Uncommon Dissent

UncommonDissentSuggested by Brad Nelson • William A. Dembski brings together essays by leading intellectuals who find one or more aspects of Darwinism unpersuasive. As Dembski explains, Darwinism has gathered around itself an aura of invincibility that is inhospitable to rational discussion.
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12 Responses to Uncommon Dissent

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    This is a terrific collection of hit-and-miss essays. Two of them are so-so (I’ve all but skipped one of them). A couple others are partially good. And then there are two or three that are outstanding.

    When it’s good, it’s really good. I’ve got pages of highlighted sections. Here are a few. The way the Kindle saves highlights, it doesn’t say who said what, but it hardly matters. However, I know this first four quotes belong to Berlinksi:

    Rather, the theory of evolution functions as biology’s reigning ideology. And no conspiracy is required to explain the attachment of biologists to a doctrine they find sustaining; all that is required is Freud’s reminder that those in the grip of an illusion never recognize their affliction.

    By the standards of the serious sciences, Darwin’s theory of evolution remains little more than a collection of anecdotal remarks.

    Still, one general point deserves attention. Both Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins have fashioned their reputations as defenders of a Darwinian orthodoxy. Their letters convey the impression of men who expect never to encounter criticism and are unprepared to deal with it.

    The theory of evolution is, after all, a general theory of change; if natural selection can sift the debris of chance to fashion an elephant’s trunk, should it not be able to work elsewhere—amid computer programs and algorithms, words and sentences?

    Typically, a scientist’s affirmation of a scientific theory simply means that the scientist is convinced the theory is substantially correct. But scientists who hold their theories dogmatically go on to assert that their theories cannot be incorrect. Moreover, scientists who are ruthless in their dogmatism regard their theories as inviolable and portray critics as morally and intellectually deficient.

    This structural information shows how tightly interlocked the components of the machine are. No simpler machine is known or even imagined that could carry out all of the steps in protein synthesis with such accuracy and speed.

    Cornelius Hunter shows why Darwinism should properly be regarded not as a positive scientific research program but as a reactionary metaphysical program whose justification depends intrinsically on naive assumptions about what God would and would not have done in designing biological systems.

    The Western philosophical tradition has thus bequeathed to us two competing metaphysical models: one in which everything is to be explained ultimately in terms of blind and purposeless forces (the materialistic model); and one in which purposefulness is a fundamental and irreducible reality (the teleological model).

    if a group of people had spent all of their lives underground and then emerged on the surface, they would be bound to think of the biologically rich world they discovered there to be the product of intelligence. Only familiarity dulls our sense of wonder at the craftsmanship of nature.

    to attempt to test a vague, schematic model of “variation with selection” or “random mutations and selection” rather than specific scenarios is to attempt the impossible. Any evidence that is found can be made to accord with schematic Darwinism, and so can be counted as evidence “for” the theory. Only by replacing the schema with a specific sequence of possible mutations and selective pressures can we find something that is both falsifiable and confirmable by collateral evidence.

    Darwin himself contributed to the illicit shift in the burden of proof in his well known challenge to his critics in The Origin: “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.”12 It is, of course, impossible to “demonstrate” any such thing. How could it be proved that something could not possibly have been formed by a process specified no more fully than as a process of “numerous, successive, slight modifications”?

    In the intelligent agency case, we face the difficulty that the agent involved would enjoy intellectual powers at least many orders of magnitude above our own and must have employed means of a kind that we can barely imagine. In addition, we have little idea of the scope of the agent’s activity: what we see in terrestrial biology may be only a small part of a much larger design, whose ultimate purpose is beyond our ken.

    Everything nature selects, she selects for one ultimate purpose: the successful replication of the trait in question. However, the replication of a trait has value only if the trait itself has value intrinsically. The intrinsic purpose of human life cannot consist wholly in its propensity to produce more human life, where the purpose of the latter consists wholly in its propensity to produce still more human life, and so on, ad infinitum.

    Once we understand that biologists like Lewontin are employing their scientific prestige in support of a philosophical platform, there is no longer any reason to be intimidated by their claims to scientific expertise. On the contrary, the inability of most biologists to make any sense out of creationist criticisms of their presuppositions is evidence of their own philosophical naiveté.

    That should give you a taste for the excellence of some, or parts of, this collection of essays. This is definitely worth a purchase for those inclined to want to wrap their head around this subject.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    I found the first and fifth quotes especially interesting. The National Geographic article on popular skepticism about science lamented skepticism about global warming aka climate change aka climate disruption, which he supported by basically spouting one side’s propaganda and ignoring the other side’s case (which he no doubt has never looked at). Of course, such behavior is a major reason for this increased skepticism. One argument he made was that scientists are always eager to challenge each other, so some sort of conspiracy is impossible. Apparently he chose to be unaware of the significance of the Hadley e-mails, and of the fact that CAGW has become a very popular (and well-funded by governments) theory. (Of course, he used the funding to attack the skeptics, as would be expected by a propagandist for the alarmists.)

    Similarly, that rejection of any skepticism about their theories is very relevant. In proper science, facts are actual observations. Theories are never facts because all it takes is a single contradictory observation to force modification or even rejection of a theory. But to dogmatic theorists, their own theories become facts. This serious lapse is one reason for my increasing doubts about the Darwinists (as it also is about the CAGW alarmists).

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      One argument he made was that scientists are always eager to challenge each other, so some sort of conspiracy is impossible.

      Berlinki rips into this bit of nonsense. Berlinki writes:

      Biologists often affirm that as members of the scientific community they positively welcome criticism. Nonsense. Like everyone else, biologists loathe criticism and arrange their lives so as to avoid it. Criticism has nonetheless seeped into their souls, the process of doubt a curiously Darwinian one in which individual biologists entertain minor reservations about their theory without ever recognizing the degree to which these doubts mount up to a substantial deficit. Creationism, so often the target of their indignation, is the least of their worries.

      Berlinksi also notes that amongst neo-Darwinists, they tend to show a united front to the public even if they do have some disputes between each other which tend to be out of the public eye, and purposely so.

      Another common refrain (delusion, I would say) is that criticism of neo-Darwinism tends to be met behind the wall of such rationalizations as “In science, we have peer review.” Indeed, one of the essays by Frank J. Tipler in the collection, and one of the better ones, shreds that idea completely. Peer review ain’t what it once was when Einstein’s work was peer reviewed by the likes of Max Planck…work sent in by a mere patent office clerk, and all for the purpose (generally speaking) of extending knowledge for the sake of doing so. Anyone who purchases this book will find this essay by Tipler especially informative.

      Another refrain (another rationalization for the dogmatism of neo-Darwinists) is that they’ll tell you that “science is self-correcting.” Maybe it is or maybe it isn’t. But damn few in the Darwinian stronghold show any desire to correct this dated theory to conform with established facts.

      One essayist even has a quite adroit discussion of the various meanings of the word, “theory.” It can mean established fact (as in the “theory of gravity”) or something more speculative. This essayist therefore advises critics of neo-Darwinism to get away from the “it’s just a theory” criticism which is meaningless.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Science is self-correcting (over time) when done properly. That last part — which includes the scientific method and a proper respect for reasoned skepticism — tends to be ignored.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          “Self correcting” is such a tame word for what actually happens. Fascism is self-correcting. Robbery is self-correcting. What happens is a new theory comes along that better matches the evidence. Those holding to the old theory tend to kick and scream. And regarding the neo-Darwinist cult, this is ramped up by a factor of 20. These people are certifiable. I’ll cut-and-paste the response to Berlinski’s essay by Dan Dennett. The guy is truly morally and intellectually fevered.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Here’s another good quote. This is one is by Robert C. Koons, another one of the excellent essays included:

    Unless individual human action can ultimately be explained, without remainder, in terms of blind physical processes, the fundamental rationale for Darwinism is wanting. If we begin by eliminating the anthropomorphic elements of our view of nature, we inevitably end by eliminating the anthropomorphic elements in our view of ourselves. Human agency, as fundamentally discontinuous from the blindness and irrationality of the subhuman, must be dismissed as every bit as mythological as the attribution of teleology or purpose to nature as a whole, if Darwinism is to succeed. This Darwinian effort to dehumanize the human has undermined our sense of personal responsibility, of the infinite dignity and irreplaceable value of each human being, and of the sanctity of human life and freedom.

    • GHG says:

      It’s stunning to see how the left’s programs work in insidious harmony.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Indeed, Mr. Lesser. It almost makes be believe in a Dark Lord. And I don’t say that tongue-in-cheek. I mean *almost*.

        There is something about atheism/secularism/materialism that seems to eat away at the human intellect and moral acuity. Dennis Prager often mentions the biblical quote, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom.” He’ll then go on to note how Leftism undermines and destroys everything it touches.

        We’re dealing with subjects here that are too difficult, subtle, and esoteric for your normal college-educated drone. But we can try! 😀

        As Mr. Koons said or intimated, as soon as you knock man down to the level of an animal, he’ll start acting like one. In fact, right out of the womb, man is little more than an animal. I agree with Dennis Prager who says that babies may be born innocent, but they’re not born good. That is, people need to be made good (and civilized, and humane, and intelligent, and wise). And that can only happen via a positive program of instruction, not (as is so much of Leftism) a negation of things. Central to this is the idea as to whether man actually has a moral nature. Materialists say no, thus emphasis is taken off of human culpability for behavior and it is laid upon “society” or one’s environment. This willful ignorance is almost beyond belief, but once one is committed to the materialist paradigm, what choice does one have but to choke down a lot of nonsense?

        I honestly don’t know what the attraction is for the negation of things, for this bizarre atheist/Leftist/secular point of view. I’m sure every case is different. I imagine there are some people, for instance, who have done some truly horrible things in their life and thus to acknowledge God would be to not be able to escape culpability. Their bad actions would thus matter. For others it may be about grievance for (often through no fault of their own) having some rough circumstances thrust upon them. It’s worth noting that central to Darwinian theory is the idea of “God would never do that.” Try as they might, they can’t escape theism, and it certainly shows that much of what propels Darwinism is the grievance factor.

        But, again, I can’t say that I really understand it — and this is coming from one who, quite unlike Job, has had little or no patience with God and has hurled more than a few naughty words in his direction. So I “get” some of the human and psychological dynamic of this. What I don’t get is the attraction for negation, to want to believe that nothing means nothing, and to willfully ignore all the evidence that reality, at the very least, is a bit more complicated than “random occurrences.”

        But I do understand that this outlook pollutes and corrupts the heart, mind, intellect, and soul. And let me (finally) present as Exhibit A the response by Dan Dennett (one of the biggies of Lucifer’s corps) who said this online in reply to David Berlinki’s essay, the essay that comes at the very end of the book (reprinted from Berlinki’s online article published at Commentary) and which was, according to Dembski, the inspiration for this entire collection of essays.

        Let me state that Berlinski’s essay is nothing particularly outrageous. If anything, you’ll read it and be screaming, “Enough with the soft innuendo…get to the point.” But as he makes his critiques, he is very droll and funny, which is why I love reading this guy. He doesn’t take himslf too seriously. And he’s also as sharp as a tack. Anyway, here’s the full text of Dennett’s response to Berlinski’s essay (The Deniable Darwin, presented in full by Discovery Institute), along with Berlinski’s priceless reply (no…don’t skip ahead to his reply, it will be well worth the wait):

        Daniel C. Dennett:

        I love it: another hilarious demonstration that you can publish bull—t at will— just so long as you say what an editorial board wants to hear in a style it favors. First there was Alan Sokal’s delicious unmasking of the editors of Social Text, who fell for his fashionably anti-scientific “proof” that according to quantum physics, the world is a social construction . Now David Berlinski has done the same to the editors of Commentary, who fell just as hard for his parody of “scientific” creationism. They must really be oppressed by evolutionary theory to publish such inspired silliness without running it by a biologist or two for soundness. Two such similar pranks in a single month make one wonder if this is just the tip of the Zeitgeist. What next? A hoax extolling the educational virtues of machine guns for tots in the American Rifleman?

        I love the rich comic patina of smug miseducation Mr. Berlinski exudes: Latin names for species mixed with elementary falsehoods in about equal measure, the subtle misuse of “Doppelgänger,” the “unwitting” creation of a new term, “combinatorial inflation,” and the deft touch of “betraying” his cluelessness by referring to Kim Sterelny as “she.” [Editor’s note: I corrected this in Berlinski’s article, changing “she” to “he”; Sterelny is a male philosopher of biology.]

        The hints are subtle but conclusive. No serious opponent of evolutionary theory would trot out the ill-considered remarks of the mathematician M. P. Schützenberger—a line of discredited criticism quietly abandoned by others years ago— without so much as a hint about their standing. How could the heroic misunderstanding of Jacques Monod that enables our author to pit Monod against Richard Dawkins be anything but disingenuous? Could any actual professor of mathematics and philosophy “in American and French universities” misrepresent the import of the second law of thermodynamics with such poetic fervor, such blithe overconfidence?

        Whoever this David Berlinski is, he is clever enough to fool Commentary, and I wouldn’t even be surprised if some evolutionists take him seriously enough to rebut him in detail. Even better, some earnest creationists may clasp him to their bosom. That is, one presumes, his larger joke. The only reason I am exposing it now (killjoy that I am) is to make it clear that so far as I know, we evolutionists did not put him up to it. We feel no need to burden our critics with such agents provocateurs, but they are welcome to him if they want him.

        Postscript (2003): My prediction was amply borne out: a handful of biologists humorlessly took on the thankless task, in their short letters to Commentary, of trying to expose the many errors and confusions in Berlinski’s article, complaining as they labored that there were just too many to deal with in short compass. And as this present volume attests, the creationists (or “Intelligent Design theorists”) still don’t get the joke. Bravo Berlinski, you’ve made fools of quite a roster!

        Berlinski replies to Daniel C. Dennett:

        Daniel C. Dennett is under the curious impression that the best rejoinder to criticism is a robust display of personal vulgarity. Nothing in his letter merits a response. Still, one general point deserves attention. Both Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins have fashioned their reputations as defenders of a Darwinian orthodoxy. Their letters convey the impression of men who expect never to encounter criticism and are unprepared to deal with it. This strikes me as a deeply unhealthy state of affairs. Ordinary men and women are suspicious of Darwin’s theory; Dennett and Dawkins hardly go far here in persuading them that their intellectual anxieties are in any way misplaced.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Actually, Dennett wasn’t at all vulgar; he was simply mocking Berlinski in lieu of actually responding to his claims (except to cite various of Berlinski’s sources as being already discredited). McInerney in Being Logical cites this sort of mockery as logical fallacy 20.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Timothy, I think you’re being pedantic. Dennett’s response was one of dripping condescension, dismissal, and the usual bit of “assassinate the character rather than deal with the arguments.”

            If all that isn’t vulgar, I don’t know what is. I think Berlinksi was right to characterize it in that way, although there would be others words that could apply.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              Well, I think of vulgar (which comes from being “common”) as trashy rather than snide. I certainly wasn’t defending Dennett.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                Perhaps to Berlinski — and I heartily sympathize — Dennett’s truly cruddy response regarding an important and interesting question was “vulgar” to the whole idea of science and public discourse.

                For what it’s worth, the first dictionary entry I have for “vulgar” says: “lacking sophistication or good taste.” It also includes the synonyms of “crude,” “rude,” and “coarse.” I found Dennett to be all three as he went for character assassination rather than dealing with the substance of Berlinki’s argument. As Berlinki said, “Their letters convey the impression of men who expect never to encounter criticism and are unprepared to deal with it. This strikes me as a deeply unhealthy state of affairs.”

                Vulgarians, in my book.

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