A Critique of Victor Stenger's Paper –
Intelligent Design: The New Stealth Creationism

Intelligent Design is the new buzz word
for what used to be called “creation science.”

- Victor Stenger

With the quote above as his summary statement, Victor Stenger, Professor Emeritus, University of Hawaii, seeks to discard the work of some of today’s great pioneering scientists. From now until the end of the age, there will be disagreements about cosmological and biological origins, and good people can debate the merits of their cases from scientific or other grounds. However, those with deep-seated prejudices are more likely to cloud the discussion with argumentative misconceptions and inaccuracies, either through ignorance or malice. I don’t know Professor Stenger, but his writings lead me to believe the latter.

I will attempt to summarize the problems with Intelligent Design: The New Stealth Creationism . Although there are numerous examples of nastiness in the paper, my comments will be directed towards its factual and logical errors. Intelligent Design can be found at http://spot.colorado.edu/~vstenger.

A fundamental problem with Professor Stenger’s paper is its inability to distinguish between “young-earth creationism”, and legitimate scientific study that supports both the Bible and currently accepted cosmological models. Young-earth creationism seeks to bend science to conform to its theological assumptions, and can be rightly argued against on scientific grounds. Today’s leading Christian scientists who investigate the connections between well-documented scientific findings (i.e., the big bang, age of the universe, complexity of life at the molecular level, etc.) and the Bible’s creation account should be no threat to intellectually honest scientists. The threat, however, is real to those who adhere to the religion of Naturalism above all else. In that case, any tactic is permissible to fight the enemies of Naturalism, and the debate becomes a contest for power and dominance of the intellectual world. Professor Philip Johnson best describes the current battle lines in his book, Reason in the Balance :

“...If ultimate reality consists of elementary particles, and if everything that has happened is in some sense determined by some great law that governed events at the beginning of the big bang, then the search for the final theory is not just a game particle physicists play but a quest of immense importance to humanity....But if God is real and constitutes the true basis of all knowledge, then we call the governing discipline theology. Those who explicate fundamental reality are the rulers of knowledge....if God really exists and has revealed something of his nature to humankind, then the interaction of God and the whole of creation is not just the most complex of subjects but by far the most important...”

A disturbing aspect of the paper is Professor Stenger’s apparent inability to see the big picture. While he attacks in succession four areas of current scientific study that support the Bible’s account of creation, there is no attempt to put the evidence together as a whole. Even if there were some credible arguments in each area, the voluminous scientific evidence for a Creator from astronomy, physics, information theory, molecular biology and geophysics, plus all of the historical and philosophical evidence, is overwhelming. To ignore or dismiss the sum total of evidence as a starting assumption diminishes the credibility of arguments against design.

There are several cases where scientific evidence for the Creator is dismissed out of hand, almost as an insult. For instance, Michael Behe’s groundbreaking ideas presented in Darwin’s Black Box are not addressed at all, except to say that they have been “convincingly refuted”. But if that is true, why not cite some evidence if any of it is really credible? Behe preempts his critics by stating with authority that:

“...if you search the scientific literature on evolution, and if you focus your search on the question of how molecular machines – the basis of life – developed, you will find an eerie and complete silence. The complexity of life’s foundation has paralyzed science’s attempt to account for it; molecular machines raise an as-yet-impenetrable barrier to Darwinism’s universal reach.”

Behe follows his powerful arguments for design with an analysis of why the established scientific community finds itself in such a dire dilemma. If Professor Stenger could contradict any of Behe’s four reasons for the dilemma (allegiance, history, “the rule”, and fear of religious implications), why aren’t they mentioned? My guess is that Behe’s analysis makes the scientific establishment just too uncomfortable.

Another serious systemic problem with Professor Stenger’s paper is its failure to prove its arguments with any kind of convincing evidence for an atheistic worldview. Its arguments against a theistic worldview are shallow, for instance, a contention that the post-determined specificity of Dembski’s Complex Specified Information is simply “dubious and dangerous”. But unsurprisingly, there is no evidence presented for how complex sequences of information seen in living organisms came about. The best example that can be mustered is “Whenever a drop of water freezes into an ice crystal we observe the creation of order by a “mindless” natural process.” Fine, but how do you explain DNA?

The paper builds a strawman against Hugh Ross’s ongoing work to find the universe’s finely tuned parameters for the existence of life. I saw this same blunder many years ago in my introductory astronomy textbook’s discussion of the Drake equation. It is paraphrased below:

"It can be argued that because of the seeming naturalness of life’s development on earth, life would always begin if given a chance. Let us be optimistic here and agree that the fraction of planets on which life arose, f l, equals 1”

Professor Stenger makes the same unsupportable claim:

“If we properly compute, based on our actual knowledge rather than speculation, the probability for the universe’s existing with human life, the result is unity! We have only one datum, our universe, and it has human life.”

If human life is so easy to make, why can’t we make the simplest life in the lab? Can we build a credible hypothesis for how life developed at the molecular level? Are we to believe that life does not really depend on Ross’s 26 finely tuned parameters for life; that some other form of advanced life would have arisen anyway? Instead of postulating how these 26 parameters may have all been met without a designer, Professor Stenger states that:

“...almost all combinations of physical constants lead to universes, albeit some strange ones, that would live long enough for some type of complexity to likely to form...”

No evidence is provided for how life could develop in any of these 100 random universes.

Finally, Professor Stenger attempts to discredit the concept of a designer by leading the reader down the rabbit hole. He postulates that the universe is eternal, not by invoking a steady state cosmology, but by inventing a cosmology where time proceeds from the big bang in both directions. In his own words,

“... if I can demonstrate that the universe had no beginning, then Ross, Craig, and other theists ... will be hoisted on their own petard and forced to admit that the universe required no cause and so was not necessarily created...”

This ludicrous strategy not only contradicts accepted theories of physical reality, but also demonstrates how far some will go to eliminate the Creator of the universe from their thinking.

Although the paper reviewed here is in many ways flawed, the underlying question is, “What reality is true?” In his brilliant work, Can Man Live Without God , Ravi Zacharias frames for us this eternal question:

“The issue, then, is not whether the belief system you espouse – monotheistic, atheistic, pantheistic, or otherwise – is exclusive. The issue is whether the answers to the four basic questions of life pertaining to origin, meaning, morality, and destiny within the context of each of these world-views meet the tests of truth. Are they logically consistent, are they empirically adequate, and are they experientially relevant?...The answers to life’s four questions must in each instance correspond to reality, and the sum of the answers must cohere as a system.

“It is absolutely imperative to understand that when an antagonist of the Christian faith poses a question of the Christian, he or she must, in turn, be willing first to justify the question within the context of his or her own presuppositions. Second, he or she must also answer the question on the basis of those presuppositions ...An attitude that says, “you can’t answer my question, and therefore I can believe whatever I want to believe,” is intellectual hypocrisy.”

It seems obvious to me that Christianity is the most reasonable belief system because it best answers the four questions of life. The growing scientific evidence for design is rapidly becoming unassailable to open minded people. With solid and verifiable answers to the question of origins, there is hope that more people will find the true answers to the questions of meaning, morality and destiny.

Steve Sarigianis