February 3, 2005

Tent management - Dembski responds to Morris

Over at the Design Inference website William Dembski has felt it necessary to respond to a review by Henry Morris (of ICR), of his book The Design Revolution with an article entitled "Intelligent Design's Contribution To The Debate Over Evolution: A Reply To Henry Morris."

(All quotes that follow, unless otherwise appended, are from Dembski's article)

Now the general tenor of this little snit is fairly cordial. Morris refers to Demski's book as impressive, and calls ID proponents "well meaning folks." For his part, Dembski states his admiration and respect for Morris quite unashamedly and believably, and credits him with laying the groundwork for more modern and progressive forms of anti-Darwinism. However, admiration aside, Dembski's ego has never allowed him to resist challenges to his presumed paradigmatic ascendancy, and as well, he clearly knows the value of the "big tent" and works that angle in this piece.

Morris' problems with ID "devolve" (resolve?) to: first - it is ineffective, second - it is nothing new, and third - it is not good Christianity. Dembski, after praising Morris and paying homage to the tent,
"Despite my disagreements with Morris and young earth creationism, I regard those disagreements as far less serious than my disagreements with the Darwinian materialists. If you will, young earth creationism is at worst off by a few orders of magnitude in misestimating the age of the earth. On the other hand, Darwinism, in ascribing powers of intelligence to blind material forces, is off by infinite orders of magnitude."
...eventually gets down to the business of answering Morris' charges.

In his "Response 1" to Morris' belief that ID is not supportive of full Christian revelation Dembski offers this,
"As Christians we have an obligation, as the Apostle Paul put it, to "rightly divide" (i.e., interpret) the Word of God. But what informs our interpretation of the Word? Clearly, our knowledge of the world plays some role. Our knowledge of physics from the 17th century on has made geocentrism no longer a viable option."
Nothing earth-shattering here. I just thought it was another interesting example of the apparently self-deluded nature of those who appear to see the logic of an argument right up until it must be applied to their own position.

The more interesting part of this section is the time Dembski spends slipping in the mud of those nasty "who is the designer?" and "is ID religious?" questions. I found one notion particularly intriguing. Morris, while criticizing this statement by Dembski - "Intelligent design is a strictly scientific theory devoid of religious commitments. Whereas the creator underlying scientific creationism conforms to a strict, literalist interpretation of the Bible, the designer underlying intelligent design need not even be a deity." (Dembksi, The Design Revolution) - complains that he (Dembksi) is trying...
"...to build a very large tent, allowing anyone except pure materialists to take refuge there."
Yet just before he goes on to agree completely with the above statement Dembski says,
"In inferring design from aspects of the world, we are always looking at finite arrangements of material objects and events involving them. There is no way, logically speaking, to infer from such objects to an infinite, personal creator God."
I agree with the above statement, but I find the overall logic confusing. If we are inferring design from finite arrangements of material objects just what is there to prevent even "pure materialists" from taking refuge in this point of view? If, as I suppose Morris and Dembski would allow, theistic evolutionists can take refuge in ID, why cannot materialists? Dembski often insists ID theory is a valid example of scientific methodology, and states above that one cannot "infer from such objects to an infinite, personal creator God." This should not be incompatible with a materialist perspective unless somewhere in Dembski's unexpressed vision of ID there is something more going on than "finite arrangements of material objects." In other words, Bill's attempting to hold the tent up with one arm while hanging onto the shirt-tails of scientists trying to escape with the other. We all know that Dembski thinks science should be able to accommodate the supernatural. This is just another example of how he simply cannot dig himself out of the muck of that premise.

Another quote from this section,
"That's why, for instance, the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies invited me to lecture on intelligent design and warmly embraced my message (this happened in October 2003). Just about anyone who is not wedded to a pure materialism agrees that some sort of design or purpose underlies nature."
Nice to know the tent includes Hindus. In any case, equivocating with the word "purpose" hardly serves to further his point here but there's not much to argue about, yet. In the next paragraph he says,
"Not only does intelligent design rid us of this ideology, which suffocates the human spirit, but, in my personal experience, I've found that it opens the path for people to come to Christ. Indeed, once materialism is no longer an option, Christianity again becomes an option. True, there are then also other options. But Christianity is more than able to hold its own once it is seen as a live option. The problem with materialism is that it rules out Christianity so completely that it is not even a live option. Thus, in its relation to Christianity, intelligent design should be viewed as a ground-clearing operation that gets rid of the intellectual rubbish that for generations has kept Christianity from receiving serious consideration."
How interesting that in a section that boldly forgoes convention and expresses the religious intent of ID he cannot keep himself from mentioning, not religion in general, but Christianity six times (wonder if the Hindus have cooled somewhat?). Even when he tries a nod to the multi-religious concept he torpedos his point with a little bit of metaphysical testosterone ("...Christianity is more than able to hold its own...").

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this section is what it leaves out. Just before Morris charged Dembski with trying to create a big tent for ID he said, in reference to the Dembski comment about ID being a scientific theory devoid of religious commitments, that
"Dembski himself may not believe such nonsense..."(Morris, The Design Revelation)
It appears Morris may not be any more convinced of Dembski's sincerity than many "evolutionists." Dembski offers no response.

In Dembski's "Response 2" to Morris' criticism about ID being nothing new, there really is nothing new. He tries to respond to Morris' charges that previous thinkers were responsible for many of the ideas Dembski and Behe have proposed, and he continues to display the particular dementia that encourages him to act as if things are true if only you say them enough times.
"Hence, within my scheme, "specified complexity" or "specified improbability" becomes the key to identifying intelligence. This concept, however, is rigorously developed, as evidenced by the fact that my book on design detection was published as a research monograph with a mainstream academic publisher (The Design Inference, Cambridge University Press, in their series Cambridge Studies in Probability, Induction, and Decision Theory--note that I cite the Wilson and Weldon book here). Morris's concept or organized complexity, by contrast, was never rigorously developed and is the reason that, to this day, it has no traction within the scientific community. There is an irony in Morris claiming that intelligent design brings nothing new to the table. Intelligent design is turning the study of design in nature into a bonafide science."
Specified complexity is rigorous, Cambridge Press confers scientific legitimacy, ID has gained scientific cachet. Yeah, we've heard it all before.

In "Response 3" Dembski takes on Morris' contention that ID is ineffective. Morris suggested, as evidence of this, that ID is "no more convincing to evolutionists than is young-earth creationism"(Morris, The Design Revelation) and cites individuals such as Eugenie Scott and Kenneth Miller as examples of this failure. Dembski takes umbrage at this and goes on to describe what would constitute acceptable effectiveness,
"ID's criterion for success is rather the following: whether its arguments are sound, whether its evidence for design is solid, whether its critique of materialistic accounts of evolution holds up, whether it is developing into a fruitful scientific research program, and whether it is convincing to people with no stake in the outcome of this debate. On all these points, ID is proving quite effective."
Most will agree that, leaving aside the last criterion, this is a list of ID failures, not successes. And I'll admit I'm completely mystified that Dembski finds the determinative value lies in convincing someone with "no stake in the outcome" of a particular debate. This is another example of Bill's schizophrenia. On the one hand, he wishes to proclaim that ID is science, it is rigorous, and it is peer-reviewed. On the other he denies the importance of convincing biologists of these things.

In the following paragraph, Dembski offers testimony as to ID's effectiveness.
"To see this, ask yourself why the hard-core opponents of ID, who Morris claims are "unimpressed" with intelligent design, nonetheless spend an inordinate amount of time and effort trying to debunk it. Entire books in mainstream academic presses have now been written to debunk intelligent design (Forrest and Gross's Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, published by Oxford University Press, is just one example)."
Yes, folks, Ockham's Razor notwithstanding, it's clear that the simplest explanation for effort being spent on the debunking of ID is, well, the efficacy of ID. In Dembski's "They all laughed..." world this seems all too logical. He further asserts that this debunking means ID is being taken seriously (as science) and then offers a delicious opportunity for quote-mining, were "evolutionists" the types to take such scurrilous advantage,
"It's been said that the worst humiliation is not to be taken seriously. Despite their dismissive rhetoric, critics of ID are taking it seriously, and not just as a cultural force. Our scientific arguments are being challenged in the scientific literature. Critics may say that they are unimpressed, and, in their heart of hearts, they may feel that ID truly is nonsense. But it is pernicious nonsense. And like a hydra, it seems to keep growing new heads faster than the critics can lop them off."
What follows from there is the now de rigueur recitation of ID canards including invoking Kuhn's paradigms, Darwinism as a dying system of thought, the great scientific conspiracy against ID theorists, and, not wanting to be left out, citation of the miraculous conversion of, you guessed it, Anthony Flew.

Just before finishing his piece with another plea to YECs to keep the tent together Dembski writes,
"The Bible warns us to take heed if everyone is speaking well of us. In that case, ID advocates may have even less to worry about than young earth creationists."
which eerily, if more elegantly, expresses a sentiment similar to one once uttered by the inimitable Kent Hovind, who said - "If nobody's irritated at you you're not a good Christian."

Modest goals like this are probably a good idea. After all, not everyone can be a paradigm shatterer.


Blogger Barron said...

I am so bummed I didn't see this review at the time! Why isn't the "Despite my disagreements with Morris and young earth creationism..." quote thrown in Dembski's face whenever he opines on anything? YEC is less wrong than "Darwinism"!?!? Oh that's a keeper...

12:28 PM  

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