Home » Culture, Darwinism, Design inference, Intelligent Design » Bill Dembski on why ID’s struggle is going to be long and hard

Bill Dembski on why ID’s struggle is going to be long and hard

A while ago, Bill Dembski, our blog’s founder, suggested that ID has a long hard road ahead. He told James Barham in an interview that

The bottom line is that ID remains without the sort of institutional support that could accelerate its research and acceptance. I give the Darwinists credit here for their implacable opposition to ID. The Polanyi Center was the first and remains the last ID center at any college or university. It’s a sad commentary, not just on higher education, but on Christian higher education specifically.

I thought it might be interesting to follow up, in the light of recent developments that complicate the picture:

DO’L: I only heard the shouting about a decade ago. True, there was almost zero institutional support. It’s odd that a failing world view like Darwinism has developed such a stranglehold on both secular and religious institutions. But let’s get to that later.

First, a number of things have started to happen anyway in recent years. For example, ID theorists, advocates, sympathizers, or people merely suspected of being sympathizers (Martin Gaskell?) have been winning legal actions against Darwin lobbyists who simply assume their own right to silence anyone who questions their rule.

My impression is that a tactical switch made the difference. Instead of expecting to be vindicated by a court case presided over by an establishment elite judge, people started going for financial settlements – in other words, they exported the cost of caving in to Darwin lobby demands – questionable under the civil law – back to the institution that caves. Maybe freelance Darwin lobbyists won’t be quite so welcome at such institutions any more? Thoughts? Will it make a difference?

”The institutions in which we’re trying to gain standing for ID are only too happy to lose some cash if they can keep us at bay. And why not, since the cash they spend is our taxpayer dollars – UK settled with Martin Gaskell for $125,000; those were our tax dollars!”

WD: I wish I shared your optimism about ID making strides at the institutional level, but I don’t. Cases like those of Martin Gaskell and the ongoing case of David Coppedge, even if they completely vindicated ID proponents in the courts, would simply throw them some money, perhaps supplemented with insincere public apologies. The subtext from these institutions, however, would remain unchanged, which is “get the hell out of here.” (Gaskell never did get his promotion as director of the MacAdam Observatory at UK [University of Kentucky] – Timothy Knauer, a “reliable” scientist, got the job instead.)

The institutions in which we’re trying to gain standing for ID are only too happy to lose some cash if they can keep us at bay. And why not, since the cash they spend is our taxpayer dollars – UK settled with Martin Gaskell for $125,000; those were our tax dollars! Sure, let’s keep trying to make inroads where we can and get our stuff published in mainstream peer-reviewed journals. But I don’t see this as ultimately an institutional war. It’s a war of ideas, and that war will be won by developing ID into a fruitful scientific research program, even though we’ve got one hand tied behind our back.

DO’L: Then there’s the “magic number” fifty peer reviewed ID-friendly papers, as of 2011. Remember, back in 2004, the mother of all scandals when editor Rick Sternberg fronted such a paper at the Smithsonian’s journal? Today, another ID-friendly paper hits print … sound of corks popping, but otherwise who cares? Or am I missing something?

Like, hasn’t the Darwin lobby gone into climate change activism now? Would they even get the memo?

“ID critics can no longer charge that we haven’t published in the mainstream peer-reviewed literature, but they can say other things to invalidate our work, such as, …”

WD: I’m very happy that we continue to publish, but ID is going to win on quality, not quantity. A high-powered scientist with a well-funded lab can publish a dozen or more papers a year. Henry Schaefer, an ID proponent, in his 40 year career as a chemist has over 1000 publications.

ID critics can no longer charge that we haven’t published in the mainstream peer-reviewed literature, but they can say other things to invalidate our work, such as, “those peer-reviewed papers aren’t really about ID at all” OR “you slipped those peer-reviewed papers past unwary reviewers” OR “there is proportionately so little being published in ID that this literature can safely be ignored.”

None of these criticisms hold water, but I’m beginning to see them. I have no interest in engaging the PZ Myers of the world about such criticisms. Let’s just continue to press ahead with our program of research and writing. The strength of our ideas and insights will in the end carry the day.

DO’L: The other thing is, it’s becoming okay to say – in establishment journals – that Darwinism isn’t working any more. Of course it never was working, but clearly the people who say that now don’t seem afraid for their jobs. What’s changed? Why is it okay now? What does that mean for ID? Are there opportunities here?

”I have no confidence that establishment elites — whether in the sciences, academy generally, the courts, or media — are ever going serve as allies.”

WD: Years back, when Phil Johnson wrote Darwin on Trial, he argued that what was keeping Darwinism alive was naturalism. He was and remains right. The problem that I see with non-ID critics of Darwinism (like James Shapiro) is that they are still totally wedded to naturalism. They criticize Darwinism, but they only go so far. And when push comes to shove, they’ll punt about the ultimate source of biological information – certain they’ll never invoke an information-generating intelligence. I’ve seen Shapiro punt for over a decade now.

So I can see some liberalizing within the mainstream academy toward strict Darwinism without conceding any ground to ID. Of course, the questioning of Darwinism, which in its neo-Darwinian form is taught as textbook orthodoxy, should create conceptual room for intelligent design. But I’m not sure that’s going to happen given the fervor with which naturalism is still held.

Recall Stephen Jay Gould some years back. He questioned Darwinism as well and had some juicy quotes in this regard that creationists pounced on. Yet his naturalism remained inviolate, and whenever presented with a forced choice between Darwinism and design, he chose Darwinism (Gould’s final work, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, is in fact highly Darwinian).

I don’t mean to seem overly negative in this interview. I remain convinced of ID and think that it is the future of science. But I have no confidence that establishment elites — whether in the sciences, academy generally, the courts, or media — are ever going serve as allies.

Like the Little Red Hen, we’re going to need to do all the work ourselves. The less we expect of others, the more we’ll do for ourselves.

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7 Responses to Bill Dembski on why ID’s struggle is going to be long and hard

  1. But of course we have to be in it for the long haul. To endure the slander,misrepresentation and brutality from academic, media and government organizations as you folks have done has got to be discouraging and probably even a bit heartbreaking. For those of us standing at your back supporting you logistically in these battles, these are moments of great inspiration as we confront together our disintegrating society and culture and work towards the transformation we need to build integrity and justice back into it. ID is one of the battle fronts in this epic cultural transformation.

  2. My two favorite quotes from the interview:

  3. #1:

    Years back, when Phil Johnson wrote Darwin on Trial, he argued that what was keeping Darwinism alive was naturalism. He was and remains right. The problem that I see with non-ID critics of Darwinism (like James Shapiro) is that they are still totally wedded to naturalism. They criticize Darwinism, but they only go so far. And when push comes to shove, they’ll punt about the ultimate source of biological information – certain they’ll never invoke an information-generating intelligence. I’ve seen Shapiro punt for over a decade now.

    A quick note – if you are interested in seeing how non-naturalist views can be practically helpful in the applied sciences, come to the Engineering and Metaphysics 2012 Conference!

    #2:

    Like the Little Red Hen, we’re going to need to do all the work ourselves. The less we expect of others, the more we’ll do for ourselves.

    Here’s what I’ve learned – we can no longer leave it to the professional academics. We must, at the grassroots level, become *academically* involved ourselves. We must push the envelope of knowledge, because those who have been given the jobs to do so, are more committed to defending the idea of naturalism than they are to advancing knowledge. In fact, in most of their minds, advancing knowledge and advancing naturalism are the same things.

    So, we must build our own, non-institutional, academic force, to lead the way.

  4. Naturalism, as a worldview, is even more untenable than Darwinism. The only way it can be sustained is if it’s allowed to be immunized against scrutiny.

    As ID-friendly thinkers direct the same focus and fire at the moral and epistemological implications of naturalism as they have at the weaknesses of Darwinism naturalism will be shown to be fundamentally unlivable.

    Ultimately, thoughtful naturalists will realize that they face a trilemma. They can deny the existence of any objective moral duties (nihilism); They can go on living as if there are objective moral duties while holding to a worldview that excludes them (irrationalism); or they can reject naturalism.

    They should be forced to tell us, and the greater public, which they choose at every opportunity that presents itself.

  5. I don’t agree it will be a long haul.
    this is about intelligent investigation of nature based on looking at the evidence in nature.
    Conclusions in contention mean someone is wrong.
    the wrong can’t stand intelligent investigation.
    ID has brought this and will prevail over error as long as it has at least enough folk to qualify as a gang.
    One is not fighting millions or thousands of serious thinkers on these issues.
    In fact few people get paid to do or maintain evolutionism etc.
    Everyone else is just reading and repeating what is in the books.
    tHere is in fact only a small crowd that one must defeat.
    i suspect there is not 1000 people in north america who matter in these issues. they are the emire.
    like the old INCA empire just a small gang can overthrow them.
    tHis because truth beats error and that 1000 people are not able to stand the attack.
    ID is already a famous opposition (YEC less so) and unless they intellectually defeat ID they will be defeated.
    ID has already gone too far in success.
    The opposition has the problem of being wrong and its present greater numbers, of those who get paid for it, will not be strong enough to maintain the old error.
    YEC was always powerful and punchy in public opinion but iD is devastating because of being from higher educated types.

    ID and YEC don’t need thumbs up but only to clearly be seen by the public as having matched and defeated intellectually evolutionism etc.

  6. This is one of the most insightful and important conjectures by a leading ID theorist re the future of ID and its prospects in the academic establishment and the wider culture as a whole. Dembski has never suffered from the more starry eyed view of things (as many naive ID supporters have), that ID merely because it has the science on its side (and as an IDist I think it definitely does), it will thus inevitably make serious inroads within scientific and academic institutions and beyond.

    Too much is invested (I don’t even mean financially) into scientific materialism (going beyond but anchored to neo-Darwinism) in our society, and its hold in the universities and among the self-appointed “intellectual” elite has never been firmer..

    On the plus side, as the oft-quoted remark of Groucho Marx’s goes, “I refuse to join a club that would have me as a member”, who would want to be a part of the respectable academic and scientific establishments? They are corrupt to the core, ruled by humorless ideologues, and indulge in the most odious politicking and the like. The medical sciences have been especially corrupted, when even the respectable orthodoxy mutter about the ‘prestigious’ med journals serving as the marketing arms of Big Pharma, you know how bad things have gotten..

    There needs to be more out of the box thinking by IDists. We need to go more international (yes I know this is happening, but it needs to be pushed even more). I predict ID will come of age in the Orient (Japan and China, India even). Are major ID books being translated into Mandarin, Japanese? There are reasons why the Orient may be more open to ID than a first glance suggests, for one they are not hampered by the same cultural and political baggage (other reasons but I can’t list them all here). Who would have predicted a hundred years ago how the Japanese and South Koreans would become the world’s leading manufacturers of electronic goods and other hi-tech wonders and innovations, automobiles, trains etc? To those of you still around in two or three decades, I predict the next generation of Behes and Dembskis and Meyers will have Oriental surnames.. Time will tell.

    IDists should also reach out to other reasonable and legitimate dissenters from the scientific mainstream, going beyond the evolution controversy. This of course is happening wrt the growing opposition to AGW hysterics (and the Peter Gleick affair and his ties to the NCSE shows how it is all related), but it needs to go further. For example parapsychology is a natural ally to ID, yet the two groups remain mistrustful, wary of one another and misunderstandings perpetuate (with notable exceptions including Dembski btw). Psi/parapsychology is rich with both evidential data (despite the materialists pretending otherwise) and strong theological implications (well recognised in the field). Yet intriguingly most parapsychologists and their supporters appear to be theistic evolutionists, or at least they have traditionally been so. There is a rich vein to be mined and exploited here by serious ID scholars and writers, and it has not been tapped deeply if at all really.

  7. “IDists should also reach out to other reasonable and legitimate dissenters from the scientific mainstream, going beyond the evolution controversy.”

    zephyr, I understand your point. Yet ID needs to remain scrupulously focused on the issues central to ID. Part of the great strength of ID, when it is properly understood, is that it is a very simple, basic, and limited inquiry. As a result, people of many persuasions can unite behind ID. I think ID proponents (particulalry prominent proponents such as Dembski, Behe, et al.) need to be very careful not to give the wrong appearance of ID somehow being identified with any number of other viewpoints or causes, particularly those that might be considered fringe. The greatest strength of ID is to remain centered on its very focused questions.

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