Three SH’s and one D


On April 21, 2004, a debate was conducted at the Veritas forum at UCLA. It consisted of two parts. In the first part Michael Shermer who is the editor of the Skeptic magazine and director of the Skeptic Society (based in Los Angeles, CA), argued in favor of a materialistic worldview against Jeffrey Schwartz who is a professor at UCLA and is conducting research in the human brain’s activity. In the second part Niall Shanks who is a professor of philosophy (and an adjunct professor of physics and of biology) at the East Tennessee State University debated William A. Dembski, who is an intelligent design advocate with doctoral degrees in both mathematics and philosophy plus a degree in theology. Each of the four participants of the debate has published several books. The debate which was moderated by a professor of philosophy Dallas Willard was taped and broadcast on C-SPAN 2 channel on June 12, 2004.

I have had a special interest in that debate because it was I who was originally invited by the Veritas forum, at the behest of William Dembski, to debate him. After I declined the invitation, Niall Shanks was invited instead. So, when I was watching Niall’s performance, there was in the back of my mind a thought that I could have been in his place were I to accept Dembski’s challenge. Naturally, watching the debate, I had a chance to test my attitude according to which such public debates are useless. Indeed, what I saw and heard confirmed my opinion - in my view such debates serve no useful purpose. The time constraints and the audience’s level of familiarity with the subject matter do not allow for a real in-depth discussion of the topics. The superficial and fleeting character of the oral debate enables such skilled speakers as Dembski to appear like having arguments of substance while in fact his notions are often senseless as it can be shown if the same arguments are offered in written essays.

As I expected, this debate mostly boiled down to a rather superficial chat about intelligent design, its role for biology, the secrets of the human brain and a few related topics, on the level of sophistication which necessarily had to be well below that in, say, Shanks’s excellent book and even in some of Dembski’s written essays. Therefore my review will also relate more to the manner in which the debate was conducted than to the essence of the argumentation which hardly added much of substance or any novel ideas to the already well chewed topics.

I had several reasons for declining Veritas’s and Dembski’s invitation, which I briefly explained in a letter to Craig Nishimoto who is the Veritas’s contact person at UCLA. My letter can be seen, for example, at my website mywebsite. Some of the reasons were purely personal but one of the reasons was that I share Richard Dawkins’s attitude according to which such debates are useless in principal and only serve to provide a veneer of legitimacy to representatives of a pseudo-science. Dembski has more than once declared the religious motivations behind his anti-evolution activities, so, as I put it in the above mentioned letter, I don’t want to taint my record by a debate with a gentleman who uses “science” as a vehicle for his apologetics.

There was an additional reason why I construed the planned debate as pointless. As Nishimoto had it in his invitation letter, the debate would be about applicability of intelligent design in biology. This struck me as odd. Neither I nor Dembski are biologists.

In my view, a debate between two amateurs is like two eunuchs discussing the love-making skills of the sultan’s wives. I have had a very upsetting experience of being forced to discuss some physics with dilettantes who, as is typical of dilettantes, were confident that they successfully muzzled me with their wise comments. In fact, there was no way to break through the wall of their ignorance of elementary concepts of physics. I have no desire to find myself in the position of those dilettantes if I try to seriously debate problems of biology with another dilettante.

Obviously Michael Shermer and Niall Shanks had a different attitude, and perhaps they are much better cognizant of biology than I, so I very sincerely wished them the utmost success in debating Schwartz and Dembski.

I’ll now discuss briefly the debate in question.

First, the actual course of the debate was not as bad as could have been expected. The audience which presumably consisted largely of members of Veritas, which is an organization of religious students, did not display any explicit hostility toward Shermer and Shanks. Both were politely applauded about as much as Dembski and Schwartz, and never interrupted. Dallas Willard in fact did not moderate the debate in any explicit way - he did not comment on what the debaters said, never interrupted them and in general was almost invisible.

I have read a number of essays and books by Dembski, but until now have never had a chance to watch him perform live. Having watched him this time, I think I have figured out why he has so persistently tried to lure me into a public debate and why he is in general so fond of such debates. One of the reasons, which I suspected even before this debate, may be his enormous self-confidence which has found explicit manifestations in his disdainful remarks regarding his opponents as found in his writing. Having watched his performance on April 21, 2004, I have perhaps better understood why he is confident that he has nothing to lose but rather something to gain from such debates.

His performance entailed a few simple tools which he could apply regardless of the discussion’s topic and which ensure that at least that part of the audience which is not well versed in the matter gains the impression that he has a valid point even if it remains obscure for the audience. His tactic is versatile and can be used in debates with various opponents almost without variations. One of the features of his presentation is that regardless of what his opponents say, he avoids addressing their arguments, instead saying his well rehearsed part as if he has not heard the opponents’ arguments. If asked a question, he answers with a lengthy and convoluted speech which obscures the gist of the question, is replete with solemnly sounding references to esoteric mathematical and philosophical concepts, many of them irrelevant to the essence of the question, and leaves the opponent exasperated as there is no way to reply in a few sentences to the web of extraneous points raised in Dembski’s talk.

Unlike in his written work where he is often sarcastic and even rude when referring to his opponents’ arguments, in the public debate Dembski was calm, restrained and looked like a reasonable and nice gentleman who respects his opponent’s views. However, he did not concede a single point, repeating with the unbreakable self-confidence that, although his concepts were critiqued by some opponents, his work is completely faultless. To support this statement, he quoted a few scientists who provided admiring references to his work. He did not, though, quote those authors who offered a strong critique of his work.

Overall, I did not hear from Dembski a single argument which would not repeat what I have read in his publications. He did not address in any way the critique of his work by multiple critics, notably by Ratzsch and Wolpert. Needless to say, he never mentioned my critique of his work which he seemed so eager to discuss when suggesting my candidacy for an opponent at this debate. Also, he delivered his points without much regard to what Shanks was saying.

He has devoted a considerable attention to the discussion of what he referred to as the mascot of intelligent design - the bacterium flagellum. He insisted that the flagellum is in fact a machine, and to support this statement, he displayed that standard picture where the flagellum is shown in a geometrically perfect shape, fully symmetric and consisting of geometrically perfectly formed parts. Of course, such a presentation was misleading as the real flagellum is far from having such a perfect geometric shape. Unlike machines, which may be close replicas of each other (say, all Jeeps of the same year have almost exactly the same shape) the flagella, first, have shapes with many deviations from a perfect geometric symmetry, and, second, there are no two flagella exactly identical. Individual flagella differ in various respects, like the entire biological organisms vary from an individual to individual. If Dembski’s picture were closer to reality, it would be much less effective in supporting his claims. Since he did not offer a disclaimer pointing to the idealization used in his depiction of the flagellum, we are entitled to conclude that he was interested not in an honest discussion based on facts, but rather on winning the debate regardless of means.

Shanks performance was delightful. He sprinkled his talk with a good measure of humor which often invoked chuckles in the audience. His presentation was succinct, to the point and never deviating from the topic. This gives me an additional reason to be glad that I declined the invitation to that debate thus opening the opportunity for Niall to do a good job. Interesting that out of the six questions from audience allowed by Willard after Shanks-Dembski debate, five were to Dembski and only one to Shanks, and, as I could determine, four questions seemed to be implicitly casting doubt on Dembski’s position.

Unlike Dembski, Schwartz behaved in a rather flamboyant manner, very persistently trying to hammer his points into the listeners’ minds. As I could determine, his main thesis was that the activity of a human brain cannot be reduced to purely materialistic explanation (although he also insisted that his explanation is purely “natural”). In his view, the physical events in the brain are caused by what he referred to as the “mental force.” Of course, this was just a resurrection of the concept of �lan vital of the vitalistic philosophy long abandoned by science. Indeed, Schwartz did not offer any “natural” explanation of what the actual nature of that “mental force” could be. As all such explanations, it amounts to giving up on any explanation, attributing instead the observed work of the brain to a mysterious and completely obscure source about which nothing is known besides giving it a name of “mental force” which says nothing about what it is. In that, Schwartz’s concept is just a variation of the “god-of-the-gaps” argument which seems to have lost its credibility even for many defenders of ID (like Alvin Plantinga [1]). Its other name is argument from ignorance.

Apparently not fully comfortable with referring to an unexplainable “mental force” as such, Schwartz tried to support his idea by a reference to some concepts of quantum physics. This was where his presentation deteriorated to the level of arbitrary proclamations not supported by any evidence.

I am not an expert in quantum physics since I have never published papers wherein I would offer some novel ideas in that field. However, I happen to have taught (along with other courses) both quantum mechanics per se, and other disciplines that use quantum-mechanical concepts, such as quantum theory of solids. I did it more than once, both on the undergraduate and graduate level. I started teaching this specific course almost fifty years ago, at the Alma-Ata university in the USSR, and repeated it several times subsequently, both in the USSR and in the West. To do so, I studied scores of both textbooks and scientific monographs on quantum physics and related matters, by various authors, as well as many original papers by the main players in the development of quantum mechanics and related fields. Also, in some of my own papers I applied certain quantum-mechanical concepts for practical computations, for example, in the field of magnetic phenomena. Therefore, whereas I have no claim to being an authority on quantum physics, I believe I have more or less reasonable understanding of its basic concepts, perhaps not less than the biologist Schwartz.

Based on my background as described above, I believe that Schwartz’s attempts to justify his reference to a mysterious mental force by allegedly relevant data from quantum physics are baseless. He mentioned non-locality, Bells’ theorem and other concepts of modern quantum physics, but all these concepts have nothing to do with “mental force” of which nobody, including Schwartz himself, knows anything beyond the pompously sounding name. Indeed, he did not offer any explanation of how the quantum concepts he mentioned may lead to his idea of a mental force.

Shermer dismissed Schwartz’s concept as belonging to the “new age” philosophy. Since I am not sufficiently familiar with what is referred to as “new age” I can’t judge whether this was a correct attribution. However, regardless of how precisely to define Schwartz’s concept, it is quite obvious what it is not. It is not a concept that can be discussed seriously and as such it does not belong in science.


1. Alvin Plantinga, “Methodological Naturalism?” In R. T. Pennock, Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001: 351.


Did Dembski’s argument really mainly rely on the flagella looking like a designed machine or just functioning like one.

I guess your point is that Dembski would have lost some rhetorical points if he would have used a less stylised graphic, but I’ve seen the argument from IC being made (i am not entirely convinced of it)and it doesn’t seem to rely heavily on a this “looks designed” appeal.

Danke, T. Russ

Thanks for the thorough review, Mark.

I listened to a tape of a speech by Schwartz at another design conference, and I also was put off by his style and baffled by his point. He shrilly denounced materialism (that’s why he’s in the ID camp,) but the motivation for this seemed to be merely that conscious experience and bodily states can influence each other - which everybody knows.

As for Dembski, and the debate question in general: I have listened to Dembski in person, on radio shows, and on speeches put on the internet. They all are opportunities to say approximately the same simplimistic things, varying only in the amount of religious content depending on the audience.

There’s an old PR adage that applies to Dembski and the ID movement: they are quite aware that they are “educating a parade.” That is, they say the same things over and over as new groups of people pass by for short periods of time. Analyzing their position in depth, either in order to truly develop it (as a real scientist would) or to answer their critics, is not what they are about.

Jack Krebs: the same simplimistic things

“simplimistic” = “simplistic/optimistic” ? I love it; did you invent that?

TY Mark,

Dembski did seem pretty somewhat reserved and likable. Of course, coming on after Schwartz’s seemingly fanatical rant, i.e. waving around his little purple plastic brain, might make anyone appear lucid.

T. Russ:

… I’ve seen the argument from IC being made.…

The argument being that it is impossible in principle (never mind the quibble that well, maybe it is only so improbable that it would never ever happen with the Designer’s aid) for irreducible complexity (IC) as defined by DI representatives and other creationists to occur in evolution. Stripped of rhetoric including rhetorical ‘definitions’ is amounts to claiming that evolution doesn’t lead to co-adapted parts. Yes, that’s preposterous.

But: 1) IC as defined by Behe or similarly is a normal outcome of evolution.

2) There is nothing especially problematic about the evolution of a bacterial flagellum except the difficulty of working exactly what happened at the molecular level billions of years ago. What is remarkable is that so much can be said about it.

What are anti evolutionists left with? As usual, the ‘in principle’ argument fades to sputtered complaints, mainly not all details are known, so lets apply the Principle of More Gaps at the molecular level, or make new false claims.

Interesting. I saw Schwartz once on a panel discussion at (I think) the LA Book fair, which was also shown on C-Span - probably about a year ago. (I mean, I saw it on C-Span, not live.) I too was massively put off by his manner - well before I could figure out what his substance was. (I happened on the item by chance, channel-flicking, so missed the first few minutes so didn’t know who the panelists were or what the subject was.) As soon as he started talking I thought he must be pushing some woo-woo line or other, simply because of all the emoting and flailing around he was doing. The other people were John Maddox, Timothy Ferris, and Brenda Maddox; they were all markedly unimpressed with Schwartz, much to my relief. His main point was something to the effect that ‘science’ should take mental experience into account instead of just writing it off, ruling it out, etc. John Maddox pointed out the obvious, that it’s rather difficult to know how to go about that, given how hidden mental experience is - causing Schwartz to flail about some more. All very odd.

Schwartz also said something mockingly bitter (or bitterly mocking) about the fact that Nature wouldn’t publish his articles. Maddox said something civil but firm about the (all too apparent) reason for that.

Ophelia wrote

Schwartz also said something mockingly bitter (or bitterly mocking) about the fact that Nature wouldn?t publish his articles. Maddox said something civil but firm about the (all too apparent) reason for that.

LOLOL!! I just about expired from laughing/coughing spasms at that!


Ophelia wrote

Schwartz also said something mockingly bitter (or bitterly mocking) about the fact that Nature wouldn?t publish his articles. Maddox said something civil but firm about the (all too apparent) reason for that.

LOLOL!! I just about expired from laughing/coughing spasms at that!


Here’s how I described the broadcast over on CrEvo:TED

Well, I watched both debates this afternoon. The one with Shermer vs. Schwartz was interesting, because of Schwartz’s somewhat off-the-wall claim that quantum mechanics explains consciousness where Newtonian physics cannot.

If I understand him correctly, he says that when you take the conscious effort to stay focused on the task or idea at hand, you are collapsing the wave functions of the neurons in , and that only this collapsing of the wave function can explain why the circuit in said brain structure can stay locked into this mode of attention. IIRC he called this the “quantum zeno effect”.

Shermer said this was just new-age babble, where you throw out scientific words hoping that they’ll stand in for actual concepts.

Schwartz claims that a materialistic, Newtonian view of the world gives rise to the dualism of brain vs. mind - of the mutually exclusive phenomena of a set of neurons firing vs. a person coming up with an idea. So far so good, I guess. But he claims that the way out of this failed dualism is to say that, thru quantum mechanics, the thoughts can drive the brain as much as the brain can give rise to thoughts.

I say he hasn’t solved the conundrum of dualism at all. The proper way to look at the brain vs. the mind is not (as Schwartz put it) that materialists see our thoughts as mere epiphenomena of the brain. An epiphenomenon is a side effect. “Mind” is not a mere side effect of brain. It’s the brain’s work product. Thinking is what the brain does for a living. “Thoughts” and “brain functions” are just two ways of looking at the same phenomenon. Neither is more real than the other, nor mere epiphenomenon of the other. But neither are they two separate things, really. They’re the same thing, viewed at two different levels of abstraction.

Schwartz apparently doesn’t see this; unfortunately nobody made that point.

p.s. I remember one audience member said that the physicist whom Schwartz was relying on for his “quantum zeno effect” was regarded as rather eccentric by the physics community. I think Schwartz vigorously responded that the guy had tenure and that he’s published a lot.

Schwartz works with obsessive-compulsive sufferers, and teaches them how to consciously force their misfiring brain circuits to behave by focusing their minds back on the task at hand. He described how he worked with Leonardo DiCaprio to play Howard Hughes in an upcoming biopic.

Schwartz also talked about his practice & extensive (obsessive?) research into buddhism. Actually, Schwartz never talked about anything so much as yelled about them. Schermer opened his rebuttal with “You’re the most energetic buddhist I’ve ever seen!” That was putting it mildly.

Re: Dembski: He does come off utterly reasonable & mild-mannered on stage. As Mark says, his debate was unsatisfying because he kept answering the questions he wanted to answer instead of the questions that were put to him. He’s like a politician in this way.

He insisted that the flagellum is in fact a machine, and to support this statement, he displayed that standard picture where the flagellum is shown in a geometrically perfect shape, fully symmetric and consisting of geometrically perfectly formed parts.

I have a suggestion about that. Today I was walking around the biochem building, looking for an available rotator (my physics stomping ground is not the best place to scavenge bio equipment) and perusing the recent research posters. On one of them I saw a ribbon-model of a ribosome. In the space-filling model you can see it, but in the ribbon model you really see it: This thing is a junky Rube-Goldberg gizmo, the kind of ass-backward thing you expect from evolution, not from Immaculate Design. I don’t think there’s a better single-image refutation of the kind of pristine clockwork image creationists love.

I can’t find a good ribbon model pic on google, but here’s some good space-filling ones for you non-bio people:[…]ribosome.jpg[…]ribosome.jpg oo, wait a min, here’s a ribbon one:[…]ribosome.gif[…]ribosome.jpg this one’s probably the best:[…]Ribosome.jpg

and for comparison, here’s an image of it the creationists would probably like, where they look like god made them via injection-molding:[…]ribosome.jpg[…]ribosome.gif[…]/forme_a.gif

Russ: Perhaps the preceding comment by the biologist Steve answers your question. I believe it is better to let biologists discuss it - they know how the real rather than idealized electron micrographs of fagella and of other organellas look like (see, for example, the real photo of a flagellum in Nic Matzke’s essay on Talk Reason). Dembski failed to refer to real photos - you can interpret this yourself.

Dr. Perakh

Personally, the most machine-like looking pic of the flagella I have ever seen is the one you’ve suggested I take a look at. (David DeRosier, reproduced with permission by Nic Matzke.) But I don’t think it matters much whether or not it appears designed, (although that might be expected by ID) but that it seems to have been produced by intelligent causation of some kind, rather than natural law, chance interactions, etc.

I understand the beef with using flashy photos without explaining to the audience some kind of disclaimer, but I don’t think that argueing about the pics used is a valid argument itself against the concepts of IC or ID.

After I read your post I went and flipped through a couple of different biochem books from the past few years. Most of them contained very machine-like representaions of the flagella, many of them even describe it as a machine and so on. But this does not bother me, and I don’t believe Voet and Voet are wrong for using them.

T. Russ

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T. Russ: I can repeat the last sentence of my preceding comment : interpret it yourself. You are entitled to your view as I am to mine. In fact I did not suggest that the way Dembski uses the pictures is in itself an argument against ID, not any more than pointing to the fact that some catholic priests are pedofiles proves that there is no God. However, the fact that they are pedofiles is relevant to judging their character. Likewise, the way Dembski uses the pictures has bearing on his credibility. Regarding your view that flagellum must be designed by an intelligent agent, arguments against such a view, which have nothing to do with Dembski’s character, are many and to my mind rather convincing as also is the view of the overwhelmiong majority of biologists. As to the electron micrograph in Matzke’s article, do you see there all those perfectly cylindrical elements closely fitting each other and all other fine intricate details shown in the beatufull pictures Dembski uses?

Dr. Perakh,

I understand your points and agree with you. Especially concerning the importance of judging ones character. I agree that judging ones character is unrelated to the truth or falsity of their claims. (good example with the pedofiles) Even if all the ID proponents in the world were lyin’ cheatin’ scumbags from the underworld it would not then necessarily conclude that the natural world was not in fact designed. It would only imply that they themselves possessed bad characteristics and that we should thus be suspicious of their claims etc. But again, character, motivations, and so on, do not have an ultimate berring on the truth or falsity of any empirical facts. I think we might agree on this.

However, I’m still not seeing why Dembski’s character is to be cast down because he uses nice pictures. (a far different thing from someone who says they follow the words of the Bible yet commit horrendous acts against innocent children) As I mentioned this morning, Voet and Voet, as well as many others, use similar graphics in their biochem textbooks to help assist learning and so forth. Are we to therefore to conclude that the Voets are not credible pedagogs of biochemistry? I hope not.

Also, as I said earlier, I have not yet made up my mind concerning the IC argument for ID. I really do believe there to be some decent points coming from both sides. And thanks for pointing towards Nic’s paper, it was a bit enlightening. Yet still as far as I am able to discern the verdict on the flagella is not yet in. But, don’t worry about me, I’m still young, still open, and still thinking.

T. Russ


Why’s that a sermon?

T. Russ

Just to be clear, I’m not a biologist, I’m a physics senior at NCSU doing some undergrad biophysics research.

i see perakh is still trying to justify his pussing out of debate with dembski. chicken shit!

T. Russ (regarding pictures of flagella in Biology textbooks):

I hope Mark Perakh doesn’t mind if I try to spell out his point for him.

The Biology textbooks you looked at are trying to explain how a flagellum works. For this purpose, a very stylized picture may be appropriate.

Dembski is trying to convince us that the design of the flagellum suggests supernautural input. For this purpose, a very stylized picture would tend make his (Dembski’s) point seem more valid than it actually is.

Matts: Although your message perfectly fits the bathroom wall, I’ll let it stay so everybody can see how our opponents substitute namecalling for arguments because of utter impotence in intellectual department.

“Yet still as far as I am able to discern the verdict on the flagella is not yet in.”

The verdict most certainly is in, TRuss, and it wasn’t intelligently designed. Whether you believe the jury is your choice. Heck, some people continue to believe that OJ is innocent so if you want to believe that aliens designed the flagella, go right ahead.

If Dembski were merely trying to teach students about how the flagella works (as textbooks are) that would be one thing. But that is not what he is doing. He is arguing that the flagella is a machine whose design is so profoundly complex that only an intelligent being could have created it, i.e., it could never have possibly evolved from a simpler set of genes and their encoded proteins. In making such an argument, Dembski ignores the FACT that bacterial flagella are unlike manmade motors in many many ways that are NOT relevant to understanding how they operate but are VERY relevant when we try to understand how they might have evolved.

Finally, there are many more reasons to cast Dembski’s character in doubt beyond his use of this picture. His choice of words and pictures to characterize the flagella are merely consistent with the deceit he routinely engages in.

Please take the time to educate yourself re Mr. Debmski on Pandas Thumb and TalkOrigins. Spend two or three hours reviewing the evidence about Mr. Debmski’s bogus creationist allegations. If you still have an intelligent question to ask about the merits of his allegations, feel free to ask it here. In particular, it would be of great interest to us all if you could point out examples where critics of Mr. Dembski have been dishonest in their characterizations of Mr. Debmski’s behavior or his writings.

“character, motivations, and so on, do not have an ultimate berring on the truth or falsity of any empirical facts. I think we might agree on this”

Perhaps. But we’re not talking about empirical facts. We’re talking about Dembski’s explanation for how life on earth evolved. He doesn’t have any empirical data to support his explanation. On the other hand, we know what motivates him and we know that he is not forthright about the many mistakes he has made during the course of expounding his “theories” (note the quotation marks). So whether I or anyone else agrees with your statement is only relevant insofar as it pulls the carpet from under many ID apologists’ claims that evolutionary biology is a “secular humanist” conspiracy.

T. Russ:

Remember that the scientific question is not whether it was designed, but how that design was actuated. Reading between the lines of what most IDers say, including Behe’s admission of common descent, and the fact that other IDers don’t challenge him directly, that “how” must still be evolution. They certainly haven’t proposed anything else, at least for after that “first cell”.

But what amazed me particularly about this example is not so much that they use stylized examples to promote incredulity rather than an explanation, but that they (not sure about Dembski, but certainly Wells) love to criticize Haeckel for “idealizing” his embryo diagrams (for a hypothesis that science has abandoned no less), yet have no problem doing the same thing.

Why the double standard?

T. Russ: Why’s that a sermon?

This is the central problem with Dembski et al. His life’s work is not science &/or math, it’s evangelism. A very special kind of evangelism that pretends to be scientific. He tries to portray himself - at least to school boards and church/state separation enthusiasts - as engaged in a strictly academic enterprise.

But then to his co-religionists he’ll make statements like this:

“The world is a mirror representing the divine life… Intelligent design readily embraces the sacramental nature of physical reality. Indeed, intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory.”

Perhaps you missed the banner at the top of the sermon in question:

*****The Gospel is the power of God unto Salvation***** *************Grace Valley Christian Center*************

As an alumnus of UC Davis, I am very disappointed that my tax dollar supported and alumnus dollar supported chemistry building is being used as a backdrop for Dembski’s ministry, which seems to be: “Faith is not just a matter of faith, but of scientific fact”

T. Russ: Perhaps the comment from “Matts” shows why references to Dembski’s character are relevant. “Matts”’s attempt to insult me is a good example of how low the ID advocates are willing to stoop.

Regarding who is afraid of whom, I sugegsted to Dembski more than once to engage me in a debate through exchange of written and publicly available essays which would allow for a real in-depth discussion of the subject instead of the exchange of sound-bites in a fleeting oral debate, but he consistently dodged.

Another example of such underhanded and invidious attacks are a few anonymous reviews of my book on Amazon, one traced to Dembski himself who, instead of debating me openly, cowardly hid behind anonymity, trying to stab me in the back, and the other by a gentleman from Santa Barbara who likewise did not dare to sign his purely personal assault void of any arguments.

“Matts” seems to belong in the same category of brave men who are too shy to sign a full name but have the gall to judge who is courageous and who is puscillanimous, while having nothing to say about the substance of the dispute.

Matts, What are you doing? Why act like such a fool?

Dr. Perakh, You are right about Matts. As far as i’m concerned the post by Matts does do considerable damage to his credibility in this sort of discussion. However, I think it unfair to say that Dembski and Matts are the same. The anonymous review on Amazon was not mere name calling and certainly not “back stabbing”. The reviewer didn’t like your book and used his review of it to plug some others. However, don’t take this as an oppurtunity to demonize Dembski and say he has done the same thing as Matts. I don’t know whether either of you are chickens to debate. I would love to see it and much more like to read it.

T. Russ: I am glad that you at least agree about the unseemly behavior of somebody hiding behind the pseudonim Matts. However, you oddly half-join him stating that you “don’t know who are chickens.” You should know better. Everybody familiar with the matter knows that I have openly and thoroughly critisized Dembski’s output while he never responded. What can I be afraid of insofar as Dembski’s ideas are in question? Hence, by attempting to ostensibly stay neutral, you in fact display bias in favor of Dembski.

His anonymous review of my book on Amazon certainly was unseemly -he dismissed my book without providing a single specific argument. Not surprisingly, as he disliked my book “by definition,” because I critiqued his work there, instead of joining the chorus of his admirers who pronounced him the Isaac Newton of information theory. By the same token he automatically dislikes each and every critique of his ideas - see how disdainfully he related to the critical essays by Richard Wein and Erik, and to the paper by Matzke on flagellum. In his post to Amazon, supposedly a review of my book, he instead promoted his own book, hiding behind anonymity, as if the recommendation for his book came from somebody else. I did not need to do anything to “demonize” Dembski - he successfully did it himself.

There also is another negative review of my book on Amazon signed by a pseudonim (a reader from Santa Barbara) which is in the same category as Matts’s pearl. So, the personal attack by Matts is by no means an exception insofar as the ID advocates’s methods of discussions are in question (see, for example, my and Elsberry’s essay on Talk Reason where we documented how some ID advocates use invidious comparisons of their opponents to the Nazis, Soviet communists, Lysenko, Salem judges etc).

I have taken part in many debates during my long career, but all were with serious scientists, not with people anonymously promoting their books.

T. Russ, while you avoid excesses like those by Matts, you seem to be not quite impartial as you insist you are.

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Perakh Wrote:

Some of the reasons were purely personal but one of the reasons was that I share Richard Dawkins’s attitude according to which such debates are useless in principal and only serve to provide a veneer of legitimacy to representatives of a pseudo-science. Dembski has more than once declared the religious motivations behind his anti-evolution activities, so, as I put it in the above mentioned letter, I don’t want to taint my record by a debate with a gentleman who uses “science” as a vehicle for his apologetics.

I believe the real reason you declined is because you feared that you would have your posterior handed back to you on a silver charger. Also, Dr. Wolpert is not the vehement critic of Dembski you try to pass him off as.

We’ll ignore the vicarious macho swaggering and get straight to the substance:

Where does Dr. Perakh describe Wolpert as a “vehement critic” of Dembski? I had gleaned the impression that Wolpert regarded Dembski’s efforts as without substance (“written on jello”, I believe was the quote). Not a vehement criticism, just the dismissal of a non-contribution.

You seem to have some more detailed information, though, about what Wolpert thinks about Dembski’s writing. Are you at liberty to share with us what that is?

According to the leaked Wedge document, one of the IDiots’ goals is a public debate with a real scientist. I agree with Mark. They should not be given credibility by association. Dembski’s refusal to debate instead in print is revealing, isn’t it? If he has actual science, this would be as good or better than an oral debate. If he just has rhetoric, quips, and sound bites, it wouldn’t. And for all the bluster, noise, name-calling, abuse of jargon, endless redefinition, and allegations of conspiracy, the one thing we haven’t seen from the creationist quarter is any science.

It makes you wonder, do they know that they have no science to contribute, and this is all just a show to convert the rubes?

Hey, I’d be glad to debate Dembski. Of course, I’ve not been a practicing scientist for at least three decades. I’m an attorney, and a teacher, and as a Christian I’m happy to explain how creationism is contrary to the Bible.

So why won’t the creationists/IDists debate me?

I’d be easy fodder for a mathematician like Dembski, were he to have the arguments on his side …

Of course, one of my slides also shows the work of Paul Lucas, who took Dembski’s mathematical equations urging the impossibility of evolution and actually ran them. It turns out that if organisms have more than one offspring, the probability for evolution rises to near unity, according to Dembski’s math. I’m sure he doesn’t want to see that one again.


Got a reference/URL for Lucas’s stuff? Is it in that long thread in the Chronicle?


Russell Durbin Wrote:

You seem to have some more detailed information, though, about what Wolpert thinks about Dembski’s writing. Are you at liberty to share with us what that is?

Yes, Dr. Wolpert gave me permission to share our correspondence and I would be happy to do so. However, I must retrieve the correspondence from my laptop first.

Robert O’Brien writes: > Dr. Wolpert, > > Thank you for your response. I have not read enough on the topic of ID > to commit myself to a position, but I am certainly sympathetic to ID in > general and Dembski in particular. I also have not read your papers > (they have been added to my “to read” list, though). In my last message > I was specifically referring to your “Written in Jello” review which is > posted on “” It seems to me that you do not think Dembski > has proved his point and thus reserve judgment on his use of your > no-free-lunch theorems. Is that a fair assessment of your position on > Dembski?

Yes. I am a scientist, and extend that approach to philosophical topics as well. My skim on Dembski is that he has nothing to agree with or refute - there is nothing concrete to respond to, one way or another.

Best wishes,

David Wolpert

PS. For the record though, I am suspicious of the ID movement. It has trouble passing the smell test, IMO.

> > Sincerely, > > Robert O’Brien > > >Hi Robert, > > > > > > > > > >Robert O’Brien writes: > > > Dr. Wolpert, > > > > > > Your name is often cited in the rabid criticisms of William Dembski by > > > one Mark Perakh. A cursory examination of your review of Dembski left me > > > with the impression that you are more neutral than Perakh would have > > > others believe. Would you please clarify your position for me? > > > >Er, I’m not sure what your question is. Do I take it from your > >question that you are a supporter of Dembski? > > > >Have you read any of my no-free-lunch papers? > > > > > > > >Best wishes, > > > >David Wolpert > > > > > > > > > > > > Sincerely, > > > > > > Robert O’Brien

Dr. Wolpert may not be a “vehement” critic of Dembski, but he is obviously totally underwhelmed by what Dembski has offered so far.

Russell, I pretty much agree with you. I thought this guy was an Admonitus, just having fun. Mainly because of the “Mathematicians can criticise biology, but biologists aren’t allowed to criticise their criticism” thing. Also, it’s unlikely that an educated person would side with an argument, based on Wolpert’s theorems, which Wolpert himself says is fundamentally wrong. That he actually bothered to talk to Wolpert changed my guess, though. Now my guess is that the poor guy grew up drinking from the same well as Casey Luskin.

Wolpert is right, btw–ID doesn’t pass the smell test.

RE: above correspondence with Dr. Wolpert:

Is Dr. Perakh’s characterization of Wolpert’s position on Dembski in any way at odds with what we see here?

Russell Durbin Wrote:

RE: above correspondence with Dr. Wolpert:

Is Dr. Perakh’s characterization of Wolpert’s position on Dembski in any way at odds with what we see here?

I believe so, but my view might be colored by the tone of Perakh’s frothing-at-the-mouth criticisms.

My skim on Dembski is that he has nothing to agree with or refute - there is nothing concrete to respond to, one way or another.

Dr. Wolpert states that Dembski has nothing concrete to respond to. So, Mr. O’Brien, is your point that ID is built on nothing but smoke and mirrors?

PS. For the record though, I am suspicious of the ID movement. It has trouble passing the smell test, IMO.

Dr. Wolpert presumably knows a thing or two about the NFL theorems ;-) So, why is it that he is unconvinced by Dembski?

I also have not read your papers (they have been added to my “to read” list, though).

Wow, Dr. Wolpert is too patient.

Is Dallas Willard a respected professor anywhere outside the “Christian” right? I heard him at Ohio State a couple years ago, and my review would have been nearly exactly what you state about the pseudo (or faux) “debate” you review in your paper. WWWayson, Christian evolutionist who resents Christ being turned over to ignorance and bigotry.

William Wayson: Besides Willard’s serving as a moderator for the debate described in this thread, I have no knowledge of Dallas Willard’s activities or reputation except for the fact that he was one of the blurbers for Phillip Johnson’s book Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds which he highly praized. Since Johnson’s book is in fact drivel, this fact may provide some idea of who Willard is.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Perakh published on June 15, 2004 11:06 PM.

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