Thursday, 11 November 2010

Creationist Bill Dembksi forced to recant science, or lose job

It is with a mix of intrigue and humour that I stumbled across this story. It’s quite revealing, pointing unambiguously to the ideology of utter science rejection in the Creationist camp. Most people have known about this for a while but this very public chapter has highlighted the ongoing suspicion that Creationism is actually pseudoscience. Not content to attack the scientific establishment any more (although I’m it will continue) the Discovery Institute has rabidly turned on a senior member, William Dembski. As the article states Dembski is a princely figure amongst Creationists,

And make no mistake about it; William Dembski is a first order star in the intelligent design firmament. He is a prolific author who has earned both a Ph.D. in mathematics as well as a Masters of Divinity degree. He is a fellow of the Discovery Institute and a professor of philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Indeed, you can't read anything about intelligent design without encountering Dembski's arguments in support of this version of creationism. 

Dembski's own views were simply over-ridden by the so-called "truth" of biblical inerrancy, and by the very human directors of the Discovery Institute intent on reinforcing their large pay packet from generous American Christians who obviously were unimpressed by Dembski’s metaphorical reading of the Bible. Of course Creationism has nothing to do with science, this is obvious (and neither does it's step daughter ID), but the way Dembski has portrayed it in the past ten years or so as being entirely scientific is a lesson in dishonesty. For a man with legitimate training in the sciences his behaviour in trying to 'wedge' his beliefs into the school and academic systems are scorn-worthy.

Which of Dembski's ideas were up for revision? Not the one's you'd expect, e.g. irreducible complexity or the vast conflagration of numbers and boggling statistics that somehow 'disprove' evolution and empirical scientific study, instead: 

At issue were two of Dembski's beliefs, as expressed in his latest book The End of Christianity and elsewhere: that the earth is 4.5 billion years old and the universe 14 billion years, and that Noah's flood was regional rather than worldwide...

Patterson went on to say, "Had I had any inkling that Dr. Dembski was actually denying the absolute trustworthiness of the Bible, then that would have, of course, ended his relationship with the school."

In my humble opinion this sets the Discovery Institute further apart from reality than they perhaps already were. It also serves as a poignant reminder to recall how science really works. We do not rely on some holy text written by nomadic sheep farmers in Bronze-age Palestine, or any text for that matter. The writings we rely on are tested constantly by eminently transparent instruments and methods, always subject to new and unexpected evidence. Our 'truth', if such a word is indeed appropriate here, is provisional and it changes, no, refines over the centuries. Rather than becoming mired in the belligerently unshifting clays of dogma, the tool of science progresses towards what can only be described as a better view of reality. Creationists start with their answer cutting the puzzle-pieces up to make the picture fit, leaving a distorted and fudged scene.  

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary said, "Theologically, the historical Adam as the common ancestor of the human race is the most important issue. But the question is, how in the world do you end up with an historical Adam if you have an old earth? It's becoming increasingly clear that an old earth implies something other than an historical Adam."

As an aside, this paragraph does cut to the core of the issue for Dembski. It is simply untenable to hold what he considers are compatible views, old earth = genesis account, then when the implications of our planet’s age (let alone the galaxy and universe) make the story one of impossibility. There was neither any 'first man' nor any 'first woman' (made chauvinistically from the male's rib of course) that began our species. Such a small number would mean certain inescapable implications for genetics and medicine we should have discovered by now, but so far we have not. One must only consider the Cheetah, a species that historically has undergone such a sharp population bottle-neck (down to perhaps a few hundred cats at most) that today skin grafts from any individual feline around the world can be successfully transferred to any other Cheetah due to their tight genetic similarity that resulted. This simply cannot be done with most other species, let alone through our diverse human population. Two humans begetting what would eventually become c7 billion individuals today would be obvious to genetic sequencers.   

But a world without Adam has further caustic implications for the Christian faith, implications Dembski may find it beneficial to consider. According to the myth Adam was the first man with sin, a fallen man once promised paradise. Without this original transgression one presumes the concept of sin (variously defined by different Christians of course) would never have entered our world. Be that as it may, Jesus specifically came to earth, died, and rose again to save us from these sins. I propose that if the story of Adam is legend, the story of the fall and subsequent introduction of sin is incoherent at best and utter nonsense at worst. It simply didn’t happen. From whence then doth sin arise, if not from the actions of our ghostly hero Adam and his betrothed Eve, then where? Therefore if the story of original sin is a fable Jesus' mission to remove the disease 'sin' was worse than futile. Christianity fails at the first chapter of the first book of its most holy tome. 

I do feel slightly sorry for Bill, after all, as the article correctly suggests, he is subject to day-to-day issues of providing for his family. Retention of his job would have been of primary importance for him coming into that boardroom, and so it should have been. Bill actually displayed some semblance of understanding reality as he recanted his blasphemous views on the history of our universe. If there's anything good to take away from this story it is here. 

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