Indeed, the review and its inclusion in NATURE are emblematic of the new low to which the scientific community has sunk in discussing ID. Bigotry, cluelessness, and misrepresentation don’t matter so long as the case against ID is made with sufficient vigor and vitriol.
Goodness! Sounds bad. What could have brought that on?
The review in question was written by paleontologist Kevin Padian. He was addressing three recent books on the big Dover trial. You remember that one, right? That was the one where ID, the nuanced form of creationism developed specifically to survive a legal challenge, got shredded in a court presided over by a Bush appointed judge. Here’s the always classy Dembski discussing Padian’s review:
Judge Jones, who headed the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board before assuming a federal judgeship, is now a towering intellectual worthy of multiple honorary doctorates on account of his Dover decision, which he largely cribbed from the ACLU’s and NCSE’s playbook. Kevin Padian, for his yeoman’s service in the cause of defeating ID, is no doubt looking at an endowed chair at Berkeley and membership in the National Academy of Sciences. And that for a man who betrays no more sophistication in critiquing ID than Archie Bunker.
Mentally healthy human beings do not write paragraphs like that. I suppose we’re supposed to infer from this that the list of people who have headed the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board reads like a who’s who of mediocrity. As for Padian, I think he had his paleontological cred in line long before participaring in the trial. And considering his oft-stated contempt for atheists and belligerent religious views, I think it is safe to say that Archie Bunker was definitely an ID supporter.
The part of the review that really sticks in Dembski’s craw is the following:
One of the targets of Padian’s review is me. Here is Padian’s take on my work: “His [Dembski’s] notion of ‘specified complexity’, a probabilistic filter that allegedly allows one to tell whether an event is so impossible that it requires supernatural explanation, has never demonstrably received peer review, although its description in his popular books (such as No Free Lunch, Rowman & Littlefield, 2001) has come in for withering criticism from actual mathematicians.”
Well, actually, my work on the explanatory filter first appeared in my book THE DESIGN INFERENCE, which was a peer-reviewed monograph with Cambridge University Press (Cambridge Studies in Probability, Induction, and Decision Theory). This work was also the subject of my doctoral dissertation from the University of Illinois. So the pretense that this work was not properly vetted is nonsense.
Dembski — surprise! — is being something less than fully honest here. The work that formed the basis of The Design Inference was from Dembski’s dissertation in philosophy. There was virtually nothing in the book about applying his vapid mathematical formalism to actual biological problems, which is the aspect of Dembski’s work to which Padian is referring. That a handful of philosophers might have felt Dembski’s writing held some interest as a work of abstract, analytic philosophy (a dubious proposition to be sure) has no bearing on whether he has said anything of relevance to biologists.
Dembski goes on to mention his unreadable technical papers. Since these papers represent nothing more than a translation into mathematical symbols of the bad argument he made in No Free Lunch, I would say that nothing is lost by skipping them.
He then goes on to heap snideness and empty invective towards some of the people who have pointed out the manifest worthlessness of his work. Alas, he has not deigned to mention me in his rogue’s gallery. Then he turns around and points to a handful of people who have said nice things about his work. Whatever. Dembski can whine and cry all he wants, but that will not change one simple fact. Absolutely no one in the scientific community is using his formalism to try to resolve any biological question, despite its having been around for over a decade. I’d say that’s strong evidence for Padian’s assessment of what scientists think of Dembski’s work.
So, Dembski thinks it is a new low when Nature scoffs at his work. Sounds more like par for the course to me.