Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The First Coming of William Dembski

Last night William Dembski came to the Univ of Okla to speak on a topic close to "Is Atheism Still A Fulfilling Option?" in specific (and Intelligent Design in general) at a large auditorium on campus. My wife Aubrey and I went to see the goings-on, but by the time we got there, they were turning people away. Too bad for us. Outside the doors in the hallway, the cacophony was a bit disorienting. Many of my friends were present as were many people arguing. I caught sight of a Professor Emeritus of Zoo arguing in a circle of younger people. And I met two young women who were representing the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which I recognised as a rhetorical device often used by Internet atheists, and which my friend Kyle recognised as equivalent to the Invisible Space Monkey illustration he used to employ during his atheist days.
Having been asked to move out of the hallway, we adjourned to the outside staircase. The FSM twosome began to read from their Gospel of the FSM book, which was a new one on me.
It was really cute, actually - the Pastafarians (their word) would say things like this:

  • "The FSM has revealed to us that he created the universe, in 3 slightly hungover days."

  • "The FSM touched me with his noodly appendage."

  • "Ramen!" (as opposed to "Amen" - this one had me laughing)

  • "The FSM has appeared multiple times in history."

Etc. It was actually pretty funny - I have to commend Kacy and Lindsey for staying in character for much of their presentation. I began to press them for more details, recalling well a recent conversation on the same subject.
You see, this whole FSM thing starts off well, has some promise, but once the Pastafarian must answer questions about her "deity", the position starts to crumble. Go figure. Anyway, once I began to ask them about whether the FSM grounds reality and logic, their position began to disintegrate into just another flavor of Postmodernism. As if I haven't seen that 1000 times before. So I was a little disappointed but we gamely continued and I pointed out at least 3 self-refuting statements that they made, such as "there is no objective truth" (which is about as obvious as they come), "we can be sure of no history whatsoever", and "we can have no confidence that our words match reality".
The convo was sidetracked when a very courteous African-American gentleman who was himself probably a Christian began to press them about their tangential statement on slavery and oppression. It was kind of cool actually to see him examining these white girls on their bad politics, but I was a little agitated b/c I wanted to get back to the yet more central issue, that of the Gospel. I eventually got my chance and asked them what their problem with Jesus Christ was. After some wrangling, they threw out counterexamples of Gandhi (sacrifice for his people) and jihadists (who go willingly to death for their people). The Gandhi example is fraught with problems, but even more so the jihadist example. Almost incredulous, I said, "Does it not stick in your heart that you equate Jesus Christ, Who left heaven behind to come be unjustly executed at the hands of evil people, all of whom He wanted to save, Who did so without killing anyone but by sacrificing Himself, with jihadists who killed 1000s of innocent people to serve a dubious cause?"
Apparently it did not. They soon after, however, departed the premises, looking none too pleased. Hopefully their displeasure had to do with their inability to answer any fundamental questions well.

Later we talked with a "Discordist," who believes that all is chaos besides the order we impose. Kyle began to break his position down (with ease) but we started to see people leaving the auditorium so we went to sit in the balcony, after about 10 minutes had elapsed in the Q&A session.
Dembski was alone at a podium stage right with a laptop and a bottle of water, taking questions from the long line of hostile askers.
The questions were all challenges with one exception, a guy who (rightly, and unpopularly) questioned the open-mindedness of the majority of the students present. His question was met with jeers and a "Shut up!" from the middle of the auditorium. Exactly.
In general, Dembski controlled the exchanges well. He is not an imposing figure but definitely has a steely composure, difficult to ruffle even when the crowd thought a good point had been made. He made lots of jabs at the establishment, sardonically exhorting his questioners to go write up their findings and get NSF funding to do so, they'd have no problem, they are headed for a great career to be sure. I thought those were funny.
One of my favorite moments occurred when a questioner brought up the example of a motorcycle: "We know that this is designed, and yet it evolved!" At this point, a murmur ran thru the crowd and my friends and I in the back began to call out, "Intelligence! Design!" The irony was probably lost on the questioner, but that sort of stuff cracks me up.
The most difficult moment was when a biology prof specifically challenged the irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum example. Dembski and he had a long argument over the value of the example, and the prof insisted that he knew 4 intermediate evolutionary steps off the top of his head. Dembski apparently saw little reason to go back and rework his math after this challenge, and the question of "numbers" and genetics was a little lost on me. To me, the larger point is that such intermediate steps are improbable and dumb to think about; a "just-so story", as Dembski put it. These 2ndary structures are not geared towards anythg close to a flagellum, but evolutionists insist they evolve into such a useful structure as that. And during the steps in between THOSE steps, what would be the pathway? At what point is the acid motor that does the one function "unplugged" from the one function to be "plugged" into the flagellar motor? At what point does the cilium become elongated enough to qualify as a flagellum? What happened in between?

The Q&A session was probably 110 minutes or so, and was mostly interesting, though many of the questions were silly. One grad student complained of being mistreated on Dembski's blog. Welcome to the blogosphere, I'd say. Why not put your paper in a peer-reviewed journal and cry into your NSF-funded beer? The motorcycle example. Questions about Dembski's faith and therefore-obvious ulterior motive (which he candidly admitted and dealt with well).

Afterwards, I talked to a college student who was claiming he was Jesus Christ, come again. I lost patience with him when he refused to do any exegesis of the Bible and when he kept saying "No, I'm just deluding you to THINK that with my supernatural power" when challenged about the fact that not every knee had bowed, that there had been no judgment, that people were not yet in heaven or hell, that the world was not changed, that no one had observed him return, etc, clearly differentiating himself from the Jesus of the NT. But later he identified himself (no longer in character) as an empiricist. With a couple of my new friends present, I TAG-ed him, asking to provide evidence for his view that evidence is the best way to discover truth. I don't think he followed me b/c he kept accusing ME of being circular in demanding evidence; I kept telling him, "No, it's YOU who are circular; I'm acting as an empiricist right now and seeing the flaws!" His name is Forest - I'll be praying for him, Kacy, and Lindsey.

Overall, a fun time was had. Even though I'm really sleepy today.


arensb said...

His name is Forest - I'll be praying for him, Kacy, and Lindsey.

Out of curiosity, what do you expect will happen as a result of your prayers?

Rhology said...

Smart-aleck answer: God's will.

I don't really EXPECT anythg besides my own will aligning with God's. But I hope and pray Forrest (probably has 2 r's) will repent and ask Jesus for mercy, Who will grant it to all who ask.

Kyle said...

I give rhology the Shakespeare's Wit Award for his short, crisp, answer. "Brevity is the soul of wit" W. Shakespeare

I'm giving the longer, less witty, version:

I am praying for them also. God reveals himself through the drawing of the Holy Spirit. He allows us a position as a laborer in his vineyard and we request the vine owner to ready the soil so the crops will grow and be ready for harvest. This is a metaphor for how the Holy Spirit operates in the human heart to change their rebellion into repentance. He was going to do his will anyway, but we would have missed out on the opportunity to obey and gain a sense of participation and heavenly reward. When someone comes to Christ, we gain an eternal friend in Heaven so we get a share in their joy since we participated with God in leading them to Christ.