Continuing with James Barham’s The Best Schools interview with design theorist Bill Dembski – who founded this blog – this time on which authors greatly influenced his thinking?
TBS: Who are your favorite Christian or other theist authors? (We define “theism” as belief in a God who created and sustains the world in existence, and who cares about particular human beings.) Which books would you especially recommend to people who would like to learn more about Christianity and/or theism?
WD: G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy and C. S. Lewis’ Miracles are high on my list. [Chesterton is pictured at right—ed.] As for learning more about Christianity and theism, I would simply read the Bible. I would also have a look at a classic anthology of Eastern Orthodox spiritual writings called the Philokalia. I very much like Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy and Maimonides’s Guide for the Perplexed. Maimonides had a great intellect.
TBS: Are there any atheist authors whom you enjoy reading or whose work you respect? Are there any philosophical critics of Christianity and/or theism whose work you have found challenging?
WD: I’ve read plenty by Christianity’s critics, but I can’t say I’ve ever had the reaction, “Gee, that really throws me for a loop. Now I’ve got to rethink that whole God business.” I’ve enjoyed reading some atheist authors more as entertainment and cultural commentary (e.g., Bertrand Russell and Christopher Hitchens), but I can’t say I was all that impressed with their arguments. And I’m afraid professional analytic philosophy in general these days leaves me cold, so its atheist practitioners who apply their methods to dismantling theism leave me doubly cold. Sorry I can’t be more of help here, or for that matter on the last question. The type of reading I enjoy most and that stimulates me most is of a problem-solving variety, in which hard questions receive ingenious solutions. I guess I’m a mathematician at heart.
TBS: Has ID turned many atheists into theists or merely satisfied theists’ existing beliefs? What is the apologetic value of ID?
WD: I have plenty of anecdotal evidence for the power of intelligent design to shake atheists out of their dogmatic slumbers and bring them to theism. Indeed, by email and at lectures, I encounter people who claim that my own work on ID has played that role. But it would be interesting to have Barna or Gallup do a professional survey in which ID’s role as a corrective to atheism could more accurately be gauged.
As for the apologetic value of ID, I see it mainly as a ground-clearing operation, getting rid of the obstacles that naturalism has placed in the way of people coming to take the possibility of God as a live option. A reductive Darwinian science has, in my experience, been one of the main obstacles in that regard, at least in Western culture. Hitchens, Dawkins, and Dennett have all looked to Darwin as their patron saint, giving them his blessing to repudiate theism. Dawkins even wrote that Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.
So, if we think of atheism as a cultural phenomenon that looks to science for backing and if we think of ID as undoing that backing and thus making theism that much more plausible, we have an apologetic rationale for ID.
Next: Where WOULDN’T Dembski send a high school senior to university?
See also: Asking Bill Dembski: What would a school lesson plan for IDconsist of?
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