University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne twice emailed the academic who invited Dr. William Dembski to speak at a UC seminar on August 13, comparing Dr. Dembski to a Holocaust denier: “Would you invite a Holocaust denier to speak to a history department? For this is exactly what you are doing by inviting Dembski… And yes, seeing lies purveyed as truth, and creationists paraded out as if they were academically respectable researchers, is painful to me, and in similar ways that Holocaust denialists are painful to Jews like me.”
The quotation above is a conflation of Jerry Coyne’s remarks in two separate emails, but as readers of Coyne’s latest post on the seminar can readily verify for themselves, it accurately conveys the tenor of Coyne’s thought.
In his email protesting UC’s inviting Dr. William Dembski to speak at its upcoming “Computations in Science” seminar, Coyne also stated that “the ‘no free lunch’ theorem he’s going to talk about has been debunked several times.” In an earlier post on the seminar, he provided references: “(see here, here, and here for the debunking).” Unfortunately, all of these critiques are over a decade old. And they’re not even the best critiques: Coyne neglected to cite the work of Felsenstein (see here and here) or Häggström, (see here) or Meester (see here). In his latest post, Coyne belatedly mentions the work of Felsenstein, but only because one of his regular readers alerted him to it. Nor does he mention the fact that most of these criticisms already have been addressed by Drs. William A. Dembski and Robert J. Marks II in their 2009 paper, Life’s Conservation Law: Why Darwinian Evolution Cannot Create Biological Information (in Bruce Gordon and William Dembski, editors, The Nature of Nature, Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books, 2009 – see especially pages 5, 8, and 30-32 of the online version of the paper).
It gets worse. Apparently Professor Coyne doesn’t even know who authored the ‘No Free Lunch’ theorem, in the first place. In both his latest post and his earlier post, Coyne refers to “Dembski’s NFL theorem,” even though Dembski himself has never claimed to be the author: indeed, he explicitly credits William Macready and David Wolpert in the 2009 paper he co-authored with Robert Marks II: “In the 1990s, William Macready and David Wolpert proved several theorems to which they gave the descriptive tag ‘No Free Lunch’ or ‘NFL'” (p. 23, online version).
I might add that as Professor Coyne has no mathematical qualifications whatsoever, he is hardly qualified to express a professional opinion about the ‘No Free Lunch’ theorem, let alone declare it “debunked.”
In his first email to the academic who invited Dr. Dembski to speak at the University of Chicago seminar, Professor Coyne concluded on a scathing note:
It does not speak well of you or your seminar to invite a purveyor of creationism to speak to an academic audience at Chicago, and then characterize that creationism as an “intelligent opinion.” It is exactly as intelligent as homeopathy or the view that the Holocaust is a ruse. Your invitation to Dembski is an embarrassment to this University.
However, it appears that the academic who invited Dr. Dembski to speak at the seminar is a former Ph.D. supervisor of Dembski’s, who is himself Jewish, judging by a remark made by Coyne and by comments left on Coyne’s own post (see here, here and also here). If that is indeed the case, then I find it quite extraordinary that Coyne would write to a fellow Jew in terms like that.
Foot in mouth, anyone? Coyne should immediately apologize for his unprofessional behavior to Dr. William Dembski and to his former supervisor.