How Not to Debate Intelligent Design

By William A. Dembski


Intelligent design has many critics. Some play hard and fair. Robert Pennock is not one of them.


Pennock has just published _Intelligent Design Creationists and Their Critics_ with MIT Press. It includes two essays by me. Pennock never contacted me about their inclusion. Indeed, I only learned of their inclusion after his volume was published and became available to the public last week.


It appears that Pennock and MIT Press are legally in the clear -- Pennock selected pieces for which he was able to obtain copyright permissions without having to consult me.


There's more to ethics, however, than legalities. What Pennock and MIT Press have done is emblematic of the viewpoint discrimination that dissenters to Darwinism face in American academic culture. Pennock's volume is supposed to constitute a definitive refutation of intelligent design, allowing intelligent design proponents to have their say and then meet their strongest critics. Instead, it is a shabby ploy to cast intelligent design in the worst possible light.


Imagine if someone critical of Darwinian evolutionary theory decided to publish a book titled _Dogmatic Darwinian Fundamentalists and Their Critics_, managed to obtain copyright permissions for pieces by prominent Darwinists (mostly outdated pieces at that), and then situated their pieces within a collection of critical replies designed to make them look ridiculous. Substitute intelligent design for Darwinism, and that's what Pennock and MIT Press have done.


In my case, Pennock chose a popular 2,000 word essay of mine titled "Who's Got the Magic?" and followed it with a 9,000-word rebuttal by him titled "The Wizards of ID." For the other essay of mine, Pennock chose "Intelligent Design as a Theory of Information," which was a popular piece on information theory that's now five years old. I've written much on that topic since then, and the essay itself is now outdated. Moreover, Pennock followed that essay with three critical responses. One of those responses, by Elliott Sober, was a lengthy technical review (from the journal _Philosophy of Science_) of my technical monograph _The Design Inference_ (Cambridge University Press, 1998). No portion of that monograph or anything comparable from my work was included in Pennock's book. Finally, I was given no chance to respond to my critics.


I contacted both Pennock and MIT Press to register my concerns. I would like to have seen a public apology by Pennock and some notice by MIT Press indicating that my essays appeared without my knowledge, that they represent my popular rather than technical work on intelligent design, and that I was not given a chance to reply to my critics. Pennock indicated that unless I chose to pursue legal action, he considered the matter closed. MIT Press ignored my concerns and indicated they would be happy to hear about any other concerns I might have.


I do not plan to seek legal redress, though it seems to me that Pennock and MIT Press have deliberately tried to undermine my standing in the academic community. Pennock chose popular and outdated work of mine, positioned various critiques of my work with it, gave me no opportunity to reply to my critics, and packaged it all in a volume titled _Intelligent Design Creationists and Their Critics_, thus casting me as a creationist, which in contemporary academic culture is equivalent to being cast as a flat earther, astrologer, or holocaust denier. There's no way I would have allowed my work to appear under such conditions if I had any say in the matter. Pennock saw to it that I had no say in the matter.


Some critics of intelligent design play hard and fair. They allow intelligent design proponents to put their best foot forward and they in turn produce their strongest counterarguments to intelligent design. Pennock, by contrast, is like the Emperor Commodus in the movie _Gladiator_, who first needs to hamstring his opponents before he tosses them into the arena.


Episodes like this are bad for American academic life. They undermine free and open exchange. They make for bad feelings on all sides. And they prevent ideas from getting the critical scrutiny they need. Intelligent design needs critical scrutiny. But by rigging the debate the way he did, Pennock ensures that intelligent design will continue to be politicized. Pennock's new book is an object lesson in how not to debate intelligent design.












How STILL Not to Debate Intelligent Design

By William A. Dembski


Robert Pennock has just published _Intelligent Design Creationists and Their Critics_ with MIT Press. It includes two essays by me. In a press release dated yesterday, I claimed that Pennock never contacted me about their inclusion. Pennock now claims that he did. He said. She said. Who's right?


Consider the facts. Pennock published two essays of mine in his new book: "Who's Got the Magic?" and "Intelligent Design as a Theory of Information." With regard to the second essay, did he ever in any way refer to that essay, whether directly or indirectly, in any of our correspondence prior to the release of his book? No. He never even hinted at it, and there's no way it could be said that he contacted me about its inclusion in his volume. Pennock therefore never laid out which essays of mine he intended to include.


What about the other essay, "Who's Got the Magic?" Did Pennock ever advert to that essay in any of our correspondence? In April 2001, Pennock sent an email to my colleague Paul Nelson asking him to forward it to me. Nelson did forward Pennock's message to me. I had received no email from Pennock before that date and nothing after until the publication of his book. I read Pennock's email with only two pieces of relevant background knowledge: (1) that he was putting together an anthology for MIT Press titled _Intelligent Design Creationists and Their Critics_ and (2) that my colleague Paul Nelson was a contributor to the volume and that he had been explicitly informed that he would be a contributor. My working assumption before receiving Pennock's email was that I would not be a contributor since I had not been similarly informed.


Pennock's forwarded message contained two items relevant here: (1) a short biosketch of me with a request that I correct it for inclusion in "my anthology" (no description of the anthology beyond this was mentioned -- Pennock simply assumed I knew what he was referring to) and (2) an engimatic reference to being able to "add our Meta exchange when I sent in the ms [sic]."


Regarding the biosketch, Pennock did not state that this was a contributor biosketch. With a title like _Intelligent Design Creationists and Their Critics_, I took it that Pennock was compiling a "rogues gallery" of ID proponents and simply listing me as one of the rogues. He never used the word "contributor" or anything like it to refer to me in connection with his anthology.


Regarding Pennock's reference to "our Meta exchange," he never referred to my actual essay by title. The Meta exchange comprised my piece on www.metanexus.net titled "Who's Got the Magic?" and his response there titled "The Wizards of ID." I had never signed over the copyright for "Who's Got the Magic?" to Pennock or anyone else for that matter. Was it therefore our entire exchange that he was planning to add, with copyright permissions requests (that never came) still down the road ? Or was it just his portion of the exchange and a summary of mine that he was planning to add to "the ms"? Was his mention of adding it to "the ms" a reference to the MIT anthology or to some other work? Finally, the one other ID proponent whom I knew to be a contributor to Pennock's anthology (i.e., Paul Nelson) had been explicitly contacted about being a contributor. I hadn't.


Pennock's forwarded message was ambiguous at best. Indeed, it came as a complete surprise when I learned last week that my essays were included in his volume. My surprise was not unjustified. I therefore continue to maintain that Pennock never contacted me about the inclusion of my essays in his volume. Indeed, the very fact that Pennock's one piece of communication with me was a forwarded message should give one pause. Pennock, who casts himself as the defender of scientific correctness against ID reactionaries, has been remarkable for being able to uncover obscure work of mine (cf. his previous book with MIT Press titled _Tower of Babel_).


Pennock has been following the ID movement intently for at least ten years. I'm one of the most prominent people in the ID camp. My association with Baylor University and Discovery Institute is common knowledge. Pennock could easily have contacted me directly and informed me explicitly that I was to be a contributor to the volume. Instead, he sent a letter through an intermediary. There was a hint in that forwarded letter that one paper of mine might be appearing in some mansucript, which after the fact proved to be more than a hint. But I saw no reason to give it a second thought without further clarification from Pennock -- clarification he never offered. And what about the other paper, about which there was no hint?


So much for he-said-she-said, my-word-versus-your-word. Such clarifications are needed to clear the air. But they really sidestep the central issue. By not contacting me about the inclusion of my essays in his volume, Pennock merely added insult to injury. The central issue, however, is not the insult but the injury. The injury is that Pennock situated my essays in a book that from its inception cast me and my colleagues as villains and demonized our work.


I'm still a junior scholar, early in my academic career. I don't have tenure. When my contract runs out at Baylor University, I'll have to hustle for another academic job. Under normal circumstances, I would love to have articles of mine (popular or technical) appear with prestigious academic presses like MIT Press. But the inclusion of my essays in _Intelligent Design Creationists and Their Critics_ do not constitute normal circumstances.


To fair-minded individuals in the middle with no significant stake in the controversy over Darwinism and intelligent design, I ask: Would you like your work subjected to the same treatment that Pennock and MIT Press gave to my work and that of my colleagues? If you were a feminist scholar, would you want your work to appear in a book titled _Misguided Liberationist Women and Their Critics_? If you were a Muslim scholar, would you want your work to appear in a book titled _Fanatical Believers in Allah and Their Critics_? If you were a Marxist scholar, would you want your work to appear in a book titled _Marx's Theory of Surplus Value and Other Nonsense_?


"Creationism" is a dirty word in contemporary academic culture and Pennock knows it. What's more, as a trained philosopher, Pennock knows that intelligent design is not creationism. Intelligent design refers to intelligent processes operating in nature that arrange pre-existing matter into information-rich structures. Creation refers to an agent that gives being to the material world. One can have intelligent design without creation and creation without intelligent design.


The central issue is not that Pennock and MIT Press wanted to publish my essays but that they wanted to situate them in such a way as to discredit me, my work, and that of my colleagues. When I debated Darwinist Massimo Pigliucci at the New York Academy of Sciences last November, he stated: "Any debate between creationists and evolutionists is caused by the failure of scientists to explain how science works and should in no way be construed as a genuine academic dispute whose outcome is still reasonably doubtful." Pennock would agree, though he would add that the failure is also on the part of philosophers and not just scientists.


According to Pigliucci and Pennock, intelligent design proponents are not scholars to be engaged on the intellectual merits of their case. Rather, they are charlatans to be discredited, silenced, and stopped. That's the whole point of _Intelligent Design Creationists and Their Critics_. It's not a work of scholars trying to come to terms with their differences. It's not a work attempting to bring clarity to a "genuine academic dispute." It's a work of damage control to keep unwanted ideas at bay. It's what dogmatists do when outright censorship has failed.