Bronze-level articleWilliam Dembski

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William Dembski
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William Dembski is one of the main pushers of the pseudoscience of intelligent design. Unusually for a creationist, he does have a couple of real Ph.Ds, one in mathematics from the University of Chicago, and one in philosophy from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He also received a Masters of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. [1] He once held a non-tenured position at Baylor University but was fired for being an all-around jerk. He now pretends to teach at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Dembski is a favorite of ID watchers because of his tendency not to know how to keep his mouth shut. Dembski offers the best retort there is for people who think ID is not about Christianity:

Intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John's Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory.[2]

Contents

[edit] Dembski and Baylor University

In 1999, Dembski and Robert Sloan, the president of Baylor University, set up the Polanyi Center, which was essentially a "think tank" for intelligent design. The center consisted of two people; Dembski and Bruce Gordon, another intelligent design lackey. Both individuals were hired directly by Sloan without going through the usual channels of a search committee and departmental consultation. The vast majority of Baylor staff did not know of the center's existence until its website went online, and the center stood outside of the existing religion, science, and philosophy departments.

The complete disregard for standard procedure, the embarrassing mission of the center and Dembski's incessant prancing and preening led the faculty at Baylor to vote 27-2 to dissolve the center. Sloan refused, continuing his one man campaign to destroy Baylor's reputation. However, he ultimately agreed to allow an outside review. That review pretty much agreed with the faculty and the center was absorbed into existing structures at Baylor and disappeared.

Dembski, however, took this loss as a victory (as IDers are prone to do) and issued a press release saying that the committee had given an "unqualified affirmation of my own work on intelligent design", that its report "marks the triumph of intelligent design as a legitimate form of academic inquiry" and that "dogmatic opponents of design who demanded that the Center be shut down have met their Waterloo. Baylor University is to be commended for remaining strong in the face of intolerant assaults on freedom of thought and expression." [3]

This utter lie and attack on the university faculty and integrity finally even got to Sloan, who asked Dembski to withdraw the press release. Dembski refused, calling Sloan's request McCarthyism. Finally, realizing what an absolute jerk and douche Dembski was, he had him removed from any real position at Baylor and kept him on as an "associate", but never asked him to teach or engage the university in any way. Finally in 2005 Baylor and Dembski officially parted ways.

[edit] Dembski and intelligent design

Dembski has been closely allied with the Discovery Institute over the years, most notably being made a "fellow" when he was unable to get a job after he received his degree. The DI supported him until he started at Baylor. Most of Dembski's work has been tirades against evolution but from a purely religious perspective. The only thing coming close to "science" was his book No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased without Intelligence. It is for this work that he is most known outside the religious community.

Complex specified information (CSI) was supposed to be a mathematically rigorous attempt to figure out what emerges by chance versus what must emerge by design. CSI like Michael Behe's irreducible complexity relies mostly on evolution being only random. The fact that natural selection can act to make things that appear to be designed is never addressed in Dembski's work. Essentially CSI claims that improbability of a sequence occurring by chance that fits a particular preconceived pattern must mean it was designed.

One easy illustration of Dembski's idea is if you randomly draw out 5 cards from a deck of 52 cards the sequence of cards you have is highly improbable but as long as the cards do not fit a preconceived pattern it can be explained by chance. But if the cards fit a pattern (such as a royal flush) then it must have been designed and couldn't have happened by chance. Dembski of course never explains how the fact that both a "random" sequence of cards and a "royal flush" both having the same probability still somehow allows us to say one must be designed but the other cannot be. Nor does he address the more complex issues of evolution such as scaffolding or co-option of function.

His book was not well received outside the ID circle and he has made little attempt to push his ideas through legitimate academic circles. Instead Dembski now tours churches, charging money to give talks about how ID proves God, but simultaneously, how ID really isn't about religion so can be taught in public schools.

[edit] Dembski and Dover

William Dembski was originally slated to be an expert witness in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District lawsuit but shortly before he was to go into deposition he withdrew himself from the case. This was along with two other ID fellows: Stephen Meyer and John Campbell. Dembski's withdrawal is particularly noteworthy considering his obsession with having Darwinism on trial in a court of law, as evidenced by this quote from his Uncommon Descent Blog: [4]

I’m waiting for the day when the hearings are not voluntary but involve subpoenas in which evolutionists are deposed at length on their views. On that happy day, I can assure you they won’t come off looking well.

He also went as far as developing a "vise strategy" and taking pictures of a Darwin doll in a vise as an analogy. [5]

Sadly it seems that Dembski's ability as a prognosticator is on a par with his ability to define CSI mathematically, as the Dover trial became a tour de force for evolution, with the conservative Judge scathing in his criticism of the blatantly creationist ID side of the case.

Following the defeat of intelligent design in the courtroom, Dembski produced an animation featuring Judge Jones. And fart noises. The best bit? He did the fart noises himself, apparently. Classy.[6]

[edit] Uncommon Descent and Overwhelming Evidence

Dembski's only contact now with the world outside church groups is through his blog Uncommon Descent. It was originally just Dembski being his egotistical self, but he consequently decided to mostly abandon that as well. Instead he turned control of his blog over to a group of imbeciles headed by ID journalist shill Denyse O'Leary and wanna-be marine and infamous internet troll Dave Scott. Several others also are allowed to post blog entries. Towards the end of 2008 he officially handed over control of UD to Barry Arrington, a lawyer, who now runs the site. Dembski claims that his abandonment of UD is so he can focus on his research into Intelligent Design and has also promised some significant "peer reviewed" publications in the works. No doubt the scientific community is holding its collective breath in anticipation of such an event.

The moderation policy at Uncommon Descent has led to some controversy with critics of Intelligent Design complaining that they are not allowed to post comments on the blog without moderator approval and that critics of ID can also find themselves banned for arbitrary - and sometimes unexplained and unpublished - reasons. More recently, ID critics have complained that Barry Arrington's moderation tactics now include deleting or denying publication of select comments from ID critics, and then proclaiming that the lack of comments from ID critics means he has won the argument. To counter these attempts by Uncommon Descent to stifle academic freedom and misrepresent critics of ID, a series of discussion pages exist at Antievolution.org under the banner "After the bar closes" where attempts are made to record critical comments posted at UD before they are deleted by the moderators.[7]

In addition to Uncommon Descent, Dembski was the prime mover in an attempt to create the next "myspace" — a social networking site for ID-sympathetic teenagers. The site, called "Overwhelming Evidence", was a complete flop with pretty much no one but 50-year-old admins posting (and the occasional troll). The only claim to fame at OE was that it hosted Dembski's flatulence-laden spoof of Judge John Jones III's decision in Kitzmiller. Sometime in 2009 a database error occurred on the site preventing anything but the splash screen from working. No one seems to have cared enough to bring it back online.

[edit] Dembski and RationalWiki

Dembski on November 15, 2009, posted on his Uncommon Descent blog the following post, in its entirety:

RationalWiki is reprinting large portions of an article I did with Robert Marks that far exceeds anything permissible under “fair use” copyright protections. I was getting ready to contact my attorney about having them remove our article from their website (go here — I’ve saved this page in case it changes as a consequence of this post), but couldn’t find any contact information on the site. Question: Who is running this site and how to contact them?

To which Trent Toulouse responded in the comments (no longer open for new posts):

Hi Bill,

I am the “owner” of RationalWiki, though it[sic] not ownership in the traditional sense.

Anyway, fair use is a complex issue, and more than a few cases have up held the full copying of a work, though other cases have found infringement with just a few sentences.

Issues to consider, we are a non-profit, educational resource. The copied portioned[sic] are copied for the purposes of criticism. Much like the use of “Imagine” in “Expelled.” Also IEEE is the primary copy right holder I believe. And the fact that this is an “academic” publication should all be weighed in your decision about how you want to pursue this.

I am curious why this is a battle you are so eager to fight?

Anyway, the best contact for me is to e-mail me at:

ttoulouse@gmail.com

or

touloutm@mcmater.ca[sic]

For the record, the site is hosted on a private server that I own and operate.

Dembski's criticism of RationalWiki for hosting a copy of his paper is highly hypocritical, as in 2005 he copied an entire article from the journal Nature into his blog with little to no criticism of it.[8] Nonetheless, this hypocrisy is irrelevant to the merits of his claim, which one would assume are zero since neither he nor the actual copyright holder has bothered to pursue the matter.

[edit] See also

[edit] External Links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. (Astute readers may note that none of his qualifications in any way relate to natural sciences.)
  2. Touchstone Magazine. Volume 12, Issue4: July/August, 1999
  3. Baylor documents
  4. [1]
  5. Dembski's vise strategy
  6. Dembski’s motive, Panda's Thumb
  7. Much as RationalWiki now uses a "bot" to save screenshots of referenced pages at "Conservapedia" on their "What is going on at Conservapedia" page, to create an honest archive of dissent (and humor, in their case).
  8. Uncommon Descent - ID in Nature
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