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Whatever Happened to Intelligent Design?

August 02, 2015     Time: 17:14
Whatever Happened to Intelligent Design?


Billionaire entrepreneur Peter Thiel invited Dr. Craig to a private conference. The topic of Intelligent Design came up!

Transcript Whatever Happened to Intelligent Design?


KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, today we are going behind the scenes of Reasonable Faith so you can tell us about some interesting conferences to which you’ve been invited, including this private conference where the topic of intelligent design came up. This was put on by a famous entrepreneur in an interesting place?

DR. CRAIG: In an exotic location, Kevin. It was on the French Riviera. Peter Thiel, who is a kind of iconoclast billionaire – he founded PayPal as well as several other ventures, sponsored this entire conference near to Nice on the Mediterranean coast of France. They brought in what I might call contrarian thinkers in different fields like economics, physics, philosophy, politics because, as an iconoclast, Thiel wants to hear the unorthodox views – the non-orthodox opinions. The persons at the conference would discuss these among themselves. It was a private conference – it was not open to the public. All of the discussions were off the record. I was invited to talk about singularities in cosmology with respect to the origin of the universe and the implications of this theologically. I also participated in a final session on theology and philosophy and the question of miracles – whether miracles are possible and identifiable. It was very, very enjoyable interacting with these other scholars in other fields and talking about these issues and being able to stand up for the credibility of a Christian perspective on these issues. The people who came to this were by no means all Christians.

Steve Meyer was there because he is part of the intelligent design movement which is, of course, very contrarian because it goes against neo-Darwinian orthodoxy in biology. He and a couple other fellows presented material pertinent to a defense of intelligent design with respect to biology. That was very, very provocative and interesting.

KEVIN HARRIS: Did you have a chance to ask him about the state of the union as far as the intelligent design movement?

DR. CRAIG: Yeah, I actually did have a chance to talk with Steve one afternoon privately. I said to him that I had the impression that a few years ago the people involved in the intelligent design movement were rather crestfallen and felt that the movement had kind of stalled out and failed to achieve the objectives that, say, a Philip Johnson had envisioned for it. I asked him what the mood was these days. He said following the Dover case with the Supreme Court . . . the intelligent design movement did not support the attempt to teach intelligent design in the schools – they thought that that was a maverick move that was unwise and imprudent. They didn’t support it, but nevertheless they suffered the consequences of that negative Supreme Court verdict that intelligent design constituted religion and so couldn’t be taught in American public schools. He said that really did take the wind out of their sails for a time. But he said since then they have really regrouped. There have been a number of new people who have been involved in the movement – some very sharp young biologists. He said everywhere they go they find among the younger faculty tremendous interest in intelligent design and skepticism about Darwinian orthodoxy and chemical origin-of-life theories and things of this sort.[1] So he seemed to say that the movement is going ahead again at full-steam.

KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, you’ve been involved in a couple of conferences. One had to do with your work on abstract objects, which I encourage everyone to listen to podcasts on and read your material on because it is so fascinating. Let’s talk about those two beginning with your interaction at Southern Evangelical Seminary with Peter van Inwagen.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, and also J. T. Bridges was part of it. It was a three-way dialogue. Southern Evangelical Seminary put on this event which was a dialogue on God and abstract objects. I think it is rather remarkable that an evangelical seminary would want to put on an event of this sort. This is a rather abstract topic, isn’t it? Yet, it was well attended, and was really interesting. Van Inwagen, who is now Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, and I and J. T. Bridges (who is a Thomist philosopher at SES) participated in this dialogue. We exchanged our papers in advance.

KEVIN HARRIS: Tell us what a Thomist philosopher is.

DR. CRAIG: A follower of the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas in short.


DR. CRAIG: Yes, Thomism from “Thomas” – Thomas Aquinas. Bridges is a follower of Aquinas’ philosophy and so approached the topic from that angle. I took the anti-realist perspective on abstract objects – that there really are no such things. Van Inwagen is a strong Platonist. He believes that there are abstract objects. He gave a very interesting paper on shapes where he argues that there are five Platonic solids or convex Platonic solids. This was discovered by Euclid – you could have just five of these convex objects that would have equal sides to them like a cube or an icosahedron (which has twenty sides) or a pyramid. He was arguing these shapes actually exist – not just the physical objects but these abstract shapes exist. That was his paper.

KEVIN HARRIS: If one was in the road you’d have to hit the brakes.

DR. CRAIG: [laughter] Well, no, because they have no causal effect on anything.


DR. CRAIG: Shapes don’t have any causal relations. So we had an exchange of papers in advance, then each could comment on the other’s papers and ask any questions we wanted to. It was a very engaging and interesting exchange. It was videotaped and should be put up on YouTube fairly soon. I think the editing process is going through, but folks will be able to watch it then.

KEVIN HARRIS: To those who say, Aw, come on! I don’t want to listen to your podcasts on abstract objects. Why should those interested in Christian apologetics and philosophy understand abstract and concrete objects?

DR. CRAIG: I think it is theologically very important because, if I am right, Platonism fatally compromises Christian theology because it means that there exists things (beings – real entities) that God did not create. Things that are just as uncreated and self-existent as God is, so God is not the sole ultimate reality (the source of everything else other than himself). He is just one among many – indeed an infinitesimal part of self-existent uncreated reality. In fact, on Platonism, God depends upon these objects for his existence in the sense that what makes him God is that he exemplifies certain of these abstract properties such that his being God really depends upon his standing in this certain relationship to these properties. I think this completely undoes an orthodox Judeo-Christian conception of God. In that sense, theologically it is very, very important. I am not suggesting that this is going to be an issue that the day-to-day apologist is going to run into, but for Christian theologians and philosophers I think it is absolutely central to theism.

KEVIN HARRIS: J. T. Bridges – his view?

DR. CRAIG: This was, I think, the most interesting part of the conference for me. I was well acquainted with van Inwagen’s work and had interacted with it. But Bridges’ I didn’t know well. What I was surprised to learn as a result of reading not only him but especially a couple of articles by Armand Maurer and Jeffrey Brower that he shared with me is that although Bridges calls his Thomist view “moderate realism” it is not realism at all.[2] Thomas [Aquinas] is a nominalist about abstract objects. Thomas is on my side! He is an anti-realist. He does not believe that universals or other abstract objects exist. He thinks they are just in the mind and don't have any sort of real existence at all. This is very different than the traditional Aristotelian view that Thomas normally would adopt because Aquinas was very dependent upon Aristotle’s philosophy. Most interpreters think that Aristotle believed that universals are real and that they exist in things so that in a horse there is the essence of being a horse, for example. But Aquinas doesn’t take that view. Aquinas is an anti-realist about these things. I said to Bridges, “You are really, really misleading your readers by calling your view ‘moderate realism’ because that was a view which was defended by certain medieval persons who held to this more Aristotelian view that there are immanent abstract objects – in things. They are not in a transcendent Platonic realm off in some fairyland. They are in the world. But Aquinas does not believe that. He is an anti-realist about abstract objects.” So, as you can imagine, I was very encouraged by this and very glad to find that informed Thomists are actually on the side of the angels about this.

KEVIN HARRIS: The other get-together you had was in St. Thomas?

DR. CRAIG: No, it was not in St. Thomas at least if by that you mean the Virgin Islands. It was St. Thomas University which is in St. Paul, Minnesota! [laughter] So a much less exotic place!

KEVIN HARRIS: I thought you were on the beach!

DR. CRAIG: No! This was a much less exotic venue. It was in St. Paul. But, nevertheless, it was a great experience, I have to say. This was a summer seminar organized by Dean Zimmerman, a very prominent Christian philosopher at Rutgers University, and Michael Rota who is a professor at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, and sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation. The Templeton Foundation paid for graduate students in philosophy and junior faculty who already have their doctorates to come and take the summer seminar at St. Thomas University, then they brought in some faculty to teach it. I was merely one of about four professors that was teaching this seminar on the subject of the fine-tuning argument for God’s existence – the fine-tuning of the universe. Joining me in teaching this were Luke Barnes (who is Professor of Astronomy at the University of Sydney in Australia). We had met Barnes when we were on our Australian speaking tour two years ago. He had introduced himself to me when I was at Sydney University and shared with me one of his papers on fine-tuning. I actually quote him in the debate with Sean Carroll on the fine-tuning issue. So it was great to see Luke again and have his positive scientific input. Then with me was the philosopher Neil Manson who is more skeptical of the argument from fine-tuning. Then David Manley who is a prominent metaphysician who also shared some reservations about the argument. So there were people on opposite sides of this issue, and so we had a very good exchange.

I’ve got to tell you, Kevin, these students were absolutely top drawer. These were graduate students in philosophy from all around the country – three of them at least I had already met in February when I spoke at Rutgers University in Dean Zimmerman’s metaphysics seminar. These students were really brilliant. There was another graduate student at the University of Notre Dame who had studied under Timothy McGrew at Western Michigan University. This fellow could write out probability calculus calculations as quickly as, say, I could write the alphabet on a piece of paper. It was unbelievable – his facility with probability theory and probability calculus.

KEVIN HARRIS: It makes you feel good about some of our future theological leaders.

DR. CRAIG: Exactly, Kevin. It was at the same time humbling as I compared the brilliance of these students with myself. But then also tremendously encouraging because, I thought, wow! Is this the future of Christian philosophy in this country? It made me think of just how utterly uninformed and ignorant these infidel atheists are on the Internet who mock Christians and deride them as unintelligent imbeciles and so forth.[3] If they could see these graduate students and the kind of firepower they bring to these issues, I think they would have a very different view of Christians.

KEVIN HARRIS: The intellectual muscle is definitely on this side, these days.

DR. CRAIG: Oh, man, that is really, really true.

KEVIN HARRIS: As we wrap up today, anything this fall that you can tell us about? Anything you have coming up?

DR. CRAIG: The biggest thing that I have on the docket is this speaking tour of Germany and Austria which requires me to give a number of talks as well as a debate “auf Deutsch” – I’ll be doing it in German. I have a debate with a philosopher called Ansgar Beckermann at the University of Munich from which I graduated on the existence of God. I’ve been practicing my German, practicing my speeches, and trying to get the mouth working again in pronouncing German and formulating sentences and so forth. It has been really fun. I have really enjoyed doing this, and I am looking forward to those events in October.

KEVIN HARRIS: How would you say “Big Bang” in German?

DR. CRAIG: Urknall.

KEVIN HARRIS: Thanks for being here. Stay close. We have some amazing podcasts coming up from Reasonable Faith, including one that features an interview between Sam Harris and JerryCoyne, both as many of you know are outspoken atheists. Believe me, you don’t want to miss Dr. Craig’s interaction with this interview. That is coming up. As always, you can partner with us financially by clicking the donate link at We really appreciate your support! We will see you next time on Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig.[4]

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    Total Running Time: 17:15 (Copyright © 2015 William Lane Craig)