LETTER TO ***
(A reply to William Dembski)
By Mark Perakh
(This is a letter sent to a member of the Access Research Network (ARN) whose name (***) is encoded on the ARN site as "Dayton." On March 14, 2004 "Dayton" has posted this letter to the ARN website, as a response to William Dembski's reply of March 13, 2004 to Mark Perakh's essay titled "The Design Revolution? How William Dembski Is Dodging Answers About Intelligent Design." Perakh's essay can be seen at this site as well as at Talk Reason ( www.talkreason.org/articles/Revolution.cfm )
Posted on March 14, 2004
Hi, ***: Thanks for letting me see Dembski’s (sort of) response to my latest post to Talk Reason. Of course, for those of us who have been following Dembski’s activities there is little surprising in his epistle. I have been criticizing his work since 1999, in a number of web postings and in print, but he consistently avoided even acknowledging the existence of my critique. Naturally, writing about his newest book, where he continued that trend, I mentioned this fact. Now he asserts:
“Quite frankly, I've been less than impressed with the refrain that I've not adequately addressed my critics. Mark Perakh seems to be leading the pack ((see, for instance, his latest posting at Talk Reason). He seems especially put out that I've not engaged him directly in print.”
If Dembski thinks I am “especially put out” that he did not so far respond to a single of my arguments, this is just one more display of his inflated self-confidence. Dembski wants to be viewed a scientist. In the tradition of scientific disputes, when there is no response to critique, this is construed as a sign that the criticized author has no good counter-arguments. Therefore I have had no reasons to be “put out” by his silence in response to my critique. His silence, from my standpoint, indicated that he simply could not offer an adequate response. Recall that he never answered to some other critics as well. Notably, he never acknowledged the critique of his work by David Wolpert and Del Ratzsch. Are they also (I am quoting from Dembski) “recycling other criticisms, and doing a poor job in the process”?
Since my critique of Dembski’s work has shown serious deficiencies and plain errors in his output, and given both his well documented self-admiration and the exaggerated praise of his work by his cohorts, it is not surprising that in his opinion I did a “poor job.” Apparently only those who compare him to Isaac Newton (as Rob Koons did) or acclaim his “formidable intellect” (as Andrew Ruys did) have, in his opinion, done a good job.
Dembski’s assertion that in my critique I just “recycled” the arguments of others, shows that either he did not read my critique or that he deliberately distorts what he did read.
Recall that, when replying to the critique by Matt Young, Dembski accused Young of borrowing arguments from me. This seems to be a boilerplate notion used by Dembski in attempts to denigrate his opponents by accusing them of “recycling” arguments of others thus making it unnecessary for him to reply. Who allegedly borrows arguments from whom, seems to be chosen by Dembski according to the needs of the moment.
None of those who took time to refer to my critique of Dembski, including those who have had disagreements with me, has ever suggested (as Dembski does) that I “recycled” the arguments of others. In fact, a good part of my critique of Dembski’s work was written before I even had a chance to read the critique by other authors. Here is just one example: in my post to Talk Reason titled A Consistent Inconsistency dated July 2001 (which to a large extent corresponds to chapter 1 in my book) I analyzed the faults in Dembski’s explanatory filter using argument that not only have not been offered by any other critics, but still stand alone and have not been repeated by anybody else (but pointed out to in some reviews of my book). For example, one of these arguments shows the lack of elementary logic in Dembski’s scheme – he suggests estimating the probability of events without referring to their causal history. This is impossible – in fact he has it backwards. For example, we assign to the event high probability because this event is due to a law, not the other way around, as Dembski’s schema prescribes. This argument is completely my own – and this is equally true for many of my other arguments, related to his treatment of probabilities, of information, of complexity, etc.
Although my article in question was dated July 2001, my critique of Dembski initially appeared already in September 1999, in an article about Behe’s book (posted on Talk Reason under the title Irreducible Contradiction) which was before most of the other critiques of Dembski became available.
However, even if some of my arguments happened to be similar to arguments of others, this would only show that more than one critic noticed the same faults in Dembski’s discourse, and this hardly could justify Dembski’s dodging replies to such arguments.
To my mind, my arguments, regardless of whether they were allegedly “recycled” or completely original, show that it was Dembski who did a poor job. There is whole list of authors who share such a view. If, though, Dembski is so sure that my arguments were poor, it would be an easy task for him to demonstrate it. He did not.
A few words about his challenge to publicly debate him. Here is a copy of my letter to Craig Nishimoto, the organizer of the Veritas forum at UCLA, who invited me to debate Dembski:
“To Craig Nishimoto, Veritas forum at UCLA
From Mark Perakh
January 10, 2004
Dear Craig: I appreciate your effort aimed at arranging a debate between myself and Dr. William Dembski. I also appreciate your offer regarding honorarium and reimbursement of travel expenses.
Having thought about your suggestions in regard to the debate in question, I have formed a quite firm opinion that I have to decline your invitation. Although there are a number of reasons for that decision, I’ll be brief in my explanation of them. Essentially, it would suffice to point to three items which, to my mind, make my participation in a public debate with William Dembski senseless, to wit:
(1) Discussing controversial issues in a public debate is, generally speaking, the least productive way to come to a reasonable conclusion. A public debate does not allow for an in-depth analysis of the arguments and more often than not boils down to a competition in sound bites and superficial charisma of the debaters. On the other hand, an exchange of written essays and responses to them offers time for reflection and thought in contrast to the fleeting character of an oral debate.
(2) A debate conducted in writing can reach a much wider audience of both laypersons and experts.
(3) I have consulted with my doctor who, although leaving the decision to me, is of the opinion that a trip to UCLA with the concomitant physical and mental exertion entails certain risks to my health. I cannot drive 150 miles one way, so to partake of the debate I’ll have to take a commuter plane from Palomar airport to either LAX or Burbank, to be met there and driven to UCLA; due to the late hour of the planned debate, I’ll need to stay overnight in a hotel, and to be taken back to the airport in the morning. Besides the not unsubstantial expenses involved (and I appreciate your kind offer to cover them) it simply does not make sense to go to such lengths in order to take part in an event whose usefulness seems to be so uncertain.
All this said, and besides the sufficiency of the above three reasons, I may add that, thinking of the prospects of a debate with William Dembski, I feel that I simply am not interested enough to debate him at this time. I have spent considerable time and effort on debunking Dr. Dembski’s ideas, and I feel that at this time a further effort in that direction is hardly warranted. Judging from Dr. Dembski’s responses to other critics, a chance that in the course of the suggested debate I will hear anything new or interesting from Dr. Dembski is very slim. Until now, Dr. Dembski has been ceaselessly repeating his mantras on specified complexity, the law of conservation of information, the alleged impossibility of evolution because of the NFL theorems, and other similar topics, wherein his arguments, to my mind, lack any substance. In his responses to critics he largely avoided the essence of the disputed points indulging instead in discussing such irrelevant matters as the degrees or pen names of his opponents, or comparing his opponents to Lysenko, etc. Such behavior by Dr. Dembski is not conducive to invoking an interest in debating him. Of course, if Dr. Dembski chooses to reply to my critique in writing (something he has so far avoided) or if in his forthcoming publications he will offer new ideas, possibly I will feel that an additional contribution to the dispute on my part is warranted, but it is not yet so.
Please feel free to share this message with Dr. Dembski.
Best wishes. Mark Perakh”
I may add to the above letter a few more words. My doctor turned to be right. I am going to have a serious surgery next week. I am almost 80 and it shows. Then, even if I were in excellent health, I hardly would be interested in engaging in public debates the people of Dembski’s ilk. It is one thing to rebuff arguments that appeared in print via an exchange of essays and articles – such rebuttals do not imply that the object of critical remarks is necessarily viewed as a legitimate opponent. Indeed, when, say, Skeptical Inquirer pounces upon quacks it does not mean the status of quacks is acknowledged as the same as of legitimate physicians. A public debate is a different story – it implies the acceptance of a legitimate status of one’s opponent as of a genuine scientist.
I have had many discussions and disputes in my long career but all of them with serious scientists about questions which were of professional interests within a purely scientific realm. Now the situation is different.
As Dembski recently stated in a lecture at a church in Texas, he believes we are in a culture war here, and he admits that his primary motivation is his belief that attributing evolution to materialistic mechanisms robs God of his glory. I have no desire to taint my record by a public debate with a gentleman who, in my view, rather than being a serious scientist, is using appearance of “science” as a vehicle for his apologetics.