William Dembski Is “Moving On”


Intelligent Design and the Bible

Those who follow The Controversy between evolution and creationism know who William Dembski is. We’ve been writing about him since Dembski’s Creationist Revival Meeting, the source of the pic which adorns this post.

He’s a senior “fellow” of the Discovery Institute, and the originator of their undefined and incomprehensible concept of Specified complexity. His amazing design inference allows the Discoveroids to sense the presence of intelligent design. We’ve discussed that too — see The Discoveroids and Their Magic Filter.

Dembski’s creationist career has been … well, chaotic. In 1999 he was the star of Intelligent Design’s Brief Shining Moment, when he headed the short-lived Michael Polanyi Center at Baylor University which promoted intelligent design. Alas for Dembski, the university’s science faculty rebelled, and Dembski’s operation was dismantled. He discussed that in this interview where he said:

When the Polanyi Center was dissolved … many who had their finger to the wind and wondered whether to back intelligent design, backed down. I stayed on at Baylor to complete my contract, but was persona non grata the entire time. … By the fall of 2000, my career was toast.

After that he was teaching at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky where his old-Earth creationism got him in trouble, so he courageously recanted — see Battling Baptists: Young or Old Earth?

But it seems that his real home has been the Discovery Institute. In that same interview he says:

When one has had to deal with the vilification and marginalization that I have, it’s important to have friends and to know who they are. The Discovery Institute (and by that I mean both its fellows and its administrators) has been my best friend these last 15 years. They’ve been there whenever I’ve needed them. They’ve been my most engaging conversation partners. And we’ve had a commonality of purpose.

With that as background, here’s the news. One of the best of our clandestine operatives told us about it, which is at Dembski’s own blog: A New Day. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

In the last few years, my focus has switched from ID to education, specifically to advancing freedom through education via technology.

After describing his prior work on intelligent design, some of which is still ongoing (like updating his older books) he says:

I’m happy for the years I was able to spend working on ID, but it’s time to move on. I’ll be describing my new endeavors on this new blog.

What’s going on? Does this mean Dembski is leaving the Discovery Institute? Was he having problems there? They were taking good care of him. As we reported in Discovery Institute: Their 2013 Tax Return (the last year for which information is available), they paid him $115,000 for “research.”

That’s a good deal. Why would he want to “move on” from intelligent design? Did the Discoveroids cut him off? If so, why? Maybe the Discoveroids are having cash problems, and Dembski is a victim of their cost-cutting. Or maybe he just got tired of getting nowhere by doing what he was doing. Is he the victim of a — gasp! — Darwinist conspiracy? We have no idea. But something is going on. In due course, all will be known.

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21 responses to “William Dembski Is “Moving On”

  1. Perhaps the Discoveroids discovered that the sum of Dembski’s “research” output was zero after all these years. No, probably there’s some other reason, since the total of all ID research is zero.

  2. Maybe he just got sick of dealing with people even crazier than he was–you know, the folks who pressured him into recanting his sinful notion of an Earth more than 6,000 years old.

  3. “advancing freedom through education via technology.”

    Maybe they have discovered a new way to lie? More likely some new paint on some old dirt.

  4. Isn’t ID anti-education? Has he renounced it?

  5. Ceteris Paribus

    When any well-paid 55 year old male, such as Dembski, makes an abrupt career change, it usually involves money, or a younger woman. In Dembski’s case he flat out stated on his blog in 2010 that he aims to revolutionize how the monetary system works.

    Dembski updated his blog a few days ago to give a hint that “[w]hat I have in mind is more radical than bitcoin.”

    see: Radical Decentralization and Freedom

  6. SC: “After that he was teaching at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky where his old-Earth creationism got him in trouble, so he courageously recanted — see Battling Baptists: Young or Old Earth?”

    In fairness he did not recant anything. He was, before and after that 2010 “Flood” speech, a strict old-earther. one who even allows the possibility of common descent (as long as it’s not by RM+NS). What he did do was educate his bosses at the Seminary on the difference between “scientific” creationism (pretend that evidence independently supports one of the mutually-contradictory literal interpretations of Genesis) and Omphalism (personally believe one of the mutually-contradictory literal interpretations of Genesis, in spite of lack of evidence). The bosses realized, if they didn’t know already, that most of the literalists in the congregation did not care about evidence, they believed what they wanted to, case closed. They were a mix of young-earth, old-earth, and don’t-care-how-old-earth types, but probably mostly believed a global flood. A ready made “big tent” if you will.

    Dembski was, and is, a master wordsmith. Expect him to continue to fool the “masses” by spreading doubt that he knows is unreasonable.

  7. robnorman2015

    A small tech point. On the mobile view of the page, the indent on the quotes disappears. It makes it a bit hard to know who’s talking in first person paragraphs. Don’t know if WP allows any control over this?

  8. Ceteris Paribus: “see: Radical Decentralization and Freedom”

    Interesting! Has the ultimate authoritarian done a 180 to become the ultimate libertarian? Or, as this self-described cynic suspects, can we expect a classic Discoveroid bait-and-switch in the upcoming articles?

    Some of the things he says, like opposing the “bureaucratic ratchet” are music to my ears. Also, he seems to be echoing Kauffman, who extended his ideas about biology to “higher” systems, like societies of organisms. Does that mean that Dembski now effectively recants his contention that something other than “chance and regularity” is operating in cells and societies? Or can we soon expect a subtle version of the Theodoric of York “naaah!?? Does he think it’s now possible, and justified to implement “comminution of hegemony” (an idea John Gall had in “Systemantics,” apparently meant as a joke)? Or is this his plan to be (in his own mind at least) “king of the world”? I for one will be visiting his site often, at least for entertainment.

  9. The question that I would ask is who, outside the ID movement, would give this guy a soapbox? Who actually would care what DEmbski has to say about “Freedom, Technology, Education”? Outside of ID, he’s just another schmoo with underutilised Maths and Philosophy PhDs, who’s looking for something better to do with his ivory-tower qualifications than flipping burgers.

  10. Hrafn: “…who, outside the ID movement, would give this guy a soapbox?”

    Where have you been since Al Gore invented the internet? 😉 Everyone has a soapbox nowadays. But who’s inside or outside the ID movement is worth examining, in terms of who might financially support him. In one respect, AiG is outside, in that they dislike the ID approach, but in another sense they are reluctantly inside thanks to ID’s “big tent” scam. I doubt that AiG would give him a penny, though. Yet authoritarians with no problem with evolution and indifferent to ID, just might. Paradoxical as it may seem, authoritarians in recent decades like “decentralization,” because they see it as “recentralization” – away from Federal government, “the liberals’ god” and toward themselves or at least their megachurches. Libertarians too might find his current language attractive (I would too if I weren’t so familiar with his word games), but I suspect that it’s just the bait, with a switch to soon follow.

  11. Would anyone trust Dembski with anything math-based?

  12. @michaelfugate — Look at how many trusted Bernie Madoff.

  13. While all of the “intelligent design” creationism proponents are disagreeable human beings, Dumbski is right up there near the top of the list, just below Klinkerhitler. There is no job you could give Dumbski that he couldn’t ruin by being his jerky self.

    Dumbski’s delusions of grandeur were fulfilled, for a day, when he landed the Polanyi Center at Baylor. What a coup for ID-creationism! A genuine study center at a real-ish university, sanctioned by none other than the president of the university himself, President Snow, er, Sloan. Yes, there was academic disagreement about the Center but Snow, er, Sloan calmed the waters with a compromise and Dumbski was good to go.

    Until this. Crowing about his “win,” Dumbski issued a press release bashing his academic colleagues in a “nanny nanny boo boo” way that was, ironically, to be Dumbski’s Waterloo. Dumbski wrote, in part:

    My work on intelligent design will continue unabated. Dogmatic opponents of design who demanded the Center be shut down have met their Waterloo. Baylor University is to be commended for remaining strong in the face of intolerant assaults on freedom of thought and expression.

    Oh, snap, girl, no you dint!

    Couldn’t just shut up, could old Dumbski? Had to mouth off using all the “intelligent design” creationism code words: intollerant, freedom of thought and expression, dogmatic.

    Even Snow, er, Sloan couldn’t protect Dumbski after that bomb and the next day the center was closed and Dumbski barred from having any contact with students or doing anything in the name of Baylor. However, Dumbski, ever the creationist grifter was down but not out. He kept his 5-year grant getting paid for doing nothing, writing a book for his own gain and eating subsidized Mac & Cheese at the Baylor student cafeteria.

    I suspect the Disco Tute is scrambling to raise contributions and that Dumbski is just an anchor, not in a good way, having advanced his “information theory” of creationism not a jot in 15 years. But, Dumbski is good at taking money while doing nothing. Dumping Dumbski might be the smartest thing the Tooters have ever done.

  14. docbill1351 says: “Dumping Dumbski might be the smartest thing the Tooters have ever done.”

    I just checked, and he’s still listed as one of their senior fellows. That means he’s not totally dumped — as of now, anyway. But I suspect they cut his allowance.

  15. Frank J: Where have you been since Al Gore invented the internet? 😉 Everyone has a soapbox nowadays.

    But how much attention does the average self-published internet blogger garner? In that particular sub-market of the ‘market for ideas’ Dembski would be competing on an equal footing with millions of others. Will the meager attention that this will garner be enough to satisfy his rather large ego? I doubt it. I could easily see him wandering back to ID simply for the attention.

  16. Derek Freyberg

    Ceteribus Paribus:

    When any well-paid 55 year old male, such as Dembski, makes an abrupt career change, it usually involves money, or a younger woman. In Dembski’s case he flat out stated on his blog in 2010 that he aims to revolutionize how the monetary system works.
    Dembski updated his blog a few days ago to give a hint that “[w]hat I have in mind is more radical than bitcoin.”

    (1) Dembski seems to have managed to outlive his welcome pretty much everywhere he has been, judging by his lengths of stay at his various places of employment.
    (2) I don’t know about you, but $115K at 55, with two PhDs, doesn’t seem well-paid. On the other hand, considering what Dembski espouses, maybe it is. Glad I don’t work for the DiscoTute.
    (3) “What I have in mind is more radical than bitcoin.” Shades of Walter White.

  17. “Do we now have a rebuttal that simply short-circuits it, or is it still beyond the intelligent lay person to tackle?”

    Good point. I am a scientist, and did well in college math, but even I had trouble following the technical rebuttals (lots of jargon!). But that’s the whole point of the ID game – get the critics to write rebuttals so complicated they can never compete with the misleading but catchy sound bites that promote unreasonable doubt to the general public. The punch line, as I understand it, is that Dembski pulls a subtle bait-and-switch. First he tries to categorically rule out chance and regularity, insisting, but never mathematically proving, that they are mutually exclusive with “design.” Then he switches from “impossibility” to “improbability,” but again never really supporting why one cannot expect “specified” and “improbable” events to occur by chance and regularity. But he doesn’t need to support it. Fence-sitters are already hooked.

    There’s yet another bait-and-switch going on, that between “what happened” and “the explanation of what happened.” Given that organisms have free will, one can never rule out that some free will is ultimately behind the origin of life, speciation, etc. But other than a “shortcut” explanation, where there’s independent evidence of a suspected designer of a suspected level of intelligence, e.g. forensics, and archaeology, “design” as an explanation is 100% useless. Chance and regularity are all we have, the only testable part. This part of the ID scam is what I call “atheist baiting.” IDers want critics to say that “there’s no designer” rather than the more accurate “there may be all sorts of designers, but your method fails to detect one, and more importantly, by obsessing over ‘design’ your method deliberately avoids stating and testing how that ‘design’ originated, where and when.” Note that, even in forensics and archeology, the “shortcut” design explanations are often supplemented with “what the alleged designer(s) did, where, when and how.” ID deliberately avoids that – often being deliberately vague as to whether they’re referring to the origin of life, species, biochemical system, etc – because they want the audience to infer the mutually-contradictory Genesis stories, even though IDers know they are 100% unsupportable.

  18. Derek Freyberg observes: “I don’t know about you, but $115K at 55, with two PhDs, doesn’t seem well-paid.”

    It’s about twice what my English department colleagues and I were making at the time I retired (2006) from a public university. It seems the humanities pay a lot less well than the inhumanities.

    That last sentence was just for the sake of the word play to contrast the DI to legitimate institutions. I don’t count science and math among the inhumanities. None of our species’ achievements are more “humane” (in the grand sense) than science and math. Many of my colleagues esteem them as highly as I do, and I wish all of them did.

  19. @Frank J – Thanks for your detailed reply which I read carefully. (I posted when logged into WP using a client’s ID – a booboo SC kindly rectified by deleting the post for me!).

    I appreciate your patience, but I was kind-of looking for a yes/no answer. To refute Dembskiism, do we need this complexity theory stuff that’s way over my head – and I’m not especially daunted by technicality – or are his efforts in fact all for nought? That is given we know that:

    1. IC systems have evolved in our lifetimes e.g. bacteria that can now digest pentachlorophenol
    2. components of IC systems can serve other functions in ancestors.

    Is this enough? Or does his preferred approach have to be wrong as well?

  20. It’s more satisfying to be able to do the full critique and show exactly where the ideas fail. Jeff Shallit and I had a go at it, including producing an alternative to Dembski’s “specification” that actually 1) can be applied successfully by anybody and 2) explains Dembski’s various examples without recourse to rarefied design conjectures (see appendix A-1 for “SAI”). Being able to reclaim Dembski’s own examples is, IMO, a huge advantage in argumentation.

    Click to access eandsdembski.pdf

    “Intelligent design advocate William Dembski has introduced a measure of information called “complex specified information”, or CSI. He claims that CSI is a reliable marker of design by intelligent agents. He puts forth a “Law of Conservation of Information” which states that chance and natural laws are incapable of generating CSI. In particular, CSI cannot be generated by evolutionary computation. Dembski asserts that CSI is present in intelligent causes and in the flagellum of Escherichia coli, and concludes that neither have natural explanations. In this paper we examine Dembski’s claims, point out significant errors in his reasoning, and conclude that there is no reason to accept his assertions.”

  21. A paper that should be required reading for all proponents of good science education, Wesley!