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Intelligent Design, Online Edition

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Back in the dark days before ubiquitous Internet, disinformation was sustainable. When you were told that Marilyn Manson is actually Paul from The Wonder Years, it would have been difficult to prove otherwise; one would have had to find someone's old VHS tape on which they'd recorded one of the episodes, check the credits to figure out what that actor's name was, and then find someone's copy of Antichrist Superstar and look for the same name on the liner notes. And it was unlikely that you would find old Wonder Years episodes and Marilyn Manson albums in the same place. It was easier to just half-believe that Paul was Marilyn Manson.

Life is different now, if less interesting. Consider William Dembski, the mathematician and theologian who rose to the top of the nascent intelligent design pack in the late '90s after claiming to have proven that certain aspects of biology can be attributable only to the intervention of one or more intelligent entities. As for who or what those entities might be, Dembski is coy when addressing a potentially secular audience, claiming that there "are many possibilities." Among these possibilities, we may determine, is that Dembski is lying; in a 1999 interview with the Christian magazine Touchstone, Dembski stated unambiguously that "[i]ntelligent design is just the Logos theology of John's Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory." With ID being increasingly under attack as theology clothed in science, Dembski has since been more hesitant in giving due credit to either John or the Logos.

Bits of information are no longer compartmentalized like so many scattered VHS tapes and gothic rock album liner notes, which is why Dembski and company can't get away with trying to portray ID as a scientific theory with no religious intent while having already admitted that same religious intent to sympathetic Biblical literalists. But that crowd doesn't seem to understand this fundamental aspect of the Internet, that Google waits in watch of dishonesty. And thus it is that Dembski's blog Uncommon Descent is among the most interesting things that the Internet has to offer. More importantly, it provides us with a sense of how the leaders of the ID movement would run things if they were ever to run anything other than a blog.

Dembski began blogging in 2005, perhaps as a means of procrastination; 2005 was also the last year in which he and his movement colleagues bothered to put out a new issue of their own scientific journal, although their lack of output hasn't stopped them from criticizing mainstream journals for declining to publish their work, non-existent though it may be. Some choice moments in the years since:

* In conjunction with his friends at the pro-ID Discovery Institute, Dembski decided to commission a Flash animation ridiculing Judge John Jones, the Bush-appointed churchgoer who, despite being a Bush-appointed churchgoer, ruled in the 2005 Dover Trial (known more formerly as Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District and even more formally as something longer and more formal) that intelligent design could not be taught in public school science classes. The animation consisted of Judge Jones represented as a puppet with his strings being held by various proponents of evolution; aside from being depicted as unusually flatulent, poor Judge Jones was also shown to be reading aloud from his court opinion in a high-pitched voice (Dembski's, it turned out, but sped up to make it sound sillier). The point of all of this, as The Discovery Institute explained, was that Jones had supposedly cribbed some 90 percent of his decision from findings presented by the ACLU, and that this was a very unusual and terrible thing for Jones to have done. On the contrary, judges commonly incorporate the findings of the winning party into their final opinion, either in whole or in part, and Jones' own written opinion actually incorporated far less than 90 percent of the findings in question. For his part, Dembski agreed to reduce the number of fart noises in the animation if Jones would agree to contribute his own voice. Jones does not appear to have accepted the offer.

* One of Dembski's hand-picked blog co-moderators, Dave Springer, once received an e-mail to the effect that the ACLU was about to sue the Marine Corps in order to stop Marines from praying; outraged, Springer posted it on his blog in order that his readers could join him in being affronted. After all, the e-mail had told him to. "Please send this to people you know so everyone will know how stupid the ACLU is Getting [sic] in trying to remove GOD from everything and every place in America," the bright-red text exhorted, above pictures of praying Marines. "Right on!" Dembski added in the comments. It was then pointed out by other readers that the e-mail was a three-year-old hoax; the ACLU spokesperson named therein did not actually exist, and neither did the ACLU's complaint. Springer was unfazed by the revelation. "To everyone who's pointed out that the ACLU story is a fabrication according to snopes.com -- that's hardly the point," he explained. "The pictures of Marines praying are real." Dembski himself had no further comment.

* Dembski has spent much time and energy pointing out that Charles Darwin made several racist statements back in the 19th century, even going so far as to call for a boycott of the British ten-pound note due to Darwin's picture being displayed thereupon. Incidentally, Dembski has spent most of the past decade working at universities within the fold of the Southern Baptist Convention, which was founded in the 19th century for the sole purpose of defending slavery.

* Springer, the aforementioned aficionado of e-mail forwards, once noted that he stopped reading an article by a critic of intelligent design because it contained a cartoon depicting the famous Black Knight routine from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. "Anyone who needs to resort to Monty Python in a scientific argument can be safely ignored as not having any legs to stand on," he announced. Springer can be forgiven for not being aware that Dembski himself has referenced Monty Python in the context of a scientific argument more than once. Somewhat more inexplicable is that Springer himself has done the exact same thing, making reference to the very same Monty Python routine and doing so in the very same context as did the article he was criticizing -- twice. I mean, come on.

* Upon being told that University of Texas Professor Eric Pianka had given a speech in which he'd supposedly asserted that the world would be better off if most of humanity was killed via a global contagion, Dembski announced on his blog that he had just reported Pianka to the Department of Homeland Security out of concern that the elderly biologist was planning to somehow contribute to the destruction of humanity. The FBI interviewed Pianka but took no further action, having perhaps determined that the recipient of the 2006 Distinguished Texas Scientist award was not actually planning on killing off the majority of the world's population.

* Seriously, it was the exact same Monty Python routine.

As much as he puts into his blog, his professorships, and his voice acting, Dembski is still as prolific an author as ever. His latest effort, set for release later this year, takes on the wave of pro-atheist books that have seen publication over the past couple of years. Among the pundits whom he'll be countering is Christopher Hitchens, contributing editor at Vanity Fair and author of God is Not Great. If you happen to spot Hitchens drinking, it's probably just to calm his nerves.

Updated!

Uncommon Descent contributor Clive Hayden has launched a devastating counterattack against your humble correspondent, referring to me as "Barrett Clown" in one of the few instances that he manages to spell "Barrett" correctly. Although the post is a bit on the abstract side, I shall attempt to decipher it by way of the Logos.

Me: Oh, mighty Logos, hear my call, homina homina homina.

Logos: Yo yo, you be holdin'?

Me: Dude, shhhh. I need to know what Clive Hayden is trying to say here.

Logos: His basic point is that the 1,000-word article you wrote about Uncommon Descent does not include an entire refutation of specified complexity.

Me: Of course it doesn't; I've already written a whole book about that. Clive even mentions it. Dembski trashed it a couple years back without refuting any of the points therein, such as his participation in the blatantly fraudulent activities of the Discovery Institute that came to light with the theft and publication of that organization's once-secret mission statement, the Wedge Document, which itself contradicts what Dembski and his fellow Constantine fetishists have been telling the public about what intelligent design is really intended to be.

Logos: He called you "Barrett Clown," man.

Me: I know, what the fuck?

Yet Another Update!

Hayden denounces me as "a comedian;" I would note that we're now represented in the Senate, as we should be. Comedians are the greatest people in the world.

He also asks an astonishing question:

He must really dislike certain outcomes of evolution. Whence comes the discernment between competing worldviews that are all outcomes of evolution? If evolution, to Barrett, admittedly produces false worldviews, such as religion, then why trust it in any other regard?

I don't trust evolution any more than I trust gravity or attractive women. I don't make any claims to the effect that evolution only produces swell things and makes everyone smart and honest. I'm not all totally in love with evolution; I just think it's the case. And I'm amazed that Hayden would ask me to account for the results of the process to which I ascribe when it is he and his fellow intelligent design advocates who attribute divine purpose to nature, not I. And what's up with those airline peanuts, amirite?

Note to the Folks at Uncommon Descent

I posted a comment to the blog post at Uncommon Descent concerning me at 5:59 EST; it was a response to the latest silly, fact-free attacks on me, this time by Gil Dodgen. It is still "pending approval" three hours later, even though several other comments posted after mine are already published and visible. Your blog is already notorious for "disappearing" inconvenient comments, but I believe that this the first time in the history of the internet that an author has been barred from leaving a comment on a post about his own work.

Final Update (Hopefully)

After four hours and some ridicule, the folks at Uncommon Descent have finally approved my comment. Truly, this is a great day for open debate!

Epilogue

I recently promised Uncommon Descent gadfly Clive Hayden and other proponents of the movement that I would respond to several questions and accusations put forth on that blog over the past few days.

Several intelligent design supporters have accused me of slandering William Dembski by asserting that he is lying when he expresses his alleged opinion that the intelligence behind design could be one of many things, including something "natural." The crux of their argument is that it is entirely appropriate to speak on this from a theological context on some occasions and in a scientific context on others. I agree. But it is not appropriate or honest to go in front of a mainstream audience and try to give the impression that he is agnostic on the identity of the designer, when he has already told a sympathetic Christian audience that it is absolutely certain that the designer is Christ, and that science divorced from Christ is invalid.

Dembski has done this repeatedly. Aside from the incident I mention in the above article, he did it again during a CNN debate with Skeptic founder Michael Shermer. After explaining the stunning complexity we see among the components of the cell, Dembski is asked by host Daryn Kagan, "Are you explaining that by saying it's God that answers those questions?" He responds, "No, what we're saying is that there's an intelligence involved." Nonsense. Dembski can validly claim that intelligent design need not be religiously motivated, but he cannot claim, when asked if he explains "specified complexity" with reference to God, that he does not. He does. He doesn't do it when talking to Daryn Kagan, but he does do it whenever addressing a Christian audience.

I would evoke a favorite metaphor of the intelligent design crowd - that what they do when seeking to detect design is much akin to what a police investigator does when trying to solve a crime by way of forensics. Imagine that Dembski is a detective who has spent years studying a crime scene. He determines that the crime was perpetrated by a certain Jesus H. Christ, and even writes several reports to the effect that he is absolutely certain that this is the case. Then he talks to someone whom he'd like to convinced of the soundness of his forensic methodology, but he knows that this person is disinclined to agree that Christ was the perp, so when asked if he explains the crime as having been performed by the perp in question, he says, "No, what we're saying is that there's a criminal involved" and then goes on to list a couple of possibilities without even mentioning Christ. That detective would be lying. Dembski, too, is lying.

At least one intelligent design proponent notes that, had I written the above article in the U.K., I would be on my way to court "to defend a libel charge right now, and with the prospect of having to pay the full costs of the other party and the court too, in addition to damages." I doubt that Dembski would be foolish enough to put the question of his honesty in front of a court.

Clive Hayden, meanwhile, asks that I engage him in a discussion on the subject of evolution and how it relates to each person's efforts to verify his worldview. I am disinclined to do so insomuch as that Hayden appears to have difficulty with his memory to such an extent that to debate him further would be much akin to arguing with a persistent amnesiac; when I mentioned two of Dembski's offenses against logic and civility, Hayden claimed that he had "no idea" what I was referring to even though the incidents together formed some forty percent of the argument I made against Dembski in this very article, which, of course, was the topic of his own blog post. Even when I reminded him of this, he refrained from answering the related questions I put to him, choosing instead to allege that I have written nothing of substance on the subject of intelligent design. How he could possibly know that is a mystery insomuch as that he has not read my book on intelligent design and appears to have had some difficulty comprehending the only article of mine on the topic that he has attempted to read.

Yet Another Damned Update

Mr. Hayden is not satisfied with my responses thus far.

I answered your questions, now you answer mine, and don't weasel out of it by talking about my memory. Can you not answer my questions? Can you not? It certainly appears that you cannot. If you can, do it here and now. Evasion won't work Barrett.

I have responded to this particular question several times both here and on the Uncommon Descent blog, just not to Mr. Hayden's satisfaction. I would remind him again that, contrary to his claim that he has answered my questions, I have just explained yet again that he has not. I asked him if Mr. Dembski's behavior with regards to Judge Jones and his decision to report a fellow professor to the Department of Homeland Security as a potential terrorist constitute "mudslinging." He originally claimed not to know of these incidents, and though I've since held his hand through this twice now, he has still failed to answer the question. Hayden does not want to discuss any of the matters that I discuss in the actual article; he is quite willing to write a lengthy post attacking the article, but he knows perfectly well that it is not to his advantage to respond to any of the charges within, as they are all valid and, taken together, they demonstrate that William Dembski is a degenerate hypocrite who reported an enemy to the government and alleged improper conduct on the part of a judge without first checking to see if the judge had actually done anything improper. Hayden makes for a fitting representative.

Moderately Relevant Update!

I've got a new piece up at Vanity Fair, this time attacking Charles Krauthammer instead of the intelligent design yahoos.