I know there are a few fans of Peter Irons out there — and maybe some of you agree that he ought to have a blog. Since he doesn’t, though, I’m posting a little email exchange he had with Denyse O’Leary and William Dembski, by his request and with the permission of the participants.
There’s a disturbing–but highly revealing–footnote to Bill Dembski’s crusade against Baylor University and its president, John Lilley, for removing the “Evolutionary Informatics Lab” website of Professor Robert Marks from the university’s server. By way of background, Marks had hired Dembski as a “post-doc” in this non-existent lab, through a grant from a foundation funded by Brendan Dixon, a Discovery Institute benefactor, solely to give Dembski a presence at Baylor after his removal as director of the pro-ID Michael Polanyi Center.
Nursing a grudge against Baylor and Lilley for these dual rebuffs, Dembski used his Uncommon Descent blog to strike back, first by posting a fabricated e-mail message from Lilley, and then by urging UD readers to press the Baylor regents to fire Lilley, including their names and home phone numbers on his blog post. Finally, both the Discovery Institute and UD announced that the producers of the Expelled movie would be visiting the Baylor campus, seeking an interview with Lilley.
In response to Dembski’s antics, I sent an e-mail to Lilley, advising him of Dembski’s crusade against him, and warning him of the ulterior motives of the Expelled producers, with a copy to Dembski. In reply, Lilley wrote to me on September 21, “Peter, thanks for your email. It is greatly appreciated. I shall not take the bait on the movie. I greatly regret the difficulty that Dembski has created. John.”
Obviously stung by Lilley’s message to me, Dembski posted his own message to Lilley on UD, saying that “any difficulties you may be experiencing over your suppression of ID-related research at Baylor are of your own creation. My role in this has merely been to shed some light.” Like campaigning to have Lilley fired, right?
After posting this exchange on UD, Dembski’s followers flooded the blog with comments, most of them off-point. One, however, struck my attention. Calling him/herself “Jehu,” one commenter wrote this: “As a former student of Peter Irons, I have to say that I am surprised that he is involved in these antics. Peter Irons does not even have a high school level understanding of biology [not true, and how would "Jehu" know?] So why is he involving himself in the issue of an evolutionary informatics lab at Baylor? Clearly, Irons is revealing himself to be a militant atheist [sic] who cares nothing about science or reason. I guess all those years of tearing down under the guise of constitutional law [referring to my legal work on the Mt. Soledad case] and protecting the rights of Jews and atheists [sic] were just a subterfuge for his true motives [which are…?] I used to think that Peter Irons was just a liberal, now I know the truth.”
I’m used to criticism of my “liberal” views, and generally don’t reply to it. But “Jehu”s reference to “Jews” smacked to me of a not-so-subtle appeal to anti-semitism, considering that Jews were not involved at all in the Baylor dispute. So I e-mailed Dembski, urging that he remove that comment from UD and/or announce that appeals to bigotry would not be tolerated on his blog. Predictably, I got no response.
So I then appealed to Dembski’s UD satrap, Denyse O’Leary, to urge him to take some action. Below is the entire exchange of e-mails between me and O’Leary on this matter, which “shed some light” on UD’s tolerance of bigotry.
Sept. 23: [PI to O'L] “Hi Denyse, As you and I both know, the level of civility among blog commenters, on both sides of the evo/ID controversy, sometimes descends into personal, ad hominem attacks. However, it should never–and I’m sure you agree with me–sink into the cesspool of racial or religious bigotry.
Since you commented yourself on Dembski’s “Not a Parody” post of my correspondence with President Lilley of Baylor, let me note that one commenter on that post, calling him/herself “Jehu” (and supposedly one of my former students at UCSD) attacks me for defending “Jews.” In my legal career, I have defended the rights of Jews, Christians, Muslims, and antheists (citations on request). But why did “Jehu” single out “Jews” in the comment, if not to make an anti-semitic appeal?
Since you seem to have some influence with Dembski, let me make this request of you: post a comment yourself, or (even better) persuade Dembski to do so himself, making it clear that anti-semitic comments (or anti-Muslim, for that matter, re DaveScot [who commented on Muslims "sticking their butts in the air while praying to Mecca"] will not be tolerated on UD. Fair enough? Otherwise, it will remain as a stain on UD.”
Sept. 23: [O'L to PI] “Peter, Not well expressed, but the message is clear: He thinks you only defend “civil liberties” causes–of Jews or others–as a pretext in order to advance an agenda whose outcome will be suppression for anyone who does not adhere to a strict materialist line or function as a fellow traveler, I would have put the matter somewhat differently myself. Cheers, Denyse.”
Sept. 23 [PI to O'L] “With all due respect, I think your Bigotry Meter is set too low for those on your side, although it’s set very high for the occasional expression of anti-Christian sentiment (which I deplore) on pro-evo blogs.
Assuming that “Jehu” was bashing me for defending “Jews” as a “pretext” for my hidden motive of being a “militant ahtiest [sic] who cares nothing about science or reason,” what possible relevance do “Jews” have to this motive, which is wrong anyway? Nobody involved in the Baylor affair, to my knowledge, is Jewish, and my comments on it did not reference Jews in any way. Your own comment that my “pretext” for these comments is “suppression for anyone who does not adhere to a strict materialist line or function as a fellow traveler” is somewhat puzzling. The Baylor affair has nothing to do with “suppressing” Marks’s expression of his ID views, but with Baylor’s right to control the use of its name on BU servers. I’m sure you disagree with me on this, but that’s my view. BTW, did you intend to evoke the McCarthy era in using the term “fellow traveller”? Who, precisely, are the “fellow travelers” to whom you refer? Finally, since you obviously don’t intend to do anything about the anti-semitic appeal in “Jehu”s comment, I feel free to mention it in the future as an example of the bigotry that is tolerated on UD. OK? Cheers, Peter.”
Sept. 23 [O'L to PI]: “Peter, You are trying to destroy the career of Bob Marks because he has good reason to believe that Darwinian evolution, as presented to the public and to students, is not true. That is likely your only real interest in Baylor. You can say whatever you wish, wherever you wish. You will find the hearers you deserve. Cheers, Denyse.”
Sept. 24 [PI to O'L]: “Hi Denyse, Since you haven’t yet (to my knowledge) posted any of our e-mail exchanges on the Baylor matter, here’s the deal. You have my permission to post mine, provided that you include all of them in their original, unredacted form (along with any commentary you wish to add). That way, I won’t become a victim of your side’s penchant for selective quote-mining. I’d be glad to have a wider audience. Fair enough? Frankly, I doubt you’d want to wash UD’s dirty underwear in public. But I’ll keep my eyes peeled. Cheers, Peter.”
Sept. 24 [O'L to PI]: “Then of course you will be happy for me to make this whole correspondence public–so that people can judge for themselves how happy you would be to see Bob Marks’s SCIENCE arguments against Darwinism publicized to the world–should I choose to publicize this correspondence, right? I should probably publicize the correspondence in my own interests. So why don’t you just go cook up your entirely baseless “anti-Semitism” charges without consulting me further? If this is the best you can do, I really think you should retire from activism. -d.”
Sept. 25 [PI to O'L]: “Hi Denyse, This past Sunday, regarding our e-mail exchanges over the Baylor mattere, you suggested that I would “be happy to make this whole correspondence public” and that it would be in your “best interest” to do so, presumably on UD or P-D [O'Leary's "Post-Darwinist" blog]. I said that would be fine with me, providing my messages were published in full, without expurgation.
You seem to have changed your mind–correct me if I’m wrong. So I assume you’d be happy for me to publish them, on Pharyngula [or other pro-evo blogs], subject to the same condition of publishing them in full. As you know, Dembski excised significant portions of my exchanges with President Lilley on UD. Can you let me know ASAP if this is fine with you? I can’t see why not, since you were recently very hot to trot on this. Cheers, Peter.”
Sept. 25 [O'L to PI]: “Sir, do whatever you wish and do not feel any need to consult me about it. -d.”
Readers of these xchanges can decide for themselves whether I am overly sensitive to the anti-semitic overtones of “Jehu”s reference to “Jews” in his UC comment, or unduly harsh on Dembski and O’Leary for not disavowing his comment. Keep in mind, however, that Dembski and O’Leary supposedly “moderate” the comments on UD, and are certainly aware of my complaints. The big picture, of course, is their unrelenting and increasingly vicious attacks on Baylor and President Lilley, including Dembski’s fabricated e-mail and his calls for Lilley’s firing. Enough said.