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Intelligent design as a “ground clearing operation”

Last Sunday, when he introduced William Dembski at Trinity Baptist Church pastor Ronnie W. Rogers described intelligent design as a “ground clearing operation”. The following day, during the Q & A that followed his talk, Dembski also described ID using the same words. In essence, he said that ID seeks to clear away the established evolutionary paradigm (he way making the point that, although he is a Christian and has opinions about what should follow, ID is agnostic about what will flower in the world of post-naturalistic science). In characterising ID in this manner Dembski was staying true to the spirit of the Wedge Strategy “whose ultimate goal is to “defeat [scientific] materialism” represented by evolution, “reverse the stifling materialist world view and replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions” and to “affirm the reality of God.”

Dembski’s got the title of his talk at OU from Dawkins who said that Darwin allowed a person to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. While to me that presupposes an overly philosophical mind-set (it’s easy to disbelieve in God, belief is what’s challenging), what’s more important to ask is “is it really a price worth paying?”

Let’s suppose that the IDists where able to succeed in their goal of overthrowing naturalism as the defining force in science. What would follow? There’s the obvious part – if you allow supernaturalism into science, you need a tool to distinguish the effects of the supernatural from the natural. Dembski touts his “explanatory filter” as a tool for identifying “design” when small probability events occur. Leaving aside the fact that his explanatory filter fails, it is insufficient. In a world of non-supernatural science, you would have no a priori reason for ruling out “design”. So if you were sick and went to a doctor, the doctor would need a tool to distinguish natural causes from supernatural ones. The simple truth is that the stated goal of “overthrowing naturalism” would mean the end of science (and medicine, engineering…and political consultants) until such time as you developed a way to measure the supernatural.

This is one of the reasons why the ID position that it is not interested in the nature of the designer is intellectually vacuous. Until you know the nature of the designer (and whatever other supernatural entities are present) and can reliably distinguish the actions of these supernatural beings from the activities of natural ones, quite frankly it wouldn’t matter if “Darwinism” was shown to be false. Newton’s theories were known to be flawed long before Einstein came up with relativity. Despite that, they are still useful today. Evolutionary biology not only deals adequately with data, it also makes extremely useful predictions. In addition, it supplies underlying assumptions that let much of the life sciences make predictions (without the assumption of common descent, drug testing on animals is nothing but wanton cruelty).

Attacking evolutionary theory does nothing to advance the conversation. While the “flaws” described by ID proponents are generally the products of imagination and spin, even if they were real, they make almost no difference. ID proposes no alternatives about how to do science. It proposes no solutions. It does nothing to advance science or knowledge. So what’s the point?

I suppose it pays well.

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2 Responses

  1. Don’t think $ is the motive. People motivated by money don’t remind me of Dembski and Behe, who AFAICT are ordinary middle class folk not even remotely privileged economically. There are many reasons of individual psychology why people are drawn to creationism, aside from genuine ignorance (most people are uneducated about origins of biodiversity and neither have time nor interest to learn.) Some crave metaphysical certainty. Others are mystics who yearn to become enlightened by esoterica and spritual alchemy. Most are just anti-modern; they resent how they’ve lost agency and control over their lives living in a modern society and mark scientific forms of knowledge as the culprit. Some are contrarians. Some think they’re smart. A few genuinely think evolution is unscientific. And so on. Most aren’t interested in the scientific merits of evolution or ID.

  2. Hey! I thought you were going to be someone who didn’t update his blog very much! I turn around and you’ve got all these posts! Oh, well …

    I won’t quibble with the idea that Dembski ultimately caged the idea for “ground clearing operation” from Dawkins but the local impetus was an attempt back in 2005 to quell the restless drums coming from the YEC end of the “big tent.” Specifically, Dembski was trying to placate Henry Morris and his wing of creationism without giving away too much of the store with the trial in Dover looming on the horizon. A lot of us thought he failed on both counts:

    ID is part of God’s general revelation. Consequently, it can be understood apart from the Bible. 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. Intelligent design not only gives a voice to these people, but also gives them the tools to dismantle materialism.

    Dismantling materialism is a good thing. 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.

    ID is God’s revelation but it ain’t religion … riiigghht!

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