Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Anatomy of Dislike

Regular readers of this blog know that I am not a big fan of Wild Bill Dembski. You might think that this is because I generally favor the theory of evolution over the doctrine of intelligent design, but that would be wrong. While I think intelligent design has little, if any, claim to being legitimate science, my mere disagreement with someone is not sufficient to make me dislike them. No, my dislike of Dembski emerges not from my disagreement with him, but rather from what is, in my opinion, a certain dishonesty about his manner of argument. I am not the first one to make such a claim, nor am I alone in it, but it is an opinion I hold: I do regard him as a dishonest and untrustworthy man.

An example of why this is so recently appeared, spread across two different blogs. The first is The Panda's Thumb, a pro-science group blog that is often in the position of defending evolutionary theory. The second blog is, unsurprisingly, Dembski's own Uncommon Descent. Both are linked in the blogroll here at Total Drek because I like to encourage a certain diversity in my readership. In any case, an examination of the "dialogue" between these two blogs, reveals a little something about Dembski's character.

Things began with a post on PT refuting an argument by both Dembski and Michael Behe that evolutionary accounts are little more than just-so stories. This is, of course, both ludicrous and ironic since (a) evolutionary accounts have logical implications that can be examined with evidence and (b) this is a great example of the pot calling the kettle black. ID simply argues that an intelligent designer MUST exist because (they claim) we have no natural explanation for certain structures. So, in essence, we exist "just because" some unidentified, unknown being with undefined abilities created us in mysterious ways for no apparent reason. Yes, indeed, Dembski and Behe are in a strong position to level the "just-so" critique.

The action surrounding this post didn't get interesting, however, until a ways into the comments. Specifically, until a man calling himself SteveB posted a comment essentially claiming that the extermination of ID advocates and creationists was an evolutionary imperative. More to the point, he was basically advocating that pro-evolution folks go out and murder the anti-side. Well, that's certainly a tried-and-true method, but not really one I think any of us are likely to support. In any case, his message read (more or less) as follows:


1) Evolution is objectively real.

2) IDists deny the reality of evolution which makes them unfit.

3) It follows that since IDists are unfit they should not survive because they hinder evolutionary progress.

(I think that We Need To Own This.)


A) How far is one willing to go to act on #3?

a) For the most part PT exists is to act on #3.


Participants on PT routinely use justifiably hateful and dehumanizing language to describe IDists or anyone who even suggests that TOE may not be correct.


With this much intensity why not advocate carrying our efforts to their fullest extent since doing so is consistent with the reality of evolution?

As you will doubtless expect, other commenters jumped on SteveB about this. Objections ranged from conflating science with morality, to questioning the sanity of a man advocating genocide, to debating the logical underpinnings of SteveB's position.

Meanwhile, demonstrating his catlike reflexes, Dembski reproduced SteveB's comment on his blog with the heading "Panda's Thumb: IDeological Genocide?" He also added, "Here’s a modest proposal posted at the Panda’s Thumb." This, initially, sparked some hostile responses, some sarcasm, and some paranoia. At the same time, however, the ID commenters rapidly started to clue in to some fishiness here. The fourth comment pointed out that SteveB was probably a troll, another commenter asserted it was probably satire and, finally, one commenter mentioned that he's pretty sure SteveB is an ID proponent. So, we have Dembski chucking some mud at the Panda's Thumb based on one commenter, who not only got hammered over there, but is discounted even by a number of the ID crowd.

Now, at this point, Dembski could have done a lot of things. He could have let the matter drop, he could have posted a sort of retraction/clarification, or he could have made some sort of concilliatory gesture acknowledging that the folks on the Panda's Thumb were ripping SteveB a new one. Dembski did none of these things- he instead renewed his attack by posting an addendum:

[Added 12.14.06 at 12:49CST:] Some commenters are upset that I have posted this because, they suggest, this is obviously the work of an ID-supporting troll creating mischief at PT. That may be. My interest is that PT allows such comments at all, regardless of whom they are from. PT does moderate its comments. So why do posts like this remain? Could it be that the moderators are sympathetic to what Steve B. is writing, hoping that it comes true, even if they are unwilling to say it themselves? I challenge you to find comparable statements about Darwinists in UD’s comments.

Which is pretty much when the wheels came off the wagon for me. The original post could possibly be interpreted as something other than insulting, but this is simply blatant. Clearly, Dembski argues, since the moderators permit even foolish people to post, the moderators must agree with those foolish people. It isn't possible, in Wild Bill's view, that the moderators just value free speech and protect moronic, but polite, commentary. Lovely. The kicker, however, is that challenge at the end to find a comparable comment at Uncommon Descent. The implication? Why, merely that since ID isn't populated by those nasty old scientists with their horrid evolutionary theory, it's a much nicer place to be!

The problem, of course, is that comparable comments are easy to find. Two contenders were posted within minutes of each other- one by trystero57 and one by your own lovable Drek. Mine, actually, was the subject of a blog post a while back.*

So what happened? Did Dembski at least acknowledge that his attack was somewhat unreasonable? Oh, hell no. After throwing nasty little implications at the Panda's Thumb, and then outright accusing them of harboring genocidal tendencies, after challenging the public to show similar behavior from his own commenters, and then having that challenge met, what does he do? What you'd expect from him: he makes an irrelevant defense and tries to change the subject. Despite the last effort of one commenter to introduce some honesty, Uncommon Descent is back to it's usual nonsensical ranting about the causal relationship between evolutionary theory and genocide.

So what do we take from all this? Well, for me, the point is clear: ID folks and non-ID folks often disagree. This is natural and, indeed, even healthy for inquiry. Disagreement will sometimes blossom into serious discord and name calling. This is less desirable but, to an extent, is inevitable and requires management. It is, however, the responsibility of authorities in such a debate to try and enforce some basic level of intellectual honesty- to recognize and admit when they have made a mistake or an error. This is doubly so when debates are as heated, and serious, as one about accusations of genocide.

And, as always, William Dembski has fallen down on the job. Even worse, he has fanned the flames and actively rejected anything approximating responsibility.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is why I don't much like him.

* Granted, the comment was about atheists rather than "Darwinists," but those who follow Uncommon Descent are aware that Dembski's crew rarely distinguishes between those groups.


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