Tuesday, November 08, 2005

On the "vise," the "wedge," and creationism

I don't mind creationism. I know this comes as a bit of a shock, but I don't. For our purposes, creationism is the belief that a supernatural force or being created, designed or otherwise shaped the universe and life in it.

I don't have any broad beef with that idea. I don't necessarily buy it, but I'm not necessarily against it.

I say this because Billy Dembski has expanded on his VIse strategy (previously discussed in "Beware the simple machines"). He creates a taxonomy of "Darwinists": those who advocate philosophical materialism, those who don't discuss the impacts of religion on evolution and vice versa (practically naturalist, agnostic on philosophical naturalism), and those who are personally religious and accept evolution (practical naturalist, philosophical supernaturalist). Of this latter group (dubbed KM, for Kenneth Miller), Dembski writes that:

the aim of the interrogation is to exploit the tension between their belief in divine creation and their vehement denials that they are not creationists (note that under creationism they invariably include ID). The KM Darwinist wants to be an orthodox Darwinian and an orthodox religious believer. But being an orthodox religious believer means having a view of divine action that is at odds with Darwinian naturalism/scientific materialism and at the same time is compatible with creationism. KM Darwinists need to be pressed into admitting that their theology requires that ID be kept as a live possibility.
And this is where we go back to the definitions. Yes, theistic evolution is a sort of creationism. TEs hold that God set forces in motion and may have given some tugs and prods to the process here and there, but they do not hold that those tugs and prods are scientifically detectable. Evolution and other natural laws are the means through which God acts. God, like all supernatural things, is beyond science.

ID creationism aims to shove God inside the realm of falsifiable things so that it can all be science. But that's bad philosophy and bad theology.

My beef with creationism is less with the details of their creationist model (though YECs are demonstrably wrong, and creationist attacks on science are wrong, wrong-headed and unnecessary), but with their attempt to put religion inside of science. There is no contradiction between opposing IDC as science and believing, as a theological position, that the physical laws of the universe were designed by a supernatural intelligence.

As any good physics student knows, the vise is just an application of the screw, and the screw is just a wedge all twisted around. Similarly, Dembski's "vise strategy" is a way of repackaging the old "wedge document" in a stupider form. He wants to muddy the distinction between practical naturalism ("let me look for a natural explanation for why my car won't start") and philosophical naturalism ("Gnomes, Buddha and Jesus don't exist, so they didn't tamper with my head gasket."). The Wedge aims to insert the supernatural into science, not just into society. Talking about design in a philosophy class makes sense, but it doesn't match the Wedge, and the Vise is just a different way of forcing it in where it doesn't belong.

"Soul to Squeeze" by The Red Hot Chili Peppers from the album Greatest Hits (2003, 4:53).