Saturday, November 20, 2010

God Needs A Quality Control Department 2.0: Hitchens-Dembski Debate

Outspoken skeptics are often criticized for mocking the beliefs of the religious, belittling that which is held sacred, blaspheming their supernatural being (or beings). What the religious never seem to realize is that their own apologists treat their beliefs, their sacred items and activities, and their god (or gods) with far more contempt than any irreligious person ever could. Consider all the religious people who, speaking publicly on behalf of their god, lie, dissemble, ignore the facts, present appallingly faulty and inconsistent reasoning in support of their arguments, and when shown to be flatly and utterly incorrect, abandon reason altogether and claim that the irreligious will never understand because we lack spiritual discernment, or because we have not felt the power of god in our hearts, or the most childish non-argument I've ever heard, because we just want to go on sinning.

Here I'll review a debate between an atheismist and a Jesusianismist titled, "Does A Good God Exist?" On the side of the baby-killers is Christopher Hitchens, well-known social critic, political analyst, and author of many books, including "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything". On the side of Jesus is William Dembski, research professor of philosophy and the director at the Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, and senior research scientist with evolutionary informatics lab. He has degrees in mathematics, psychology, statistics, and theology.

William Dembski is the epitome of blasphemy, a man who purports to represent Jesus, but who makes a habit of flagrantly discrediting his lord, not only with apparent foolishness, but with obvious dishonesty, which causes one to wonder whether Dembski could legitimately use foolishness as an excuse. You may know of the famous Kitzmiller v. Dover trial of 2005. This was the battle in Pennsylvania over whether creationism and/or intelligent design should be taught in public schools. The defense, that is, the Jesus camp, had lined up seven expert witnesses for the trial, but by the end of the trial five of them had withdrawn. Dembski was one of these five, along with two of his colleagues at the Center for Science and Culture, John Campbell and Stephen Meyer. You might enjoy having a quick look at Jeffrey Shallit's expert report on Dembski submitted to the court during Kitzmiller v. Dover. Here are some of the highlights of that report:
  • Dembski is not a scientist
  • Dembski is not a renowned mathematician
  • Dembski's work is extensively criticized in the literature, but he rarely responds
  • Dembski's method for inferring design is neither accepted by the scientific community at large, nor useful to science
  • Dembski's inventions, "specified complexity" and "complex specified information" are neither valid nor accepted notions
  • Dembski's "Law of Conservation of Information" is not a law
Shallit concludes that
William Dembski has not made a significant contribution to a mathematical or scientific understanding of "design". His work is not regarded as significant by information theorists, mathematicians, statisticians, or computer scientists. He does not present his work in the generally-accepted fora for results in these fields. His mathematical work is riddled with errors and inconsistencies that he has not acknowledged; it is not mathematics, but pseudomathematics.
Before the beginning of the debate there is a brief, introductory discussion between two of the members of the host organization:

<Clip 00:12 - 00:20: Why have this debate?>

Which is obviously a bad thing, right? I mean, all of those murderous dictators of the 20th century were atheists, right? Even if this were true, what bearing would it have on the question of whether the organic rise of atheism is good or bad? Sure, we know what has happened when megalomaniacs who happen to suppress religion have come to power. But what has happened when a society has voluntarily given up religion? I won't attempt to make any hard claims, but take a look at this list, which ranks various nations by the proportion of irreligious citizens, and this list, which ranks various nations by peacefulness. There's an obvious correlation between unbelief and peacefulness. More reasons for the debate:

<Clip 01:01 - 01:07: Like football>
<Clip 01:12 - 01:18: Schemes>
<Clip 01:25 - 01:35: More schemes>

No, the search for truth is not like a football game. No, it's not about learning your opponent's style, his football plays, his schemes. I have a problem with debates in general, as I've described in other videos, because they tend to be about winning and losing. I would criticize Hitchens for even being involved in this debate, but after posting all those questions to the "On The Box" guys, I'm starting to see why we should engage in this sort of thing. Richard Dawkins says that we shouldn't, because we're giving them a forum. I say that we should, because we're reaching out to those who are deluded by them. Especially those who are deluded by the charlatans like Craig, Comfort, and Dembski.

That's the prologue. Thanks for listening.

No comments:

Post a Comment