Intelligent Design

Randy Balmer’s Wine and Cheese Christianity

Spread the love

Here is a portion from John Wilson’s review of Randy Balmer’s THY KINGDOM COME: HOW THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT DISTORTS THE FAITH AND THREATENS AMERICA–AN EVANGELICAL’S LAMENT (go here). Balmer follows the familiar pattern of someone who started out going to conservative Christian schools, did well, went on to high-profile secular schools, retained the vestiges of his faith but takes as his greatest pleasure in life knowing that he is so sophisticated that none of his secular colleagues will ever call him to account for the offense of the Gospel. By the way, if you are curious about my sartorial habits, you can look at the debate here. The Dembski-Silver debate was discussed on this blog here.

What really disappointed me about Balmer’s book was the absence of the depth, the nuance, the texture, the alertness to human complexity that made his portrait of the aging Jimmy Swaggart so powerful. Consider, for example, the chapter in Thy Kingdom Come entitled “Creationism by Design,” which includes Balmer’s account of a debate between William Dembski, one of the leading figures in the Intelligent Design movement, and the distinguished molecular biologist Lee Silver. Here is how Balmer introduces Dembski:

  • Wearing a dark suit slightly too large for his lanky frame, Dembski had the mien of an assistant vice president at a local bank or of someone who has just been dispatched to notify the next of kin. The moderator introduced him as having an unspecified affiliation with Baylor University, but that was somewhat misleading, and Dembski made no effort to correct the impression that he was a member of the faculty at Baylor.

 

Balmer then pulls back from the narrative of the debate for two long paragraphs filling in the history of Dembski’s stormy time at Baylor—the upshot of which is that, on the account Balmer himself provides, it is difficult to imagine what Dembski was supposed to do to “correct” the moderator’s introduction. Like this imputation of deceit, Balmer’s physical description of Dembski suggests that he is stacking the deck, but perhaps that is exactly how Dembski appeared to him that night, and he is thereby fleshing the scene out.

There is nothing comparable in Balmer’s treatment of Silver. What did he resemble that night? What was he wearing? We don’t know—though Balmer does tell us at one point that Silver “reclined in his chair and flashed a confident smile.” And while Balmer rightly steps back and provides extensive context for Dembski, with Silver he limits himself to a respectful summary of what the molecular biologist said in the debate.

How different this chapter would have been if Balmer had fleshed Silver out, had gone behind the scenes as he does with Dembski, had given us some impression of the man, had referred to Silver’s 1997 book Remaking Eden: Cloning and Beyond in a Brave New World. For Silver, as well as being a scientist honored by his peers and a skillful writer, is a man who is by turns condescending toward and openly contemptuous of Christians while making claims for science that even many of his fellow scientists would reject as hubristic. (Silver also ridicules many of the environmentalist convictions that Balmer holds dear.) I’d urge readers of Thy Kingdom Come to check out Remaking Eden and Silver’s new book, published this spring by Ecco Press, Challenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life, wherein Silver—in the course of his magisterial account of “Science, Faith, and Religion”—explains that

  • Members of many religious groups are content to be left alone to practice their faith within their own communities. They are not particularly concerned about the attitudes or practices of others in the society at large who do not hold their beliefs. American Christian evangelicals, however, are different. They believe that God in the form of Jesus Christ will grant them an eternal afterlife only if they work sufficiently hard to persuade non-Christians to become evangelicals themselves.

Well, actually, no—that’s not what evangelicals believe about salvation, is it? In the footnote that follows this claim, Silver refers the reader to a lecture by Mark Noll, available on the web (which, as his own summary makes clear, Silver has misunderstood), and to a Wikipedia entry.

Had some of this background been sketched, instead of a cartoonish set-piece in which the doofus Dembski comes up against the suave confidence and sweet reason of Silver, we would have seen a complex conflict. By all means look at Intelligent Design with a critical eye. But don’t stop there.

17 Replies to “Randy Balmer’s Wine and Cheese Christianity

  1. 1
    BarryA says:

    Bill, I can recommend a great tailor in Beijing.

  2. 2
    BarryA says:

    On a serious note, I am more saddened than angered when I see someone like Balmer who knows the truth inside out, but chooses pride over that truth. Truly pride does come before a fall and a haughty spirit before destruction.

  3. 3
    Ryan says:

    “They believe that God in the form of Jesus Christ will grant them an eternal afterlife only if they work sufficiently hard to persuade non-Christians to become evangelicals themselves.”

    How can the ‘religious’ left (translation: pagans, anti-theistic humanists, etc.) be respected in refuting conservative Christians when they don’t even know the most basic beliefs of Evangelicals? [To those who don’t know: Evangelical Christians believe that salvation is a free gift given through faith in Jesus Christ and not through any works since all mankind is sinful and cannot do anything to cleanse themselves of their evils.]

  4. 4
    todd says:

    I just listened to the Silver-Dembski debate and was particularly amused by a questioner who managed to get Silver to admit a)he appealed to a design inference in making a breeding argument and b)he used no reference to God to do it.

    Prof. Dembski won the debate, IMO, the questioner mentioned above sealed it.

  5. 5
    P. Phillips says:

    I hope my remarks are not irrelevant here, but of course the oldest Abrahamic faith is Judaism. There has been controversy over the recent EXODUS DECODED, which in my opinion is not credible. However, Hershel Shanks of the Biblical Archaeology Society engaged in a civil and informative dialog with the creator of the recent film, which you can find here, and it is quite lengthy:

    http://bib-arch.org/bswbOOexodus.html

    I think he was most wise when he wrote the following, especially the last paragraph. Shalom!

    From: Hershel Shanks
    August 15, 2006

    Dear Simcha,

    Your last email confirms my feeling that basically our differences are theological.

    Many great scholars whom I know are also men of faith. But in their scholarly work they treat the Biblical text just the way they would any other ancient text, subjecting it to exactly the same kinds of questions they would pose to a non-Biblical text and applying the same kinds of tests as to the Bible’s historicity. There are still matters of faith, but these are recognized as not being subject to rational proof or disproof.

    You, on the other hand, start out with the assumption that your Bible is historically accurate, including the miracles, unless you can find some archaeological problem with doing so; and also accepting as proof anything archaeological that seems to confirm the historicity of the text, including the miracles.

    You may deny this, but you do do it. As a kind of test, let me ask you if you would apply the same presumption of historicity to other ancient texts, such as Homer and Gilgamesh? Would you accept all the details in Homer as historically accurate, even the miracles and the acts of the gods? Do you accept as a historical fact that the wildman Gilgamesh was acculturated by a prostitute? How about his refusal of a marriage proposal by Ishtar, the goddess of Uruk? Do you believe that Utnapishtim is immortal (as the text says), perhaps still living in disguise somewhere in war-torn Baghdad?

    And of course the next question is about the New Testament. Did Jesus turn water into wine? Or was the rain grape-colored that day? And how did he walk on water? Some have suggested that the northern part of the Sea of Galilee is shallow with a lot of marshes and that it might appear that someone walking in the marshes was walking on water. Does that explanation appeal to you?

    The hallmark of modern religion is tolerance and respect for other religions. This requires an acceptance that we cannot rationally prove or disprove the truth of someone’s else’s faith. And if this is true, it must apply to our own. It is an acceptance of the fact that faith is beyond rational proof—just as miracles are, and, by extension, details of history recounted in books considered by various communities (but not by others) as sacred. In short, I may believe in my God, but I cannot say that if you believe otherwise you are wrong—as long as your religion does not want to destroy me.

    The corollary of all this is that, except on matters of faith (that are not subject to ordinary tests of historicity), we must treat the Bible just as we treat any other ancient text. We cannot affirm our own sacred texts with any more of a presumption of historicity than we would give to Homer or Gilgamesh.

    Kol tuv [all the best]. It’s been fun.

    Hershel

  6. 6
    russ says:

    Herschel Shanks quoted:

    “In short, I may believe in my God, but I cannot say that if you believe otherwise you are wrong—as long as your religion does not want to destroy me.”

    If my religion permits/requires me to destroy Herschel Shanks, who is he to tell me I’m wrong, since in his words, our respective religions are “beyond rational proof”?

    FYI, I’m a Christian, so Shanks is safe!

  7. 7
    P. Phillips says:

    Russ, I think Mr. Shanks’ point is this:

    “This requires an acceptance that we cannot rationally prove or disprove the truth of someone’s else’s faith.” Also, Mr. Shanks is talking about “modern religion”.

    How would any person, using the methods we have available to us, disprove the truth of another faith? Please enlighten me, and I mean using the methods, for example, that Michael Behe or William Dembski employed to support I.D.

    I think as not to “destroy” in the name of faith, we have to return the concept of the Tao, to borrow from C.S. Lewis.

    http://www.columbia.edu/cu/aug.....ition4.htm

    It is my personal belief, which I think Shanks is making, that using religious faith to do violence or violate the Tao is immoral. Of course, throughout human history, it is an unfortunate fact.

    Perhaps the evidence of “Design” is the commonality of the Wisdom of the various faiths. See THE WORLD’S WISDOM.

    http://www.harpercollins.com/b.....index.aspx

    We may agree to disagree on this matter.

  8. 8
    P. Phillips says:

    Oh, and as to relevance – I agree with James P. Hogan identifying Darwinsim as a “humanistic religion”; however, this particular faith is subject to refutation; but there will be emotional resistance.

  9. 9
    Mats says:

    What Herschel Shanks doesn’t understand is that he is criticizing “Simcha” for the same thing he does. He *assumes* that all religious texts are the same, and treats them accordingly. What basis does he have for such assumption? It’s just as valid for him to assume that, like it is for “Simcha” to assume as a starting poitn of investigation that the Holy Bible is true.

    Secondly, even if he treats the Bible (which, since he appears to be Jewish, means “The Tanakh” only) as he treatts any other ancient text, the Tanakh wins hands down. The Dead Sea Scrolls are a land mark in manuscripte authority, showing that the Tanakh’s Message has been preserved.

  10. 10
    Mats says:

    I agree with James P. Hogan identifying Darwinsim as a “humanistic religion”; however, this particular faith is subject to refutation

    How could we refute humanist religion? What kind of experiments can we do to falsify it?

  11. 11
    tribune7 says:

    We cannot affirm our own sacred texts with any more of a presumption of historicity than we would give to Homer or Gilgamesh.

    Why do we read and study Homer & Gilgamesh? For entertainment? No (well maybe Homer) but for understanding Man’s own dim past. And as far as miracles, the difference between the interventions of Greek gods and the ones in Scripture — both Old and New Testaments — is that the Greek miracles are meant to provide easy explanations while the Biblical ones are designed to provide hard proofs. I can’t think of any miracle in the Bible that is offered as an explanation — except perhaps the Genesis Chapter 1.

  12. 12
    Ryan says:

    “However, Hershel Shanks of the Biblical Archaeology Society engaged in a civil and informative dialog with the creator of the recent film, which you can find here, and it is quite lengthy…”

    Shanks, like many Jews today, is a humanist. Just like Darwinists who interpret all biological data through the lens of Darwinism (no matter how absurd the result), humanist archaeologists like Shanks will interpret all archaeological data through a naturalistic lens (and thus, dismiss the Biblical account a priori). As an example, many of his kind in the past stated that the Kingdom of David and Solomon did not exist and said that the account found in Samuel and Kings was nationalistic propaganda of later kings. They were confounded when archaeologists actually unearthed ancient things that referred to King David and Solomon.

    “As a kind of test, let me ask you if you would apply the same presumption of historicity to other ancient texts, such as Homer and Gilgamesh? Would you accept all the details in Homer as historically accurate, even the miracles and the acts of the gods? Do you accept as a historical fact that the wildman Gilgamesh was acculturated by a prostitute?”

    This ignores the vast amount of Christian apologetic literature that has existed throughout the ages. First, it ignores the polemic given in the Bible itself against other religions (Isaiah 41:21-29, 43:8-13, 44:6-20, 45:20-25, etc.). Second it ignores the arguments given by the church fathers, especially Augustine in The City of God, that converted much of the pagan world. Third, it ignores worldview comparisons, especially comparisons from philosophy, in contemporary apologetics. Fourth, it ignores comparitive mythology. There’s a reason why experts on mythology, such as J.R.R. Tolkien, have stated that the Bible, unlike other religious texts, does not read like mythology but instead, like history.

    “And how did he walk on water? Some have suggested that the northern part of the Sea of Galilee is shallow with a lot of marshes and that it might appear that someone walking in the marshes was walking on water. Does that explanation appeal to you?”

    I don’t know much about Middle Eastern geography, but if the boat that the apostles were in was being flung to and fro by the storm, I doubt that the marsh (i.e. shallow water) hypothesis is anything but absurd. [What does he do with the statement that Peter started to sink?! What does he do with the statement that Jesus waved His hand and the storm calmed immediately?!] All this goes to show that not all theories (and I’m using that in the non-scientific sense) are equal. The latest from non-Christian scholarship has demonstrated the absurdity of trying to explain Christianity naturalistically.

    The foundation of Christianity is the Resurrection of Christ, and in my opinion (which I believe to be the only rational one given the evidence), all naturalistic explanations have failed. As Rabbi Lapide, a Jewish scholar of New Testament, said, “Without the Sinai experience-no Judaism,” and also surprisingly said, “without the Easter experience-no Christianity.”

  13. 13
    Carlos says:

    I can’t think of any miracle in the Bible that is offered as an explanation — except perhaps the Genesis Chapter 1.

    I’d always read the exile from Eden as an explanation for why humans, unlike all other species, must grow their own food and why women, unlike all other species, suffer during childbirth. It also explains why snakes don’t have legs.

  14. 14
    BarryA says:

    Bill, I have now had a chance to look at the video of the Silver debate. You don’ need my tailor. Balmer owes your an apology for disparaging your fashion sense. Your suit fit very nicely. Oh, you won the debate too, but that’s a small thing. We really need to keep our eye on the main chance. Advancing science and our understanding of reality simply pale when compared to the importance of looking good. I’m glad you were able to do both, but especially the latter.

  15. 15
    P. Phillips says:

    OK, to Bill’s post. If Balmer is or was a Christian, and the review is accurate, he certainly is an ill mannered person. When an opponent uses personal attacks, then perhaps he is forced to if he’s losing the argument. I certainly am ignorant of evangelical Christianity, but demographics indicate it is no “threat” to the United States. Indeed, what heartens me is to see on this site William Dembski’s support, and of course others, of Muslim Akyol’s take on ID or the Jewish David Klinghoffer’s writings or many others of various faiths.

    I wonder if perhaps the opponents the atheistic, materialistic dogma that dominates so much of the “Western” world, i.e., the U.S.A. and Europe, be they Muslims, Christians, Jews, can unite and find common ground? I wonder if an interfaith conference on the implications of ID, perhaps with ISCID support, is possible?

    What was poignant to me in the Shanks and Jacobovici dialog was their mutual pain at the violence that was occuring during their dialog.

    I presented Mr. Shanks’ perspective to illustrate, if you read the entire dialog, the dangers that Shanks posits when the scientific method is used to bolster or support faith.

    However, if there is common ground between civilized human beings of different faiths in I.D., perhaps as the arts are being employed, then I am hopeful.

    Here is Akyol on I.D.

    http://www.thewhitepath.com/ar.....nt_design/

    And Klinghoffer:

    http://www.beliefnet.com/story.....844_1.html

  16. 16
    P. Phillips says:

    Mats, Hogan refutes the religion pretty well here:

    http://www.baen.com/chapters/W......htm?blurb

    The entire essay on evolution is *free* on line. As to the other controversies he debates and alternative positions, I have no interest other than on cosmology.

    Here’s an excerpt from the above link, citing UD’s own Bill Dembski:

    Is Design Detectable?

    How confident can we be that design is in fact the necessary explanation, as opposed to some perhaps unknown natural process—purely from the evidence? In other words, how do you detect design? When it comes to nonliving objects or arrangements of things, we distinguish without hesitation between the results of design and of natural processes: a hexagonal, threaded nut found among pebbles on a beach; the Mount Rushmore monument as opposed to a naturally weathered and eroded rock formation; a sand castle on a beach, distinguished from mounds heaped by the tide. Exactly what is it that we are able to latch on to? If we can identify what we do, could we apply it to judging biological systems? William Dembski, who holds doctorates in mathematics and philosophy from the Universities of Chicago and Illinois, has tackled the task of setting out formally the criterion by which design is detected. 38 His analysis boils down to meeting three basic conditions.

    The first is what Dembski terms “contingency”: that the system being considered must be compatible with the physics of the situation but not required by it. This excludes results that follow automatically and couldn’t be any other way. Socrates, for example, believed that the cycles of light and darkness, or the progressions of the seasons pointed toward design. But what else could follow day except night? What could come after cold but warming, or after drought other than rain?

    Second is the condition that most people would agree, that of “complexity,” which is another way of describing a situation that has a low probability of occurring. Of all the states that the components of a watch might assume from being thrown in a pile or joined together haphazardly, if I see them put together in precisely the configuration necessary for the watch to work, I have no doubt that someone deliberately assembled them that way.

    But complexity in itself isn’t sufficient. This is the point that people whom I sometimes hear from—and others writing in books, who should know better—miss when they argue that the information content of a genome is nothing remarkable, since there’s just as much information in a pile of sand. It’s true that spelling out the position and orientation of every sand grain to construct a given pile of sand would require a phenomenal amount of information. In fact it would be a maximum for the number of components involved, for there’s no way of expressing a set of random numbers in any shorter form such as a formula or the way a computer program of a few lines of code could be set up to generate, say, all the even numbers up to ten billion. But the only thing the numbers would be good for is to reconstruct that specific pile of sand. But the specificity means nothing, since for the purposes served by a pile of sand on the ground, one pile is as good as another and so you might as well save all the bother and use a shovel. But the same can’t be said of the sequences of DNA base pairs in a genome.

    Suppose someone comes across a line of Scrabble tiles reading METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL, with spaces where indicated. Asked to bet money, nobody would wager that it was the result of the cat knocking them out of the box or wind gusting through the open window. Yet it’s not the improbability of the arrangement that forces this conclusion. The sequence is precisely no more or no less probable than any other of twenty-eight letters and spaces. So what is it? The typical answer, after some chin stroking and a frown, is that it “means something.” But what does that mean? This is what Dembski was possibly the first to recognize and spell out formally. What we apprehend is that the arrangement, while not only highly improbable, specifies a pattern that is intelligible by a convention separate from the mere physical description. Knowledge of this convention—Dembski calls this “side information”—enables the arrangement to be constructed independently of merely following physical directions. In this case the independent information is knowledge of the English language, Shakespeare, and awareness of a line spoken by Hamlet. Dembski’s term for this third condition is “specificity,” which leads to “specified complexity” as the defining feature of an intelligently contrived arrangement.

    Specifying a pattern recognizable in English enables the message to be encoded independently of Scrabble tiles, for example into highly improbable configurations of ink on paper, electron impacts on a screen, magnetic dots on a VHS sound track, or modulations in a radio signal. Michael Behe’s irreducible complexity is a special case of specified complexity, where the highly improbable organizations of the systems he describes specify independent patterns in the form of unique, intricate biological processes that the components involved, like the parts of a watch, could not perform if organized in any other way.

  17. 17
    Rude says:

    Over and over again it’s clear that our worst enemies are the hypocrites. We can agree to disagree with atheists and agnostics who are clear about where they stand, but the deviousness of the charlatan—be it deliberate or out of his self-deception—is another thing again. It was both disgusting and refreshing to read where William G. Dever (http://www.amazon.com/What-Bib.....38;s=books) concedes right up front that although he converted to Judaism because he likes the culture, he is nevertheless a card carrying atheist. For the seeker there’s nothing quite like simplicity, precision, intelligibility (as above where Denyse cites Phil Johnson – http://www.uncommondescent.com.....hives/1577), but if truth is not what you want then I recommend Ken Miller and now, sadly, the Zoo Rabbi. Modernism and the resultant postmodernism are the deadliest heresies ever to hit. One stands in awe of the people who under duress and death would bow the knee to neither Pope nor Prophet, and yet now there are majorities of the same who genuflect to Darwin.

    And then there’s Hershel Shanks’ letter, this in the face of Nancy Pearcey’s call for Total Truth. They’ll have truth on the part of airplane mechanics and surgeons and (sometimes) politicians, but other than that it’s multiculturalism all the way up. But is this the only way to avoid shooting one another? Just to give up? The Torah, Gilgamesh, Voodoo chants … we just can’t tell the difference. Give me a break!

    Carlos, so you’ve always read Genesis like a set of Darwinian just-so stories? Earlier thinkers, as you know, thought the intent of Genesis a lot more subtle, e.g., the Rambam (Guide for the Perplexed 2:29): “The account of creation given in Scripture is not, as is generally believed, intended to be literal in all its parts.”

Leave a Reply