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They’ve Got Eric Metaxas Under Their Skin: Now, the Religious Critics

331cfc25345ec8a3d883bb7678211de3.jpegIf you publish an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal advocating for intelligent design as Eric Metaxas did, with that dreaded phrase right in the subheadline, you’re asking for trouble. Writing at ENV, Casey Luskin (here) and Daniel Bakken (here and here) have already done a more than adequate job of addressing critics of Eric Metaxas on the science, including atheist Lawrence Krauss.

However, I can never quite get over how ID draws hostile responses not just from atheists but from some religious folks, who rarely argue with us on the merits about the scientific evidence (in cosmology, for example, the area Metaxas focused on) but as if there were something unkosher about presenting arguments for ID in the first place.

At Uncommon Descent, philosopher Vincent Torley replies to several of those religious critics, including Baylor University philosopher Francis Beckwith, who is Catholic, and a young Reform rabbi writing at the Huffington Post, Geoffrey A. Mitelman. Torley’s post is well worth reading, especially the extended quote from Pope Pius XII who offered evidence from science in support of theism in a remarkably similar style to that of Eric Metaxas.

As for Rabbi Mitelman, he objects that "Science is always changing," and in any event, "Science and religion are two different ways of thinking. Don’t conflate them." Both propositions are true, but so what? The science says what it says, and that is surely of interest, at the very least. Rabbi Mitelman’s credentials make him sound like he must be a bright guy, with an appropriate background. He is "Founding Director of Sinai and Synapses, a project which seeks to bridge the scientific and religious worlds," an "alumnus of Princeton University, [who has] received multiple prizes for outstanding scholarship in Biblical and Judaic studies," and more.

At least in this article at the Huffington Post, Rabbi Mitelman does not grapple with the science. Instead he allows debatable assertions about the nature of science and of religion ("In other words, science is a search for truth, while religion is a search for meaning") to give him a pass. But to "bridge the scientific and religious worlds," you need to directly confront the science, with as much seriousness as you confront your religious tradition.

I would challenge Geoffrey Mitelman to give a careful reading to several recent books exploring the case for intelligent design. Let’s say, Darwin’s Doubt and Signature in the Cell, by Stephen Meyer; The Edge of Evolution, by Michael Behe; Nature’s Destiny, by Michael Denton; and The Privileged Planet, by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards. Give us your review of each, or even just one, in your blog at the Huffington Post.

Don’t tell me that being religious somehow gets you off the hook. On the contrary, the Mishnah in Pirke Avot advises us that we need to know how to answer the apikoros, the Epicurean materialist critic of our faith. See my chapters in God and Evolution for more on that.

Taking scientific challenges seriously is an eminently Jewish undertaking, with lofty precedents. The recent biographer of Maimonides, Joel L. Kraemer at the University of Chicago, writes (emphasis added):

Maimonides grasped the great divide between monotheists, who believe that an intelligence guides the universe, and Epicureans, who believe that everything happens by chance. The argument continues nowadays between intelligent adherents of intelligent design and Darwinian atheists who believe in chance mutation.

In his excellent book Maimonides: The Life and World of One of Civilization’s Greatest Minds, Kraemer identifies "an orderly universe governed by laws of a cosmic intelligence" as "the most important idea taught by Maimonides in his scientific and philosophic writings."

Rabbi Mitelman is right that science changes, and it’s certainly changed since Maimonides’ time in the 12th century. Read Chapter 2:19 in the Guide of Perplexed, where the scientific understanding is not the same as ours, obviously, but he sees it as vital to "show by arguments almost as forcible as real proofs, that the Universe gives evidence of design."

Maimonides explains at the end of the chapter that the study of the heavens — cosmology — is the primary source of such arguments, which is why the prophets enjoin us to "Lift up your eyes on high, and see: who created these?" Here’s the Friedl�nder translation, from the Arabic. Note the number of uses of the word "design."

Vincent Torley forthrightly states that his own faith as a Christian is falsifiable. In this he’s on the same page as Maimonides, who writes about how if the eternality of the universe (meaning, the idea that the universe had no beginning) were ever established, that would render Jewish theistic belief void (see the end of Chapter 2:25).

None of this, neither the views of Pope Pius XII nor those of Maimonides, establishes current ID theory as the most reasonable position for Catholics, Jews, other religious believers, or anyone else. But it does suggest that when it comes to thoughtfully weighing the evidence for design in nature, there’s no religious excuse for not doing your homework.

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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.