Below is the fourth of a series of extracts from my article "Intelligent Design theory: the way forward?", Stimulus, volume 9, issue 2, May 2001, pp.8-13.
I invite you to comment on whether or not I have been accurate and fair in this comment on the wider aspects of Dembski's work
## I will withold a fifth extract, including my assessment and my suggestion for a better way forward, until you have had a chance to comment on the first four extracts.
Applications of Design Theory
Dembski's earlier book The Design Inference briefly treats the creation/evolution controversy as a case study. Dembski notes that creationists accept the premise that if life is due to chance then it has
small probability, whereas evolutionists such as Dawkins reject this premise. In his more recent book Intelligent Design ( a book which essentially consists of a series of essays) Dembski is much less
circumspect. In Chapter 7 he mentions the compartmentalization, complementarity and conflict models for the relationship between Science and Theology, and then offers a fourth option that he calls the
mutual support model. (The support that he has in mind is epistemic support, something characterized by explanatory power rather than rational compulsion, and in this sense the big bang model of Science
and the doctrine of creation of Theology support each other.) This is his motivation for the subtitle of his book, The Bridge Between Science and Theology.
However, in Chapter 4, titled "Naturalism and its cure", (a revised version of a chapter in the book referred to in Endnote 4) Dembski argues in a way that seems to me to be based on a conflict model. He
starts by saying that throughout Scripture the fundamental divide separating humans is between those who can discern God's action in the world ( the "spiritual" ) and those who are blind to it (the
"natural"). Dembski calls the view that nature is self-contained "naturalism" and then says that naturalism leads irresistibly to idolatry. He then says that within Western culture, naturalism has become
the default position for all serious inquiry, and that its most virulent form is known as scientific naturalism. He then argues that the cure for the disease of naturalism is Intelligent Design:
intelligent causes should be admitted to full scientific status. He sees ID as a two-pronged approach to eradicating naturalism. On the one hand, ID presents a scientific and philosophic critique of
naturalism. Here the scientific critique identifies the empirical inadequacies of naturalistic evolutionary theories (both cosmic and biological), whereas the philosophical critique demonstrates how
naturalism is a metaphysical ideology with no empirical backing. The other prong of ID is a positive scientific research programme.
Dembski wants to dump methodological naturalism. He says we need to realize that methodological naturalism is the functional equivalent of full-blown naturalism. Metaphysical naturalism asserts that
nature is self-sufficient. Methodological naturalism asks us for the sake of science to pretend that nature is self-sufficient. But once science is taken as the only universally valid form of knowledge
within a culture, it follows that methodological and metaphysical naturalism become functionally equivalent.
According to Dembski, ID is incompatible with "theistic evolution". He says that theistic evolution takes the Darwinian picture of the biological world and baptizes it, identifying this picture with the
way God created life. When boiled down to its scientific content, however, theistic evolution is no different from atheistic evolution, treating only undirected natural processes in the origin and
development of life. ID and theistic evolution differ fundamentally about whether the design of the universe is accessible to our native intellect. Design theorists say yes; theistic evolutionists say no.
Dembski says that for the Darwinian establishment, the "theistic" in "theistic evolution" is superfluous, and by Occam's razor should be dispensed with. The ID theorists' objection is to the presence of
the word "evolution", because they regard the neo-Darwinian synthesis as problematic. The ID theorists' critique of Darwinism begins with Darwinism's failure as an empirically adequate scientific theory,
not with its supposed incompatibility with some system of religious belief. Here Darwinism is being regarded as the totalizing claim that the mutation-selection mechanism accounts for all the diversity of
life. Dembski holds that the evidence does not support this claim. What evidence there is supports limited variation within fixed boundaries (microevolution). Macroevolution the unlimited plasticity
of organisms to diversify across all boundaries even if true, cannot legitimately be attributed to the mutation-selection system. To do so is to extrapolate beyond its evidential base. Dembski says
that the following problems have proven utterly intractable not only for the mutation-selection mechanism but also for any other undirected natural process proposed to date: the origin of life, the origin
of the genetic code, the origin of multicellular life, the origin of sexuality, the scarcity of transitional forms in the fossil record, the biological big bang that occurred in the Cambrian era, the
development of complex organ systems and the development of irreducible complex molecular machines. In making these claims that such problems are utterly intractable, Dembski and his fellow ID theorists
leave themselves open to empirical refutation.
Dembski then goes on along a path previously trodden by creationists. He asks such questions as: Why does Darwinism, despite being so inadequately supported as a scientific theory, continue to garner the
full support of the academic establishment? Why must science explain solely by recourse to undirected natural processes? He says we are dealing with competing worldviews and incompatible metaphysical
systems. In the creation-evolution controversy we are dealing with a naturalistic metaphysic that shapes and controls what theories of biological origins that are permitted on the playing field in advance
of discussion or weighing of evidence. This metaphysic is so pervasive and powerful that it not only rules alternative views out of court, but it cannot even permit itself to be criticized. It is this
metaphysic that constitutes the main target of the design theorists' critique of Darwinism. As I have already mentioned, Dembski has a simple answer: dump methodological naturalism. This leaves him on a
collision course with most scientists.
It seems to me that ID theory is based on a philosophy of naïve realism. I believe that a more adequate approach to science and theology is one based on critical realism. When one realizes that science
is merely providing a model of the real world, rather than making statements about the real world itself, it is obvious that Dembski's filter loses its coercive force, because the input to the filter is
only provisional, and that means the output of the filter must too be only provisional.
For further pertinent discussion of the work of Dembski (and also of that of Moreland) the reader is again referred to Forster and Marston1, Chapter 10.
Dembski17 has recently posted a 15000 word essay on the Internet in which he responds to several of his critics, including the theistic evolutionist Howard Van Till who in recent years has pressed the ID
theorists to clarify their definition of design so that their views can be properly critiqued. (One gets the impression that the ID people are reluctant to state their views in a more specific manner
because they wish to retain a wide range of creationists, young earth and otherwise, under their umbrella.) In this essay Dembski makes some revealing personal statements and raises a number of interesting
matters which space limitations prevent me from discussing here. I regret that Dembski has declined to comment on pertinent points raised by Wesley Elsberry18 (whom Dembski refers to as an Internet
1. Roger Forster and Paul Marston, Reason, Science and Faith (Monarch Books/ Angus Hudson, London, 1999)
12. William A. Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1999)
13 .William A. Dembski, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance Through Small Probabilities (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 1998)
17. William Dembski, "Intelligent Design coming clean", Metaviews 098, dated 2000.11.17, posted at www.meta-list.org
18. Wesley Elsberry maintains an archive of documents related to Dembski, including reviews of his work and his activities at Baylor University, at inia.cls.org/~welsberr/ae/wad.html