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.