Dembski’s pompous podcast

Curse you, Orac. He had to pass along a link to a podcast interview with William Dembski. It was extremely aggravating—Dembski is dishonest bloviator of the first water.

He blames the loss in Dover on everyone else: it was the Dover school board’s fault because they had religious motives (and Dembski doesn’t?), the judge was biased, the Thomas More Law Center alienated anybody who was anybody in the ID movement. He tried to claim the the Discovery Institute saw the case was a loser right from the beginning, conveniently glossing over the fact that Dembski himself was actually going to testify as an expert witness in that trial, and threatened to sue to get paid for his services. The Discovery Institute praises Of Pandas and People, the creationist textbook criticized in the trial, and Michael Behe, one of the stars of the DI, did testify to hilarious effect. Making cheap excuses is not persuasive.

Dembski’s argument is that the problem is that we should teach only the controversies about evolution, not the controversies about intelligent design. That’s exactly backwards, of course—if you’re trying to push a new science into the classroom, it’s your job to defend that idea, not just flail at existing ideas and assume you can just win by default. He did admit, though, that the Dover case was a major setback on the public policy front, and then was so bold as to say that what they need to do now is the hard work of doing the science. That was one funny moment in the whole interview: they don’t do science.

He was obviously insincere about that, because the very next question was about what the Discovery Institute’s next move should be, and it wasn’t to do science…it was to “galvanize and mobilize young people”. He seems to have a jesuitical plan to get the child to win over the man ten years later, but unless he’s planning to put those kids in labs doing experiments, I think he’s given the lie to the DI’s need to do research. Instead, he’s claiming that evolution is the boring old status quo, and that ID is rebellious and new and will attract the young. All those young people who think Reverend Paley is a real hep cat, no doubt.

He dredges up the usual ID cliches—”molecular machines” and “hallmarks of design”—without a shred of evidence. He claims that critics haven’t read any of the ID literature, which is bogus—I’ve read Dembski and Wells and Behe and Johnson and the whole painful lot of them. I don’t think he considers reading the work that important, anyway, because he also dabbles in a bit of crude demagoguery, saying that the “elites” (he’s no fan of elites), like the National Academy of Sciences, hate ID…but the “unwashed masses” (yes, that’s the term he used) love it, and the “unwashed masses” pay the salaries of the elite. Dembski to his most precious fans: take a bath!

He appeals to authority, citing the Nobelist in chemistry, Richard Smalley (note: not a biologist), as saying Intelligent Design will be a mainstream idea in 5 years, and that Darwinism will be dead in 10. Dembski was somewhat more pessimistic, and said it would be about 15 years, and that’s when it would be obvious where all the interesting articles were being published, and who was winning the Nobel prizes. Mark your calendars; he said that in 2005, so let’s just see if Dembski or Behe or some other DI clown can get their Nobel by 2020.

It is a ridiculous prediction, but then, creationists predicting the imminent demise of evolution is one of the hoariest cliches around. They’ve got no science now, their strategy for the future is to indoctrinate kids to accept their ideology, and they expect to be running an internationally recognized and respected research program in the next decade? These guys are completely out of touch with reality.


  1. Algerine says

    Darwinism dead in fifteen years? damn.

    He didn’t happen to mention what next week’s Powerball numbers are going to be, did he?

  2. Steve LaBonne says

    Let me be the first to say it: you should be grading papers instead of listening to that crap. ;)

    Of course, I should be working instead of typing this…

  3. mathpants says

    as I understand it, Darwinism will be outsourced to Bangalore within the next five to fifteen years.

  4. says

    I’ve never understood the pejorative use of the word “elite”. First of all, it’s a relative term. As a holder of a Ph.D. in biological sciences, I might qualify as a member of an “elite” in some people’s estimation, but as a postdoc, I would doubt that characterization. And I’m certainly not a member of any “elite” group of theologians, businesspeople, actors, or bicycle racers.

    Second of all, since when has “elite” become an insult used by political conservatives? I always expected this group to be lecturing us liberals (and some apoliticals) about the joys and rewards of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. At worst, it used to be mildly annoying; at best, it was an honest reminder that it’s not constructive to manufacture our own victimhood. It’s now a buzzword completely out of control. Why are we letting these marketing clones do this? Are parents now supposed to be prouder of a kid who tunes out all opportunities for learning than of one who earns an advanced degree in science and becomes a professor, schoolteacher, or industrial researcher?

  5. Andy Groves says

    Dammit Rey, you beat me to the Underpants Gnomes!

    Now I’ll have to impersonate Miss Anne Elk………

  6. says

    Sorry. I didn’t mean to get your blood pressure up so much, PZ. I just thought that you would be interested. Certainly you’re in a far better position to dismantle Dembski’s IDiocy than I am.

    Perhaps I should have saved this gem for myself and then commented on it over the weekend…Naaaahhh. Why keep such a lovely piece of IDiocy all to myself?

    I did find it particularly amusing how Dembski whined about how the “elites” don’t like ID but that the public does. (He claims more than 80%–I wonder where he got that figure.) I just wish that the interviewer had called him on that one and said, “Well, the ‘elites’ didn’t like plate tectonics either at first, but were forced to accept it as the best explanation for continental drift because of the weight of the evidence. Ditto Judah Folkman’s hypothesis that tumor angiogenesis was critical to tumor growth. Dr. Folkman himself points out that he was literally laughed at for it. It took him 25 years of work, but he developed the experimental and clinical evidence that forced cancer researchers to take notice and accept his ideas. ‘Elites’ do change their minds if the evidence is overwhelming. So, when can we expect similar overwhelming evidence for ID?”

  7. BlueIndependent says

    I wouldnt’ bother trying to dissect what ignoramuses say. They believe their own tripe, and they will continue to do so because they feel they don’t have to account for it in the court of public opinion. It’s a sad state, surely.

    As far as the word “elite” being a pejorative, the right loves using the term to describe LIBERAL elites. Any logical dissection of their party, however, would reveal the very opposite is true. The right has made its market by using terms that in reality describe them, and attaching those terms to their opposition. It’s about blaming someone who wasn’t part of the scene.

    It’s not unlike political racism in a sense. They use the words and phrases like “liberal media” and “elite” as single-thought generalizations. In fact, they are so involved in their own talk that it seems they expect centrists and liberals to apologize for who they are, almost as if deciding to be a liberal or centrist was against natural law. That’s how it feels anyhow, being on the receiving end of it. The right apparently never considered anything like “constructive criticism” as being valuable to themselves, or the populace.

    Rest assured, the boy who cries wolf one too many times usually gets eaten alive.

  8. says

    Good point, Orac.

    It’s also worth noting that most, and usually the most interesting, challenges to prevailing wisdom come from within the “elite”, not from outside. The example that springs to mind is mitochondrial recombination, which came from as solid a neo-Darwinian pedigree as one could imagine.

  9. frank says

    I think, P.Z., you are being too kind when you attempt to counter the Creos’ nonsense by pointing out where they are factually wrong. Dembski has demonstrated over the last dozen or so years that he is undeterred by facts, or data, or, sadly, getting his lunch handed to him in court.

    Let’s start ridiculing them. Unmercifully. At every turn. Fundies fear being laughed at more than anything else.

    One Non Sequiter or Doonesbury is worth a thousand counterpoints. Let the derision begin. All Hail His Noodly Presence! Ramen!

  10. Neil says

    ID Coming Clean is the most honest work by Dembski I’ve seen yet.
    He wants to put science in a COMA!
    And opening with a quote from Dream Team??
    Why does ID screed always read like parody?

  11. says

    Dembski’s criticisms might be at least partly legitimate. The DI seems to have thought Dover a loser, and the Moore Center appears to be good at alienating people. Then too, the judge might be “biased” by caring about the rules of evidence–Dembski could hardly support following the rules of evidence, since his desire is to get rid of them (in selected areas).

    Of course the elephant that Dembski leaves out is the senselessness of ID that he promotes. He supports in various ways the promotion of ID as science, and is it really surprising that Dover board members don’t always recognize how dishonest he’s being (some appeared equally dishonest, some did not)? If ID were science, shouldn’t it be taught? How can the dolt claim otherwise? Of course he’s implicitly admitting in this interview and elsewhere that ID isn’t legitimate science (even incipient science might deserve a blurb in the texts), and of course his only tactic, as always, is to cavil at real science.

    The one thing that should be pointed out regarding the DI’s “teach the controversy of evolution” nonsense is that it is a strategy following what courts have said. Quite expectedly, on at least one occasion when creationism has been struck down, a judge has noted that teaching the problems with evolution is legitimate (the Arkansas case, IIRC). That’s why I think Kansas could be tougher, because although it’s obvious that they’re aping the DI backdoor language in favor of doing the only thing ID can do–carp about legitimate biological science–they’re not explicitly mandating the teaching of ID.

    I think, though, that BS criticisms of evolution should fairly easily be considered illegal also, as long as they’re religiously motivated. Excessive criticisms, even where legitimate, which are out of context and out of line with other science teaching, should also be illegal if religiously motivated. What’s going to be difficult, probably more than getting the courts to agree to the principle of banning religiously motivated carping in public schools, is beating back the myriads of potential IDC intrusions into the textbooks and the classes. Turning textbooks into useless mush is a typical tactic from the pseudoscientists.

    Btw, what’s Dembski doing, suggesting that a new generation of IDists might do the science that he has so woefully failed to do? Yes, ID must buckle down and do the hard science, but since Dembski has only the faintest idea of what science is, I guess he has to turn to recruitment of sad little humans who could waste their lives trying to apply non-scientific methods to science. What’s that to him, though? He’s selling books aplenty.

    Glen D

  12. says

    Evolution dead in 15 years, and IDiots winning Nobel Prizes? You wanna BET, Dembski? How much do you want to bet?

    I’ll bet William Dembski an amount of money that I’m able to pay-say a thousand dollars-that this does not happen in 15 years. (Sorry, I can’t bet grant money amounts from wealthy funders.)

    The clock is ticking! In the meantime, good luck with your colleagues, Bill–must be rough trying to herd lice!

  13. Great White Wonder says

    They’ve got no science now, their strategy for the future is to indoctrinate kids to accept their ideology, and they expect to be running an internationally recognized and respected research program in the next decade? These guys are completely out of touch with reality.

    I hear that Missouri legislature is trying to redefine reality to include the obviousness of an invisible sky daddy.

    Maybe Dembski is in touch with that reality.

    My new theory is that Dembski is struggling with his obvious homosexuality and that all this ID nonsense is just his way of coping with the disconnect between his longings and the religiosity of his peers.

    It’s okay, Bill: you can come out of the closet now and join the rest of us. You’re not a bad looking guy but you could do better than those out-of-date eyeglasses.

  14. steve s says

    re Kristine: A few years ago, In response to Dembski saying in 2002 that Darwinism would be dead in 5 years (or something like that, I don’t remember exactly) I emailed him, and asked for a criterion. How would we know when ‘Darwinism’ was dead, and ID had replaced it. Give me a criterion. He of course refused to commit to any such thing, and told me vague things like “read The Structure of Scientific Revolutions if you want to know how these things happen”.

  15. steve s says

    “It’s okay, Bill…You’re not a bad looking guy…

    Posted by: Great White Wonder | March 3, 2006 03:09 PM ”

    Yes he is.

  16. says

    Thanks, Steve, but the bet is on. No, I don’t expect Dembski to pay, or even to acknowledge me, but if he’s refusing to commit to any criterion at all, why doesn’t he just QUIT BORING EVERYBODY and declare victory (since he’s not being “naturalistic” about criteria and such) and celebrate the “triumph” of ID, and be happy (since there are no “elitist” rules for the supernatural about it having to prove itself triumphant) which might make him, by the way, look better? I mean, Dembski’s got real competition in Richard Dawkins, who looks damn good, in my opinion, even when he’s angry (especially when he’s angry), and he wears glasses sometimes, too. (Okay, enough–I’m making a fool of myself over Dawkins.)

  17. PenetratingShaftOfTruthAndSemen says

    He’s very nerdy looking, but why are you guys making fun of his physical appearance? Very sad that you have to resort to those types of tactics. I thought you were better than that.

  18. Mike says

    Demski, Behe, Johnson et. al. are in the wrong “predicting something which will never happen” racket. Sure, they can make some cash writing and rewriting their predictions, but the real money is to be made in predicting disasters (which are always imminent yet, somehow ,always mysteriously slide into the future).

    Disaster prediction is where it’s at — Y2K, Planet X, Mayan Calendar 2012, Pole Shifts, Earth Changes — not only can you make a bundle of money selling books to the all-too gullible, but you can sell them survivalist gear as well.

    I predict that in 10-to-15 years, William Demski will predict that evolution will be dead in 10-to-15 years.

  19. says

    No, in 10-15 years, Dembski will be talking about how science has finally seen the evolution of the bacterial flagellum, and how he knew it all along! And it confirms everything that he said! (Once he clarifies again what he “really” said.) He’ll write another book. He will accuse evolutionary biologists of actually being the real intelligent design advocates, for by then creationism will be playing ding-dong-ditch beneath a new Halloween costume. Dembski is like the guy who walks behind you and keeps on stubbing his toe on your heel.

    (And he isn’t bad looking, but he’s creepy looking–he reminds me of a guy who used to stare at me in class. My mother always said that a smile worked wonders.)

  20. says

    Dembski prostitutes his genuine professional credentials into service on behalf of ID by using his mathematical expertise to squirt out inky clouds of bafflegab. I took a whack at him in Who owns mathematics?, with a couple of links to a great take-down by Mark Perakh. I should sharpen my blade and go after Berlinsky, too, who is another guy fond of throwing math in people’s faces as a way of concealing the vacuity of ID.

  21. BlueIndependent says

    The thing that really gets me going is these ID people assume you’re part of this “cabal”, as they put it, that was only really organized to oppress THEM. Why people buy that crap is beyond me.

    Ya. I’m gonna believe there’s been a consistent, oppressive effort on the part of scientist, THROUGHOUT HISTORY, to screw me, the little guy over.

    When people criticize others because of some sorely misplaced suspicion, and then get credit from others for doing so, you know there’s a serious problem with the fabric of society.

  22. Dustin says

    He claims more than 80%–I wonder where he got that figure.)

    He gets that the same place he gets the rest of his math and statistics. Since this is a blog frequented by biologists who aren’t offended by anatomy, I can tell you exactly where that is:

    It’s his ass.

  23. BC says

    Citing Richard Smalley? Why not just cite Tom Bethell and show that evolution was dead decades ago?
    “Darwin’s theory, I believe, is on the verge of collapse… Natural selection was quietly abandoned, even by his most ardent supporters, some years ago.”

    Obviously, Bethell is quite prescient on this point.

    Oh, a minor note on this quote: he said this in 1976. They never get tired of repeating over and over that evolutionary theory is about to collapse, do they?

  24. says

    I had an interesting experience with Dembski just recently. I found that he was linking at his blog to an interview I did with Thomas Lessl and had copied the entirety of it here. When I posted a comment to the effect that he had no right to do this and had not even asked permission to reproduce it, I was asked how I knew this rather than being offered any kind of admission that copying someone else’s work wholesale is not a very ethical thing to do and that obviously Dembski should not have done so. I then had to explain that I was the author of the interview and no one had bothered to ask me if I minded it being effectively appropriated by Dembski (small wonder that no one was following the link to it, since he’d copied it all). Now – as you can see by following the link – the post has been edited to just include an excerpt (as I asked) and my comments complaining at the above behaviour have been removed.

    It doesn’t matter what you think of the interview if you should read it but I’m at a loss to understand why it should need to be explained to Dembski or those who manage Uncommon Descent that copying someone else’s work is unethical at best. It was a very disappointing experience, made worse by some of the uncritical comments. Oh well.

  25. says

    Telling someone to read Kuhn’s famous book to learn about how scientific change works is not exactly sensible. But what else is new with that guy?

  26. RBH says

    PZ wrote

    He was obviously insincere about that, because the very next question was about what the Discovery Institute’s next move should be, and it wasn’t to do science�it was to “galvanize and mobilize young people”. He seems to have a jesuitical plan to get the child to win over the man ten years later, but unless he’s planning to put those kids in labs doing experiments, I think he’s given the lie to the DI’s need to do research.

    But that’s exactly his “plan” (if I can use that word loosely). Several years ago on ARN he wrote to “Mike Gene”

    Why should ID supporters allow the Darwinian establishment to indoctrinate students at the high school level, only to divert some of the brightest to becoming supporters of a mechanistic account of evolution, when by presenting ID at the high school level some of these same students would go on to careers trying to develop ID as a positive research program? If ID is going to succeed as a research program, it will need workers, and these are best recruited at a young age.

    He’s sufficiently proud of that to post it on his site, even though the phrase “trying to develop ID as a positive research program” gives the lie to every PR release the DI spews out.