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.
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.