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A negative review of Bill Dembski’s Being as Communion

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Being as Communion From ESSSAT (European Society for the Study of Science and Theology), “a scholarly, non-confessional organization, based in Europe, which aims to promote the study of relationships between the natural sciences and theological views.” By Philippe Gagnon. Here.

Warning: ESSSAT uses a retarded system where one can sort of see the article shaded, without getting rid of the .pdf box. So if you want to know what the guy said, you have to download it, and it could be hanging around in storage memory forever.

I knew this review of Dembski’s Being as Communion would be a hit piece when Gagnon put intelligent design in sneer quotes. The term is sufficiently well known that no quotes are needed, a fact he knows as well as anyone else.

Do readers know anything about ESSSAT? Do they discuss stuff like this?

Gerbert Van Loenen, a Dutch journalist, once saw Holland’s legalization of euthan asia as one of that country’s crowning achievements.

This started to change when a friend insisted that Van Loenen’s partner Niek would have been better off dead than living with a brain injury. Another acquaintance said to Neik over dinner at their house, “You chose to go on living so you have no right to whine.”

These experiences led Van Loenen to wonder. Where did this attitude come from? How did it become so widely accepted that people living with disability or illness are better off dead? Is the legalization of euthanasia in the Netherlands part of the cause? More.

If they do, the discussion is probably chock full of fluence and nuance. Not of substance, like people. More Europe in decline.

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25 Replies to “A negative review of Bill Dembski’s Being as Communion

  1. 1
    Orloog says:

    Denyse, stellar journalism, as usual!

    1) You find a critical review written for a European journal

    2) You find another totally unrelated European person who supports euthanasia

    Smear job done.

    Had you done your work as a journalist, you would have found out easily that the author of the critical review is Philip Gagnon, one of your fellow Canadians (“more Europe in decline”) – and that he is a member of the faculty at Bethel University, an American Christian University situated is St. Paul, MN. It declares:

    But here, excellence means something more. It means taking our faith in Christ and integrating it into everything we learn, into everything we do, so we can accomplish incredible things—in our careers, in our communities, and in our world.

    We’ve been a leader and model in Christian higher education since 1871. For generations, our fusion of evangelical faith with top-ranked academics has transformed women and men, preparing them for unique callings in the kingdom of God.

    (edit: change Dutch to European)

  2. 2
    Orloog says:

    And have I mentioned that you didn’t write anything about the content of the review? The whole piece is just one ad hominem (something which people here around frown upon…) – and you even missed your target by a continent!

  3. 3

    Many people, including me, find your use of “retarded” in this way offensive.

  4. 4
    DavidD says:

    “Many people, including me, find your use of “retarded” in this way offensive.”
    ====================

    Nice try at deflection and cry babying over the previous subject. Actually it should have been “Purposed Retardation”. The idea behind this is, if your worldview insists on blind, pitiless indifference with unguided undirected forces, than the term “Intelligence” will naturally come off as offensive and repugnant. Hence the need to use any means of dumbing down the average public by means of deflection, definition shell games and/or outright lying. These are all evolutionary adaptations for winning debates, even if in your own mind, which in the end is the only thing that counts. “Truth” is another offensive word.

  5. 5
    Mark Frank says:

    #1 Orloog

    Is there another Gagnon that is somehow associated with euthanasia in the Netherlands?

    I find the OP very strange as I can see no connection between a review by a Canadian working at a US Christian university and euthanasia in Holland, but I can’t actually work out the source of Denyse’s confusion.

    PS I had no problem reading the review – no hint of any “retardation”.

  6. 6
    Orloog says:

    @Mark Frank:

    I don’t know: Denyse – who isn’t a mere blogger but a journalist – should have found out during her research.

    For me, the whole piece reads like:

    1) The man doesn’t like my favorite book.
    2) He is probably an evil man.
    3) Look, there are other evil men!

  7. 7
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Regarding the OP, organizations like “European Society for the Study of Science and Theology” are often of interest here. From what perspective do they criticize Dr Dembski’s work? It can’t be the typical atheist-materialist view.

    In this case, the critic is a fan of Teilhardism – in other words, he doesn’t have a rational perspective from which to condemn ID. His writing is bad enough for me to suspect that French is his first language, but that doesn’t excuse incoherent arguments. But he’s a pretty typical example of a theistic evolutionist, seemingly-oblivious to all the problems that position entails.

    As for the euthanasia side-note, I read that as merely a means of pointing to the irrelevance of organizations like ESSSAT. Who cares? The review has had 70 page views – I’ll guess half of them are from UD readers (the other half from the author himself?).

    So the question is a good one – a European organization interested in science and theology … do they ever raise a voice about euthanasia’s damage on human dignity? Probably not. Like most of those academically-correct theological schools, they’re happy to ignore such things.

    Instead, they want to show their secularist-cred by beating up on ID.

    That’s what Denyse is saying. You have to read between the lines a little and be familiar with theistic-evolutionary academics and their particular blind-spots.

  8. 8
    Axel says:

    Bill, I think you’ll find that sometimes we actually do wish to offend; in just the same way as the society’s mouth-piece chose to put the term, Intelligent Design, in sneer quotes.

    I think you’ll find Denyse would have been offended if you hadn’t noticed that it was less than complimentary. Disparaging comments are sometimes a way of avoiding a heart-attack in the face of insanity.

    But how lucky we are, aren’t we, that Nature looks as if it has been designed – while all the while it is just the product of the fertile imagination of blind chance. O happy chance! O felicitous chaos!

    Very amusing, acid post your #4, DavidD.

  9. 9
    News says:

    Yes, exactly, Silver Asiatic. That crowd is just scavenging the ruins of failed Christianity in Europe.

    Incidentally, while I read the review, I didn’t want to say too much about it, because – so far as I can see – one must download it to one’s system – a decision best left to the owner of the system. (Most of the time you can read whatever the stuff is online.)

    Oh, and this note about that US religious U Bethel that someone offered: “But here, excellence means something more. It means taking our faith in Christ and integrating it into everything we learn, into everything we do, so we can accomplish incredible things—in our careers, in our communities, and in our world.” Which means WHAT, exactly? Let’s take medicine:

    Aw, come ON! Any time I was ever a medical patient, I always preferred the ancient Hippocratic Oath, written by a NON-Christian doctor, centuries before Christianity:

    I swear by Apollo Physician and Asclepius and Hygieia and Panaceia and all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will fulfil according to my ability and judgment this oath and this covenant:

    I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice.

    I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.

    Whatever houses I may visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, remaining free of all intentional injustice, of all mischief and in particular of sexual relations with both female and male persons, be they free or slaves.

    What I may see or hear in the course of the treatment or even outside of the treatment in regard to the life of men, which on no account one must spread abroad, I will keep to myself, holding such things shameful to be spoken about.

    If I fulfil this oath and do not violate it, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and art, being honored with fame among all men for all time to come; if I transgress it and swear falsely, may the opposite of all this be my lot.

    I have had Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu and other doctors, and all I can say is, I will take the Oath over any ravings of the progressives who have ended so many lives unnecessarily in the last two centuries with their alternative fathead ideas.

    That book has yet to be written, I fear, as we are very far from prying their grip loose from our culture and institutions. But I will do all I can.

    Meanwhile, ESSSAT will probably soon lack a subject, like astrobiology.

  10. 10
    Mung says:

    “Meanwhile, ESSSAT will probably soon lack a subject, like astrobiology.”

    😀

  11. 11
    Orloog says:

    @Denyse

    You played the guilt-by-association game, implying that the author of the critique was probably in favor of euthanasia, as he belongs to the ESSSAT, which is probably outright satanic, as it is European…

    I tried to restore Gagnon’s honor by stressing his association with an Evangelical University.

    You have checked neither ESSAT’s position on euthanasia nor Gagnon’s, you were just implying that they harbor unsavory ideas: what kind of journalist are you?

  12. 12
    Orloog says:

    @Silver Asiatic

    I enjoyed your insightful comment. Perhaps, Denyse and you could switch roles? You write an informed article, and Denyse adds her tangents in the comments…

  13. 13
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Orloog – I’m glad you enjoyed it. Interesting suggestion – but I think Denyse does a very fine job, myself. Her sense of humor alone is a marvel. But I know you disagree. I’ll just add …

    implying that … the ESSSAT … is probably outright satanic

    Satanic? A bit of an exaggeration there, Orloog?

    I tried to restore Gagnon’s honor by stressing his association with an Evangelical University.

    I’m not sure what your point of view is, but I did mention the problems with theistic evolution and Teilhard (in specific) … so are you restoring Gagnon’s honor in the eyes of his atheist supporters and anti-IDists? Or for yourself (are you a theistic evolutionist?)?

  14. 14
    Silver Asiatic says:

    From ESSSAT news:

    http://www.esssat.eu/esssat-news-92/

    News from elsewhere

    Templeton awards for writing books? – Seven $100,000 grants for research and writing on the constructive engagement of science and religion have been awarded by the Templeton foundation. Out of almost 400 submissions the following projects/proposed book titles were selected:

    Being as Communion: The Science and Metaphysics of Information; by William Dembski, Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Scicne and Culture, Irving, Texas

    Darwin and Design: Science, Philosophy, and Religion; by Michael Ruse, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada

    Golem, God and Man: Divine and Human in an Age of Biotechnology; by Noah J. Efron, Bar Ilan University, Israel

    The Emergence of Spirit: God Beyond Theism and Physicalism; by Philip Clayton, California State University

    The Self-Organization of Meaning: A New Paradigm for Science and Religion; by David J. Krieger, Institute for Communication Research, Meggen, Switzerland

    Theology and the Sciences of Complexity; by Niels Henrik Gregersen, University of Aarhus, Denmark

    Time in Eternity: Theology and Science in Mutual Interaction; by Robert J. Russell, CTNS, Berkeley, CA

    Warm congratulations especially to ESSSAT members Bob Russell and Niels Henrik Gregersen, our vice president for publications!

    Well, Dr. Dembski got a congratulations from them, so maybe they’re only half-satanic. ?

    Denyse asked if anybody knew about the group … on a very quick review, they look a bit more ID-friendly than Biologos, but basically a European version of the same. But no, I don’t know anything about them except from the bad review and a scan through some of their website.

  15. 15
    Orloog says:

    @Silver Asiatic

    The opinion piece doesn’t mention theistic evolution, it just implied that Gagnon is member of an organization which holds unchristian views on euthanasia.

    And yes, I exaggerated for comic effect – as I hoped in vain…

  16. 16
    News says:

    Prediction: They will not get funded by Templeton long if they entertain the idea of design in nature.

  17. 17
    eigenstate says:

    @O’Leary,

    FYI, there is no “reading content online” in the sense you are using it. If you read a PDF in your browser, you’ve downloaded that content from the network onto your machine already, it’s just in the browser cache, not in your ‘Downloads’ folder. So your precautions here aren’t doing you any good.

    Also, just at first glance at the ESSAT review, it doesn’t bode well for the review of a book if you GET THE TITLE OF THE DAMN BOOK WRONG.

    Gagnon’s review refers to the book in the title as Being in Communion. The actual title is, of course Being as Communion.

    Whoops.

  18. 18
    News says:

    So Gagnon must have got the title wrong,eigenstate, as Dembski sent me the review himself, thinking it was a review of his book, which it seems to be.

  19. 19
    eigenstate says:

    @O’Leary,

    So Gagnon must have got the title wrong,eigenstate, as Dembski sent me the review himself, thinking it was a review of his book, which it seems to be.

    Yes, it clearly is Gagnon’s error, not sure who else could be the source of the error, perhaps an editor, I suppose. But not Dr. Dembski in any case.

    I’ve only had time to read a few paragraphs into the review, but It’s an inauspicious start to get the title of your subject wrong. That’s all. My criticism was aimed at Gagnon. I’ve only had time to read the first 2-3 pages so far, and Gagnon is really just summarizing that far into the review. Having read Dr. Dembski’s earlier books, though, I’m expecting Mr. Gagnon, based on his own worldview as best I can judge it from his professional position and background, is both way too easy on Dr. Dembski’s claims, and perhaps substantial because he’s not got a solid background in math, computing and information theory.

    But the devil is in the details. Can’t judge a review by a goof in the title, as they always say, or something like that…

    ETA: updated read status

  20. 20
    eigenstate says:

    Reading on a bit during a few free minutes at lunch time:

    From the review:
    The chapter on intelligence vs. nature (8) is where the book really kicks off, if it is to develop a metaphysics of information. Dembski claims that since materialism downgrades intelligence by conceiving it in material terms, it is committed to seeing matter as not intelligent. It needs, therefore, to think of intelligence as existing outside matter and acting on it. For Aris-totle, nature and design were two different ways of producing information: design produced information externally, while nature produced it internally. The word translated as design is
    ?????
    from which one derives technology (rendered by

    art

    in most translations). Thus, externalist design is made to contrast with internalist nature, and nature as internalist looks to power within things to express information. Dembski considers that the boundary between internal nature and external design is not as clear as it might at first seem.

    This quote reifies my concerns about Gagnon being too soft by a long shot. I have not read the book, so my comments take Gagnon’s representations of the book’s claims at face value. This does not compute:

    “Dembski claims that since materialism downgrades intelligence by conceiving it in material terms, …”

    What can “downgrades” mean in this context? On materialism, there is no “immaterial” to be “downgraded from”. So it can only be some kind of “comparative downgrade”. But that doesn’t make any sense at all. If intelligence is a wholly physical phenomenon, it’s neither “non-intelligent” or qualitatively inferior to any dualist or immaterialist view of intelligence. Intelligence is what it is, and if it’s wholly physically, it’s still what it is and is not diminished by that understanding. If anything, it’s an upgrade from an immaterialist understanding, not because it’s any different in action (it still is what it is), but because being a physical process at least makes it potentially intelligible and discover by science and human inquiry.

    It may be that intelligence is some spooky immaterialist thing, and dualists are correct. But so much the worse for the subject of intelligence because then it doomed to the impenetrable, non-discoverable, impassible domain of the “immaterial realm” whatever that might be.

    Maybe Gagnon will return to this problem later in the review, but as a putative dualist, this looks like a blind spot, a place where he gives Dr. Dembski a pass where a pointed objection is warranted.

    Gagnon then attributes this idea to Dr. Dembski:

    It needs, therefore, to think of intelligence as existing outside matter and acting on it.

    This is a conceptual error that is pervasive in dualist thinking. Any “immaterial intelligence” that “acts on matter” is not an “immaterial intelligence”, and cannot be, by definition. If it “acts on matter”, it is a material entity, by virtue of that interaction. Perhaps Gagnon is not a careful philosopher and is not doing justice to Dr. Dembski’s more nuanced treatment of this in the book, but if Gagnon has this correct, this is a pretty basic error for a trained philosopher to make. Gravitional fields are not matter, but they do act on matter. These fields are necessarily material dynamics, though.

    It’s an intractable problem: if you can’t demonstrate or explain an interface between an “immaterial cause” and a “material effect”, you’ve got no warrant for positing it in the first place. If you can submit an “interface”, you’ve “materialized” the “immaterial cause”; that impetus becomes material by virtue of having an actual interaction with the material entities it affects.

    This is a well known problem and source of squirming for dualist. There’s nothing interesting in just noting that problem for umpteenth time. But here, it’s a crucial problem (as Gagnon describes it) for Dr. Dembski’s basic premises. If this is the foundation for his thesis, it can’t get off the ground.

  21. 21
    eigenstate says:

    One more criticism before ending my lunch break:

    From the review:

    Reflecting on embodiment, Dembski considers again the medium for information and introduces the idea of physical matter in contrast to a spir-itual matter that, if it existed, would be the stuff outside the space-time mass-energy continuum, that could represent information and be a conduit for intelligence. God, in Christian theology, is regarded as pure intelligence, has no body and is therefore not a medium for information. God creates it, but does not in his being contain or exhibit information.

    I’m loathe to spend money that ends up in ID advocates’ coffers, and so resist buying this book, but perhaps I’ll have to bite the bullet just to read this for myself. Does Dr. Dembski really want us to think about “stuff outside the space-time mass-energy continuum”? This guy is a trained philosopher, right? “Outside” is a concept INTERNAL TO STEM. It is not coherent as he’s used it, and this is a goof you use when teaching junior high students to think critically. We might as well suppose some event “happened before the first moment of time”, or that we might “navigate our way 1km north of the North Pole”. For Dr. Dembski’s sake, I hope Mr. Gagnon has just been clumsy in relating Dr. Dembski’s position on this.

    Furthermore, if God does not “contain or exhibit information”, then there are no aspects of God that rule out possibilities, according to Dr. Dembski’s own definition of information. Is that even plausible under Dr. Dembski’s own understanding? God, in this view, could not be “the source or moral good by his nature”. That would necessarily be information about, information exhibited in God’s nature, a characteristic that necessarily ruled out other possibilities. Whoops. A “non-informational God” cannot be anything but a) the null set or b) a random number generator, and even a) is a dubious possibility, as “being the null set” probably constitutes information in the Dembski set — it rules out the possibility of being any of the non-null sets.

    So, Gagnon, here, should be aiming his “hit” on Dembski at the striking deduction that God is a pure random number generator, the epitome of the “no possibilities excluded”. Christian theism would be wholly incompatible with such a transcendent RNG, and that at least would make for a tantalizing discussion about the book, given its author and context.

    The title, the first time I heard it, evinced a kind of commitment to theological doublespeak, the kind of fluffy, inchoate stuff I was raised on in terms of “spiritual theorizing”. From what I can surmise from the review so far — and Gagnon to this point hasn’t offered any pushback against Dembski whatsover (which makes O’Leary’s characterization as a “hit piece” suspect, by the way) — this book is an exercise in bafflegab rather than just fluffy, inchoherent theology.

    ETA: blockquote

  22. 22
    Mung says:

    eigenstate:

    I’m loathe to spend money that ends up in ID advocates’ coffers, and so resist buying this book, but perhaps I’ll have to bite the bullet just to read this for myself.

    I spend books on anti-id and pro-evolution books all the time.

    1. I want to understand the arguments against ID.

    2. I want to make sure ID authors aren’t misrepresenting the authors they quote.

    3. I want to understand the arguments for evolution.

    Unfortunately it comes with the territory if you want to be a responsible citizen in the community of exchange of ideas.

    I’ve read Being as Communion. I’d by happy to loan you my copy. Maybe News can send you a copy 😉

    Hey, whatever happened to those contests at UD when we could win things anyways!

    No Free Lunch, 2nd Edition, advance copy, for example!

    Hint. Hint.

  23. 23
    eigenstate says:

    @Mung,

    I’ve read Being as Communion. I’d by happy to loan you my copy. Maybe News can send you a copy ????

    Hey, whatever happened to those contests at UD when we could win things anyways!

    No Free Lunch, 2nd Edition, advance copy, for example!

    Hint. Hint.

    I bought Dr. Dembski’s other books, and I bought Meyer’s Darwin’s Doubt, and many other ID books, to many to recount here. I just bought Being as Communion this afternoon, so thank you for you the generous offer, but I’ve got the book in my Kindle app now.

    I take your point on “it goes with the territory”. Still is a distasteful prospect, though — and I don’t doubt it works the other way, just the same, for theists who want to “go to the source” on naturalism or eliminative materialism, etc.

    From just a quick first skim, Gagnon’s representation of Dr. Dembski’s claims look legit as far as I’ve read them.

  24. 24
    drc466 says:

    es @21:

    It’s an intractable problem: if you can’t demonstrate or explain an interface between an “immaterial cause” and a “material effect”, you’ve got no warrant for positing it in the first place. If you can submit an “interface”, you’ve “materialized” the “immaterial cause”; that impetus becomes material by virtue of having an actual interaction with the material entities it affects.

    This is a well known problem and source of squirming for dualist. There’s nothing interesting in just noting that problem for umpteenth time. But here, it’s a crucial problem (as Gagnon describes it) for Dr. Dembski’s basic premises. If this is the foundation for his thesis, it can’t get off the ground.

    I don’t really understand (or agree with) this. The classic example of immaterial yet real is information. If I tell you, for example, that “it is raining here where I am”, I have passed on something immaterial – you now have real knowledge about the material conditions in my area. Yet “it is raining” is not matter, nor is it energy. It can be conveyed in multiple manners (sound, writing, charades, whatever). Information content can be measured – a treatise on the economic and social causes of WWI obviously conveys more information than “Germany lost” – and the measurable would seem to be, by definition, real. Ergo, the immaterial can be real.
    Your first paragraph above seems to imply that, since we can submit an “interface” between information and matter/energy, that we have somehow “materialized” information? But the “interface” is unbounded and exceeds a limiting description, no? Does saying “I can convey information via the material interface of sound” really provide any greater explication of information than saying “I can express the mind through the medium of the brain”? Especially when a “mind” is required to give reality to “information”? If you deny the reality of the dualist mind, aren’t you also denying the reality of information?

    Sorry, not really looking for answers for all the above, just expressing why “intractable” is overstating your case significantly. If you posit a non-material cause, by definition you cannot limit it to material explanations. And to claim that you’ve got no warrant for positing the non-material cause if you can’t demonstrate a material interface requires that you a priori elevate materialism as the only true reality.

    IOW: Dualism has an intractable problem if you are a materialist.

  25. 25
    ESSSAT Webmaster says:

    As council member of the European Society for the Study of Science and Theology (ESSSAT), the largest European academic association in the field of science and religion (since 1986), I have two issues with this ‘review’.

    First, the reviewer mentions a ‘retarded system’ on the ESSSAT website. Although we might be old fashioned, for instance in avoiding abusive language, we think our website (www.esssat.eu) is working to the satisfaction of our members (you can read who we are and what we discuss there for yourself, since the reviewer did not bother to check). The website this review links to (www.academia.edu), is obviously not ours.

    Second, the reviewer seems to suggest that ESSSAT endorses euthanasia. That is impossible, simply because ESSSAT in general does not endorse final positions on any theme, encouraging academic debate instead. It could, in principle, well be that one of our members would like to argue for or against euthanasia, ID, or any other subject. But he or she would need to be prepared to offer sound arguments, and to engage critical questions to those arguments, and the conclusion of such debate would not be considered an official declaration of any kind by ESSSAT.

    This review, however short, clearly failed to present some basic facts correctly. I can only hope that my remarks lead to a more thorough (peer) review process on this site itself. Such a review process might have, for instance, noted that the use of quotation marks in a book review is not necessarily, in an academic context at least, related to sneering, but simply to quoting a term or a sentence from someone else. As in ‘More Europe in decline’, for example, a quote that makes abundantly clear that the reviewer is unaware of the substantial number of ESSSAT members from other countries outside Europe, including the US.

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