The Unintentional Irony of William Dembski

Fresh off his electrifying performance on the Daily Show, the intrepid Dr. Dembski is still, it seems, attempting to do comedy. Witness the extraordinary chutzpah it took to write this post about the speaking schedule of NCSE staffers. He writes:

Have a look at One of my colleagues describes reading this page as “watching a car wreck.” I’m just sorry we can’t get a percentage cut from all the speaking engagements they are getting as a result of attacking us. Life is so unfair.

Well Bill, we’d love to have a cut of your speaking fees, and of the fees you charged the Thomas More Law Center for your expert witness work on the Dover trial (over $100,000, if I recall correctly, while all of the experts on our side donated their time and took only expenses), and of all the books you write in the copious free time that you save by avoiding publishing your claims for a scientific audience, books for which you find a ready audience in the churches among people who, as a group, have little hope of understanding your ideas. For that matter, I’m sure the NCSE staff would sacrifice body parts to get even a small percentage of the funding that the Discovery Institute enjoys. The DI has enough money laying around to give fellowships to rougly five times as many people as the NCSE has on their entire staff, not to mention the multiple directors, staff members, spokespeople and legal counsels they have and the PR firm they can afford to hire (more on that later).

Several things things should impress you about this page. First, the number of talks to atheist organizations; second, the number of talks paid for by university biology departments; and third, Eugenie Scott’s willingness to travel.

Well let’s take a look, shall we? The number of atheist groups….I count exactly one, a group called “Atheists United”, to whom Glenn Branch spoke last week. He’s probably counting Rationalists, Empiricists and Skeptics of Nebraska as an “atheist group”, but that is illogical. One does not have to be an atheist to be a rationalist, empiricist or skeptic. In fact, Genie Scott appeared at their conference last week along with Chuck Austerberry, a Christian and founder of the Nebraska Religious Coalition for Science Education.

He might also be counting Americans United for Separation of Church and State as an “atheist group”, but that is patently false. That organization is headed by a Baptist minister and about half of their board of trustees are Christians.

The number of university biology departments that invite Genie to speak is notable….why, exactly? He doesn’t complete the implication with any conclusion, it’s just thrown out there as though it was meaningful. I suppose it could mean that university biology departments are concerned about the attempts to water down science education and distort science for the purpose of religious indoctrination, so they ask Genie to speak to give them updates on what is happening in that arena. But somehow I doubt Dembski would see it that way. Still, this appears to be an argument by insinuation without bothering to spell out what exactly is being insinuated.

Lastly, why is Genie’s willingness to travel and speak so noteworthy? A charitable person might see this as indicative of someone highly dedicated to their job. Just another argument by insinuation without the actual insinuation. But even more chutzpah can be found in this post, about the letter signed by 38 Nobel Prize laureates and sent to the Kansas State Board of Education. In his list of complaints against this letter, he writes, presumably with a straight face:

Why don’t they instead put the energy into presenting scientific rebuttals against our side?…Doesn’t that choice — to allocate resources to PR instead of scientific rebuttals (which they always accuse Discovery of doing) — reveal that something is seriously amiss with standard evolutionary theory?

I’ll take Textbook Examples of Psychological Projection for $1000, Alex. This is stunning even for a man as disingenuous as Dembski. When asked, for example, why he doesn’t develop a scientific theory of ID and publish it in the science journals so that it may be examined by other experts in the field to see if it holds water - you know, the way the advocates of every other idea in science do - Dembski responded:

Baylor’s Mr. Dembski also has little interest in publicizing his research through traditional means. “I’ve just gotten kind of blasé about submitting things to journals where you often wait two years to get things into print,” he says. “And I find I can actually get the turnaround faster by writing a book and getting the ideas expressed there. My books sell well. I get a royalty. And the material gets read more.”

And as far as focusing on PR rather than on scientific research, all one can say is wow. This is a bit like watching Mike Tyson accuse someone else of being mentally unstable. It takes extraordinary gall to make that argument when the Discovery Institute just hired a huge PR firm, the same firm that handles AT&T, to help them peddle their wares. Does Dembski think that this suggests that “something is seriously amiss with intelligent design”? Of course not.

When IDers hire actual PR firms to sell their ideas, that doesn’t suggest anything negative about ID. But when evolution advocates write a letter to a school board advocating evolution, he calls that an undue focus on PR and suggests that this proves something wrong with evolution. Dr. Dembski works at a seminary; one would think he’d have stumbled across the biblical concept of not pointing out the splinter in someone else’s eye when one has a log in their own by now.