Wednesday 11 May 2011

A telling telic misapprehension in Dembski & Licona's Evidence for God

The title of chapter 14 of Dembski & Licona's Evidence for God makes me wonder about the currency of it: "Debunking the Scopes 'Monkey Trial' Stereotype". The Scopes "monkey trial" was way back in 1926. It was dramatised in the black and white film Inherit the Wind. (A more recent BBC Radio drama — based on court transcripts — is available for download from RapidShare.)

The thrust of Edward Sisson's essay is that it's wrong to insist that the scientific consensus about evolution be taught to children, because in 1926 scientific consensus included the existence of the ether and the usefulness of eugenics. But if there's little actual controversy about a theory such as the ether (as there wasn't until science showed that the theory was false — indeed numerous experiments around the time of the trial were already spreading doubts about the ether's existence), how else should we determine what's to be taught in schools? Certainly not by reference to scripture — especially in the US where the teaching of religion is unconstitutional. Where there is genuine controversy it's legitimate to expose children to competing theories, but school science lessons should teach accepted science. The overwhelming scientific consensus, in 1926 as now, is that Darwinian evolution explains the way life came to be the way it is on this planet. Darwinian evolution, therefore, is what should be taught in schools.

But be that as it may, this chapter appears to be an unsubstantiated bleat for creationism, while at the same time offering no evidence for God, which is what Dembski & Licona's book is supposed to be about.

Towards the end of his chapter, Sisson clearly illustrates the usual creationist misunderstanding of evolution:
Indeed, Darwinians, who claim that all of life is motivated by an irresistible drive for survival, which necessarily means a drive for power, are poorly positioned to claim a special exemption from the very force they say rules life. (pp. 79-80)
Note the use of motivated, irresistible drive, drive for power, and force. These words impute intention — a telic force — when in fact Darwinian natural selection is nothing of the kind. There is no force, no drive, no motivation. It just happens. It's simply the way things occur in a system comprised of organisms capable of reproducing themselves, while at the same time being susceptible to reproduction errors that make them more or less suited to their environment. Darwinian evolution occurs that way because it can do no other.