Saturday, February 28, 2009

Dembski vs. Ruse in Norman, OK

I've been to many a debate before, and I've seen and heard many more courtesy of the internet, but I've never before seen or heard two well-educated people debating the relative merits of evolution vs. creation. As of last night, I still haven't.

Ruse made the case that intelligent design (ID) is really creationism via miraculous divine intervention, and therefore not 'science' in the usual sense, that is, the investigation of natural phenomena via observation and testing. He did this ably enough, but at no point seemed to bring any arguments to bear on the question of whether creationism is TRUE or FALSE; a question of some interest to Oklahomans who seem to be generally unconvinced by scientists with all their fancy cladograms and chromosomal breakpoints and other such what-nots.

Dembski, by contrast, made the same arguments that he made last time he was here in favor of the idea that at least some natural phenomena are divinely designed rather than naturally evolved. His argument, in essence, is this:

  1. Some aspects of nature (e.g. bacteria flagella, clotting factors) are so well-put-together that we cannot now conceive of how they possibly came to be in an incremental fashion, as every component part appears to be essential to fulfilling its current function
  2. If we cannot now conceive of how such things came together in an evolutionary, stepwise, incremental fashion, then they must have come together via an intelligently guided process
  3. Therefore, we can conclude that such things were intelligently designed

Of course, the problem here lies in step 2, in which Dembski boldly claims that in the absence of a current evolutionary explanation, we must default exclusively to divine design rather than remaining open-minded. He makes no argument to support the idea that this is a rational default position, instead relying on the fact that most everyone in the room had just such a view indoctrinated into them during Sunday School, when they were still too young to think for themselves.

Note that Dembski (and most other ID theorists) prefer to confine their speculations to the deepest depths of evolutionary history, such as the evolution of intracellular mechanisms, which are not well understood because they happened very long ago. Thus, they ensure themselves the benefit of massive, god-sized gaps in which to cram a creator deity or three. It would be quite interesting to see the ID crowd attempt to make the case that humans are themselves designed, rather than simply tweaked up a bit from ancestral chimps. To my knowledge, they've not attempted to do this, much to the disappointment of the Trinity Baptists and others who are funding the evangelists of ID in hopes of bringing the cosmogony of Genesis 1-2 to the science classrooms.

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