The rhetoric of argument

From: Robert Schneider (
Date: Sat Sep 07 2002 - 17:20:24 EDT

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    In his posted response, which Moorad kindly made available to us all on =
    the list, William Dembski writes:

    "Howard Van Till's review of my book No Free Lunch exemplifies=20
    perfectly why theistic evolution remains intelligent design's most=20
    implacable foe. Not only does theistic evolution sign off on the=20
    naturalism that pervades so much of contemporary science, but it=20
    justifies that naturalism theologically -- as though it were unworthy=20
    of God to create by any means other than an evolutionary process that=20
    carefully conceals God's tracks."

         As a follow-up to my recent posting on the rhetorical strategies of =
    ID proponents, I think this opening paragraph of Dembski's response to =
    Howard's critique of "NFL" exmplifies the rhetorical assult against the =
    notion that creation and evolution go together that ID proponents (and =
    especially YEC proponents) regularly use. In the first sentence, the =
    term "theistic evolution," which is used regularly to characterize =
    thinkers like Van Till, downplays the fact that they hold a theology of =
    _creation_, that they are seeking to articulate a notion of divine =
    action in creation, whatever theological model they are articulating. =20

         I don't know if Howard would agree that his opposition to ID is =
    "implacable." I would say that at least since the "First Things" debate =
    with Johnson in 1993, he has been at it for nearly a decade, and has =
    remained unconvinced of the various permutations of ID arguments; in =
    that respect his opposition has been "relentless," one of the meanings =
    of "implacable," one with a less negative connotation.

         In the second sentence Dembski uses the word "naturalism" without =
    qualification, another rhetorical technique of ID proponents. If you've =
    read enough of their literature and in particularly Dembski's work, then =
    you might assume that Dembski is using the term to mean what he =
    regularly says it means. Howard has taken pains certainly since that =
    1993 debate with Johnson to make clear that he accepts, as do the vast =
    majority of scientists, "methodological naturalism" as the =
    epistemological stance under which science is done, and he has also =
    taken pains to point out the distinction between methodological =
    naturalism and a metaphysical naturalism that grants existence to =
    nothing outside of the empirically discernable. However, ID proponents =
    refuse (a word Dembski uses to characterize portions of Howard's =
    argument) to grant this distinction. Perhaps I am being unfair to =
    Dembski here, but it seems to me that to imply that someone like Howard =
    "justifies that naturalism theologically" insinuates what people like =
    Johnson say quite bluntly, that we who accept evolution as the best =
    current scientific explanation for the way God's creation emerges over =
    time, have capitulated to the atheistic philosophical materialism that, =
    in their view, underlies modern science. (Recall that Johnson labeled =
    "methodological naturalism" as "methodological atheism.") =20

         The rest of the sentence--"as though it were unworthy of God to =
    create by any means other than an evolutionary process that carefully =
    conceals God's tracks"--is a fine piece of polemic. It insinuates the =
    hubris of assuming what are or are not worthy ways of God to create. =
    And its concluding phrase expresses ID's own assumption that God's =
    tracks are there to find. The question is, are they there to find =
    theologically or are they there to find scientifically, or both? This =
    writer has no trouble affirming by faith that "the heavens declare the =
    glory of God and the firmament shows God's handiwork;" I accept the =
    theological dictum, as early as Tertullian, that God is known through =
    his works as well as through his Word; and I love Augustine's statement =
    that the creation is "God's love song" (carmen dei). But I would like =
    ID proponents to offer more than logical and philosophical =
    argumentation, however admirable the effort and worthy of careful =
    responses yea or nay; I await positive scientific, empirical evidence =
    that God's tracks are there for the _scientist_ to discern.=20

         I take ID seriously, and proponents like William Dembski, whom I =
    respect, are most intelligent designers of their own hypotheses, and =
    their work deserves the kind of careful consideration that opponents =
    like Howard have given it. I hope they will add some convincing science =
    to their philosophy.=20

    Bob Schneider

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