Sunday, July 11, 2004

The View From New Zealand Here's a review of William Dembski's book The Design Revolution. It appeared at the webiste of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand. It's author, Alistair McBride, is described as a minister with training in chemistry. The review is decidedly lukewarm, to put it kindly:

For me the book is characterised by a great deal of polemic and special pleading which makes it difficult to tread a path through the argumentation.

His real target is something he calls Darwinism. As I read the chapter “The Only Game in Town” I found he tries to narrow the debate down to a particular understanding of what Darwin wrote. “Darwin’s claim to fame was to argue that natural forces, lacking any purposiveness or prevision of future possibilities, likewise have the power to choose via natural selection.”(p. 263)

The introduction of the phrase “power to choose” in my view anthropomorphises “natural forces.” Choice, as I understands it, is exercised by an agent able to comprehend the differences between options offered. Here one can get lost in the argumentation and many others have contributed to the debate, but it drove me back to the original On the Origin of the Species. Darwin in his chapters on Natural Selection and the Laws of Variation does not make or infer such claims. In fact Darwin tries to eschew the place of “chance”, explaining that it serves to acknowledge our ignorance. From my reading, the branch of evolutionary biology has come to see that “natural selection” plays only a part in the overall scheme of the theory of evolution and to argue solely against a narrowly defined Darwinist position obfuscates the issues being discussed in the wider scientific community.

One of the key issues is the understanding of how he approaches Intelligent Design. It is, for him, the science that studies signs of intelligence. His fundamental claim is “there are natural systems that cannot be adequately explained in terms of undirected natural forces and that exhibit features which in any other circumstance we would attribute to intelligence.” (P.27)

In the end the argument does not convince me because we are left with a process which can have all the steps measurable or observable except one, the one where “information/design” is put in. That appears to be outside of measurable scientific method, and requires in essence some form of a “leap of faith” which is no different from some of the creationist theories or the extraterrestrial theories about.

I was also disappointed to see the paucity of British theologian-scientists like Polkinghorne and Peacockes or the Australian Charles Birch who have made significant contributions to the debate being totally ignored.