Thursday, March 22, 2007


Dembski Channeling Colbert?

Yesterday, William Dembski, the ID theorist, theologian, philosopher, mathematician, and sound effects man, who publishes the Uncommon Descent blog decided to add another area of expertise to his already formidable repertoire.

He decided to out-Colbert, Stephen Colbert.

Dembski wrote that "when I want to feel good about our shared humanity, I curl up with Darwin’s DESCENT OF MAN and read passages like the following:
The reckless, degraded, and often vicious members of society, tend to increase at a quicker rate than the provident and generally virtuous members. Or as Mr. Greg puts the case: “The careless, squalid, unaspiring Irishman multiplies like rabbits: the frugal, foreseeing, self-respecting, ambitious Scot, stern in his morality, spiritual in his faith, sagacious and disciplined in his intelligence, passes his best years in struggle and in celibacy, marries late, and leaves few behind him. Given a land originally peopled by a thousand Saxons and a thousand Celts—and in a dozen generations five-sixths of the population would be Celts, but five-sixths of the property, of the power, of the intellect, would belong to the one-sixth of Saxons that remained. In the eternal ’struggle for existence,’ it would be the inferior and less favoured race that had prevailed—and prevailed by virtue not of its good qualities but of its faults.”

Pretty damning, isn't?

And Dembski, of course, drives home the point that these sorts of views, while once popular, are now beyond the pale by adding: "What a great mind, indeed. What a wonderful human being. What a marvelous vision of the human family."

Is this what Darwin really believed? Is it true that Darwin's theory of evolution, as the comments to Dembski's post attest, is the basis for racism, eugenics, and the Nazi's?

If it were true, it would be terrible indeed.

Before we decide, let's do what Dembski and his readers didn't. Let's read the passage in context. Here's a link to the Project Gutenburg online text of Descent of Man.

As you can see, the first sentence cited by Dembski (The reckless, degraded...) is Darwin summarizing the views of Greg and Galton. The rest of the paragraph is Darwin quoting Greg.

Does Darwin do this because he agrees with Greg and Galton? No. He cites their arguments in order to refute them. They argue that if evolution were true, the Irish would "multiply like rabbits" and the good frugal Scots would, by their habit of marrying late, become extinct. In effect, Greg and Galton are making a powerful argument against evolution in man.

Darwin goes on in succeeding paragraphs to offer a number of arguments against this line of thinking -- which after all, challenges the validity of his theory of evolution.

Nothing in the paragraph, not one word, reflects what Darwin believed.

While Red State Rabble profoundly admires Dembski's skills as a sound man, we don't believe he's mastered Colbert's humor. Colbert is funny because we know he's playing O'Reilly. O'Reilly himself just isn't funny because he really believes the idiotic things that come out of his mouth and, for the same reason, Dembski isn't funny, either.

In fact, there's good evidence that Dembski himself harbors the sort of views expressed in the citation by Greg and Galton. Here are two examples from his blog:

So, here's our advice to Dembski. To be funny like Colbert, we have to know you're not serious. In this case, your history of quote mining works against the notion that you expected us to get the joke. We're left believing that you're just cynical, and that's a bad thing in a theologian.

Stick to the fart noises, it's what you know.


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