Bill Dembski Engages Culture in a Unique Way: Rewarding Blog Trolls

Steven D. Schafersman, Ph.D.
Texas Citizens for Science
2009 August 11

Thanks to kellygrrrl at Free Range Talk by way of Paul Murray at Cultural Noise for this gem worth repeating in Texas, where the farce actually occurs and keeps on giving. After I wrote this column I found that PZ Meyers of Pharyngula and Ed Brayton of Dispatches From the Culture Wars also wrote about this, all apparently getting it from

We all remember William Dembski, formerly of Baylor University (where he left under much criticism from Baylor's science faculty for his promotion of Intelligent Design Creationism) and now Professor of Pseudoscience (okay, his real title is Research Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Cultural Engagement) at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. It seems that Bill Dembski wishes to engage culture by rewarding his students to be trolls on evolutionary science and anti-creationism blogs. In Bill's Spring 2009 Intelligent Design course, students earn 20% of their grade if they

provide at least 10 posts defending ID that you’ve made on “hostile” websites, the posts totalling 2,000 words, along with the URLs (i.e., web links) to each post (worth 20% of your grade).

Now we know where all the "hostile" anti-evolution blog comments came from. Bill's ID students earn course credit if they defend IDC on blogs such as mine. I have had at least two blog trolls (whom I will not name but who are gratefully departed since I have been forced to delete their comments for actual written attacks and threats on me) who would no doubt have earned a full 20% in Bill's course, probably deserving an A+ for their ability to rhetorically market and promote pseudoscience. They defended IDC poorly, of course, but that's not their fault: without evidence, logic, or scientific justification they will just not be able to do very well.

For his new course in the Fall 2009, PHILO 2483, Intelligent Design or Unintelligent Evolution, this requirement has been reduced to 10%. This new course has the goal of helping "students understand how evolutionary theory and intelligent design fit within a Christian worldview." I would acknowledge that both evolutionary biology and IDC fit within Christian worldviews, but only emphasize that there are many such worldviews and each Christian has to choose which worldview he or she will believe. Dembski's syllabus has this quote from Jeremy LaBorde at the top: "What you believe to be true will control you whether it's true or not." Precisely.

The course description contains a common Creationist misunderstanding about evolution, which is Dembski's hands magnifies into a major misrepresentation:

This course provides an overview of the broad cultural, intellectual and scientific movement known as intelligent design as well as of its chief antagonist, the view that cosmological and biological origins are best explained as the result of an accidental evolutionary process.

Science does not propose that either cosmological or biological origins are the result of "accidental" processes of any type. While randomness is one attribute of the natural processes involved with cosmological and biological origins, randomness or accident alone could not possibly result in the complexity of nature as we find it. Natural mechanistic, determinative, and emergent processes must also be operating. So Dembski is framing his course's description in a way that will confuse and mislead his students. How pathetically charming. I'm glad his students will be Southern Baptist ministers and not Baylor graduates who plan to attend law and medical school. The former will will have a detrimental effect and influence on only Southern Baptist adults and children, while at Baylor the latter could potentially affect anyone, including students who might become lawyers and doctors and thus potentially affect me.

But wait, there's more. In the Fall 2008 Christian Faith and Science course, students are asked on the final exam to write on this topic:

Trace the connections between Darwinian evolution, eugenics, abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. Why are materialists so ready to embrace these as a package deal? What view of humanity and reality is required to resist them?

This is really an unforgivably tricky question to ask undergraduates, since it has no legitimate answer. There are no connections between Darwinian evolution and eugenics, abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. The claim that there is is a pseudoscholarly myth advocated by various Creationist and IDC proponents, such as Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed by Ben Stein, Evolution's Fatal Fruit by Tom DeRosa, Darwin's Plantation by Ken Ham and Charles Ware, and the worst, From Darwin to Hitler by Richard Weikart. These books misrepresent evolutionary biology and Darwinian history when they attempt to present the case that "Darwinism" is responsible or necessary for eugenics, infanticide, euthanasia, and Hitler and the Holocaust.

Coercive, involuntary eugenics is a manifestation of corrupt genetics, not corrupt evolution. Survival of the fittest--the one evolutionary idea adopted by eugenicists--was invented by Herbert Spencer, not Charles Darwin, and it is based on Lamarckian evolution (inheritance of acquired characteristics), not Darwinian evolution (natural selection and differential reproduction). Weikart's book is the worst; he is so credulous: when any racist late nineteenth- or early twentieth-century German biologist says he is a Darwinian--and it is never true for a variety of reasons--Weikart nevertheless believes him and deduces a direct line to Darwin. Weikart's misunderstanding of scientific history and poor judgment are so bad that pseudoscholarship is inevitable. The claim that Darwinian evolution is responsible for eugenics, infanticide, and euthanasia is a Creationist myth perpetrated for the character assassination and demonizing of Charles Darwin as a marketing strategy, one obviously adopted by Bill Dembski and maliciously taught to his students as received truth.

There's even another Dembski final exam question that is so ironic that it approaches hypocrisy. The final exam for Fall 2007 has this question:

3. You are an expert witness in the Dover case. You’ve been asked to summarize why you think intelligent design is a fully scientific theory. Do so here. Sketch ID’s method(s) of design detection and then show how it/they apply (or might apply) to biological systems. Further, indicate how ID is testable: what evidence would confirm ID and what evidence would disconfirm ID? Also, indicate how ID differs from creationism and from natural theology. Finally, what would you say to the charge that ID is “pseudoscience”? What would you say to the charge that ID is “religion”?

This question is so ironic because William Dembski was originally scheduled to be an expert witness for the defense in the Dover case, but he backed out. He would have been asked to answer the same or similar questions as the ones he is giving his students. Dembski backed out for several reasons, but the primary one was that he realized that the case was gong to be a total disaster for IDC and he did not want to be associated with the losing side as, for example, Michael Behe was to his eventual total embarrassment. To briefly answer Dembski's questions, some aspects of IDC are testable and they have been tested and refuted. Other aspects are not testable and remain in the realm of supernaturalism and pseudoscience. IDC is a form of Creationism and natural theology, and its advocacy today is a form of pseudoscience. IDC is not a religion, but a form of theistic philosophy which is compatible with many theistic, supernaturalistic religions. I presume that Dembski would give his students an F if they answered his questions honestly, truthfully, and correctly, but I hope I am wrong about this.

I have no problem with asking students to write blog comments and document their efforts for some percentage of a grade, but I do have a problem with asking them to engage in pseudoscientific rhetoric and polemics in service of a marketing campaign to promote a wacko antiscientific and sophistic ideology. Bill Dembski's course requirements do not support education but rather miseducation. His courses are a parody of proper higher education. Credit should be given for blog comments that demonstrate critical thinking and promote insight, understanding, and concordance, not incoherence, obfuscation, and blind obedience to religious dogma.

Texas Citizens for Science
Last updated: 2009 October 8