Sunday, July 13, 2008

Celebrity Death Match: Dembski vs. Bentley

The Swot
The Hulk

Here’s an unusual and novel juxtaposition of protagonists: see here and here. William Dembski, Intelligent Design guru, does a Todd Bentley meeting! It vaguely reminds of the spate of postmodern films that bring incommensurable super heroes into collision: e.g Miss Marple vs. The Terminator or something like that.

I didn’t know whether to put this post on “Quantum Non-linearity” or on “Views News and Pews”, so I’ve posted it on both. It is clear, as the second link reveals, that Dembski is was left with a very unfavourable impression of Bentley (I dread to think that it could have been otherwise). It’s interesting to see that Dembski made the very same observation that I made when I went to a Benny Hinn meeting: “…the exodus from the arena of people bound in wheelchairs was poignant.” But I hasten to add that I did not, like Dembski, travel many miles to get to my meeting: in order to save rental costs the financially savy Hinn organization, conveniently for me, decided to bring their show to Norwich football ground which is less than 20 minutes walk from my house. I certainly did not drag my family along; instead I went, as usual, in the capacity of an amateur researcher with camera and notepaper.

One of the commentators on Uncommon Descent takes Demsbki to task for even giving Bentley’s ‘healing miracles’ the slightest of credence from the outset. Fair comment except that Demsbki has a severely autistic son, and was so he was understandably vulnerable to the ‘clutching at straws’ effect. Typically of this kind of Christian scene there is an exploitation of the emotions associated with the unknown, especially fear of the unknown. It’s all to easy to follow a false trail for something you really want: you hope against hope that the next corner or the next horizon will reveal the vista you are longing for. It never comes, but whilst you are in a state of ignorance the sheer hope strings you along. And when the carrot of hope fails to lead you up the garden path, there is the stick of fear, fear that an inscrutable and unknown god might just be revealing himself in the utterly unpalatable and who knows what displeasure he will visit upon those who do not swallow it. It’s all a very Pagan view of God: it is a ministry that trades on fear, ignorance, numinous dread, submission, and above all on the notion of an unaccountable angry god whose actions are to all intents and purposes arbitrary. Pagan practices down the ages have thrived on this: I'm reminded of a burial site next to the Cursus in Dorset where a Neolithic woman and children were found buried by archeologists who had a sneaky suspicion that they were uncovering a tragic story of human sacrifice: what satanic things humans can screw themselves up to do when they believe they are sanctioned by the Divine.

Is there a connection here with Intelligent Design theory? I hope not. I respect the efforts and faith of Dembski and his many followers who are carrying out a valuable critique of evolution and are presenting worthy challenges to people who think they believe in evolution. However, one of my niggles with ID theory is that introduces an arbitrariness. In ID theory “Intelligence” is used as a kind of wild card or black box notion: “Intelligence is as intelligence does”. The broad sweep of paleontological change, which at least presents a prima facie case for evolution, then fails to cohere; it is like a story that seems to be a story but of which we are told is no story after all. I have yet to find out how ID theory accounts for paleontological history and so far ID seems to be a theory of negation, a case of showing that evolution isn’t possible. After that it’s the old the shrug of the shoulders, the appeal to the inscrutable and the wild card, and sometimes there is the dark hint that anyone asking deeper questions are rushing in where angels fear to tread.

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