Welcome back! Hope your break was nice.
What I also found interesting in the Shermer vs. Dembski debate was
Shermer's acknowledgment that the ID camp has a stronger argument from
physics/cosmology rather than biology, and he is right! Unfortunately,
the debate was centered around the biology argument, since biology is of
broader interest due to the recent lawsuits to bring ID into the U.S.
biology curriculum. However, the biology argument is perhaps the weakest
in the ID arsenal, because the evidence for evolution is simply
overwhelming. Notice how Dembski himself offered his own indirect support
for evolution by not being able to dismiss it when asked by the moderator.
The best thing an intellectually honest ID proponent is able to say about
evolution is that an external agent (God, Martians, Mind, the Great Teapot
in the Sky, etc ... ) somehow sparked and/or guided the natural
evolutionary process. Anyone who dismisses evolution outright only
betrays his ignorance of the evidence. Sure, he's free to invoke God at
every step, but doing so would be like saying God throws every lightening
bolt from the sky, hardly an intellectually honest worldview.
I thought Dembski's best point was to emphasize the difference between
"materialism" and "science." I think that's a distinction that most lay
people don't fully appreciate. "Materialism" is a worldview that the
material, physical universe is all that there is, and everything can be
naturally, consistently explained without having to invoke external,
supernatural agents. Materialism is a belief, and it requires as much
faith to believe in it as it does to believe in God (theism). In other
words, both materialism and theism are fundamentally matters of faith.
One is not inherently more "scientific" than the other, because there is
scientific evidence which is completely consistent with either worldview.
Not all scientists are materialists. And certainly not all of science
At the beginning of the 20th century (before the quantum mechanics
revolution), the state of scientific evidence did lean toward materialism,
which is why it was so successful in overturning religious authority and
superstition during the Enlightenment Era. For example, when Ben Franklin
clearly demonstrated that lightening arose from purely natural, electrical
forces, and that it could be fairly easily controlled to save countless
lives, he overnight dethroned the millenia-long view that lightening arose
from a wrathful God or evil spirits. (At the time, ringing a bell tower
during a thunderstorm was believed to ward off the evil spirits causing
the storm, but oddly enough, those responsible for ringing the bells were
the ones who were being electrocuted by the lightening! Ben Franklin's
lightening rod solved the real problem once and for all.) Thus, one by
one, science was able to give natural explanations of the universe,
displacing the need to resort to the need for divine explanations.
However, during the 20th century, the discovery of quantum mechanics threw
a serious curve-ball at the materialists. Without needing to use the
hyped-up, New Agey views of quantum mechanics which recent
pseudo-scientific authors have been guilty of misrepresenting, quantum
mechanics simply showed that at its fundamental level, the universe was
probabilistic in nature, not deterministic. Materialists hate this,
because fundamental to the materialist worldview is determinism, that is,
A causes B causes C causes D, and if you knew the conditions of the
universe at any given time, you could with perfect precision predict its
state at any later time (and hence, you don't need to invoke a God in the
process). Quantum mechanics said, no, even if you knew the conditions
perfectly, there's an X percent chance that the universe will be in a
particular state in the future, and a Y percent chance it will be in
another state, etc. Thus, it opened a fundamental door for God (or Mind)
to influence the material process.
And many other discoveries were made during the 20th century which
challenged the materialistic mindset, for example: 1) There was Hubble's
discovery that the universe was expanding, which implied it had a
beginning, which fit the creationist view much more neatly. More
generally, materialists are unable to logically dismiss the need for a
"First Cause." 2) Then physicists began determining the physical
constants in nature (e.g. gravitational constant, Plank's constant, speed
of light, fine-structure constant, cosmological constant, coupling
constants of the nuclear forces, etc.) with great accuracy, and realizing
that if the constants differed only a little from their measured values,
the universe would be completely different and unable to support life as
we know it. 3) Then Godel came along and logically proved that it is
impossible to construct a completely formal, consistent, and
self-contained mathematical system, and Godel's Theorem was later used by
Lucas and Penrose to logically prove that the human mind can not be
adequately described as a computer program, thus effectively ruling out a
completely reductionist explanation of human consciousness based on
So, today, the "Matter vs. Mind" debate has revived with intelligent,
rational, scientific arguments on both sides (and great counter-arguments,
of course). Those who prefer purely "matter" would be wise to acknowledge
that their stance fundamentally requires as much faith as a theist's.
And those who prefer "mind" would be wise to acknowledge there is a
definite mechanistic component to the universe which cannot be flippantly
dismissed and re-attributed to the actions of gods, fairies, and demons.
A balance exists somewhere between these extremes, and Truth lies in that
Let the debate continue!