The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

William Dembski & the Anti-Science Crusade

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 4, 2009

Those of you who have followed the evolution-creationism battles for the last few years will recognize the name and infamy of William Dembski. Dembski is one of the top talking heads for the Discovery Institute, the intelligent design “think-tank” which rose to prominence in the 1990s, and he is guilty of pretty much every logical fallacy & dishonest debating tactic in the book in his promotion of ID-creationism.

dembski

But now, Dembski has decided to branch out from telling lies about evolutionary science, because apparently after the Discovery Institute’s embarrassing smackdown at the Dover trial in 2005, the creationist movement has decided to take their anti-scientific agenda into other areas, such as environmental science.  For details, see the following article on the Southern Baptist Conference’s website where Dembski recently outlined this broader attack on science.

Right off the bat, Dembski very clearly outlines the entire endeavor of science in the typical us vs. them, good vs. evil rhetoric – and, of course, Dembski and his fellow religious fanatics are on the side of “good”, making anyone (religious or otherwise) who disagrees with them on the side of “evil” by default…

John Holdren’s appointment as President Obama’s new science czar is emblematic of the abuse of science that we can increasingly expect in our secularized political environment. …

Holdren nevertheless represents the powerful new caste of scientists who have appointed themselves the guardians of humanity and the priests of a new social order. Their agenda and pretensions would be transparently obvious except that, with the mantle of their scientific expertise, they intimidate ordinary people from asking the right questions and thereby exposing their aims. Their strategy is always the same: Scientists have discovered a problem that, as their models and data (often falsely) demonstrate, is on the verge of getting out of control; now, if only we do exactly as they say, we’ll avoid catastrophe.

Note two things here: 1) Dembski attempts to paint the scientific community as a kind of pseudo-religious institution, calling them “priests of a new social order”, and 2) he also paints a conspiracy theory that scientists are lying to us in an attempt to delude the populace into going along with their “evil” plans.

In the process of spinning this yarn, Dembski jumps aboard the global warming denier train when he trots out an old, debunked criticism of climate change science…

Holdren’s 1977 book fits this pattern. Written at the height of the scare about overpopulation, he and his coauthors pondered extreme measures to bring population levels down (measures that would be implemented with all our best “scientific” expertise). Ironically, at that same time in the 1970s, scientists were concerned not that the earth was warming but that it was cooling. The scare back then was global cooling!

This claim about a “global cooling scare” back in the 1970s is factually & historically incorrect – see here for why this is the case – but since when was Dembski ever concerned about paying attention to the facts and accurately representing science?

More referencing modern science as a religion and demonization of scientists as a bunch of power hungry bastards…

Fast-forward to the present. Now the scientific priesthood is telling us that the earth faces catastrophe if we don’t mend our carbon-emitting ways and do everything we can to prevent global warming (“cap and trade” is only the beginning). Whereas back in the 1970s overpopulation was going to destroy us, now the western industrialized nations face such a steep decline in birth rates that underpopulation has become a worry. In any case, the pattern is always the same: Find a problem, catastrophize it and make scientists the saviors.

But why is it that Dembski goes to such lengths to smear the scientific community in this manner?  The next part of his article explains his real motives quite clearly…

If Holdren and his scientific colleagues are priests, what is their religion? Theirs is a religion of scientific materialism. According to scientific materialism, reality is constituted entirely of material entities, and science is the only way to understand that reality. Scientific materialism has preeminently been used to undercut the sanctity of life by attempting to justify such monstrosities as abortion, infanticide, euthanasia and eugenics (including coerced sterilization). Indeed, as Holdren’s 1977 book as well as his failure to repudiate it makes clear, his attraction to eugenics remains strong.

There you have it – scientists are “priests” in a “religion” of godless, atheistic scientific materialism, and their purpose (apparently) is to destroy the “sanctity of life” as envisioned by Dembski and his allies among fundamentalist Christianity. Never mind that there are numerous scientists who are religious, they don’t matter because while they may be religious, some of them (such as Francis Collins) who are evangelical Christians, they don’t happen to share Dembski’s particularly twisted views on science & the world.  Anyone who disagrees with Dembski and his allies must be on the side of “evil”.

And in this battle of good vs. evil, what does Dembski propose to do in pursuit of spreading his crusading view of godly goodness & decency around the world?

The scientific enterprise is only possible because the public financially supports scientific research. Because we hold their purse strings, they are not in a position to presume on our generosity. Insofar as they are trying to influence the public square, they need to explain themselves in plain English and they need to allow fair discussion and open dissent. Plenty of qualified scientists dispute that humans are significantly contributing to global warming or that extreme counter-measures are necessary. But the scientific priesthood quashes all such dissent, marginalizing and even persecuting those who don’t toe the party line.

Scientists are not our masters. They are our servants, and they need a lesson in humility. It is up to us — We the People — to hold their feet to the fire. To fail to do so is to be complicit in their sins. God help us to preserve what freedoms we have left.

Dembski’s solution, as written above and outlined clearly in the Discovery Institute’s Wedge Strategy, is to overly politicize science & science funding, and if the populace doesn’t rise up against these evil scientists then their fundamental liberties are at risk.  This threat of loss of freedom is the manner in which Dembski and his allies plan to frighten people into mistrusting science.  In his view, if he and his band of religious fanatics can influence various policy makers, they can take control of science and twist it in order to promote their particular religious beliefs in an effort to spread their faith.  This whole endeavor is part of a broader plan to, in the words of the Wedge Document…

Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.

And, again, it’s not just about evolutionary science, it is about all of science – as evidenced by their recent attack on the science of global warming.  Dembski views the entire concept of modern science as anathema and evil, and the goal of his movement is to completely overthrow modern science.  But they don’t want to stop with science, as they have a much larger agenda in mind.  They even say so quite clearly in their own Wedge Document…

Twenty Year Goals

  • To see intelligent design theory as the dominant perspective in science.
  • To see design theory application in specific fields, including molecular biology, biochemistry, paleontology, physics and cosmology in the natural sciences, psychology, ethics, politics, theology and philosophy in the humanities; to see its influence in the fine arts.
  • To see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life.

Note that last goal: “To see design theory [read: their religious views] permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life.”

In their own words, the real goal of these religious extremists is to take over all of society.  They essentially wish to create a theocracy where they are the ones in charge and their religious views dictate the law of the land.  And how is it that plan to do this?  The first step is to tear down the modern scientific method, because they view this – and rightly so – as the key barrier to instigating their larger agenda.

So, ironically, while Dembski spins his lies about the “priesthood” of science attempting to foist off on society a religion of “scientific materialism” when in reality it is he and his allies who are actually trying to spread their religious beliefs.  And they even say so in their own words!

I’m not particularly religious myself, but I do seem to remember from my early years in Sunday school that lying was considered a sin.  But, apparently, to William Dembski, it’s perfectly appropriate to lie & deceive, so long as you do it in the name of God, in particular his God.

11 Responses to “William Dembski & the Anti-Science Crusade”

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  2. Lee Graham said

    Great article!
    Gotta love it when those who claim a direct line to God and who tar and feather the entire scientific community tell us that certain groups “need a lesson in humility”. That’s rich😉

  3. Mike said

    Oh, but the Wedge wasn’t real, or it was real but not the evil thing that the darwinist conspiracists make it out to be. And even if it was real, so what?

  4. Craig said

    I know you are a smart guy, Matt – and although we disagree on some things – somehow I had hoped that you wouldn’t be a die hard Global Warming guy. The discussion on this one isn’t the least bit religious or philosophical – purely science – and if we could get the politics out of the equation and look at the hard evidence alone, I think it would be alot clearer.

    You are always pointing out who’s a real scientist and who’s not – what’s your opinion of Al Gore?

    • mattusmaximus said

      Craig said:

      I know you are a smart guy, Matt – and although we disagree on some things – somehow I had hoped that you wouldn’t be a die hard Global Warming guy. The discussion on this one isn’t the least bit religious or philosophical – purely science – and if we could get the politics out of the equation and look at the hard evidence alone, I think it would be alot clearer.

      You should note that it was Dembski who made this into a religious discussion. Did you read his article? He was the one who brought up religion, not me. I was merely responding to his comments, and I think it is disingenuous for you to attempt to spin this otherwise.

      As for “looking at the hard evidence alone”, I have done that for many years. I used to be a die-hard global warming skeptic in the early 1990s, but as I kept looking at the scientific evidence I gradually changed my mind. By 2001, I had come to the view that GW was real & serious, though the question of human influence was still open. By about 2007 or so, I had concluded that there was a significant anthropogenic (human caused) component to GW. What were my sources for all of this information: the National Academies of Science. Here’s a link, for starters:

      http://dels.nas.edu/climatechange/basics.shtml

      Craig said:

      You are always pointing out who’s a real scientist and who’s not – what’s your opinion of Al Gore?

      Al Gore is not a scientist, he is a politician. When Gore came out with “An Inconvenient Truth”, I had a lot of people telling me that I should go see it, and I never did (still don’t want to see it). That is because I decided long ago to get my information on questions like this from scientific sources, such as the National Academies of Science.

      My primary beef with Gore is that by inserting himself so strongly into the discussion, he basically gave ammunition to his political opponents to deny the science behind AGW. The thinking goes like this: “I don’t like Al Gore, so all that AGW stuff is a bunch of liberal nonsense!” or similarly goofed up arguments.

      But there is a bigger issue here… the sad fact is that there are way too many people, on both the right and the left, who view science through an overly political lens. For example, many on the right dismiss the science of evolution, stem cell research, and anthropogenic global warming because they view these as part of some godless, liberal, socialist conspiracy; meanwhile, just as many on the left dismiss vaccines, pharmaceutical drugs, and buy into all manner of New Age, alt-med nonsense because they see the former as a rightwing “Big Pharma” conspiracy.

      These folks are essentially distorting & twisting science by limiting it via their personal political ideologies. And that can be dangerous, because by limiting & twisting science in this manner it can blind us to how the world really works.

      • Craig said

        I looked through the booklets on the link you posted, particularly the one titled, “Understanding and Responding to Climate Change.” Look at the chart on page 11. Notice, to begin with, that ice core samples dating back over 300,000 years show that the warming trend in the past century is part of the expected cycle, and this particular warming cycle is not quite as dramatic as any of the previous cycles. Was man responsible for the warming trend 300,000 years ago?

        Secondly, look closely at the red and blue lines. Notice that the rise and fall of CO2 levels (blue line) follows the similar trend in the temperature (red line) – it doesn’t lead the red line. Doesn’t this seem to indicate that CO2 levels are more likely driven by change in global temperature than the other way around?

        Have you read anything regarding the studies of Dr. Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics?

      • mattusmaximus said

        I’ve seen criticisms like these before, Craig – some of which I made myself back in the days when I was a global warming skeptic. Here are a series of links which shall hopefully address these, and related, questions:

        This is Just a Natural Cycle
        It was Warmer During the Holocene Climatic Optimum
        Global Warming Is Nothing New
        We Are Just Recovering From the Little Ice Age
        CO2 Lags Not Leads
        There is no Proof that CO2 is Causing Global Warming

      • Craig said

        Again, you throw a lot of information at me – are you just trying to slow me down? 🙂
        I read all of the blog entires you posted links to here, and it is not the least bit convincing to me. Unfortunately, I don’t have time now to respond to it all. I will say that this blogger tends to argue the evidence based on his conclusion rather than arguing his conclusion based on the evidence (I believe he has the scientific method backwards).
        His arguments include (I have to paraphrase for lack of time):
        – This cycle is different, because this time CO2 is the driving force;
        – True, CO2 lags temperature because the higher temperatures increase CO2 levels, but this time it was CO2 that started the whole process;
        – “Theory predicts that the temperature will rise given an enhanced greenhouse effect, how is it possible this is not happening?” (This one is a direct quote – in otherwords it is inconceivable that the theory could be wrong. Again we are starting with the conclusion and arguing the evidence)

        He agrees that solar activity increased in the 20th Century leading to warming then, but argues that the “current” trend is not caused by the same thing, because (See his blog entry titled “It’s the Sun, Stupid” – and give me extra credit for reading that one too) he says the sun activity hasn’t changed since 1978, when the warming has been the greatest. I think it makes a whole lot of sense that if you turn a heater up really high with no thermostat and then don’t change it for thirty years, it’s going to get hotter and hotter and hotter…

        He keeps insisting that skeptics provide a natural cause for warming, yet his own arguments point to the role of the sun. I can’t find it now, but in one of these posts he says that if the skeptics were right we should be seeing a cooling trend now. These blog posts are three years old, and we now know that global temperature has actually cooled for the last 7 years. We also know that solar activity has been reduced in that same time period.

        I hate to point this out (I don’t think credentials necessarily mean anything) but I also noticed that this blogger is a software developer. Dr. Soon is an astro-physicist (one of your own kind, Matt!)

      • mattusmaximus said

        Craig said:

        Again, you throw a lot of information at me – are you just trying to slow me down?🙂
        I read all of the blog entires you posted links to here, and it is not the least bit convincing to me. Unfortunately, I don’t have time now to respond to it all. I will say that this blogger tends to argue the evidence based on his conclusion rather than arguing his conclusion based on the evidence (I believe he has the scientific method backwards).

        Well, seeing as how his conclusions are in line with the consensus in the climate science community, I’d say you are the one who’s off. As I said before, every point you have brought up to me is one I thought of almost 20 years ago when expressing my skepticism of AGW. But as the science has progressed, I have come to the conclusion that AGW is an undeniable reality. You, apparently, haven’t made that cognitive leap yet. But then, you also probably haven’t been looking at the evidence like I have for almost 20 years.

        Craig said:

        He agrees that solar activity increased in the 20th Century leading to warming then, but argues that the “current” trend is not caused by the same thing, because (See his blog entry titled “It’s the Sun, Stupid” – and give me extra credit for reading that one too) he says the sun activity hasn’t changed since 1978, when the warming has been the greatest. I think it makes a whole lot of sense that if you turn a heater up really high with no thermostat and then don’t change it for thirty years, it’s going to get hotter and hotter and hotter…

        Okay, please tell me that you are not seriously comparing a relatively simple system such as a heater with the entire planet? Wow, making that sort of assertion is along the lines of comparing “weather” and “climate” – please tell me you actually understand the difference between these things.

        Craig said:

        He keeps insisting that skeptics provide a natural cause for warming, yet his own arguments point to the role of the sun. I can’t find it now, but in one of these posts he says that if the skeptics were right we should be seeing a cooling trend now. These blog posts are three years old, and we now know that global temperature has actually cooled for the last 7 years. We also know that solar activity has been reduced in that same time period.

        Actually, demanding that global warming deniers provide a proposed causal mechanism for warming is fair game. In science, one must provide positive evidence & hypotheses to explain what is going on, not just criticize ideas that you dislike. There is a parallel here between AGW deniers and creationists: creationists do not provide a scientifically viable & testable alternative to evolutionary science, instead they tend to just attempt (lamely) to tear down accepted evolutionary science. Likewise, AGW deniers do not provide a viable mechanism or hypothesis to explain the data we’re seeing regarding climate change; all they do is attempt to criticize the accepted scientific consensus on the issue. This method of argumentation is often the hallmark of pseudoscientists and those who are pushing an ideological agenda on science.

        So, you got something better? Don’t just come up with “it can’t be CO2”, come up with something better than “it’s CO2.” If the AGW deniers can do that, and the science backs them up, then eventually they’ll win the argument in the climate science community.

        Craig said:

        I hate to point this out (I don’t think credentials necessarily mean anything) but I also noticed that this blogger is a software developer. Dr. Soon is an astro-physicist (one of your own kind, Matt!)

        Yes, the blogger is a software developer, but all of his posts have been vetted by professional climate scientists at RealClimate.org (which you would have seen had you actually read the entire blog). So, as I stated in the beginning, he is accurately representing the AGW science because he, like me, goes directly to those sources. I just like to refer people to his blog because it is slightly less technical and more readable than some stuff I find elsewhere.

        As to this Dr. Soon you keep mentioning, he’s an astrophysicist not a climate scientist. If I have a question about astrophysics, I might look up Dr. Soon, but this isn’t a question about astrophysics, is it? And, again as I’ve stated repeatedly, the sources I’ve referenced over these nearly 20 years are those of climate scientists, and I have come to agree with their consensus.

      • Craig said

        Wow – I am surprised at your readiness to dismiss anything that doesn’t agree with the “consensus.” Maybe we should tell science students, “there are plenty of scientists out there smarter than us who already agree on things – no need for anyone else to enter the field – maybe you should try dentistry.”

        My reason for mentioning Dr. Soon is that he does in fact offer a viable causal mechanism – the sun. True, my attempted illustration with the heater is an oversimplification, but the point is that the changes in the sun in the 70’s resulted in an increase to the amount of energy being imparted to the earth. Since this increase solar activity did not subside until recently, the result is additional heat being added to our global system over a period of time. What causal mechanism can you point to that would negate the effect of this added heat?

        Solar activity is definitely an astrophysics question. Is your definition of a “climate scientist” confined to only someone who adheres to anthropogenic global warming? Btw, if your refusal to consider Dr. Soon is based on an assumption that all skeptics of AGW are religious kooks, your concerns are unfounded. I have seen no evidence that indicates whether Dr. Soon is a religious man or not.

        One final thing – I sense hostility in your replies. It is not my intention to anger you or insult you, only to have a spirited debate. Any perceived digs in my comments should be taken as good-natured ribbing, no insult intended. I was being honest when I began by saying you are a smart guy.

      • Craig said

        oops – my blockquote was messed up in that last post – The portion showing the in the block should be in reference to this quote from your comment:

        “As to this Dr. Soon you keep mentioning, he’s an astrophysicist not a climate scientist. If I have a question about astrophysics, I might look up Dr. Soon, but this isn’t a question about astrophysics, is it?”

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