Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Bill Muehlenberg Trophy

Following in the footsteps of (OK, make that blatantly copying from) Ed Brayton of Dispatches from the Culture Wars, it's time to inaugurate a new award in recognition of the recipient's services to stupidity in the fields of sophistry, polemic and rhetoric. And who better to be the namesake of this award than that figurehead of the Australian religious right, who as National Research Co-ordinator of Focus on the Family Australia in the late 1990s, so valiantly strove against the decline of this great Christian nation of ours into moral Armageddon at the hands (and other mentionable body parts) of Pamela Anderson and her Baywatch co-stars? Where--I ask you--where would we all be if Uncle Bill hadn't decided on behalf of all of us that we couldn't watch films like Ken Park and Baise Moi (and then lied about the alleged involvement in the porn industry of critics of mooted SA censorship laws)? How wayward would we wayward sheep have remained without Bill's guidance and leadership on issues such as contraception (they're all "abortifacients" and should be banned), corporal punishment (Bill recommends a "wooden dowel . . . it disassociates the punishment from the parent"), no-fault divorce (rescind it!) and the theory of evolution ("one of the great intellectual superstitions of modern times")?

And so, the inaugural Bill Muehlenberg Trophy is awarded to . . . Bill Muehlenberg. Our Bill, it seems, is a blogger. You see:

We live in an age where we see evidence of cultural decline, the erosion of values, the decline of civility, the denial of truth and the elevation of unreason. Many people are asking, “Where is our culture heading?”
Fortunately for us sinners:
This website is devoted to exploring the major cultural, social and political issues of the day. It offers reflection and commentary drawing upon the wealth of wisdom found in the Judeo-Christian tradition. It offers reflective and incisive commentary on a wide range of issues, helping to sort through the maze of competing opinions, worldviews, ideologies and value systems. It will discuss critically and soberly where our culture is heading.
Where our culture is heading? My money says: "hell in a handbasket." Anyway, while there's certainly no shortage of food for thought here for our Punditocracy Watchers (see, for example, this article in which he maintains, a quarter of a century on, that AIDS is a "gay disease" and that the name-change from "Gay Related Immunodeficiency Disease" very early on in its history remains an exercise in "political correctness") I get first dibs! And I would like to direct your attention to a post Bill published in 2005, in which he crows about "the Rise and Rise of Intelligent Design." Bill opens thus:
When an American President champions its cause, an Australian Education Minister says it should be looked into, and the cover of Time magazine treats it as a major story, all within the space of a week, then something must be up.
Yes, Bill, something must be up. In the case of the President, his buffoonery on this as on many other topics is a matter of public record. In the case of the (former) Australian Education Minister, we're hoping that he was merely paying lip-service to ID in order to shore up the Hillsong vote, and that he's not currently cramming his double-carport with non-perishables in anticipation of the Rapture. You'll notice, though, that none of these figures count as appropriate authorities on the scientific status of intelligent design.

Bill then goes boldly where countless garden-variety creationists have gone before him, and declares that "the whole edifice [of Darwinism] is now beginning to look a bit wobbly," before reciting a litany of creationist mantras that require but a few visits to Talk.Origins to eviscerate with embarrassing ease:
Mind you, there have always been major holes in the Darwinian structure: the sudden explosion of complex life forms at the beginning of the Cambrian period; the lack of transitional forms in the fossil record; the lack of nascent organs (new organs phasing in or being developed to meet changing, evolutionary conditions); the limits to change shown by breeding experiments, etc.
Enter Intelligent Design. "The new assault on Darwinism," Muehlenberg argues, "is really an old one." To wit: if it looks designed, it is designed. Brilliant!
The new revolution, known as the Intelligent Design movement (ID), is made up of scholars, scientists and writers who argue that the more we learn about the world, especially at the genetic and molecular levels, the more evidence for intelligent design is found. [. . .] These men, and others, have led the charge in undermining Darwinism by showing that much of the physical universe seems to exhibit unmistakable characteristics of design.
Except . . . they haven't done anything of the sort. They haven't shown how the physical universe exhibits evidence of design: all they have done, and all they ever do, is assert that it looks designed.
And the scientific evidence for ID is certainly compelling.
Boy, is it ever! Exhibit A:
Even the famous atheist Anthony Flew has recently renounced his atheism because of ID argumentation.
Did you hear that, atheists? Little Johnny used to be an atheist like you; then he went and got himself saved. Why can't you be more like little Johnny? Exhibit B:
The amount of information in a single cell of the human body is equivalent to three or four sets of the Encyclopedia Britannica – all thirty volumes. Where did all this information come from? Did it just arise by natural forces alone, or must we posit an intelligent agent, much as someone stumbling across Paley’s watch on a beach must posit a master craftsman, not some combination of wind and waves?
Cue thinking music . . .
What we are learning about DNA is that it contains information in a very complex and specified fashion. All of which leads to the conclusion that a ‘who’ and not a ‘what’ created this genetic language. Natural forces alone cannot seem to account for the high information content of DNA. Chance cannot account for it. Some intelligent mind must have made this information.
Once again: Muehlenberg can't imagine how natural forces could account for the high information content of DNA. And he's a smart man. Ergo, design. Um, Bill? Google "argument from incredulity." Exhibit C:

We are now learning that even the most simple structures of life demand a number of inter-locking components which needed to be present from day one in order to function. Indeed, the more we learn in biochemistry, the more we discover that even the simplest organisms capable of independent life are masterpieces of miniaturized complexity. In Darwin’s Black Box Michael Behe speaks of the irreducible complexity of even the most basic and simple of life forms: molecules. [. . .] Take a mousetrap. All the parts are needed for it to function. No mouse are caught if one bit is missing. But our most simple organisms are like that. How could they have evolved to that state? They wouldn’t have worked without all the components, just like mice would have escaped the incomplete mousetrap. “You can’t start with a platform, catch a few mice, add a spring, catch a few more mice, add a hammer, catch a few more mice, and so on. The whole system has to be put together at once or the mice get away.” (pp. 110, 111) All of which points to evidence of design.

In other words, "irreducible complexity" turns out to be just another way of saying: "I can't explain it in natural terms; ergo, it must be designed." Or, as Bill puts it:
Biology, then, at it most basic levels, displays an information-rich complexity which natural causes just do not seem to be able to explain. A better option is that an intelligent mind must be the cause.
And it's at this point that Bill really begins to engage the stupidity-drive:
It is not hard evidence that is keeping Darwinists away from God – it is their pre-commitment to naturalism, materialism, anti-supernaturalism.
No, Bill: it's the evidence. Yes, there is something of a methodological commitment to naturalism in evolutionary biology, as in all of the natural sciences. But all that means is that evolutionary biologists adopt the scientific method and observe the same rule of thumb that most science practicioners observe: namely, that natural phenomena have natural explanations--unless the latter can be absolutely ruled out-not just for today, but forever. Has anyone in the ID or in the wider creationist movement achieved this, Bill? Do let us know when they do. But all the same, it's the evidence that keeps people "committed" to evolution as an explanation, Bill, and all the weeping and gnashing of teeth of those in the ID movement who would have us believe that evolution was invented to help the Big Bad Atheists bolster their atheism isn't going to change that.

Nor does the fact that ID is widely criticised (and liberally lampooned) by the mainstream scientific community suggest that the ID movement "must be doing something right." I suppose, by the same token, Holocaust deniers "must be doing something right" as well?
The Intelligent Design movement has undermined many of the faulty towers of Darwinism. Of course given the fierce dogmatism and rugged faith placed in Darwinism, it may take more than a few well-aimed hits before the whole edifice collapses.
LOLOLOL! First tower to fall: Dover!! Good shot, old boy!