bill dembski vs. his fundamentalist bosses

November 26, 2010 — 11 Comments

Oh the irony! It’s so thick, you’d need a chainsaw to cut through it. One of my favorite, self-aggrandizing lackeys of the creationist movement, Bill Dembski, who grades his students on just how well they can troll science blogs, and writes vacuous tripe he tries to pass off as legitimate scientific works, was called to the carpet by his university for daring to agree with the scientifically confirmed age of the Earth. Whatever happened to teaching the controversy and encouraging open-minded exploration? Why did the Discovery Institute, so ready and willing to go up to bat for any wannabe evangelical martyr, remain silent on their star fellow’s ordeal? In the creationist world, just like in any breeding ground for cranks and pseudoscientists, it seems that having a genuine case of open-minded education is unwelcome to say the least. This is why when Dembski managed to say something intelligent in his last book and explain why our planet is billions of years old, he was swiftly rebuked for “letting scientific commitments to trump the most natural reading of the Bible.” Threats ensued…

So our scientific Don Quixote in his crusade to help spread creationism to the masses was almost fired when he let little things like facts and evidence figure in his thinking, maybe for the first time in his professional life. I find this situation to be another example of why the wealthy and politically savvy Templeton is so much more successful at undermining science education than the Discovery Institute and why it dropped those jokers as soon as its bosses saw with who they were dealing. Sure, it’s fellows are also not too bright or convincing in their lectures, but at least they would have the good sense to frown and issue a few notes about how they’re disappointed that one of their members is being bullied at work for trying to reconcile sound science with his religious beliefs. The twits at DI, by contrast, didn’t even make a peep about this turn of events. Instead, there’s only a story in a local religious paper. As the Skeptical Teacher notes, isn’t this the reverse of the whole point that the Institute tried to make with their flick Expelled, you know, the heavily and dishonestly edited film which featured professional know-nothing and pseudo-intellectual Ben Stein complaining that scientists were being fired en masse for their religion and repeating Klinghoffer’s brain-dead insipidity about Darwin?

There are professors who deny evolutionary facts and doubt the age of the Earth working in universities. They don’t get very much respect for letting their faith trump real world facts, but they also don’t get fired if they start waxing poetic about the structure of the eye and quoting Behe’s goalpost-shifting nonsense. But seminaries can, and zealously do purge their ranks of anyone who doesn’t follow their dogma to the letter. Dembski was, and still is a very devout Christian. He simply doesn’t see eye to eye with the fundamentalists on staff about a few things in the Bible, but that seems to be enough cause for the seminary’s president to threaten him with a termination because he’s not Christian enough for their tastes. And really, this level of obsession with ancient books injected with ancient morality tales, parables, and classical metaphysics about the events of a time in history that ended long ago scares me. Dembski’s employers are people who will look up at the sky and say that it’s purple because their chosen book tells them so, and if you point out that the sky is really blue, they will call you a heathen, say that the sky must be wrong, and demand it turn purple lest it suffer the wrath of God. If I were Dembski, I would’ve quit on principle alone. But what Dembski did was much worse.

Instead of standing up for his book and his conclusions and beliefs, he bowed before his bosses and turned on a dime about his assertions in the book. Money was apparently more important to him that staying true to his own faith, and that tells me that his opinions have a price tag. I wonder what would happen if an institution with reputable scientific labs were to pay him a boatload of money to produce a treatise defending evolution’s merits. Something tells me that it may be a very real possibility that our quixotic creationist would quickly turn his views around and praise Darwin’s brilliant insight on cue. Because after all, that human windbag probably has some bills to pay and needs money more than he needs to stay true to his principles…

[ illustration by Haptic ]

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  • Russ Toelke

    “Money was apparently more important to him than staying true to his own faith, and that tells me that his opinions have a price tag.”

    If it doesn’t make sense, follow the money.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    I wonder what would happen if an institution with reputable scientific labs were to pay him a boatload of money to produce a treatise defending evolution’s merits.

    That institution’s reputation would be found dead in its room, wearing two wetsuits and an intimately located dildo, before the sun rose.

  • Greg Fish

    Ok Pierce, that was… what’s the world I’m looking for here? Ah, right. Disturbing.

    And really, I don’t think that institution would suffer very much. If anything, it would be known as the university that dealt an embarrassing blow the Discovery Institute and by extension, Templeton.

  • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

    In Dembski’s retreat from his writing that Noah’s Flood was probably local, he said

    “In a brief section on Genesis 4–11, I weigh in on the Flood, raising questions about its universality, without adequate study or reflection on my part,” Dembski wrote. “Before I write on this topic again, I have much exegetical, historical, and theological work to do.

    No mention of geology, I note. That’s a total retreat from any pretense of science by Dr. Dr. Dembski.

  • ProfessorTruth

    Congratulations, that was one of the obscure pieces of screed I’ve read in decades. Especially the collected and connected insults and put-downs of someone it seems likely you don’t know.

    The teaching of evolution isn’t “Darwanism”. Because he offered the first clues, his name is stuck to the entire field of anthropology, geology, and every related science that has been investigated and verified by thousands of scientists for over a century, and who are still discovering more and adding to, or refining, current details, but NOT the basic and irrefutable major conclusions.

    Of course there is an explanation that works for the true believers. They just answer that God created all of the evidence and history to give them the chance to be right when all others are unbelievers who will be punished by God.

  • Greg Fish

    “Especially the collected and connected insults and put-downs of someone it seems likely you don’t know. “

    One man’s put-downs are another man’s facts. So let’s recap. Dembski writes fiery polemics in which he can’t even define what evolution really is, grades his students on trolling science blogs (if you follow the links, you’ll see this assignment on his course syllabus), predicted that this year, evolution would fail as a legitimate science, and after finally publishing scientific facts widely accepted by experts, backed down on them the second his bosses decided that science wasn’t a Christian enough for them.

    And I’m supposed to do what exactly? Pat this guy on the head and say something diplomatic and nice about his crusade to spread ignorance? Unlike some people, I prefer substance over tone. Also, what exactly was your point? There was a lot of rambling but it wasn’t all that relevant to the post itself, nor did it seem to have any actual argument in it. Would you care to clarify it for us?

  • Al

    What is the purpose of making a critical blog? to point out all the faults of another person in an arbitrary way? What is your disagreement – with the person, or what the person teaches? apparently, this may be the same thing to some, but they should be 2 separate subjects to be dealt with. about his person, i met him personally, but do not know him personally, so i cannot comment on him as a person. in reference to what he teaches, i have gone after some resources and some works he has written. what i see is a person who has a faith based on the bible, and who bases their teachings on the bible trying to coincide the two: science and scripture. automatically, he will defend based on what he believes. what disappoints me is when i see someone disagree with a teaching and take it out on the person in an attacking way, instead of taking what is being taught with which you disagree and explain it in a wise and scholarly manner, without aggression – take everything with which you disagree point by point and explain the flaws logically. i will not repeat the things said about him, but the fact that he teaches his students to write on blogs in a civilized and respectful manner – what is wrong with that? i don’t see a problem with that. all of these things that i have read people writing about him are emphasizing only the part with which they disagree, instead of looking at the teachings in their entirety and constructively and logically dealing with each point. criticism is not the problem, people should criticize, but the intention should be to criticize the subject matter, not to attack the teacher on a personal level. my point is that he teaches intelligent design, if i disagree with that subject matter, i will disagree with the points that deal with it directly and i will make my criticism on the points that i find faulty. i should not say i disagree with intelligent design and then arbitrarily pull in another subject matter taught by the same person to defend why i disagree. each point must be dealt with in context and in its entirety. this is useful for all points of interest, not just this specific issue dealing with him. don’t take what i have written personally – my criticism is based on the MANNER in which another person has been attacked instead of his teachings being criticized in a scholarly way.

  • Greg Fish

    “What is the purpose of making a critical blog? to point out all the faults of another person in an arbitrary way?”

    Yes, what is the purpose of criticism. And by that extension what is the purpose of grades? Just to point out all the mistakes students make?

    “the fact that he teaches his students to write on blogs in a civilized and respectful manner – what is wrong with that?”

    He does? Since when? He grades students based on how well they repeat his junk science on other blogs, not on the criticial thinking skills or factual accuracy.

    “if i disagree with that subject matter, i will disagree with the points that deal with it directly and i will make my criticism on the points that i find faulty.”

    And I have. Repeatedly. You would’ve noticed that if you followed the links. The reason why I’m not as prim and proper as you’d like me to be is because despite the endless corrections to his ideas, Dembski continues to spew random pseudoscience and complain that scientists have the gall to correct him. So you can criticize his ideas in a “scholarly way” all you want, but it all comes down to the fact that he’s an obstinent crank who keeps repeating the same discarded dreck that’s been refuted countless times. There is nothing for me to debate in a “scholarly way” with someone to who facts simply don’t matter and who illustrates it very cleary with his behavior.

  • http://gpwillard@gmail.com RaggMopp

    @Professor Truth: I’ve reread the original post and all the replies, and I have failed to find the word, “Darwinism.” Of course, I’m old and about half blind, so I may have missed it. However, just to set your mind at ease: I have made the point many places, here if I’m not mistaken, and if not here then by sin of ommision, “Darwinism is a name invented by early opponents of Darwin’s Theory of Natural and Sexual Selection. It implies a belief (Judaism, Catholicism, heliocentricism, etc.) and is intended to denigrate the science. In fact, evolution as a concept had been around when young Charles was born. It implies a long slow process of selection. Evolution, as a concept has been rattled now and then, but Natural Selection stands like the Matterhorn, above the fray. Someday an Einstein will come and set us straight, like Einstein did for Newton, but I’m not recommending that we hold our breath.”

    Greg, pursuant to “Al’s” reply: The issue here was never the relative merits of Creationism/AI versus the Darwinian Synthesis, but rather the integrity of William Dembski. Not his teachiing style, but rather his blatant disregard for civility in the exchange/pursuit of scientific knowledge.

  • Lamar

    Wow Greg, that’s a lot of poisonous spew for someone who is only guessing about the happenings of a meeting in which you were presumably not in attendance. Claiming Dembski can be bought at a price and his views are based on funding amounts is off topic and bordering on libel. Granted, I would be interested to hear all about his reconsiderations, but to just to jump to conclusions — no matter how obvious you perceive them to be — is as unscrupulous as you think he is.

  • Greg Fish

    “Claiming Dembski can be bought at a price and his views are based on funding amounts is off topic and bordering on libel.”

    If he’s so concerned, he can sue me. My contact information is on the about page, so I’m sure he can find it. As for my conclusion, I base it on the fact that when threatened with being fired, he went back on views he spent months writing and detailing for his book. The fact that he did so in the meeting and did so right away is made very clear by his boss’ quotes in the source article, which I highly suggest you read.

    And yeah, it’s completely on topic. Being a creationist is Dembski’s full time job, and what views he does and does not profess and where, as well as who pays him for it certainly do matter. If an ID “expert” will change his tune when money is involved, we should treat it as a notable red flag.