Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Of Gods and Gaps

In 1770, in Systéme de la Nature, Paul Heinrich Dietrich, Baron von Holbach wrote:

"If a faithful account was rendered of Man's ideas upon Divinity, he would be obliged to acknowledge, that for the most part the word "gods" has been used to express the concealed, remote, unknown causes of the effects he witnessed; that he applies this term when the spring of the natural, the source of known causes ceases to be visible: as soon as he loses the thread of these causes, or as soon as his mind can no longer follow the chain, he solves the difficulty, terminates his research, by ascribing it to his gods...When, therefore, he ascribes to his gods the production of some phenomenon...does he, in fact, do anything more than substitute for the darkness of his own mind, a sound to which he has been accustomed to listen with reverential awe?"

Therein, we have one of the first true definitions of the God of the Gaps that still pervades our thought 236 years later. In fact, this God of the Gaps argument is the basis for the pseudoscientific fraud that is Intelligent design. Unable to grasp the concept that in a certain sense evolution is agglutinative, with seemingly disparate biological elements merging in symbiotic relationships with other elements to form something new that is far greater and far more functional than the sum of its parts, IDists look backwards from the “completed” form and are incapable of discerning any way in which random mutations and combinations could have produced the level of complexity we see today. Note too, that I have put “complete” in quotes as any assumption that the current version of the biological mechanism being studied is the final version, the ne plus ultra, merely verifies a staggering intellectual blindness and an absolute inability to apprehend even the fundamentals of evolution.

Having thus failed in their comprehension they turn from scientific research and substitute in its place pseudoscientific ephemera to ascribe that which they cannot grasp to their gods. Michael Behe formulates his simplistic concept of irreducible complexity, which in essence states that if one part of an item he has declared to be irreducibly complex is removed the item fails. William Dembski, working backwards using some rather questionable mathematics delivers his “theory” of specified complexity. In any case, the methodologies and results are the same: “I shall prove, by eschewing the scientific method, that what we see had to have been designed by God, because any other answer is beyond my ken.”

That none of Behe’s examples has withstood the scrutiny of science is not so much noteworthy as it was inevitable: bad science, especially that which has a large dose of supernatural nonsense thrown in, is always disproven, and Dembski’s specified complexity has fared no better. Although he has stated that his theorem will work in myriad other fields, he has yet to prove this to be the case, while others have shown his claim to be blatantly false. In addition, as a product of working backwards in order to prove his conclusion (a method that is anathema to science), he has developed a process that is eliminative, i.e., it carefully eliminates any possibilities other than design, and is thus guaranteed to support his foregone conclusion that life must have been designed. And while Behe and Dembski pay lip service to the notion that Intelligent Design does not name the designer, and that the designer(s) might even have been aliens – a proposition that is breathtaking in its inanity – their voluminous quotes (especially on the part of Dembski the theologian) prove otherwise.

Behe and Dembski are in essence merely parroting Anselm’s ontological argument. They have in effect ascribed to their god the production of the phenomenon of life, substituting for the darkness of their own minds a sound to which they have been accustomed to listen with reverential awe.

Out of ignorance man invented the gods; now, comfortable in his ignorance, he has forgotten that he invented them.


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