Continuing with James Barham’s The Best Schools interview with design theorist Bill Dembski – who founded this blog, we look at how he started getting to know all the wrong people:
Two people whom I tried to interest in my work on design prior to joining the circle around Phil Johnson were A. E. Wilder-Smith and John Warwick Montgomery. I had corresponded with Wilder-Smith in the late 1980s. He was in Switzerland, and our Briefwechsel was quite cordial. In the summer of 1990, I went to Montgomery’s summer institute on human rights in Strasbourg. Not that human rights were central to my interests, but I was single, awash in NSF funds, and I wanted to interest Montgomery in these probabilistic arguments, thinking that they had application in the field of legal evidence, a field he had worked in. However, he had no insights to offer me.
Wilder-Smith, who was not too far from some friends of mine in Freiburg, was also no help. He was a young-earth creationist and had some insightful things to say about information theory as it applied to life. But when I laid out my arguments, he was dismissive. Nevertheless, I pressed ahead. I was convinced my approach had merit, and neither Wilder-Smith nor Montgomery offered substantive refutations.
Once I got introduced to Phil Johnson’s circle, however, I did find a terrific group of conversation partners. It was as though God had independently raised up a number of individuals all interested in the question of design and how it might take down Darwinian naturalism. Steve Meyer and Paul Nelson became my closest colleagues, with Jonathan Wells and Mike Behe close behind. And Phil was, at the time, the grand old man coordinating our efforts.
TBS: How were your ideas initially received? Was it possible to discuss your skepticism about the ability of the natural selection mechanism to produce specified complexity freely and openly in academia at that time? If so, when did the tide begin to turn, and natural selection begin to become a sacred cow that could not be questioned without jeopardizing one’s career? Was there a decisive turning point, or was it more of a gradual process?
WD: If you’ve read my book The Design Inference, and can bracket out my subsequent notoriety, you’ll realize that the book is agnostic about chemical and biological evolution. I show, for instance, how this mode of inference applies to the origin of life, but I don’t say that it leads to one conclusion of another.
Specified complexity, as a criterion for detecting design, is a method. Methods get applied to particular problem areas, but there’s nothing about a method that demands it give a particular answer to a given state of affairs. So by simply presenting the method, but not applying it to controversial areas in biology and not drawing troublesome conclusions, the book neatly sidestepped the controversy that with hindsight we see the book engendering.
Trouble, however, was not long to be avoided.
Next: Trouble is when they find out you mean it
See also: So how DID Bill Dembski get interested in intelligent design? #5a
Why Bill Dembski took aim against the Darwin frauds and their enablers #1
Why Bill Dembski took aim against the Darwin frauds and their enablers Part 2
Bill Dembski: The big religious conspiracy revealed #3
Bill Dembski: Evolution “played no role whatever” in his conversion to Christianity #4
Comment on Dembski interview here.