Uncommon Dissent


William Dembski's latest offering is an anthology entitled Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing. The publisher is the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a right-wing think-tank.

When I first noticed this book at Amazon I was vaguely optimistic. I didn't expect to agree with many of the essays, but it seemed like an attempt, rare among creationists, to produce something serious. I was hoping that the tone would be respectful, and that I would be given some plausible reason for why the evidence for evolution, so convincing to me, is not convincing to other thoughtful people.

Sadly, it seems that I was expecting too much. I have already done several entries over at EvolutionBlog addressing the book.

In this post I discuss the qualifications of the contributors to the volume and find them, for the most part, wanting.

I have also written a series of lengthy entries about the opening essay in the volume, written by philosopher Robert Koons.

Part One is available here.
Part Two is available here.
Part Three is available here.

I expect to be writing replies to the other essays in the volume as I read them. Here, let me make a few comments about William Dembski's long introduction to the volume.

Typical of the level of discourse for which Dembski strives is the following quote:

We now face a Darwinian thought police that, save for employing physical violence, is as insidious as any secret police at ensuring conformity and rooting out dissent. To question Darwinism is dangerous for all professional scholars but especially biologists.

No doubt this plays well with the tin-foil-hat crowd, but here on Earth it is just silly. You can challenge Darwinism all you want. And if, like Stephen Jay Gould or Lynn Margulis you actually have something worthwhile to say, you will be taken seriously. What scientists frown upon is levelling arguments based on rank ignorance and logical fallacies. Dembski and his ilk are laughed at by knowledgeable people because their arguments are laughably wrong. That's all there is to it.

Much of Dembski's essay is devoted to the assertion that the evidence for evolution is weak, weak, weak. He even makes an argument in defense of this proposition. Here it is:

Regardless of one's point of view, it's actually quite easy to see that Darwinism is not in the same league as the hard sciences. For instance, Darwinists will often compare their theory favorably to Einsteinian phsyics, claiming that Darwinism is just as well established as general relativity. Yet how many physicists, while arguing for the truth of Einsteinian physics, will cliam that general relativity is as well established as Darwin's theory? Zero.

Zing! Of course, the difference between biologists and physicists in this regard is that physicists are not constantly being called upon to defend their theories in public. And biologists do not compare evolution to other well-established theories when arguing for the truth of evolution. They make this comparison to inform non-scientists of the status that evolution currently enjoys. Since ID's are fond of telling audiences that evolution is on the verge of collapse, it is reasonable for sceintists to point that, actually, that isn't true.

Most of Dembski's essay is the usual ID indignation and table-pounding. He opens with a few lines from Dawkins and Dennett, expresses concern that Darwinism is permeating other fields of inquiry, talks about the Santorum amendment and irreducible complexity, and lauds the public for their great wisdom on this subject. He closes with this ominous thought:

In commending this volume to the reader, I wish to leave Darwinists with this closing thought: You've had it way too easy until now. (Emphasis in original).

Golly! If Dariwnists have had it easy until now it is only because our creationist adversaires have been so spectacularly inept at learning basic biology.

Let me close with one further quote. Here is Dembski extolling the wisdom of self-doubt:

How can a scientist keep from descending into dogmatism? There's only one way, and that's to look oneself squarely in the mirror and continually affirm: I am a fallible human being....I may be wrong....I may be massively wrong....I may be hopelessly and irretrievably wrong-and mean it! (Emphasis and ellipses in original)

A creationist lecturing the rest of us on avoiding dogmatism? Now I've seen everything.


Damnit, Jason, you need to warn people to unplug their irony meters before they read this post. I just lost my two favorite ones.

That last quote of Dembski’s really takes the cake. Dembski is notorious for never admitting error over even the most trivial of things, or when he’s been soundly and irretrivably shown wrong on something. The possibility of being wrong is quite clearly not manifest in his writing, which typical of creationists in general, uses the well-worn technique of extreme confidence to try to convince his audience that he knows what he’s talking about. Heck, how could a guy so absolutely sure of himself be mistaken?

To question Darwinism is dangerous for all professional scholars but especially biologists. ID’s are fond of telling audiences that evolution is on the verge of collapse

See my relevant post 4978.

just a legitimate question: Who honestly would want to read this? I mean, I many doubt people outside the biological field read books on evolution for their leisure reading, so why would anyone want to read this? Unless you want your creationist views enforced?

Shouldn’t that be “how would a guy so absolutely full of himself …?”

Jason quotes Koons as saying:

“Darwin himself contributed to the illicit shift in the burden of proof in his well known challenge to his critics in The Origin: “ If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” It is, of course, impossible to “demonstrate” any such thing. (P.13)”

Jason comments:

“I describe this quote as a bright spot because he is tacitly rejecting the fundamental pillar in the case for ID: the irreducible complexity of certain biochemical systems. When Michael Behe introduced this idea in Darwin’s Black Box he quoted the very same line from Darwin that Koons used. It was Behe’s claim that systems which could not be formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications had now been found, and they were precisely those systems involving several, well-matched parts, such that the removal of any one part rendered the system non-functional. Do a google search on Darwin’s quote and you will come up with dozens of creationist web sites claiming that Darwin’s challenge had been met. Yet here Koons is plainly rejecting this claim. Good for him.”

My comment:

I think that Darwin, in a rare misstep, wrote “could not” but really meant to write “did not.” In that case an excellent demonstration would be that the organ (or organelle, or biochemical system) formed in a single major modification. Behe demonstrated nothing of the sort, of course, but made a whole career out of misrepresenting the quote. Unfortunately, even with Koons’ surprising admission, it will be a long time before the public is on to the Discovery Institute’s word games.

You are obviously very bright and accomplised Dr. Rosenhouse, but I disagree with your statement:

“Dembski and his ilk are laughed at by knowledgeable people because their arguments are laughably wrong. That’s all there is to it.”

IDists are laughed at, but not because they’re scientific arguments are laughably wrong. I know some of the professors at your school, JMU. Dembski does have underground support there. Percentage of the Science oriented faculty? Maybe 3% at least, but there is dissent.

You know the climate is changing. You can see the numbers of students at JMU ISAT on a Friday night at an IV meeting or JMU University Commons on a Thursday night at a Crusade meeting. Some of them are your students, but they have not succumb to your beliefs, and there are more of them each year.…

These students see some of their professors in church on Sunday. They know they have sympathetic faculty on their side. Dembski has underground support for sure, even in your own backyard.

cheers, Salvador

I am glad to see how Salvador points out how the ID movement is largely religiously motivated. In fact ID is laughed at by science because its claims have been show to be fundametanlly flawed. Underground support is all ID can ever hope to achieve because out in the open in fails scientifically.


No Free Lunch

Various claims of no free lunch have been made but despite Dembski’s reliance on the NFL theorems, it was proven that the NFL theorems have no relevance to evolution.

Complex Specified Information

Despite claims that only intelligent designers can created CSI, it has been swhon that either neither regularity or chance nor Intelligent Designers can create CSI since the probability of an event in either case becomes close to 1 and the log of 1 is close to zero, or it has been shown how simple processes of inheritable variation and selection can increase information.

Irreducible complexity

Once claimed as a reliable indicator of design has lost most of its appeal now that pathways to IC systems have been identified.

Scientific contributions

Despite many years of opportunities, ID has failed to show that it is scientifically relevant.

Tonight I picked up “Uncommon Dissent” and read the forward.

Two months ago, upon reading Dembski’s discussion of the “Myths” and propagandistic claims which Darwinians use to sidestep the debate, I would have thought him an alarmist guilty of gross exageration. However that was before I spent time at pandasthumb.

Sadly, I have spent enough time here to see that in all truth Dembski has you guys quite figured out.

Nothing makes me more sure that there actually is a scientific controversy and philosophical war between metaphysical naturalists and theistic realists than spending time on these web boards.

I look forward to your angry poor reasoned replies.

“Theistic realists”. That’s a keeper.

“Theistic realists”. Ooooo! I’ve got one! “Same Difference” Ooooo! “Military Intelligence”!.…

High T Russ,

I am surprised that you expect the replies to be poorly reasoned or angry . While you certainly have set an example the common response is often quite well reasoned.

These webboard surely show that there is a philosophical (read religious) war going on, which is not surprising given the goal of the Wedge. But there is hardly a scientific controversy, Dembski may claim there is but he is mostly preaching to his religious choir.

The fact that most of the foundations of ID have been shown fallacious combined with any evidence of scientific relevance of ID makes any claim of scientific controversy suspect.

Sorry, didn’t mean to come across as “High,” but I really do think that what I wrote above is true. I believe this website is testimonial support for much of the claims made by the ID guys concerning the slippery debating tactics . I make a post supporting the introduction to Dembski’s book then steve (most likey just being playful) makes fun of the term “theistic realist.” Then in your post, you slightly insult me, (i might have deserved, and wasn’t offended) and proceed to support Dembski’s claims by basically commiting yourself to 3 of the four myths he lays out in the intro to “Uncommon Dissent”.

Judge: You allege some harm to your person caused by the defendant?

Dembski: Yes Your Honor I do. Prior to the writing of the essays by Mr. Elsberry, I had only one such orifice as mentioned in the brief. But now, at a cost of great pain and embarrassment, I have two. Because Mr. Elsberry done tore me a new one.

Judge: I find the plaintiff guilty.

William A. Dembski’s writings claim, among other things, that algorithms cannot produce Complex Specified Information (CSI), but intelligent agents can. A recent posting of Dembski’s introduced qualifiers to CSI, so that we now have “apparent CSI” and “actual CSI”. Dembski categorizes as “apparent CSI” those solutions which meet the formerly given criteria of CSI, but which are produced via evolutionary computation. This is contrasted with “actual CSI”, in which a solution meets the CSI criteria and which an intelligent agent produces.

Millikan didn’t believe Einstein’s explanation of the photoelectric effect. He spent 10 years doing experiments to prove him wrong. He ended up helping to prove it right, and recognized in the end he was wrong. “This work resulted, contrary to my own expectation, in the first direct experimental proof… of the Einstein equation and the first direct photo-electric determination of Planck’s h.” These ID guys have spent a decade trying to just come up with a single reliable part of a theory. Every time they do–IC, CSI, EF–it gets torn into ugly shreds. Sometimes by sympathetic philosophers like Ratsch. Sometimes they say they’ll figure it out soon. Sometimes they try to redefine their terms around the refutation. But what we all know they are not going to do, is admit their error and move on. It’s pitiful, but in the meantime, it’s morbidly entertaining.

Sorry Wes, you know I don’t have time for all that. Besides I was refering to the way debate is handled here at pandasthumb. I could probably find some myths and dissmive tactics in those papers but is it really worth my time? The more I hang around here the more I see how correct ol’ Thomas Kuhn was about paradigm challenge resistance. It’s kinda sickening.

Syntax Error: mismatched tag at line 10, column 341, byte 1154 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/mach/5.18/XML/Parser.pm line 187.

T Russ Wrote:

The more I hang around here the more I see how correct ol’ Thomas Kuhn was about paradigm challenge resistance. It’s kinda sickening.

We all see what we want to see Russ. Seems that being blinded to the lack of scientific relevance of ID is something you do not want to see?

If you are interested in myths, read Wells “Icons of ID” or the many books by Johnson.

Greetings Wesley,

I hope you are well. I heard that you had been re-cooperating. Sincere well wishes to a scholar a gentleman and all around nice guy.

You had mentioned your paper


I have corresponded with Bill Dembski pertaining to it a couple months back. He encouraged me to write a response. If I do a good job, he may even add a couple sections.

I have an opened an Informal discussion at http://www.arn.org/ubb/ultimatebb.p[…]=13;t=001468

I have requested the ARN ID friendly board members be respectful of you if you come there under your real name. The Moderators there are willing to “rope off” the discussion to you, me, Bill, Jeffrey, and Jason.

My understanding is Shallit and Dembski.…well hehe, can we have them in the same discussion? Perhaps you can enlighten everyone on their relationship. :-)

Also, you may be interested in some developments where I’m applying your SAI concepts that I linked to in http://www.arn.org/ubb/ultimatebb.p[…]=13;t=001468

Since Dr. Rosenhouse seems to be teaching Discrete Math at JMU he might be interested in explaining the phenomenon of Approximate Equidistance that is exhibited in the Cytochrome Sequences as well as formulation of nested hierarchies. Those should be well within his field of expertise.

I’m open to running the dialogue here, but the posting scheme is a little unwieldy. (I’m notoriously poor at spelling and grammar, and I’d like to be able to edit my posts).

Respectfully, Salvador

PS I incorrectly mentioned JMU University Commons (I’m not a JMU student). The correct place will can be found below (when the website is updated this Fall):


Just for the record, Mr. Hunter, that was not a substantive reply.

T. Russ. Wrote:

Sorry Wes, you know I don’t have time for all that.

If you are going to take the time to impugn people, you should budget the time to make good on the accusation. If you don’t have the time to do that, then why not give the accusation a miss?

T. Russ. Wrote:

Besides I was refering to the way debate is handled here at pandasthumb.

You asserted that Dembski was right. Was Dembski referring to just the stuff that gets posted at PT? I don’t think so. You’ll have to do better than that.

T. Russ. Wrote:

I could probably find some myths and dissmive tactics in those papers but is it really worth my time?

It’s all too easy to say that “sidestepping” exists in the argumentation of either side. That gets you or Dembski a “Duh!” response. That “sidestepping” exists in the argumentation of both sides is to be expected. The only way that “sidestepping” could be of interest is if the argumentation for one side or both consisted almost entirely of such stuff, and virtually no substantive argumentation was present.

If you are just going to abandon your claim, as it appears you are doing, then no, it is not worth your time. If you were serious about Dembski being right, it should be a cinch for you to rattle off the reasons why all of what I wrote was “sidestepping”. Or provide reasons why the residue after “sidestepping” issues should be ignored, as Dembski has pretty consistently done. If, though, those essays I identified contain substantive issues and criticisms, then obviously it will take a lot of time and effort to respond to them. But then you would have to retract your assertion that Dembski got it right, wouldn’t you? That is, if your moral compass hasn’t yet been degaussed by your close exposure to the poor moral attitudes of antievolutionists.

T. Russ. Wrote:

The more I hang around here the more I see how correct ol’ Thomas Kuhn was about paradigm challenge resistance. It’s kinda sickening.

For every actual “paradigm shift” there are tens or hundreds of ideas that are just plain wrong. Ever looked into Dewey Larson’s alternative physics? Eventually, everyone will be privy to which sort of thing “intelligent design” conjectures are. Those of us who have examined them most closely, though, already know which bin to bet on.

I recommend “Why Intelligent Design Fails” to you again. It’s probably not worth the time to try to set it aside as “sidestepping”, either, but it should otherwise prove informative.

steve wrote: But what we all know they are not going to do, is admit their error and move on

or - like Millikan - actually do some research to test their hypotheses.

BTW, the boxed quote: whom are you quoting?

One of Wesley’s excellent essays.

Allright Wes, after tonight I won’t come back to pandasthumb until i’m ready to get down and dirty with your essays. I really don’t believe that my posts are nearly as bogus as you guys want to think but I just can’t yell as loud or as frequently as you and your colleagues can. That seems to be primarily what it comes down to. It follows the logic…

T. Russ,: “what you said isn’t true because its not.” and “you would know better if you went and read all of this stuff…” then “you’re religious and arrogant etc” plus “there was this one idiot creationist who said this, which you agree with” and some comment about not taking the time to edit my post, so on and on.

Then I just look at my computer, shake my head and laugh.

T. Russ: but I just can’t yell as loud or as frequently as you and your colleagues can

That must be it. We just drowned him out with sheer volume. I believe what we’re seeing here is the ever-popular martyr pose.

The more I hang around here the more I see how correct ol’ Thomas Kuhn was about paradigm challenge resistance. It’s kinda sickening.

Kuhn noted that evolution meets with more resistance than most new ideas – but he never suggests that we should retreat from evolution.

If you want to invoke Kuhn on the issue of evolution, doesn’t it behoove you to note what Kuhn actually said about evolution, and not misrepresent his ideas?

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jason Rosenhouse published on July 13, 2004 5:32 PM.

Icons of ID: Circadian Rythms II was the previous entry in this blog.

Howard Dean on the War on Science is the next entry in this blog.

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