Thursday, June 26, 2008

Intelligent Design Interview, Part 2

Here's part two of my interview with Dr. William Dembski. Part one is available here. There will be at least two more parts in this series.

RV. Another charge sometimes brought against Intelligent Design (ID) is that it is a backhanded attempt by religious people to violate the separation of church and state and return religion to public schools. How do you handle this criticism?

DEMBSKI. You're not going to justify that charge from the definitions, that is, from a basic account of ID. Certainly, ID has theological implications. But if you want theological implications, you can find plenty of them in Darwinism. Richard Dawkins has written that Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. Stephen Jay Gould has written that ever since Darwin we know that we weren't created in the image of a benevolent God. These are consequences that they take from evolutionary theory. As a Christian I draw consequences from ID. I have my own theological spin that I put on it. But ID theory can be addressed on its own terms.

The only way to try to tie ID into the separation of church and state issue is through guilt by association--to say that most of these ID people are evangelical Christians and try to make a case on the basis of their motivations -charging them with being religiously motivated. But if you want to play the motivations game, you can play it also with Richard Dawkins, who seems to be highly motivated by his atheism. Any such charges cut both ways. If you're going to charge ID with truly being religious, you're going to have to locate explicitly religious content in the theory. But you're not going to find it there.

RV. Time magazine interviewed a science teacher (Jan 31, 2005, p. 54) who described himself as a "very religious" Methodist, but who believed that evolution was the "best scientific explanation for life as we know it." He disagreed with ID and said, "I also believe God is ultimately responsible for the process. But it's not our job to dust for fingerprints." How would you respond to this teacher or anyone with this overall attitude?

DEMBSKI. "It's not our job"? Says who? I think a lot of people find it an inherently interesting question whether there should be signs of intelligence in nature. We look for signs of intelligence in plenty of other contexts, such as going to any place humans might have been and looking for artifacts that point to intelligence (which is what archeologists do). Well, is there some sort of artifactuality, something that would point to design in nature, in the structure of the laws of nature, in various products or objects in nature? It seems to me that's an inherently interesting question. If you want to say, "It's not our job," well, people do all sorts of jobs. To me it's an inherently interesting question. It is a scientific question.

Let's not forget that Darwin was self-consciously responding to William Paley. Darwin's Origin of Species is a response to design thinking. Over and over again, he says that certain facts are inexplicable on the basis of a creation account, so his theory must be better. Science typically works comparatively. You are comparing two different accounts. You have a certain data set and you are trying to explain it. Is this theory better than that theory? The thing is, the goodness of a theory--what controls theory choice--is not going to remain static, it's not determined once and for all. It's not that Darwin writes Origin of Species and there it is forever and ever. New data is constantly coming in, and scientific theories need to be sensitive to new data.

In Darwin's day, the origin of life was a very easy problem. Life was basically a little blob of Jell-O enclosed by a membrane. It would have been very easy for it to come about by spontaneous generation. Darwin knew nothing about molecular biology. Nowadays, the simplest cell is more complicated than any human artifact. The metaphor that is widely used to describe the cell these days is an automated factory in which everything is automated. Some cell products even have what are essentially UPS codes that tell them where they need to go in the cell. There are even little train tracks along which cell products move along. It's a marvel of miniaturization and engineering that is going on in the cell. Darwin had no conception of this. Why should we think that his theory can account for this new body of facts?

RV. Is it the case that the evidence that has come up since Darwin's time, not only in microbiology, but also in the fossil record, is not coinciding with what Darwin expected or what would be anticipated based on his theory?

DEMBSKI. That's what ID would argue. Darwinism is not where the evidence is pointing. An unbiased review of the evidence will tell you that Darwin's theory has some gaping holes and that it is not really accounting for things as people once thought it may have.

Getting back to this biology teacher, as far as I'm concerned he's welcome to pursue a Darwinian line of inquiry. I'm not trying to convert everybody to this cause, at least not in the first instance. What I'm trying to do is get ID on the table for fair discussion. That would be enough. We're trying to put together a true and insightful picture of nature. Evolutionary biology puts together a certain picture of nature, and ID is putting together a different picture. The question is, which picture makes better sense out of the evidence?

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