Friday, March 09, 2007

Playing the Hero

The saga between the Templeton Foundation and Dembski continues. As you probably know, the Templeton Foundation, after an initial flirtation with ID (the extent of which is being contested) has now distanced itself from ID.

The ID movement, whose response to any perceived attack is to claim conspiracy, argues that the Templeton Foundation has become enamored with secular science. It wants to impress its new friends by abandoning its old. For the sake of street creds, according to the IDers, the Templeton Foundation has sold out.

Dembski and company will never, ever, admit the obvious. The ID movement, which is entirely their handiwork, (a) is obviously a (failed) political movement and (b) has not produced any science. This combination is toxic, and organizations (such as the Templeton Foundation) and individuals (such as yours truly) who were at one point, in the early days, sympathetic toward the movement, are now repulsed by what we have seen. Since this can’t be possibly acknowledged by the likes of Dembski and Wells—well we just get more conspiracy theories. Everyone is out to get ID.

In the latest go-around, William Grassie of the Metanexus Institute, the man who managed the program for the Templeton Foundation through which Dembski was awarded a $100K book grant, provides some interesting history and commentary. Grassie charges that Dembski has not delivered the book that he promised in his grant proposal. Instead Dembski used the money to write No Free Lunch, a flawed mathematics book (and another promise for design detection that has detected nothing.) No Free Lunch contained none of the metaphysical and theological content that was promised.

Now whether or not that makes Dembski dishonest on that account I couldn’t say—what is delivered at the end of a grant is often considerably different from what was proposed—and as long as the deviations from the statement of work were approved, there is no dishonesty. Grassie’s statement that the book has no been delivered would, of course, lead you to believe that No Free Lunch was not the result of post-award requirements-changing, but I couldn’t say. Nor do I care.

What is more interesting to me are the reasons that Grassie gives for the disillusionment with the ID movement. He wrote:

Why distance oneself from the Intelligent Design Movement? I cannot speak for the John Templeton Foundation,13 but we at Metanexus grew tired of the increasingly politicized debates about Intelligent Design Theory. Proponents were clearly engaged in a political campaign to change public education. While the erudite advocates were proposing what might be called “Intelligently Designed Evolution,” the core of the movement were mostly Young Earth Creationists. The genealogy of the movement was clearly motivated not by a technical scientific debate, but by a longstanding religious and ideological concern to overthrow evolution. The logic of the ID movement is essentially that evolution = Darwinism = materialism = atheism = immorality = nihilism. This is not a necessary correlation.

Amen, brother. That is quite consistent with what I discovered and a large part of what soured me on the movement. There is a subtlety here: Grassie, as I read him, is not arguing that nihilism is not a problem in the modern education system. (I think it is.) What Grassie is stating, and I agree with him, is that the ID movement’s raison d’etre is not science at all but the destruction of what it sees as an indisputable, direct linkage between evolution and nihilism—the very same presumed chain-of-death that has been the rallying cause for the YECs.

Grassie writes that he tried to get Dembski to disassociate himself from the YECs:

Back in the fall of 2000, I privately challenged Dembski to publicly disassociate himself from the Young Earth Creationists and “come clean” on what version of natural history he thought should be taught in schools. His response, “Intelligent Design Coming Clean”, was published on on November 18, 2000. Dembski wrote:

Dembski responded with an essay, in which he wrote:

Where I part company with complementarianism is in arguing that when science points to a transcendent reality, it can do so as science and not merely as religion… In particular, I argue that design in nature is empirically detectable and that the claim that natural systems exhibit design can have empirical content…

Which I only bring up so I can write, yet again, that while Dembski might argue that “design in nature is empirically detectable” he has never done it. Not once. No attempts. Never. Empty Set. A complete and total failure. Nothing from nature has been demonstrated as having been designed. Books have been written, grants accepted, honoraria received, seminars held, debates televised, positions provided, monies accrued—but not one design in nature has been empirically detected.

But here is where I want to get to the dishonesty part. Dembski wote:

Repeatedly I've been asked to distance myself not only from the obstreperous likes of Phillip Johnson but especially from the even more scandalous young earth creationists… I'm prepared to do neither…”

This is a dishonest tactic. It becomes even clearer in Dembski’s recent response to Grassie, posted on Uncommon Descent:

Grassie makes it clear that one of the things he and others at the Templeton Foundation were concerned about was the ID community’s refusal to ostracize young earth creationists from its ranks.


It’s therefore my policy to firmly resist all pressures from people who think it’s their right or duty to tell me whom I may associate with and what sorts of penalties I will face if I don’t distance myself from the wrong crowd (I faced such pressures continually in my days at Baylor, and I never buckled to them).


Question: How healthy is it for the Templeton Foundation that its associates such as Billy Grassie and Charles Harper feel such an obsessive need for the foundation to place its stamp of approval on only “the right sorts of people”?

This is an ugly and, as I said, dishonest response. Grassie has not asked Dembski to leave friends high and dry, he has asked him to take a scientific and educational stand on the age of the earth. Dembski is distorting legitimate advice—that if ID is science then the question of the age of the earth—or indeed any scientific question (and in spite of a common comeback, the age of the earth is relevant to ID) cannot be off the table. In fact, it is kept off the table for just one reason, one that is plain to everyone: ID really is politics, not science, and in politics one never intentionally introduces discussion that might fracture the base. The way Dembski responds is a dishonest ploy: he acts shocked and appalled that he would be asked to “ostracize” his friends and only associate with “the right kind of people.” Nobody is saying anything of the sort. Dembski is dishonestly portraying himself as one who nobly withstands enormous community pressure to conform—when in fact he is just doing his all to preserve the numbers of the political movement that feeds him. There is nothing noble in Dembski's self-righteous preening.

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