Intelligent Design

DEBATE: William Dembski vs. Lewis Wolpert at UNBELIEVABLE

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Lewis Wolpert . William Dembski

Lewis Wolpert and I had an audio debate a few weeks ago, which is now available online as a podcast: go here (there’s about three minutes of stage-setting by the interviewer Justin Brierly before the actual discussion with Wolpert begins). The debate is part of a program series called UNBELIEVABLE. Other debates available there include one between Denis Alexander and PZ Myers and also one between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox.

8 Replies to “DEBATE: William Dembski vs. Lewis Wolpert at UNBELIEVABLE

  1. 1
    Steve Fuller says:

    I’ve known Wolpert for many years, always as an antagonist on one issue or another. I debated him over ID at Royal Holloway College London a couple of years ago at a meeting attended by members of the British Centre for Science Education(i.e. the NCSE’s intellectually undernourished transatlantic cousin). Even they admitted Wolpert was a bit embarrassing.

    However, I think there are two interesting features of Wolpert’s purported defence of Darwinism that also comes out in the podcast: (1) Although Neo-Darwinism is supposed to be this great covering theory of life, in fact proponents typically defend it by sticking to their own specific disciplinary expertise, as if it provided the most supportive evidence for the theory. Thus, WOlpert says it’s all about cells and their development.

    (2) From a history of science standpoint, Wolpert is truly a living fossil, since I imagine that a biologist defending Darwin about 100 years ago would pretty much have behaved the same way — say, someone like Ernst Haeckel, who worked on the same creature, the sea urchin. In particular, I have in mind WOlpert’s complete obliviousness to probabilistic reasoning in biology. Dembski was right to be outraged about this.

    The next time a Darwinist complains that ID simply repeats Paley, just wheel out Wolpert, the Darwinist whom time forgot….

  2. 2
    Barry Arrington says:

    Great work Bill. The thing that struck me most about the debate was Wolpert’s bare “denialism.” Bill would make a point, and Wolpert’s response usually amounted to little more than “I deny that” without trying to back up his denials with evidence or arguments.

  3. 3
    Mark Frank says:

    I think Lewis Wolpert hasn’t the time or the patience to get to grips with ID. I have some sympathy with that. He has a job to do which is not immediately related.

    Elliot Sober would be a more interesting opponent.

  4. 4
    Flannery says:

    Well done Bill! I’ve noticed that the most glaring deficiency in the argument of many atheists and hard agnostics is not to be found in their science, which is bad enough insofar as it is artificially bound by a stringent methodological naturalism, but in their bad theology. Wolpert admitted to “giving up” on God because he found Him to be of no use in locating his bat and ball when he was 15. Is this the extent of the sober and careful scrutiny he has given to this issue?!

    C. S. Lewis once said, “Such people put up a version of Christianity suitable for a child of six [or fifteen] and make that the object of their attack.” This seems to me exactly what Wolpert has done, and it is old error. Darwin did precisley the same thing.

    Actually Wolpert’s defense was even worse than simple denial; he actually said he didn’t “want a designer” as if it were a matter of his personal preference.

  5. 5
    tgpeeler says:

    Wolpert’s deliberate and willful ignorance is breathtaking. Nice job from Dembski in remaining rational in the face of such idiocy.

  6. 6
    jerry says:

    I am afraid I will have to disagree with the impression of the debate. While I give Wolpert a failing grade or at best a D, I cannot give Bill Dembski’s responses better than a C. There were numerous occasions where there was a chance to knock Wolpert out but the discussion then got bogged down in irrelevancies. Too many hesitation on Bill’s part as he seemed to over think the question just asked.

    One glaring example was when Bill was asked whether Chemistry was designed. There was hesitation and then an attempt to get into the design of the universe. The better answer would have been that the laws of Chemistry flow from the characteristics of the elements and that these flowed from the basic laws of physics. To try to move it immediately to the design of the laws of physics left the impression that there was a designer behind every door.

    The impression I got from Bill’s responses is that there was a whole lot designed in this world when the better answer would have been that most of what happens is due to the four laws of physics. But in certain rare places this is not enough. Most of biology is understandable from the basic principles of micro biology but not macro biology. Put Wolpert on the defensive and make him defend the indefensible. Instead the ball was always seemed to be in Bill’s court.

    The object should have been to put his insufferable ass back on his heels whereas he was allowed to continually look down at Bill as if he was some flat earther by presuming he believed in superstitious ideas. When he brought up miracles, get rid of it by saying it has nothing to do with design. Make him look like the one going off in odd directions. Instead Bill defended miracles allowing religion to get into what should have been a science discussion.

    I hope that Dr. Dembski is not overly upset with my analysis. But I think the approach taken in discussions such as these should be altered.

    I actually give the moderator a great big A+. He tries his best to get Bill back on the right track as he sees where Wolpert can be had. Also the discussions after the debate of emails sent in the past I found very interesting. They have nothing to do with the debate but some smart people must listen to this show.

  7. 7
    SCheesman says:

    I have to agree with Jerry about missed opportunities. Sometimes in a debate the best tactic is to recognize the truth in your opponents arguments, agree with those, then re-direct the argument to your own ends. When answering about design in chemistry, a far better response would be to say that intelligent design accepts without hesitation all aspects of physical and biological chemistry as they have been discovered and elucidated experimentally; but it is precisely that knowledge which has led us to the conclusion that the specified information found in the cell cannot be a product of undirected chemical processes.

    The best response to the “God of the Gaps” argument is that we have found the gaps to be real, getting larger, and unbridgable by undirected chemistry, according to the best knowledge of chemistry, geology, and mathematical statistics. Then follow up with the fact that such the transmutation of lead to gold, cold-fusion and the phlogiston theory have been discarded based on smaller “gaps” than those found at present in the origin of life debate. It’s not what we don’t know, but what we do know that leads us to the conclusion that intelligence is the only solution.

  8. 8

    Jerry, We have some history in which you find fault with my presentations, and in which you cite your Duke and Stanford degrees and experience in business communications as qualifications for offering up your criticisms.

    I’m sure I can improve on organization and delivery, but as for content, your so-called improvements leave, in my view, much to be desired. (1) Logically, miracles may be separate from design, but as a practical matter the connection between the two remains of great interest — especially to the listenership of UNBELIEVABLE. (2) Most biology, you say, is understandable from basic principles of micro-biology but not macro-biology. What does this mean? What micro-biology principles make understandable the origin of the the protein synthesis apparatus in the cell? (3) As I point out in the debate, the arrangement of stones can signify design even if the stones themselves can’t be said to be designed. The same point can be made for chemistry — basic chemistry may be undesigned (I don’t believe this) but chemical arrangements might be. Thus there are nuances to the design question in chemistry and physics that I was not willing to slide over in my discussion with Wolpert.

    As I told Wolpert in the debate, the issue is not what we would prefer but what is true and how we can know it. To you I would say, the issue is not whether I get my talking points just right so that they fly at one of your business presentations, but to get to the truth of the matter about design. If this means admitting subtleties that make my debating points less forceful, then so be it. Your approach, by contrast, from what I can make of it, strikes me as hamfisted.

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