Sunday, March 25, 2007


Does Intelligent Design Lead to Moral Degeneration?

A couple of days ago, William Dembski, an intelligent design theorist who teaches theology at Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, sparked a controversy that's still generating comments across a number of blogs that follow the intelligent design, creationism, and evolution beat.

Writing on his Uncommon Descent blog, Dembski posted a quote from The Descent of Man that was designed to make Darwin appear to be a racist. Dembski then drove home the point with ironic language: "What a great mind, indeed. What a wonderful human being. What a marvelous vision of the human family."

As we've pointed out, the quote that Dembski used in his post, although accurately taken from The Descent of Man, does not reflect Darwin's views. It consists of a sentence summarizing the views of Galton and Greg, and a long quote from Greg. As we and others have pointed out, Darwin quotes Galton and Greg, not because he agrees with them, but in order to refute what they said.

When we wrote our initial response to Dembski, we wondered if he'd simply been careless or merely cynical. (All of the citation supplied by Dembski, with the exception of the first sentence, was contained between quotation marks in the original, after all.)

And cynicism, we remarked then, is a bad thing in a theologian.

Well, Dembski has now supplied us with an answer to that riddle. In a comment to a later post on the controversy stirred up by his accusation that Darwin is a racist, he writes:

I was well aware of the context. But if I make the context clear, PvM and his fellows will find something else to attack. Better to give them what appears a minor slip-up, let them attack that, and then show how they’re acting in bad faith because they have ignored the gist.

Believe it or not, it really helps that the other side thinks we’re such morons.

Calling Darwin a racist, if we are to believe Dembski now, was nothing more than a cynical stratagem -- but a stratagem that comes with a context of its own.

Currently, there's been a flurry of posts on Dembski's Uncommon Descent and at the Discovery Institute's Evolution News and Views blog complaining that Brown University professor Ken Miller has misrepresented Dembski.

Casey Luskin, for example, writes that "Miller egregiously twists the basic arguments of leading ID theorist, mathematician William Dembski." However, when you read the quote supplied by Luskin to prove that Miller twists Dembski's words you find no mention of Dembski at all.

In "The Collapse of Ken Miller," Dembski reproduces Luskin's Evolution News and Views post, and after admitting that he only watched three minutes of the BBC documentary that prompted the claim that Miller twists his words, concludes that "if there is any collapsing going on, it is in Miller’s psyche and in his increasing inability to prosecute a reasoned argument when it comes to ID."

(Update: Ken Miller responds here.)

I find it remarkable that Dembski, so sensitive to any personal slight himself, should be so careless with the reputation of others. Here, he calls Darwin a racist by employing a quote that shows, really, just the opposite, and claims that Ken Miller twists his words without even bothering to look at the supposed evidence.

The backdrop to this discussion is morals. In The Descent of Man, Darwin attempts, successfully we think, to show that empathy among human beings and the moral foundation of society is a product not of God-given law but the evolutionary forces of variation and natural selection.

The intelligent design proponents fear this possibility because they believe it eliminates free will and moral responsibility.

Red State Rabble doesn't believe that evolution rules out free will. On the contrary, we believe human beings are free to make moral choices. We also recognize that those choices may be constrained by factors of family, culture, education, health, economic standing, and the mental apparatus bequeathed to us by evolution.

After taking those constraints into account, we also believe that people should be held accountable for their choices.

Embracing intelligent design or creationism is a moral choice. Increasingly the evidence suggests that people who freely choose to ignore evidence are choosing badly. As Dembski's actions in this current controversy clearly demonstrate, the embrace of intelligent design, or one of its variants, is the first step on the road to abdicating personal moral responsibility.

The hypersensitivity of Dembski and his fellows to legitimate criticism combined with the hypercynicism of their misleading attacks on Darwin and Miller constitute clear evidence, we believe, of immoral behavior.


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