Saturday, February 08, 2014

Noah Berlatsky in the Atlantic, 8, Feb. 2014

I was able to ignore the continuing disaster of my last computer crash by reading this essay on the recent debate by Bill Nye and Ken Ham.

Charles Darwin and the “Atlantic” have a long association. In fact, Darwin helped prepare a pamphlet from three of Asa Gray’s articles in the July, August, and October issues of the 1860 Atlantic Monthly supporting Darwin’s theory. Gray collected them as well in his book “Drawiniana” under the heading, "Natural Selection not inconsistent with Natural Theology." What Asa Gray argued for was an early version of Theistic Evolution. But, this essay by Noah Berlatsky strikes me as oddly motivated. The debate between Bill Nye, and Ken Ham was not informed by the apologetics of William Paley. It was a really a debate between the views of Darwin, and Lyle versus those of Bishop James Ussher.

Darwin commented in his Autobiography of the influence of Paley in his youth. When Darwin went aboard the HMS Beagle, by his account he was “quite orthodox.” However, he gradually came “… to see that the Old Testament was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos (sic).” It was only after this realization, and the consequent rejection of Paley’s Natural Selection, that Darwin was able to formulate his theory of natural selection. Again Darwin has commented on this in his “Autobiographical Notes,” "Although I did not think much about the existence of a personal God until a considerably later period of my life, I will here give the vague conclusions to which I have been driven. The old argument from design in Nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered. We can no longer argue that, for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by man. There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings, and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows.”

The subtitle of Paley’s book is revealing, 1802 Paley “Natural Theology: Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature.” Paley, as noted by Berlatsky, held a rather silly view of happy fish frolicking about were a real naturalist would see feeding behavior and the frantic effort to escape the jaws from below. We should also asked if the Intelligent Design creationists see themselves as in the same apologetic as Paley. ID creationist guru William Dembski was categorical in his dismissal of this idea in his essay, “Intelligent design is not a form of natural theology” (2001). Dembski’s principle claim is that the IDC movement explicitly denies that the “Designer” is the Christian God. He is of course lying. He has also stated with equal force (and sincerity) that "Indeed, intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory." (“Signs of Intelligence,” 1999, Touchstone magazine), and, "My thesis is that all disciplines find their completion in Christ and cannot be properly understood apart from Christ." ('Intelligent Design,' 1999, p 206).

The 2011 criticism of ID creationism by Ken Ham is typically derivative. His substantive argument was built on the unacknowledged essays in 1999, and 2006 by ur-Young Earther Henry Morris. He pointed out;

“Any discussion of a young earth, six-day creation, a worldwide flood and other Biblical records of early history will turn off scientists and other professionals, they say, so we should simply use the evidence of intelligent design as a "wedge" to pry them loose from their naturalistic premises. Then, later, we can follow up this opening by presenting the gospel, they hope.”
Henry Morris, (1999) Design Is Not Enough! Acts & Facts. 28 (7).

“Some of the leaders of the ID movement have been frankly calling it a "wedge" with which they hope to open up the atheistic science establishment, so that teachers can at least acknowledge intelligent creation of life as a possibility.”
Henry Morris, Ph.D. 2006. Intelligent Design and/or Scientific Creationism. Acts & Facts. 35 (4).

The theme that ID creationist writing was a transparent sham to insert creationism into US public schools has been acknowledged by none other than the Godfather of IDC, Phillip Johnson. He admitted, "Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools." American Family Radio (10 January 2003). This has been thoroughly documented, and debunked by Barbara Carroll Forrest, and Paul R. Gross (2004) "Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design" Oxford University Press.
Noah Berlatsky exaggerates the scientific basis of Intelligent Design creationism. The false claim that their approach is “scientific” rather than theological opens the IDC movement to scientific review. It fails as argued in the references below.

Mark Perakh
2003 “Unintelligent Design” New York: Prometheus Press

Matt Young, Taner Edis (Editors),
2004 "Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism" Rutgers University Press

Laurie R. Godfrey (Editor), Andrew J. Petto (Editor)
2008 “Scientists Confront Creationism: Intelligent Design and Beyond” W. W. Norton & Company