While I was away, William Dembski offered up this revealing post. He describes how he met philosopher Barbara Forrest and asked her to autograph his copy of Creationism’s Trojan Horse. She signed it, “To Bill, With Thanks.” Dembski writes:
Indeed, what is she thanking me for? If ID is such a vicious evil, a more appropriate inscription might have read:
You malignant subverter of science, you despiser of all that is wholesome and right. May you rot in hell, if there is such a place (which I doubt).
With all good wishes,
But she didn’t. She thanked me. Why was that? Because, at a deep level, she realizes that her professional advancement (she is now an endowed professor — she was largely unknown, like O’Leary, before entering this debate) and, indeed, her reason for having any sort of intellectual career worth talking about is that she has become a principal opponent of ID. What’s more, my contributions to ID have been seminal in that regard, giving her an adequate foil against which to devote her energies (why else does she devote three pages of the index — over 100 references — to yours truly?). To make a career attacking something, the object attacked has to be sufficiently dangerous and threatening. My colleagues and I have provided her with precisely such an object.
When I was in second grade, I had a crush on Joan Gillespie. To show my affection, I was mean to her and kept thinking up ways to be mean to her. Fortunately, I outgrew that childishness. When it comes to ID, Darwinists have yet to do so.
Deep down, Darwinists love ID. (Emphasis Added)
Several things struck me about this. First up was the sheer nastiness of that boldface remark. Forrest makes a gracious gesture, and Dembski returns the favor by impugning her professional work. An object lesson in what happens when you are polite to an ID advocate.
Next up was that business about three pages of the index being given over to Dembski’s work. I’m looking at the index of CTH right now. I find it’s printed in a two column format. The entry for “Dembski, WIlliam A.” takes up part of one column, then all of the following page, then a few lines on the third page. Gives rather a different impression than his description. If Dembski tells you it’s raining, go to the window and check.
And then there’s Dembski’s description of his own work as “seminal.” Dembski likes that word. Here he is using it again, this time in the preface to the paperback edition of No Free Lunch:
At the risk of immodesty, I want to suggest that this book remains a seminal text for the intelligent design movement.
Risk, indeed. “Seminal” is one of those words you don’t see much outside of academe. Scholars use it to refer to work that was not only important in its own right, but also introduced a whole new line of investigation in its field. For example, you might refer to The Origin of Species as Darwin’s seminal work on biological evolution.
It’s a term no serious scholar would apply to his own work, and certainly not so soon after the work’s original publication. And while we’re at it, note the affectation of referring to his own book as a “text.” That’s another academic thing. Textbooks are distinguished from run of the mill books by being things you study when you’re starting to learn a new discipline. By calling his book a “seminal text”, he is arrogating to his work the status something people should study to learn the discipline of ID, in the same way you might use a book called “Introduction to Thermdynamics” in a physics course.
And then we put this together with other things he has written lately. For example, here’s the first paragraph of his preface:
Five years have elapsed since the publication of No Free Lunch. In that time, intelligent
design (ID) has gone from a little-known and marginalized alternative to standard
evolutionary theory to a national and international phenomenon that everyone with an
interest in the biological origins debate is talking about. Gone is the former dichotomy
between creationism and evolution. Leaving aside creationism’s insistence on treating
Genesis as a scientific text and treating the detection and application of design as a
research tool for science, ID has carved out its own conceptual space and place at the
table of scientific discussion. Five years ago critics of ID regularly leveled the charge that
ID has no peer-reviewed publications in the biological literature. That charge is no longer
supportable, with pro-ID research appearing in such journals as Protein Science, Journal
of Molecular Biology, and Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington (for
details, see my expert witness report for the Dover case at www.designinference.com).
Very little of that is true, of course. ID has no place at the scientific table, and Dembski knows it. Scientists do not discuss ID at their professional conferences (with the possible exception of an occasional session treating ID as a threat to be fought). There isn’t a lab in the country where people are actually applying Dembski’s probability arguments or Behe’s irreducible complexity to their work. And the handful of papers ID folks claim as supportive of their work are all highly debatable, to put it kindly. Add to that further examples of pompous academisms, like “conceptual space”, and a clear picture of Dembski begins to emerge.
You see, it wasn’t that long ago that Dembski was earning PhD’s from prestigious institutions and having his books published by Cambridge University Press. Respectable universities were building think tanks for him to run. But that’s all in the past. Now he finds himself at a small Baptist seminary in Texas. Respectable publishers want nothing to do with his work. The ID movement has proven itself entirely unable to make good on its arrogant boasts of making actual contirbutions to scientific research, and it has been humiliated by a string of recent defeats. It is utterly stagnant.
So Dembski simply retreats into his own fantasy land. There he can act like an important person, secure in the knowledge that his small handful of sycophantic admirers will not disabuse him of the notion. He can use the language of academic respect and accomplishment while ignoring the lack of substance behind that language. And when he squints just right and tilts his head just so he can probably make himself believe that it’s real. For just a little while anyway.
But most of the time he knows it isn’t real. He knows that real scientists want nothing to do with him or his addle-brained, simplistic, laughably wrong mathemtaical arguments. And that makes him bitter. It’s standard crank stuff; nothing academics haven’t been dealing with for centuries. Sad, but familiar.
I’m getting weepy. Better call it a night.