William A. Dembski

Evolution’s Logic of Credulity

1. Orr’s Premature Declaration of Victory

Allen Orr wrote an extended critical review (over 6000 words) of my book No Free Lunch for the Boston Review this summer. The Boston Review subsequently contacted me and asked for a 1000 word response. I wrote a response of that length focusing on what I took to be the fundamental flaw in Orr’s review (and indeed in Darwinian thinking generally, namely, conflating the realistically possible with the merely conceivable). What I didn’t know (though I should have expected it) is that Orr would have the last word and that the Boston Review would give him 1000 words to reply to my response (see the exchange in the current issue).

In his reply Orr takes me to task for not responding to the many particular objections he raised against my work in his original review, suggesting that this was the result of bewilderment on my part and intelligent design running out of steam and not, as was the case, for lack of space. This sort of rule-rigging by Orr and the Boston Review — give the respondent a little space, and then let the original author crow about winning — is to be expected. I actually find it encouraging, taking it as an indication of intelligent design’s progress. Orr’s review and follow-up hardly spell the death-knell for intelligent design or for my work in this area. Sooner or later (and probably sooner) Orr will find himself in a forum on intelligent design where the rules of engagement are not rigged in his favor. I look forward to his performance then.

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Still Spinning Just Fine

When I read Ken Miller’s contribution to the volume I’m editing with Michael Ruse (Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA, Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2004), I expected I’d have till the actual publication date next year to respond to it. But since Miller’s contribution has now officially appeared on his website (it is titled The Flagellum Unspun: The Collapse of Read More ›

Damage Control at the AAAS

The AAAS Board Resolution on intelligent-design theory represents the scientific establishment’s latest effort to insulate evolutionary biology from critique and discussion. The challenge of intelligent design for evolutionary biology is real. This is not like someone who claims that ancient technologies could not have built the pyramids, so goblins must have done it. We can show how, with the technological Read More ›

Students In Science Class
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Darwin in the Classroom

After months of debate, the Ohio State Board of Education unanimously adopted science standards on Dec. 10 that require Ohio students to know “how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.” Ohio thus becomes the first state to mandate that students learn not only scientific evidence that supports Darwin’s theory but also scientific evidence critical of Read More ›

Intelligent Design Could Offer Fresh Ideas on Evolution

There is a growing public debate over how best to teach evolution in America’s schools. But contrary to Alan Leshner (” ‘Intelligent design’ theory threatens science classrooms,” Nov. 22), that debate is not focused on requiring students to learn the theory of intelligent design. Neither the Cobb County School Board in Georgia nor the Ohio State Board of Education mentioned Read More ›

The Third Mode of Explanation

In our workaday lives we find it important to distinguish between three modes of explanation: necessity, change, and design. More generally, given an event, object, or structure, we want to know: Did it have to happen? Did it happen by accident? Did an intelligent agent cause it to happen? Read More ›

Becoming a Disciplined Science

Keynote address delivered at RAPID Conference (Research and Progress in Intelligent Design), Biola University, La Mirada, California, 25 October 2002. The aim of this conference was to examine the current state of intelligent design research.

Recently I asked a well-known ID sympathizer what shape he thought the ID movement was in. I raised the question because, after some initial enthusiasm on his part three years ago, his interest seemed to have flagged. Here is what he wrote:

An enormous amount of energy has been expended on “proving” that ID is bogus, “stealth creationism,” “not science,” and so on. Much of this, ironically, violates the spirit of science. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. But on the other side, too much stuff from the ID camp is repetitive, imprecise and immodest in its claims, and otherwise very unsatisfactory. The “debate” is mostly going around in circles. The real work needs to go forward. There is a tremendous ferment right now in the “evo/devo” field, for instance. Some bright postdocs sympathetic to ID (and yes, I know how hard a time they would have institutionally at many places) should plunge right into the thick of that. Maybe they are at this very moment: I hope so!

Every now and again we need to take a good, hard look in the mirror. The aim of this talk is to help us do just that. Intelligent design has made tremendous inroads into the culture at large. Front page stories featuring our work have appeared in the New York Times, L.A. Times, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, and so on. Television, radio, and weeklies like Time Magazine are focusing the spotlight on us as well. This publicity is at once useful and seductive. It useful because it helps get the word out and attract talent to the movement. It is seductive because it can deceive us into thinking that we have accomplished more than we actually have.

Two animating principles drive intelligent design. The more popular by far takes intelligent design as a tool for liberation from ideologies that suffocate the human spirit, such as reductionism and materialism. The other animating principle, less popular but intellectually more compelling, takes intelligent design as the key to opening up fresh insights into nature. The first of these animating principles is purely instrumental — it treats intelligent design as a tool for attaining some other end (like defeating materialism). Presumably if other tools could more effectively accomplish that end, intelligent design would be abandoned. The second of these animating principles, by contrast, is intrinsic — it treats intelligent design as an essential good, an end in itself worthy to be pursued because of the insights it provides into nature.

These animating principles can work side by side, and there is no inherent conflict between them. Nonetheless, there is a clear order of priority. Unless intelligent design is an intrinsic good — unless it can be developed as a scientific research program and provide sound insights into the natural world — then its use as an instrumental good for defeating ideologies that suffocate the human spirit becomes insupportable. Intelligent design must not become a “noble lie” for vanquishing views we find unacceptable (history is full of noble lies that ended in disgrace). Rather, intelligent design needs to convince us of its truth on its scientific merits. Then, because it is true and known to be true, it can become an instrument for liberation from suffocating ideologies — ideologies that suffocate not because they tell us the grim truth about ourselves but because they are at once grim and false (Freud’s psychic determinism is a case in point)….

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Elliott Sober’s Independent Evidence Requirement for Design

In his paper “The Design Argument,” Elliott Sober predicts that “human beings will eventually build organisms from nonliving materials.”[1] In that case, we could obtain clear evidence that certain organisms resulted from intelligent design whereas earlier we might have thought they were due to a Darwinian process. I consider a similar possibility in chapter 6 of No Free Lunch. Such Read More ›

Evolutionary Logic

Since the neo-Darwinian synthesis of the 1930s, evolutionary biology has become a growth industry. This growth has resulted in the demand for more flexible methods of establishing evolutionary biology’s grandiose claims than the laborious, difficult, pedantic, and “rigorous” methods favored throughout the rest of the sciences. This demand has been met by what is now a well-developed branch of evolutionary Read More ›

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Naturalism’s Argument from Invincible Ignorance

Howard Van Till’s review of my book No Free Lunch exemplifies perfectly why theistic evolution remains intelligent design’s most implacable foe. Not only does theistic evolution sign off on the naturalism that pervades so much of contemporary science, but it justifies that naturalism theologically — as though it were unworthy of God to create by any means other than an evolutionary process that carefully conceals God’s tracks. Read More ›