and updates the Bible. Despite his Christian background, this man had doubts that Jesus had to die in order to atone for our sin and turn away the wrath of God. I spoke with him for almost an hour, earnestly arguing for the biblical teachings on Christ’s sacrificial death. Near the end of the conversation his troubled soul seemed to come back to the Bible. What is this Urantia Book and how could it lead someone away from the teachings of Scripture?

The Urantia Book (1955) is a mammoth tome that credits no human author. Rather, it claims to have been assembled by extraterrestrials entities or “Revelators”--with ostentatious names such as Perfector of Wisdom, Number, Divine Counselor, and One Without Name--and channeled by one unidentified human. This 2097 page volume gives a fantastically convoluted and obscure account of cosmology, anthropology, theology, and history. One of its more objectionable anthropological claims is that the black (or “indigo”) race was the most inferior; although it claims that these people “have exactly the same standing before the celestial power as any other earthly race.”[i] Martin Gardner observes that this “is exactly what southerners in the United States, including their minister, used to say about the African American slaves.”[ii]
One of Urantia’s devotees, Peter Bergman, of the comedy group “The Firesign Theatre,” said of it: “It’s been this major influence on my life since 1972. . . . I find it to be the most complete expression and explanation of our relationship to God and where we’re going and where we come from.”[iii] Under the leadership of the Urantia Foundation in Chicago, the book has gone through eleven printings in the United States, with translations in Spanish and Finnish appearing in 1993. Work is being done on Russian and Dutch editions, and there are plans for other languages as well.[iv] My search of the Internet yielded several home pages dedicated to spreading the gospel according to The Urantia Book. Some of the materials offered were aimed specifically at reaching Christians.

The Urantia Book supplies us with over 774 pages on the life of Christ--much of it concerning his supposed world travels during the “lost years of Jesus” not addressed in the New Testament (see chapters 7-8). It tips the extraterrestrial hat to the biblical Gospels, deeming them influential but inadequate, partial, and imperfect records.[v] From the alien angle, the New Testament was corrupted by the influence of Paul, Peter, and others, and only dimly reflects the real teachings of Jesus.[vi]

To attempt to fathom The Urantia Book one must descend into a dark and foreboding labyrinth of quirky terminology, pseudo-scientific pronouncements, and revisionist ideas about Jesus. In barest outline, the book informs us that God is a “Trinity of Trinities,” that humans are unfallen beings who have a divine spark within them (called a “Thought Adjuster”), that they can become fused with God through evolutionary development, and that Jesus’ death on the cross did not atone for our sin against God.

In its attack the idea that Jesus sacrificed his life for ours, The Urantia Book states that “the Father in Paradise did not decree, demand, or require the death of his Son as it was carried out on earth.”[vii] And: “Jesus did not atone for the racial guilt of man nor to provide some sort of effective approach to an otherwise offended and forgiving God.”[viii] Furthermore, the resurrection of Jesus was, it claims, spiritual and not physical, since his body instantaneously decomposed in the tomb.[ix] It says: “This material or physical body was not a part of the resurrected personality.”[x] These notions contradict the preaching of the Apostle Peter, who proclaimed shortly after Pentecost:

Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know--this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power (Acts 2:22-24, NRSV).

Peter was only echoing his Master, who solemnly asserted that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). The most ancient and reliable records available clearly teach that Jesus offered his life on a bloody cross in obedience to the will of his Father for the redemption of humanity. The first Christians, such as Peter, witnessed and declared that Christ rose from the dead in a perfected physical body, not as a disembodied spirit (Luke 24:36-43; 1 Corinthians 15:1-34; see also chapter 15). However, The Urantia Book, with its Gnostic devaluation of the body, would have us abandon the biblical record and embrace its own unhistorical and idiosyncratic perspective, which it claims is a revelation superior to the Bible or any other source.

The Urantia Book declares that “the gospel of the kingdom is: the fact of the fatherhood of God, coupled with the resulting truth of the sonship-brotherhood of man.”[xi] The true gospel as taught by Paul is that: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” and that he appeared to many witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). These apostolic words bear the marks of historical facticity and personal integrity. For these truths Paul lived and died. On these truths Christianity was born, survived through bloody adversity, and makes its unique appeal today. For all its physical bulk and metaphysical murk, The Urantia Book is devoid of this transformative authority and power.


[i] The Urantia Book (Chicago, IL: The Urantia Foundation, 1955), 725.
[ii] Martin Gardner, Urantia: The Great Cult Mystery (New York: NY: Prometheus Books, 1995), 24.
[iii] Quoted in Peter Stenshoel and Jay Kinney, “Audio Magicians: When is a Cult Figure an Occult Artist?” Gnosis, Summer 1994, 42.
[iv] Gardner, 11.
[v] The Urantia Book, 1341-1342.
[vi] Ibid., 2091-2093
[vii] Ibid., 2002.
[viii] Ibid., 2016.
[ix] Ibid., 2023-2024.
[x] Ibid., 2021.
[xi] Ibid., 2059.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Epistemology in Moby Dick

After several careful pages of musing on whether the whale's "spoutings are, after all, really water, or nothing but vapor," Ishmael (the narrator) sets off this epistemological explosion on faith and reason:

And so, through all the thick mists of the dim doubts in my mind, divine intuitions now and then shoot, enkindling my fog with a heavenly ray. And for this I thank God; for all have doubts; many deny; but doubts or denials, few along with them, have intuitions. Doubts of all things earthly, and intuitions of some things heavenly; this combination makes neither believer nor infidel, but makes a man who regards them both with equal eye.--Herman Melville, Moby Dick, chapter 85, "The Fountain."

Three Wishes

See my short review of Three Wishes, a portrait of jazz in the 1960s.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Truth, Knowledge, and Comparative Worldviews

[I have used the following essay for some of my undergraduate courses in philosophy.]

I. Truth and Knowledge

The central question for the first section of our course is how moral claims fit (or do not fit) into a larger philosophy of life. Ethics deals with truth-claims about matters of moral value. The classic and common-sensical definition of truth is: That which corresponds to reality (although some dispute this). (I defend this view of truth in chapter four of my book, Truth Decay.) So, a statement is true only if it is made true. If I say it is 72 degrees in our Ethics classroom on September 17, 2007, at 7:00 PM, and it is, in fact, 72 degrees at that time, then my statement is true. It is true whether or not I had any good reason to assert it. Philosophy concerns truth-claims: statements about what it taken to be real. But how can we know what is true and what isn’t? Philosophy is also necessarily concerned with deriving knowledge. The classical definition of knowledge (going back to Plato) is justified, true belief. So, for a person to have knowledge of any statement (P):

One must belief that P.
P must be true.
P must have adequate justification or warrant. That means that there is sufficient reason to believe P.

Knowledge is, therefore, a privileged or advantaged kind of belief. Not all beliefs rise to the level of knowledge, since our beliefs may be either false or unwarranted. One can accidentally believe P and P end up being true. Consider this example: You have no idea how old Bill is, but you guess that he is twenty-four. You later find out that he is twenty four. When you guessed his age you held a true belief, but one without knowledge, since your belief lacked warrant or justification. On the other hand, one may have good reasons to belief P and P end up being false (because one was not able to have access to evidence that showed P to be false). For example, you believe that Sarah was born in Africa because she looks and sounds African. Moreover, she associates with many people you know to be African. However, it turns out that Sarah, while raised by native Africans, was born in another country and then moved to Africa at a young age with her family. In this case, you had some reason for your belief (you were not irresponsible in your judgment), but your belief was not true, nevertheless. You did not possess knowledge.

II. Worldviews and the Moral Meaning of Life

The first section of this course looked at Eastern religions, atheism, and theism (mostly Judaism and Christianity, but I mentioned some things Islam not included in the textbook) with the goal to determining which of these broad worldviews provides the best account of moral meaning. In other words, which worldview provides moral knowledge (justified true belief about morality)? Although we addressed religious worldviews, which are often taken “on faith” apart from reason, we tried to assess these worldviews philosophically. That is, can a religious worldview offer a reasoned defense of itself as a source of moral knowledge? In a philosophy class, religious truth-claims need to be addressed philosophically. That is, do they give good arguments or supply good reasons for their truth claims? We saw that Eastern religions, atheism, and theism cannot all be true because they affirm views that conflict with each other. Consider the differing claims about ultimate reality:

1. Eastern religions claim that ultimate reality is an infinite and impersonal sacred state that transcends the human, such as Nirvana in Buddhism. Spiritual liberation is release from the human condition. Ethics are instrumental to that end.

2. Atheism claims that the universe is all that exists. There is no sacred state above the material realm. Ethics must be based on some aspect of the material world, since nothing else exists. Russell, Sartre, and Camus all emphasize struggling against the evils of life despite the fact that life itself has no ultimate meaning.

3. Theism claims that the ultimate reality is a personal and moral God, who is infinite—that is, unlimited and perfect—and who created the world out of nothing (ex nihilo). Christianity and Judaism (but not Islam) further claim that humans are made in God’s image and likeness. Morality is based on a personal God who reveals truth to humanity.

III. Toward a Philosophically-Integrated Worldview

Many people operate intellectually with a dichotomy between an upper story and lower story concerning their beliefs. (For more on this see, Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There [InterVarsity Press, 1998.])

Morality, spirituality, personal/private truth, faith. Not verifiable or reasonable. Things not knowable.
Facts, science, objective truth, reason. Things that are knowable.

But philosophically, the goal is to have an integrated worldview or philosophy of life. One’s beliefs about the most important things in life should at least aspire to knowledge, not rest in mere belief or hope without sufficient evidence. Philosophy can help one sort out one’s worldview in this respect.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Doug Groothuis lectures on Postmodernism and Apologetics on Line

My three lectures at the Universanity conference in Fort Collins are now on line.

1. The Crisis of Truth in the Postmodern World
2. A Short Course in Defending Christianity
3. The Lordship of Christ in Culture

Saturday, March 06, 2010

From The Wall Street Journal

Ex-Muslim says Muslims "need to be liberated from their God."

Limits, Oh Limits

My post on the Big Bang and theism has generated much response. I cannot respond to all of it, though. Mine was a short essay; but many, if not most, of the criticisms raised will be addressed in my book, What Matters Most (IVP), which is forthcoming, perhaps in late 2011. See also the work of William Lane Craig in Reasonable Faith and elsewhere.

Friday, March 05, 2010


I'm getting a number of post candidates that are full of nasty comments, personal attacks, and general incivility. Some of these have some decent content; some do not. But I do not publish comments that use insults. If you want something published here, leave this bitterness out; otherwise, I leave you out.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Scientific Confirmation for the Beginning of the Universe

Scientific Confirmation of the Creation: The Big Bang

Craig and others have sought epistemic support for creation ex nihilo through the scientific evidence for Big Bang cosmology. Several converging lines of evidence have firmly established this cosmology, which is interpreted by most to require an absolute origination of the universe from nothing about fourteen billion years ago. Stephen Hawking, the renowned physicist, recently said that “Almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the Big Bang.”[1] Even the atheist Quentin Smith accepts that Big Bang cosmology entails that nothing at all existed before the first event of the universe.[2]

A detailed account of the ascent of Big Bang cosmology is not possible here, but a broad outline may be sketched out.[3] Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (1917) had implications far beyond his imagination. His theory of gravitation assumes an eternal universe existing in a steady state that is not expanding. However, Russian mathematician Alexander Friedmann found that Einstein had made an elementary mistake in his calculations when he divided by zero. When this was corrected, the theory predicted an expanding universe.[4] Independently of Friedman, Belgian astronomer Georges Lemaitre found essentially the same thing.[5] The corrected theory then began to be verified by various strains of evidence.

In 1929, the astronomer Edward Hubble picked up on observational data left by Vesto Slipher that about a dozen galaxies near earth were moving away from us at high speeds. This was indicated by “the red shift,” which is “a change in the color of the light from…distant galaxies that indicated, to the trained eye, an enormously rapid motion away from earth.”[6] Using large telescopes, Hubble, with the aid of Milton Humason, verified that the galaxies were moving away from each other, thus further establishing the expanding universe. From this, Hubble formulated his famous law of the expanding universe, earlier predicted by Slipher, that “the farther away a galaxy is, the faster it moves." [7] This principle also applies to inflating balloons and rising bread in the oven. Hubble’s law, taken by itself, does not prove that the universe has always been expanding, but only that it is expanding now; in other words, it is a necessary condition, but not a sufficient condition, for the Big Bang.[8]

As the Big Bang was gaining ground, some scientists tried to take the ground out from under it. In the late 1940s, Fred Hoyle and two other scientists postulated the “steady state” universe, in which the universe is ever expanding yet eternal. This theory required that new material be created continuously out of nothing in the empty aspects of the universe (a dubious idea philosophically). Then another sky-shaking discovery further confirmed the Big Bang and rendered the steady state theory unsteady at best. At the end of World War II, three scientists calculated that if the universe came into being through a tremendous explosion, this event would have produced intense radiation that, while diminished, would still exist in the contemporary universe. In 1965, the physicists Arno Penzia and Robert Wilson “detected the cosmic fireball radiation [that had been] predicted and thereby made one of the greatest discoveries in 500 years of modern astronomy.”[9] Their initial findings have been further confirmed.[10] Now both the necessary and sufficient conditions for the Big Bang have been established. The implication is that everything in the universe can be traced to an original “singularity” from which it sprang. As two prominent physicists concluded, “At this singularity, space and time came into existence; literally nothing existed before the singularity, so, if the Universe originated in such a singularity, we would truly have a creation ex nihilo.”[11] But there is yet more cosmic evidence for a beginning of the universe.

The abundance of helium in the universe also confirms what would be expected if the Big Bang occurred.[12] The fact that the formation and life of stars requires hydrogen also contributes to the evidence for an absolute beginning of the universe, since hydrogen is used up and not created in the process. From this astronomers infer that the further back in time one goes, the more hydrogen. “Turning back the clock still further, the astronomer comes to a time when the Universe contained nothing but hydrogen—no carbon, no oxygen, and none of the other elements out of which planets and life are made. This point in time must have marked the beginning of the Universe.”[13]

Lastly, the second law of thermodynamics strongly indicates a beginning of the universe. Thermodynamics is the science of energy. Its second law states that closed systems incline toward a state of equilibrium or entropy. That is, the “universe is moving irreversibly toward a state of maximum disorder and minimum energy.”[14] This end point is known as “heat death.”[15] Entropy is an empirical and physical example of the philosophical concept of contingency. The present order of the universe (its assemblage of useable energy) is contingent on previous states of energy and is impossible without it. This contingency relation is strictly linear and irreversible.[16] Entropy increases over time—and not the reverse. From these considerations, a modus tolens deductive argument follows.

1. If the universe were eternal and its amount of energy finite, it would have reached heat death by now.
2. The universe has not reached heat death (since there is still energy available for use).
3. Therefore, (a) the universe is not eternal.
4. Therefore, (b) the universe had a beginning.
5. Therefore, (c) the universe was created by a First Cause (God).

Or, more simply, “What is winding down must have been wound up.”
G.C. Nerlich rejected this argument, as given by D. Elton Trueblood,[17] in three sentences. “But this is far from lending support to the theistic hypothesis. It simply means that the law leads us to a point beyond which it will not take us. It gives no warrant for the conclusion that the minimum entropy state has a supernatural cause.”[18] But if a natural law indicates a beginning of the universe, and will not take us beyond the beginning of the universe, then that beginning should be explained on other, non-natural grounds. A “supernatural cause” is a fitting candidate when natural explanations give out, as many scientists and philosophers have begun to fathom. The only other alternative is that everything came from nothing without a cause—an idea we challenged previously.

Others have disputed this argument by claiming that the universe as a whole may not be entropic. As Whitrow put it, “It would seem that not only is it difficult to formulate the concept of entropy for the whole universe but also that there is no evidence that the law of entropy increase applies on this scale.”[19] Put more philosophically, to extrapolate from items in the universe that are running down, to the conclusion that the entire universe is running down, is to commit the fallacy of composition. If one feather is light, that does not imply that 18,000,000 feathers taken together are light. Similarly, although each individual brick is rectangular, a wall of bricks may be nonrectangular. The whole takes on new and contrary properties not shared by each of its parts. Therefore, parts of the universe may be running down, but not the whole show. If this is the case, then the argument that entropy entails a beginning to the universe fails. How might this objection be answered?

First, the second law of thermodynamics is purported to be a scientific law; that is, a universal or all-inclusive claim covering all cases of energy exchange. Although it relates to particular parts of the universe, the law is formulated to account for all the energy exchanges of the universe. If the scope of the law is universal, it is not “difficult to formulate the law for the whole universe” (as Whitrow claims) but entirely natural and appropriate.[20] Moreover, there is no positive evidence that the law is suspended or reversed in any part of the universe. Paul Davies puts this point clearly.

Today, few cosmologists doubt that the universe, at least as we know it, did have an origin at a finite moment in the past. The alternative—that the universe has always existed in one form or another—runs into a rather basic paradox. The sun and stars cannot keep burning forever: sooner or later they will run out of fuel and die.

The same is true of all irreversible physical processes; the stock of energy available in the universe to drive them is finite and cannot last for eternity. This is an example of the so-called second law of thermodynamics, which, applied to the entire universe, predicts that it is stuck on a one-way slide of degeneration and decay toward a final state of maximum entropy, or disorder. As this final state has not yet been reached, it follows that the universe cannot have existed for an infinite time.[21]

But does the entropy argument commit the fallacy of composition? The fallacy of composition is applicable to some whole-part relations, but not all such relations. This is because it is not a formal fallacy (such as denying the antecedent, which is fallacious whenever its form appears, independent of any material considerations); but rather, it is an informal fallacy that only obtains when particular material factors are present. In many whole-part relationships, the fallacy of composition does not occur. If each individual playing card is made of paper, then one ton of playing cards will be made of paper. If each individual brick occupies space, then the whole wall will occupy space. In these kinds of cases, a property of the parts distributes as a property of the whole. Therefore, no context-independent rule can be stipulated as to whether a fallacy of composition has been committed. We must consult individual cases.[22]

Additive factors may not cause a transmutation when applied to the whole. Adding up a million individually light playing cards will make the set of cards heavy, but it will not make the set of cards immaterial. There is no good reason to think that a universe consisting only of entropic beings will possess the property of non-entropy. But if the universe is universally entropic, it requires a source of original energy outside of itself. To avoid an infinite regress, we need to infer a First Cause which is not itself subject to the entropic regress.


[1] In Moreland, Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (InterVarsity Press, 2003)478. Science writer and astronomer, Robert Jastrow, concurs, God and the Astronomers, 14.
[2] Smith in Moreland, Craig.
[3] I will be relying mostly on Jastrow, but also see Moreland and Craig, 476-479.
[4] Jastrow, 18-19.
[5] Ibid., 32.
[6] Ibid., 18.
[7] Ibid., 32.
[8] Ibid., 54.
[9] Ibid., 69.
[10] Ibid., 69-72.
[11] John Barrow and Frank Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 442; quoted in Craig, Reasonable Faith, 127.
[12] See Jastrow for details, 79-81.
[13] Jastrow, 85.
[14] J.P. Moreland, Scaling The Secular City (Baker Books, 1987), 34.
[15] For the two versions of this, see Moreland and Craig, 478.
[16] That is, apart from supernatural intervention.
[17] D. Elton Trueblood, Philosophy of Religion (1957), 102-105.
[18] G. C. Nerlich, “Popular Arguments for the Existence of God,” Encyclopedia of Philosophy, six vols., ed. Paul Edwards (New York: MacMillan, 1967), 410.
[19] Whitnow, “Entropy,” 529.
[20] See Moreland, Scaling, 37.
[21] Paul Davies, “The Big Bang—and Before (paper presented at the Thomas Aquinas College Lecture Series, Thomas Aquinas College, Santa Paula, Calif., March 2002; quoted in Copan and Craig, Creation out of Nothing, 243-44.
[22] See Ed L. Miller, God and Reason (New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. 1972), 56.

A Critique of Ken Wilber

Ken Wilber is an American independent scholar and a prolific and popular author who advocates what he calls and “integral” view of reality, which synthesizes truths from psychology, history, anthropology, religion, sociology, and philosophy into a unified and multidimensional worldview. Wilber is sometimes associated with the “transpersonal psychology” movement, a school of thought that attempts to incorporate mystical states of consciousness into more mainstream psychological theories. Wilber has referred to himself as a pandit (or teacher) as opposed to a guru (a spiritual advisor or leader). He believes he is bringing together a truly global philosophy for our day.

With the publication of his first book, The Spectrum of Consciousness (1977), Wilber began to attract accolades from noteworthy thinkers such as religious scholar Huston Smith and those associated with the New Age movement. Wilber himself disavows the label “New Age” because of its association with sensationalism, utopianism, and irrationality. Nevertheless, his books are typically found in the “New Age” section of bookstores and he is widely endorsed by New Age luminaries such as Deepak Chopra and Jean Houston. His book, The Marriage of Sense and Soul (2000), was endorsed by then-Vice President Albert Gore.

While attempting to reconcile theories from East and West, Wilber’s essential worldview is that of nondualistic pantheism, as expressed in Zen Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta Hinduism. Nondualism affirms that all of reality is undivided or one. The classic Hindu affirmation of this is found in the Upanishads: “Thou art that.” This means that one (the Atman) is one with the Universal Self (or Brahman). Put positively, the doctrine is called monism. All apparent dualities (of God as distinct from creation, of heaven or hell; of good or evil, of life or death) are unreal and misleading. Wilber claims that “The two-ness of experience is the fundamental lie.” The nondual reality is what Wilber calls “Spirit” or “Emptiness,” which he claims is “unqualifiable.” Therefore, the universe (which he calls the Kosmos) and persons are divine in their essence. Wilber rejects monotheism in general and Christianity in particular, viewing them as offering a lower and “tribal” or “mythic” understanding of religion and reality.

Yet instead of dismissing the world of history as illusory (or maya) as do many nondualists (such as the Hindu philosopher Sankara [788-820]), Wilber attempts to explain the evolution of consciousness as a process whereby “God-in-the-making” is externalized in the world of forms. In this sense, he resembles the German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel (1770-1831), who explored the “phenomenology of Geist” or the evolution of Spirit through various historical epochs. (Hegel, although notoriously difficult to interpret, was more likely a panentheist than a pantheistic nondualist.)

Wilber’s writings represent probably the most well-researched and systematic contemporary attempt to justify a pantheistic and nondualistic worldview. (Nevertheless, his 330 page work, A Brief History of Everything—a summary of his much longer Sex, Ecology, Spirituality—contains no footnotes.) Unlike many New Age authors, he does not appeal to parapsychological data to validate his claims, such as channeled messages, UFO contacts (which he ridicules) or information gathered from near-death experiences. Nor does he simply assert his worldview on the basis of his authority as a guru. Thus, he is often hailed as a major philosopher, and his books are being published in a collected works edition, an honor only paid to major intellectual figures. (However, his main publisher, Shambhala, which publishes his collected works, is not an academically established. Wilber is not generally accepted as a philosopher in academic circles.) Nevertheless, Wilber’s worldview is both unbiblical and riddled with philosophical errors.

Despite Wilber’s attempt to be incorporate vast amounts of material from a diversity of religions and philosophies, he offers surprisingly little about Christianity. In passing, he endorses “Gnostic Christianity” (an oxymoron, since the Gnostics were second century heretics who distorted the original teachings of Jesus), but says little about Jesus or any major Christian thinker—ancient, modern, or contemporary. He dismisses monotheism as the worship of a “mythic god” and as “exoteric” (external and superficial) religion. His controlling paradigm is that of nondualism, and every subject he addresses is interpreted by that model. For instance, he claims that Jesus awakened to the reality that “Atman is Brahman” (the individual soul is really one with the cosmic Soul), just as many other mystics have done.

In an interview in Shambhala Sun (as well as in Sex, Ecology, Spirit), Wilber misinterprets one of Jesus’ statements along pantheistic and nondualistic lines, which is typical of New Age-oriented writers. Wilber misinterprets Jesus’ declaration, “I and the Father are one,” to mean that Jesus was affirming the identity of Atman (individual self) with Brahman (the universal Self). In other words, Jesus (whom Wilber calls, “The Adept from Narareth”) was claiming to have discovered his oneness with an impersonal Christ Consciousness, just as many other mystics have done. This kind of pantheistic declaration is supposedly what lead to Jesus’ execution. Further, the church limited the possession of deity to the man Jesus alone, when, according to Wilber, everyone is divine in essence, if not in experience. Yet these nondualistic Hindu categories are utterly alien to Jesus’ authentic teachings and to the whole of Holy Scripture, which affirm one transcendent and personal God, who sent his only Son into the world to redeem it (John 3:16-18). Wilber’s interpretation of Jesus’ statement evidences what James Sire has called “worldview confusion.” Wilber wrongly imposes a nondualistic worldview onto a monotheistic and incarnational worldview.

Jesus, a Jewish monotheist, identified himself with the Creator and Lord of the universe, not with a universal and impersonal consciousness (John 8:58; 10:30). He affirmed that the central human problem was sin against God, not ignorance of one’s own oneness with Spirit, as Wilber teaches (Mark 7:21-23). Salvation is found in allegiance to Jesus himself, not by turning inward through meditation, as Wilber teaches (Matthew 11:27-30; John 3:16). Jesus never taught anything resembling pantheism or nondualism, nor did any of his apostles, all of whom were monotheists who confessed Jesus as Lord (1 Corinthians 8:4-6).

Besides endorsing an unbiblical worldview, Wilber’s worldview is internally inconsistent and does not correspond to the facts. First, Wilber’s cosmology suffers from an infinite regress problem. He claims that reality is made up of whole/parts called “holons.” A holon is complete in itself, but is made up of both smaller holons and is itself part of larger holons. For example, “a whole atom makes part of a molecule; a whole molecule makes part of a whole cell.” Wilber asserts that this “holarchy” extends infinitely in both directions: there is no smallest or greatest holon. By claiming this, Wilber avoids the idea that the universe contingent and is created by a necessary, self-existent being outside of itself (God). Instead, all we have is holons “all the way up and all the way down.” There is no room for a Creator. While it is true that physicists keep finding (or at least positing) smaller and smaller entities and astronomers have yet to exhaust the depths of the universe with their high-powered telescopes, it makes little philosophical sense to claim that the universe has no upper or lower limit. Any line is, in principle, infinitely divisible mathematically, but this does not mean that any physical object can be divided into smaller and smaller units ad infinitum. If this were the case, then any and every object would face the challenge of jumping out of a bottomless pit (the infinite regress problem). Without some fundamental building blocks, nothing gets built.

The idea that the universe is infinite in extension—there is no largest holon—fairs no better. The most widely accepted cosmologies view the universe as finite, not infinite. Moreover, the well-established Big Bang cosmology tells us that the universe had an absolute beginning in time; therefore, it is not infinite in duration. (Nor does modern cosmology allow that the universe is infinite space, matter, or energy.) If the universe had an absolute origination, then it makes good sense to claim that this beginning was caused by an agent (or First Cause) outside of the universe. These evidences point to theism, not Wilber’s pantheism, which denies the existence of a transcendent Creator.

Additionally, Wilber’s concept of an infinite holarchy is incompatible with his own stated nondualism, which allows for no parts at all. Parts and whole divides up reality. But for Wilber, all is one—nothing more. Wilber’s entire scheme of whole/parts is dualistic to the core, and so irreconcilable with his denial of “two-ness” or duality.

Second, Wilber’s nondualism excludes any development of the universe or cultures through time. If all is one and with distinction, there are no parts of reality left to develop or change in history. Yet Wilber repeatedly explains “the evolution of consciousness,” while affirming that nonduality is both “the ground and the goal” of the entire process. If nonduality is case, there is no process and there is no goal. Hindu nondualists are at least consistent in rejecting history as illusory and unimportant. Christians, however, believe that God, who transcends the cosmos, nevertheless acts within it to accomplish divine ends throughout history. There is nothing contradictory about these claims, and they may be verified philosophically and historically.

Third, Wilber’s concept of God (which he calls “Spirit” or “Emptiness”) is incoherent because he says it is “unqualifiable”—beyond logical and linguistic description. This idea of ineffability is invoked by many nondualists, since the nondual state cannot be described in language, since language hinges on affirming and negating properties with respect to objects (“The apple is red” or “Jesus is sinless”); language is a dualistic enterprise to the core. If so, Wilber’s “Spirit” cannot serve as an explanation of anything, because its very meaning cannot be picked out of the conceptual crowd. To claim, “An unknowable, ineffable X, explains history and religion” is logically absurd. What does the explaining in any explanation must be intelligible and knowable.
To say that George is suffering from an unknown malady is not to explain that maladies cause, nature, or cure. It explains nothing. On the other hand, Christianity teaches that God is knowable, He is a just, loving, and personal being, who is revealed in nature (Romans 1:19-21), conscience (Romans 2:14-15), Scripture (2 Timothy 3:15-17), and in Jesus Christ, the Incarnation of God (John 1:1-3; 14, 18). As Paul says concerning our knowledge of God, we see in part and we know in part; but we do see and we do know true things about God (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Fourth, Wilber’s denial of a personal God—the “mythic god” of mere anthropomorphism and tribalism—takes away any meaning or significance or reality for human persons. Personhood is not fundamental to Wilber’s Kosmos; it must be transcended through mystical experience. Prayer, worship, and any relationship with God is impossible. In fact, all relationship is ruled out in a nondualistic worldview. One is a very lonely number, after all. On the contrary, biblically, God himself is tri-personal and triune: Father, Son, and Spirit: one God in eternal relationship and fellowship (Matthew 3:13-17; John 1:1-3; 17; 1 Peter 1:1-2). The triune God brings human beings into existence in God’s personal image and likeness in order that they may have communion with him and with each other (Genesis 1:26-27).

Fifth, nondualism excludes the conflict between good and evil, since to admit ethical dualities or polarities is a fundamental lie of “two-ness.” “There is only God,” Wilber affirms. If so, there is no ontological room for evil. But God, for Wilber, is not a good and moral being who creates the cosmos and acts in history. God is only “Emptiness,” which is hardly a moral category (if it is a conceptual category at all). Nonetheless, the properly functioning human conscience recognized the realities of virtue and vice, of heroism and terrorism, of good and evil. Any worldview view that eliminates these distinctions as unreal fails the most basic reality test a worldview can encounter. Moreover, Wilber himself makes moral judgments in his writings when he rejects the monotheistic view of God as primitive and unenlightening and when he condemns the KKK. Wilber also claims that the more developed or evolved an entity is (the more complex its structure of holons is), the more respect it deserves. He calls this principle “the basic moral imperative.” But he has no philosophical basis for affirming any ethical judgments, since such discrimination presupposes the objective reality of various entities possessing value. Nondualism disallows these realities, since only an impersonal God (called “Emptiness”) exists. Christians, however, know the reality of a good world gone wrong through sin against God’s eternally holy character and wise commands. Evil is very real in a sinful and fallen world; but it has been named, unmasked, and defeated through the perfect life, vicarious death, and death-defeating resurrection of Jesus Christ. Evil will finally be overcome through his Second Coming at the end of the age (Matthew 25:31-46; Acts 1:11; Philippians 3:21).

Sixth, Wilber’s nondualistic worldview offers no hope of salvation, either individually or globally. This follows for two reasons. First, Wilber can gives no substantive ethical vision for the individual or society beyond the very general advice to meditate and to think integrally (which excludes monotheism). Moreover, his model of social change is logically incoherent. In an interview in the journal What is Enlightenment? in 2002, Wilber claimed that the goal for those who want to transform society should be to “incarnate nondualism.” The very concept of nondualism eliminates the possibility of incarnation, since incarnation means to bring an objectively real higher reality to bear on an objectively real lower reality. In other words, incarnation logically necessitates a dualism between higher and lower, and thus rules out nondualism as a worldview. However, the Apostle Paul’s words make the concept of incarnation crystal clear: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9; see also Philippians 2:5-11). Having denied the ontological distinction between the Creator and creation (Romans 1:18-32), Wilber can only seek spiritual liberation within the self, which he denies is sinful and which he identifies with an impersonal and pantheistic oneness that does not exist.

Wilber writes little of Jesus Christ in his books, which is a strange omission, given that Jesus has influenced world history more than any other individual. Sadly, Ken Wilber has thus denied the unique deity, cosmic authority, and redemptive power of “the only name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). In his attempt to explain everything, Wilber has defined and demeaned the Lord of the cosmos. Therefore, Wilber’s philosophy amounts to a huge superstructure build on nothing more than shifting and sinking sand (Matthew 7:24-27).


1. Groothuis, Douglas. Confronting the New Age. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988.
2. Sire, James. Scripture Twisting: Twenty Ways Cults Misinterpret the Bible. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980.
3. Wilber, Ken. A Sociable God. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1983.
4. Wilber, Ken. Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, revised ed. Boulder: Shambhala, 2000.
5. Wilber, Ken. A Brief History of Everything, revised ed. Boulder, CO: Shambhala, 2000.
6. Wilber, Ken. A Brief Theory of Everything. Boulder, CO: Shambhala, 2000.
7. “The Evolution of Enlightenment: Andrew Cohen and Ken Wilber in Dialogue,” What is Enlightenment? Spring/Summer 2002, 38ff.
8. “The Kosmos According to Ken Wilber: A Dialogue with Robin Korman, Shambhala Sun, September, 1996.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

D. Groothuis on the New Age (Again)

My 2008 lecture, "Confronting the New Age: Why Oprah is Wrong," delivered at Summit Ministries, is available on line.

Michael Shermer, "Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against ID" (Lecture) Corrected

Michael Shermer, author and editor of Skeptic Magazine, spoke at the Tivoli of the Auraria campus in downtown Denver on February 17, 2010, on the topic, “Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design.” The event was sponsored by the Metro State Atheists.

Shermer has written a book of the same title (2006) that I reviewed in The Denver Post in 2006 along with Jonathan Wells’s, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Shermer covered many topics at a rapid pace. I took nine pages of notes, but cannot respond to all of his ideas nor can I develop all of my criticisms fully. I offer the following as food for thought, and provide some suggestions for further reading.

Shermer quickly deployed his wit, making clever comments about the room, which was once part of a brewery. This set a tone of humor and often mockery of views he rejected. He relied heavily on numerous slides, often of cartoons ridiculing critics of Darwinism. The first few minutes of the talk were spent promoting his magazine and laying out its mission to debunk bad thinking across the board.Shermer then spoke for twenty minutes of his trip to the Galapagos Islands where Darwin made significant discoveries concerning animal life. Shermer explained the development of Darwin’s theory of natural selection before presenting the controversies concerning it. While the talk was supposed to be about Darwinism versus Intelligent Design (ID), Shermer spent much time citing and criticizing creationists, particular The Creation Museum. This sparked hearty laughter from many, but was, in fact, off topic, since Intelligent Design theorists make no statements about a young earth or a local flood, both of which are defining positions for creationists. (See, for example, Henry Morris, Scientific Creationism.)

Furthermore, creationists in the US are all conservative Protestants while ID proponents are Catholic (Michael Behe), Protestant (Stephen Meyer, William Dembski), Orthodox (John Marks Reynolds), and agnostic (David Berlinkski).While Shermer later granted that ID thinkers were more sophisticated than creationists, he often conflated the two since “both believe in a Creator.” But not all ID thinkers do believe in Creator, some simply think Darwinism is effete and that design is a plausible alternative. Shermer’s rhetorical strategy of conflating ID thinkers with creationists allowed much of the ridicule he heaped on creationists (concerning the implausibility of a global flood) to spill over to ID thinkers. This is the fallacy of guilt by association.

Shermer emphasized that creationists and ID thinkers believe that Darwinism leads to atheism which leads to relativism and social decay. He said, “It’s all about worldview.” His argument seems to be that since there is no good science involved, the challenge to Darwinism can be reduced to a political agenda. But Shermer did nothing to refute the idea that atheism can lead to relativism and social decay—besides scoffing at the idea. Shermer attempts to ground morality in instinct (see his book The Science of Good and Evil), but he said little to defend that highly questionable approach. (To counter this, see C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man.) Shermer also ignored the fact that social Darwinism (with its eugenics, racism, and more) is, in fact, rooted in biological Darwinism, as John West argues convincingly in Darwin Day in America.

More importantly, the social motivations of critics of Darwinism and defenders of design are utterly irrelevant with respect to the science they are assessing. What counts are their arguments. To attack motives in order to discredit arguments is to commit the fallacy of poisoning the well. Bradley Monton, an atheist who is sympathetic to ID, makes just this case in Seeking God in Science.Many of Shermer’s arguments would apply to creationists, but not to most ID thinkers. For example, he challenged the young earth theory as unsubstantiated and made arguments for common descent. Yet ID does not rely on either a young earth or on rejecting common descent. Behe, for denies a young earth and affirms common decent. (For the record, I deny both the young earth and common descent.) The crucial question for the ID movement is whether or not science can explain all of nature on the basis of unintelligent, material causes. ID argues that certain aspects of life are better explained by intelligent causes, however those causes worked over time.Shermer’s basic argument against ID was what he called “the argument from personal incredulity.”

1. X looks designed.
2. I cannot figure out how X could come about through natural causes.
3. Therefore, X was supernaturally designed.

This, of course, is the old “god of the gaps” argument as design. Shermer cited Newton’s claim that “the problem of the plane” can only be explained by God’s intervention in the system of nature. But later an explanation was found that did not require God’s intervention in the system. For Shermer, this is enough to refute all design arguments.Shermer made many criticisms of creationism and ID (usually not differentiating them), but this argument was the backbone of his critique. It amounts to an endorsement of methodological naturalism: we can only appeal to material explanations in science that preclude any originating design. But Shermer’s argument is faulty for several reasons.

First, simply because Newton invoked divine causation in the wrong place, it cannot be concluded that all such appeals to design are wrong in principle. Newton was in error, but is should not be viewed as a categorical error. It is, rather, a mistake concerning design attribution. (Moreover, ID proponents can still invoke design at the cosmic level of fine-tuning.) There is no need to eliminate every design argument based on one or several mistakes any more than a naturalist will eliminate every naturalist explanation based on errors in naturalistic interpretations. Phrenology was proved wrong about personality assessment as was phlogiston about the nature of combustion. But that doesn’t stop naturalists from seeking naturalistic explanations for human personality or the nature of fire. Nor should mistakes in design attribution require the total elimination of the design inference. Naturalistic explanations may or may not work; they should be judged on a case by case basis, as should design explanations.

Second, Shermer commits the straw man fallacy in his second premise. ID theorists are not claiming that since they personally cannot come up with a naturalistic explanation, there is none. That is far too idiosyncratic to be good science. Rather, ID thinkers claim that the probabilistic resources of naturalism (chance and/or natural law) cannot account for the phenomenon in question. In this, they can appeal to non-ID thinkers who grant the same thing. For example Dr. Hubert Yockey, who pioneered the discipline of bioinformatics (the study of information theory as it relates to the nature of life), stated that it is statistically impossible for life to evolve from non-life by way of any naturalistic theory. Faced with this impasse, he simply makes life an axiom, thus grandly begging the question and refusing to consider a designing intelligence as a possible explanation. Similarly, Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, postulated in a scientific journal that life could not evolve on earth unaided by intelligence. He therefore postulates the theory of “directed panspermia”—earth was seeded with life by some unknown extraterrestrial civilization. These kinds of examples reveal that naturalists such as Yockey and Crick (others could be mentioned) have discerned the difficulty in explaining the origin of life on earth by naturalistic and unintelligent causes.

Third, Shermer also rejected ID arguments saying that we simply cannot assess the probabilities of nature concerning life and its development. But if Shermer is right, and we cannot know what the probabilities are, the proper approach would not be to default to only naturalistic explanations, but to become complete skeptics, as was David Hume who said, “Anything can cause anything.” But Shermer insists on only naturalistic explanations and really gives a positive assessment of the probabilities, not a skeptical one.Shermer’s argument against the design inference is this: The Argument from the Presumption of Naturalism:

1. All scientific arguments must be based on naturalism.
2. ID appeals to causes not allowed by naturalism.
3. Therefore, ID is not scientific.

Of course, as argued above, (1) is highly questionable and is, in fact, question-begging.

Shermer many times said that science (read: naturalism) is given enough time, it will explain what now seems difficult to explain (such as the Big Bang without God) or fine-tuning (without God). I have heard this so often, that I must dub it: The Post-dated check fallacy:

1. We cannot explain X naturalistically.
2. But give us more time and we will explain X naturalistically.
3. Therefore, we do not accept your ID explanation of X.

But design is a can-do principle of explanation. We recognize the effects of design all the time in various disciplines, as Bill Dembski argues in The Design Inference. Waiting for a post-dated check simply begs the question and engages in special pleading: When we naturalists cannot explain something it is simply because we do not know enough yet. But you ID people are always wrong to invoke design at a fundamental level for scientific explanation.

Shermer got another big laugh by invoking this line: “Evolution is smarter than you are.” That is, there must be some naturalistic explanation. But naturalism allows no intelligence at the primordial level; it only allows for evolved intelligence. By definition, naturalistic evolution cannot be “smart” or “dumb.” Natural law and/or chance must explain everything without any intelligent cause or agency. Supposedly, vast amounts of time come to the rescue, according to Shermer. This harkens back to the statement by the John Weld, the biologist, who said that miracles are possible given enough time. But the probability resources of a universe finite in time and space run out, as both Dembski (The Design Inference) and Meyer (The Signature in the Cell) have argued, and which naturalists admit as well (see above).Instead of saying “Evolution [meaning naturalistic change without intelligence] is smarter than you are, we should better say, “The designer is smarter than any collection of brute, material, unintelligent causes.” To invoke the efficacy of unintelligent evolution to solve every problem and explain every entity is special pleading on a cosmic scale.

Shermer mentioned that some ID folks say that the designer of life on earth might be a space alien. To this, Shermer said, “Well, that designer would have to be designed, and so on, ad infinitum.” After the talk I told Shermer that a space alien is not the most likely answer to design on earth. God is. So, this “who designed the designer” argument could not apply to God since God, unlike what is explained by design on earth, is not a finite, contingent, material state of affairs. Therefore, God’s existence would not require a designer. Shermer admitted this (unlike Richard Dawkins, who thinks this is the killer argument against ID). However, Shermer accepts no evidence for design for the reasons given above.

Much more could be said about Shermer’s rapid-fire hour and a half of lecture and question/answer time, but I cannot resist one more comment. He quickly noted that we cannot expect most religious people to give up their beliefs, but they should not have any influence in presidential elections. (Several cartoons and comments bashed President Bush.) This comment, offered offhandedly, is quite a bomb. Apparently, Shermer does not believe in the First Amendment, since it gives all citizens (religious or otherwise) the freedom of religion and speech. Nor does it require a secular civil government, but forbids the establishment of religion by the state. This means that there shall be no state church. But perhaps Shermer thinks religious people have the right to participate in civil government, but no right to bring their deepest beliefs with them as they participate. But this is both unrealistic and ill-fitting the American experiment, as Richard John Neuhaus argued in The Naked Public Square. There is no constitutional or historical reason to support the claims that secularism should be the established political philosophy of America. Recently, Michael Sandel has also argued against this secularist concept of liberalism in his book Justice.

Dr. Shermer is a quick-witted, fast-talking, and knowledgeable presenter. Nevertheless, I had heard all of his attacks on ID before and found none of them persuasive.