In yesterday's post I remarked that people seem to lose their minds upon deciding to become anti-evolution advocates. There is no better case in point than William Dembski. Ten years ago he was the star of the ID movement. A well-credentialed scholar with shiny new ideas holding down an actual academic position and publishing books with credible publishers.
Those days are long gone. Nowadays he only seems to find time to post brief missives at one of the most cartoonishly ignorant blogs on the Web: Uncommon Descent. I stopped paying attention to the blog a while back, figuring Dembski was hanging himself quite effectively without my help with his increasingly deranged posts. But his most recent writing simply has to be seen to be believed.
You see, Dembski has discovered that Charles Darwin's writing contains some decidedly racist remarks.
Here he is breathlessly reporting the happy discovery:
Every now and again when I want to feel good about our shared humanity, I curl up with Darwin's DESCENT OF MAN and read passages like the following:
The reckless, degraded, and often vicious members of society, tend to increase at a quicker rate than the provident and generally virtuous members. Or as Mr. Greg puts the case: “The careless, squalid, unaspiring Irishman multiplies like rabbits: the frugal, foreseeing, self-respecting, ambitious Scot, stern in his morality, spiritual in his faith, sagacious and disciplined in his intelligence, passes his best years in struggle and in celibacy, marries late, and leaves few behind him. Given a land originally peopled by a thousand Saxons and a thousand Celts--and in a dozen generations five-sixths of the population would be Celts, but five-sixths of the property, of the power, of the intellect, would belong to the one-sixth of Saxons that remained. In the eternal 'struggle for existence,' it would be the inferior and less favoured race that had prevailed--and prevailed by virtue not of its good qualities but of its faults.”
- Charles Robert Darwin, The Descent of Man, Great Minds Edition, 123
What a great mind, indeed. What a wonderful human being. What a marvelous vision of the human family.
Interesting stuff, but not for any insight it provides about Darwin. Rather, it sheds a little more light into the black pit that is Dembski's soul.
First off, it is a triviality to find quotes from prominent Christians of the nineteenth century not simply endorsing slavery, but doing so explicitly on Biblical grounds. For that matter, the Bible certainly never condemns slavery, and at least arguably endorses it. I suspect Dembski grows peevish when people raise such issues against Christianity.
But that is hardly the point. What I find remarkable is how important creationists think it is to try to discredit Darwin personally. They think they have accomplished something if they can make Darwin look bad. So they endlessly recycle quotes like this or “tell the tale” of how Darwin stole evolution from Wallace or promote countless other little myths that make them feel better about ignoring a century and a half of steady progress in science.
These are the people who lecture us constantly about the great moral insights provided Christianity. Among these insights is said to be the fact that we are all sinners, that we all fall short of God's glory. Point out to them that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington owned slaves, thereby participating actively in one of the most evil institutions deivsed by man, and they don't even bat an eyelash. Sure, they partook in many of the sins of their day, but that does not diminish the greatness of their accomplishments.
Indeed it doesn't. But for some reason Darwin doesn't get the same level of respect. Dembski feels no shame in finding a few obnoxious sentences from one of Darwin's books and using that to dismiss the whole man. Never mind that his racism was completely the product of his time, and that his views were utterly commonplace. Never mind that Darwin compares favorably with his contemporaries on issues of racial understanding and tolerance. Never mind that at that time much of the vilest racial rhetoric ever uttered was coming from pulpits on Sunday morning. Apparently when Dembski objects to someone's scientific ideas, his spirit of Christian charity goes out the window.
You see this all the time in fundamentalist writing. Try to have a conversation with an anti-abortion adovcate and see how long it takes before all of Margaret Sanger's alledged atrocities come up. In a conversation about atheism you can measure in seconds the amount of time it takes before Madalyn Murray O'Hair comes in for a bashing. There is a reason for this. Anyone capable of clear thought understands that ideas can not be refuted by discrediting the people who make them. For people like Dembski and the people he represents, however, it's not really about a sober contemplation of ideas. In reality it's about dividing the world into friends and enemies, and once having placed someone in the enemy column it's about unloading every conceivable bit of rhetoric and invective in their direction.
Dembski followed this bit of silliness with a plea for England to remove Darwin from their ten pound note. In this post he writes:
A couple of days ago the Bank of England issued a new 20-pound note, using new security features, and took the occasion to change the “famous person.” This is a news-worthy cause for British Darwin-doubters, who should urge that Darwin be dumped from the 10-pound note whenever there is a new security-upgrade version, on grounds that he is the chief prophet of the materialist religion, and his presence on the 10-pound note is an inappropriate endorsement of that materialist religion and its related anti-religious ferment. Now, it's true that Britain has no 1st Amendment, but still, Britain is trying to be multi-cultural. A part of the effort could include a long list of choice inflammatory quotes from the new anti-religion books currently out in the bookstores (and in Darwin's own writings -- see the previous post here at UD); the effort could point out that the government, by honoring Darwin, implicitly lends its prestige to their venom.
In other words, promote a boycott of the Darwin 10-pound note because it promotes racism. It's like putting Robert E. Lee on the ten-dollar bill because he was a great general, and ignoring the cause he served. This would work particularly well because the goal of the Fabians and other multiculturalists is to re-define Britain to be racially-inclusive. Thus there is a particular reason to highlight the racism of Darwin and get rid of him.
See, here on planet Earth Darwin is remembered as the person who revolutionized biology and discovered one of the most important theories in modern science. Surely someone of whom Emgland should be proud. But for Dembski he was simply a servant in the cause of racism. No, strike that. He is an enemy whose words can be selectively auoted to create that impression. Charming fellow.
I wish more academics would read these sorts of blog entries. I especially wish that academics who still think that ID is about some honest exchange of ideas and represents a serious attempt at doing science would ponder them. When they go out in public the ID folks put on a mask of sanity and for a short period of time can pass for serious and thoughtful people. But they can't keep it up for very long. They are just playing a character, and one so foreign to their natures that eventually they expose themselves as the buffoonish hate-mongers they really are. Sad, but all too typical.
Jason - Outstanding post.
I agree with you that it's ridiculous for Dembski to bash Darwin. I read it on his blog and was amazed. It's true that none of our admired historical figures were politically correct, by today's standards.
Even if Darwinism did inspire racism and ruthless competition in some people, Darwin can't be blamed for that. He simply made his scientific observations and expressed his theories. He is not responsible for philosophical misuses of those theories.
But you are very wrong in thinking only the ID advocates have become hateful and irrational. Look at the reactions at Pandas Thumb if anyone politely disagrees with any aspect of neo-Darwnism. These "enlightened" atheists are not above using filthy language and personal attacks to reinforce their "logic."
The evolution wars have become intense and there are True Believers on both sides. Your hatred of Dembski is a reflection of his hatred of materialist science, and his hatred is in turn a reflection of your contempt for religion and non-reductionist science.
Since I started reading the Dembski blog a few weeks ago I have been very disappointed in the ID movement. I received a stern warning from one of the bloggers there. And it was ironic because I am an "IDiot" myself! I just didn't agree with a post in every detail.
And why are they harping on global warming? There is no logical or scientific connection between ID and global warming denial. The connection is entirely political. So Dembski makes himself look like someone who cares more about political alliances than scientific truth.
Too bad. But as I said, I think it's the same on both sides. Most people who are against ID are leftist progressives. Their opinions are formed more by political affiliation than objective analyis.
Jason, I have to say that I check your blog daily, and your posts are consistently insightful and entertaining. This latest made me laugh out loud once again. So thanks for your hard work and time.
Are you still following the Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan debate? Just wondering. Sam mentioned the Monty Hall Problem in this week's exchange, so I thought you might be interested.
As I said on AtBC:
Calling for Darwin's portrait to be removed from the £10 at its next redesign seems to be a shrewd move for IDers. Or at least as close as they ever come to being shrewd.
After all, there are many, many notable Britons who richly deserve a place on a banknote, and the Bank takes a redesign as an excellent opportunity to give the honour to someone new. Besides which, it makes it easy to identify which series of banknote you're referring to - telling people that the £20 depicting Edward Elgar is about to stop being legal tender (as will be the case in 2009 or 2010) is a lot easier than trying to describe the old security features to look out for.
So, Darwin will disappear from the £10, as Dickens did before him, not because of his morals, or politics, or science, but because Winston Churchill (or Paul Dirac, or Alan Turing, or John Lennon) equally deserves a place.
And what will UD say, when this inevitably comes to pass? Will they claim that this is evidence that "Darwinism" is falling out of popularity in Britain? Will they claim that their "grass roots" movement had anything to do with this change? In short, will they lie through their teeth about its significance?
If they didn't, would they be the UD that we know and love?
Re: comment by realpc -
Yes, i agree, look at The Panda's Thumb to see realpc's comments and the reactions of what he or she assumes to be atheists. If there's any abusive or foul language, it's in frustrated response to persistent (but polite!) illogic, question avoidance and just plain obtuseness by guess who?
Realpc's last paragraph is simply an opinion. We know what they say about opinions and the distal part of the intestinal tract...(don't want to be accused of using "filthy language, after all)
Realpc dissembled thusly:
But you are very wrong in thinking only the ID advocates have become hateful and irrational.
You are right, they started that way.
Who hates Dembski? Sure, people heap ridicule upon him, but every bit of that ridicule is deserved--Dembski has worked very hard to earn it. That ridicule is due to the way Dembski embraces an intellectual dishonesty, rather than because of his appearance, the sound of his voice, or any personal aspect unrelated to his championing of the creationist Bizarro World.
Realpc dissembled thusly:
at the reactions at Pandas Thumb if anyone politely disagrees with any aspect of neo-Darwnism. These "enlightened" atheists are not above using filthy language and personal attacks to reinforce their "logic."
Bullshit. The case for evolution can and is made factually and logically all the time at PT. The fact that some invective is also involved is irrelevant. There is a difference between an insult, an ad hominem, and a logical argument with an insult for good measure:
"You're an idiot" - insult
"You're an idiot, so you're wrong" - Ad hominem
"These facts refute your point, and you've been told this before, you idiot troll" - logical argument with an insult for good measure.
Trolls who incessantly misrepresent the argument and the facts and ignore repeated corrections tend to get the last kind of response. And then they typically whine about how they are the victims of personal attacks. It is the last refuge of the logically defeated.
I think the fact that realpc, who has taken his share of beatings over at Pandas, got warned at UD simply proves that UncommonDescent (into Madness) is an Equal Opportunity Nuthouse.
Don't forget that in the 1800s there were many destitute Irishmen working in England as navvies, building the canals and railways. I gather the navvies camps were squalid and full of all sorts of unsavoury goings on (somewhat like Wild West towns without the money and guns) and frequently sited near small towns and villages that had had few outsiders for centuries. I'm sure this would have coloured Darwin's perceptions of the Irish.
So we have one of the leading lights of the Intelligent Design movement - the so-called "Isaac Newton of information theory" - reduced to calling for the removal of Darwin's portrait from a British banknote on the grounds of some racist remarks?
No mention of the fact that Darwin never owned slaves and was a vocal opponent of slavery.
No mention that such is more than can be said for the faith which Dembski espouses.
Which is the more grievous offence?
In common with others on his site, the man has become bitter, petty and vindictive.
How small they have become.
If we have to find perfect people without a shred of bad points about them we may as well not put anyone on bills at all. Can't even put God on the bills because he's a slave owner-- if he is our shepherd, then we are his sheep or goats, and therefore his property.
And even if you ignore that and say we're not slaves, then there's still the fact (according to the Bible) that in God's eyes we're all sinners, so... ah, forget it, Dembski is such an idiot it's not even worth continuing.
I just want to say I sympathise. I utterly disagree with ID but it seems to me that there are many ID proponents who are sincere, intelligent and polite and deserve a similar response.
Your comments about UD are spot on as well.
Churchill will never replace Darwin for the foreseeable future, part of the security measures on the ten note are ... Darwin's beard.
Yes, I'm serious, Darwin has a larger and more complex beard than other famous folks, the beard is hard to copy as accurately as it appears on money.
Hair, especially beards are often hard to copy effectively.
This is a news-worthy cause for British Darwin-doubters, who should urge that Darwin be dumped from the 10-pound note whenever there is a new security-upgrade version, on grounds that he is the chief prophet of the materialist religion, and his presence on the 10-pound note is an inappropriate endorsement of that materialist religion and its related anti-religious ferment.
Um, Bill? You do know who's on the other side of the ten pound note don't you? The head of the Church of England.
The more intelligent creationists -- cognizant of, and frustrated by, the fact that they cannot frame arguments that challenge evolution -- probably rail against Darwin because it's easier to beat on a guy dead over 100 years than honestly take stock of their own dead-end beliefs (few Christians ever get to this point). But among the rabble, people probably figure that weakening Darwin is tantamount to weakening evolution.
Obviously, if it could be conclusively shown that Jesus was not who he claimed to be, the entire enterprise becomes as meaningless to them as it already appears to non-Christians. But even if Darwin's ghost were to waltz into Richard Dawkins' office in Oxford and start cackling through an even more unruly beard and in all earnestness that he'd made the whole goddamn thing up during a five-year drunk, it would not matter. Evolution doesn't balance on Darwin like an upside-down pyramid.
These people are functioning at exactly the same level as kids telling each other "Yo-momma's-so-fat..." jokes. Or worse.
"I suspect Dembski grows peevish when people raise such issues against Christianity."
I tried growing peevish once but I couldn't get the soil pH right...I still have to go buy it in Harvard Square.
But seriously, folks...Note that Dembski's preferred alternative to C.D. on the 10 is one William Wilberforce, interestingly the father of "Soapy Sam" Wilberforce, whose butt was famously kicked by Huxley in the 1860 Oxford debate on evolution. Coincidence?
Another common ploy is to group Darwin with Marx and Freud as a 19th century triumvarate whoe ideas have all been discredited.
My objections to neo-Darwinism are frustrating to you because you just know you're right. Unfortunately, you are not able to explain logically why you are right. Maybe you just need to evolve a little more.
I was accused at PT of objecting to a straw man version of neo-Darwinism. But no one could tell me what was wrong with my version, why they considered it a straw man.
This Dembski must be really chaffed at the fellow who said the following:
While I was at the hotel to-day, an elderly gentleman called upon me to know whether I was really in favor of producing a perfect equality between the negroes and white people. [Great Laughter.] While I had not proposed to myself on this occasion to say much on that subject, yet as the question was asked me I thought I would occupy perhaps five minutes in saying something in regard to it. I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, [applause]-that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied every thing. I do not understand that because I do not want a negro woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. [Cheers and laughter.] My understanding is that I can just let her alone. I am now in my fiftieth year, and I certainly never have had a black woman for either a slave or a wife. So it seems to me quite possible for us to get along without making either slaves or wives of negroes. I will add to this that I have never seen, to my knowledge, a man, woman or child who was in favor of producing a perfect equality, social and political, between negroes and white men. I recollect of but one distinguished instance that I ever heard of so frequently as to be entirely satisfied of its correctness-and that is the case of Judge Douglas's old friend Col. Richard M. Johnson. [Laughter.] I will also add to the remarks I have made (for I am not going to enter at large upon this subject,) that I have never had the least apprehension that I or my friends would marry negroes if there was no law to keep them from it, [laughter] but as Judge Douglas and his friends seem to be in great apprehension that they might, if there were no law to keep them from it, [roars of laughter] I give him the most solemn pledge that I will to the very last stand by the law of this State, which forbids the marrying of white people with negroes. [Continued laughter and applause.] I will add one further word, which is this: that I do not understand that there is any place where an alteration of the social and political relations of the negro and the white man can be made except in the State Legislature-not in the Congress of the United States-and as I do not really apprehend the approach of any such thing myself, and as Judge Douglas seems to be in constant horror that some such danger is rapidly approaching, I propose as the best means to prevent it that the Judge be kept at home and placed in the State Legislature to fight the measure. [Uproarious laughter and applause.] I do not propose dwelling longer at this time on this subject.
Abraham Lincoln, September 15, 1858 (Charleston, Illinois)
Obviously Dembski will want to show England how its done, and campaign to have that rasist bastard removed from the $5 bill.
The undermining of Darwin personally is stock in trade for creationists. Religious worldviews rest fundamentally on appeals to authority - "it's this way because this great book or this deity or this prophet says so." In their view, Darwin wasn't a scientist, but a prophet of a religion called science or materialism or naturalism or whatever the hip derogatory phrase of the week is. So by discrediting him personally, they feel the case for the theory he promulgated is undermined. The idea that science doesn't rest on the authority of individuals, but rather whether the evidence supports the theory, doesn't occur to them.
Good post Jason. It's interesting to go to UD and look at the archives to see what Dembski blogs about. In the last couple of months, we've had posts about the Templeton foundation, posts about how ID proponents are persecuted, and of course his odd and bizarre attempts at humor (for example: http://www.uncommondescent.com/evolution/uds-first-suck-up-to-darwin-co…)
But, curiously absolutely nothing about ID itself. Unless of course you count his blog entry on vestigial running boards in automobiles, which of course was rightly derided (http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/vestigial-structures-…)
But the majority of his posts are usually pointing out some obscure reference to ID somewhere on the Internet. I often wonder if he spends most of his days earnestly searching the Internet desparately finding some mention of ID. Usually he doesn't write very much, unless of course the subject is how ID is so downtrodden and persecuted in which case he'll write at length. But when it comes to talking about new ideas around ID, or elaborating on his original ideas of CSEI or design filters, it appears he has nothing new to say whatsoever.
Considering that Dembski is supposed to be the 'Newton of Information Theory' he certainly seems devoid of any original ideas.
If ID is "all about the science", what the hell is Dembski doing trying to tell the Brits whom they can or cannot put on their currency? You don't see Dawkins on a crusade to take Washington off the $1 bill because he was a Mason.
And why should he concern himself whether or not evolution is a "material religion"? After all, if ID is all about the science, religion should be irrevevent.
So, Bill, where's the science?
What a fucking twit.
The best summary of Darwin I've heard was this:
*If he lived today, he'd be considered a racist, and by today's standards, with good reason.
*In the time he lived in, he would be very non-racist by the standards of that time, also with good reason.
If we could somehow climb into a cardboard box, return to the nineteenth century and bring Charles Darwin back to visit us in the twenty-first, I have to wonder if he would not look at the astonishing advances in biology since his time and marvel at the discoveries we have achieved, building upon the foundation which he and others laid. I cannot predict what stance Darwin would take upon the selfish gene or group selection models (though perhaps one more conversant with his biography might like to spin hypotheses on that question, just for fun); however, I am sure that he would be enthralled by the mere questions we have the audacity to ask today.
I also feel rather confident that, in seeing the advances we have made toward justice and equality — partial, sometimes painfully insufficient, but admirable advances nonetheless — Darwin would at least search his soul and confront the prejudices he might not even have known he had. What else could a fundamentally decent man do, when his flaws are a reflection of his times and he is confronted with a different time?
realpc said - "But you are very wrong in thinking only the ID advocates have become hateful and irrational. Look at the reactions at Pandas Thumb if anyone politely disagrees with any aspect of neo-Darwnism. These "enlightened" atheists are not above using filthy language and personal attacks to reinforce their "logic."
The difference between UD an PT is that the people at PT allow you to post your questions, whereas on UD you are instantly banned if you present any kind of counter argument. There is a very simple reason for this and that is Bill doesn't want anybody reading something that may make then actually do fact checking. I mean imagine if somebody posted a link to one of the articles at talk.origins, or to the whole quote he took out of context. It would make him look like an idiot, this is the opposite of PT where PZ could care less what you post because he can either provide a counter argument, or admit you are correct.
Actually, RSR's writeup on the same Dembski post says you kinda missed Darwin's point...and so did Dembski.
Dembski was *seriously* quote-mining, worse than the way they quote rhetorical questions that start their argument as if they were the conclusion of the argument.
Does Darwin do this because he agrees with Greg and Galton? No. He cites their arguments in order to refute them. They argue that if evolution were true, the Irish would "multiply like rabbits" and the good frugal Scots would, by their habit of marrying late, become extinct. In effect, Greg and Galton are making a powerful argument against evolution in man.
Darwin goes on in succeeding paragraphs to offer a number of arguments against this line of thinking -- which after all, challenges the validity of his theory of evolution.
Nothing in the paragraph, not one word, reflects what Darwin believed.
Granted your point about quote-mining to create a false impression (and the utter lack of integrity such actions display) still holds true, its just that the quote pulled was even more (intentionally) misleading than your post points out. :)
Realpc trolled thusly: My objections to neo-Darwinism are frustrating to you because you just know you're right. Unfortunately, you are not able to explain logically why you are right.
It's not about me bud. It's about every major scientific organization in the world and practically every scientist in the relevant fields. They know evolution is right, at least within the inherent tentativeness of all science, and contrary to your lies, they have explained why they are right repeatedly. What I think doesn't mean shit. What you think doesn't mean shit either, especially since you are so determined to ignore those free tutorials.
I was accused at PT of objecting to a straw man version of neo-Darwinism. But no one could tell me what was wrong with my version, why they considered it a straw man.
I have never understood why you people think you can get away with lying when it's right there in black and white for all to see. I guess you depend on the inability of your followers to read. Sadly, it's the one thing you got right.
Evolution rules, science proves, and creationism fools!
I've not visited Dembski's blog before but have just done so. This man is, in my view, truly evil. A dark, twisted character. It would be easy to despise him: instead, I think he needs our sympathy and help. Greetings from the UK, BTW!
In yesterday's post I remarked that people seem to lose their minds upon deciding to become anti-evolution advocates.
Yeah, no kidding. I think we should start calling the ID movement by a more accurate name: The Cult Of Darwin Hate.
For people like Dembski and the people he represents, however, it's not really about a sober contemplation of ideas. In reality it's about dividing the world into friends and enemies, and once having placed someone in the enemy column it's about unloading every conceivable bit of rhetoric and invective in their direction.
So true. But I must say, no matter how sharp-tongued I get I never really hate anyone. Seriously I do not.
I think Dembski is rather a lost soul, another creationist cursing the light, clinging to a buoy that sustaining him during whatever rough seas happened to turn him into a fundy but now has no use on dry land. I've seen too many people like that, and I swing between contempt and disbelief, through amusement, and toward genuine alarm and concern at the mental state of this person and his colleagues.
Dembski and his friends may never understand that in fighting them I'm actually fighting for them, because we as human beings must face facts. Now Dembski is claiming that Ken Miller - Ken Miller fer chrissakes - has "wasted his life." It's just maddening to see how they project onto others; their answer is right in front of them but unfortunately, it is they who do not have any sense of wonder or of the sacred that they go on and on about. They're trying to jolt themselves into feeling something that I, as an atheist, feel all the time, though they deny it - a sense of peace in nature, a sense of awe and curiosity. Fighting the world is simply no way to live. It leads to bitterness, and that's what I see in his future, but is the guy going to listen to me?
No indeed; what would I have to teach him. I'm a ghastly atheist.
Nicely said, Kristine.