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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

William Dembski's School of Science

As you may recall, William Dembski sent an, er, animation-gram last Christmas to many of the people that I admire. Being a lover of the animated show "Family Guy," I came across an animation-gram that my favorite undertaker can really, um, get behind!


(Shimmies to Kabane52, who's just a kid but also an up-and-coming biologist and who has some sage advice for Christians, being that he's one himself.)

UPDATED: Holy crap, this is so unbelievable that I'm going to cross-post it at the Darwin Didn't Believe This! thread as well. Dembski claims that his misattribution of a racist quote to Charles Darwin was his little plan all along! So, if it looks designed, it's designed, but if it looks dishonest, it's not dishonest. Got that, class? There will be a test.

Un-be-lievable. (Shimmies as always to RedStateRabble)

SECOND UPDATE: Now Dembski says that Christian biologist Kenneth Miller has "wasted his life" and is on the verge of "collapse." Kenneth Miller, fer pete's sake! A scientist and a Christian who wrote the marvelous book Finding Darwin's God. (Well, I didn't get the last two chapters, but the rest of it rawks.) Okay class, here's your test. According to William Dembski, you can be a Christian and accept evolution at the same time. True or False?

A. True
B. False
C. Depends if your audience is an group of informed biology students, or a bunch of gullible, fundy-home-schooled teeny-boppers.
D. False, but I say true, because that pulls in the undecided students and the confused parents.
E. True, but I say false on my blog because it suits me. And I can change my answer whenever I want. (Which I do - constantly.)

Okay, post your answers, class.

Afarensis shows how deeply Charles Darwin loathed slavery.

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Blogger Cats Staff said...

It all makes so much sense now...I'm glad they presented it in a fair and balanced way.

March 24, 2007 10:50 PM  
Blogger Cats Staff said...

Whichever answer seems most unlikely/sillyist/indefensible...that's the one I would expect from a creationist.

March 25, 2007 10:10 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

You get an A! ;-)

You know, picking on Ken Miller is the absolute end. I expect Dembski to pick on PZ, Dawkins, Gould, etc. But Miller? A fellow Christian? Dembski is just lashing out at everyone at this point. I must say, when Miller talks about his religious beliefs I don't get it, but when I read his book, I really became a fan.

However, that "genie" creationism was the first (and only) 6-day creationism that I ever enjoyed. Who knew that the Creator was female - and a belly dancer? Move over, Shiva! :-)

March 25, 2007 11:39 PM  
Blogger Rev. BigDumbChimp said...

Dembski once again proves not only is he a shitty theorist, he's a shitty street actor.

March 26, 2007 8:07 AM  
Blogger AJM said...

So, if it looks designed, it's designed, but if it looks dishonest, it's not dishonest.

Actually, I believe the principle here is: any evidence Dembski provides may be presumed to be misleading, and he already knows this, and he wants us to demonstrate we are 'acting in bad faith' by pointing this out... Umm...

Okay. No. That makes no sense. Let me try again:

I believe the principle here is... umm... Darwin was actually saying something quite the opposite, and Dembski intentionally lied his fat ass of about this... and this means... if we point this out he can... Ummm... He can... Ummm...

Okay. I'm not getting it.

Or maybe I am. The principle here is: we can always tell when Dembski is lying.


It's when his lips are moving.

March 26, 2007 5:41 PM  
Blogger Crandaddy said...

Hi Kristine,

You want to know if one can believe both evolution and Christianity. This seems to depend on what we mean by the terms. Consider the following points:

If we assume that evolution is naturalistic (as we must if we are to reject ID), then what is its extent? Does it account for all biotic phenomena--from rotary propellers on the backs of bacteria to the reasoning of our minds?

Is naturalistic evolution epistemic or ontological? Something might look designed and not be; something else, on the other hand, might appear completely unintended and yet actually be carefully crafted by the hand of a designer. The latter case is the one which interests us here--is design simply unintelligible, or is it nonexistent?

You must specify what you mean by Christianity. In order to determine if beliefs are rationally consistent, we must understand specifically what the beliefs are.

March 27, 2007 12:05 AM  
Blogger Kristine said...

First of all, my personal experience with Christianity (and with the quibbling about it) has made me loathe to quibble further over its definition. I define a Christian as a monotheist who believes that “there is one God, the Father Almighty, who created the world, and that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and rose from the death to redeem our sins, and that He will come again to judge the living and the dead.” That’s it. Yes, that’s taken from the Nicean Creed but I will not get into arguments about extraneous matters, or who is and is not a “true” Christian (Jehovah’s Witness and/or Christian Scientists not being “real,” Christians, Fundamentalists versus Charismatics, Mainline versus evangelical, liberal versus conservative Baptist, etc.). I’m more personally experienced in this debate than you realize. (For example, I knew what was going on when Jerry Falwell appointed himself Jim Baker’s replacement after his sex scandal broke; I knew that what had happened was in fact a takeover.)

Likewise for Judaism, Islam, etc. Every religion is splintered, with believers pointing fingers at each other; basically, if someone identifies him/herself as a Christian (or Jew, or Muslim, etc.), I take that person at his or her word. Even if that person is mean and I don’t like something that they’ve said or done (in other words I do not say, “That person is not a Christian” because I don’t consider myself to have the right to say that).

Frankly, it shocks me to see believers argue about God and accuse each other of “not being Christians.” I do think it’s acceptable to argue whether certain points of theology and pre-Christian epistomological structures are consistent with the Christian worldview, as Robert Russell does with Dembski here
in a discussion that doesn’t last long enough. (The transcript doesn’t include the part that I mention.)

Secondly, evolution. Evolution has been defined for you. I shall not quibble over this, either.

Evolution is both a fact and a theory – I was saying this myself when I was a teen-ager (because I grew up the lone atheist interested in this stuff and the only person I had to talk to about it was my Dad), long before I read that anywhere, such as this piece by Moran.

Before we get into the “naturalism,” allow me to make an analogy.

That Scott Peterson killed his wife Laci and their unborn child Connor is both a fact and a theory. The theory only needs to be proven in court beyond a reasonable doubt (as opposed to a scientific theory, which much account for all of the evidence, and which, ideally, explains every aspect of the phenomenon) and does not specifically include how Peterson actually killed Laci. Yet Americans “know” he’s guilty just as the majority “knows” that evolution is “a lie.” I find this amazing and disconcerting.

Who asked for non-materialist, non-naturalistic explanations for how Scott Peterson killed his wife? Did people quibble about “definitions” or assert that the “best explanation possible” was a non-materialist, supernaturalist one? I will not engage in lengthy, arm-chair quibbling.

I am too impatient, Crandaddy, and have too much of a sense of urgency about this crime, this hideous crime, being perpetuated in Africa regarding how AIDS is really spread, to spend my time defining terms that have already been defined by minds greater than mine. Besides I know that trap all too well. When we went on vacations, or when certain relatives came to visit, my family would get into arguing over the Bible and I just thought that true blasphemy was sitting inside on a beautiful day, quibbling over the Trinity. That's quibbling over a definition, and I won’t do it.

Naturalism is how something happens. Any event needs a medium—the world. If you believe in God, you believe that God doesn’t just sit there and speak to a spirit world. I am beyond caring at this point if someone believes in God as long as that person doesn’t make things up about how something happens in the world. But when someone states that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, or that condoms don’t prevent pregnancy, or that women cannot be good at chess (or must not preach to men about theology – so be careful, Crandaddy! Watch out!), that person is going to get an argument from me. There has to be a fact of the matter, beyond the reach of arguments; we don’t have a right to our own facts and our own definitions just because we’re Americans, with the freedom to turn everything into an endless debate, even the science that literally saved my eyesight, and my life and yours.

So if someone says that s/he is a Christian (Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. – I know a lot of different people) and accepts evolution, I’ve decided to take that person at his or her word, too, because I was so impressed by Miller’s book. And I must say, as far as being honest goes, I respect Dembski much more when he’s talking about God than when he’s talking about evolution.

Dembski can’t trick me into believing God but he can, by his actions, make me cynical, or inspired, about his own faith and the value of faith. (After all, I didn’t expect to like Miller’s book so much.) Maybe William Dembski should think about that.

March 27, 2007 11:19 AM  
Blogger Kristine said...

The discussion continues.

March 27, 2007 3:16 PM  
Blogger Crandaddy said...

Philosophy is a passion of mine, Kristine, and so you must excuse my complusion to quibble over definitions--of course, we needn't pursue this conversation if you're especially averse to such quibbling. You wanted to know if a person "can be a Christian and accept evolution at the same time". I interpret this to be a question of whether or not the contents of the beliefs ascribed to "evolution" and "Christianity" are rationally exclusive, and in order to evaluate content in this case, we must have definitions.

If we are to consider as our definition of Christian belief that which you provided and compare it with any of the definitions of evolution which Moran favors, I do not see how they flatly contradict, so the answer, it would seem, is yes. One can believe both Christianity and evolution.

However, I should say that Moran's definitions of evolution do not favor a specifically naturalistic process of change. It does not stipulate exclusively deterministic and/or stochastic processes.

March 27, 2007 7:11 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Forgive me. Quibble away. What I am averse to is quibbling that goes nowhere.

I’m really not educated enough to argue whether evolution is a strictly deterministic or a stochastic process or not. I don’t know how that fits in with quantum theory which would seem to be nondeterministic (although I think that is a misunderstanding).

I read Miller’s book and see no reason to quibble with him despite the fact that he believes in the Virgin Birth and the resurrection of Christ, etc., things I studied for years but were never real to me. So I do not understand the latest criticisms leveled at him by Dembski, who I understand believes the same things. “He misrepresented me.” Man, when is Dembski not being “misrepresented”? When is intelligent design not being “misunderstood?” That’s quibbling. It goes nowhere, except back into a corner, and I think that’s where he is.

At some point the question of what we do with what we know (or what we think we know and what we believe) becomes more important to me.

I’m very frustrated with what I see as a lot of energy being expended upon so-called design when, in the final analysis, it tells me nothing, as Russell stated quite baldly to Dembski. It tells me nothing about what, for example, is the demarcation point between “designed” and “nondesigned” or naturally evolved phenomena. That’s the next step, it seems to me, for a design theorist who has “discovered design” somewhere. I am tired of hearing “I don’t know.” Look, if it’s science, take that next step. If people are going to tell Febble that she can’t define design in terms of a impersonal algorithm, then why can’t Dembski tell Wells that he’s wrong about HIV? What’s more important, Febble being wrong, or Wells? Who has more power to do harm? For pity sakes Febble is a Christian too. I don’t like how the lines are being drawn here.

All of this turns, I think, on Dembski’s repulsion by the phenomenon of randomness. I tried to make the case once to another believer (dusting off my theological arguments that ironically made me such an outstanding little Bible study student despite the fact that I didn’t believe any of it) that it is wrong to equate randomness with Chaos, that God when He made the world banished Chaos from the universe entirely and that randomness is a created thing, just as the world is, just as life is, etc. I think that is very close to what Dembski means when he talks about randomness, except, unlike him, I accept randomness as being simultaneously what it is and a creative process. No dice (pun intended), the believer wasn’t satisfied with this. Well, I don’t really care about Chaos and God (although I do think about randomness a lot). Those are just ideas that I play with, because I had a Christian education, and because someone who doesn’t buy into Christianity learns, or teaches oneself as I did, to reinterpret these terms in a humanistic fashion.

Whatever it is, randomness exists, or at least seems to exist. If people at UD find randomness to be so horrible then I suggest that they work to minimize the randomness and injustice that we see in the world. But one cannot do that if one convinces himself that randomness is just a subset of design. The people who died in the Christmas Tsunami were a part of a plan, then? Jessica Lunsford suffocated horribly while the Designer stood by, saying, “Well, everyone will understand someday”? (Do you know how long it takes to die being buried alive?) To harp on this again, people are dying a AIDS in Africa while they eschew antiviral drugs that can help them while paying for hokey “cures” that don’t work but appeal to African nationalism. Why them and not me? It’s random. Even if it’s not random, who cares? Do something about it!

What’s the point? What’s the point of intelligent design? What does it really do except restate evolutionary theory in a design paradigm? What predictions does it make, other than certain things “can’t evolve?” What about what we can do?

March 27, 2007 8:27 PM  
Blogger Crandaddy said...

I sympathize with your concerns and admire your idealism, and I admit that I can't really think of a practical, useful purpose for ID, save for the rational justification of intuitive beliefs we all hold about other minds which is not such a beneficial usage as I think you have in mind.

I can't speak for Bill and am not in a position to comment on Wells' views about HIV because it is something I haven't yet looked into. I will say, however, that as of right now, I can see no reason to doubt the mainstream scientific views of HIV.

Undoubtedly, there are more urgent and important matters in the world than something as petty as ID. You named just a few of them.

March 28, 2007 1:01 AM  
Blogger Russ said...


At one point crandaddy says, "You[meaning you Kristine] wanted to know if a person 'can be a Christian and accept evolution at the same time.'" Implicit in this is the assumption that Christianity is a thing that can be defined. I feel compelled to step out of the shadows here and point out that a person can be Christian and believe anything he or she damn well chooses. The only distinguishing characteristic common among the numerous Christianities is the shared use of the word "Christian." According to the Princeton Theological Seminary, there are around 24000, that's twenty four thousand, distinct Christian sects in the world today, and, ideologically or theologically, there is nothing common to all of them.

God is not common. There are many atheist - that's right, no god, no divine Jesus, no miracles - Christian sects. See for a practicing atheist Christian Episcopalian minister. My brother is a practicing Lutheran minister who is an atheist and he has several atheist friends in the clergy. Millions of atheists are social Christians, going to church only to fulfull the universal human need to associate with others, and, yet, they, too, are shoved under the Christian umbrella.

Hell is not common. Heaven is not common. Satan is not common. Trinity is not common. The Holy Ghost is not common. Miracles are not common. Disembodied evil is not common. Orginal sin is not common. Inherited sin is not common. Inherent sinfulness is not common.

The definitions of basic concepts like sin and morality are not common. For some birth control is a sin. For some it would be immoral to allow reproduction to run amok. For some you are damned for playing cards. Some use regular gambling as fund raisers. The number of conflicting variations, competing alternatives, and damning subtleties truly staggers any rational sensibilities.

To more strongly underscore that the word Christian does not have any standard meaning or interpretation, you can even roll your own version of Christianity, or any other fabricated religion for that matter - think Mormon Joseph Smith, Christian Science Mary Baker Eddy, Scientology L. Ron Hubbard, or the hundreds of New Age religions of more recent times. There is no religion approval committee, no supernatural bullshit vetting board, and no Are-You-A-True-Christianity clearinghouse. Anyone can apply the word Christian to themselves and do whatever they choose. You can concoct any arbitrary bullshit and call it Christian. You don't need a permit or anything.

Whereas you can start from scratch and completely invent your own religion, mainstream religions, are invented and retooled by committee. Catholicism, for instance, showed its completely manufactured heritage recently when they dumped limbo. For centuries they cut deep psychological scars with limbo, and, now, essentially on a whim they just wave it off like a gnat. If it was real, they wouldn't be able to simply cast it aside.

In an earlier post, Kristine, crandaddy asked you to outline your conception of Christianity. You said you are "loathe to quibble further over its definition," and you responded with one of the more popular takes on Christianity. Barring the exhaustive listing of untold numbers of subjective descriptions of Christianity by those applying the word to themselves, Christianity escapes definition. So, Kristine, please remember this post when someone asks you to identify what you mean by Christian; it can be whatever you want it to be - including nothing at all, limited only by the extent of your creativity.


March 28, 2007 1:09 AM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Thanks, Crandaddy.

I think I’m tiring of the ID debate. Like the debate between believers and nonbelievers, it goes nowhere. Also, I feel the need to accomplish something, rather than just refute/debunk/argue/mock forever. I reaffirm my stance, however, that ID is not science or a methodology, but a philosophical/religious reinterpretation of someone else’s facts.

I feel a little sick at heart at the fighting at this point. I know that I’ve participated in it, and maybe I’m arrogant to say this but I think I’m watching a man slowly go crazy and there’s nothing I can say to him about that now because of all the bad blood between us.

Russ, well, shut my mouth. ;-)

A atheist Christian Episcopalian minister? Are you kidding? Live and learn, I guess. I’ve heard of people calling themselves “Christian agnostics,” but practicing Lutheran atheist is a new one on me. I don’t know how someone does that.

I’m more familiar with the biblical literalist sects (like Jehovah’s Witnesses) and movements like Christian Science than that stuff. I guess, considering that I heard about that “dangerous humanistic interpretations” in my relatively liberal church, that I gave the interpretation of Christianity that I understood.

One thing for sure, though, when it comes to adopting and then discarding doctrine, the Lutheran church has a much faster molecular clock than the Catholic church! Several things that they were trying to push on us when I was a teenager have already fallen by the wayside (like the horrors of rock music - now it's all rock and pop music in the church).

March 28, 2007 9:29 AM  

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