In defense of Hector Avalos


On Higgaion, a Religion Scholar and Christian named Christopher Heard (Associate Professor of Religion) has responded to the attacks by the Discovery Institute on Hector Avalos.

Have I mentioned that I disagree with Hector on a number of points? He’s an atheist and I’m a believer; that alone will tell you that we don’t see eye to eye. But I am outraged by the DI’s attempts to slander a reputable and ethical scholar just because they’re upset that he got tenure when their pal didn’t.

Once again we learn how desperate the Discovery Institute has become now that most of the news media have failed to respond to their virtual onslaught of ‘press releases’. Probably because the media was quick to appreciate the level of inflationary ‘logic’ so common in Discovery Institute ‘press releases’.

What is ironic to me is that while objecting to what they believe to be religious discrimination, viewpoint discrimination and attacks on academic freedom (of speech), the DI is quick to abandon such concepts when it comes to Hector Avalos.

On Uncommon Descent, Dembski was shown to be making irresponsible accusations about Hector Avalos’s because Avalos cited an article as “Mercury: The Journal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 27 no. 2 (March/April, 1998), pages 20-24.” Even though Avalos was clear that his article only needed to pass editorial review, Dembski decided to attack Avalos and argued that Avalos had incorrectly referenced the journal. However, as others have pointed out, a quick search of the internet reveals that in 1998 at least, the common citation was indeed Mercury: The journal of the astronomical society of the Pacific” even though there existed in parallel a peer reviewed journal.

Dembski Wrote:

A couple of points about Avalos’s article. First, he misstates the name of the journal. It is actually called “Mercury Magazine,” and is not the ASP’s academic journal. It is its membership magazine. n fact, ASP does not list as an academic journal but under the category of magazine: That’s why Avalos says it passed editorial muster but not peer-review muster. This way he can fudge on the article’s status but have plausible deniability. This is also evident by his placing in the magazine’s subtitle “The Journal of…” even though it is not there in the actual publication.

Dembski ends with

Third, if Avalos has fudged on the status of this article—and has done so in a very public way—his CV may loaded with this type of fluff. Perhaps it’s time to start hunting for the real witch.

As Avalos retorts,

William Dembski has just posted yet another distortion of my academic record.


Moreover, my claim that my article passed “editorial review” (not “peer review”) is accurate, and Dembski is positively miffed that I did not claim more than what honesty demands. The DI could take a few lessons from atheists about honesty in their own claims.

Denyse O’leary, who describes herself as a journalist, adds

If Avalos misrepresented a magazne article as an article for a journal whose topic area (astronomy) is DIRECTLY relevant to his attack on Guillermo Gonzalez, his whole record had better be reexamined closely, in the light of the Gonzalez tenure controversy.

It is at least possible that he planted this citation in order to inflate his supposed credentials to launch an attack that might endanger Gonzalez’ tenure.

My goodness, this gets deeper and nastier - reminds me of the Beckwith tenure case … any thoughts there, Bill?

It seems that the people at UcD will have some explaining to do soon.

Dembski just updated his site and back pedals.

To Hector Avalos: I’m happy to concede whatever other designations the periodical MERCURY may have. The larger issue is that it is a popular periodical and you cite your piece in it as though it had some leverage against Guillermo Gonzalez and his scholarship.

Of course, Dembski shows his true colors when he continues

This is patently absurd. Gonzalez is a professional in astrophysics as well as in its larger metaphysical implications. You are an amateur in both. Moreover, the question of just what it took for you to gain tenure at ISU remains. Was your MERCURY piece one of the things you cited as evidence that you should receive tenure? Please answer the question (the timing is right since you were an assistant professor when the piece came out). Was it in fact counted in your favor? If so, why shouldn’t Gonzalez’s PRIVILEGED PLANET count likewise in favor of his tenure? Or do you know in advance (on what grounds? scientific? ideological? philosophical? …) that he’s full of it and you’re not.

Has Dembski forgotten that Gonzalez’s specialty is astronomy and Avalos’s specialty philosophy and religious studies.

How desperate can we get, really…

All because Avalos stated that

I may not be an astronomer, but my article, “Heavenly Conflicts: The Bible and Astronomy,” passed the editorial review of Mercury: The Journal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 27 no. 2 (March/April, 1998), pages 20-24. There, I critiqued fine-tuning arguments before I even heard of Gonzalez.

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific is the SAME organization that has published, via a sister publication (Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific), some of the work of Guillermo Gonzalez.

So the irony is that it is the scholar of religion whose work passed the editorial review of a legitimate astronomical organization, and it is the astronomer who has not published a refereed article on ID in an astronomical journal.



any thoughts there, Bill?

Sounds somhow desperately.

It surely does and Dembski’s response shows how unwilling he is to admit that he was wrong. However, he continues his attack on Avalos as it pertains to Avalos’s tenure and CV.

Quite pathetic imho

dembski is wrong from the perspective of so many disciplines that he has fostered a healthy disrespect for most of them

W.A. Dembski Wrote:

In my case my cards have been on the table, my career is ruined so (laughter) it doesn’t matter at this point but eh I say just what I want in this regard but it’s a real problem.

(Lecture series at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary 2003 by W.A. Dembski)

I think it is fair to describe Heard as clueless.


What a contemptible lot the DI, Dembski, O’Leary, etc. have become.


Dembski Wrote:

If so, why shouldn’t Gonzalez’s PRIVILEGED PLANET count likewise in favor of his tenure?

Is Dembski so spectacularly stupid that he doesn’t know the answer to this? (Hint for Billy: What academic science department is impressed by anti-science promotions?)

What academic science department is impressed by anti-science promotions?

If there weren’t any science then there wouldn’t be any anti-science. If there weren’t any science then there wouldn’t be any science department. If frogs didn’t have wings then they wouldn’t be able to fly. Oh how so very privileged we are on this humble little planet!!

Dembski wrote:

If so, why shouldn’t Gonzalez’s PRIVILEGED PLANET count likewise in favor of his tenure?

Devil’s Advocate: It should count towards his tenure. And, since it is WRONG, it should correctly count against him, not for him.

Notice the projection. (Always notice the projection.)

They claim Avalos, years ago, wrote an article solely to use years later in a response to a DI press release. Crazy, but why would they claim something so crazy?

DI fellow Wells set out to get a biology degree at the behest of Rev. Moon specifically to, years later, attack evolution.

Projection. Watch for it.

Dembski blithered:

Gonzalez is a professional in astrophysics as well as in its larger metaphysical implications.

So what metaphysical expertise is Dembski touting on Gonzalez’ behalf?

moreover, how on earth does one become a professional of metaphysical implications?

Is that the alternative title for Depak Chopra?

or is this a new job title Dembski is trying to create at his imaginary university where all the biologists are slaves?

Steve Deace, Founder of Cyclone Nation, bigot and moron, asks whether Hector Avalos is the most powerful man at Iowa State University.

This post is in response to post #180114 by Clarissa:

This is not the first time that I have seen Dr. Avalos misrepresented in regard to his statements about the Mecca option. I operate a web site in support of free thought in Kansas City ( People can link to all the free thought groups in the Kansas City area and I have a forum on it. Another person posted such a misrepresentation on my site and here is my response:

“[A]s to the section in his book entitled the “Mecca Option” it is a total misreading of his work to insinuate that he somehow advocates the “Mecca Option” …

“The section entitled “The Mecca Option” is part of chapter 17 entitled “Foreign Policy Implications” which in turn is in Part 4 entitled “Synthesis”. The chapter is the final chapter of the book, other than his 2 page “Conclusion”. In the chapter, he discusses the foreign policy implications of his theories, including George Bush’s foreign policy, the Mecca Option and Jerusalem and Israel, followed by a Summary.

“In discussing Bush’s policy, he notes that Bush is an essentialist in regard to Islam, meaning that Bush believes that Islam itself is essentially good, but persons like Osama bin Laden are not practicing it correctly. Dr. Avalos, however, believes that all religions, Islam included, are based upon unverifiable premises and, therefore, supporting any religion, even a so-called “real Islam” results in violence.

“In the section on the “Mecca Option” he discusses the views of Paul K. Davis and Brian Michael Jenkins who apparently believe that the U.S. should draw a line for its opponents and, if the line is crossed, whatever is of most value to the enemy should be destroyed. Dr. Avalos then points out that Davis and Jenkins do not see the logical implication of their observations which in the case of Islam would involve targeting Mecca, one the most sacred of spaces for Muslims. He points out that when you understand the value of sacred space, you have to rethink the consequences of thinking like Davis and Jenkins. Dr. Avalos simply is showing you the likely outcomes, not advocating them.

“In discussing Jerusalem and Israel, he discusses the sacred spaces there and [the] fact that problems there will continue as long as that space is considered sacred.

“In his last sentence before going into the “Mecca Option”, Dr Avalos states: “Foreign policy should seek to counteract, through aggressive and nonviolent educational programs, all modes of thought that are premised on the existence of supernatural beings and/or forces.”

“And then, he concludes the chapter as follows: “…[A] sound foreign policy must recognize that disputes about ultimately unverifiable beliefs are a prime factor in religious violence. An effective foreign policy, therefore, must include an educational program that convinces world citizens that violence about resources that to not exist, or that cannot be verified to exist, is against their own interest. Ultimately, such a strategy would be in everyone’s best interest.”

“In short, the entire focus of the book to toward nonviolence and ending violence based upon religion. To insinuate that Dr. Avalos is somehow advocating a violent “Mecca Option” is entirely contrary to the what he wrote and what he believes.”

Additionally, I might add that I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Avalos in Kansas City last year at the Atheist Alliance International convention. He signed my copy of his book, “Fighting Words” to me, “A friend in the search for a more peaceful world.” Dr. Avalos is a man of peace, not Mecca options! He never “calls for the nuclear destruction of Mecca if the terrorists and Muslims don’t start behaving.”

And, Clarissa, you misrepresent Sam Harris as well!

On page 129 of “The End of Faith”, he does in fact say “In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own.” Note, however, that in his next sentence he says “Needless to say, this would be an unthinkable crime …”

Importantly, the situation that he is speaking of is a situation in which we have an Islamic (as an example) regime which is motivated by martyrdom and not survival. As he points out, throughout the cold war, each side realized that any nuclear strike would be devastating to both sides no matter who won. As a result, neither side initiated such a strike. In the case of a regime which might envision an entire nation going to paradise should they lose, then the survival instinct is no longer a protection. It is that situation that Harris is talking about.

And just as importantly, he is talking about self defense, not a first strike to obliterate a people based on their beliefs.

And most importantly, he laments that this situation arises from “religious ideas that belong on the same shelf with Batman, the philosopher’s stone, and unicorns” and “[t]hat it would be a horrible absurdity for so many of us to die for the sake of myth …”

The lesson here is that one must read these sentences in the context in which they are written. Of course religious folks are used to picking and choosing passages from the Bible, so I guess picking and choosing from other writings is not something to be found surprising.

With peace and love, Greg Swartz

It looks like Clarissa’s post (#180114)went away, but I will leave mine up for what it is worth.

The Creston News Advertiser runs a positive AP article on Avalos:

ISU professor defends reason over religion

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on May 26, 2007 10:55 PM.

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