Monday, March 27, 2006

Why the intelligent design lobby thanks God for Richard Dawkins

Why the intelligent design lobby thanks God for Richard Dawkins: Anti-religious Darwinists are promulgating a false dichotomy between faith and science that gives succour to creationists, The Guardian, Madeleine Bunting, March 27, 2006 On Wednesday evening, at a debate in Oxford, Richard Dawkins will be gathering the plaudits for his long and productive intellectual career. It is the 30th anniversary of his hugely influential book The Selfish Gene. A festschrift, How a Scientist Changed the Way We Think, has been published this month .... A week ago it was the turn of the US philosopher Daniel Dennett, second only to Dawkins in the global ranking of contemporary Darwinians, to be similarly feted at a series of lectures and debates across the UK launching his book on religion, Breaking the Spell. The two make quite a team, each lavishing the other with generous praise as the philosopher Dennett brings to bear his discipline on the scientific findings of Dawkins. The curious thing is that among those celebrating the prominence of these two Darwinians on both sides of the Atlantic is an unexpected constituency - the American creationist/intelligent- design lobby. Huh? Dawkins, in particular, has become their top pin-up. How so? William Dembski (one of the leading lights of the US intelligent-design lobby) put it like this in an email to Dawkins: "I know that you personally don't believe in God, but I want to thank you for being such a wonderful foil for theism and for intelligent design more generally. In fact, I regularly tell my colleagues that you and your work are one of God's greatest gifts to the intelligent-design movement. So please, keep at it!" But while Dembski, Dawkins and Dennett are sipping the champagne for their very different reasons, there is a party pooper. Michael Ruse, a prominent Darwinian philosopher (and an agnostic) based in the US, with a string of books on the subject, is exasperated: "Dawkins and Dennett are really dangerous, both at a moral and a legal level." The nub of Ruse's argument is that Darwinism does not lead ineluctably to atheism, and to claim that it does (as Dawkins does) provides the intelligent-design lobby with a legal loophole: "If Darwinism equals atheism then it can't be taught in US schools because of the constitutional separation of church and state. It gives the creationists a legal case. Dawkins and Dennett are handing these people a major tool." ... There's good evidence for faith improving mental health and optimism, and reducing stress; shamanism, with its placebo effect, was the best healthcare system for thousands of years. . This is the kind of conversation we want to have in this country, but we're not safe from American-style false dichotomies between faith and science yet (which would have particularly sharp consequences for the thousands of young Muslims in this country studying science). On the very day that Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, made a useful and unequivocal intervention rejecting creationism, Charles Clarke, at a conference on faith and the state, was wobbling precariously on the proverbial pinhead: "in schools it's a good debate to have". Little did he realise that he was using a line straight out of the creationists' lobbying manual: "teach the controversy". Let's be clear, Clarke is wrong - some debates are not worth having. No one argues that it's a useful project for year 10s to research flat-earth theories, so why intelligent design? But if we agree on that, then equally we can also agree that some debates are so corrupted by prejudice and ignorance that they are also not worth having. All protagonists in a debate have a moral responsibility to ensure that the hot air they are expending generates light, not just heat. It's a point that escapes Dawkins. His book on religion, The God Delusion, is to be published this autumn. Dembski and the intelligent-design lobby must already be on their knees, thanking God. ... [This journalist Madeleine Bunting misses the point (or maybe she doesn't but hopes that her readers will). Dawkins (and Dennett) are being honoured by the scientific community. The last I checked Dawkins had an FRS (which he didn't get for his actual scientific work in elucidating "The ontogeny of a pecking preference in domestic chicks," Z Tierpsychol., 25(2), March 1968, pp.170-86), but because of his `defence of the faith' of atheism, and its creation myth, "the standard scientific theory that `human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process'":

"In one of the most existentially penetrating statements ever made by a scientist, Richard Dawkins concluded that `the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.' Facing such a reality, perhaps we should not be surprised at the results of a 2001 Gallup poll confirming that 45 percent of Americans believe `God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so'; 37 percent prefer a blended belief that `human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process'; and a paltry 12 percent accept the standard scientific theory that `human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process.'" (Shermer M.B., "The Gradual Illumination of the Mind," Scientific American, February 2002. My emphasis)

Quite clearly Bunting (and Ruse for that matter) agrees with Dawkins on atheism (note her contemptuous equating of religious "faith" - including Christianity - with "shamanism"! and "intelligent design" with "flat-earth theories"-although see here). The reason why some atheists are becoming concerned about Dawkins and Dennett telling it like it is (which is the reason why Dembski and other IDists - including me - appreciate Dawkins for that at least) is because of the rising popularity of ID, and their fear of a backlash. But Bunting and Ruse are just another example of what Phil Johnson perceptively called the scientific materialists' "Two-Platoon Strategy":

"The Two-Platoon Strategy for Marginalizing Religion ... The National Academy's way of dealing with the religious implications of evolution is akin to the two-platoon system in American football. When the leading figures of evolutionary science feel free to say what they really believe, writers such as Edward O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Carl Sagan, Steven Pinker, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Lewontin and others state the `God is dead' thesis aggressively, invoking the authority of science to silence any theistic protest. That is the offensive platoons and the National Academy never raises any objection to its promoting this worldview. At other times, however, the scientific elite has to protect the teaching of the `fact of evolution' from objections by religious conservatives who know what the offensive platoon is saying and who argue that the science educators are insinuating a worldview that goes far beyond the data. When the objectors are too numerous or influential to be ignored, the defensive platoon takes the field. That is when we read those spin-doctored reassurances saying that many scientists are religious (in some sense), that science does not claim to have proved that God does not exist (but merely that he does not affect the natural world), and that science and religion are separate realms which should never be mixed (unless it is the materialists who are doing the mixing). Once the defensive platoon has done its job it leaves the field, and the offensive platoon goes right back to telling the public that science has shown that `God' is permanently out of business." (Johnson P.E., "The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism," Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 2000, pp.87-89. My emphasis)

Well Bunting, Ruse and other members of "the defensive platoon" may be able to fool church politicians like "the Archbishop of Canterbury" but they won't fool the majority of the ~80% plus of the public who reject atheistic evolution.

The good thing about Dawkins' making explicit the link between Darwinism and atheism (which if it was true would mean that God is indeed a delusion) is the flip side. That if God is not a delusion (and Christianity is true - which it is) then it is Darwinism which is the delusion (2 Thess 2:11)!]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"

"... many other instances will be found to present great difficulties. Let us take the cases of mimicry amongst Lepidoptera and other insects. ... Now let us suppose that the ancestors of these various animals were all destitute of the very special protections they at. present possess, as on the Darwinian hypothesis we must do. Let it also be conceded that small deviations from the antecedent colouring or form would tend to make some of their ancestors escape destruction by causing them more or less frequently to be passed over, or mistaken by their persecutors. Yet the deviation must, as the event has shown, in each case be in some definite direction, whether it be towards some other animal or plant, or towards some dead or inorganic matter. But as, according to Mr. Darwin's theory, there is a constant tendency to indefinite variation, and as the minute incipient variations will be in all directions, they must tend to neutralize each other, and at first to form such unstable modifications that it is difficult, if not impossible, to see how such indefinite oscillations of insignificant beginnings can ever build up a sufficiently appreciable resemblance to a leaf, bamboo, or other object, for `Natural Selection' to seize upon and perpetuate." (Mivart St.G. J., "On the Genesis of Species," Macmillan & Co: London, Second edition, 1871, pp.33, 38. Emphasis original)

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