Saturday, September 3, 2005

Stages of Grief

William Dembski traces the steps of a scientific revolution and finds them very much the same as the stages of grief. When a person is suddenly beset by tragedy he first goes through a time of denial followed by anger, then bargaining with God, depression and, finally, resignation.

We are witnessing such a transition today in the contest between ID and materialistic Darwinism, and the materialists are deep into the anger stage. Thomas Kuhn, in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions, wrote that a revolution is rarely completed by the older generation of scientists. They have devoted too much of their lives and reputations to the old theory to give it up. Like Kuhn, Dembski believes that the final stage will never be reached by the present generation of materialists but will be left to a younger cadre of thinkers who are not so heavily invested in the materialism of their predecessors.

It's an interesting read.

On Playing Politics With Tragedy

My friend Byron Borger, who is diligent in calling me to account whenever he thinks I need it (which is frequently), has a response to my recent post about how many of president Bush's critics are using the calamity in New Orleans to score political points. Byron's criticism can be found by clicking on the Feedback button.

My reply is here:


You said in your e-mail that: should have some shame about violating your usual high regard for honesty. To put it bluntly, you do not know what drives, purely, the motives of anyone who has blamed the current Administration for inadequate policies and action. How do you know that such concerns are to gain "political advantage."?? I think this is a hunch on your part, and not all "provable" let alone related to "objective facts on the ground" (whatever that means.)*

Why not just say that you disagree with those who tend to think that policies to cut funding have been wrong, that failure to send help promptly has been a mistake. You can say that. But to ascribe the worst of partisan motives to those believe these things, and to say that their deeply held convictions are shameful just doesn't make a bit of sense to me. Why do you presume something corrupt, or insincere, as if critics don't really care about this huge human suffering, but only want to sound off against Bush?

The media and the Dems and even some Republicans are faulting the administration for the apparent delay in getting order restored to the city. The charge seems to me to be premature, excessive, and focussed on Bush rather than FEMA and thus suspicious. Fair-minded people would be more hesitant to point fingers until the facts are in as to why it took five days to get the National Guard into the city. Questions need to be answered like whose task is it to do disaster planning? How adequate were the plans that were in place and how well executed were they? Whose decision is it to request troops? The federal response was slow compared to what? How easy is it to get troops federalized, mobilized and sent into a flood zone? That people are so quick to assume that it's all Bush's responsibility and to fault him without knowing the answers to any of these questions is more than just unwise. It suggests that there are political motives behind the charges. Imagine that Clinton were still president and the same events unfolded. Do you think these same people would have been as critical of him? I don't.

Bush has been accused of everything from dawdling at the ranch (Mayor Nagin) to racism (Rep.Elijah Cummings), to lacking the manpower to handle the crisis because he has it foolishly tied up in Iraq (Al Sharpton), and yet no one knows at this point where the breakdowns in the chain of responsibility occured or why. Would these people have said these kinds of things about Clinton? I honestly don't think any of them would, and if I'm right, then to say them about Bush suggests a purely partisan intent and a disregard for any knowledge of relevant facts.

You're right that I can't prove that conclusion in a legal sense, but it's more than just a hunch.

Bush has been accused of having failed to grant the Army Corps of Engineers the amount of money they requested to upgrade the levees as if this is proof of his culpability(see here, for example). This criticism has been made by leftists who generally disdain the corps of engineers for their environmental depradations and would be happy to see them disappear altogether. Doesn't that strike you as a little odd? Doesn't it seem irresponsible to just accept the charge at face value without asking why the funds were denied? Should we just give the corps whatever money it asks for whenever it asks for it? Even if their budgets had been approved why should we think that the work would have been completed by now? It sometimes takes years just to get such projects planned out and moving. In short, was the decision to shave the corps' funding request understandable and was the difference between the amount requested and the amount actually granted really a factor in the failure of the levees after Katrina? How can anyone start pointing fingers until these questions are answered unless they're just trying to score cheap political points?

Consider your own words in a paragraph from your e-mail:

I am not sure if you meant that as a jab, but his [Mayor Nagin's] comments in this story didn't strike me as excessive. Not sure about that picture. Wonder why he couldn't get to them? Maybe they were surrounded by deeper water. Maybe he couldn't get them across one of the bridges. Maybe the roads were so jammed with outgoing evacuees that it would have been unhelpful to drive the buses away, only to find out you needed to get them back. (It seems, although I don't know what happened 24 hours before) that they still hoped against hope and didn't act decisively themselves until it was too late. I suppose they didn't count on that levee breaking. Anyway, I just don't know what the bus picture comment was to imply, but again it seems unfair.

You try here to give Mayor Nagin every benefit of the doubt, as well you should, but I think that that same fair-mindedness should be extended also to governor Blanco and the president. I have heard very little criticism of Nagin or Blanco, both democrats, but it's been heaped on Bush and Mississippi governor Haley Barbor (both Republicans). Why? Might there not have been reasons why Bush's response, like Nagin's, was not as quick as some think it should have been? Why should Bush's critics not be expected to give him the same benefit of the doubt as you give Nagin? That Bush is denied that benefit suggests to me that a significant number of his critics see a political opportunity to discredit him in this calamity and they don't want to pass it up.

You write that:

Anybody anywhere who criticizes the President, it seems, you insist are hateful, shameful and with nefarious motives.

This is untrue and unfair. I have myself criticized the president in Viewpoint on a number of occasions and have cited the criticisms of others with which I disagreed, but which I thought were done respectfully and sincerely. All I ask from his opponents is the same fairness you ask for Mayor Nagin. If they don't give it then I have to ask why not. If that means impugning their motives then maybe they need to be impugned.

Parenthetically, I want to add that your words above (to ascribe the worst of partisan motives to those believe these things, and to say that their deeply held convictions are shameful just doesn't make a bit of sense to me. Why do you presume something corrupt, or insincere, as if critics don't really care about this huge human suffering, but only want to sound off against Bush?) are irrelevant to my post. I didn't criticize anyone for holding views about the role of government similar to your own. I criticized people for throwing around contemptible allegations without having yet any understanding of what happened. I criticized them for being unwilling to extend the same fairness to Republicans that would be, and is, granted by them to Democrats. I criticized them for crass political opportunism in the wake of tragedy.

Decent observers who hold views like yours are not taking advantage of the emotions and suffering of those trapped and victimized by Katrina to play the blame game and to call Bush incompetent and racist. If the facts warrant it later then that will be different. As of now, however, decent people should, and will, withhold judgment on where the fault lies.

Unfortunately, the people we're hearing most from on the left are too often like the person you mentioned from Air America:

"The Anchoress" who quoted an Air America person who said that Bush may enjoy seeing poor people of blue states suffer and therefore won't rescue them. I don't know how, but I will reply to that.

You might include in your reply that the individual who made that statement ought to get his/her facts right before sounding off so that he/she doesn't appear so dumb. Louisiana is a red state. It voted for Bush.



Dennett's Sub-Optimal Argument

Darwinian atheistic philosopher Daniel Dennett of Tufts University offers up an editorial in last Sunday's New York Times in which he probably says more than some of his anti-ID allies would have liked.

For instance, one of the claims we hear from evolutionists in the battle over the teaching of ID is that there's no reason why one can't be both an evolutionist as well as a religious believer. Darwinism is not hostile to theism, we are assured, but then Dennett lets the cat out of the bag:

[N]atural selection, by executing God's traditional task of designing and creating all creatures great and small, also seems to deny one of the best reasons we have for believing in God.

True, you can still believe in God and accept evolution, Dennett informs us, but your belief in God is plainly irrational. In other words, he suggests, Darwinism renders the existence of God highly implausible and unlikely.

In his column, the Tufts philosopher accuses Intelligent Design advocates of perpetrating an "ingenious hoax" which accusation is, of course, a slander. It entails that ID scientists and philosophers know full well that intelligence was not at work in the development of life, but nonetheless deliberately deceived, and continue to deliberately deceive, the gullible masses into believing it was. This is to impute reprehensible behavior and motives to people in the ID camp, and unless Dennett can back his allegation up with some justification he ought to apologize. His reckless and insulting charge is reminiscient of Richard Dawkins' asinine claim that anyone who denies evolution is either "ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked-but I'd rather not consider that)."

Amusingly, having called ID a hoax, Dennett implies that the assurance we have of the truth of the Darwinian doctrine that natural processes are sufficient by themselves to account for the emergence of all living things is comparable to the assurance we have of the truth of both quantum physics and relativity theory.

Both quantum physics and relativity theory have been tested and confirmed many times. When has the claim that mechanistic forces are adequate by themselves to create biological information ever been tested, much less confirmed? How could it even be tested? Dennett's doctrine is a piece of metaphysical speculation, not science and his claim that it enjoys the same degree of confirmation as the theories of physics is risible.

Dennett also finds himself unable to talk about biological structures and processes without resorting to the vocabulary of purpose and intelligence that he disdains, which is an interesting admission in itself. He sprinkles his essay with terms and phrases like:

"the power to generate breathtakingly ingenious designs"; "Brilliant as the design of the eye is"; "the idea that natural selection has the power to generate such sophisticated designs is deeply counterintuitive"; "Evolution is cleverer than you are"; "When evolutionists like Crick marvel at the cleverness of the process of natural selection"; "The designs found in nature are nothing short of brilliant", etc.

Dennett would deny any telic intent in these phrases, of course, but the fact remains that brilliance and cleverness are attributes of minds, not purposeless forces. That he feels constrained to use those words to describe biological phenomena does not help him make the case that these phenomena were not intentionally designed by an intelligent mind.

He completely misses the point when he writes that:

Indeed, no intelligent design hypothesis has even been ventured as a rival explanation of any biological phenomenon. This might seem surprising to people who think that intelligent design competes directly with the hypothesis of non-intelligent design by natural selection. But saying, as intelligent design proponents do, "You haven't explained everything yet," is not a competing hypothesis. Evolutionary biology certainly hasn't explained everything that perplexes biologists. But intelligent design hasn't yet tried to explain anything.

Surely Professor Dennett doesn't think that ID needs to explain how structures like the bacterial flagellum were designed. A tourist need not have any idea how Mt. Rushmore came into existence in order to conclude that it is the product of intelligent agency. A detective need not have any idea how a crime was committed in order to know that it was an intentional act and not an accident. The role of ID is not to explain, but to identify, intelligent purpose in biological structures.

Nor do ID'ers argue that because evolutionists haven't explained everything yet that therefore ID is true. They argue that some things haven't been explained in terms of purely natural mechanism because any such explanation that could be offered is so improbable and implausible as to render it literally incredible. They argue that it is only an apriori commitment to material explanations that prevents researchers from admitting that biological sytems and structures certainly appear to bear the impress of intelligent input in their manufacture.

Finally, in his quest to strike a fatal blow to ID he stumbles over a few hoary myths left over from the 1950s. He claims for example that:

Brilliant as the design of the eye is, it betrays its origin with a tell-tale flaw: the retina is inside out. The nerve fibers that carry the signals from the eye's rods and cones (which sense light and color) lie on top of them, and have to plunge through a large hole in the retina to get to the brain, creating the blind spot. No intelligent designer would put such a clumsy arrangement in a camcorder, and this is just one of hundreds of accidents frozen in evolutionary history that confirm the mindlessness of the historical process.

Well, no. Michael Denton lays out the physiological rationale for the wiring of the eye's nervous system in a 1999 article that can be found here. It turns out that the eye's neural wiring itself manifests an extraordinary bit of engineering and design. Dennett will have to come up with another "accident" if he's going to use sub-optimal designs as an argument against ID.

Dennett's editorial may be compelling to those readers who may be eager to be persuaded, but as a piece of convincing argumentation it's pretty lame. It suffers itself from an intellectual sub-optimality analogous to the "accidents" he cites against the existence of an intelligent designer. There's much additional criticism of Dennett's essay here.