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Critique of Intelligent Design

Evolution vs. Creationism

The Art of ID Stuntmen

Faith vs Reason

Anthropic Principle

Autopsy of the Bible code

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Serious Notions with a Smile

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Mark Perakh's Web Site

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Creative Ideas of IDists as reviewers

By Mark Perakh

Posted March 25, 2004

My book Unintelligent Design became available from Amazon in the middle of December 2003. On December 22 those curious observers who watch the sometimes funny exchange of opinions regarding books offered by Amazon, already could read a review of my book signed "A reader from Waco, Tx." The opinion of that anonymous and very prompt reviewer was that my book was bad because it was published by a bad publisher - Prometheus Books. The anonymous reviewer recommended instead a forthcoming book by William Dembski titled The Design Revolution (which presumably must be good because of being published by a good publisher - InterVarsity Press). The reviewer from Waco promised that Dembski's book would answer all my concerns.

Of course, the fact that Dembski holds a non-teaching position at Baylor university which is located in Waco, Tx, was supposed to be a mere coincidence.

Some other reader responded to the reviewer from Waco referring to the latter's review as that from "reader from Waco." Suddenly, a few days later, the review from Waco reappeared on Amazon, word for word, but now signed "A reader from Riesel, Tx," thus making a reference to "a reader from Waco" in another reviewer's reply incomprehensible. Of course, the fact that Dembski happens to live in Riesel, Tx, was supposed to be just another of those coincidences whose probabilities Dembski is so fond of calculating. Indeed, Dembski would not, of course, advertise his own book anonymously, would he? It would be against his rigorous standards of decent behavior. Then something unthinkable happened. There was a glitch on the Canadian Amazon website wherein all real authors of anonymous reviews were revealed for a whole week. Who turned out to be the reader from Waco a.k.a. reader from Riesel? Surprise, surprise! It was our old acquaintance, mathematician, philosopher, theologian and the Isaac Newton of information theory, William Dembski. Hey, Bill, how come you acclaim your own book without taking good measures to keep your anonymity? Such lack of caution on the part of the sophisticated philosopher and prophet of the imminent Design Revolution? It turns out, though, that some colleagues of Bill Dembski have practiced similar maneuvers for some time and so far managed to get away with it, so Dembski had perhaps good reasons to believe he might get away with it too. Besides the review from Reader from Waco (or Riesel?) on the same Amazon site appeared one more negative review of my book signed by a "reader from San Jose, CA." Then, a few days later the same review, word for word, reappeared being already signed "A reader from Sunnyvale, CA." However, the more interesting thing about this review was that it was an exact replica, word for word, of a review, also signed by the same reader from San Jose (or Sunnyvale?) but of a different book - The Creationism's Trojan Horse by Barbara Forrest and Paul Gross. A boilerplate review applicable to any book, if one wishes to sabotage its sales - what a creative idea! How convenient - the reviewer only needs to fill out the lines for the book's title and the author's name in a prefabricated form and email it to Amazon as well as to any other place willing to post the review. This also saves time and money as the reviewer has no need to buy the book and to waste his valuable time on reading it. And, of course, this way all those vile scientists who dare disagree with ID are vanquished and the victory of the Design Revolution is assured. And what about arguments of substance? Who needs them when the brave defenders of faith stand up for the glory of God?

Comment #233

Posted by Ed Brayton on March 26, 2004 11:22 AM (e)

What I find odd about all of this is that Dembski seems impossible to embarrass. You'd think getting caught at something as ridiculous as this would cause at least a bit of sheepishness. Even leaving aside the ethical questions and the intellectual dishonesty, it requires the attitude of a carnival barker to do this sort of thing without walking away with at least a little bit of humiliation on your face.

Comment #238

Posted by Jeremy on March 26, 2004 01:04 PM (e)

So, the reasons for thinking that Dembski actually wrote the review in question is that the reviewer recommends one of Dembski's books and *claims* to be from Waco, Tx? The evidence for this hypothesis seems a little thin. Especially if the hypothesis is going to be the basis for a character attack on Dembski. I mean, c'mon guys. You might give people the impression that you're prone to accepting theories on insufficient evidence. ;o)

Comment #239

Posted by andrew on March 26, 2004 01:12 PM (e)

uh, jeremy, the reason for thinking Dembski wrote the review is that there was a bug in Amazon and it was revealed that he wrote the review. But nice "catch," champ!

Comment #241

Posted by asg on March 26, 2004 01:14 PM (e)

Either Jeremy is a parody poster (which I fervently hope) or has an allergy to reading more than one paragraph in a single sitting.

Comment #243

Posted by C.E. Petit on March 26, 2004 01:24 PM (e)

I know a couple of carnival barkers who would resent being compared to Dembski. They quite properly point out that a carnival is primarily for entertainment. Wait a minute… Inscrutable Design/creationism/Dembski seem primarily to be for entertainment, so maybe it's not inapt after all.

All seriousness aside, I think a better comparison is to a "used car dealership," because carnival barkers usually work with a one-level sales scheme. They don't try to make up for anything they have to concede on the sale (biochemistry) with even more needless charges on financing (complexity), backed up with shoddy service (use of outdated and out-of-context support materials).

Comment #246

Posted by Jeremy on March 26, 2004 01:40 PM (e)

Doh! I didn't notice the link to the rest of the post and am glad to be corrected. Embarassed too, but probably not as much as Dembski!

Comment #249

Posted by Shag from Brookline on March 26, 2004 02:28 PM (e)

I have been reading extensively about ID at various websites in recent months. Prior thereto, I followed The Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences at www.ctns.org and its literature and have not detected whether that organization is pushing ID openly. Its purpose is to bridge theology and science. But I'm not sure that bridge will support much weight. Can someone who is familiar with both ID and CTNS opine how closely these groups are related?

Comment #257

Posted by JohnK on March 26, 2004 04:19 PM (e)

As many here, I'm very familiar with ID but I only know CTNS from review of their site. Based on that I would say there little to no relationship. The large variety of names approvingly dropped at CTNS are almost without exception theistic evolutionists (including its founder and director Robert John Russell), some of whom are opponents of the ID movement. My impression of CTNS is that it is a scholarly academic center which recognizes/acknowledges the wide spectrum of creationists/IDists, does not spend a great deal of effort either supporting or debunking them but thinks their claims should be addressed on their merits without appealing to religious motivations.

I see Dembski was given a forum there on April Fool's Day, 2003.

Comment #260

Posted by Wesley R. Elsberry on March 26, 2004 04:31 PM (e)

Bob Russell of CTNS is no friend of "intelligent design". I saw him dress down Discovery Institute Center for Renewal of Science and Culture Director Stephen C. Meyer during a panel discussion in 2000, and have heard that he did much the same for Dembski last year.

Comment #265

Posted by Jan Haugland on March 26, 2004 05:58 PM (e)

Now that is rich! I heard about the Amazon glitch and wondered who would end up with eggs on their faces… somehow it doesn't surprise me that Dembski was one of them.

Isn't there something in the Bible about not lying for God?

Comment #269

Posted by Tim Lambert on March 26, 2004 06:47 PM (e)

The location changed because Amazon reports the same location for all reviews. Dembski must have posted another review and given Reisel as his location. Dembski anonymous reviewing antics are nothing compared to those by John Lott. See here

Comment #307

Posted by Frank Schmidt on March 27, 2004 12:13 PM (e)

Clearly, this review is a case of Intelligent Design! Does it fit the Explanatory Filter?

Comment #421

Posted by ms on March 29, 2004 02:51 PM (e)

The allegation of Dembski being revealed as the anonymous poster is very interesting. How can I substantiate it?

Comment #424

Posted by Wesley R. Elsberry on March 29, 2004 03:12 PM (e)

Good question. It seems there are three choices that I can think of:

  1. Ask Google.ca to verify the information. They did release it publicly, and there is at least some slight possibility that they might do so. This would be the best evidence, circumstantial evidence with provenance established by an unimpeachable source.
  2. See if anyone who saw the released information on the Google.ca site also happened to store a local copy of the page. This would be circumstantial evidence one step removed from absolute provenance.

  3. Find out how many people will attest to having personally seen the released identification on the Google.ca site. Testimonial evidence is the weakest class we can get, but if multiple people come forward, I think we reduce the uncertainty drastically.

Comment #426

Posted by Wesley R. Elsberry on March 29, 2004 03:18 PM (e)

I'm sorry, brain fart… It's Amazon.ca that's the relevant source, not Google.ca.

Comment #428

Posted by ms on March 29, 2004 03:25 PM (e)

Did anyone here actually see it?

Comment #533

Posted by ms on March 31, 2004 05:40 PM (e)

Did you actually see Dembski's name when the glitch occurred? If not, how did you substantiate the claim that he was the anonymous poster? Thanks.

Comment #540

Posted by Nick on March 31, 2004 09:02 PM (e)

In the interests of pedantry: Among various bits of circumstantial evidence,

  1. It sounds like Dembski (he does have a very definite style, unsupported scorn is the main ingredient).
  2. He works in Waco and lives in Riesel, IIRC.
  3. There are only a very few amazon.com reviewers from Riesel, and Dembski is one of them.
  4. Reading the reviews, several people commented on the suspicious review first from Waco, then from Riesel, even before the amazon.ca glitch in mid-February, which embarrassed many people, according to this AP story
  5. Dembski's reviews once were from Waco, TX, as remembered by many and as shown in this google archive page.
  6. Dembski probably changed his location from Waco to Riesel, intentionally or unintentionally, when he posted his review of Science and Christianity on January 20, as noted by Tim Lambert.
  7. There is a rather similar anonymous review from Riesel, TX, from May 2, 2002, of Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics:

    9 of 38 people found the following review helpful:

    [1 star out of 5] Retreads and Bias, May 2, 2002

    Reviewer: A reader from Riesel, TX USA

    There is virtually nothing new here — most of the articles are retreads. What's more, many of the articles are readily available online (and not difficult to access as Robert Pennock claims). Intelligent design proponents were not invited to put their strongest foot forward, and intelligent design critics were given the lion's share of the space. These two facts make this a highly biased book. The historical introduction by Barbara Forrest of the intelligent design movement is especially problematic. She makes it all political and agenda driven and ignores that there is a genuine intellectual project here. Worse yet, she distorts the history of the intelligent design movement, placing its beginnings with Phillip Johnson, when in fact people like Polanyi, Schuetzenberger, Thaxton, and Denton were employing design-theoretic arguments well before Johnson. This is a bad and misleading book. Buy it if you must, but supplement it with primary source material from the intelligent design community. Especially recommended here is the work of Behe and Dembski.

Now, I don't particularly mind if someone wants to post an anonymous review, people have a right to do that and lots of people do. It is, though, a little weird if the book in question is directly critical of your own work, you consistently put your name on glowing reviews of books supporting your position and consisently leave your name off of negative reviews, and you consistently recommend your own books in the third person in the negative reviews. Once a news-making glitch confirms what is widely suspected, it becomes a blogworthy tidbit (IMO).

Comment #1263

Posted by Mark Perakh on April 18, 2004 08:51 AM (e)

Yes, Dembski's name as the author of the review in question was seen on Amazon.ca and there are witnesses who would testify if need be.

Comment #1272

Posted by Pim van Meurs on April 18, 2004 12:18 PM (e)

What is even more ironic is that the ‘reader from Riesel' references books that had yet to be published as relevant rebuttals of Perakh's claims. Would be interesting to know how this ‘reader from Riesel' had access to such resources :-)

If simply by reading Perakh, you think he has decisively demolished intelligent design, you need to read the primary literature. Especially recommended here are John Campbell and Steve Meyer's _Darwinism, Design, and Public Education_ as well as Dembski's _The Design Revolution_, which answers many of Perakh's concerns.

Posted on December 21, 2003

The Design revolution by Dembski was published by Intervarsity Press on February 2004.

Comment #1273

Posted by Pim van Meurs on April 18, 2004 12:18 PM (e)

Dembski may be happy, a succesful design inference.

Comment #1274

Posted by Mark Perakh on April 18, 2004 01:14 PM (e)

Pim, your comment is very well pointed. Dembski was apparently so eager to pounce on my book that he did not exercise a bit of caution and posted his review prematurely, before the books he refered to were out. There was never, though, a doubt that the infamous review from Waco/Riesel was authored by Dembski even before Amazon.ca made it explicitly revealed. One of the readers (who signed his comment as ms - see comments above)asked whether anybody can assert that he/she has in fact seen Dembski's name as the review's author. I did not want to name such persons without their explicit consent, but now I got a permission to name at least one such person. Alec Gindis has personally seen Dembski's name as the writer of the review in question, on Amazon.ca and on some other version of non-USA Amazon site. He gave his consent to testify anywhere, if need be, to that fact. It is easy to imagine what Dembski would do if he were not in fact the writer of that review - he certainly would have raised a lot of noise complaining about being subjected to slander. But he is deafeningly silent about this matter, as well as all of his cohorts - he and they know that he was caught in an unseemly behavior and all he and they wish - this story to be forgotten ASAP. In his latest post he had the gall to assert (in a derisive tone of superiority) that in his dispute with Tom Schneider he had the last laugh - and the laugh was not at his expense. In fact the opposite is true: Tom dealt with Dembski very well, showing the lack of substance in Dembski's assertions. Unlike Dembski, Tom is a genuine researcher performing interesting experiments, so he had to get distracted from his work to answer Dembski's attack which boiled down to arbitrary asseverations having no foundation in facts. In view of Dembski's flop on Amazon, he should have been more cautious speaking about laughs and at whose expense they occur. Obviously, his aplomb is so great that nothing can embarrass him - even being caught in not very respectable tricks.

Comment #1275

Posted by Loren Petrich on April 18, 2004 01:56 PM (e)

Dembski may not be alone.

Walter ReMine has allegedly used the pseudonym LaserThing in the Usenet newsgroup talk.origins to give his work glowing reviews.

Jonathan Sarfati uses the pseudonym Socrates over at TheologyWeb; he gets very sore when anyone tries to make the connection.

High-school science teacher Jan Peczkis uses the pseudonym John Woodmorappe for his creationist writings, like "Noah's Ark: A Feasibility Study"

Comment #1277

Posted by Mark Perakh on April 18, 2004 02:18 PM (e)

IMHO, using pseudonims is in itself OK - this a tradition and many respectable writers used pen names (including some contributors to this blog) - and there is nothing wrong in this as long as pen names are not used for underhanded shenanigans. In Dembski's case the point is that he used the anonimous review not only to denigrate my book but also to praise his own book, and pretended to be just an unbiased reader while in fact having personal interests at stake. Moreover, since in my book I critiqued his work, his referring to himself in the third person and asserting without argumentation that my critique was defectous amounted to deception.

Comment #1945

Posted by avalon on May 8, 2004 03:18 AM (e)

Thank you for information !

Comment #23711

Posted by slpage on April 7, 2005 07:44 AM (e)

Walter ReMine has allegedly used the pseudonym LaserThing in the Usenet newsgroup talk.origins to give his work glowing reviews.

ReMine also posted to both a Mormon group and sci.bio.evolution as "Ithinkso", and when this was pointed out at ARN, the warning, deleting, and banning began.

Several ARNites actually defended him, which is ironic as ReMine makes much about 'anonymous posters'.

-Comment #24152

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Comment #34112

Posted by Don on June 7, 2005 02:16 PM (e)

Dembski doesn't work for Bridgestone now, does he?