Dean Esmay's Latest on ID

I have to confess that I'm beginning to wonder why I had previously thought Dean Esmay was really interested in a reasoned discussion about ID in public schools. Following his post of a few weeks ago asking for someone who is opposed to ID to explain the negative consequences of teaching about ID in public school science classrooms, I replied with a detailed and, I thought, compelling essay. No reply from Dean, who was informed that I had attempted to answer his question. Then in returning to his blog to see if he had ever bothered to respond, I found this post, which contains the absolutely bizarre claim that the idea that mutation can drive rapid evolutionary change "flies in the face of most evolutionary theory". I replied and pointed out that the article that he had linked to did not, in any way whatsoever, posit anything that "flew in the face" of evolution, and in fact that what was found was perfectly consistent with evolution and exactly the sort of research that allows evolutionary scientists to explain the world's biodiversity. That made me wonder out loud whether Dean really understands evolution at all, since his statement about the theory was so far from reality.

But his latest post on the subject just makes me wonder if he has any interest in having an honest and reasoned look at the subject or not. Let me explain why. His post begins:

I thought I'd had about enough of our recent discussions of the concept of "Intelligent Design" until I found out that even the Discovery Institute people (an organized group of Intelligent Design advocates) have started their own blog.

Well of course I had to look at it, and then I couldn't stop myself from linking one of their pieces, which notes that some are now comparing Intelligent Design theorists to Nazis.

Look, I've said this before and I'll say it again: I'm an atheist, and I don't believe you need to invoke a creator to explain life's existence or its diversity or its complexity. But some people really need to conquer their fear of this God-shaped bogeyman that lurks in their psyches.

Here's the problem. First, the article he links to does not say that some are "comparing Intelligent Design theorists to Nazis", it says that some are now comparing Intelligent Design theorists to those who deny that the Holocaust took place. Those are not the same thing. More importantly, Dean just swallows this claim whole and "couldn't stop himself" from linking to it without bothering to ask whether the claims were true, or even bothering to describe it correctly while doing so. Instead, he uses it as a jumping off point to bash those of us who work against precisely the sort of dishonest public relations campaign that the article he is linking to so perfectly represents. If you want to find comparisons to Nazis themselves, you're going to have to look at the words of those very ID advocates and how they portray those who oppose their efforts. You can see just a few examples out of dozens here.

Rather than having a genuine dialogue, or even answering a very civil and reasoned response to the question he asked us ID opponents to answer, he is instead writing overheated, hyperbolic and sarcastic posts and comments, like telling us to "take a valium, drink a beer and get a life." It seems at this point the only conclusion one can have is that A) Dean doesn't understand evolution very well and B) was never really interested in having his question answered or having a calm and civilized discussion in the first place. Instead, he seems more interested in throwing around rhetoric like this, in referring to the lawsuit against the Dover school district for requiring the teaching of ID:

And make no mistake about it, that's what the ACLU is doing: using phony "separation of Church and State" logic to ban books from the classroom, and ban free thought and discussion from same (Emphasis in original).

Here again, this rhetoric is inflated, hyperbolic and unjustified. It simply isn't logical to argue that having the government not teach alternative "theories" that don't explain anything, or even have a model in principle capable of explaining anything, is the same as "banning books" or "banning free thought and discussion." Forget the holocaust denial, there are a thousand other analogies one could offer. Is it "denying free thought" if the government doesn't teach geocentrism along with heliocentrism? After all, that's a religiously-motivated alternative to a well established theory, and it also has genuine scientists who believe in it and an international organization that advocates it. Is it "banning books" not to teach flat earthism along with conventional cosmology? Or not to teach the Christian Science notion that illness is caused by spiritual problems along with the germ theory of disease?

In all of those instances, the schools teach what is accepted and well established science and do not then also teach the religiously-motivated alternatives that are promoted by a small group on the fringe of science. But here's one big difference between those things and ID - in the case of ID, you have ID advocates who will admit that ID has no actual theory, no positive research in its favor, and that it is far too early to even discuss having it in public school science classrooms until they have those things. Bruce Gordon has said that, which I quoted in the response that Dean ignored. Paul Nelson has admitted that ID "isn't a fully-fledged theory - there isn't enough there to teach yet." Nelson has also admitted that, "There is something deeply dissatisfying about establishing the bona fides of one theory by debunking another. Design simply must put novel predictions of its own on the blackboard." So it would seem that there is even more reason not to teach ID than there is not to teach those other fringe alternatives, because the advocates of ID have admitted that there simply isn't anything there to teach yet.

No one has ever said that we should not allow free discussion in the classroom. Students can and do ask questions about ID (heck, the DI has issued bookmarks at churches all over the nation with specific questions they're supposed to ask their teachers to "stump" them, based on the shoddy and dishonest claims in Jonathan Wells' book, Icons of Evolution), and they deserve to have them answered. But the situation in Dover is not about open discussion, it's about a school board mandating the teaching of an alternative theory that, at this point, simply doesn't exist and is little more than one big God of the Gaps argument. So when Dean asks, "Shouldn't we encourage free speculation, and even outright questioning of the consensus wisdom of the moment?", the answer is yes. We should always encourage students to question. But we should not allow the schools to teach and advocate ideas that are unsound and motivated solely by religious concerns. Nor should we allow schools to single out evolution as the only idea where children should be encouraged to question.

I would also note that while Dean advocates questioning claims so vividly, he appears to do little of such questioning himself. He appears to have swallowed whole the fake cries of persecution of the ID movement and joined them in falsely accusing their opponents of censorship, when the truth is not that they are being censored but that they are trying to do an end run around all of the hard work necessary to establish a theory as valid and replace it with a well-tuned PR campaign instead. If your idea cannot be established first on legitimate grounds in science, if it does not have true explanatory power and does not allow for any positive research that could confirm it as an explanation, then it simply has no business being taught in public school science classrooms.

More like this

I'm surprised you ever respected Dean Esmay. He is an unbalanced nut. Check out this post from his blog in which his wife suggests nuking random Muslim cities in response to terrorist attacks:

An ass like him doesn't deserve your respect.

Comparing IDers to those who deny that the Holocaust took place is off the mark, and a bit over the line I'd say. They're more like UFO advocates. When you ask for the evidence they claim the establishment is hiding it; in area 51 I suppose; a conspriacy against the truth, etc.

I'm surprised you ever respected Dean Esmay. He is an unbalanced nut.
Well, that wasn't really the point, and I certainly don't want this to turn into a place where those who don't like Dean call him names. I don't know Dean personally, but I do know several people that I respect a lot who also respect him a lot, and that was more than enough to give him the benefit of the doubt, take his question seriously, and attempt to give it the well-reasoned response that it deserved. Unfortunately, he seems more interested at this point in calling people like me book banners and oppressors, and telling us to "grow up and get a life" than in having a genuine conversation about it. And that seems to have overridden the benefit of the doubt that I initially extended to him.

Actually, comparing IDers to Holocaust deniers is more appropriate than comparing them to UFO believers as both IDers and Holocaust deniers are attempting to refute a well documented historical fact. UFO believers are attempting to prove a phenomenon that is likely only a popular self delusion as related to uncommon natural effects. However, IDers and UFO believers do use one tactic in common - the god of the gaps argument. If the answer is unknown to the questioner - then the proposed hypothesis must be correct.

I am glad you have risen to the challenge here. I posted a short note previously on his Blog and was preparing a longer reply during short breaks here at work. Thanks for your support on this important issue.


I'm going to chime in with an "I told you so," too. Esmay is painful to read. The guy doesn't have a clue, but he sure has a lot of people fooled.

I'm somewhat familiar with the world of holocaust denial and it's startling how similiar it is with ID. Their strategy is to find little errors in documents and then claim that is reason to disregard it all together. This is, of course, parallel to what ID advocates do; looking for an area where the understanding is still yet incomplete, and then using that as evidence that it must be god.

Then, there is the claim that their ideas would be more accepted if it weren't for the establishment holding them down. Holocaust deniers claim that some historians are sympathetic to their claims (which is almost never true. Like ID advocates, they use some minor disagree a historian has, and use that as an example of a historian who really agrees with holocaust denial), but are afraid to come forward because they'll be labelled anti-semitic. This is parallel to the ID claim that many biologists are sympathetic to ID claims, but are afraid to step forward and be labelled a religious zealot.

There is even a holocaust denial "wedge document", of sorts. A leaked email that lays out the reasons behind many of the holocausts deniers reasons; to make fascism an accepted political alternative again. Parallel, of course, to the wedge's desire to restore america to a christian nation.

That's why I've always thought holocaust denial is the best argument to use in this circumstance. You can come up with other types of negative arguments and say "see, you can make a negative argument for meteorology too", but that's not going to influence people very much. But with holocaust denial, you have a real example of a theory people have at least heard about. That's more likely to influence people to be against the teaching of ID than some example you make up.

By Matthew Phillips (not verified) on 05 Jan 2005 #permalink

People respect Esmay? For what?

Is there anything you could point me to that would suggest he's not a nut?

Ultimately, of course, we can't know what is in the heart of anyone. We can only know what they do. If they hang from the pecan tree and the squirrels like them . . .

By Ed Darrell (not verified) on 05 Jan 2005 #permalink

Dean's a nice guy who's right on a lot of issues, so he's pretty well-liked. Lately he's been tackling scientific questions where his good nature isn't enough to put him in the right position. The last one before ID was Ebonics, which he considered a pretty cool deal all the way around from the standpoint of teaching efficiency. Of course, that's exactly the standard that ID compromises, so it's not clear how he can reconcile these two positions.

But you can be sure that Dean means well, even when he's off the deep end.

Cheeto, Matthew,

OK, I give in, your analogies are much better up to a point.

I was alive when the holocaust happened. More news of the German atrocities keep coming out when I was in grade school. In addition to the six million deaths, the experiments they performed on the Jews, especially the women were disgusting.

So using the holocaust in an analogy with something so mundane as the theory of evolution leaves a feeling of insensitivity to the magnitude of the tragedy that occured.

Nothing compares to the holocaust. Let's take this into consideration.

I think you're taking the analogy of holocaust denial the wrong way, Mr. Ware. Most sane people recognize that the holocaust happened, but there are a few whack jobs who don't, the holocaust deniers. Similarly, most sane people recognize that some form of natural selection is responsible for evolution, but a few holdouts are in denial.

In both cases, there seems to be some sort of underlying dissatisfaction with contemporary life that drives the irrational position. Note that the issue is not whether the holocaust was more or less important than evolution, but whether holocaust deniers and IDers are allied in their refusal to face facts.

Let's not turn this discussion into the typical liberal's guilt and sensitivity contest, OK?

Holocaust denial and ID are compared for one simple reason: many of the methods and tactics are the same. Instead of engaging in scholarly debate, they primarily foucs their appeal to the public. They put an unhealthy emphasis on debate: that is, _theatrical_ debate rather than scholarly debate. And so on. Michael Shermer has written several excellent essays outlining these tactics and noting how we find them again and again among both groups.

Well thank you very much for starting the "why Dean Esmay is a bad person" thread.

To the point of my wife: she was joking, which anyone who isn't clueless knows. But it was that incident, in which some left-wing idiots used to paint her as evil, that led her to decide to take the name "Queen of All Evil" for herself. If you don't see the humor in it you're beyond saving. But that some of you are still remembering that incident and using it against her in a public forum without letting her know speaks volumes about your character.

To the point of ebonics: Richard, the fact that ebonics is a recognized and regularized form of language has been uncontroversial among linguists for generations. If you doubt that simply find me a linguist who says otherwise. The only argument you and I have is whether the compare-and-contrast methodology works better in the classroom for children who speak dialects very closely related to the mainstream tongue--that and whether or not the Oakland school board was being disingenuous. We have to simply disagree on whether compare-and-contrast works, but I can point you to references if you're interested. I can accept that I wasn't told the whole story on Oakland's real goals.

Ed: I find your own assertions about me rather insulting. Pardon me if I loosely compare holocaust deniers with Nazis, but you're being pedantic if you think that's an unreasonable comparison.

You are also being terribly presumptuous. You presume that just because you wrote a response to me, in a thread where I received multiple trackbacks and countless comments, you say that I "was informed" of your response. Well fine and dandy--did you presume I had time to read it before you went off on this lengthy jeremiad about how ill-informed and unreasonable I am and began hosting a lengthy thread about how stupid and evil I am?

Oh and as for the bit about mutation: did it occur to you that I may have simply misspoken or been careless in what I said or what I meant? Did you think to ask?

You want a discussion with me? This isn't the way to start it. You aren't making me very sympathetic to your views, either.

Have fun with your little "Dean Esmay sucks" club.

Oh, and I wont' be back to this thread, so if you have anything more to say to me Ed, you have the email address. Otherwise you can just write more lengthy treatises here that I likely won't read becuase youv'e given me no reason to bother.

Why does Ed give Dean the time of day? I've clicked onto Esmay's web site a couple of times, and found it to be largely devoid of intelligence. Who is this Dean Esmay, anyway, and why should anyone care what he posts?

I'm sure that Ed has better things to do, fish to fry, and so forth, than to waste the time doing lengthy responses to silly posts. I'm sure I have better things to do than to read them.

Okay, after following the link to PZ's blog, then to the Raving Atheist blog, then to some of the posts on Dean's blog....I have to say that I don't get it either. Some of the stuff there is just plain absurd. His argument that the Lawrence decision was bad because it took away "democratic freedoms" is....well, it's just plain nonsense. There are no "democratic freedoms", there are only questions about what the government (meaning the majority as expressed through their representatives) has the authority to do. If the government doesn't have a given authority, then it doesn't matter how big a majority wants it. And there is no "democratic freedom" to vote for laws that violate liberty. Indeed, as I keep pointing out, democracy and liberty (freedom) are often in conflict and such laws are a perfect example of that. And like this one, he just seems to use such inflated and unjustified rhetoric, like "democracy being trampled once again by the courts". Now I know I tend to use rhetoric like that too, but I like to think that I'm better able to justify it when I do. Using it after a bad argument like the one above certainly isn't reasonable.

Dean Esmay: "But that some of you are still remembering that incident and using it against her in a public forum without letting her know speaks volumes about your character."

I understand that we should resist the temptation to let this thread devolve into Dean-bashing and try to keep on subject. But seeing as Dean sees fit to put the above in here, I think it's only fair to point out that Dean is wrong -- or at least hypocritical here -- as when I tried to point out Rosemary's errors (and get her to at least admit them) on her ownwebsite, it was she that banned me and wouldn't let me speak there, and this banning came at the urging of Dean Esmay himself. But as far as I know, Rosemary hasn't been banned from this blog, and is free to respond if she so chooses (and she can hardly be unaware of the comments, seeing as Dean's spotted them). Dean's quite the fan of fairness and open discourse. . . .

And as predicted (in another subthread here), Dean's (purportedly) quit this thread, which seems to be pretty common behaviour for him when he gets his pants caught down around his knees. I think it is on point here to emphasise that Dean has cut and run, and does not, as Ed points out, seem to want to engage in any serious discussion of the actual issues that Ed raised.


Ed, while I argee with your arguments, I do think you made a mistake in your tone and assumptions about Esmay not responding that were unfair and counterproductive. Even from a tactical perspective, you gave Dean the excuse to beg off actually engaging in the discussion. While I can't exactly credit him for that either, I think this is an example for learning how to better engage critics. The glibber world of snippy blogspeak just gives them too many excuses to take offense (even if their language is just as harsh: hey, who said it was a fair world?)