New Creationist Book
From: Marty Rudin
To: Positive Atheism <email@example.com>
Subject: Positive Atheism/ New Creationist Book
Date: Monday, October 12, 1998 4:36 PM
Creationists have finally slipped one past the goalkeeper. Cambridge University Press has just published William A. Dembski's The Design Inference. In it Dembski acknowledges such neo-creationists as Phillip Johnson and Michael Behe. The anti-evolutionist David Berlinski wrote the jacket endorsement (see below).
If you really want to see what neo-creationists are up to, compare this book with Dembski's blatantly theological Mere Creation: Science, Faith & Intelligent Design (an edited collection from the evangelical Christian publisher InterVarsity). In it Dembski lays out the theological agenda behind the so-called "intelligent design movement." Most of the contributors to this volume are "fellows" of a thinly-veiled creationist think-tank called the Discovery Institute (www.discovery.org).
This neo-creationism is a lot more sophisticated and slickly packaged than the creationism that lost in the courts back in the 80s (for instance, they scrupulously avoid the Bible in their public discussions). Given that 50 percent of Americans are creationists, this new-style creationism may not only slip past the academic publishers (as it has here), but also past the courts. The threat to science education is real. I urge you to take this threat seriously and meet it head on.
Dembski's Design Inference -- the inside dust jacket reads:
How can we identify events due to intelligent causes and distinguish them from events due to undirected natural causes? If we lack a causal theory, how can we determine whether an intelligent cause acted? This book presents a reliable method for detecting intelligent causes: the design inference. The design inference uncovers intelligent causes by isolating the key trademark of intelligent causes: specified events of small probability. Just about anything that happens is highly improbable, but when a highly improbable event is also specified (i.e., conforms to an independently given pattern) undirected natural causes lose their explanatory power. Design inferences can be found in a range of scientific pursuits from forensic science to research into the origins of life to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. This challenging and provocative book shows how incomplete undirected causes are for science and breathes new life into classical design arguments. It will be read with particular interest by philosphers of science and religion, other philosophers concerned with epistemology and logic, probability and complexity theorists, and statisticians.
the century and with it the millennium come to an end, questions long buried
have disinterred themselves and come clattering back to intellectual life,
dragging their winding sheets behind them. Just what, for example, is the
origin of biological complexity and how is it to be explained? We have
no more idea today than Darwin did in 1859, which is to say no idea whatsoever.
William Dembski's book is not apt to be the last word on the inference
to design, but it will surely be the first. It is a fine contribution to
analysis, clear, sober, informed, mathematically sophisticated and modest.
Those who agree with its point of view will read it with pleasure, and
those who do not, will ignore it at their peril."
Cliff Walker's initial remarks, which are open for discussion:
Of course they repackaged creationism: everybody agrees they had to do something!
(Perhaps it's time for another Carl Sagan to work on repackaging the counters to creationism, which don't seem to be working.)
However, for them to appear to divorce creationism from it's primary purpose of upholding the Bible or some other "Revealed Word" is for them to engage in dishonesty about their motives.
To establish a creative force behind DNA and life does not establish a god. A god must necessarily have created the universe and be supernatural, otherwise He or She or Whatever is part of the universe, and cannot be distinguished from the Benevolent Space Brothers of that old Carpenters song: "Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft ... [etc]." Such "starseed" entities would themselves thus be subject to the same characteristics as the rest of us.
"Starseed" creation (the term coined by Timothy Leary, Ph.D., while in prison in the 1970s) is physically possible, though unproven (much like the Loch Ness monster is physically possible, though unproven). To postulate supernatural creation would require a whole now approach to science, and thus all the more cannot be "proven" through inference from something complex or unlikely.
Again: Just because something complex or unlikely has happened does not prove intelligent design. Many creationists know this and thus attempt to prove the existence of a creator first, before trying to grapple with the creation question.
For creationism to get past square one, it must first reveal a creator or intelligent creative force intervening in the universe. You must have the creator first before you can establish creation. To infer design from appearance (complexity; unlikelihood) is premature. We detect design because of prior knowledge of a designer. This cannot be overemphasized in our discussions. We ultimately establish design from the presence of a designer. That's what design is: the work of a designer.
(See the Watch-In-The-Desert analogy in my reply to Derrek Leasure's letter for more detail.)
Since we have nothing else with which to compare the universe, we cannot know if it is unnatural (i.e., designed). We must remain agnostic or take creation on faith. We really have no other choices at this stage, until someone comes up with a creator.
In lieu of this, we do best to stick with what we already know: The universe exists; the universe contains things which have specific characteristics; we can make certain observations about the things in the universe. That is as far as we can verify at this point, and we do not, at this point, have a consistent way of testing beyond this.
James Call's remarks:
I dunno, Cliff, sounds like more of the old "anything this complex just has to have a creator because it's so ... complex" argument. Which I say fine, go for it. But stick to the truth. Maybe he does and maybe he doesn't. I can't tell without reading the book but if the jacket description is any indication I'd have to say I have my doubts about his dedication to truthfulness. Actually, the jacket description was going along just fine until I got to the part that says, "Just what, for example, is the origin of biological complexity and how is it to be explained? We have no more idea today than Darwin did in 1859, which is to say no idea whatsoever."
Now correct me if I'm wrong but isn't that "for example" question precisely the one that Darwin addressed? I mean, wasn't the treatise called "The Origin of Species" and wasn't it rather revolutionary and comprehensive and hasn't it not been debunked in the 140 years since, and hasn't science even tended to support the idea with new discoveries in the time since? Pretty impressive "no idea whatsoever" idea! If that kind of facetiousnes is in evidence right on the cover, even if merely in that one statement, then it seems this book is probably just another preaching-to-the-choir rant.
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