Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Devious, Dubious, Dogmatic Dembski

I just finished reading William Dembski's 1999 Intelligent Design manifesto entitled Intelligent Design: the Bridge Between Science & Theology. On the back cover a Rob Koons, professor of philosophy at the University of Texas acclaims this work stating, "William Dembski is the Isaac Newton of information theory, and since this is the Age of Information, that makes Dembski one of the most important thinkers of our time…" Dembski echoes this idea throughout the book as he presents himself and the other fledging design theorists (he lists Behe, Wells, Meyer, and Nelson) as the architects of a post-naturalistic science, a science that is liberated from the "intellectual pathology" (p. 120) and "idolatry" (p. 99) of methodological naturalism.

Dembski states, "Although design theorists take the question Which is correct, naturalistic evolution or intelligent design? as a perfectly legitimate question, it is not treated as a legitimate question by the Darwinian establishment" (p. 117). Throughout this work Dembski asserts that "the empirical evidence is in fact weak" (p. 119) for biological evolution. Apparently he assumes that his readers will agree with this assumption. Ironically, even Behe advocate of Intelligent Design (ID) that he is, accepts biological evolution as a fact despite his dispute over the mechanisms. Science does not so much as seek "correctness" as it does utility. Which theory, naturalistic evolution or ID is more robust or more capable of producing fruitful venues of research? Which theory has provided the best framework for answers? Design theory went the way of the Neaderthal in the late 1800's because it failed to provide robust research venues, it failed to make predictions, and it failed to provide frameworks to interpret field findings.

Dembski posits that "design theorists" are capable of asking which model is "correct." As already stated above, this question has been settled. However, the "design theorist" is incapable of asking this question honestly because she is committed to a metaphysical dogma called "creation." Because the "design theorist" believes in creation and in a creator she is limited in her outcomes. She could accept naturalistic evolution by recognizing the non-overlapping nature of faith and reason, yet she does not. She limits her findings to the horizons of her dogma.

Dembski argues that the majority of the American population is against naturalistic evolution. He states,

According to a 1993 Gallup poll, close to 50% of Americans are creationists of a stricter sort, thinking that God specially created human beings; another 40% believe in some form of God-guided evolution; and only 10% are full-blooded Darwinists. It's this 10%, however, that controls the academy (p. 117).

Somehow, Dembski seems to imply, science is directed by democratic vote. He should know better than to argue this way. This statement suggests the he is trying to manipulate his creationist and/or Christian readers into an emotional response to assert their might to make right. Scary thought…

Dembski claims that ID has "no prior religious commitments." He asserts that the religious neutrality of ID is what makes it scientific and different than "scientific creationism" (p. 247). However, Dembski plays his cards earlier; displaying that there are religiously metaphysical boundaries to the religions than can be served by his ID feign "religious neutrality." For example, he categorizes Hinduism as a form of "religious naturalism" (p. 101) for the manner in which it makes its deities subservient to the laws of nature and not outside of the same. He asserts that any form of naturalism leads to idolatry (p. 101), and he defines idolatry in a strictly biblical sense (p. 99). How is ID to be considered religiously neutral when it makes formulates its metaphysics based on the Bible to the exclusion of non-biblical religions?

Despite Dembski's education, he does not seem to be aware of the basic principles of natural selection. He treats "design" in nature as though any sort of naturalistic causation is unreasonable and mathematically impossible. What he so conveniently ignores and fails to mention is that natural selection selects "design." Because of natural selection it is now understood that "design" no longer requires a "designer."


  1. What if we are really some game that a super intelligent creature created and is playing? Like Sims. I read this site that gives a ton of different ways the world could end - scientific, political and religious - and this was one of his theories. www.exitmundi.nl

    Creepy stuff.

  2. Sims is oddly addictive. Thats probably what I'd do if I had the power. Under that theory wouldn't wars be like God playing Metal Gear Solid or Counterstrike? Also if thats the case God plays Grand Teft Auto a lot in my neighborhood.

  3. Regarding our being a game... On the sci-fi show Stargate: Atlantis, there was an episode in which the characters Sheppard and McKay found a device that they thought was one of those resource-building strategy games like Age of Empires or Civilization, so they started playing it. Soon after, another exploration team found a planet on which one of the countries mysteriously had McKay's face on their flag. They realized that the device was not a computer game, but a communication device.

    Regarding the post...'post-naturalistic science, a science that is liberated from the "intellectual pathology"'

    Creationists (let's call them what they are) seem to want to have the best of both mutually exclusive worlds. On the one hand, they want to undermine the foundations of real science; then, on the other hand, they want us to believe that their theories are scientific (consistent with evidence, providing robust research venues, etc.). My dilemma is I can't decide which idiom describes them best: burning the candle at both ends, or hoisting themselves with their own petard.

  4. Lion: how in the world did you find that site?

    I must say, that's deep. Interesting. Frightening. But, I can't stop reading it, either.


    I had trouble expressing myself earlier, but now I think I can better say what I wanted now that I've read this post.

    Darwin's three problems to his theory-- the age of the earth, the unknown mechanisms for heredity, and continental drift appeared to be holes in his proposal at first.

    But actually, these problems were like unspoken predictions. Scientists didn't make up the age of the earth to fit Darwinism. Nor did they make up genetics or tectonic plates to prop up the theory.

    These three separate discoveries were independent of Darwinism. But as they were discovered, they correlated with the "predictions" of evolution-- thus confirming his theories.

    Science can predict outcomes because it seeks the implications and conclusions of facts, rather than trying to squeeze or cram unwarranted ideas into a preconceived framework.

  5. I like reading conspiracy sites. Someone linked to him. I spent - at least - two days reading that site a few years back. Man! It is addictive. And scary as a mo' fo!

  6. regarding the idea that we could all be living in some god's Sims game;

    There is an argument that goes something like this: Every technological society will eventually develop the capability to create simulated worlds so detailed that the occupants would be unable to detect the fact that they are in a sim and would believe they are in a real world.

    Once the capability to create these super-sims exists then pretty obviously the society would produce more than one of them.

    This means that there would be more super-sim universes than 'real' universes. So if you're alive and reading this the odds are that you're in a sim universe, not a real one.

    Another theory has it that as soon as enough people in the Sim universe know what's going on then the aliens will pull the plug and reboot the sim - so DON'T TELL ANYONE - OK?

  7. >the aliens will pull the plug and reboot the sim - so DON'T TELL ANYONE - OK?

    Malc, since you put it that way . . . from now on, my lips are sealed!

  8. I guess we better keep it entertaining so that the plug doesn't get pulled do to bordome.

  9. Hello Script,

    What are Dembski's religious views? I have been unable to pin down his theology exactly. From what I gather he was born Catholic, became Protestant, but is neither a Young-Earth Creationist nor an Old-Earth Creationist nor a Theistic Evolutionist. He seems to be a Christian who does not see the Genesis account as having anything to do with science so holds his scientific views without regard to Genesis. Yet his Christian faith tells him there is a Creator and Science tells him there is "Intelligent Design."

    What is wrong with this model and why is it something you could not embrace? Is it possible to believe in God and true Science and set the Genesis account of Creation aside as poetic and mysterious metaphor?

  10. Hello Tandi,

    I have a number of problems with his model:

    1) ID is simply a god-of-the-gaps argument. And, God has had a hard time maintaining hegemony over the gaps as knowledge continues to fill them.

    2) Though supposedly his model is religiously neutral, he makes it clear that Judeo-Christian religions are the only theologies served by it. Science is subservient to dogma, but ID makes it dogmatically inclined.

    3) Dembski makes numerous strong though unsubstantiated claims about the deficits of evolutionary theory. Yet, he never demonstrates the superiority of ID over evolution to explain *anything*

    Dembski is an Evangelical Christian. He views the Genesis creation narratives as theologically rich but scientifically neutral. He would fall into an old-earth model somewhat that of Hugh Russ though he never asserts a day-age reading of Genesis.

  11. sorry, point number #2 above, should read:

    science is *not* subservient to dogma

  12. Question: once the "sims" gain intelligence wouldn't it be unethical to "pull the plug?" Wouldn't that be like murder? What makes them different from us?

    Just a question - lets see some ideas :)

  13. This sounds like it could turn into a re-run of the free-will vs pre-determination debate.

    Pulling the plug on a simulation full of self-aware creatures would be like murder only if you accept that they are alive. If you take the position that they are only sophisticated programs that give the appearance of having consciousness and free will, then it's no worse than rebooting your laptop.

    I suppose the only way to know for sure is to go ahead and pull the plug, wait till you die, and see what the FSM has in store for you....