Wednesday, August 17, 2005

That's Mighty Selective Quoting, Salvador

My occasional sparring partner Salvador Cordova just provided me with an abject lesson in why it is important to never, ever, say anything remotely nice about an ID proponent.

In yesterday's post I briefly discussed one of William Dembski's recent technical mathematics papers. Dembski has been promoting these papers as a solid mathematical foundation for his bloviations about ID.

I focussed on the main result from one of these papers, and argued that it had no relevance at all to evolution. I also said that he has merely translated into fancy math jargon the bad argument he previously made in one of his popular level books. Then I suggested that Dembski writes these papers for the sole purpose of insulating himself from critics. Want to criticize me? Slog through all of this technical math and then we'll talk.

All in all, not a very flattering post. But I also observed that Dembski's theorem, as a statement in formal mathematics, appears to be unobjectionable. I further noted that I never questioned Dembski's ability to manipulate symbols with reasonable facility.

You would think that saying that the only thing that Dembski, who does, after all, have a PhD in mathematics, got right was his symbol manipulation would not be cause for celebration. But Salvador was quite excited. In a comment to this post over at Dembski's blog (scroll down to comment 18) he wrote the following:

I should note, Jason Rosenhouse thinks your calculations are impeccable.

“As an exercise in formal mathematics the paper seems unobjectionable. I have never questioned Dembski’s ability to manipulate symbols in accordance with the rules of algebra and calculus.”

Salvador, you might at least have mentioned that this was a prelude to a harsh criticism of Dembski's theorem.

But since you have decided to quote me so selectively, you could at least have gotten it right. I did not say Dembski's calculations are impeccable. I said his formal manipulations seem unbjectionable. That's hardly the same.

I should also point out that I have not personally chased through every line of Dembski's proof. The theorem itself seems correct, given the idiosyncratic way in which Dembski defined his terms, and I was simply assuming that he possesses some bare minimum level of competence in mathematics.

On the other hand, not everyone has the same confidence in Dembski's ability to manipulate symbols that I have. See David Wilson's critical commentary regarding one of Dembski's earlier papers.


At 10:07 PM, Blogger JM O'Donnell said...

I was wondering how long it would take you to notice Sal butchering one of your statements out of context. It's a typical creationist tactic however so it's sadly unsurprising that anything remotely positive sounding would be cherry picked. Much like what Dembski did to that quote about the Cambrian explosion.

Funny how it all fits together.

At 12:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Impeccable"? Has Salvador been reading some of that 70's-era faux mysticism starring Don Juan and scribbled by Castanedes?

At 9:36 AM, Blogger Rockstar Ryan said...

Quote - mining at it's finest. That's all the IDiots have anymore...

Too bad we can't politely discuss ID vs. Evolution anymore. I gave up being nice a long time ago, lest the same thing that happened to you happen to me. Way to show your mettle, though!

At 9:47 AM, Blogger Robert O'Brien said...

Salvador's paraphrase was not correct, but as for your charge of selective quoting, there is nothing wrong with quoting a concession on a point without quoting a person's work in its entirety (especially if you note or it is understood that the person in question is not an ideological ally, as Bill did).

At 10:12 AM, Anonymous hoopman said...

Whoa nelly!!! In Jason's latest post on Dembski he says (and this is a quote) "The theorem itself seems correct". Clearly the heathen anti-Christ devil worhshipping Darwinists are finally admitting to the perfection of God's design.

At 10:19 AM, Blogger Salvador T. Cordova said...


I provided a link to your site that included your not so flattering statments.

Since you objected in this thread, out of courtesy to you, I'll further provide a link on Dembski's website to your comments on this thread.

As you know, I have no bones about referring people to your weblog. Though we disagree intensely, I consider yours one of the better ones.


At 11:13 AM, Anonymous Jeff said...

What's sad is, this will be forever more be referred to as "Even mainline Evolutions are forced to admit that Dembski's mathematical proofs are impeccable." Welcome to immortality! Once a creationist has mined a perfectly good misquote, it will never, ever be allowed to die.

At 1:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just posted. I read what Sal originally put at uncommondescent...
He provided a link to your article. What are you complaining about?
If people really cared about what you said they could have followed the link. Instead, you gloss over that and make this petty follow up about him quoting something you actually said; with the link provided for follow up.

You must have been salivating when you came across his post. Well, you got to call creationists quote-miners again. You got the obligatory back-patting you usually get when you criticize them. You even got to throw some more personal digs at them as well.

Good for you!
Really helping you to come across as objective... not motivated in the least by any prior-held emotional underpinnings.

At 3:05 PM, Blogger ceejayoz said...

@Anonymous 1:16pm...

Most people will accept a quote without clicking through to the source.

Surely you don't think the motives behind quoting the one positive sounding bit were purely innocent?

At 4:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's their fault if they didn't check the link provided.
Nice of you to make excuses for them though. Would you have read the link?

You're concerned about the motives? Read the information yourself. Should I concern myself with your motives as to why you are rationalizing the fact some lazy folks (yourself possibly included) opted to not check the link?

If you didn't follow the link, it's your own fault. You'd think if someone so untrustworthy (in your minds) as Sal put up such a quote as that you would definitely would have done your the research (especially if the follow up was right there for you).

Make excuses for yourself, not others.

At 4:54 PM, Blogger Jason said...


I'll look forward to your update.


If you continue to write beligerent, obnoxious comments I will simply delete them. At least have the courage to identify yourself if you are going to post here

At 4:00 AM, Anonymous David Wilson said...

"On the other hand, not everyone has the same confidence in Dembski's ability to manipulate symbols that I have."

While it's probably true that there are many people who don't, it should not be inferred from the comments of mine you have
linked to that I'm one of them. Your opinion of the mathematics Dembski presented in Searching Large Spaces, which I haven't read, is pretty much identical to my own opinion of most of that in the works of his which I have read.

As I have already noted in a comment over at talk.reason, the mathematical errors of Dembski's which I pointed out are no worse than some I have made myself on (thankfully rare) occasions in the past, and I consider myself a reasonably competent mathematician. It would therefore be boorish and hypocritical of me to use these errors by themselves as an excuse to cast doubt on Dembski's competence. On the other hand, one might also expect an "Isaac Newton of Information Theory" to aspire to a somewhat higher standard of achievement than someone with my pedestrian wit is capable of.

I disagree with your conclusion that
"it is important to never, ever, say anything remotely nice about an ID proponent." I'm confident that your original comments were accurate and no more succinct than necessary. To have omitted or reworded one of them merely because it might appear complimentary to an opponent would have been unworthy of you. If some nitwit chooses to blow up such a comment out of all proportion, it only reflects poorly on the nitwit concerned, and in no way on you.

At 8:59 AM, Blogger Rockstar Ryan said...


"Salvador's paraphrase was not correct"

Sounds ummm... like the definition of quote mining to me.

(kinda fun to do it back to them:)

At 9:54 AM, Blogger Robert O'Brien said...

Dr. Wilson:

What is your specific field/interest?

At 10:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"beligerent, obnoxious"...
You feel that I am belligerent? That's amazing. Read your posts and you tell me who is the one that consistently hits the definition of belligerent.
I'm raising a valid point. If you're so disposed against those who come across as being belligerent then why don't you address the other posters on this forum that have alot more venom to spew in the form of personal attacks (belligerent??) on proponents of ID.
Delete my posts if you want to; but I'm curious. When someone is back-patting (someone who opts to remain anonymous) you after one of your rants do you still say to them "At least have the courage to identify yourself if you are going to post here"....
Of course you don't.

At 11:03 AM, Blogger Salvador T. Cordova said...


I posted links at Bill's website referring to your commentary here and pointed out you felt Bill completely failed.

I hope you understand my obvious glee that you had something actually remotely nice to say about us IDists. :-)

Well, I'll give you one other reason to say something nice about an IDist, if you so choose. I sympathize with your views about Global Warming, and have for a long time. Perhaps one of the few things we can agree upon.


At 12:54 PM, Blogger Jason said...


Thank you for the comment. I thought it would be a facetious way to end a post about Dembski's symbol-manipulating skills to point out some actual errors he has made in that regard. I did not intend to actually attribute to you the view that Dembski was inept at manipulating his symbols. I apologize for not being more careful in my phrasing. It sounds like we agree that the problem with Dembski's papers is not the math itself, but rather with the idea that his math is modelling anything of biological significance.


Thank you for updating your post to Bill's site. And I'm gald we can find some common ground on global warming, at least.


You're not making a reasonable point. You're making an idiotic point and you're doing it a singularly rude way. When a person quotes the one positive sentence out of several paragraphs of negative sentences, without giving any indication that that is what he has done, that's selective quoting. Providing a link to the original does not absolve you of that. This isn't complicated.

I have on several occasions requested that people not leave anonymous comments. As long as the comments are tolerably civil and productive I don't make an issue of it. I find your comments neither civil nor productive. I don't think it's asking too much that you identify yourself if you wish to attack me personally, as you did in your initial comment.

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So while proponents of ID may have got the God part right, if this development demonstrates itself to be what it claims, and the means exist to do so, all religious teaching, tradition and understanding of ID are wholly in error, while the proponents of evolution who have rightly used that conception to beat down the credibility of religious tradition, but who have also used it to deny the potential for God, are in for a very rude shock.

However improbable, what history and theology have presumed to be impossible is now all too achievable. The implications defy imagination! No joke, no hoax and not spam.

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