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How They’ll Write About Intelligent Design Someday

George Johnson.jpegWhen it comes to ID, science writer George Johnson (pictured at right) in the New York Times has seemed to subscribe to the Great Equation, grouping all challenges to Darwinism under one heading and ruling them all equally implausible by virtue of that. According to this notion, once you’ve demonstrated that it can’t be literally true that all species arose in six calendar days, six thousand years ago, you’ve also as a free bonus refuted the modern theory of intelligent design.

Yet here is Johnson in today’s paper paying tribute to Thomas Nagel’s book Mind and Cosmos, with its "taunting" subtitle, Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. Though atheist philosopher Nagel’s book came out in 2012, Johnson has just read it. His mind seems to have been opened to the possibility that contemporary materialist science may not in fact have everything all figured out.

And why would it?

There is no reason why, in this particular century, Homo sapiens should have gathered all the pieces needed for a theory of everything.

This is an admirable statement of intellectual modesty, shared by Nagel:

Dr. Nagel finds it astonishing that the human brain — this biological organ that evolved on the third rock from the sun — has developed a science and a mathematics so in tune with the cosmos that it can predict and explain so many things.

Neuroscientists assume that these mental powers somehow emerge from the electrical signaling of neurons — the circuitry of the brain. But no one has come close to explaining how that occurs.

That, Dr. Nagel proposes, might require another revolution: showing that mind, along with matter and energy, is "a fundamental principle of nature" — and that we live in a universe primed "to generate beings capable of comprehending it." Rather than being a blind series of random mutations and adaptations, evolution would have a direction, maybe even a purpose.

Well! Johnson understands how incendiary such a thought is:

That idea borders on anathema, and the book quickly met with a blistering counterattack. Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychologist, denounced it as "the shoddy reasoning of a once-great thinker."

What is "shoddy" in any of that? Nothing that Johnson can find. Doesn’t look very good for Pinker, does it?

To say that mind along with matter and energy make up the fundamental constituents of nature is not so remote from ID theorist and mathematician William Dembski’s conclusion in his forthcoming book, Being as Communion, that information gives rise to matter rather than the other way around. Johnson cites other scientific views that don’t sound too far from what Dembski says either:

Dr. Nagel is not alone in entertaining such ideas. While rejecting anything mystical, the biologist Stuart Kauffman has suggested that Darwinian theory must somehow be expanded to explain the emergence of complex, intelligent creatures. And David J. Chalmers, a philosopher, has called on scientists to seriously consider "panpsychism" — the idea that some kind of consciousness, however rudimentary, pervades the stuff of the universe.

Some of this is a matter of scientific taste. It can be just as exhilarating, as Stephen Jay Gould proposed in "Wonderful Life," to consider the conscious mind as simply a fluke, no more inevitable than the human appendix or a starfish’s five legs. But it doesn’t seem so crazy to consider alternate explanations.

To such mainstream dissenting voices, Johnson might have added the Darwin-doubting scientists who gather at The Third Way. His article is a good read and an encouraging corrective to the pessimism that says the prestige media will always remain hostile to new thinking on evolution.

True, in the same article, Johnson seems to invoke the Great Equation — "What makes ‘Mind and Cosmos’ worth reading is that Dr. Nagel is an atheist, who rejects the creationist idea of an intelligent designer." Didn’t Johnson read the part in Mind and Cosmos where Nagel congratulates ID writers like Stephen Meyer, Michael Behe, and David Berlinski? I don’t recall his saying anything complimentary about Young Earth Creationism.

Whatever, the point is that this, probably, is what ID’s path to mainstream consideration and recognition will look like. Otherwise thoughtful people like Johnson realizing how unlikely it is that science at this moment would have answered all the profoundest questions, despite insistences from materialists to the contrary — then seeing how very serious thinkers like Nagel take ID seriously, and finally coming to wonder why guys like Pinker & Co. won’t or can’t answer ID’s challenge.

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David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.