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Dembski: "Frank Beckwith Finally Disowns ID"

I just returned home from a speaking engagement at the University of St. Thomas and found this headline on Bill Dembski's blog: "Frank Beckwith Finally Disowns ID."

It's an odd way to characterize a disagreement between critics of philosophical materialism over how best to approach the relationship between science, theology, and philosophy. I was under the impression that this was an open question over which Christians of good will could disagree.

I have no idea what it means to "disown ID," as if it were a prodigal son or unfaithful spouse. Since I never "owned" ID, I'm not sure how I can "disown" it.

Also on Dembski's blog are these ugly comments by Denyse O'Leary:

Honestly, Beckwith disowning ID reminds me of a guy divorcing his wife ten years after she’s run off with the plumber. The question isn’t “Why, Frankie, why?” but “Why, frankly, why?”.

Last I heard from Beckwith, he was defending John Lilley’s scorched earth campaign against the academic deans at Baylor (deans 1, scorched earth 0, as I recall - even at dysfunctional Baylor, there is some stuff you just can’t do).

My take is that some philosophy types will always hate ID because it asserts the priority of evidence over theory.

Ignoring the tasteless infidelity illustration, Denyse is simply mistaken that I defended injustice in the case of the unprincipled actions of Dr. Lilley. What I actually did suggest to Bill and Denyse is modesty and restraint prior to the acquisition of all the facts. To get a feel for my comments at the time, read Densye's blog entry which is followed by comments by me, Bill, Denyse, and my Baylor colleague Alexander Pruss.

Frankly, it is just plain weird to think of questioning ID and its relationship to the Christian worldview as some kind of flirtation with apostacy, as Bill and Denyse seem to be doing.

When the Santa Clara Law Review article is available, I will post a link to it.

Comments (8)

I don't like seeing these things turn personal. I'd certainly rather keep this on a philosophical plain. As you know, Frank, I disagree with you on the philosophical point (at least I think I do), and we're going at it hammer and tongs in the other thread on whether you can be an ID-er and a neo-Thomist both :-), but I hope all the personality stuff can be kept out of it on every possible side. I'm sorry to see Bill try to make the whole thing dramatic. The older I get the less drama I like in life and the more philosophy. Perhaps this is laziness, but I like to think it's wisdom. :-)

Thanks Lydia.

I think when you read the article you will see that I am respectful to ID and acknowledge that its advocates raise important questions. In fact, a portion of the article is critical of the opinion of Judge Jones in the Kitzmiller case.

And, as I've written in my articles and book on this subject, there is no one "ID theory." There is a actually a cluster of issues raised by ID, including but not limited to questions about the nature of science and the nature of rationality. My view is that tying the entire case for final causes in nature to the explanatory filter, irreducible complexity, and critiquing evolution is a big mistake. For when one counters these cases with plausible, but not defeasible, objections, people may think that the case for teleology has been damaged. Look, I want everyone to give their best arguments, and I have no patience for the metaphysical exclusionary rule that one finds passive-aggressively enforced by the thought-police in today's university.

Having said that, not everyone who objects to ID or raises serious philosophical and theological questions about it--as Bill, Denyse, and their blog commentators would like you to believe--are useful idiots of the Darwinian mafia.

I agree with what Lydia says here 100%. Which is nice, because I always prefer agreeing with Lydia, for whom I have, as always, nothing but the highest respect. I know that a hammer-and-tongs engagement with her is always purely philosophical and not personal -- and always stimulating and worthwhile (if exhausting)!

Lydia, just so you know there are no hard feelings about our heated exchange on the other post, I'm going to have an extra martini tonight, in your honor. And so you don't feel left out, Frank, I'm gonna do the same for you.

(Hey, anyone else out there I need to "give props" to? Just let me know!)

On the compatibility between Thomism and ID, the answer is surely positive. Thus, one might think that the irreducible complexity types of arguments provide a strong probabilistic case for design and that the existence of teleology provides a sound deductive argument for a first cause who is also a final cause. The questions of whether the two kinds of arguments are good are to some extent independent. I say "to some extent" because in the end, to make any sense of specified or irreducible complexity, one probably needs something like a notion of proper function, which is a teleological notion.

It's amazing how uncharitable we are, even among our own. Comments seen on the other blog like, "Well I used to respect Beckwith but that's over now," all because of a disagreement on one (non-essential) position?

I can't say I agree with Frank on this, though to be fair, I cannot say that I understand it, either. What did interest me originally was his work speaking out for the unborn. If I follow the trend of others, I am supposed to just throw that all out the window?

That saddens me.

Alex, I appreciate your comment tremendously. I'm planning a "grand wrap-up" comment on the other thread on that topic for later today, after which I will shut up on that topic (where I've probably said more than enough) and go on to a totally different post I'm working on. But thanks!

I shd. say to be fair to Bill Dembski that I wrote my original comment before reading his post. I find it hard to admit this, because I don't like to admit being careless like that, but honesty compels. I still think the title was melodramatic, but the post itself wasn't nasty. Denyse's analogy was _uncalled for and inappropriate_, however.

Well, I think Dembski missed Frank's point here. Frank writes:

My point is to provide my reader with an intellectually respectable way to reject Dawkinsian atheism without having to embrace ID.
and Dembski replies:
Why not simply present an intellectually respectable way to reject Dawkinsian [atheism] --period? Why does he have to put his own preferred method of combating Dawkins explicitly in opposition to ID? ...
As written, Frank's words don't say that Thomistic methods of natural theology are in opposition to ID, but rather that there are respectable ways to reject Dawkinsian atheism without depending on ID.

I have to take Frank's side on that exchange.

Whether ID stands or falls is really irrelevant to natural theology more generally. ID is neither necessary nor sufficient to establish theism or to reject Dawkinsian atheism; though it certainly, in its own right, undermines Dawkinsian atheism. IOW, there are other, ID-independent ways to accomplish both of those things, and indeed those other, independent ways are arguably better (though for certain audiences perhaps not as effective in terms of persuasion).

But none of that implies that ID is not valuable as a reductio ad absurdam of methodological naturalism, and it certainly doesn't mean that ID is, you know, false or invalid.

Zippy's spot on. His interpretation is correct. Dembski missed my point.

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