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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Should the ID guys dump the young earth creationists? Participate in studies?

When I crossposted this post, “The Arsonist’s Tale: Misconceptions about intelligent design” over at Uncommon Descent, I got some interesting responses, including a request that the intelligent design (ID) guys like Bill Dembski blow off the young earth creationists (YECs, people who believe that the Bible says that the Earth was created in 144 hours.)

Generally, people on the ID side do not fight over the age of the earth because they view it as a non-issue. That is, Darwinism won’t work anyway. But my correspondent thought that if the ID theorists who accept conventional dating for the age of the earth blew off the YECs, their reputations would soar. Would they?

Another commenter offered to actually study the diversity of views on the ID side, a diversity which is growing all the time as a matter of fact. A refreshing and timely change from the imaginative authors of nutball conspiracy theories. Yes indeed, that’s a great project for someone who knows how to distinguish a scholar from a tenured crackpot.

Anyway, I replied as follows, addressing thee key issues around both questions, as I see them:

Thanks for raising an interesting and timely question. I appreciate it.

That said, I don't agree that ID would be better accepted if the ID guys blew off the YEC guys.

To a materialist, ID would be "anti-science" if YEC had never existed, because a materialist understands science as applied materialism.

In my little parable above, the materialist is like the defense lawyer trying to get Ratcliffe off the hook. She espouses any position whatever on the fire, tandem or seriatim, except that Ratcliffe dunit and knew he dunit. That can never be, no matter what evidence is assembled.

Consider me as an example: I am at the opposite end of the spectrum from YEC.

I'm not even an ID supporter in the conventional sense. That is, I am not sure that current ID hypotheses are the correct way to understand the large amount of information in life forms that is obviously not adequately accounted for by Darwinian fairy tales. So I describe myself as a post-Darwinist.

There is considerable and mounting evidence that the materialism that Darwinism supports is not true, either. But determining what is true could take decades or centuries. The ID guys are making a start. I don't have a science background, so I do not attempt to evaluate their assumptions in technical detail.

My main stake in this controversy is to promote a more responsible debate, less dependent on the US culture wars.

But if you think for a moment that I am less likely to be attacked by materialists, Darwoids, et cetera, on that account, well, google my name and see what you come up with.

I am a traditional Catholic, so I don't even interpret the Scriptures in any way similar to the usually fundamentalist YECs. If I started a row with YEC, it would have to be over Scriptural issues as I have no familiarity with the technical issues. I am not a trained theologian either, but many years of Bible reading and Bible study offer some modest benefits.

Thus, I would have a big fight on my hands with members of another communion that would serve no purpose except to divide Christians.

Apart from that, the reality is that all non-materialists have something in common that they do not share with materialists. I think that ID types of whatever flavour would do well to keep that in mind.

Re a poll, I suppose you'd have to ask people if they would participate and see what happens.

You might set up a blog for the purpose and invite contributors whose identity can be confirmed.*

One caution is that it takes some study to determine the questions whose answers would yield useful information (which I assume you've done or are doing).

For example, I remember a historian of science who once tried to get me to post on the Post-Darwinist what he assumed to be the positions of various ID types - I guess in an effort to draw them out. I wrote to them first, and a number wrote back and said, in essence, "No, that's not what I meant at ALL."

I didn't publish the historian's guesses, and he was a bit put out with me. But what could I do? I can't publish stuff I know is false.

My other suggestion would be to interest a social scientist in doing a more scientific poll on the actual beliefs of ID types who meet previously developed criteria as opinion leaders, criteria that - ideally - have been used in other studies of social influence (degrees, books published, number of mentions in peer reviewed or popular literature, for example).

Indeed, I see the actual study of these questions as a promising development in a field heretofore dominated by conspirazoid cranks, for whom I have no time and little patience.

*Use the moderator keys early and often if you are spammed by Internet Darwinists, who usually have much more time on their hands than the regular type.
If you want to understand why the intelligent design controversy cannot go away, read By Design or by Chance?.

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