Dembski’s cover is blown

There was a “debate” between Michael Shermer and William Dembski at the University of Kentucky. I’m not a fan of these pseudo-debates—they’re really just a pair of presentations, where the creationist can leech off the other guy’s reputation—and I don’t think Shermer is the best guy to defend biology, but this one seems to have had an interesting result.

Then came the question and answer session. The most striking thing was that every single question was for Dembski. People came prepared. They brought typed-up questions, asking him why he had been dismissed as an expert witness from Dover, why the Discovery Institute would not let Eugenie C. Scott use long excerpts of their material, why ID proponents don%u2019t publish or provide data, how the Discovery Institute can be taken seriously as an objective research organization when it had published a document in 1999 stating that it wanted to combat secularism (to which Demski pointed out the many pro-atheist comments made by people like Gould and Dawkins). Although Demski handled himself well, he seemed somewhat nonplussed. Meanwhile Shermer made a few rebuttals mixed with jokes.

Don’t knock the idea of getting the public informed. This is what we need: more intelligent, prepared citizens who are willing to confront these frauds and make them uncomfortable. Dembski is going to find himself increasingly isolated, I hope, and is going to find himself giving his lectures solely to sympathetic church-group audiences.


  1. Will E. says

    I include the following because I was confused by the use of “nonplussed,” which apparently is gaining a second and indeed opposite meaning, oddly enough. From the Compact OED:

    –USAGE: In standard English nonplussed means “surprised and confused”. A new meaning, “not disconcerted; unperturbed”, has developed recently in North American English, probably on the assumption that the prefix non- must have a negative meaning; this is not yet accepted as standard usage.–

    Now I’m happy to learn that Dembski was not “unperturbed” but appropriately “surprised and confused.”

  2. QrazyQat says

    Over at Internet Infidels people were asking for possible questions, etc. for this debate. I wonder how many of these question originated there? Great to see people doing this — the power of the web, with just a few good sites being all you need for ammo.

  3. says

    Oh, I’m so glad that William Dembski is okay, and hasn’t been sick, or kidnapped by gypsies or something. I’ve been so worried after not hearing another word from him about our bet. Took the time to answer little me (probably because he looked at my picture; I’m not clueless about how to get readers), even gave me eye-roll producing advice (“Don’t bet your money on Dawkins” – oh, that’s precious – he really has a thing about Dawkins, doesn’t he?), and then…he hasn’t written! He hasn’t even called! [Sob]

    “Dembski had a better command of topics like the flagellum.” I’ll just bet that he did. The bacterial flagellum is so totally a phallic symbol. What, is Dembski married to the Intelligent Designer, or does he just think that he can turn Richard Dawkins into a frog with this stuff?

    Watching “Privileged Planet” again on a Friday night, Bill? That’s your idea of fun? (“Take the 3-Hour Challenge” on Oncommon Descent, 3-3-06 posting) Man, I can’t handle all of ID’s “youthful rebellion.” Go get ’em, tiger. Just don’t come to speak at the Twin Cities, ’cause I’ll be so there, Mr. Microphone in hand, you big tease.

  4. says

    Yeah, I would say that the audience did a much better job of critiquing Demski than Shermer did. But Shermer had to spend his time supporting evolution and providing his general ways that thinking goes bad.

    The Dover case came up a few times, and I was expecting/hoping Shermer would mention “breathtaking inanity,” but he didn’t go there. Given enough time, the audience might have.

  5. Zenmasterw says

    I was totally there!

    Dembski really did seem taken off guard by the some of the questions – which surprised me. I figured he would be used to getting asked antagonistic questions on a college campus. But then again, maybe not.

    That aside, though, what really, really got under my skin was this little aside he made in his closing remarks. Shermer’s closing came first and he took great pains to describe evolution and religious belief as not being mutually exclusive – that there are folks who hold a religious worldview and see no conflict between it and evolutionary theory.

    But during Dembski’s closing remarks, he just had to throw in this little bit, which I can only remember well enough to paraphrase: ‘Well, Shermer isn’t telling you the whole story when he says that evolution and religion are compatible. See, he used to be a Christian, but now he’s an ATHEIST!!!” And he used it unapologetically as a slur in the vein of “See, evolution will turn everyone into baby eating atheists! You can’t escape it!” It was ridiculous.

  6. Great White Wonder says

    That is EXACTLY what folks should be doing at these things and it’s what Shermer should be doing, too.

    It’s pointless to debate science with Dembski: the guy is a lying dissembling asshole.

    Better to debate just how big of a lying dissembling asshole Dembski and his cohorts at the Discovery Institute really are.

    I know someone who challenged Casey Luskin to a debate on whether the Discovery Institute could fairly be characterized as a propagandist organization for a Christian theocracy in the U.S.

    Luskin refused. The obvious response to Luskin: why Casey? Are you afraid of losing the debate? Do you have something to hide?

    Nothing but pure pleasure in watching these disgusting people drown in their own filth.

  7. No Nym says

    I wouldn’t take the questions as indicative of a growing trend of skepticism or secularism unless the demographics of the audience is known. If it’s a bunch of professors and biology grad students, ho hum. However at least the part of the audience that isn’t already convinced that something is very wrong with the Genesis story got to hear their best boy torn apart.

  8. BC says

    Well, I hope Shermer did a good job. I watched a video of him debating Kent Hovind the other day. I actually thought Hovind did a better job presenting his arguments. IMO, Shermer didn’t seem well prepared. Further, Hovind is a sitting duck: he presents the same information and even the same jokes at all his talks, but I got the feeling that Shermer was unprepared for the arguments that Hovind was using. Making matters worse, the audience seemed to be undergraduates, and they seemed to be disproportionately creationist.

    I thought Ken Miller did a great job refuting ID a few months back at Case Western. I hope Shermer listened to that talk beforehand and did as well as Miller.

  9. Caledonian says

    he took great pains to describe evolution and religious belief as not being mutually exclusive

    This is true, if trivial. Belief in evolution and a religious belief in non-evolution are, of course, mutually exclusive.

    More to the point, science is about the methods used to reach conclusions, not the conclusions themselves. Evolution understood in the scientific framework that produced it is necessarily incompatible with religious thought, no matter the content of that thought.

  10. Dark Matter says

    If Dembski finds himself isolated, it is not because
    he was wrong, but because he *failed*.

    I don’t think the kind of money that is backing
    the DI tolerate failure very well….Dembski had
    better remember the fate of the failed tempter
    from the “Screwtape Letters”…….

  11. BlueIndependent says

    What strizblog points out, in a less direct way, is something that I haven’t really heard many scientists explain succinctly: evolution is the great equalizer. Like strizblog alludes to at the end, evolution doesn’t require man to believe or not believe in it; It occurs regardless, and serves no master.

    That’s the thing I like about it. Every religion has some crackpot way of how the Earth and humans came into being, yet not a single religion can actually prove its respective version of the events/realities it clings to regarding this subject.

    Beyond the fact that only fools confuse science as being createcd to serve as a direct opposition to religion, evolution just makes sense. The level of personal offense certain people choose to feel with regard to the existence of evolution speaks in some ways (philosophically) to the measure of just how far we have come as a race. Have we really come that far if we live in a country that espouses free thought, but contains so many who conduct their lives, and judge the lives of others, by a code written by people they’ve never met?

  12. prismatic, so prismatic says

    I wouldn’t take the questions as indicative of a growing trend of skepticism or secularism unless the demographics of the audience is known. If it’s a bunch of professors and biology grad students, ho hum. However at least the part of the audience that isn’t already convinced that something is very wrong with the Genesis story got to hear their best boy torn apart. // No Nym | March 24, 2006 12:02 PM

    I’m sure at least some portion of the audience was at least semi-professionally prepared for a takedown. Don’t forget that Eugenie Scott was at UK for a time, and was essentially forced out after her involvement in a local school board creationism situation. (‘Twas the talk of the anthro department when I arrived in 1982; my phys anthro class was parked with a non-phys anthro person because of the abrupt departure.) Lexington is one of those college towns where memories run long.


  13. trogdor says

    Behe came to MPLS not too long ago. the majority of the questions were off the cuff, but one really good one, I think it was the first one, was clearly written down. It quoted Behe on how ID could not be tested and then asked him to explain.

  14. James Matoon Scott says

    Yes, as opposed to the Crusades, etc., dialectical materialism was responsible for some 100 million deaths in the 20th century alone. (The Black Book of Communism, Harvard Univeristy Press.)

    And yes, it was BECAUSE of the materialism that Communism took the brutal form it did in the 20th century…because Communism as such, dose not have to be atheistic; the idea has been around for millenia (even the early Christians described in the Book of Acts practiced a form of Communism) but its materialism gave it an atheistic bent that had NO restrictions on its power.