Brazilian Intelligent Design Society President emeritus Enézio E. De Almeida Filho informs us that rabid ID-critics in his country are accusing Intelligent Design advocate Dr. William Dembski of fabricating the following quotes from Schopenhauer and J. B. S. Haldane in his book, The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design (Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 2004, p.20), because he failed to document their sources. These critics, who I’m told are mainly atheists and agnostics, are claiming that the two quotes below are not genuine:
“The acceptance of radical ideas that challenge the status quo (and Darwinism is as status quo as it gets) typically runs through several stages. According to Arthur Schopenhauer, ‘All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.’ Similarly, evolutionist J. B. S. Haldane remarked, ‘Theories pass through four stages of acceptance: (i) this is worthless nonsense; (ii) this is an interesting, but perverse, point of view; (iii) this is true, but quite unimportant; (iv) I always said so.’” (2004, p. 20)
(NOTE: A lengthier quotation of the above passage can be found in an online article by high school science teacher Stephen E. Jones, titled, “Intelligent Design and the new McCarthyism” (November 25, 2005). See also here for a PDF copy of the Preface of Dembski’s book, The Design Revolution. The quotes from Arthur Schopenhauer and J. B. S. Haldane appear on page 7.)
Commenting on the quotes, Dr. Dembski adds:
“I like to flesh out Haldane’s four stages as follows. First, the idea is regarded as preposterous: the ruling elite feel little threat and, as much as possible, ignore the challenge, but when pressed they confidently assert that the idea is so absurd as not to merit consideration. Second, it is regarded as pernicious: the ruling elite can no longer ignore the challenge and must take active measures to suppress it, now loudly proclaiming that the idea is confused, irrational, reprehensible and even dangerous (thus adding a moral dimension to the debate). Third, it is regarded as possible: the ruling elite reluctantly admits that the idea is not entirely absurd but claims that at best it is of marginal interest; meanwhile, the mainstream realizes that the idea has far-reaching consequences and is far more important than previously recognized. And fourth, it is regarded as plausible: a new status quo has emerged, with the ruling elite taking credit for the idea and the mainstream unable to imagine how people in times past could have thought otherwise. With intelligent design, we are now at the transition from stage two to stage three – from pernicious to possible. This is the hardest transition.” (2004, p. 20)
Did Dembski make the quotes up?
So, did Dr. Dembski fabricate the quotes? The truth is much less dramatic. The substance of the quotes is accurate, but the wording is slightly inaccurate, if we consult the original sources.
What did J. B. S. Haldane say?
Haldane, J.B.S. (1963). [Book review] “The Truth About Death: The Chester Beatty Research Institute Serially Abridged Life Tables, England and Wales, 1841-1960” (PDF).Journal of Genetics 58 (3): 464. doi:10.1007/bf02986312. The quote and the review from which it is taken can be viewed online here. Referring to the then-novel idea that actuaries should make use of “cohort” life tables showing the survival and mortality at different ages of men and women born in a given year, Haldane writes:
“I suppose the process of acceptance will pass through the usual four stages:
1. This is worthless nonsense,
2. This is an interesting, but perverse, point of view,
3. This is true, but quite unimportant,
4. I always said so.”
Dembski’s quote in The Design Revolution is slightly different:
“Theories pass through four stages of acceptance:
(i) this is worthless nonsense;
(ii) this is an interesting, but perverse, point of view;
(iii) this is true, but quite unimportant;
(iv) I always said so.”
I respectfully submit that the minor differences in wording do not affect the meaning of the passage.
What about Schopenhauer?
The quote from Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) has a far more interesting history. As quoted by Dr. Dembski, it reads: “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” As it turns out, Schopenhauer never said that, although he did say something similar. However, it seems that the quote has taken on a life of its own: when I enclosed it in quotes and typed it in Google, I got 126,000 hits, including Brainyquote, Life hack Quotes, Reddit and an article in the Huffington Post. So if Dembski erred, he has lots of company.
A highly informative 2005 article by computer scientist (and ID critic) Dr. Jeffrey Shallit, titled, Science, Pseudoscience, and The Three Stages of Truth catalogs the many and varied political and cultural agendas which this quote (which is widely attributed to Schopenhauer) has been cited in support of:
This dubious Schopenhauer citation has been used to support non-mainstream or controversial views on such diverse topics as the feelings of fish , megadose vitamin C therapy , drug legalization , network marketing , acupuncture , supranational government , repressed memory , libertarianism , anti-vaccination , and human cloning . It has even been cited in a court case in Florida . A common feature of all these citations is the lack of any reference to where in Schopenhauer’s work the quotation can be found.
So, what did Schopenhauer actually say? According to Shallit’s article, what Schopenhauer originally wrote in 1818 was:
Der Wahrheit ist allerzeit nur ein kurzes Siegesfest beschieden, zwischen den beiden langen ZeitrÄaumen, wo sie als Paradox verdammt und als Trivial gering geschÄatzt wird.
Arthur Schopenhauer. Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung. 1818.
This is commonly translated in English as follows:
To truth only a brief celebration of victory is allowed between the two long periods during which it is condemned as paradoxical, or disparaged as trivial.
English translation by E. F. J. Payne in The World as Will and Representation, Volume I, Falcon’s Wing Press, Indian Hills, Colorado, 1958. Preface to the First Edition, p. xxv.
However, on a discussion thread over at Metabunk.org, one commenter named Herman Aven pointed out that the above translation “leaves a lot to be desired,” and that it a better translation which “keeps logic, flow and meaning intact” would be as follows:
The truth is always destined to have only one brief victory parade between two long time spans in which it’s first being condemned as paradoxical and then belittled as trivial.
So according to Schopenhauer, there are indeed three stages: a long period when a truth is “condemned as paradoxical,” a short, violent phase during which it triumphs over error and enjoys “only one brief victory parade,” and a long final stage in which the now-universally accepted truth is “belittled as trivial.”
Now compare that with the wording in Dembski’s quote: “First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
Not such a big difference, is there? Metabunk commenter Herman Aven appears to agree, for he remarks that the popular misquote paraphrases the meaning of what Schopenhauer said (emphasis mine):
The attribution therefore is not literal but paraphrastic. While it’s not clear why that has happened, the basic meaning has been left intact while the interesting emphasis of the shortness of the middle stage disappeared. So it would be indeed good to reintroduce the original text again.
ID critic Michael Shermer at one time accepted the popular attribution, as well
In his 1997 best-seller, Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time (W. H. Freeman & Co; paperback version by Henry Holt and Company; Foreword by Stephen Jay Gould), Intelligent Design critic Michael Shermer apparently accepted at face value the authenticity of the quote that Dembski subsequently attributed to Schopenhauer in The Design Revolution (2004). On page 50 of his book, Shermer attacks the stupidity of people who justify their denial of the Holocaust by citing this saying of Schopenhauer’s (emphases mine – VJT):
Reprinted in the January/February 1996 issue of the “Journal of Historical Review”, the organ of Holocaust denial, is a famous quote from the nineteenth-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, which is quoted often by those on the margins: “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident.” But “all truth” does not pass through these stages. Lots of true ideas are accepted without ridicule or opposition, violent or otherwise. Einstein’s theory of relativity was largely ignored until 1919, when experimental evidence proved him right. He was not ridiculed, and no-one violently opposed his ideas. The Schopenhauer quote is just a rationalization, a fancy way for those who are ridiculed or violently opposed to say, “See, I must be right.” Not so.
The reader will notice that even as he describes the Schopenhauer quote as a “rationalization,” Shermer does not contest its authenticity.
I might also add that Dr. Dembski, in attributing the saying to Schopenhauer, nowhere attempts to argue that because Intelligent Design is vehemently opposed by its critics, therefore it must be true. Rather, what he says is: “The acceptance of radical ideas that challenge the status quo (and Darwinism is as status quo as it gets) typically runs through several stages.” He then proceeds to list the stages described by Schopenhauer and by J. B. S. Haldane, before going on to suggest that the public’s view of Intelligent Design is currently going through a critical stage, where popular opinion of it changes “from pernicious to possible.” In other words, Dr. Dembski is invoking the stages described by Schopenhauer and by J. B. S. Haldane, purely in order to make a sociological observation. And that’s all.
How did the popular version of the saying attributed to Schopenhauer arise?
For those readers who are interested, the Wikiquote article on Arthur Schopenhauer contains a detailed discussion of where the popular version of the saying attributed to Schopenhauer may have come from. Apparently, similar versions can be found in 19th century medical journals, but with no reference to Schopenhauer. Here’s one:
“For it is ever so with any great truth. It must first be opposed, then ridiculed, after a while accepted, and then comes the time to prove that it was not new, and that the credit of it belongs to some one else.”
(Dr. J. Marion Sims, 1868, Richmond & Louisville Medical Journal, Vol. 7, p. 290)
I conclude that Dembski’s quote from J. B. S. Haldane in The Design Revolution does not materially differ from the original, while the alleged quote from Arthur Schopenhauer is a paraphrase of something which he actually said, in 1818. In the original version, there are also three stages that each new truth has to pass through, before it is universally accepted.
The accusation, made by certain (unnamed) ID critics in Brazil, that Intelligent Design author Dr. William Dembski has made up two quotes from Schopenhauer and J. B. S. Haldane, I find altogether baseless.
Dr. Shallit’s beef with Dr. Dembski
Dr. Shallit, however, appears to think otherwise. In a comment on a thread over at Panda’s Thumb titled, Dembski’s Curious Incompetence With Quotations, he argues that Dr. Dembski, who has “two master’s degrees and two Ph. D.’s,” exhibits “a certain contempt for accuracy incompatible with being a scholar — no matter how many degrees he has.” (I note for the record that Dr. Shallit has one Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, which he obtained in June 1983. To give credit where credit is due, I should also mention that he collaborated on a paper with the late mathematician Paul Erdős in 1991.) What seems to have irked Shallit was that the Schopenhauer quote, which was used in a preliminary version of Dembski’s book, The Design Revolution, in May 2002, re-appeared in April 2004, when the book was published by Intervarsity Press, despite the fact that Shallit had repeatedly warned Dembski that the Schopenhauer quote was “very probably specious” and “in all likelihood fabricated.” Dembski’s response, according to Shallit, was: “Prove me wrong.”
But as we’ve seen, the alleged quote from Schopenhauer wasn’t fabricated; nor was it specious. It was simply a paraphrase.
The story doesn’t end there, however. On April 14, 2014, Dembski authored an article titled, Dealing with the Backlash Against Intelligent Design, in which he expressed himself much more cautiously (emphasis mine):
Increasingly, design theorists and their program are regarded not merely as misguided and pseudoscientific but also as perverse and evil. In a quote widely attributed to Arthur Schopenhauer, “All truth passes through three stages: First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” There’s no question that we’ve now entered Schopenhauer’s second stage.
Contrary to Dr. Shallit’s claim that Dembski made no attempt to correct his errors, here we see him publicly acknowledging that the quote from Schopenhauer is a popular attribution – which means that its accuracy cannot be guaranteed.
Not the words, but the substance: A passage from Charles Dickens
Reading through these exchanges, I was suddently reminded of a passage from Charles Dickens’ novel, Great Expectations, which I had not read since 1977 (the year I graduated from high school). I hope my readers won’t mind if I reproduce a brief excerpt from Chapter 18 of the book (emphases are mine – VJT), in which the narrator tells the story of how, under the sway of one man’s biased portrayal of the trial, he and a group of his friends came to believe that a man accused of murder in the newpapers was guilty, before a verdict had even been pronounced, when a stranger (who turned out to be a lawyer named Mr. Jaggers) suddenly intervened:
It was in the fourth year of my apprenticeship to Joe, and it was a Saturday night. There was a group assembled round the fire at the Three Jolly Bargemen, attentive to Mr. Wopsle as he read the newspaper aloud. Of that group I was one.
A highly popular murder had been committed, and Mr. Wopsle was imbrued in blood to the eyebrows. He gloated over every abhorrent adjective in the description, and identified himself with every witness at the Inquest. He faintly moaned, “I am done for,” as the victim, and he barbarously bellowed, “I’ll serve you out,” as the murderer. He gave the medical testimony, in pointed imitation of our local practitioner; and he piped and shook, as the aged turnpike-keeper who had heard blows, to an extent so very paralytic as to suggest a doubt regarding the mental competency of that witness. The coroner, in Mr. Wopsle’s hands, became Timon of Athens; the beadle, Coriolanus. He enjoyed himself thoroughly, and we all enjoyed ourselves, and were delightfully comfortable. In this cozy state of mind we came to the verdict Wilful Murder.
Then, and not sooner, I became aware of a strange gentleman leaning over the back of the settle opposite me, looking on. There was an expression of contempt on his face, and he bit the side of a great forefinger as he watched the group of faces.
“Well!” said the stranger to Mr. Wopsle, when the reading was done, “you have settled it all to your own satisfaction, I have no doubt?”
Everybody started and looked up, as if it were the murderer. He looked at everybody coldly and sarcastically.
“Guilty, of course?” said he. “Out with it. Come!”
“Sir,” returned Mr. Wopsle, “without having the honour of your acquaintance, I do say Guilty.” Upon this, we all took courage to unite in a confirmatory murmur.
“Come!” said the stranger, “I’ll help you. You don’t deserve help, but I’ll help you. Look at that paper you hold in your hand. What is it?”
“What is it?” repeated Mr. Wopsle, eyeing it, much at a loss.
“Is it,” pursued the stranger in his most sarcastic and suspicious manner, “the printed paper you have just been reading from?”
“Undoubtedly. Now, turn to that paper, and tell me whether it distinctly states that the prisoner expressly said that his legal advisers instructed him altogether to reserve his defence?”
“I read that just now,” Mr. Wopsle pleaded.
“Never mind what you read just now, sir; I don’t ask you what you read just now. You may read the Lord’s Prayer backwards, if you like – and, perhaps, have done it before to-day. Turn to the paper. No, no, no my friend; not to the top of the column; you know better than that; to the bottom, to the bottom.” (We all began to think Mr. Wopsle full of subterfuge.) “Well? Have you found it?”
“Here it is,” said Mr. Wopsle.
“Now, follow that passage with your eye, and tell me whether it distinctly states that the prisoner expressly said that he was instructed by his legal advisers wholly to reserve his defence? Come! Do you make that of it?”
Mr. Wopsle answered, “Those are not the exact words.”
“Not the exact words!” repeated the gentleman, bitterly. “Is that the exact substance?”
“Yes,” said Mr. Wopsle.
“Yes,” repeated the stranger, looking round at the rest of the company with his right hand extended towards the witness, Wopsle. “And now I ask you what you say to the conscience of that man who, with that passage before his eyes, can lay his head upon his pillow after having pronounced a fellow-creature guilty, unheard?”
We all began to suspect that Mr. Wopsle was not the man we had thought him, and that he was beginning to be found out.
I’d like to return to Mr. Jaggers’ remark:
“Not the exact words!” repeated the gentleman, bitterly. “Is that the exact substance?”
I have to say that I find it amazing that there exist people in Brazil, some 7,000 kilometers from the United States, who apparently have nothing better to do with their time than rake over old coals and resurrect accusations that were made a decade ago.
I also find it amazing that these nit-picking individuals fail to see the wood for the trees. What I have attempted to show in this post is that while the two quotes by Dembski are not correct word for word, they are certainly accurate as to their substance. Schopenhauer did speak of truths as going through three stages in the process of winning universal acceptance, and the four stages listed by J. B. S. Haldane were spot-on, in Dembski’s quote.
Finally, I submit that the carping nature of the criticisms made by these individuals only serves to prove our point that criticisms of Intelligent Design have no solid scientific basis. If there were one, we would be hearing about it. Instead, we find that the inability of our critics to account for the origin of new classes of proteins, the origin of the genome and the origin of life itself, to say nothing of the origin of major animal groups, remains as glaring as it was ten years ago. Descending into historical nit-picking does their cause no service.
Wise words from William Dembski
I’d like to conclude with a final quotation from Dr. William Dembski’s article, Dealing with the Backlash Against Intelligent Design, in which he warns ID advocates against getting mad at the critics of Intelligent Design:
The hardcore critics with whom I regularly deal are intellectual bullies, and they don’t deserve to be placated. What’s more, they are not very frightening, especially when you get past their initial defenses, so there’s no reason to flee.
Fighting, however, is not advised either. The problem with fighting is that it consumes valuable energies and is motivated by anger, which always distorts mental clarity and distracts from the real issues. As John Cassian noted over 1,500 years ago,
No matter what provokes it, anger blinds the soul’s eyes, preventing it from seeing the Sun of righteousness. Leaves, whether of gold or lead, placed over the eyes, obstruct the sight equally, for the value of the gold does not affect the blindness it produces. Similarly, anger, whether reasonable or unreasonable, obstructs our spiritual vision. Our incensive power can be used in a way that is according to nature only when turned against our own impassioned or self-indulgent thoughts.
So, let’s put anger aside. Let the other side fume with indignation. Indeed, many of them have turned indignation into a full-time occupation.
Wise words indeed. As I have spent quite enough time writing this post, I shall put down my pen (so to speak), and throw the discussion open to readers. What do you think?