Saturday, December 26, 2009


But ID Has Nothing to Do With Religion

... as The Undiscovery Institute keeps telling us ... sometimes.

But, according to the "Events" column of The Oklahoman's website, NewsOK ... among all the announcements for religious physical fitness bootcamps, church quilting bees and the like ... not all DI drones may agree:

Book --> "The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World," by William A. Dembski (B&H Academic, $22.99).

Dembski uses his theological and scientific expertise to prove the existence of a good God. He said the recent surge in the atheist and agnostic movement is actually good for religion because it would be unnecessary if Christianity did not remain a vital force in today's world.

A leading figure in the intelligent design movement, Dembski is a research professor in philosophy at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, where he heads its Center for Cultural Engagement.

"The end of Christianity, as envisioned in this book, is the realignment of our thinking so that we see God's goodness in creation despite the distorting effects of sin in our hearts and evil in the world," he writes.
In other words, ID will get you not to some amorphous unknown "Designer" but will help avoid our "sinful" ways, defeat the philosophical/theological Argument from Evil and let us scientifically prove there is a good God.

But what I'd really like to see -- it might be a good project for the Biologic Institute while we're waiting for them to come up with any empiric evidence for a "Designer" -- is some evidence of Dembski's "scientific expertise."

I'll bite: 2
Sorry, I'm using the comments to check something with my email account.
Despite Dembski's lack of expertise as a working scientist, he's not a bad philosopher/theologian. Speaking strictly from a metaphysical (as opposed to scientific) point of view, his book looks quite interesting. If I were a Christian I might even read it.

One thing that's worth pointing out about Dembski is that he's absorbed the lesson of Hume and Kant: that the argument from design cannot establish the existence of the God of the Bible. One wishes that his erstwhile followers were as sophisticated as he is.
I have seen no evidence that Dembski has addressed the point made by Kant:

"This proof can at most, therefore, demonstrate the existence of an architect of the world, whose efforts are limited by the capabilities of the material with which he works, but not of a creator of the world, to whom all things are subject."

Critique of Pure Reason A 627/B 655

Tom S
Meanwhile, NewsSmallpox reports that the recent surge in vaccinations is a good thing for smallpox, because mm they wouldn't be necessary if smallpox were not still a vital force in the world.
On my reading, the most that Dembski claims is that it is overwhelmingly more likely than not that there exists at least one "intelligent designer" who caused FCSI to be inserted into the gene-pools at various points in time.

(Please note: I am not defending this claim; I'm only trying to specify the assertion being made.)

Now, of course Dembski is a Christian, but he does not -- so far as I know -- ever attempt to infer the existence of the God of the Bible ("the Creator . . . to whom all things are subject") from the existence of at least one intelligent designer ("an architect of the world"). The existence of the Biblical deity is held a priori, not a posteriori as it was for the Deists against whom Hume and Kant argued. Or have I misunderstood something crucial here?
"The world is a mirror representing the divine life. The mechanical philosophy was ever blind to this fact. Intelligent design, on the other hand, readily embraces the sacramental nature of physical reality. Indeed, intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory." --WA Dembski

Looks like a lot of a priori made out to look like a bunch of a posteriori. I.e., yeah it's a priori, but IDers are too dumb to know it, so they think it's a posteriori. So I can see why someone could think that it's not a posteriori, because most reasonable people would give someone the benefit of the doubt of not being dumb enough to confuse it with a priori. That speaks well of you Carlos, but you give then far too much credit, I'm afraid.
I prefer to take the strongest possible version of someone's argument and show why it's wrong. In part because that's a way of advancing the conversation; in part because it's a way of protecting myself from the accusation that I'm attacking a straw man.

My most basic criticism of Dembski is this: the probabilities that constitute the likelihood of design, even if they were valid, could at most give us reasons for taking the design hypothesis as worthy of testing; they cannot take the place of testing.

In more general terms, he does not strike me as being sensitive to the difference between mathematical arguments and empirical explanations -- so he acts as if, having done the former, there's no need to do the latter.
My most basic criticism of Dembski's arguments is that they are not arguments for something.

What is design? What sort of thing is designed? What sort of thing is not designed? Does anyone have an example of something which is not designed - even a hypothetical entity? What changes when a design event takes place? What are "the capabilities of the material" that designers work with? Was that material itself designed?

Tom S
Tom, I don't think we disagree at all. Your point, that Dembski doesn't argue for something, I would rephrase as saying that he doesn't give us any models of design.

A model of design is the kind of thing that would answer questions about how the designer did what it did, what constraints it operated under, how to distinguish between designed things and non-designed things, etc.

At best, under the most charitable interpretation I can muster, Dembski thinks there's no need for a model of design: mathematical arguments for the astonishingly low likelihood of "chance and necessity"* alone are sufficient to establish the bona fides of ID as a scientific theory.

* As Demsbki has put it, design is simply defined as the set-theoretic complement of chance and necessity. In other words, if "chance" (randomness) and "necessity" (laws of physics) are insufficient, then whatever else is needed for an adequate explanation must be "design."
Carlos wrote

...I would rephrase as saying that [Dembski] doesn't give us any models of design.

And that is what makes the claims that design provides a better "explanation" one reads from ID proponents vacuous. With no model, there's no explanation. "Design" is merely a label for the residue, and labels are not explanations.

Carlos wrote further

A model of design is the kind of thing that would answer questions about how the designer did what it did, what constraints it operated under, how to distinguish between designed things and non-designed things, etc.

That "constraints" business is crucial. Actual explanations tell us why, given some initial conditions, 'this' happened and not 'that.' But there are no constraints on the output of the ID designer(s); it/they allow anything to happen and thus explain nothing.
And I refer back to the quotation from Kant.

Design, in any reasonable sense of the word, does not exclude natural laws. Any design that I am aware of rather makes use of natural laws.

And many designers make use of chance.

Is there any reason to believe that there is anything left over when regularities and chance are excluded?

Tom S
Chance, necessity and design are a false tricotomy. There is also present human ignorance. Not to mention that Dembski and the other IDers treat chance as if it has to work alone ... atoms randomly coming together to form cells ... instead of in combination with natural laws.
The "trichotomy" of Dembski reminds me of the fabulous classification of animals related by Borges - see the Wikipedia article "Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge's Taxonomy".

In point of fact, Dembski's trichotomy is borrowed more or less directly from Plato, who appealed to this principle in his criticisms of pre-Socratic materialists such as Democritus. Later, the Stoics appealed to the same principle in their criticisms of Epicurus.

One of the things I find most fascinating in the whole debate is that the intelligent design movement adopts all sorts of arguments from Stoicism, and esp. the Stoic criticism of Epicureanism. And, as has been mentioned a few times here, "Darwinism" is cast as nothing more than modern-day Epicureanism -- the vast differences between the two are simply ignored.

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.
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