Uncommon Dissent

William Dembski’s latest offering is an anthology entitled Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing. The publisher is the <A HREF=http://www.isi.org/>Intercollegiate Studies Institute</A>, 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 <A HREF=http://evolutionblog.blogspot.com>EvolutionBlog</A> addressing the book.

In <A HREF=http://evolutionblog.blogspot.com/2004/06/uncommon-dissent-thats-title-of.html>this post</A> 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 <A HREF=http://evolutionblog.blogspot.com/2004/06/koons-part-one-in-wednesdays-post-i.html>here</A>. Part Two is available <A HREF=http://evolutionblog.blogspot.com/2004/06/koons-part-ii-in-yesterdays-posting-i.html>here</A>. Part Three is available <A HREF=http://evolutionblog.blogspot.com/2004/07/koons-part-3-in-previous-posts-of-this.html>here</A>.

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.