On the "vise," the "wedge," and creationism

Reposted from the old TfK, for your enjoyment while I drive out to the NCSE.

I don't mind creationism. I know this comes as a bit of a shock, but I don't. For our purposes, creationism is the belief that a supernatural force or being created, designed or otherwise shaped the universe and life in it.

I don't have any broad beef with that idea. I don't necessarily buy it, but I'm not necessarily against it.

I say this because Billy Dembski has expanded on his Vise strategy (previously discussed in "Beware the simple machines").

He creates a taxonomy of "Darwinists": those who advocate philosophical materialism, those who don't discuss the impacts of religion on evolution and vice versa (practically naturalist, agnostic on philosophical naturalism), and those who are personally religious and accept evolution (practical naturalist, philosophical supernaturalist). Of this latter group (dubbed KM, for Kenneth Miller), Dembski writes that:

the aim of the interrogation is to exploit the tension between their belief in divine creation and their vehement denials that they are not creationists (note that under creationism they invariably include ID). The KM Darwinist wants to be an orthodox Darwinian and an orthodox religious believer. But being an orthodox religious believer means having a view of divine action that is at odds with Darwinian naturalism/scientific materialism and at the same time is compatible with creationism. KM Darwinists need to be pressed into admitting that their theology requires that ID be kept as a live possibility.

And this is where we go back to the definitions. Yes, theistic evolution is a sort of creationism. TEs hold that God set forces in motion and may have given some tugs and prods to the process here and there, but they do not hold that those tugs and prods are scientifically detectable. Evolution and other natural laws are the means through which God acts. God, like all supernatural things, is beyond science.

ID creationism aims to shove God inside the realm of falsifiable things so that it can all be science. But that's bad philosophy and bad theology.

My beef with creationism is less with the details of their creationist model (though YECs are demonstrably wrong, and creationist attacks on science are wrong, wrong-headed and unnecessary), but with their attempt to put religion inside of science. There is no contradiction between opposing IDC as science and believing, as a theological position, that the physical laws of the universe were designed by a supernatural intelligence.

As any good physics student knows, the vise is just an application of the screw, and the screw is just a wedge all twisted around. Similarly, Dembski's "vise strategy" is a way of repackaging the old "wedge document" in a stupider form. He wants to muddy the distinction between practical naturalism ("let me look for a natural explanation for why my car won't start") and philosophical naturalism ("Gnomes, Buddha and Jesus don't exist, so they didn't tamper with my head gasket."). The Wedge aims to insert the supernatural into science, not just into society. Talking about design in a philosophy class makes sense, but it doesn't match the Wedge, and the Vise is just a different way of forcing it in where it doesn't belong.

"Soul to Squeeze" by The Red Hot Chili Peppers from the album Greatest Hits (2003, 4:53).

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I really think both sides are wrong. The question religion gets to play with is why is there something, and not nothing. After you get the point where there is something, then, either, God did it all, or we are just made up of star stuff.

The argument that you can prove that God made the flagellum or the watch or the mouse trap, but not the lighting bolt or the rain drop or the rock, is crap. Either, we look at the world and say, gee, look at everything, see God did it, or look at everything and say we naturally evolved to this point.

There is no middle ground. The trouble with the KMs or the IDs is when you start asking them questions, like why did the ID put us on some obscure star on some obscure galaxy and set us in motion at near 1/3 the speed of light if it is all about us? So God created malaria, but evolution made it really bad? None of it makes sense.

It is easy to point out the science fallacies of both arguments, but what surprises me is people don't spend more time talking about how theologically empty their game is.

The behavior of an object is what happens when you add together all of the influences affecting it.

If we divide reality in to arbitrary parts that we label as 'natural' and 'supernatural', and forbid science from studying the supernatural, it quickly becomes clear that science can't study the natural world either. There would be no natural phenomena that the supernatural did not effect, and so science would be denied the ability to take influential factors into account. It would be impossible to correct our models of the world, because no amount of difference between theory and observation could tell us that our model of the natural world was incorrect - the forbidden supernatural influences could be responsible for any differences, and there would be no way to control for or eliminate them.

The people who talk about supernatural things either aren't scientists, or wish they weren't.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 02 Aug 2007 #permalink