Although Dr. Thomas Nagel and I don’t see eye to eye on the matter of God’s existence, I appreciate the intellectual honesty that he displays in public. For example, when it comes to why he doesn’t believe in God, Nagel says: "I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally hope that I'm right in my belief. It's that I hope that there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that."
I appreciate that Dr. Nagel is willing to admit what many atheists aren’t – that there are a priori motivating factors that come into play where a belief system is concerned. Do Christians have such presuppositions (in the opposite direction, of course)? Certainly. But so do unbelievers, and it’s good to see one in that fold admit it.
Nagel has recently stirred up another ruckus with his new book, which carries a very interesting subtitle: Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. In his book, Nagel brings up the issue of presuppositions entering into belief but then goes on to say much more:
Even though writers like Michael Behe and Stephen Meyer are motivated at least in part by their religious beliefs, the empirical arguments they offer against the likelihood that the origin of life and its evolutionary history can be fully explained by physics and chemistry are of great interest in themselves. Another skeptic, David Berlinski, has brought out these problems vividly without reference to the design inference. Even if one is not drawn to the alternative of an explanation by the actions of a designer, the problems that these iconoclasts pose for the orthodox scientific consensus should be taken seriously. They do not deserve the scorn with which they are commonly met. It is manifestly unfair.
Nagel’s statements and position, I believe, serve as good reminders about how scientists can display very unscientific attitudes toward teachings that go against their worldview, and also that the world ‘evolution’ doesn’t mean everything that some would have you believe it means.
The Meaning of “Evolution”
In preparation for a debate that William Lane Craig had with the evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala, Craig found that Ayala was upfront about the term ‘evolution’ and how it is an accordion style word. Ayala states that evolution can typically mean and/or refer to three different things:
1. Present day organisms are descendents (with modifications) from organisms that lived earlier.
2. Explanatory mechanisms that supposedly account for the specified complexity found in biological organisms.
3. The reconstruction of the evolutionary tree of life that show all branches going back to one ancestor in the past.
Ayala candidly admits that while the first is true, the second two are matters of tremendous dispute among all scientists (religious or non), and there is much that is not known in these areas. This is why Nagel says that the arguments of scientists such as Meyer and others should be given a hearing in the public scientific arena.
When intellectually honest biologists say, “evolution is a fact”, they – like Ayala – refer to the first point. And, in truth, I don’t have any Christian acquaintances that deny that either.
But the second and third points are what intelligent design calls into question. For example, DNA coming into existence from a purely natural, unguided, non-intelligent source? You’ll find plenty of debate on that.
As to the third assertion, what about the studies that show humans and chimps have DNA similarities approaching 90-95%, and that the similarities between humans and mice is 90%? Does this absolutely prove a common ancestor? Not at all. Instead, it points to possible common material composition and a common Designer, which is in keeping with the first chapter of Genesis.
Let’s also not forget, that while philosophical naturalists act as reductionists and say humans are nothing more than their material composition, deep down we all really know different. The imago dei is there, just as Paul says in his letter to the Romans: “That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:19–20, my emphasis).
One Atheist who got it
Anthony Flew used to be the “Billy Graham” of atheists, but in his later years he changed his position after examining the arguments for and against the teleological argument for God (i.e. the argument from and to design). He may have not become a Christian, but he did accept what the Apostle Paul wrote some 2,000 years ago about God’s design work being “clearly seen”.
In an interview before he died, Flew said: “The best confirmation of this radical gulf is Richard Dawkins' comical effort to argue in The God Delusion that the origin of life can be attributed to a ‘lucky chance’. If that's the best argument you have, then the game is over. No, I did not hear a Voice. It was the evidence itself that led me to this conclusion. . . .I think the origins of the laws of nature and of life and the universe point clearly to an intelligent Source. The burden of proof is on those who argue to the contrary.”
I could be wrong, but it seems Dr. Thomas Nagel is starting down on the same path as Flew. My prayer is that he comes into a saving relationship with Christ who is the One behind all the design that he sees.