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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Scholars talking nonsense about ID: "Hand me the skewer," says Dembski

In a post to Uncommon Descent titled "ID's Cultured Theological Despisers", dated June 10th, ID theorist Bill Dembski independently noticed the same thing I did - scholars talking sheer nonsense about intelligent design hypotheses instead of addressing them. He is starting a series there, featuring the juiciest examples, and I think it is overdue.

Here is what I think drives that sort of behavior: Some Christians in science are into emotional meltdown re ID because they have suddenly realized what is at stake:

- The only way to rule out ID is to deny that God acts in the universe, period. If he acts at all, his action may in fact be detected.

- If one insists as an article of faith that God's action cannot be detected in principle or that it is wrong to attempt to detect them, that is a new article of faith, and one that is at odds with traditional Christian religion and conventional interpretations of the Bible.

but more generally,

- For a long time, many fine Christian scholars got along well with materialists, more or less, because no one put the issue squarely, as the ID guys have done. So Christianity in the intellectual world has been dying the death of deniability: What can you deny and still be a Christian? But now the issue is so basic that it can't just be sophistically manipulated out of existence. Gradually realizing their dilemma, in an intuitive way, some sincere Christians retreat into meaningless abuse of ID hypotheses.

Incidentally, some sincere Christians in science think they are doing the saintly thing by hanging out with ID folk, if only to keep telling them off. That form of charity only pays when the people they condescend to must remain pariahs for the rest of their lives. One outcome is that the self-selected saint has a vested interest in keeping the objects of his charity down. And he gets really fried when anyone points that out to him - as I have been known to do.

Just for fun, Dembski also picked up Conway Morris's "ID as a mystery religion" theme and worked it into a
foreword he wrote for a friend's book, asking "Is Darwinism a naturalistic mystery religion masquerading as a scientific theory"?:

The whopper ... is this: all organisms, including ourselves, are the result of a blind, purposeless evolutionary process (namely, the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection and random variation) that at no place required the services of God or any guiding intelligence.

Like Loretta [a film character], Darwinists bury this whopper among evolution’s more innocuous claims, only this time they do it not to befuddle a priest but to beguile an unsuspecting public. For instance, when parents press school boards and biology teachers about what they are teaching their children concerning biological origins, they typically get the innocuous version of evolution: of course you believe that organisms have changed over time … surely you’ve heard of bugs developing antibiotic resistance … this is evolution in action.

Indeed, this is evolution in action. But it is small-scale microevolution that no one disputes and that is irrelevant to the really big claim of evolutionary theory, namely, that the bug that developed antibiotic resistance and you, the poor human whose immune system cannot resist the bug, are both offspring of some common ancestor in the distant past and that the process that brought you and the bug into existence is Darwinian, operating by chance and necessity and without plan or purpose. In particular, you, your aspirations, and the entire human family to which you belong are simply an accident of natural history, here for a brief moment and destined for extinction. This is Darwinism in its full glory.

To see that this view of evolution is widely accepted among our educators, consider that in 1995 the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT), which sets the tone and rhythm for biology instruction across the United States, issued the following statement on evolution: “The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments.” Two years later the NABT removed the words “unsupervised” and “impersonal” to placate religious believers. In this way, they attempted to maintain the facade that evolution is perfectly compatible with religious beliefs. But the removal was all for show. A subsequent bullet point states that Darwinian evolution, which is the form of evolution the NABT supports, “has no specific direction or goal, including survival of a species.” Thus, for the NABT, evolution remains to this day a Darwinian process that operates without plan or purpose.

In other words, it was the Darwinist power grab in the Nineties that created the controversy, not a power grab by creationists or ID folks. Heck, there were only a handful of lab rats and math whizzes in the Nineties who had any idea what an ID hypothesis was, other than an opinion about the growing prevalence of swipe cards.

You would be surprised at how many well-meaning Christians in science, when confronted with the clearest possible evidence of the Darwinist move on the school system, in the form of quotations from actual policy such as the one above, start gabbling aimless "feelgoodies" like "there is no conflict between faith and science."

That's right, prof. There is no conflict between faith and science. But there is an irreconcilable conflict between Christianity and Darwinism (and for that matter between any religion or philosophy that posits purpose and order in life and Darwinism.)

Any account of the ID controversy that leaves out the deliberate way in which a materialistic philosophy has been marketed to students through biology classes is misleading. Currently, I'd like to know how much of that misinformation comes from (1) ignorance, (2) self-deception, and (3) intentional deception of others.

Among the Christian types, I would say it's mostly self-deception. They simply do not wish to know that avoiding confrontation with the powerful Darwinists in the education system (and carrying on instead about the danger represented by the powerless six-day creationists) amounts to abandoning students to a materialist regime. But then, if they are prepared to abandon the students, it makes sense that they would want to avoid acknowledging that they are doing so.
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

A summary of the Catholic Church's entry into the controversy, essentially on the side of ID.

O'Leary's intro to non-Darwinian agnostic philosopher David Stove ?

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

O’Leary’s comments on Francis Beckwith, a Dembski associate, being denied tenure at Baylor.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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