REPORT ON DEMBSKI'S VISIT TO UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA, 16-17 September 2007
[By Victor H. Hutchison]
The Main Event: In late August Trinity Baptist Church and their college ministry extension, Pursuit College Ministry, announced that Dembski would be giving a lecture ("Atheism is no Longer Intellectually Fulfilling: The Challenge of Intelligent Design to Unintelligent Evolution") at Meacham Auditorium on the OU campus at 7:00 P.M. on 17 September.
The Host Organization and Their Actions Prior to Lecture: Pursuit College Ministry is a recognized student organization at OU and is thus eligible to apply for funds to support the group's programs. It is a direct ministry of the Trinity Baptist Church in Norman and state their missions on their web page (http://www.trinitynorman.org/templates/System/details.asp?id=32056&PID=280934) as "equipping college students to pursue God, pursue authentic community with the body of Christ, and pursue the lost for Christ." The advisor is Dr. Larry Toothaker, a statistician in the Psychology Department at OU. He was also the advisor of the now defunct OU IDEA Club and attempted to teach an ID special study course in the Psychology Department two years ago, but was stopped by opposition from science faculty. He is an Elder at Trinity Baptist Church.
Members of the Trinity Church student group posted notices of the lecture throughout the campus a week before Dembski's talk and made sidewalk chalkings announcing the main lecture a few days later. The posted notices did not list the sponsoring organization (required by University rules), but did place 'Pursuit College Ministry' beneath their sidewalk markings. The students also visited offices of science faculty to pass out a pamphlet with all of the usual ID points and offered tickets to a 'free' lunch with Dembski on Monday, 17 September. As far as I can determine no faculty member accepted; one of the evolution supporters passed by the room where the lunch was held and saw one table with only a few persons present.
There were also two ads placed in the student newspaper by the Trinity group, one 1/8 page and one about 1/3 page. The first ad listed Dembski as 'mathematician, philosopher and theorist.' The second add deleted the 'theorist.'
The Trinity group was apparently delighted with all of the publicity in the hopes that they would get a big crowd. One was overheard in the Student Union onSunday, the day before the lecture, saying that she had heard that there would be an ad in the paper by a bunch of zoologists and that was good, because it would help get a big crowd. Perhaps they did not expect that more than half the audience would be opposed to Dembski and ID (see below).
Actions of Pro-Evolution Groups Prior to the Lecture: Some of the actions taken by groups opposed to Dembski's views included the following:
1. A full page ad in The Oklahoma Daily on the morning of Dembksi's lecture was signed by 180 faculty, staff and graduate students. The ad was drafted by Daniel Dickson-Laprade, an instructor in English. Had more time been available before the deadline for submission of the ad, there would have been many more signatures; many were disappointed that they did not receive word in time to sign the ad. The ad was paid by contributions from signers and a significant contribution from the local chapter of Sigma Xi (who received approval for the contribution from Sigma Xi national headquarters). The ad had a major effect on Dembski (see below).
2. A group of students (mostly undergraduates), including the membership of a group now forming a campus chapter of Center for Inquiry (CFI) and zoology graduate students on the night before the Dembski lecture went around campus and made sidewalk chalkings next to each one that had been previously placed by the Trinity group. Approval for the following chalkings, all decided by the students) had been approved by the University: (1) "IN 2005 a Federal judge ruled that ID is religion and NOT science," (2) "Intelligent Design is pseudoscience," (3) "ID is not science, but politics and religion." Each statement had "CFI" as the organization doing the writing.
3. On the day of the lecture two Op-Eds were in the student newspaper. One by Douglas Mock and James Krupa, zoologists, was particularly appropriate. The other, by the newspaper's religion undergraduate columnist was nothing more than the usual ID points.
4. Students chose to copy Jeffrey Shallot's 'Expert Report under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26' prepared for the Kitzmiller trial and submitted 16 May 2005. This handout was distributed to people entering the Dembski lecture, along with a copy of the text of the anti-Dembski ad that was published in the student newspaper.
Dembski's Other Two Events: (1). On Sunday, 16 September Dembski preached the sermon at Trinity Baptist Church. Two pro-evolution persons attended and reported that it was not especially a good 'preaching' -- perhaps too 'intellectual' for the church members. Dembski made only a very brief mention of ID in the sermon. At the church service the college students gathered around Dembski on their knees to pray for him, apparently, based on comments of the minister, for God to help him do well in his upcoming lecture! (2) There was an unadvertised talk ("Intelligent Design and Academic Suicide: How not to be the Next Casualty") given at 7:30 P.M. in the OU Student Union on Sunday evening, 16 September. Apparently it was for the members of the College Pursuit Ministry.
Dembksi's Lecture: [The lecture and the Q and A were recorded and plans are to make it available on the internet thanks to the efforts of ERV (http://endogenousretrovirus.blogspot.com/). There are unverified reprts that the Trinity Church group plans to sell DVD and CD recordings at $10 each.]
Dembski began by replying to the anti-Dembski ad that had appeared in the student newspaper. In particular, he tried to defend the statement that ID had no peer reviewed publications and put up a slide with eight papers (none of which really support ID). These were the same papers that are listed on the Discovery Institute's Science and Culture web site including the now 'infamous' paper (S.C. Meyer, "The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories," Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 117(2) (2004): 213-239.). He also mentioned something about the American Museum of Natural History and other events that were to show how ID proponents were mistreated. This response to the ad had the result that he ran out of time and had to skip quite a few slides near the end of his talk, especially where he was discussing his explanatory filter. The talk contained nothing new. It was all the same old ID points throughout: 'if it looks designed' (slides of Mt. Rushmore, and a motorcycle), lots on the flagellum (exactly from Behe), probability, and, of course his main claim to fame, the explanatory filter. The talk was being sent out live on the internet by Golfvixen (http://www.iidb.org/vbb/showthread.php?t=220993) and received a lot of attention.
The real smack-down came in the questions and answers period. To his credit, Dembski took open questions until there were no more at 10:15 P.M... There were two mikes available and folks lined up behind each to get their turn. I counted 28 questioners, mostly students and mostly undergraduates. Two faculty members had questions and there were only two that were pro-ID. Most of the students persisted in their questioning in attempts to get Dembski from using a lot of verbiage and waffling to avoid direct answers and succeeded in most cases.
The first questioner challenged Dembski's statement that there were peer-reviewed papers on ID. Dembksi's first slide listed eight such papers. The questioner asked of the audience "how many of you have published more papers than that?" Quite a few hands went up to make the point that individuals in the audience had published more than ID claimed. Dembski then said that there were lots more than the eight he listed.
Dr. Phillip Klebba, Professor of Chemistry/Biochemistry asked Dembski to put up his slide of the bacterial flagellum and he would explain how it evolved. Dembski said that would take too much time, or something like that, and the audience yelled "Let him do it" and Klebba proceeded to give an excellent review of evolution from the pilum, through TSS to the flagellum. Dembski than said he did not show him every step and until he did, he could not accept his explanation. Someone then said, yeah, "it will always be n+1, no matter how many steps are revealed."
At one point Dembski said something like this: "I've got plenty of ulterior religious motive, I'd like to see ID succeed because of my Christian background and beliefs." He also was asked if he believed humans descended from primate ancestors. He said no.
Near the end of the questions one of the two creationist pro-ID questioners said "I'm just so disappointed in OU students and how closed minded they are." Dembski used this as an opportunity to attack the students that were exposing him: "Well don't be so hard on them. They are just sucking up to their professors" or something very similar.
One outstanding exchange was between Dembski and ERV (see her blog for details). ERV said to Dembski that she wrote a critique of Behe's "Edge of Evolution". She was invited to Dembski's blog "Uncommon Descent" to discuss HIV evolution. After 3 posts she was banned and was then sexually harassed and threatened, and slandered on Dembski's blog. "If you've got so much science on your side, why do you have to go after a grad student like that?" Dembski replied that he knew she was trying to embarrass him but he didn't follow the exchange, and that other people ran his blog. To which ERV replied "Maybe you weren't following this discussion because you were busy composing fake letters from the president of Baylor." This was in reference to a fake letter from the Baylor President Dembski had posted on his blog, and then rapidly removed after lots of negative comments. Many in the audience roared with laughter and Dembksi's expression was priceless.
There is much more that can be heard when the audio is posted. For other coverage and reactions see the following blogs.
Post Visit: After Dembski's lecture an excellent anti-ID Op-Ed by Daniel Dickson-Laprade and a letter to the editor by Richard Broughton, Associate Professor of Zoology appeared in the OU student paper. On the day following these two items, Phillip Klebba wrote an Op-Ed entitled "Irreducible Complexity Reflects Human Ignorance," which gave in detail the evidence for the evolution of the bacterial flagellum. As of this date(22 September) no pro-creationist letters or articles have appeared, although some could be expected. There have been some creationists' responses on the blog of the student paper (http://hub.ou.edu/) under the title of each article published and in the responses to the blog sites listed above.
Videos of the talk, including the question and answer period, are available in 5 parts from Google Video: