This is about a peculiar essay by William Dembski, of whom we once wrote Intelligent Design’s Brief Shining Moment. The last time we wrote about him was William Dembski’s Design Inference. It is your Curmudgeon’s humble opinion that from what we’ve seen of Dembski’s writing, it’s hogwash that even the hogs won’t touch.
Dembski has posted a new essay at the blog of the Discoveroids, who are described in the Cast of Characters section of our Intro page. It’s titled Defecting from Darwinian Naturalism: A Review of Thomas Nagel’s Mind & Cosmos.
As you’ve guessed from that title, Dembski is ecstatic about the latest conversion of a philosopher that most of you never heard of. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us and his links omitted:
About a decade ago I would muse on what it might take for intelligent design to win the day. Clearly, its intellectual and scientific project needed to move forward, and, happily, that has been happening. But I was also thinking in terms of a watershed event, something that could have the effect of a Berlin Wall coming down, so that nothing thereafter was the same. It struck me that an event like this could involve some notable atheists coming to reverse themselves on the evidence for design in the cosmos.
Right there you can see the utter cluelessness of Dembski’s approach to the whole subject. What he thinks would be the big “watershed event” would be some academic atheists defecting to the god of the Discoveroids. Mind you, there’s no scientific evidence at play in Dembski’s fantasy — no experiment, no fossil discovery, no secret message buried long ago in our DNA that is decoded at last, saying: “Bless you, my children!” Nothing like that. To Dembski, the walls of Jericho will come tumbling down when a philosopher walks across the aisle.
Okay, now that you know where this is going, let’s read on a bit more — but not too much more, because even your Curmudgeon has a limited tolerance for this stuff:
Shortly after these musings, Antony Flew, who had been the most notable intellectual atheist in the English-speaking world until Richard Dawkins supplanted him, announced that he had come to believe in God (a deistic deity and not the full-blooded deity of ethical monotheism) on account of intelligent design arguments. I wondered whether this could be the start of that Berlin Wall coming down, but was quickly disabused as the New York Times and other media outlets quickly dismissed Flew’s conversion as a sign of his dotage (he was in his eighties when he deconverted from atheism).
Even if Flew had been of sound mind when he moved from atheism to deism, what of it? The man was expressing an entirely subjective preference. These things happen; it’s also true that devoted clergy sometimes leave their avocation after a crisis of faith, so it’s obvious that the traffic moves in both directions. But when someone who has been a clear thinker moves toward the position of the Discoveroids, we can only shake our heads in sadness and tell ourselves that it’s a terrible thing to end one’s career in a public display of senility, incontinence, and creationism.
Although Antony Flew’s mental flip-flop didn’t have a major impact for creationism, Dembski still has hopes for more of the same. He says:
Still, I may have been on to something about defections of high profile intellectuals from Darwinian naturalism and the effect that this might have in creating conceptual space for intelligent design and ultimately winning the day for it.
Thomas Nagel, with his just published Mind & Cosmos, has now become another such defector from Darwinian naturalism. Appearing from Oxford University Press and subtitled Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, this slender volume (it’s only 130 pages) represents the most disconcerting defection (disconcerting to Darwinists) from Darwinian naturalism to date. We’re still not talking the Berlin Wall coming down, but it’s not hard to see it as a realistic possibility, off in the distance, after reading this book.
Are you with us, dear reader? Another philosopher, a man with no lab and no data, writes a 130-page volume, and Dembski thinks the whole world is going to start stampeding towards the Seattle temple of the unnamed designer. Yeah, sure, any day now. That’s how scientific paradigm shifts always happen — in the dreams of creationists. Let’s read on:
In Mind & Cosmos, Nagel serves notice on Darwinists that their coercive tactics at ensuring conformity have not worked with him and, if his example inspires others, won’t work with them either. What a wonderful subtitle to his book: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. It’s a dare. Go ahead, make my day, do your worst to bring the wrath of Darwin’s devoted disciples on me. Nagel regards the emperor as without clothes and says so: [quote from Nagel omitted].
All talk, no data. We’ve known several philosophers. Like the little girl with the curl, when they’re good they’re very very good, but when they turn bad — well, you know. Dembski’s essay continues … babble babble babble … oh, here:
I want to pause at this point because I’ve seen this in the past, namely, thinkers, even of high profile and caliber, who see the problems with Darwinian naturalism but then also turn away from intelligent design. What’s going on here? Is it that intelligent design just doesn’t have the intellectual horsepower to convince these thinkers, and so they look elsewhere? Although I’m an ID guy, I’ve seen this phenomenon for a while, and I think I can say dispassionately that that’s not what’s going on here. Invariably, I find that there’s nothing wrong with the ID position per se. …
We’ll let you have the thrill of reading Dembski’s reasoning as to why high caliber thinkers turn away from intelligent design. No, that’s not fair. We’ve taken you this far, so we’ll give you his reason:
The Darwin doubters who are not prepared to follow through with ID are guided, in every instance I know, not by evidential or theoretical concerns about ID but by worldview preferences.
Spoken like a true creationist — it’s not evidence that impresses him, it’s ideology, and he thinks everyone else goes through life the same way. Dembski’s essay is quite long, and there’s no reason to wade through much more of it. Let’s jump to the final paragraph, which seems to sum it all up:
In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed Nagel’s new book. For its critique of Darwinian naturalism and for underscoring its crashing failure to explain consciousness, cognition, and morality, Nagel is great. He’s a philosopher, and this is a philosophical book, so readers will be treated to a terrific overview of the big problems in philosophy from a master of the art. The book’s weakness is in failing to follow through the logic of intelligent design, looking to ID solely for its critique of Darwinian evolution but being unwilling to dispassionately consider why its critique was tendered in the first place and the alternative it proposes. And this failure, though Nagel would agree without calling it that, results from his allergy to theism and his preference for atheism.
Okay, that’s the deal. Dembski is still waiting for the Berlin Wall of Darwinism to come tumbling down, and he claims that he sees signs that it’s happening. If he’s serious, he’s kidding himself; and if he’s just slinging the ol’ BS … well, he’s publishing in the right place.
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