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The Skeptic on Dembski
By Mark Perakh
Posted August 16, 2005
The latest issue of the Skeptic journal is now available (2005,
vol. 11, No 4). It contains, among
other things, two articles pertaining to the Intelligent Design and its
critique. One of them (pages 54-65) is my article titled "The Dream World of
William Dembski's Creationism." The
other article (pages 66-69)
"Creationism's Holy Grail: The Intelligent Design of a Peer-Reviewed
Paper" is by Robert Weitzel.
Given Dembski's protestations
regarding the term "creationism" when applied to his and his cohorts' views
(with some exceptions, like Dembski's armour-bearer, Salvador Cordova who has frankly
referred to himself as a creationist), perhaps it can be expected that Dembski
will reject the very title of my paper as well as the reference to his ideas as
paper is about S. Meyer's infamous article in June 2004 issue of The Proceedings of the Biological Society of
Washington. Weitzel shows the
lack of merits in Meyer's article and favorably quotes the article by Gishlick,
Matzke, and Elsberry which was posted both on Panda's Thumb (http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2004/08/meyers_hopeless_monster.html) and Talk Reason (http://www.talkreason.org/articles/Meyer.cfm).
am posting this brief entry in order to explain why I've written one more
article on Dembski's already discredited pseudo-theory. Some denizens of The Panda's Thumb's and
readers of Talk Reason probably know that I have authored a book Unintelligent Design (Prometheus Books,
2004) with a chapter about 100 pages long dealing in detail with Dembski's
literary output (as the latter existed at the time I was writing my book, in the first half of
2002). Furthermore, I have also
authored a chapter in the anthology Why
Intelligent Design Fails (Rutgers U. Press, 2004, eds Matt Young and Taner
Edis) which specifically deals with Dembski's misinterpretation and misuse of
the No Free Lunch theorems. Why, then, have I written one more paper, which contains
a concise critique of the main points of Dembski's output?
it is proper to point out that the article for Skeptic was written in March of 2004, before Dembski posted to the
web some papers allegedly providing the "mathematical foundation of intelligent
design." Thus Dembski's recent "mathematical"
papers have not been covered in the Skeptic's
article. My brief critical discussions of those "mathematical" papers by
Dembski can be found at www.talkreason.org/articles/math.cfm
and www.talkreason.org/articles/newmath.cfm; it was posted much later than the article for Skeptic was written. Other
critiques of Dembski's "mathematical" papers were suggested by Elsberry -- see http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2005/03/dembski_and_no_free_lunch_reprise.htm (March 15, 2005), and by Tom English (posted
on ARN website in March 2005).
published the above book and chapter in the Rutgers anthology (besides a number
of posts on the web) dealing with Dembski's publications, I had no reason to
return to discussing his output.
Of course it was rather obvious that Dembski most probably would
continue shooting out multiple articles, posts, and books at a machine-gun
rate, but the experience with his output up to 2004 provided a good basis for not
expecting from him any material of a greater interest than his production had up
to that date.
why did I write the paper for Skeptic? The answer is simple. The editor of the
Skeptic journal, Michael Shermer suggested
that I write a paper for him succinctly analyzing Dembski's output. In other words, Shermer had in fact
commissioned me to write such a paper, asking though to limit it to not more
than about 7,500 words.
strong the aversion on my part to once again dealing with the literary production
of Dembski, I just felt I could not afford not to go along with Shermer's
the paper I submitted to Shermer in March 2004 I tried to analyze as succinctly
as reasonably possible the most salient points of Dembski's output, omitting
many details and ignoring his often unethical behavior, but covering his most
loudly acclaimed results.
to now, Dembski has never responded to the essence of my earlier critique. All his response boiled down to a
couple of sentences, none of which in any way touched on the substance of my
critique. On one such occasion
Dembski wrote (in a post on the ARN website on March 13, 2004) that he has not
replied to my critique because I just was
"recycling other criticisms and
doing a poor job in the process."
I think that for anybody who is familiar with my critique of
Dembski it is obvious that the quoted "reply" displays Dembski's arrogance and
perhaps also his inability to offer counter-arguments to my critique. My book Unintelligent Design has been rather widely reviewed, both in press
and on the web. While most of the
reviews evaluated my book positively, there were, as could be expected, several
quite negative reviews (mostly anonymous) obviously written by adherents of
ID. However, in none of these
negative reviews (not to mention the positive ones) was there even a hint at
the notion that my arguments were not my own. There is little doubt that Dembski knows that my critical
comments in no way "recycled" arguments of other critics. His disdainful dismissal of my critique
as allegedly "recycling other criticisms" speaks more about his intellectual
integrity than about the essence of my critique.
another occasion, Dembski (see http://www.arn.org/cgi-bin/ubb/ultimatebb.cgi/ubb/get_profile/u/00000861) similarly dismissed my critical comments (as well as those by Wesley
Elsberry) which addressed his article where he claimed to have mathematically
"disproved" evolution theory.
Again, without uttering a single word related to the substance of my
(and Elsberry's) critique, Dembski, in his habitual supercilious manner, wrote
that answering my and Elsberry's critique is rather low on his priority list
since we (Elsberry and I) cannot even respond to his great math "in plain English" not to mention relating to his
sophisticated mathematics (see Note 2 at the end of this post). (This was Dembski's attempt at a pun,
as another critic of Dembski's article was named Tom English and in his critique Tom analyzed some details of Dembski's
mathematical exercise, while Elsberry and I avoided delving into Dembski's math
formalism because all his math exercise was irrelevant both to evolution theory
and to the supposed foundation of intelligent design.)
have no idea whether Dembski chooses not to respond to my article in Skeptic, as he chose so far to do
regarding my previous critique of his output, or whether this time he will try
to repudiate some parts of the substance of my critique. It does not matter, though. From
previous experience with Dembski's replies to critique (as to that by Richard
Wein, H. Allen Orr, Jeffrey Shallit, Robert Pennock, and others -- see some
details at http://www.talkreason.org/articles/eandp.cfm) a pattern seems to emerge: in his replies Dembski avoids addressing the
crucial parts of the critical remarks, pointing instead to irrelevant details
such as the formal credentials of his critics, distorting the critic's
arguments, triumphantly asserting, without any factual basis for it, the
alleged imminent victory of ID etc. Therefore, even if Dembski chooses (as he has not yet) to "respond" to
my article in Skeptic, there is no
reason to expect that his possible response will have substance.
I am hardly concerned with Dembski's opinion of my critique. I view him as a
pseudo-scientist whose prolific output, either as his own discourse or as
replies to critics, is largely worthless. Moreover, the documented instances of
Dembski's unethical behavior provide an additional reason for not attaching
much significance to his possible replies to critique. (For cases illustrating
Dembski's unethical behavior, see, for example http://www.talkreason.org/articles/reviews.cfm
(posted on March 26, 2004).
After having published my book Unintelligent Design and the chapter in
the Rutgers anthology, I had no plans to ever again write any detailed analysis
of Dembski's output, previous or subsequent. Shermer's suggestion made me change my plans and write the
article which appeared in Skeptic, v.
11, No 4. Also, some recent posts by Dembski led to my brief responses, posted
on Talk Reason and Panda's Thumb. Perhaps I'll have to write about Dembski
again in the future, but I'll do it reluctantly; hopefully such cases will be
quite rare, leaving this rather nauseating task to our younger colleagues whose
own age is closer to Dembski's.
While Dembski's output has been extensively critiqued by
many experts in relevant fields of inquiry (including information theory,
biology, end others) one of the reasons for his contemptuous and supercilious
attitude to critics may be the abundance of exaggerated acclaims of his
publications by sycophants like Salvador Cordova and such philosophers as
Robert Koons. Apparently Dembski is inclined to give much more weight to those
acclaims than to critique, as the acclaims jibe well with his own well
documented self-admiration. To
judge, however, what the reliability of the loud praise for Dembski's alleged
breakthroughs is, let us look at just one example.
In the much derided example, philosopher Robert Koons of
Texas wrote (in the blurb on the dust cover of Dembski's book Intelligent Design, InterVarsity Press
William Dembski is the Isaac
Newton of information theory, and since this is the Age of information, that
makes Dembski one of the most important thinkers of our time. His law of
conservation of information represents a revolutionary breakthrough.
This super-inflated acclaim apparently did not embarrass
Dembski. Were his behavior typical of a scientist, he certainly would have
objected to having such a laughable blurb printed, or at least expressed his
discomfort after the fact. He never did, thus testifying to his apparent
agreement with Koons's obsequious lines.
Now, however, I am interested not so much in Dembski's self-admiration
as in the actual level of Koons's understanding of what he was writing about.
In the Science Insight journal, a
publication of the National Association of Scholars (v.7, No 5, 2003 -- see www.nas.org ) there is a letter by that same
philosopher Robert Koons who, just a few years after his comparison of Dembski
to Newton and acclaiming Dembski's "law of conservation of information" now writes, among other things, that
William Dembski does not claim to
have 'discovered' the law of the conservation of information. Instead, he
simply brings this well-known and widely accepted result of information theory
(the 'no free lunch theorems') to bear on problems of the origin of biological
The 2003 statement by Koons, which utterly negates his
previous claim of 1999, appeared after Dembski's alleged law was shown to be
non-existent by a number of critics.
This example illustrates that acclaims of Dembski's work by his admirers
more often than not are worthless. (By the way, Koons's second claim also demonstrates
his ignorance of the matter he endeavors to judge. The "no free lunch theorems" by Wolpert and Macready have no
relation whatsoever to Dembski's alleged law of conservation of information,
and even less support it in any way. Moreover, these theorems have little to do
with information theory in general.
They are part of optimization theory, but philosopher Koons seems to
have an equally nebulous understanding of what constitutes both information and
optimization theories. Such is the level of authority of Dembski's multiple
admirers and sycophants.)
In a post at http://www.arn.org/cgi-bin/ubb/ultimatebb.cgi/ubb/get_profile/u/00000861,
I'm happy to acknowledge my critics where I think they are
being insightful. There tends to be a disconnect, however, between the
criticisms I regard as insightful and those that my critics regard as
insightful. I'm afraid that Wesley Elsberry and Mark Perakh do not rank high
among those I regard as insightful critics. Since I'm quite busy and have
plenty of critics, they tend to fall low in the queue. Consider, for instance,
that Tom English on this board at least engaged the mathematics in my article.
I've seen no indication that Elsberry or Perakh could even state the gist of it
in plain English.
I cannot speak for Elsberry, who surely is fully capable of
repudiating Dembski's arrogant claim in regard to Elsberry's critique (in my
view Elsberry's critique of Dembski has been quite insightful and well
substantiated). As to my own alleged lack of understanding of Dembski's
"mathematical" paper, perhaps it is relevant to point out that unlike Dembski,
who has a rather unimpressive history of publishing peer-reviewed papers, I
have to my credit nearly 300 scientific papers printed in international
journals, as well as several scientific
monographs. I also was granted a number of patents in several countries. For
example, any one of my published papers on stress calculation contains more
formulae (all of which I derived) than Dembski's entire mathematical
output. (For example, just one
paper printed in Surface Technology,
v. 8, 1979, pp. 265-309, contains 131 formulae I derived). Regarding my
inability to express my view of Dembski's mathematical exercise "even in plain
English," in fact I have expressed my ideas in published papers which I wrote
in five languages. There seems to
be little doubt that Dembski would hardly be capable of even reading most of
those languages, or of comprehending the gist of most of those papers, such as
those dealing with computation of electric fields in cells of complex shape,
with calculation of stress, with kinetics of photodeposition, with
electrosorption hysteresis, and with other subjects I used to deal with. It is
advisable that Dembski weigh more carefully his disdainful utterances if he
wants to be taken seriously beyond the narrow circle of his lickspittles. Of
course all this is hardly relevant to the critique of Dembski's output, and I'd
prefer not to have said all of this, but Dembski's arrogant remarks regarding
"plain English" (which are rather typical of his overall attitude to his
critics) called for providing, at least once, some reply in a similar vein, at least
as a footnote.