Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Imaginary Science

Boy! The examples of Intelligent Design apologists letting its thoroughly religious nature out of the bag are coming thick and fast recently. The latest to rejoin the blabbers is Wild Bill Dembski. As pointed out by John Lynch, Dembski has a hissy fit over Stephen Barr's article in First Things, where Barr, among other things, says that the ID movement "must be judged not only a failure, but a debacle." Not only does Dembski display his unjustly inflated ego, claiming credit for Barr's prior works and turning the whole question personal, but he has this to say:

Barr's aversion to ID-style natural theology, which admits limitations in nature that only divine power can overcome, thus has a long and illustrious history. To call it a "debacle," as Barr puts it, is thus historically misguided and suggests that Barr's aversion to ID is motivated by other concerns. Actually, it's not hard to see what that motivation is. As Barr states in his First Things piece: "There are plenty of ways to make a case for the reasonableness of religious belief that can be persuasive to many in the scientific world." Barr puts a premium on appearing reasonable to his scientific colleagues. And even though he chides the ID community for appearing unreasonable and thus failing to win the scientific community, a bit of self-reflection should reveal that his own approach has hardly won the day. He writes, "I have addressed many audiences myself using arguments similar to theirs [i.e., those of Ken Miller, Francis Collins, etc.] and have had scientists whom I know to be of firm atheist convictions tell me that they came away with more respect for the religious position."

More respect? How much more exactly? Respect is fine and well, but I take it from this quote that these atheists are still atheists. In my own experience, I find that I've lost the respect of many in the scientific community, but I also receive emails now and again from persons who once were atheists but then found God because ID shook them out of their dogmatic slumber. The case of Antony Flew, the best known atheist in the English-speaking world until Richard Dawkins supplanted him in this unenviable position, is a case in point (see his book THERE IS A GOD). Flew attributes his conversion to theism not to a law-based teleology and not to the insight that neo-atheists such as Dawkins illictly extract faulty metaphysical implications from their science. None of the above. Flew attributes his conversion to ID, and specifically to the coding of information inside the cell. By contrast, the Templeton-sponsored theistic evolutionary community, which Barr has now fully embraced, is welcome to the respect that have so richly earned and which buys them nothing in the eternal scheme of things.
So ID is just a style of "natural theology" appealing to "divine power"? So why should it, or its stripped-down version of "teaching the strengths and weaknesses of evolution," where the "weaknesses" are just all the old "creation science" objections to evolution with a little cheap paint slapped on, be allowed in public schools under our Constitution?

And "respect" among academics, which requires intellectual honesty at the least, is not as important as converting atheists? In other words, ID is not a scientific program but just a tool of evangelism intended by its apologists to "buy" them rewards "in the eternal scheme of things." A clearer statement of ID's religious intent and content could hardly be imagined.

It should also be pointed out that it is doubtful that Flew was converted to "theism," instead of a pale sort of Deism, but that's just a quibble.

In response to Barr's correct assessment that "there is not a single phenomenon that we understand better today or are likely to understand better in the future through the efforts of ID theorists," Dembski says "ID, at the very least, has pointed out certain weaknesses in conventional evolutionary theory." In other words, Dembski, et al. are trying to stuff their poor god into the gaps in evolutionary theory and convince innocent children that the fact that we do not know everything presently is good and sufficient reason to reject any scientific result that we don't personally like. A greater disaster for the future of our country, should they succeed, is also hard to imagine.

As to the allegedly positive results of ID "theory," as John Lynch points out, Dembski is unable to provide a single concrete example. The best, but still lame to the nth degree, that Dembski can offer is that ID "suggests a way forward through the impasse that the study of biological origins now faces as a result of its commitment to naturalism."

In other words, "the check is in the mail."

And, furthermore, the only reason a check is even necessary is because we don't know everything right now, at this moment, which he calls an "impasse" only because he doesn't like naturalism and, instead, wants to convert people to his religious beliefs.

If this isn't dishonesty, it is cluelessness to a degree so massive as to beggar anyone's imagination.


In one of his comic routines on homeopathy and the like, Dara O'Briain remarks 'Of course science knows it doesn't know everything. If it did, it'd stop.' Takes a moment for the audience to get the joke, but they did. It was in England. Not sure an audience larded with creationists would get that.

I think it is at the heart of much of the religious opposition to science that most religions, and certainly the mainstream of Christianity (and Islam) are based on revelation being completed in the past, even if our understanding of it may change (though fundamentalists claim there is only one understanding, theirs, and that it has always been the true understanding). Science is fundamentally different in that it's 'revelations' are on-going and there's often nothing more exciting in science than finding out that what was thought yesterday was wrong, replaced by something new.

Mormons seem to be disinclined toward YECism, and I wonder to what extent their religious belief that revelation is still going on means they aren't wedded to the idea that science not knowing everything and even considering as provisionally true what will turn out not to be isn't the big problem that many fundamentalist Christians would think it.

BTW, if you search for Dara O'Briain on Youtube, you'll find the piece. Very funny. I don't think many comics did math and theoretical physics in university.

Mike from Ottawa
By contrast, the Templeton-sponsored theistic evolutionary community, which Barr has now fully embraced, is welcome to the respect that have so richly earned and which buys them nothing in the eternal scheme of things.

Bit rich, coming from someone who accepted a substantial grant from the Templeton Foundation to write a book which, as far as I know, he still hasn't delivered.
The comments on the First Things article are fun to read. For example, Nick Matzke got Francis Beckwith all in a tizzy about his early support of ID and his having been a fellow of the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture.
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