Friday, December 10, 2010

William Dembski Posts "Prepared Remarks" for Debate with Christopher Hitchens

William Dembski has posted the remarks he gave during his debate on whether or not God is good with Christopher Hitchens. It is here. He begins:
Although I could rehearse standard arguments for God’s existence, I want in this debate to take a different tack. Christopher Hitchens disbelieves in God’s existence. Why? Lack of evidence and evils perpetrated in the name of religion, he says. Yet his book God Is Not Great reveals a more basic reason. Hitchens, as a scientific reductionist, believes science has given us new knowledge that destroys religious faith. What is this new knowledge? According to Hitchens, it is Darwinian evolution.

You may ask what a chapter on evolution is doing in a book defending atheism. At the end of that chapter, Hitchens explains: “We no longer have any need of a god to explain what is no longer mysterious.” Let this sink in. Religion, according to Hitchens, renders biological origins mysterious. But now that Darwin has come and shown how natural selection explains biological origins, all is clear. Fellow atheist Richard Dawkins puts it more memorably: “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”
The problem is that Dembski then falls directly into Hitchens' trap. Ultimately, Intelligent Design rests on a "God of the Gaps" understanding of science. Defenders of ID have never been able to satisfactorily evade this charge. This is what drives the Signature in the Cell argument and the various arguments involving irreducible complexity: we don't understand how it could have happened given our understanding of evolutionary theory, therefore, evolution cannot explain it and it must have been created de novo by God. Hitchens' argument is a reverse of this: we CAN explain everything by science, therefore, God does not exist. Dembski attempts to rebut Hitchens' points one at a time but by doing so, gives credence and legitimacy to an argument that, from a scientific perspective, is wanting logically.

For the rest of the post, he makes unwarranted assumptions, misrepresents palaeontologists and badly characterizes evolution. For example, he writes:
It’s no coincidence that Richard Dawkins, the world’s best known atheist, is also an evolutionary biologist. Atheists, like everyone else, need a creation story.
How does he know this is not a coincidence. Is it a coincidence that Denis Lamoreux and I are evolutionary creationists? If not, why not? This is yet another persistent myth that all that accept evolution are atheists. I am quite sure that, like Dawkins and Coyne, some are but it does not follow that one will be if they accept evolution. That is facile.

After three evidence rebuttals, he remarks:
I know what you’re all thinking. Since the evidence for evolution is so underwhelming and since Hitchens has hitched his wagon to evolution, shouldn’t he now be ready to abandon evolution and reconsider theism? Yet this is precisely what he will not do. His atheism demands a materialistic form of evolution, and there’s only one going theory of it, namely Darwinism. The alternative, which places us here as the result of design, is for him unthinkable.
Dembski thinks that, since he has successfully rebutted three arguments for evolution, out of the thousands of arguments that one could make, that the evidence is “underwhelming.” This is reminiscent of creationist tactics, where one supposed problem for evolution overturns the whole applecart. Memo to William Dembski: it just ain't so.

But it is worse than that. Of his three “rebuttals,” he gets at least two of them wrong. First, he claims that “junk DNA” isn't junk, but is very useful. He then cites a forthcoming book by Jonathan Wells, also of the DI in support of this position. Steve Matheson, over at Quintessence of Dust, has a very good series on junk DNA, which starts here. About this he writes:
My assertion in these next 3 posts on "junk DNA" is this in a nutshell: the writing of the DI and RTB on the subject of "junk DNA" is a melange of half-truths, non sequiturs, quote-mined proof texts and outright fabrications that adds up to one of the clearest examples of folk science that I can imagine.
The second rebuttal he gets wrong deals with a direct quote from palaeontologist Peter Ward, where Ward appears to show that the Cambrian Explosion was largely inexplicable in evolutionary terms. This is a favorite canard of the Discovery Institute. Dembski even states that he is not taking Ward's statement out of context. Unfortunately, as Jason, over at Evolutionblog shows in devestating fashion, that is exactly what he does. Worse, Dembski has used this particular quote by Ward before and, since Jason's post is five years old, we see that Dembski has not bothered to revise his statements.

It is one thing to play into someone's hand when arguing with them. It is another to do so and then proceed to get major facts and positions wrong. Hitchens' position that God is not good is a theological question, not a scientific one and Dembski handles himself well on it but the damage has been done. Until he is willing to honestly address the data, the second half of his remarks will ring hollow.

Now playing: Anthony Phillips - Winter's Thaw
via FoxyTunes


  1. Anonymous8:18 PM

    Excellent piece, but my comment is on your 'now playing' bits - Steve Hackett, Anthony Phillips, do I see a fellow old Genesis fan?

  2. How didja guess? I latched onto Genesis during the four man years and was hooked. I still think A Trick of the Tail, Wind and Wuthering and Spot the Pigeon are unparalleled in their catalogue.

    I also think that it is not a coincidence that the two members of the band that left during the mid-to-late seventies have experienced the greatest artistic growth. That is not a slam on Tony Banks or Mike Rutherford but the level of output from those two has been disheartening when compared to that of Hackett and Gabriel. I never could warm to PC much.

    I discovered AP in the early 1980s and now would consider him my favorite secular artist, having collected everything he has put out.

  3. Anonymous10:41 AM

    Hi Jim,

    I became a fan in 1981, and quickly found that I preferred pre-1980s Genesis to the new stuff. I had the luxury of seeing Genesis in 1983 and again just a couple of years ago. They are still fantastic, but I must admit, I was a perturbed when they teased us by doing the instrumental section of Firth of Fifth and then leaving off the closing section. I agree re: Trick and Wind, but I prefer Foxtrot and the Lamb (which was one album side too long, IMO).
    I must say, I can't help but to smile when I hear my 10-year old sum sing a line from 'Watcher of the Skies' as he runs around playing...

    I also have enjoyed PGs post-Genesis material for the most part. Are you familiar with UK?

    Keep listening and I will keep reading your blog!

    Scott Page