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Derbyshire Attacks Gilder, Part I: John Derbyshire, Meet Quentin Smith

By Joe Manzari and Casey Luskin

In 2001, the distinguished philosopher and naturalist Quentin Smith wrote a famous article entitled “The Metaphilosophy of Naturalism” for the prestigious philosophy journal Philo, of which he is the editor-in-chief. In his article, Smith lays out the scholastic climate of contemporary university philosophy departments. Smith explains that by the second half of the twentieth century, universities and colleges had become in the main secularized. This secularization, however, began to quickly unravel upon the publication of Alvin Plantinga’s influential book on realist theism, God and Other Minds, in 1967, and The Nature of Necessity seven years later. Smith reluctantly admits that almost overnight it became “academically respectable” to argue for theism as an influx of talented theists entered the field. A survey of the Oxford University Press catalogue for the year 2000-2001 makes this ultimately clear. Of the 96 books published on the philosophy of religion, 94 advanced theism and two presented “both sides.” Naturalists quickly found themselves to be a mere bare majority, with many of the leading thinkers in the various disciplines in philosophy, ranging from philosophy of science (Van Fraassen) to epistemology (Moser) being theists. Smith characterizes the naturalist philosopher’s current practice of ignoring theism as “a disastrous failure.” He concludes by stating that the naturalist philosopher’s pursuit of the cultural goal of mainstream secularization in academia has failed both philosophically and culturally. Smith concludes that “the philosophical failure has led to a cultural failure.”

In a recent issue of National Review, George Gilder–co-founder of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, WA — wrote a piece entitled “Evolution and Me” in which he argues that in light of the modern findings in physics, mathematics, computer science, and biology, scientists need to eschew naturalism and adopt a metaphysic that can make sense of the information and complexity we observe in nature. In response, the self described “pop-math author” and “point man against Creationists,” John Derbyshire then responded to Gilder with a piece on The Corner blog entitled “George Gilder, Metaphysic.” It is the prevalence of opinion pieces like Derbyshire’s that illustrate Smith’s conclusion that naturalistic philosophy is a philosophical and cultural failure. Derbyshire’s hand waiving dismissal of non-naturalistic philosophy exemplifies what Smith likened to a man “trying to halt a tidal wave with a hand-held sieve.”

Derbyshire: Fun-Filled Fallacies

The writings of Darwinists like Derbyshire remind one more of a sample sheet of logical fallacies because they are full of ad hominem attacks. This is most evident when he conflates ID-theorists with creationists in attacking Gilder:

It’s a wearying business, arguing with Creationists. Basically, it is a game of Whack-a-Mole. They make an argument, you whack it down. They make a second, you whack it down. They make a third, you whack it down. So they make the first argument again. This is why most biologists just can’t be bothered with Creationism at all, even for the fun of it. It isn’t actually any fun.

Creationists just chase you round in circles. It’s boring. It would be less boring if they’d come up with a new argument once in a while, but they never do. I’ve been engaging with Creationists for a couple of years now, and I have yet to hear an argument younger than I am. (I am not young.) All Creationist arguments have been whacked down a thousand times, but they keep popping up again. Nowadays I just refer argumentative e-mailers to the TalkOrigins website, where any argument you are ever going to hear from a Creationist is whacked down several times over.

Don’t think it’ll stop ’em, though.**

(John Derbyshire in George Gilder, Metaphysic)

While this mindset is disheartening to those desiring serious discussion of the scientific debate over ID and evolution, Salvador Cordova reminds us of the silver lining:

When the other side starts resorting to ad hominems, rather than engaging the arguments, it’s a sign they know we’re scoring points. I actually take this as a good sign!

(Salvador Cordova at the UncommonDescent blog,

More to come soon in Parts II and III!

Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



__editedGeorge GilderJohn Derbyshire