The Tang Factor: Last Night with William Dembski at McCaw Hall
Last night's event with Bill Dembski at McCaw Hall in Seattle wasn't strictly a book launch party for his new book -- since Being as Communion won't be published till this autumn and is still in the pre-order stage (at a fantastic discount) -- but it was a great evening anyway. John West interviewed Dr. Dembski, a rock star of the ID movement, and took a page from Stephen Meyer.
Dr. Meyer is rarely caught giving a public presentation without coming armed with humble visual aids to illustrate potentially abstract topics. In this spirit, Dr. West presented Dr. Dembski with a tub of Tang. You may remember the old orange-flavored beverage powder, supposed to be a favorite of the astronauts, that you reconstitute by adding water? I thought in the age of Whole Foods they wouldn't sell that stuff anymore and that perhaps John had to bid for it on eBay -- manufactured in 1974 but in mint condition, never opened and ready to enjoy! But no, Dr. West confirms on the basis of recent research that Tang remains available in supermarkets.
What does that have to do with Dembski's argument in the book that information underlies material reality rather than the other way around? As John West acknowledged, Dr. Dembski stands out among leading ID thinkers in many ways but not least in his ability to turn a phrase and come up with a strikingly apt metaphor. In Being as Communion, he writes about the materialist project of analyzing and breaking down the world into its material components, at which point nothing is supposed to be left over -- not mind, nor soul -- since, according materialist doctrine, there is nothing but material stuff in the end.
Materialists then try to "reconstitute" reality on this basis. What do they get, though, in fact? Is it the reality that any human being would recognize? Not really, no more than Tang, reconstituted from pulverized, desiccated oranges and other stuff, tastes like real orange juice. Comparing information and matter, Dembski writes:
Information is a very different animal from matter. Matter is fundamentally a bottom-up affair. Whether one conceives of matter as particles, fields, strings, branes, or any other structured bundles of stuff/energy, matter from a materialist vantage is properly understood in terms of such basic constituents, of which the world or reality is then simply an agglomeration. Materialism is essentially in the business of reconstitution, breaking reality down into its elemental parts and then building it back up. As an intellectual exercise, such a project is no doubt interesting. But one has to wonder whether what gets reconstituted is reality as such or a shadow of reality. The breakfast drink Tang broke down orange juice into a powder consisting of "orange juice solids," whatever these might be, and then reconstituted it. Yet Tang was never confused with real fresh orange juice. The material world, as conceived by materialists, however, is continually confused with reality as such.
The materialist impulse to pulverize and reconstitute also accounts for -- in another illuminating insight from Dembski -- the strange veneration for particle accelerators that you get in media coverage of science. Formerly called atom smashers, they are "today's preeminent shrine to the cult of materialism."
And that's why so much excitement exists at the time of this writing about the discovery of the Higgs boson at the Mecca of materialism, namely, CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research). Indeed, why else do materialists refer to the Higgs boson as "the God particle"?
Great stuff. Remember that Being as Communion is available now to pre-order for just $22.95, a huge saving -- that's 34% off list price including free shipping (for residents of the U.S.). When the book comes out you'll pay a lot more for it. So go here now and order if you haven't already.
Meanwhile if you're feeling nostalgic for Tang, see here for a vintage TV commercial: