Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Can I Call Him a Pathological Liar Now?

In Monday's post (cross-posted at The Panda's Thumb) I discussed a blatant example of quote-mining by William Dembski. Dembski had quoted paleontologist Peter Ward to the effect that the Cambrain explosion posed a serious problem for evolution. In reply, I demonstrated that Ward's clearly stated intention was exactly the opposite of what Dembski implied.

The facts struck me as so clear and so unambiguous that I didn't think Dembski had a leg to stand on. Nonetheless, I was curious to see if Dembski would try to defend his actions. He did so (well, kind of) in this recent post at his blog. And I was right, he has no substantive point to make at all. He begins as follows:

It was gratifying to see the response by evolutionists to my post about quote-mining on this blog a few days ago (April 26). The quote by Peter Ward that served as my point of departure elicited the usual reaction from evolutionists, for whom justifying evolution means supplying enough words and irrelevant details to cover their ignorance. My post took a few minutes to write up. Evolutionists wrote detailed responses many times its length on places like the Pandasthumb to justify that the problem with the Cambrian explosion was not really a problem. Look: if it wasn’t a problem, we wouldn’t be discussing it.

Interesting defense.

Let's start with the small stuff. There is no discussion of the Cambrian explosion going on here. What is going on is that Dembski is telling lies and other bloggers are calling him on it.

The next point is that Dembski has inadvertantly given us some insight into his creepy little brain. Apparently he considers it a victory when he can write something at his blog that provokes a response that is longer than what he wrote. That's a big difference between us. Personally, I consider it a victory when I can show that facts, logic and science are on my side.

Moving on, the only blog Dembski mentions specifically is The Pandas Thumb. There were two entries posted there about Dembski's use of the Ward quote: One was by me, the other was this post by Gary Hurd. Neither one of us made an argument one way or the other about whether the Cambrian explosion was a problem for evolution. Dembski simply lied when he characterized our pieces in that way.

What was plainly at issue was whether Dembski used Ward's quotation properly. He clearly did not. The facts Hurd and I produced (the “irrelevant details” Dembski refers to) made that perfectly clear. Since Dembski can't possibly defend his actions in this case, he must resort to further lies and petty taunts.

But Dembski wasn't finished:

Here’s another choice morsel for you evolutionists who think the Cambrian explosion is a non-problem, this one by Stephen Jay Gould:

Nonetheless, these exciting finds in Precambrian paleontology do not remove the problem of the Cambrian explosion, for they include only the simple bacteria and blue-green algae, and some higher plants such as green algae. The evolution of complex Metazoa seems as sudden as ever. (A single Precambrian fauna has been found at Ediacara in Australia. It includes some relatives of modern fan corals, jellyfish, wormlike creatures, arthropods, and two cryptic forms unlike anything alive today. Yet the Ediacara rocks lie just below the base of the Cambrian and qualify as Precambrian only by the slimmest margin. A few more isolated finds from other areas around the world are likewise just barely Precambrian.) If anything, the problem is increased because exhaustive study of more and more Precambrian rocks destroys the old and popular argument that complex Metazoa are really there, but we just haven’t found them yet.

Quoted from Stephen Jay Gould, Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History (New York: W. W. Norton 1977), 121.

I await your detailed, petulant responses.

So Dembski is pretty much admitting that his main goal is not to make any serious scientific point, but rather to waste the time of people who have conscience enough to care about getting their facts right. I've long suspected as much. Nonetheless, I will take the plunge.

Let's consider the quote. It's from 1977. Enough said.

But, just to make Dembski really happy, let's say a bit more. Paleontology in general, and the paleontology of the Cambrian explosion in particular, have come a long way since 1977. I notice that Gary Hurd has provided a few examples of recent work on this subject in his own reply to Dembski's latest post. The simple fact is that many of the things Gould wrote about the Cambrian explosion in 1977, and even in his 1989 book Wonderful Life, are now outdated.

As for the quote itself, Gould, like Ward, was simply setting up a discussion of possible explanations for the Cambrian explosion. As I have noted before at this blog, the Cambrian explosion is a problem for evolution only in the sense that there are many possible explanations for it but too little data for deciding between them. Gould goes on to describe what he believes is the correct explanation.

Dembski is deliberately equivocating regarding the use of the word “problem.” For someone like Gould, the word refers to an open question, one where there is no clear scientific consensus on its resolution.

But for Dembski it means something quite different. For him a “problem” with evolution is something that is fundamentally impossible to explain by naturalistic causes alone.

Evolution has plenty of open questions. That is why people continue to do research after all. But the problem evolutionists face is never “How could this possibly be explained naturally?” but rather “Of the many possible naturalistic explanations, which is the correct one?” That is precisely the situation with the Cambrian explosion.

A final point. Dembski wishes to persuade us that the Cambrian explosion is a “gaping hole” for evolution. He believes the proper way to do this is by trotting out quotations from his scientific betters. Someone more interested in science than in propaganda would prefer to actually present some facts.

I suppose I can look forward to a gloating reply from Dembski about how just a handful of lies from him provoked this lengthy response from me. Well, let him gloat. It is evident that we are writing for two different audiences. He writes for simpletons who know nothing about science, but enjoy seeing someone smarter than they parrot the idiocies they already believe. I prefer to write for people who wish to obtain some facts about the current state of evolutionary science.


At 9:52 PM, Anonymous neandertal said...

"Can (may?) I call him a pathological liar now?"

Yes you may.

At 10:33 PM, Blogger Jim said...

Given Dembski's treatment of his detractors, "pathological liar" is just one epithet among many possible. I am utterly baffled at his latest salvo.

At 11:29 PM, Blogger Don Sheffler said...

It's plainly obvious that W. Dembski quote-mines as a baiting tactic, purely for the exhilaration of the inevitable avalanche of response he's going to get from the realm of actual science. He apparently lives for it.

His condition seems more like Megalomania than Lying. Just look at the glee with which he presents a laughingly out of context "choice morsel" from a 1977 book, and then invites "detailed, petulant responses."

See, I'm starting to think that he takes less pleasure in presenting disingenuous rhetoric to his Choir Of The Easily Impressed, than he takes in goading evolutionists into a quagmire over the rules of engagement.

Because he obviously gets off on the latter.

At 12:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

but paul nelson doesn't see the lie. check out his response to the question: did dembski misrepresent Ward?

his answer: nope

basically, he makes his own interpretation of Ward, then uses that to say that dembski didn't misrepresent him.


At 4:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

These people are all liars...did you see the president lying about social security? saying there would be no checks for old ladies unless his cuts and private accounts were put into law.....

At 8:46 PM, Blogger Joseph Duemer said...

As much as the IDs & other creationists like to use scientific terminology, they are fundamentally opposed to science, which is all about open questions. The basic fallacy of their arguments is that they equate open scientific questions with some sort of metaphysical impossibility, when science is exactly & specifically about keeping all questions open all the time. That's what they cannot stand. Frankly, on the basis of a quarter century of teaching at the university level, I think such an inability to tolerate open questions is a mark of low intelligence & lack of imagination.

At 11:33 AM, Anonymous Mike Z said...

Along the same lines, the "minority report" being pushed in the Kansas board of education does some interesting quote mining of its own. Two of the primary academic sources they cite as support are Kenneth Miller (prof. of Biology, Brown Univ.) and Carol Cleland (prof. of Philosophy, Univ. of CO, Boulder).

see, especially, pp.10-11

Both of these authors specifically argue AGAINST creationism, ID, etc. in their academic work, and both are vehemently opposed to ID being taught in any K-12 science classes. These authors' thoughtful discussions of 'scientific problems' is intentionally being mis-interpreted.

At 11:43 AM, Anonymous Dave said...

I’m not sure that name calling really helps the situation. It’s enough to point out that Dempski quoted Ward (and others) out of context, and leave it at that.

In the end it’s up to Mr. Dempski if he can live with his dishonesty. But I’m sure he doesn’t see that way.

Having listened (cringingly) to such Bible literalists as D. James Kennedy, one of the most visible religious opponents to evolution, it seems to me that the main point here isn't that they are liars. I think they are true believers. Rather, they must insist that evolution is a lie. Because if evolution is not a lie, and it contradicts a literal reading of the Biblical creation story, which it does, then the creation story cannot be true.

And if that myth is not literally true, then all the other fantastic tales, and (sometimes truly warped) rules and regulations found in the Bible can be called into question as well. The whole of the Bible could ultimately be relegated to the realm of quasi-history and mythology – not the ultimate authority of truth.

And that cannot be tolerated.

At 8:54 PM, Anonymous Bob A. said...

The object lesson here is not that ideologues are liars. It is that ideology makes people stupid.

God, if there is a god, allowed the development of human intelligence and the discovery of reason. That we have these traits is, as some of the inheritors of the Age of Reason might put it, self-evident. If one believes in an ominpotent and omniscient creator, then ipso facto she or he (or it, I suppose) endorses reason and intelligence, perhaps even values it.

So, looking at the world that lies before our eyes and applying rational thought, we arrive at some conclusions and more questions. Presumably, exercising our reason gives pleasure to this assumed creator.

Idealogues, however, eschew questions and don't need to arrive at conclusions because the conclusions they want have already been delivered to them, as a child has rules laid down by a parent. Questioning the delivered wisdom threatens the security they seek in their world view.

Like small children in a dysfunctional family, they will twist the reality that lies before their eyes to fit the delivered wisdom before they will give up the fantasy of safety they receive from their beliefs.

In short, their fierce attachment to patently foolish notions comes not from reason or rational thought, but from deep emotional insecurity. Their objections cannot be argued away. They more powerful and plain the argument, the more angry and contorted the response. There is little value in arguing reasonably with idealogues.

Or, as my favorite bumper sticker puts it: "Kill Extremists!"

At 4:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've published criticisms of ID, but you people are blood-thirsty fanatics. Finding this blog really opened my eyes to the reality that such extremists exist in the "evolutionist" camp. I thought you people were mythological creations of wild-eyed young earthers. Now I know better.

At 11:04 AM, Anonymous Rockstar said...

If Dembski is going to use the Appeal to Authority argument, I strongly suggest he Appeal to the proper Authority.

At 12:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Passive-aggresive 12 year olds.

Noticed that?

At 3:04 PM, Anonymous bible quotes said...

That's what they cannot stand. Frankly, on the basis of a quarter century of teaching at the university level, I think such an inability to tolerate open questions is a mark of low intelligence & lack of imagination.

At 10:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I am a first timer and I am not a scientist, I am an accountant with a degree in Business Economics.

My initial impression is surprise by all the name calling. This doesn’t seem appropriate for anyone but especially from scientists trying to make scientific explanations.

Secondly, did Joseph D. make a typo, what is a metaphysical impossibility?

Third, Bill Clinton mentioned the problem with Social Security before ID became popular and before the second Bush became president.

Fourth, does keeping open your options and possibilities of explanations only include natural explanations?

Again, I am not a scientist so help me with this one: do people understand that just became a person or a group of people can think of a explanation to a apparent problem, give that explanation a name, it does not mean that the explanation is the answer. My guess is that everyone on this blog believes something that is not correct including me.

At 7:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's apparent you're not a scientist. The fairy tale of evolutionism is a stark reminder of how scientist have duped the arrogant atheist into a dogmatic approach to reinforce his pseudo intellectualism. If you haven't figured out by now that evolution was nothing more than a concoction of scientific terms and related stories to describe bones that they absolutely have no idea about, you're a fool! Stephen Jay Gould attempted to appease the hypothesis with the Punctated Equibrium theory. A last ditch effort to restore the fictious rhetoric into a truth. Read the book as a critic with an open mind and you will see that it is pathetic to call it scientific or credible. In my opinion. Gould and rest of the story tellers degree's are worthless. Evolution never happen.It only happen in man's vain mind. So go ahead and show your outrage towards the Creationist. That doesn't change the scientific facts at all. It did NOT ever occur! Scientism is alive and well in the religious community of the atheist. Good day.James

At 2:46 AM, Blogger Admin said...

Let's start with the small stuff. There is no discussion of the Cambrian explosion going on here. What is going on is that Dembski is telling lies and other bloggers are calling him on it.
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At 8:03 AM, Anonymous theguildedpage said...

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