Reality Conditions

Thursday, June 29, 2006

And the Pot and Kettle Prize goes to... William Dembski!

Once more via the Philosophy Papers Blog, I find a new paper by William Dembski, tireless advocate of Intelligent Design . I will not give you the title yet; first I'll quote a couple of things from the paper. First, Dembski talks a bit about medieval alchemy and its failure as a research program and says:

This is the problem with alchemy. To characterize a transformation scientifically, it needs to be specified explicitly. Alchemy never did this. Instead it continually offered promissory notes promising that some day it would make the transformation explicit. None of the promissory notes was ever redeemed. Indeed, the much sought after philosopher's stone remains to be found. [2]

I was expecting the footnote [2] to say "or so it was until Harry Potter found it" or something like that, but Dembski does not share my taste in humour. More seriously, one would also expect, after this beginning, that Dembski is going to address the common criticism against ID, that it is a vacuous theory because it does not make any definite predictions or specify any mechanism for the "design" to occur. This expectation could be reinforced by seeing Dembski quote in the paper the famous cartoon:

As this is a pretty fair representation of the way critics see ID, it is clear that Dembski is now going to explain us at last how does ID fill in "step 2", or at least give us a reasoned argument why it shouldn't fill it. Isn't it?


The title of the paper is:

Evolution as Alchemy

Yes. Dembski is accusing evolution of lack of specifity and of leaving steps unexplained as miracles. What's more, in all the paper he does not acknowledge even once that critics say precisely that about ID, not even to refute the idea.

The argument is (unsurprisingly) poor, relying basically on one analogy: just as alchemy said that metals could be transformed into gold, without specifying the process by which this happens and only believing it out of metaphysical commitment to Neo-Platonism... so evolution says that non-life can transform into life, or one species into another, without specifying a causal process and only believing it out of metaphysical commitment to Materialism.

This is such a brazen, blatant, wrong-at-so-many-levels misrepresentation of evolution that I don't really know where to start ranting about it. And having to go back to my work, I think I will not rant about it at all, and instead leave a quick comment at Jason's or PZ's and ask them to do the ranting. It's their job, after all...


  • Actually, I think Dembski has it wrong on Alchemy as well. They explained the transmuations by means of changing the proportions of the four or five elements, or of various essences. Moreover, the process by which this was carried out, involving often hours of labour, was quite specific in how to do it. OF course, they couldnt tell you the exact changes going on, but then they were doing things before chemistry proper.

    Moreover, several people claimed to have successfully done the transformations in question, often going to great lengths to gull their patrons/ dupes.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:52 PM, July 04, 2006  

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