The ID-advocacy blog Uncommon Descent is dead (or maybe undead). The blog was founded by William Dembski in April, 2005, the year of the Dover School Board case. It became a central site for posts arguing for Intelligent Design, with the comment sections having arguments back and forth. Many of the posts were by the ever-astonishing Denyse O’Leary, who took on this job, writing as “News”.
In 2008 Dembski withdrew from active participation in the site; its administration was set up as a nonprofit organization. The Denver-area right-wing lawyer Barry Arrington took over administration of the site, ruling with an iron hand.
In the last few weeks UD had frequently been down. This seems to be connected to what finally happened on April 12. William Dembski posted an announcement that the site had been “archived” by the Discovery Institute and would be available in that form. The front page layout changed, with links to posts and their comments but no way for anyone to post further comments. Dembski’s post was a farewell to the site, in which he gave an account of its history and thanked the people who helped with it. No further posts are expected to appear. The blog had died, and was only available in that form.
Or was it?
For a few days after, one could access a version of UD that was in its original form, and did not include Dembski’s farewell post. Commenters continued to argue in the threads for recent posts, but these comments were not included in the archived versions. No new posts appeared on that undead form. I am told that there were two links in the DNS record for UD, corresponding to different forms of the URL.
But the undead version had not long to go. It seems now to have vanished, and its recent comments with it.
My favorite moments
There are many fond memories I have of UD. I’ll just mention two (you are encouraged to tell us yours, in the comments below).
The first was a post by the late, lamented Gil Dodgen (here) in 2011. Forgetting the main meaning of the word “indefensible”, he declared that
At UD we have many brilliant ID apologists, and they continue to mount what I perceive as increasingly indefensible assaults on the creative powers of the Darwinian mechanism of random errors filtered by natural selection.
(I think he meant by “indefensible” that no one could mount a defense against the “assaults”). Anyway, I rushed to agree here at PT.
The Great Purge of 2012
My second favorite UD moment was Barry Arrington carrying out the Great Purge of 2012. Obviously irritated by having so many cogent opponents of ID in the comment section, he declared that
The issue, then, is not whether persons who disagree with us on the facts and logic will be allowed to debate on this site. Anyone who disagrees about the facts and logic is free to come here at any time. But if you come on here and say, essentially, that facts and logic do not matter, then we have no use for you.
He declared that commenters were denying basic logical principles such as the Law of Non-Contradiction.
For that reason, I am today announcing a new moderation policy at UD. At any time the moderator reserves the right to ask the following question to any person who would comment or continue to comment on this site: “Can the moon exist and not exist at the same time and in the same formal relation?” The answer to this question is either “yes” or “no.” If the person gives any answer other than the single word “no,” he or she will immediately be deemed not worth arguing with and therefore banned from this site.
Of course lots of people thought immediately of the results of quantum mechanics, in which an object is actually a wave, and not necessarily located in one precise place. They said “Well, actually, …” and were immediately banned. Pro-evolution commenters were banned almost en masse. Even some creationist commenters reacted that way … and they were banned too.
One of the most patient, temperate, polite, incisive, and logical pro-evolution commenters at UD was Elizabeth Liddle, a neuroscientist at the University of Nottingham in England. She immediately made available her own blog The Skeptical Zone as a home for discussion by the banned and the unbanned.
I later made a post about this hilarious purge (in 2015 at The Skeptical Zone) asking whether anyone could actually point out any comments at UD where pro-evolution commenters rejected laws of logic. No one could.
Arrington must have realized that without any pro-evolution commentators the site would die of lack of interest, because he allowed some to remain after that, without getting too insistent on the existence of the moon.
Failures to stay on-topic
I wish I could say that most of the discussion at UD was about evolution and ID. But the pro-ID and/or creationist participants seemed to feel that the basic issue was the existence of God, and their basic task was to refute atheism. So much space was devoted to where the Universe came from, whether the laws of physics were fine-tuned for life, and whether there was any basis for morality if there was not a God.
The result was an awful lot of off-topic posts and comments. If the Universe is the result of fine-tuned laws, that makes it easier, not harder, to imagine that biological evolution occurred. And the origin of the Universe or of morality has basically nothing to do with whether evolution occurred or whether Design Intervention must have occurred.
The Big Tent
The Intelligent Design movement tries to maintain a “big tent”, and make its arguments attractive to people who reject Young-Earth Creationism. They are offended by the thought that people think that they are YECs. But at the same time they needed the political and financial backing of YEC folks. This creates dilemmas for them.
In fact, many of the most active commenters at UD seemed to be YECs. This led to some commenters arguing that there was overwhelming evidence against “evolution”, while others were angry at us for even suggesting that ID advocates rejected evolution. These folks never seemed to notice one another, let alone debate each other. So much for deep thinking about evolutionary theory.
What were your favorite moments?
But enough from me. For those who paid attention to UD, what were your favorite moments?