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Monday, April 16, 2007

Darwin vs. Design: Jay Richards


The second day of the conference began bright and early, with some introductory remarks by Sig Swanstrom (a former employee of the private Christian college Seattle Pacific University, ostensibly the current Vice President for External Affairs of the Discovery Institute, although I can't find any official designation on their website, and was referred to as a soon-to-be Texan, which seemed odd) who set the stage for the rest of the day by stating confidently that "Darwin's theory has broken down," and then urging the audience to ask the question, "Where does the evidence lead?" (Implicitly, this is a question framed to convey the spirit of free inquiry, but in reality to support the idea that supernatural explanations are scientifically acceptable conclusions)

Incidentally, the entire conference was filled with references to "Darwinism," with nary a mention of the term, "creationism." This isn't anything new or surprising, but I did find it mildly irritating, as no biology textbook of mine refers to "Darwinism," but rather "evolution" or "evolutionary theory."

After a clip of The Privileged Planet, Jay Richards took the podium. His presentation seemed to be exactly what Jason Rosenhouse has already critiqued, so I'll try to avoid repeating any of it and focus on some of my other observations.

Richards has a doctoral degree in philosophy and theology, not astronomy. Now, I wouldn't hold this against him at all, except for the fact that he was there ostensibly to do nothing but speak authoritatively about astronomy. That is, he spoke as authoritatively as a philosopher could speak about astronomy, which was substantially lacking, from my perspective. I would have much preferred if the talk could have been delivered by Guillermo Gonzalez, his writing partner for "The Privileged Planet" and an assistant professor of astronomy at Iowa State University.

The reason for Richards' presence rather than Gonzalez' may be due to a number of reasons. Richards may be a better public speaker, he may have more free time to travel around, or his superficial understanding of astronomy may be better suited to explaining concepts to a lay audience. But I suspect that the main reason that Richards gave the talk was because he really was the most qualified to give it... because it wasn't a scientific talk at all, but philosophical.

Richards focused on attacking scientific materialism, presenting the Kalam Cosmological Argument for God (couched as an unnamed argument for a Designer), spent most of his time making the Fine Tuning Argument (which is a subset of the Teleological Argument for God). He also spent a great deal of time promoting the "Discovery Argument," which takes this form:
  1. If the Universe was not designed for discovery, then there would not be a correlation between habitability and discovery.
  2. There is a correlation between habitability and discovery.
  3. Therefore, the universe was designed (for discovery).
The major premise seems to be an obvious non sequitur leading into a tautology- discovery isn't possible without the existence of sentient organisms to do the discovering, which would require the existence of habitable locations in the Universe.

William Dembski seemed to be a ghostly presence during the talk- there were several references to "patterns" which seemed obvious to Richards, but continued to escape me, and somehow indicated design. Near the end of his talk, Richards was somewhat more explicit about these "patterns," claiming that they allow us to make a "design inference," which strangely enough is confirmed by a "fishy feeling" that we feel whenever we see something that appears designed. The experience of this "fishy feeling" was the only real evaluative test given for the detection of design- I'm at a loss to explain how this obviously subjective criteria has any scientific merit (nor, indeed, how it is any different from the "burning in the bosom" that Mormons experience when the Holy Spirit comes upon them.)

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2 Comments:

At 4/17/2007 7:50 PM, Blogger breakerslion declaimed...

"... which strangely enough is confirmed by a "fishy feeling" that we feel whenever we see something that appears designed."

Little Flirty Fishy perhaps? Thank you for informing me of this feeling we all feel. That is a technique of mass hypnosis, used by Carnies and other frauds the world over.


These guys can't be so ignorant of human brain development to attribute pattern matching to proof of causality/creation, can they? Do they check each cornflake for images of Jesus before they eat it? Tell me, are they really this far gone, or are they just pandering to the ignorant for ego gratification and profit?

 
At 4/18/2007 8:37 AM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

Yes, throughout this talk (and the whole conference, actually), I was muttering to myself, "pareidolia, pareidolia, pareidolia."

 

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