The DEMBSKI ALERT
Posted July 23, 2006
On 26 April 2006, William Dembski
declared "I'm happy to
report I was in constant correspondence with Ann [Coulter] regarding her
chapters on Darwinism -- indeed, I take all responsibility for any errors in those
Taking him at his word, I addressed an email to him on 10 July. Since the first two parts of the Coulter
criticism were already posted here at Talk Reason (and at Panda's Thumb), there
would be at hand specific examples of problems with Coulter's argument that
Dembski could either defend or repudiate. Moreover, there were potential issues not yet discussed, but which may
have been abetted by Dembski's "constant correspondence" with her. Given what Dembski had said about his
contribution, both were perfectly legitimate areas for inquiry. What I wrote even offered him a partial
escape route from embracing Coulter's mistakes:
see that you, Michael Behe, and David Berlinski are commended by Ann Coulter in
her new book apropos the "generous tutoring" she obtained at your hands. I am presently in the process of analyzing
her antievolution "Darwiniac" arguments point-by-point at Talk Reason (with
courtesy postings at Panda's Thumb as well), and so naturally am curious about
the extent and content of those tutorials, and to what degree those tutorials
could have contributed to her written conclusions.
also notice that you "take all responsibility for any errors in those chapters"
(Uncommon Descent for April 26, 2006).
Parts I & II posted so far I have noted Coulter's remarkable unfamiliarity
with the range of the ID controversy and apparent unawareness of the
biogeographical underpinning of speciation, as well as a consistent inattention
to any of the available fossil information. Am I correct in surmising, for example, that you did not communicate any
of the content of Cavalier-Smith's review of Behe's book, or the particulars of
biogeography to Coulter, or the relevant fossil taxa in matters
paleontological? Hence that you would
not be legitimately liable for her views relating to those points?
upcoming analyses, there are a host of terms and concepts which do not figure
in Coulter's treatment, so I wish to know whether any of these came up in the
tutorials (either through her own questions or on your initiative). A sampling of terms, in more or less
comment or information concerning this will be of considerable assistance in
clarifying the extent to which Coulter has accurately reflected her tutorial
Dembski did not reply directly to this email. Instead he immediately posted it in full under the heading "For
sheer smarminess, this one is hard to beat." His sole comment on it was this: "In the interest of propriety, I won't
list the host of terms and concepts that came to my mind as I read this email."
Whereupon comments filtered in from several of the Uncommon Descent
followers, assailing me for my cheek. "Charlie" and "Larry Fafarman" (calling me "a complete idiot") said that
Coulter's "popular treatment" hadn't been written as a "biology textbook" or an
"encyclopedia." Most certainly true. But does being a "popular" treatment let an
author off the hook for being flat out wrong? Or render it illegitimate to take Dembski at his word about his
contribution to her tome?
Regarding my term list, "russ" decided I suffered from an "inability to
communicate with regular people." Mung
quipped that "Conservation Lagerstatten" was "A Great German beer." More at length, (and roundly applauded by
"Scott") "lucID" convulsed with self-amusement as he appended some of his own
"to put in his smug pipe and smoke it" and thereby clarify "the extent to which
Jimbo & Co. have accurately reflected their religion."
Evidently clueless about how his comments only confirmed what I was
saying about the vacuous nature of ID discussion, I felt quite honored to be
tarred with such a jejune brush as this:
imaginary developmental biology
Peppered Lepidoptera mimcry
migratory red herrings
faux amorphous silicon dioxide abiogenesis
Dembski of course could have replied ever so simply that he had (or had
not) mentioned the particular items on my list (after all, he either did or did
not do so, so this is a matter of mere scholarly fact). Dembski could further have inquired about
what context did I have in mind for these items -- to which I would have been
happy to reply with particulars. Or
Dembski could have read my two posts, discerned the context of the
Cavalier-Smith and fossil examples directly, and offered his own honest
response to whether he thought my criticisms were justified or not. Finally, Dembski could even have bristled at
my "smarminess" without crossing into any turf that would have hurt my
But Dembski had done none of these things. Curious to see just how far this might lead, on Bastille Day I
sent this reply to Dembski:
take "all responsibility for any errors" in Coulter's evolution chapters. Your words, not mine. Coulter has written what she has
written. Either you are willing to
defend each of her published assertions, or you may repudiate them. You have done neither.
the questions I asked remain. As amply
evidenced by her prior works, Coulter can get confused entirely on her
own. But it is also legitimate to
wonder to what extent her published antievolution statements are due to your
my effort to resolve this point, I apologize for having employed specific
terminology in my letter as though I were communicating with someone who was
scientifically literate. My mistake. I wish I could avoid such highfallutin language,
but unfortunately words actually mean things, and it is occasionally necessary
to use them when the subject is something that directly relates to them. Much like those symbols required for precise
discourse in the math biz. You remember
I should have kept things on the melodramatic level of your blog buddies. "I take umbrage, sir! I am an insufferable smart ass, and refuse
to accept demotion to mere smarminess. A duel at sunrise. Choice of
weapons, scholarly pen."
your brain cools down from that "host of terms and concepts" that came to your
mind whilst reading my annoying affront to your repose, what I had to say about
what Coulter had to say is readily available to you at Talk Reason. Should you feel disposed to defend any
statement or repudiate them, in whatever venue you may elect, don't let my
smarminess stop you.
the spirit of those popular competition shows on TV, I will even throw down a
challenge. See if you can get to your
response before I get to the substance of it. Topic: the "mammalian developmental biology" I put on my list. Clue: it was sandwiched between dentary
bones and Probainognathus. And with due
apologies to lucID, this involves real developmental biology, nothing
"imaginary" about it. As it happens,
though, unless you mentioned the information to her (which I suspect you could
not have), Coulter didn't get to be wrong here because of anything she might
have heard from you. She could only
have got her misinformation from one specific source, written by someone known
to you, who was objectively familiar with it, but didn't write of it either
because they didn't recognize its significance (or did, and suppressed it).
I do appreciate the way in which you elected to respond to my email. By posting it in the public domain for all
to see, without answering any of its points, and by the rib-nudging grunting of
your commentators, you illustrate very neatly the depth of care and
studiousness you are capable of contributing to scholarly discourse.
the words of "The Closer": Thank You.
(Insufferable Smart Ass) Downard
On 14 July 2006 (thus instantaneously) my email was posted at
Uncommon Descent, under the tag "For your amusement from a man who just doesn't
know when to stop." This time Dembski
offered no end remarks. But the clack
promptly weighed in. DaveScot decided
"Jim writes like a girly man. 'Nuff
said." And lucID bemoaned my "shrill
tone" and suggested for dueling weapons: "handbags at dawn rather than pens, as
you might just accidentally injure yourself with a pen."
As you can see, my interaction with Uncommon Descent just kept getting
better! For apart from the childish
character of the comments (and such jibes are not unknown among pro-evolution
blogs, so that cannot be taken too far) was the more substantive piffle: not
one of the posters showed the slightest familiarity with what I had written at
Talk Reason/Panda's Thumb. That being
the point at issue, they only continued to illustrate the sort of mind-numbing
lack of curiosity and laziness that is how Coulter had got in trouble in Godless.
Remember, these were all people who presumably have computers with web
access, so nothing but abject lethargy (or a power failure) could have
prevented their tumbling onto the substance of my Talk Reason articles had
they had an inclination to do so.
It is quite impossible to think about something if you don't even take
the trouble of learning about it.
As things were looking increasingly interesting, I delved a bit further
into the response mode of Uncommon Descent with a reply email on 18 July. As of this writing this one has not
glad you have found my letters a source of entertainment. The feeling is entirely mutual. Your non-replies and the side comments have
been especially instructive. It was
certainly useful to learn just how much "descent" is required to spy Uncommon
Descent at work: DaveScot and lucID playing with the ad hominem mud pies down
in the basement slurry.
the kids you do play with!
to your heading tag line, my background includes a strong work ethic and the
belief that a job begun must be done well through. I also believe that an idea worth having is one worth defending. So I guess I don't "know when to stop" when
it comes to issues of curiosity or intellectual honesty. But then, you don't know when to start.
opportunities have now passed for you to make good on your promise to "take
responsibility for any errors" in Coulter's treatment of evolution. Until and unless that happens, it may be
fairly concluded that you have no intention to do so. That means your April 26th statement was nothing but a sham, a
extent to which that carries interesting philosophical baggage depends on the
degree to which one pays attention to systems that take a dim view of the
"bearing false witness" thing. It may
be that you are a closet moral relativist, though, personally exempting you
from such finicky standards.
Getting back to the terms noted in my first email to Dembski, in the
posts to follow in the Coulter series I will be noting a DEMBSKI ALERT to
indicate topics which I attempted to inquire about from that font of
knowledge. Readers (or at least those
with enough gumption to navigate the Internet in that exhausting way) of the
next Coulter series installments will therefore have a perhaps rather useful
measuring stick to use in assessing Dembski and other ID advocates who employ
similarly "deep" reasoning.
Indeed, followers of Dembski's antics may try holding his feet to the
fire here. Remember he can't crawl very
far away, having obligingly and willingly shackled that quite heavy Coulterian
anchor to his own ankle.
Secondary Addiction: Ann Coulter on Evolution
Secondary Addiction Part II: Ann Coulter on Evolution
Secondary Addiction Part III: Ann Coulter on Evolution