Mathematician, Philosopher, Theologian… Dembski chooses his hat

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William A. Dembksi, mathematician, philosopher, and theologian, now has his next job lined up.

Dembski is moving east, to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He will head up the newly formed “Center for Science and Theology” there.

This story was scooped by Jeff Robinson at the Baptist Press News.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. announced Sept. 16 the establishment of the Center for Science and Theology along with the appointment of renowned philosopher of science William A. Dembski as its first director.

William A. Dembski Wrote:

“Theology is where my ultimate passion is and I think that is where I can uniquely contribute … I am looking forward to engaging students and theological students have always been my favorite to deal with because for theology students, it’s not just a job, but a passion, especially at a place like Southern, because they want to change the world.”

[…]

“This is really an opportunity,” Dembski added, “to mobilize a new generation of scholars and pastors not just to equip the saints but also to engage the culture and reclaim it for Christ. That’s really what is driving me.”

40 Comments

Another black day for education in Kentucky. How did this state end up with both Answers In Genesis AND a leading ID creationist? Science education will be at risk every time the legislature meets.

Even more important is this quote:

Theology, he said, underpins all of his views of science and intelligent design.

This is what we have been saying all along, and now its official.

Thanks for the update, Jack!

All those quotes are important for obvious reasons, but it is this quote

This is really an opportunity to mobilize a new generation of scholars and pastors not just to equip the saints but also to engage the culture and reclaim it for Christ.

that made my skin crawl.

Does Dembski live in the United States? I just saw an issue of Newsweek whose cover story was devoted to the unearthing of Biblical artefacts and which included reference to an ark which “probably contained the bones of the priest who presided over Christ’s crucifixion.” What does “reclaim the culture” mean under these circumstances?

I suggest we look at other fundie-style governments to get an idea of what Dembski means. Certainly we shouldn’t expect Dembski to provide details! That is the last thing most CECCs will reveal in public. Of course, the fringe-alert buzzword, “worldview,” appears in the article no less than 7 times.

This is another ripe quote from Dembski:

science has been such an instrument used by the materialists to undermine the Christian faith and religious belief generally

When Bill says “science,” he means “reason” and “knowledge.” But he knows that doesn’t get his his fellow fundies salivating because it’s harder for them to point their fingers at a specific group of “reasonable” people to blame and cast judgement on. So Big Bill puffs himself up and says “science” is the bat that has been whacking “religious belief generally”. That way he can smear a bunch of readily identified professionals (aka “scientists”)who are already dubious of his credentials (to say the least).

And another ripe quote from that article…

“Theology, he said, underpins all of his views of science and intelligent design.”

This is in stark contrast to the stuff I’m hearing from my Christian friends that Intelligent Design is NOT creationism, but a scientific theory. Last night I got the mantra, “Well, it’s all or nothing. You’re either a Christian the whole way or you’re not.” I’d like the same logic to be applied to Intelligent Design, please!

And another ripe quote from that article…

““Through the scholarship and teaching of Bill Dembski, we plan to equip Christians to communicate one of the most basic and glorious aspects of the Gospel – that human beings are not accidents or machines, but creatures with purpose and design.”

This is in stark contrast to the stuff I’m hearing from my Christian friends that Intelligent Design is NOT creationism, but a scientific theory. Last night I got the mantra, “Well, it’s all or nothing. You’re either a Christian the whole way or you’re not.” I’d like the same logic to be applied to Intelligent Design, please!

The article says Bill has seven degrees, including two PhDs.

I feel shrivelled like a tiny raisin.……

Andy Groves, B.A., M.A*., PhD.

* and the MA is from Cambridge, where all I had to earn it was to survive three years after gaining my bachelor’s. What a fraud I am.…. it almost makes me want to go and…oooh.…give money to the Discovery Institute or something.

I’m curious about this comment

During his time at Baylor, Dembski became a focus of controversy, with some members of the Baylor faculty charging that Dembski’s work, and that of the center he directed, would embarrass the university by implying that its science faculty was not fully committed to the theory of evolution.

Does anyone know what charges were actually leveled at Dembksi? This paraphrase is hard to take seriously given the source. I don’t doubt that faculty at Baylor were embarassed by Dembski, The phrase “not fully committed to the theory of evolution” sounds more like something Dembski would say to puff himself up than something a scientist would say in criticism of Dembski.

A bunch of stories on the Baylor affair are collected here.

RBH

Another bunch of stories are linked from here.

Wesley’s are better than mine. Shame on me for neglecting AE.

RBH

Boy, you people are quick. I thought it might still be another day or two before you caught on to this. In any case, I want to thank you for all your concerns, solicitations, and well-wishes on my new job. I expect I will be providing even more grist for your mill from my new location than from the old.

Keep up the good work, Bill Dembski

Dr. Dembski,

Congrats on the new job. Too bad many of your opponents are going to use this against ID. It’s gonna be one big ad hominem attack full of misinterpretation and misrepresentation. But what else would we expect? I’m looking forward to your future work on the problem of evil.

T. Russell Hunter

H.L.Mencken: “Theology is the effort to explain the unknowable in terms of the not worth knowing.”

Even more important is this quote:

Theology, (Dembski) said, underpins all of his views of science and intelligent design.

This is what we have been saying all along, and now its official.

I’m not sure what the big deal is here. Anybody reading chapter 7 of Dembski’s 1999 book Intelligent Design, particularly the last section, “Christ As The Completion of Science”, would already have figured that out, and rather easily.

So it’s not like Dr. Dembski has been trying to hide his views concerning the relationship between theology and science, particularly in terms of the above quotation. Therefore, as far as anything being “official”, the above quoted statement has, imo, been “official” for some five years, not merely now.

However, at this point it might be helpful to mention a couple things:

(1) According to evolutionist Michael Ruse’s testimony at the McClean vs. Arkansas creationism trial, a proposed hypothesis or theory is NOT unscientific merely because the proposer(s) of said theory or hypothesis do so out of a religious motivation.

(2) Folks may want to take a extended look at Cornelius Hunter’s 2001 book Darwin’s God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil so they can see for themselves that theology doesn’t merely underpin ID claims, but also evolution claims as well. For example, a snip from pg 45:

Evolutionist Douglas Futuyma is also impressed by the variations in protein sequences and the phylogenetic relationships they suggest. For why, when we find the same molecules in different species, are they not identical? Why are the hemoglobin molecules slightly different in different species? For Futuyma this does not square with creation.

“A creationist,” he argues, “might suppose that God would provide the the same molecule to serve the same function, but a biologist would never expect evolution to follow exactly the same path twice.” (Science On Trial, 1983).

Futuyma and the others seem to be unaware that their argument hinges on their view of God. They issue their polemics as though they were scientific findings.

Kenneth Miller and his “elephant fossils” argument in his 1999 book Finding Darwin’s God is another example, quite obvious and longstanding, of how theology underpins evolutionary claims. To save a little time, I’ll just quote Hunter’s summary (pg 83):

Miller obviously has specific ideas of what the designer is and is not allowed to do. First, the designer must be sensible to us, going about his work as we see fit.

Repetitive work seems unlikely—-he certainly wouldn’t go about making ten different Elephus species in rapid succession. In fact, if we tally up all the millions of different species ever found, the Creator must have been constantly at work, and this too, for Miller, is hard to believe.

There exist more “negative theology” examples from Futuyma, Miller, Darwin himself, and other evolutionists, but you get the picture. Evolution possesses theological underpinnings of its own, and that is important to remember while thinking about Dembski’s quotation.

FL

FL cites Dembski’s 1999 book “Intelligent Design”. I think we can go even further back to 1996 for an example of how ID is really about God for Dembski:

http://www.origins.org/mc/resources[…]2/mcgee.html

That ID is basically about God should be as surprising as leaves falling in Autumn.

I am glad that Dr. Dembski has found employment that fits his interests.

But I haven’t seen C. G. Hunter or any other ID advocate explain how the following depend upon theological argumentation:

  • Inheritance is particulate, not blending.
  • Inheritance is not perfect. Changes can and do happen in heritable information.
  • More organisms are produced than can be sustained under prevailing ecological conditions.
  • Those heritable variations which correlate with differential survival of organisms tend to have higher proportional representation in the population.
  • The distribution of traits in a population can be influenced by chance effects, such as population bottlenecks and sampling from a limited pool of variant.
  • Fossils are the traces of organisms that were once alive.
  • Fossil forms show that extinction of species happens. Certain fossils represent organisms common enough, large enough, and distributed in areas where if they were present through the present day could not have been overlooked.
  • Fossils are distributed in a stratigraphic pattern indicating change in fossil assemblages over time.
  • Fossil assemblages show that mass extinctions have happened at widely different times in the earth’s history.
  • The canonical genetic code is consistent with the theory of common descent.
  • Patterns of differences in sequences of proteins and heritable information support the idea that these differences have accrued since the time of a last common ancestor.
  • Evolutionary interrelationships have been used to advantage in medical research.
  • The principles of natural selection have been used to advantage in computational optimization and search.
  • Species have been observed to form, both in the laboratory and in the wild.
  • A novel symbiotic association has been observed in the laboratory.

(Originally listed as examples meeting the “Patterson challenge”, but it seemed that they fit this bit, too. http://www.asa3.org/archive/evoluti[…]11/0050.html )

The claim that evolutionary biology is necessarily advanced via theological argumentation is simply codswallop. The only way that Hunter’s argument could possibly work is if he were able to support a universal claim that every evolutionary concept, hypothesis, and theory were premised upon a theological argument. This he does not and cannot do. Instead, we are treated to instances where evolutionary biologists take up the issue of some form of creationism. It is creationism that interjects theology into the discussion. (It has been argued by Nelson that most such arguments are misguided since “theological themata” that are themselves not necessarily universal are often deployed. See my response to Nelson at http://www.asa3.org/archive/evoluti[…]04/0166.html ) To say that “some arguments made by evolutionary biologists have a theological component” doesn’t mean that the field of evolutionary biology as a science is based upon theology; it merely means that some evolutionary biologists have taken the trouble to engage theistic antievolutionists on their own ground. The examples of argumentation given above in the comments refer not to technical work in the scientific literature, but rather to popular treatments that have a scope including the socio-political dimension that creationism inhabits. What seems to be particularly upsetting to the theistic antievolutionists is not that theology is involved, but how effective and compelling the theological argumentation deployed by those evolutionary biologists in their non-technical work is.

Evolutionary biology, as a science, does not have “theological underpinnings” as claimed by FL. There is no component that I know of that cannot be stated in a form that has no dependence upon theological doctrine. Nor do I expect FL, C.G. Hunter, or any other ID advocate to be able to provide an example of any extant component of evolutionary biology that is obligately dependent upon theology.

Of course, this is getting a bit far afield from Dembski’s new job. I suggest (in a pretty strong sense of “suggest”) that further discussion of this topic occur either at this thread or on “The Bathroom Wall”.

I’m confused.

If an ID critic states that Dembski’s ID polemics are religously motivated it is an unwarranted Darwinistian attack. However, if Dembski himself states that his anti-evolutionary polemics are religously motivated then the ID defense is like “Well duh?! Everyone has known that for years.”

It seems that Dembski always wins.

No problem with taking this to the Bathroom Wall, Dr. Elsberry, though one could perhaps wonder why you didn’t suggest such a move earlier in the thread. After all, I merely responded to a quotation & comment you were willing to let stand in this thread rather than the Wall.

FL

FL,

Your post that began the discussion of theology and evolutionary biology also discussed Dembski’s position on theology, which I considered to be on-topic. So I could either move that and everything else to “The Bathroom Wall” or leave it and direct subsequent off-topic discussion elsewhere. I chose the latter course of action.

If in the future you have meta-discussion issues, email me directly.

Comment #7705

Posted by Dan Phelps on September 16, 2004 04:49 PM

Another black day for education in Kentucky. How did this state end up with both Answers In Genesis AND a leading ID creationist? Science education will be at risk every time the legislature meets.

While Kentucky occasionally produces a fine mind like Story Musgrave, it is adept at producing idiots. F.I., The only people I know in person who consider AiG to be a superior scientific resource are from there.

While Kentucky occasionally produces a fine mind like Story Musgrave, it is adept at producing idiots. F.I., The only people I know in person who consider AiG to be a superior scientific resource are from there.

I drove past Phillip A. Sharp Middle School in Pendleton County (KY) the other day, and thought that, even in this state, the antievolutionists have a long, long way to go.

Very many of the Dembski stories at this link: http://www.antievolution.org/people[…]_wa/mpc.html are busted, unfortunately.

Comment #7721 Wrote:

Keep up the good work

Long feeling inadequate commenting to a thread which the Isaac Newton of Information Theory and now the “renowned” and “one of the most skilled philosophers of science in this generation” [new employer A. Mohler, SBTSeminary] may be reading, I can only now just muster the courage to whisper that the old public relations’ bromide “All publicity is good publicity” is not believed by professionals in that field.

Dembski had a 5-year contract at Baylor, that was set to expire this fall. Did Baylor not renew his contract? Or did they renew it, but Dembski decided to move anyway?

I was wondering what he would do this fall, so now I guess we know…

I’m not sure this has been pointed out yet, but aren’t these two statements a bit contradictory?

“Intelligent design is not tantamount to the biblical doctrine of creation,”

and…

“Through the scholarship and teaching of Bill Dembski, we plan to equip Christians to communicate one of the most basic and glorious aspects of the Gospel – that human beings are not accidents or machines, but creatures with purpose and design.”

So, ID is not Biblical creationism, but one of the “basic aspects of the Gospel” is that human beings are “creatures with purpose and design”?

How do these guys do that? I bet they would be good at poker.

Matthew,

The article says that Dembski will start work at SBTS on June 1st. Assuming there’s no implication of a chrononautic future for Dembski, I’d bet that’s 2005/06/01.

SBTS’ Abstract of Principles states…

When the original charter of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary was adopted in 1858 it contained the following statement which continues as a part of the fundamental laws: “Every professor of the institution shall be a member of a regular Baptist church; and all persons accepting professorships in this seminary shall be considered, by such acceptance, as engaging to teach in accordance with, and not contrary to, the Abstract of Principles hereinafter laid down, a departure from which principles on his part shall be considered grounds for his resignation or removal by the Trustees.”

I. The Scriptures

The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God, and are the only sufficient, certain and authoritative rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience.

VI. The Fall of Man

God originally created Man in His own image, and free from sin; but, through the temptation of Satan, he transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original holiness and righteousness; whereby his posterity inherit a nature corrupt and wholly opposed to God and His law, are under condemnation, and as soon as they are capable of moral action, become actual transgressors.

Can we conclude that B. Dembski cannot be expected to provide objective analysis of biological data as it relates to evolution since he has apparently agreed to these Principles? They read very much like the statements of faith YEC organizations are so fond of.

Distressing, distressing, distressing… but unsurprising. Frankly, this is probably (relatively) good news. Prior to his appointment at Southern Baptist, his association with Baylor gave him the public cloak of a respectable (i.e., “objective”) university professor. Now that he is clearly aligned with a theological seminary, members of the public who are otherwise unfamiliar with him will have a clear and immediate idea where he’s coming from.

Not that he wasn’t preaching to the choir already…

I used to live in Louisville, and I think Bill’s gonna have a tough time opening a BBQ joint good enough to compete in that market—there are some excellent ones. On the other hand, Churchill Downs was one of my clients there, and got I to know a few of the professional handicappers who make their living by betting on the races. So maybe he could put his probability calculation skills (if he has any) to work, and clean up at the track! (The SBTS might frown on that type of thing, though.) Anyway, I find it mildly amusing that he’ll be living in a city whose economy is chiefly fueled by tobacco, liquor and gambling. ;)

Theology, he said, underpins all of his views of science and intelligent design.

Or, as they used to say in my undergrad days at a major Catholic university

Theology is the Queen of the Sciences and Philosophy is her handmaiden.

But at least they also told us that the Bible wasn’t to be taken as a work of science, and that evolution was the best explanation for biological diversity and commonality.

To a certain subset of believers, there will always be a tendency to subordinate logic and evidence to a belief text, whether that’s Creationist or Stalinist. Since the SBC has been taken over by the reactionary wing since the 1970’s Bill is no doubt at a good home.

As I’ve said before on these pages, a major part of the struggle is within Christianity - the fundies are trying to define “Christian” as allowing their beliefs only, the better to compete with mainline denominations for members and money. Note that tolerant believers including Jimmy Carter and a number of other congregations have left the Southern Baptist Convention over this and other issues.

And it’s a great day for Baylor. The faculty there have been opposed to his backdoor appointment from the get-go.

Frank Schmidt said:

And it’s a great day for Baylor. The faculty there have been opposed to his backdoor appointment from the get-go.

Perhaps that’s true of the faculty, but I’m not so sure about Baylor’s president, Robert Sloan.

Listen to the interview with Sloan here:

http://www.theconnection.org/shows/[…]1_b_main.asp

During the program, there was an interview with a distressed member of the faculty, who was deeply concerned about Sloan adding guys from the Discovery Institute. (Was he alluding to the recent matriculation of Francis Beckwith, perhaps?)

Actually, an IDCist like Beckwith in the Philosophy Dept is relatively common. There’s one (Robert Koons) at Texas for example. I have no problem with that (although I don’t take it very seriously either), as long as they don’t call it science. Baylor’s problem was putting an institutional stamp on ID without faculty input. I think the problem is that Sloan got hoodwinked into believing the DI propaganda (equal to Newton, etc.). So he made a position and home for Dembski, then found it crashing down around him. But he’d bought the sales pitch and had to hold to it.

Jason:

So, ID is not Biblical creationism, but one of the “basic aspects of the Gospel” is that human beings are “creatures with purpose and design”? How do these guys do that? I bet they would be good at poker.

What you have to realize is that talking out of both sides of your mouth about the theological underpinnings of ID is an absolutely necessary skill among ID advocates; it doesn’t work all that well among biologists, scientists or skeptics, but that’s not what motivates the practice; what really motivates it is an attempt to bring creationists into the ID fold by couching familiar arguments in an more intellectually-appealing disguise.

It isn’t so much preaching to the choir as it is teaching it to sing in a new key.

It is important to point out that theology - or at least philosophy - is fundamental to evolution. If you didn’t have a prior commitment to the absence of an external absolute, you would have less of a need of a worldview that excluded one. I have read various evolutionists writing that their philosophy of science was basically to “close the system” - “let’s see how far we can go without invoking anything external” - in broad terms.

If you didn’t have a prior commitment to the absence of an external absolute, you would have less of a need of a worldview that excluded one.

Hey, troll. Joe Carter just called. He wants his script back.

aCTa Wrote:

It is important to point out that theology - or at least philosophy - is fundamental to evolution.

There’s more than a mote of difference between “theology” and “philosophy”. Get back to us when you’ve figured out what line you want to defend.

aCTa Wrote:

If you didn’t have a prior commitment to the absence of an external absolute, you would have less of a need of a worldview that excluded one.

Bzzzzt. Thanks for playing. Sorry, we’ve run out of consolation prizes.

I see this is an old thread but thought I would post anyway.

Perhaps an interesting tidbit: I was at Princeton Seminary getting my MDiv at the same time as Dembski - I think he was getting his MTh at the time. We had a philosophy class together on Kant and I remember him being very quite and almost never contributing to class discussions, which I thought was odd for someone who claimed to be a philosopher. Anyway, one of the “scandals” at the time was that the Seminary rejected his admission into the PhD program (the reason why he was getting his MTh) and he was thus forced to go to Notre Dame. All Dembski’s conservative pals were up in arms with this decision; at the time, there was and may still be a rather nasty struggle between conservatives (primarily students) and liberals (students and faculty). The Seminary thankfully made the right decision.

Andy Groves Wrote:

The article says Bill has seven degrees, including two PhDs.

I feel shrivelled like a tiny raisin . … …

Andy Groves, B.A., M.A*., PhD.

* and the MA is from Cambridge, where all I had to earn it was to survive three years after gaining my bachelor’s. What a fraud I am . …. it almost makes me want to go and … oooh . …give money to the Discovery Institute or something.

Here’s an opportunity for expansion: add an FCD to your signature at the Friends of Charles Darwin site.

Now we have more information:

For over four years, Dembski was barred from teaching and worked at home, occasionally taking his family to the university’s dining hall. His contract, expiring in spring 2005, shows little signs of being renewed.

In an interview with the Chronicles, Dembski claimed that he had attempted to extend his professorship at Baylor, but was refused. Apparently, the university lack sufficient funds from which to renew Dembski’s contract, said a spokesmen on behalf of Baylor Provost David. L. Jeffery.

Here’s the full URL:

http://www.christianpost.com/articl[…]cation/645/7|13/sbts.hires.controversial.intelligent-design.advocate/2.htm

The original article to which the Christian Post refers is here:

http://chronicle.com/free/v51/i20/20a00701.htm

Says Dembski:

“My work is too controversial for them,” he explains. Mr. Dembski is a proponent of “intelligent design,” which argues that Darwinian explanations of natural history are insufficient.

Here are the facts, Bill: your work isn’t “too controversial,” it’s just wrong. If you seriously believe otherwise, then I suggest you take a look at the following article, which elucidates the character of bogus science:

http://chronicle.com/free/v49/i21/21b02001.htm

In particular (that would be you, Bill), some of the warning signs are:

The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.

The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.

The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation.

Sound familiar?

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This page contains a single entry by Wesley R. Elsberry published on September 16, 2004 4:28 PM.

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