Tag Archives: intelligent design

The Hitchens – Dembski debate

I am not a fan of debates. They are more a sport than a mode of informing. And of course each side in a debate has its own fans who are more concerned with “who won” than what they learned.

But a recommend this debate between Christopher Hitchens and Bill Dembski, although I have yet to watch it to the end. I make this exception basically for two reasons.

1: Like many people I admire Hitchens. He is a skilled debater which means he may produce more heat than light. It also means he is a bit of a “street fighter.” I don’t think he is necessarily reliable on scientific questions. But his literary skills are impressive. So he can be enjoyable to lsiten to for his turn of phrase alone.

But I also think he is courageous. He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer earlier this year and has been undergoing treatment, particularly chemotherapy. He is also very conscious and candid about what this means for his future prospects.

A close member of my family experienced a similar situation this year so I am very conscious of the debilitating effect of chemotherapy as well as the natural response to what the illness means for life prospects. It takes a lot of courage for such a patient to continue struggling with the ordinary mundane frustrations of life, let alone to accept the sort of challenges Hitchens is doing.

2: In my recent review So you want a conversation? (of  the book Against All Gods by Phillip Johnson and John Mark Reynolds) I suggested that the “militant” theists and intelligent design proponents who wanted to debate scientists and “new atheists” should take the initiative and organise their own.  They have been vocal with demands for their inclusion in scientific and academic forums. At the same time they conveyed a one-sided, pro-theist, version of science and atheism to their own people. So, I suggested:

“Why don’t these ‘militant’ theists get some of these new atheists along to their own meetings and begin the real discussion. It’s just possible the members of those churches and departments will learn something form the “horses mouth” the seminars and theological courses devoted to new atheist strawmannery don’t convey.”

So this debate, organised by the Prestonwood Christian Academy, in Texas, was a step in that direction.The invitation was not exactly completely open (have a look at the 44 page discussion guide for the debate). This was aimed at students of the academy, their parents and members of the church, hoping to provide some sort of immunity to what Hitchens might say. Prominent on page 1 was the biblical advise:

The fool says in his heart, “There is no god.” Psalm 14:1

Now, I wonder of the Bible Colleges, Churches, and religious groups in New Zealand who regularly study their particular “new atheist” straw man, or creation science script would be p[prepared to make a similar invitation to a speaker for atheism or scientific reason?

The You Tube videos of the debate, which was entitled “Does A Good God Exist?”, are given below. Be aware that the first 9 minutes, being part of the immunisation process, can be ignored.


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So you want a conversation?

Book Review: Against All Gods: What’s Right and Wrong About the New Atheism by Phillip Johnson and John Mark Reynolds

Price: US$10.20; NZ$29.97
Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: Intervarsity Press (May 2, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0830837388
ISBN-13: 978-0830837380

This book’s subtitle intrigued me – “What’s right and wrong about the new atheism.” Has Phillip Johnson, the “Godfather” of “intelligent design” and harsh critic of evolutionary science and “scientific materialism” got something positive to say about “new atheism?” Does he think people like his arch-enemy Richard Dawkins have something right?

Johnson claims in the book’s introduction: “our intention is not to attack the atheists but to explore the case they are making.” And: “the arguments for atheism should be taken seriously and considered both respectfully and critically.”

Now that would be a change, wouldn’t it? Many religious authors jumped on the bandwagon of analysing and criticising “new atheism’ after publication of the best-selling books by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Victor Stenger and Ayaan Hirsi Ali in recent years. But their bias, personal attacks, straw clutching and straw mannery make most of them useless. Perhaps Phillip Johnson will break ranks and honestly elaborate on his philosophical differences with science and atheism instead? Perhaps he will admit the popularity of these books may be because they have identified some real problems?

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Are religious scientists worried about their brethren?

There were two public statements on science recently which seem to have disappeared into a vacuum. They were the ‘Public Statement Concerning Science and Christian Faith’ by New Zealand Religious Scientists and ‘A message to the Christian communities of New Zealand from scientists in their midst.’

I am not interested in the first statement. It’s basically a sour-grapes response to the recent visit of Richard Dawkins to New Zealand. I would think that those disagreeing with Dawkins’ religious views would attempt to ignore him. After all, he was on a promotion tour for his book The Greatest show on Earthwhich is not about religion. Bringing up the religion question only provides him a platform to pontificate on the subject. Mind you, these sorts of criticisms do help build the public interest in Dawkins’ lectures, which are always crowded. This, and the inevitable book sales, must be a good thing for the public understanding of science. So, in a sense, I am all for such irrelevant statements.

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Belief, knowledge and science

This is a repeat of a post from 18 months back:

A pernicious feature of current attacks on science is the promulgation of the idea that scientific knowledge is “just a belief.” That it has no more validity than any other belief. That non-scientific beliefs should be given the same status or legitimacy as scientific theory.

This idea is promulgated by “secular” new age, post-modernist and similar ideologies. It is also promoted by some religious groups advancing creationist ideas. For an example of the latter have a look at the documentary video “In Good Faith” showing a “science lesson” at the Australian Pacific Hills Christian School (see also Teaching science in faith schools). In this “lesson” students were offered a range of beliefs about biology and told they should consider them and choose which best fitted their religious views.

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The rules of science

pz_myersPZ Myers has a great post Ten Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher About Intelligent Design. It briefly discusses, and disposes of, some of the most common intelligent design (ID) arguments. And does it so clearly.

He is a great writer – and I just don’t know how gets time to write so well and do all the other things he does. His upcoming book should be great – but I have yet to hear of any publication date.

I have extracted question 3 because I think this is of general interest. And one I think is important to counter. The question  and accompanying argument is taken from a Christian Apologetics article by William Dembski and Sean McDowell.

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New bird designed!

New-Bird-Design

An early blueprint for the new bird species

I have always found arguments from analogy very weak. Especially as they are usually allied with strong preconceived beliefs and amount to nothing more than attempts to “prove” those beliefs.

Typical is the “argument from design” for the “proof” of existence of gods. You know – Rev. Paley and his discovery of a watch on the heath? It’s amazing how many of the anti-scientific arguments used by today’s creationists follow the same lines.

A huge elephant in the creationist design room is their comparison of living forms with inanimate manufactured objects. “A watch has a watchmaker therefore an animal must also have a designer/maker.” Similarly the current intelligent design (ID) proponents who insist that a biological cell is an intricate machine – hence it must have a designer/creator. This approach is so inappropriately mechanical. One could never come to understand living forms, or their origins, by insisting on treating them like inanimate machines or objects.

Of course the design argument does raise the question of how and where this design, and the inevitable creation, of live animals occurs (or occured) and where the animals are (were) manufactured. You can’t have it both ways – claim “design” and “creation” and then just ignore those events.

But the approach does provide some humour. Remember the manufacturing plant for planets in Douglas Adams‘ “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy“? Now the satirical web site The Onion has a spoof on God’s creation of a new bird species. Dressed up like the reporting of a new model of car (see God Introduces New Bird ).

Have a look at the article – here is a short extract from the advertising blurb for this new bird:

“Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve, prepare thine eyes for the most exciting line of avian wildlife in millennia,” God announced as He released an estimated 14 million first-run models into the important bird markets of North America, Australia, and Eurasia. “This new bird has it all: slicker wings, a more streamlined beak, better-than-ever capacity for beautiful song. Plus, all of the grace and majesty you’ve come to expect from the Eternal Creator of Life Itself.”

“The bird is back,” God continued, His booming voice parting the very heavens. “And baby, it’s never looked better.”

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Evolution of human morality

Here’s a short clear article on the science of morality by Dick Swaab published in NRC Handlesbad. Swaab is a professor of neurobiology at the University of Amsterdam and is associated with the Nederlands Institute for Neuroscience. He writes a weekly column for NRC Handelsblad. (See the original at The evolution of human morality).

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The philosophy wars

Book Review: Critique of Intelligent Design: Materialism versus Creationism from Antiquity to the Present by John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Monthly Review Press (November 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1583671730
ISBN-13: 978-1583671733

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Scientific writers usually critique intelligent design (ID) creationism using scientific facts. And why not? After all, as the saying goes, “we have the genes and we have the fossils.” And creationist arguments often do rely on flagrant distortion of the facts.

This doesn’t get to the real emotion and ideas motivating supporters of creationism. So we sometimes need to deal with personal beliefs and feelings. The question of randomness behind evolutionary mutations. The violence and waste implied by “survival of the fittest.” And the unwarranted application of “social Darwinism” to society.

But this book takes the struggle to the most fundamental level. That of the philosophical approaches underlying science, on the one hand, and teleological explanations preferred by religion on the other. This struggle has been going on for millennia, and will no doubt continue for a long time yet.

It’s an important struggle because of the current attacks on science.  But the struggle is wider than that – it is central to the “culture wars” of today. Read the Wedge Strategy and you can see that ID is also attacking society, religion and freedom.

Scientists have usually not bothered to engage with ID philosophically. So it is refreshing to read a book which takes these design arguments head on.

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Behe’s “objectionable” interview

Bloggingheads.
Image via Wikipedia

What’s going on with bloggingheads.tv? I usually enjoy the programmes, regularly download the Science Saturday audios and keep an eye on the rest.

Yesterday I downloaded the discussion between Michael Behe and John McWhorter.  Listened to it on my daily walk. I don’t know what observers thought because I must have been swearing and muttering to myself. It was the sort of intelligent design (ID) promotion you get from the Discovery Institute. If you have ever listened to the ID the Future podcasts you will know what I mean. Case Luskin’s breathless exclamations as they misrepresent science and those evil Dariwnists.

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The entropy fib

The local Christian apologetics blog “Thinking Matters” appears to have made a policy decision to outsource most of the content. Specifically to the subcontinent (where else do New Zealanders outsource to) and a Walter Mitty type of character, Johnson Philip.

Philip claims to be “a physicist, with expertise inter alia in Quantum-nuclear Physics, and has worked extensively on the inner quark-structure of Protons and Neutrons.” However, as he doesn’t appear to have published anything in a scientifc journal I think the more relevant part of his CV is that he “has also specialized in Christian Apologetics, Biblical Archeology, Journalism, Alternative Medicines, and several other fields.” He has written extensively in those areas.

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