Thursday, January 12, 2006

More About The Bethell/Derbyshire Debate

Before I interact further with the comments posted by John Derbyshire and Tom Bethell, I want to explain why I think this exchange is significant. National Review influences a lot of people who, in turn, influence many other lives (Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, etc.). The Corner, the section of the web site where Derbyshire has been making his misleading claims about creation and evolution, is popular and influential. For a long time, Derbyshire and some other participants in The Corner have been making a lot of misleading claims on issues related to creation and evolution, and little has been done by any of the other participants to challenge them. National Review has posted some articles by intelligent design proponents outside of The Corner, but I doubt that they're read by as many people as read The Corner.

At the time I'm writing, John Derbyshire has posted a response to Tom Bethell, and Bethell has posted what appears to be the first in a series of further replies. I would expect Bethell's next responses to be up soon, so my response to Derbyshire will be brief. Bethell has made some good points, and I expect him to continue to do well.

Derbyshire begins his response by referring to Bethell's "rather snotty tone", but goes on to say that "I reread my Corner post, and it seemed to me that I had been a bit snotty myself". I hope that Derbyshire will change his approach, but he's been behaving that way for a long time on issues of creation and evolution. And the remainder of his reply to Bethell suggests that not much has changed yet. Tom Bethell has a good opportunity to change things, though, by demonstrating Derbyshire's errors in public, in a forum in which Derbyshire will be expected to read and interact with the person correcting him. I hope Bethell will make the most of this opportunity. He's done well so far, though I disagree with some elements of his approach.

Derbyshire goes on to refer to how people can accept his view of evolution, yet be religious. I doubt that Bethell meant to suggest otherwise, and Derbyshire's claim that creationists (however he's defining that term) "never" address this subject is false. It's another indication that Derbyshire doesn't know the subject well.

He writes:

"'This sure looks like it was designed by an intelligent agent, doesn't it?' may be dispositive for an I.D. proponent (it is in fact, so far as I can tell, the I.D.-ers' only 'argument'); to a real scientist, it is a challenge."

He makes the comment above in the midst of referring to how people can be deceived by stage hypnotists and how people have been wrong about a flat earth and geocentrism in the past. Notice how Derbyshire has changed the subject. The examples he's citing are instances in which we have other data that give us reason to doubt an impression we had. Bethell wasn't denying that all data should be taken into account and that we should continue asking questions even after we've reached a conclusion. Intelligent design proponents conclude that an intelligent agent is involved on the basis of evidence, and that evidence will continue to be examined and questions will continue to be asked after a conclusion of intelligent design has been reached. The same occurs in archeology and other fields of research that involve detection of intelligent design. I don't know of any proponent of intelligent design who argues that we should conclude that our first impressions are always correct, then cease doing any further research. The problem isn't that intelligent design advocates are unwilling to do further research. The problem, rather, is that we keep seeing more and more evidence of design, and materialistic explanations keep getting more and more implausible, yet people like Derbyshire want us to indefinitely suspend our judgment as we indefinitely look for materialist explanations. If such reasoning was applied to a field like archeology or SETI (Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence), those fields would never get off the ground. We couldn't even function in daily life if we applied Derbyshire's reasoning consistently.

He writes:

"It is news to me that anthropologists, paleo- or otherwise, necessarily regard human agency as having non-material sources. My guess would be that some anthropologists do, some don't."

If we don't know whether materialism is involved, and Derbyshire thinks that some anthropologists don't believe it, then how can he claim to know that science is limited to materialism, and how can he think that those anthropologists who don't believe in a materialist view of agency are true scientists?

Derbyshire also comments that human intelligent design is the only sort of design we're familiar with. He tells us:

"In any case, we know only one instance of an intelligent agency — ourselves. A single data point is not much of a basis for generalization."

Then why are scientists, including evolutionists, working in a field like SETI? The concept of intelligent agency isn't limited to humans.

There are other problems with Derbyshire's response to Bethell, but these examples I've given are sufficient to demonstrate that Derbyshire is highly unreliable on this issue. I hope that Bethell will effectively illustrate Derbyshire's errors.

In summary, Derbyshire seems to now be arguing:

1.) That intelligent agency may be materialistic.

2.) That while some scientists may view intelligent agency as non-materialistic, other scientists probably don't. In other words, Derbyshire thinks that scientists probably are divided on the issue.

3.) That we can detect human intelligent design, but not intelligent design from other sources.

But how are Derbyshire's current arguments consistent with his previous ones? They aren't. If Derbyshire isn't sure whether intelligent agency, as he calls it, is materialistic, then how can he claim to know that science limits itself to material causes? If he acknowledges that some scientists view intelligent agency as non-materialistic, then how can he deny that some scientists accept non-material causes as part of science? And if intelligent agency can be called materialistic, then will Derbyshire be willing to accept intelligent design as a materialistic theory? Furthermore, why should we think that detection of intelligent design can occur only with humans? What is it in the concept of intelligent design that inherently leads to such a conclusion? The fact that such a conclusion is helpful to materialists isn't a sufficient justification. How does Derbyshire explain SETI? Why are these scientists, including evolutionists, thinking that they can detect non-human intelligent design?