April 7, 2007

A new Dembski Foreward - Characteristically backward

William Dembski has once again taken time from his busy ID research schedule to write the Foreward for a colleague's upcoming book. As has become characteristic of Dembski's writing in recent years, there is far less here than meets the eye. He begins with a pointless story about winning the lottery against long odds and being surprised about insinuations that such a feat was engineered. Apparently the payoff for paying attention this far is the following:
Many scientists, when confronted with the possibility that life and the universe were designed, react in the same way as you did when confronted with the possibility that you somehow engineered winning the lottery. According to them, there is no evidence of design in the universe. Rather, the best evidence is that everything proceeds by unbroken natural laws. Accordingly, nature at bottom is nothing more than matter, energy, and the forces by which these interact. In short, nature works out its destiny purely by chance and necessity and not by design.
If you can ignore the rather sleazy (though by now well expected) conflation of scientific methodology with philosophical naturalism there's not much here with which to quibble.
But even though you would be right to dismiss a reporter who suggested that you had somehow “designed” winning the lottery, you would be wrong to side with materialistic scientists who regard the universe as exhibiting no evidence of design.
In fact, you would be quite prudently adopting the only default position available to one who considers these issues rationally. "Design," in the ponderously labored vernacular of ID proponents, includes so many unevidenced, unwarranted and unwise assumptions that merely speaking the word prejudices any conversation about universal or biotic origins. It is a loaded term, and it has been deliberately loaded by those pushing a religious agenda.
In the last forty years, advances in our understanding of cosmology and biology, especially molecular biology, have pointed up just how inadequate materialistic theories are in accounting for the appearance of design throughout the universe.
"Advances in our understanding of cosmology and biology" is, of course, ID-speak for "Lacunae in cosmological or biological knowledge that we have identified as appropriate gaps in which to stuff our designer and which we will push in service of our avowed intention to dismantle current scientific methodology."
In reply, scientists committed to materialism would say that the appearance of design in the universe is only an appearance, and that when we really understand the underlying science, we’ll see that there is no actual design. Such a dismissal of design, however, rings untrue. When Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, in River Out of Eden, writes “The illusion of purpose is so powerful that biologists themselves use the assumption of good design as a working tool,” one is right to start wondering if the appearance of design in nature is really only an athis pointppearance.
Only if one is overly credulous. And as to the previous point, I have to disagree with Richard Dawkins (and others who advance this view). I don't think the "illusion" of purpose is powerful at all, nor do I even concede that there is such an impression. There is an appearance of integration, and interactivity, and sometimes even complexity. There is an overwhelming sense of natural profligacy and creativity. But there is no appearance at all of purpose, or intelligent intent, or "design."

This "appearance of design" is a meme that simply must be eradicated. It contributes to the confidence of creationists, and the level of difficulty in appropriately framing the discussion for those who are fence-sitting.

In fact, the best scientific evidence now strongly confirms that design in the universe is real.

Well, at least Dembski's not being coy here, so let me do likewise: The above is an outright lie. This is an accusation I try very hard not to make, but there is just no way that Dembski can make this assertion in good faith. At best one might say "Looked at from a certain perspective...," or "Some evidence suggests a different interpretation...," or, heck, even just an "I think that..." But nobody who is as familiar with the arguments, counterarguments and especially the huge disparity in the number of scientists supporting the respective positions as Dembski can make this argument sincerely.

He knows it is not true that "the best scientific evidence" confirms that design is real, he is simply lying for political gain.
This volume will help you sort through that evidence. But it does more. It situates the scientific debate over theories of intelligent design and unintelligent evolution within a broader philosophical and cultural conversation. The list of contributors is superb, the scope of the contributions is comprehensive, and the topic is absolutely central to understanding the struggle for people’s hearts and minds. If you want to know what’s driving the culture war, read this book.
It's pretty clear what, and who, is driving the culture war. Perhaps if they spent more time with both hands on the wheel the truth might not suffer so much collateral damage.


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