Reports of the National Center for Science Education
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Volume
27
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No.
3-4
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The Design Revolution?

The Design Revolution? How William Dembski is Dodging Questions about "Intelligent Design"
Reviewed by
Mark Perakh

Who is William A Dembski? We are told that he has PhD
degrees in mathematics and philosophy
plus more degrees — in theology and what not — a long
list of degrees indeed (Dembski 1998: 461).

We all know, however, that
degrees alone do not make a person
a scientist. Scientific degrees
are not like ranks in the military
where a general is always above a
mere colonel. Degrees are only a
formal indicator of a person's educational
status. A scientist's reputation
and authority are based only
to a negligible extent on his
degrees. What really attests to a
person's status in science is publications
in professional journals
and anthologies and references to
one's work by colleagues. This is
the domain where Dembski has so
far remained practically invisible.
All his multiple publications have
little or nothing to do with science.
When he writes about probability
theory or information theory
— on which he is proclaimed to
be an expert — the real experts in
these fields (using the words of the
prominent mathematician David
Wolpert [2003]) "squint, furrow
one's brows, and then shrug."

When encountering critique of
his work, Dembski is selective in
choosing when to reply to and
when to ignore his critics. His preferred
targets for replies are those
critics who do not boast comparable
long lists of formal credentials
— this enables him to dismiss the
critical comments contemptuously
by pointing to the alleged lack of
qualification of his opponents
while avoiding answering the
essence of their critical remarks.
(See, for example, Dembski's
replies to some of his opponents
[Dembski 2002b, 2002c, 2002d,
2003a].) These replies provide
examples of Dembski's overarching
quest for winning debate at
any cost rather than striving to
arrive at the truth. For example, in
his book No Free Lunch (Dembski
2002a), he devoted many pages to
a misuse of Wolpert and
Macready's (1987) No Free Lunch
(NFL) theorems. (Some early critiques
of Dembski's interpretation
of the NFL theorems appear in
Elsberry [1999, 2001]. A detailed
analysis of Dembski's misuse of the
NFL theorems is given, in particular,
in Perakh [2004a].)

Dembski's faulty interpretation
of the NFL theorems was strongly
criticized by Richard Wein (2002a)
and by David Wolpert (2003), the
originator of these theorems.
Dembski spared no effort in rebutting
Wein's critique, devoting to it
two lengthy essays (Dembski
2002b, 2002c). However, he did
not utter a single word in regard to
Wolpert's critique. It is not hard to
see why. Wein, as Dembski points
out, has only a bachelor's degree in
statistics — and Dembski uses this
irrelevant factoid to deflect Wein's
well-substantiated criticism. He
does not, though, really answer the
essence of Wein's comments and
resorts instead to ad hominem
remarks and a contemptuous tone.
(Wein 2002b replies.) He cannot
do the same with Wolpert who
enjoys a sterling reputation as a
brilliant mathematician and who is
obviously much superior to
Dembski in the understanding of
the NFL theorems of which he is a
co-author. Dembski pretends that
Wolpert's critique does not exist.

Dembski has behaved similarly
in a number of other situations. For
example, the extensive index in his
latest book The Design
Revolution: Answering the
Toughest Questions About
Intelligent Design
(Dembski
2004a) completely omits the
names of most of the prominent
critics of his ideas. Totally absent
from the index to the book are the
following names of serious critics:
Rich Baldwin, Eli Chiprout, Taner
Edis, Ellery Eels, Branden Fitelson,
Philip Kitcher, Peter Milne,
Massimo Pigliucci, Del Ratzsch, Jeff
Shallit, Niall Shanks, Jordan H
Sobel, Jason Rosenhouse,
Christopher Stephenson, Richard
Wein, and Matt Young. All these
writers have analyzed in detail
Dembski's literary output and
demonstrated multiple errors, fallacious
concepts, and inconsistencies
which are a trademark of his
prolific production. (I have not
mentioned myself in this list although I have extensively criticized
Dembski both in web postings
[Perakh 2002, 2003a, 2003b,
2003c] and in print [Perakh 2004a,
2004b]; he never uttered a single
word in response to my critique,
while it is known for a fact that he
is familiar with my critique; the
above list shows that I am in good
company.)

Thomas D Schneider, another
strong critic of Dembski's ideas, is
mentioned in the index of The
Design Revolution
but the extent of
the reference is as follows:

Evolutionary biologists regularly claim to obtain specified
complexity for free or from scratch. Richard Dawkins and
Thomas Schneider are some of the worst offenders in this regard.

Contrary to the subtitle of
Dembski's book — Answering the
Toughest Questions About Intelligent
Design
— this remark can
hardly be construed as an answer
to Schneider's questions. But even
this is more of a mention than most
serious critics get from Dembski.

Essentially, all the critics listed
above have asked Dembski a number
of specific questions regarding
his concepts. The absence of any
replies to the listed authors suggest
that the title of Dembski's
new book should have properly
been The Design Revolution?
Dodging Questions about
Intelligent Design
. Is Dembski also
of the opinion that selectivity in
choosing when to respond to
opponents and when to pretend
they do not exist is compatible
with intellectual honesty?

PREMATURE REPORTS OF THE DEMISE OF "DARWINISM"

One of beloved themes of
Dembski's diatribes is his claims
that "Darwinism" (the creationists'
term for evolutionary biology) is
either dying or is already dead ( see
for example Dembski 2004a). In
that assertion, Dembski joins a
long list of "Darwinism"'s deniers
who started making such claims
almost immediately after Darwin
published his magnificent On the
Origins of Species
. Predictions that
"Darwinism" (read: evolutionary
biology) will very soon be completely
abandoned by the majority
of scientists, claims that it has
already died, assertions that it cannot
withstand new discoveries in
science — all this stuff has been a
regular staple of the anti-Darwinian crowd for 148 years
(see Morton 2002). Despite all
these claims, evolutionary biology
is alive and well and the evidence
in favor of most of the Darwinian
ideas is constantly growing.

Dembski asserts time and time
again that evidence favoring
"Darwinism"was always weak and
that new discoveries make it less
and less plausible. His claim (bolstered
by the Discovery Institute's
so-called "Scientific Dissent from
Darwinism" advertisement), concludes
that this lack of evidence is
causing more and more biologists
to abandon Darwinian ideas. In
fact, he is proclaiming something
he desperately wants to be true
but that in reality is utterly false —
at least if the evidence from the
current research literature is any
indication. It is hard to believe
Dembski himself does not know
that his claims are false. Indeed,
Dembski is well aware of Project
Steve (Dembski 2003b), conducted
by the National Center of Science
Education (http://ncse.com/taking-action/project-steve).

This endeavor by NCSE has
unequivocally demonstrated that
the overwhelming majority of scientists,
and more specifically of
biologists, firmly support evolutionary
biology based largely on
Darwinian principles. According
to these data, the ratio of scientists
who are firm supporters of the
neo-Darwinian synthesis to those
who doubt the main tenets of
modern evolutionary biology is
estimated, as of March 10, 2004, to
be about 142 to 1. Dembski knows
about this ratio and even tried to
dismiss its significance (Dembski
2003b) by asserting that Project
Steve was "an exercise in irrelevance"
because the support of evolution by the majority of scientists
is "obvious" anyway and was not disputed. It is remarkable that such
a statement plainly contradicts Dembski's incessant claims in his
other writing about scientists' allegedly abandoning "Darwinism"
in droves; this contradiction apparently does not make Dembski
uncomfortable. Of course self-contradictory
claims in Dembski's output are too common to be surprising.

Dembski is a relatively young
man and will most probably continue
emanating repetitious
philippics against "materialistic
science" for many years to come.
Science is not impressed, though
(and hardly will be), by a relabeled
creationism, supported not by evidence
but only by casuistry in a
pseudo-mathematical guise. (The
purely religious motivation underlying
Dembski's relentless attacks
on evolutionary biology — in
which he has no training or relevant
experience — and on "materialistic
science" in general is obvious
from his numerous statements
to non-scientific audiences — see,
for example, Dembski 2004b, in
which he told his audience, "When
you are attributing the wonders of
nature to these mindless material
mechanisms, God's glory is getting robbed").

A SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION?

In his latest book, Dembski
(2004a) says:

I take all declarations about
the next big revolution in
science with a stiff shot of
skepticism. Despite that, I
grow progressively more
convinced that intelligent
design will revolutionize science
and our conception of
the world (p 19).

Is the Design Revolution, so boldly
forecast by Dembski, indeed imminent?
I suspect that Dembski is in
for a deep disappointment. He
may continue generating noise
within the shadow region underneath
science, but at some point
in the future all this brouhaha that
"intelligent design" allegedly will
replace "materialistic science"
most probably will result in
adding one more item to the
amusing collection of absurdities
that already contains Barrow and
Tipler's Final Anthropic Principle
with its prediction of a neverdying
intelligence (Barrow and
Tipler 1986; Gardner 1986),
Tipler's further prediction of the
imminent resurrection of the dead
as computer-reincarnated entities
(Tipler 1994), homeopathic quasi-medicine, and other fads and fallacies
that so easily earn cheap
popularity among the benighted
crowds. Paradoxically, these "scientific
revolutions" occur regularly in
the same country where efforts by
the avant garde of honest scientists
and inventors lead the world in the
progress of technology and genuine
science. Dembski's work may
be remarkable among these only in
its quantity.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I appreciate helpful comments to the initial
draft of this essay by Matt Young, Alec
Gindis, Wesley R Elsberry, and Gary S Hurd.

This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
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