Monday, October 15, 2007

Dembski and the chattel machine

Bill Dembski, creationist-extraordinaire, works at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. What kind of school has creationists teaching science? This kind of school:

Equal but different.

You hear that a lot on the lush green campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

God values men and women equally, any student here will tell you. It's just that he's given them different responsibilities in life: Men make decisions. Women make dinner.
Yowza. Does that sound a little retrograde to you? I'm only getting started...
The [homemaking] academic program, open only to women, includes lectures on laundering stubborn stains and a lab in baking chocolate-chip cookies.

Philosophical courses such as "Biblical Model for the Home and Family" teach that God expects wives to graciously submit to their husbands' leadership. A model house, to be completed by next fall, will allow women to get credit toward bachelor's degrees by learning how to set tables, sew buttons and sustain lively dinnertime conversation.
Is this real? Or is it from The Onion? Who would sign up for this?
It all sounds wonderful to sophomore Emily Felts, 19, who signed up as soon as she arrived on campus this fall.

Several relatives have told Felts that she's selling herself short. They want her to become a lawyer, and she agrees she'd make a good one. But that's not what she wants to do with her life.

More to the point, it's not what she believes God wants of her.

"My created purpose as a woman is to be a helper," Felts said firmly. "This is a college education that I can use."
Damn. I have every respect for women who decide to stay home with their kids. One of our neighbors did that. My wife thought about it (she just loves every minute with our son). But to be a helper? I don't know how other people run their marriages, but my wife and I are equal partners. It makes decision-making a tad more difficult, but why would she want to subvert her desires for mine?
For the rest of the nearly three-hour class, guest lecturer Ashley Smith, the wife of a theology professor, laid out the biblical basis for what she calls "the glorious inequalities of life."

Smith, 30, confided that she sometimes resents her husband for advancing his career "while I'm changing diapers and getting poop all over me."
I'll bet she resents him, and she should.
But then she quoted from Ephesians: "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord." And from Genesis: God created Eve to be a "suitable helper" for Adam.
Well, if God says so...
"If we love the Scripture, we must do it," said Smith, who gave up her dreams of a career when her husband said it was time to have children. "We must fit into this role. It's so much more important than our own personal happiness."
*gurgle* *gasp* *is speechless*

Well, ladies, what can this education do for you? It can turn this woman:
Donella Cecrle, 36, spent years in the corporate world, traveling the nation to sell computer software -- and far out-earning her husband, Andy. Subservience wasn't in her vocabulary.
into this woman:
When Cecrle became pregnant, she left work for good and now stays home with their two preschool-age children... ...She started this semester with a homemaking course, which Dorothy Patterson, 63, teaches at her dining room table (artfully decorated with sprigs of autumnal berries and curls of pumpkin-hued ribbon).

Cecrle credits Dorothy Patterson's lectures on God's vision of womanhood with helping her embrace her role as helper -- and restrain her instincts to take charge. "I have to be able to shut my mouth," she said.
I have to be able to shut my mouth. I have to be able to shut my mouth. This is what Dembski's Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is teaching women. Read it one more time, would you? I have to be able to shut my mouth. And something to leave the taste of a fine education in your mouth?
"It really doesn't matter what I think," [she] said. "It matters what the Bible says."



Nick Oliva said...

History is always ignored by religious fanantics. Read

Susannah Anderson said...

Having gone that route, and realizing too many years later how much I had lost by it, that makes me so sad.

The Factician said...

Thanks, wanderin'. I don't usually elicit such touching comments on my post. Thank you very much for your comment.

Anonymous said...

If there is anything but anti-religious bigotry being displayed in your post, which is about a class being offered to people voluntarily attending a religious college, I'd like to know what it is. Why not take on the Jews for wearing funny little hats and observing the Sabbath and kosher laws while you're at it? Is that what you would do if Dembski were Jewish?

BTW, could you please define for me precisely what you mean by "creationist?"

The Factician said...


Thanks for your comments.

Anti-religious bigotry? No, I don't think so. Criticism of religious sexism? Yes. Can you see that there is a difference? Or is all criticism bigotry? If you criticize me, are you a bigot? Or are you critical?

I don't care if people wear little hats. I don't care if they lay mats on the ground and face Mecca and pray. I don't care if they make crucifix symbols when they pray to their God. I don't care if they burn incense. It's none of my business.

However, it does bother me when a religion tries to teach a whole class of people from a young age to be subservient to another class (i.e. women be subservient to men). I object to forcing women to wear burkas. I object to the the Hindu caste system. I object to women being made a lesser entity. I object to women being "helpers". My wife is not my helper. My mother is not my helper. And if I have a daughter, she will certainly not be my helper or anyone else's. My wife's role in our marriage is to be 50% responsible for the work, 50% responsible for the happiness and 50% responsible for the decision-making that is required. She is my equal, not my helper, and I'm glad that no one in her life has tried to subvert that.

As for creationist, I'll use the Oxford English Dictionary definition for you:

Creationist: One who believes in or advocates creationism.

And the second definition of creationism is more relevant for this discussion (the first one is a theological argument about when a soul is created).

Creationism: The theory which attributes the origin of matter, the different species of animals and plants, etc., to ‘special creation’ (opposed to evolutionism).

Anonymous said...

Having read Dembski extensively, I don't find that he advocates "special creation". So perhaps you could explicate for me the meaning of "special creation"? Perhaps I have an incorrect understanding of the term.

The ladies at the college are simply voluntarily putting trying to put Ephesians 5 into practice. My wife does the same. This is apparently an outrage to you. Be that as it may, how does pointing this out refute Dembski? What, sir, is the purpose of your post? Is it simply to raise the hackles of the anti-religious so that they may more easily dismiss Dembski? If you are not yourself a bigot (and I'll take your word for it), it seems that you are using an appeal to the bigotry of others for the simple purposes of ad-hominem? Is this in any way honorable? Also, how is such a tactic useful in swaying the folks who don't have a problem with ID, perhaps because they don't have a problem with God in the first place? Are you trying to persuade, or simply to generate cheers from your own amen corner?

And I'm sorry to hear that your wife is not your helper. My wife is sorry to hear that, too. You might yourself want to take a look at Ephesians 5. 100% is called for from both husband and wife, although not in exactly the same way. The couples who want to voluntarily place themselves under this understanding do so. It is your post that seems to assume that women have no moral agency and would not place themselves under such an understanding absent force or coercion or brainwashing. Such an assumption is itself denigrating to women. The fact that the sexes have different roles should not be a cause for outrage (I assume you do not carry the baby for 50% of the pregnancy, after all). As such, it is again difficult for me to understand the point of your post. It seems to be: "Dembski has religious views that are a moral outrage. Please join me in mocking and berating them. Doesn't Dembski's religiously-based moral evil testify to the fact that his arguments should be dismissed?"

Please correct me if I am wrong.

The Factician said...

Hmmm... You are still making the error that criticism=bigotry. They are not the same, sir. I spend a great deal of my day criticizing the work of my colleagues (and they mine). Perhaps you are overly senstive to criticism of your lifestyle. Nonetheless, that is not bigotry. Do you agree that criticism and bigotry are not the same thing? At what point does it cross the line for you? For me, it would cross the line at saying "All Baptists are bad people" or even "The Baptists at this Seminary are bad people". I am not saying that (though I may have written sloppily enough for you to get that impression). I am saying that this homemaking class is a throwback to the 1950s. I'm saying that it's deeply sexist to women, and I'm saying it's a very, very sad development for the folks who take it seriously. Does that constitute bigotry to you?

As to my point on Dembski, I'll try to make it more clear. Dr. Dembski often claims that his "theory" is not religious. Nonetheless, he is teaching at what could easily be called an extremist, fundamentalist school (I think you might agree that in 2007 having a helper as a wife is not very common - and certainly not for the age group we're talking about). Dembski has some extreme religious positions. ID is an extreme religious position (I've written about it elsewhere in my blog). He hangs with folks who have extreme religious positions. But for the cameras he likes to say, "This isn't a religious position. ID could be about aliens who brought life to earth, or it could be about an extinct god who created life on earth". This is extremely unlikely that he either believes this or is advocating for this.

"simply to generate cheers from your own amen corner?"

No. There are plenty of blogs already doing that. (Perhaps most blogs). I am attempting (successfully or not) to speak to folks who don't know any better. 70% of my blog traffic is from Google searches. That's the way I would like it to be (people informing themselves on topics they don't know a lot about). Is that how you arrived here? Though I suspect you've already made up your mind, and I'm not about to try to change it.

"It is your post that seems to assume that women have no moral agency and would not place themselves under such an understanding absent force or coercion or brainwashing. "

I try not to use the word brainwashing, as it isn't very descriptive, and means different things to different people. And I already said above that I don't equate staying at home with a lesser role. But I do equate "helper" as a lesser role. I'm sad for all people who choose bondage or a lesser role in life, whether they choose it freely or no. Don't you feel sad for women who choose to wear a burka?

"Doesn't Dembski's religiously-based moral evil testify to the fact that his arguments should be dismissed?""

No, sir. His arguments can be dismissed on the merits. They are worthless as scientific arguments. Again, you can look elsewhere in this blog for posts on that. Or perhaps I'll write something up specifically for this exchange, we'll see.

I am pointing out that he is being dishonest when he claims that his theory is not a religious theory. It's not that he's confused about the science. When I first started reading him - and about him - I thought he might just be deeply confused and not very clever. I still think those things. But I now also think he's dishonest.

Anonymous said...

From my point of view, the fact that Dembski is religious does not make his theory a religious theory. Isn't the attitude that a "radically" religious person can't do science basically a bigoted position? How is Dembski dishonest? It is quite clear in his writings that he is a believing Christian. He has not hidden this. Do you perceive dishonesty because it is just not possible for you to believe a sincerely religious person could also have purely scientific motivations? Sounds kind of bigoted to me. From what you've said, I'd have to assume that you'd conclude that the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Canon Law contain "extreme religious positions" (no women priests, masturbation is a mortal sin, homosexual behavior is a mortal sin, a wafer of bread becomes the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, who is God Incarnate, divorce is not permitted, hell exists, etc, etc). That seems like a pretty extreme position to take in itself, and is not very effective rhetorically. Most religious people in this country, if they heard Dembski's religious positions, would not consider them extremist at all.

If you would, I'm wondering if you could sort of take a look at your post as if for the first time, and as if you didn't know its author from Adam. Can you blame someone for reading it as, "Dembski is a nut, and he subscribes to one f*cked up religion"?

I don't doubt that you feel that Dembski's arguments can be dismissed on the merits. That is not, however, my assessment. Saying, in essence, or at least making the mistake of rather easily being perceived as saying, "Dembski is a nut, and he subscribes to one f*cked up religion", does not add to your own credibility. It certainly doesn't contribute to discussion of anything on the merits. I'd honestly enjoy seeing some good anti-ID rebuttals on the merits that do not one way or another assume the non-existence of God, the insanity of religion, the evil of a creator that would allow malaria to exist, that people who know God personally are deluded, or that do not rest on a basically theological assertion that "God wouldn't have done it this way". But mostly I find things like your post, either standing alone, or buried in what is supposed to be an argument on the merits. I hope you can see that the anti-IDs can't possibly "win" with such a strategy. There are far too many people who are at peace with God, who enjoy their religion, and who simply want to hear some science. You can't possibly reach such people by trashing God and their religion and calling them irrational. For a great many people, God is data, not the conclusion of some argument. Surely Darwinism, if scientific, can stand on its own without referring negatively to God or religion?

Radical Islam is such a violent, misogynistic religion that I wonder how many women do choose the burka voluntarily. But I'm sure you don't see Southern Baptism as being the same, in essence, as Islam, unless it is some kind of case of "they all look alike to me", which is a sentiment generally associated in the past with bigotry. I'd wonder what your attitude is toward women not having to wear burkas, but instead being slaughtered in the womb if they are inconvenient to their parents. As you know, the Southern Baptists are against such a thing.

BTW, I thank you for the honest discussion. It is all too rare on the internet.

The Factician said...


You seem steeled to call me a bigot without answering the question "Is criticism the same as bigotry?" and "Which criticisms are allowed by you that aren't within the realm of bigotry?". You'll find I'm willing to carry on this conversation a lot longer if you drop the accusations.

Do I find that religious people can't do science? No. My father was an excellent scientist, and a devout Christian (though not a fundamentalist). It is possible to do both. But one cannot do science while tethered to a view that the Bible is inerrant. It's simply not possible, there are too many contradictions (and you won't find many practicing scientists who even attempt to do that).

I have major problems with any religion that puts people into classes. You say you have a hard time imagining women who freely choose the burka. I tend to agree with you, but there are women who will claim on TV that they have freely chosen it. Just as there are women who freely claim to be choosing to be "helpers". I don't doubt their claim that they have freely chosen it, but I wonder about their life that they feel this is a legitimate choice. And I compare the burka and "helpers" only in style, not in magnitude. A burka is considerably worse, but the "helper" is a bit closer to home.

"I hope you can see that the anti-IDs can't possibly "win" with such a strategy. "

I hate to break it to you - we've already won. The current debate is just about whether or not to teach it to children. Serious scientists barely even pay attention to this 'debate'. Of the 20 people I work with on a daily basis, none of them have heard of Dembski, and 'intelligent design' is a punchline, not a scientific idea. Evolution is no more a controversial idea than gravity. If someone were to ever get data suggesting that our understanding of gravity were fundamentally flawed, physicists would drop the theory of gravity in a heartbeat. Likewise for the theory of evolution. But no data exists.

Last night I watched a talk by Dembski on Youtube. He had not one whit of data. A nearly hour long talk - nothing. No data. He's been at this for 10 years, and he has no data. He might be good at fooling non-scientists, but to a scientist he's a clown. I don't think he's nuts. I think he's wrong. I think he's just a little dense. And it's pretty clear to me that he's dishonest - his primary motivation is his fundamentalist religion. Recently he was unable to answer the question, "What would it take for you to stop believing intelligent design?". If you can't answer a question like that, you're not a scientist. You know what it would take for me to stop thinking that the theory of evolution were true? Finding an organism on earth that used a fundamentally different genetic code. Novel amino acids. Novel coding sequences. And every protein looks nothing like currently known proteins. But no such thing has ever been found. I can answer the question of what it would take to shake my foundations. Dembski can't.

There are a tremendous number of folks involved in this 'debate' on my side who do care about the religious backgrounds. I don't. Most of my family are Christians. They aren't ignorant. They aren't stupid. I'm not saying, "Look at Dembski, he's a religious nut and hangs with some nuts". I'm saying, "Look at Dembski, he's claiming his motivations aren't religious, and yet he's working at one of the most radical religious institutions in the country". I would suggest it would be rather difficult to claim that you were doing secular science in the Vatican. If you're interested in doing secular science, there are *much* better places to be than the Vatican. And *much* better places to be than the Seminary that Dembski works at. I'm not discrediting his work because of his religion (like I said, that's already been done). I'm discrediting his motives. He has claimed they are not religious. That doesn't square well with what I now know about the school where he works.

Likewise, I wouldn't claim that I were a professional theologian given that I work as a post-doctoral fellow at a large, private, secular medical school. It would make me a pretty stupid theologian (or a dishonest one).

I hope this clarifies things. If you'd like to continue the conversation, please refrain from calling me a bigot or explain to me which criticisms are allowed that won't result in me being called a bigot. Otherwise this will be my last reply.

Enjoy your evening.


Anonymous said...

My primary goal is not to call you a bigot, nor do I suppose that you actually are one. No doubt you are a great guy and we'd get along famously in person. Criticism of religion does not, of course, equal bigotry. My comment was more about the rhetorical strategy you are employing. It is simply not possible to defeat ID using such a strategy, a strategy which will be interpreted by those you are trying to convince in pretty much the way I've indicated. This assumes that convincing people is your goal, as opposed to merely contributing to the group solidarity of your own side. If the latter is your goal, then I guess you've got a pretty good post here.

As far as evolution being no more controversial than gravity, I'm sure you've heard the cliche, "I've never heard a physicist proclaim that gravity is as well established as evolution". There's a reason for that.

In any case, you've not defined what you mean by the nebulous term "evolution" so there's not much I can say either way about your equating it with gravity. If you mean the "blind watchmaker thesis", then, sorry, I'd have to say that's not as well established as gravity.

It's pretty darned early in the game to say ID has lost, especially if most of your colleagues do not even know who Dembski is, and have never read his arguments for themselves. Surely more people today know who Dembski is than did five or ten years ago, so the first derivative has the right sign. Rumors of its death are greatly exaggerated.

I guess that's all I have to say. I've enjoyed the exchange, and best wishes!

The Factician said...

"I've never heard a physicist proclaim that gravity is as well established as evolution". There's a reason for that.

There are two reasons for that, I suspect.

1) The Bible doesn't say anything about gravity. If it did, we'd all be debating gravity ad nauseum as well.

2) Do you know any physicists?

Surely more people today know who Dembski is than did five or ten years ago, so the first derivative has the right sign.

You've been misled. Dembski isn't interested in convincing scientists. He's interested in convincing school boards. There's a difference. He doesn't publish. He doesn't do research. All he does is write books for the public. PR campaigns don't convince scientists. Data does. He has *no data*.

He's further now from convincing scientists than he ever was. (Now he has a bad reputation in addition to no data). Keep in mind that the 'debate' you're watching has no relevance in scientific circles. None. This is merely a game being played to encourage school boards to teach his pet theory. That's all. If he were interested in convincing us, he would actually be gathering data.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Well, there ya have it.