Quote miner, quote miner, pants on fire ...

I was quite relieved that Jason Rosenhouse wrote his piece on William Dembski’s recent bloviations about quote-mining. Specifically, Dembski was challenging a portion of something written by Dave Mullenix and myself about a year ago published on Panda’s Thumb.* I had felt that I had an obligation to respond, but several commitments had prior claim to my time (and I simply took Monday off to go fishing).

My personal reaction to Dembski’s blog was surprise. I was far more critical of Dembski in my chapter for Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism (Matt Young, Taner Edis (Editors), 2004 Rutgers University Press). But, Dembski hasn’t been able to respond to any of the critical studies found there. I was also rather pleased that our effort had been worth the attention of “the Isaac Newton” of whatever. I suspect that this is the consequence of two features of the different publications. My WIDF chapter demonstrated that Dembski’s standard claim that his “explanatory filter” was the long unsuspected theoretical basis for archaeology and forensic science is in fact absolutely false. However, throughout WIDF all the contributors were careful to only address the factual, and logical failures of the so-called “scientific aspects” of Intelligent Design Creationism.

In Dembski’s Five Questions: Number One, Dave and I showed that Dembski is dishonest. The intellectual argument in WIDF is one that Dembski is able to ignore because his followers won’t be bothered. The personal charismatic affront threatens Dembski’s money shot. Secondly, while Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism is selling quite well going to the second printing, the PT blog is reaching a daily audience larger than the current sales of WIDF. (Get on the ball yuz guys and buy the book)!

Dembski started an ARN discussion thread (and then left it) regarding his distortion of Peter Ward’s writing,. Some of the comments on that venue were of such high quality that I really did not see much to add. Specifically, the poster called “N. Wells” made two comments, the first, like Jason, reiterates our point that the Ward’s intent is entirely different from Dembski’s usage. The second illustrated the manner in which Dembski abused Ward as clearly as anything I could write.

There are still points of interest left to note on Dembski’s latest round.

Dembski, “Pretty convincing indicator that the Cambrian explosion poses a challenge to conventional evolutionary theory, wouldn’t you say? Note that this is not a misquote: I indicate clearly that Ward does not support ID and there’s sufficient unedited material here to make clear that he really is saying that the Cambrian explosion poses a challenge to conventional evolutionary theory.”


Dembski, “Word of advice: if you are an evolutionist and don’t want to be quoted by evolution critics for being critical of evolution, resist the urge — don’t criticize it.’

Here, Dembski seems to be approving of misrepresentation (oh well- lying) about science in the service of creationism. Few alternatives seem to exist. Among them are, Dembski is seriously suggesting that he is not distorting Ward’s clear intent and meaning. If this is so, then we must make some major changes in how to view Dembski’s mental competence. However, the possibility exists that he has merely chosen this as a way to amuse himself waiting for the end of his brief tenure at Baylor University before moving to the more appropriate seminary setting. Alternately, Dembski is merely attempting to draw attention to himself. If so he has been successful, but at the cost of what little credibility he may have retained as a serious scholar. Dembski’s latest round seems to leave no other alternatives.

My larger intent had been to critically challenge each of Dembski’s “Five Questions.” However, I ran out of enthusiasm. As Dembski observed,

“Next thing I read on the web is a piece (co-authored by Hurd) twice as long as my original piece focused on the sin of quote-mining (go here). And, as is now standard operating procedure, the original author of the quote is contacted for comment on being ‘quote-mined.’

The facts are that it took much longer to expose just the lies from one of Dembski’s “Five Questions Evolutionists Would Rather Dodge’ that it took Dembski to write all five of them them. We had to read Dembski’s bilge, we read the quotes from the original sources (sometimes entire books we personally purchased). Ward was just one of many authors whose work had been stolen. We in fact contacted Ward merely to get the appropriate reference (which he could not remember). When I called him on the phone, he said that he couldn’t recall the proper citation even after I read to him the quote used by Dembski. It was then I mentioned that I would have to contact Dembski next and Ward asked me to convey his displeasure. However, it should be standard that the author’s of works misrepresented by creationists be contacted, and it should become standard practice that those abused authors defend their integrity by directly confronting the liars in print if not in person.

* I think that my nominating Dave as co-author was entirely appropriate as he made several substantive contributions directly leading to the paper’s writing, its content, and some language. The item would not, and could not have been written without his contribution which in my practice results in co-authorship. Dave, you need not be so modest.