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By Mark Perakh
Posted October 15, 2004
In this essay I will discuss some
of the devices intelligent design (ID) advocates and purveyors of other brands
of creationism employ in what they refer to as the "cultural war" which they
intend to "win" at any cost regardless of whose side the truth is on.
The term "cultural war" was, for example, used by one of
the most prolific advocates of "intelligent design," theologian William Dembski
in his lecture at the Fellowship Baptist Church in Waco, TX, on March 7, 2004. The intention to win that war regardless of
whose side the truth is on, was, for example, clearly stated by Dembski in his
I will refer here mainly to the reviews posted to the
Amazon.com website which serve as one of the devices creationists often employ
to achieve their goals, in particular to denigrate the books critical of the ID
One example illustrating my thesis is how the ID advocates
have reviewed my book, Unintelligent
Design, as well as the anthology Why
Intelligent Design Fails (edited by Matt Young and Taner Edis), the book Creationism's
Trojan Horse by Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross, and the book God, the
Devil and Darwin by Niall Shanks.
My book Unintelligent Design was released by the
publisher, Prometheus Books, toward the end of November 2003, but it had become
actually available (for example, from the Amazon.com online bookstore) closer
to the third week of December 2003.
As of October 9, 2004, to my knowledge, besides the six
blurbs written by respectable scientists and mathematicians and placed on the
dust cover of my book, there are 50 other reviews of my book available. Among
them, 8 reviews have appeared in print media, and 42 reviews online. I also
received dozens of private messages responding to my book.
The printed reviews appeared in Fortean Times, 183, 2004
(by Tom Ruffles), in The Journal of Scientific
Exploration , v. 17, No 4, 2004 (by Henry H. Bauer), in the Australian Humanist, Winter 2004 (by Ken Wright), in the Quarterly Review
of Biology, v.79, September 2004 (unsigned), in Evolution and
Development, 6:4, 2004 (by Rudolf A. Ruff), in The Skeptic, Summer 2004 (by
Paul R. Gross), in the Skeptical Inquirer,
July-August 2004 (by Matt
Young); and in Today's Books, February 2004 (unsigned). As far as I
know, one more review of my book (by Jason Rosenhouse) is scheduled to appear
in the Reports of NCSE. All printed
reviews are positive (although in some of them the reviewers have suggested certain
Among the online reviews I am familiar with, one appeared
on the Campus Inquirer website where my book was selected as the Book of
the Month for January 2004 and, as of October 9, 2004, 41 reviews
were posted to the Amazon.com website.
Among the 41
reviews on the Amazon.com website, 29 reviewers gave the book the highest
possible mark – five stars. One reviewer gave it 4 stars, 2 reviewers gave it
three stars, 2 reviewers gave it two stars and 7 reviewers gave it just one star,
which is the lowest possible mark (there is no option of giving the reviewed
book zero stars). If we construe five and four stars as a definitely positive rating,
three stars as a neutral rating and two or one star as a definitely negative rating,
the summary of the Amazon readers' evaluation of my book, as of October 9,
2004, seems to be as follows: 30 reviewers evaluated the book definitely
positively, 2 readers were neutral, and 9 reviewers evaluated the book
definitely negatively. Of course, this picture may change at any time as more
readers choose to post their reviews.
While the overall rating given to my book by all Amazon reviewers
(the mean value is about 4.05 out of the maximum possible of 5) seems to be
rather encouraging, I will discuss here only the nine negative reviews (from
now on, the "one-star" or "two-star" reviews) because some of these attacks on my book illustrate the
level of underhanded assaults employed by the advocates of both ID and their
predecessors of the young-earth creationism category.
The elusive "reader" from Texas: William Dembski as a reviewer
The first one-star review of my
book appeared on the Amazon.com website already on December 22, 2003, i.e. just
a few days after Amazon started shipping the book. When it appeared the first
time, its author's name was given as "Reader from Waco, Tx." Soon, however, it
was changed to "Reader from Riesel, Tx."
As of today, it is just "Reader," although there is no assurance it will
not change again in the future.
The reasons for these changes seem to be rather
transparent. After this negative review appeared, another reviewer referred to
it, disputing its negative attitude to my book. By changing the author's
appellation from "Reader from Waco" to "Reader from Riesel" and then to simply
"Reader" its real author has dodged the critical comments that addressed his
review. Indeed, if some other reviewer disputed the contents of the review by a
"Reader from Waco" while a review signed by the "Reader from Waco" was not
found any longer at the website in question (being replaced by the same review
now signed differently) then the critical remarks addressing the reader from
Waco became hanging in the air, addressing a seemingly non-existent review.
This simple trick has been employed by ID advocates more
than once (for example, the same trick was used regarding the book by Barbara
Forrest and Paul R. Gross (Creationism's
Trojan Horse); a negative review of this book, when originally posted to
Amazon.com, was signed by a "Reader from San Jose, CA"; a few days later the
same review was already signed by a "Reader from Sunnyvale, CA", and now it is
simply "a reader" without a reference to specific whereabouts).
The story about the review by the reader from Waco, a.k.a.
reader from Riesel, a.k.a. simply a "reader," has, however, some other no less
interesting and educational features.
It is known that at the time the reader from Waco posted his
one-star review of my book, William Dembski was employed in a non-teaching
position at Baylor University which is situated in Waco, Tx. It is also known
that at the time the review in question was posted, as well as when its
authorship was changed to "reader from Riesel," William Dembski resided in
Riesel, Tx (where he co-owned a barbecue stand as a silent partner). And, of
course, it is known that William Dembski's literary output has been critiqued
in detail in my book. In view of the
above, one feature of the review by the "reader from Waco" etc., seems to be of
a special interest. The reader from Waco, Riesel, etc., while disdainfully
dismissing my book, recommends instead a book by William Dembski, which,
according to the "reader," would respond to most of my critique.
Here is the relevant quotation from the review in question:
recommended here are John Campbell and Steve Meyer's Darwinism, Design, and
Public Education as well as Dembski's _The Design Revolution_, which
answers many of Perakh's concerns."
Of course, despite the strong indication that the reader from
Waco (or from Riesel) was not anybody else but our friend William Dembski, I
would not mention this reasonable guess unless I had decisive evidence to this
effect. The evidence had come to light because of a glitch on the Canadian
version of Amazon.com. For a whole week, the real names of the reviewers who
chose to hide their names happened to be revealed on that website. And
surprise! The real name of the reader from Waco (or Riesel?) turned out to be...
William Dembski (as if there was any doubt about it until then).
With this knowledge at hand, we can judge with confidence the
real merits of the one-star review in question..
consists of two parts, neither of which referring to any specific points in my
book. This "review" creates the impression that its author has not read the
book he purportedly reviews.
One part of the "review" maintains that my book is bad
because it was published by Prometheus Books, which is allegedly a notoriously
atheistic publishing enterprise. Dembski writes: "Prometheus Press (sic) is one of the most
militantly atheistic and ideologically driven presses around."
In fact, Prometheus Books has in its list of publications a
variety of books covering a wide spectrum of topics and philosophical-religious
world views. Many of these books have been authored by highly respected
scholars. In any case, whatever the merits of my publisher, a
review of a book is supposed to reflect the merits or faults of the reviewed
book rather than of the publishing house. Moreover, such a reproach from
Dembski sounds quite odd given the fact that a considerable portion of his own
output has been published by InterVarsity Press which, unlike Prometheus Books,
is indeed known for its narrow scope of publications, all reflecting only a
specifically Christian religious world view (InterVarsity Press is self-defined
as an outlet of the Christian Leadership Ministries). It seems that Dembski should have been more
cautious in selecting his negative comments, as this particular remark is like
a boomerang hitting him more than the author of the reviewed book.
The second part of Dembski's review is just a
self-promotional acclaim of his and of his cohorts' books, allegedly coming
from an impartial "reader" but in fact composed by the author of the acclaimed
book himself, hiding behind anonymity. This self-promotion to which Dembski
resorted under cover of a supposed "reader" allows us to conclude that Dembski
has a peculiar concept of intellectual integrity.
As to Dembski's "review" of my book, the conclusion is
obvious: it contains nothing about my book as such and therefore can be
dismissed as a non-consequential and unsubstantiated assault aimed at undermining
the critique of his work without responding to the critique's substance.
The reviewer who posted his "review" of my book to Amazon.com on
January 14, 2004 and signed as "A reader" seems to have some problems with logic.
A funny feature of his very short "review" is that he gave my book a "two-star"
rating but concluded his review with the words "not recommended." If the book is so bad as to be not
recommended, why not give it just one star?
As to the validity
of the "reader's" critique, here is his main argument:
" ...he [i.e. Perakh; MP] tries to undermine the work of Dembski and
Behe by not so subtley [sic] equivocating [sic] their work with the work of
Bible Coders and preachers."
"reader" wanted to say that I have "not so subtly" cast doubts on Dembski's and
Behe's work by somehow equating (if that is what he means by "equivocating")
their arguments to those by unnamed "Bible coders and preachers."
"reader." You got it wrong. Nowhere did I attribute to Dembski or Behe the
arguments of the proponents of the Bible code, whose papers and books have been
discussed in part 3 of my book on their own merits and quite independently of Dembski's
and Behe's output (discussed in part 1). Likewise, the arguments of Dembski and
Behe are discussed in my book without any connection to the Bible code. As to
the unnamed "preachers" I can only guess who you refer to. If "preachers" are
meant to be the authors of the books asserting the compatibility of the Genesis
story with the data of science which I discussed in part 2 of my book (which is
separate from part 1 where Dembski's and Behe's work is discussed) there was no
attempt on my part to obscure the difference between the opuses of those defenders
of Bible inerrancy and ID advocates. Quite the contrary, the arguments of the
two breeds of creationists are discussed clearly as two distinctive brands,
each on its own merits.
I would be
embarrassed if this "reader" had recommended my book.
Neither fair nor balanced
The title of this section
reproduces the title of the "two-star" review of my book which appeared on
Amazon.com on January 18, 2004 (and which is perhaps a reference to the motto
of Fox News). Like the latest version of Dembski's quasi-review discussed in
the preceding section, this review is also signed by a "reader," without any
One of the perhaps most interesting peculiarities of this
review is that it is a copy, word for word, of a review posted on the same day
and also signed by anonymous "reader" but "reviewing" another book! The other
book is Creationism's Trojan Horse by Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross.
The anonymous "reader" writes: "In the book 'Design Revolution:
Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design' by William Dembski,
Charles Colson, Dembski, a philosopher/mathematician who has been an important
theorist for the intelligent design movement, handles a wide range of questions
and objections that should give both fans and detractors of ID plenty to chew
Does this not indicate that the real goal of the anonymous "reader" was
not to review my book but rather to propagandize Dembski's production?
Moreover, the quoted sentence seems to allege that Dembski's opponents have so
far not paid enough attention to Dembski's arguments. Of course, nothing can be
farther from the truth. Dembski's literary output has been discussed in minute
detail in many papers, books, and web posts, including my book where a
discussion of Dembski's books and articles occupies over 100 pages. The
"reader's" review contains not a single specific counter-argument addressing my
critique of Dembski or any other part of my book– and this makes ironic his
suggestion to "chew" Dembski's arguments, which have already been "chewed" much
more than they deserve.
Like Dembski's review of December 22, 2003, this "reader's"
"review" of January 18, 2004 says nothing of substance about my book and
therefore also looks like it was written by somebody who has not even read my book
which he purports to review.
The quasi-review in question appeared on Amazon.com when
Demsbki's book praised by the nameless "reader" had not yet been released.
Hence, either the nameless "reader" is a clairvoyant or perhaps he is the same
self-admiring Dembski we are familiar with from the preceding "review." If,
though, this "reader" is not Dembski himself but rather one of his close colleagues
in the intelligent design enterprise, his/her effort aimed at both denigrating
my book (without saying a single word about it actual contents) and praising
instead Dembski's forthcoming output, disguising his/her propagandizing
subterfuge as a "review" of my book, is still a trick which hardly is more
No wonder Dembski and Co are so unnerved by both
Forrest-Gross's and my books that they resort to posting more than once the
same anonymous boilerplate pseudo-reviews in an attempt to mislead visitors to
the Amazon website.
Again, the conclusion is inevitable: the pseudo-review of
January 18, 2004 by an anonymous "reader" can to be ignored as an act by some
partisans of intelligent design who seem to interpret the concept of intellectual
honesty in a peculiar manner.
"Skeptical scientist" makes an appearance
After the pseudo-review of January
18 by a "reader" appeared, there seemed to be a hiatus in the assaults upon my
book for about eight months. Then in September 2004 a series of "one-star"
reviews of my book were posted to Amazon.com within just a few days. Almost
simultaneously a series of similar "one-star" reviews were posted about the
anthology Why Intelligent Design Fails
(edited by Matt Young and Taner Edis) where, among its thirteen contributors,
my name appears in the bylines of two chapters.
In particular, there seems to be an odd similarity between
the "review" of my book signed by a "Skeptical Sciencist" (sic) and some
"reviews" of the anthology in question. In both cases, the "reviewers" have
resorted to the same device – they posted lengthy texts which have no relation
to the contents of either my book or of the anthology in question. In both
cases, the posted texts of the reviews are incoherent and seem to have been
designed only to enable their authors to mark the "reviewed" books with only
one star. In both cases, the
"reviewers" seem to be not familiar with the actual contents of either my book
or of the anthology, but have filled the texts of their "reviews" with
extraneous ruminations without even trying to make their texts in any way relevant
to the discussed books or logically coherent in itself.
Look, for example, at the following quotation from the
"review" by the "Skeptical Sciencist":
"It's not the
adjectives that are the problem with these theoried phrasings, such as
intelligent vs. unintelligent, targeted vs. nontargeted, mindful vs. mindless,
but the descriptor nouns themselves that are the irreducible, irremediable
Selection mechanism. Unsearching-engine. Designation process. Choice harvester.
Opting criteria. Voting ballot-booth-box-tabulator-winner/loser/tie declarer.
Game referee. Trial & Error scientist/know-hower. Experimentation
laboratory. Picking as in or out, good or bad, functional or non-functional,
beneficial to the organism or harmful, utility or non-utility or mal-utility.
It's all about the initialization, organization and energizing of complexity,
information and purposiveness. It's all about ONGOING CORRECT DECISIONMAKING
and somehow knowing the difference that makes a difference - eventually,
individually, cumulatively. And all somehow better than unprogrammed,
undirected, unaimed-for, happenstanced results could achieve. Nature is the
acknowledged pan-ingenuity factor of scientific faith system."
What is the meaning of the above words? I submit that there is none. No wonder another
reviewer felt desirable to post a rebuttal of the pseudo-review by "Skeptical
Sciencist" wherein she referred to it as "mumbo-jumbo." I believe this is a fair evaluation of the
pseudo-review in question, whose author seems to be neither "skeptical" nor a
scientist. Moreover, what is the relation of the quoted passage to the contents
of my book? Again, I submit that there is none. Why, then, has the pseudo-skeptical pseudo-scientist who
so pusillanimously shied away from revealing his name posted the quoted
abracadabra as a supposed "review" of my book? What other reason could he/she
have besides using Amazon's tolerance to hurl mud at my book by giving it one
The ID advocates seem to be unable to find reasonable
arguments against the critique, such as suggested in my book and in the
anthology edited by Young and Edis, if they resort to such meaningless
diatribes as the above quoted opus by the supposed "skeptical scientist."
Salma talks about oxymoronic tests
Salma Shapiro's "review" was
posted on September 20, 2004. She wrote, "It is fascinating in looking at these reviews
that it needs a whole family: David, Helena and Alexander to stand in support
of it (and other anti-ID books), thus loading up 5-star ratings from one
Having read Salma Shapiro's review (if this indeed is her name), I
checked all the reviews of my book, both on Amazon.com and elsewhere and still
have no idea what she is talking about. What family of three – David, Helena,
and Alexander - tried "loading up 5-star rating" of my book? There are on the
Amazon.com reviews by Alexander Eterman and Helena Eterman, the first posted in
December 2003 and the second in September 2004. There are also two Davids among
the authors of the reviews of my book at Amazon.com. One is David Turell who
gave my book three stars, hence Salma could not refer to this David as somebody
trying to push up "5-star rating." The
other David gave only the initial of his surname as F, so he hardly could be
assumed to belong to the same family as the two Etermans mentioned above. So the
closest to the "family" referred to by Salma seems to be the pair of reviews
signed by Alexander Eterman and Helena Eterman. The name of Alexander Eterman
is well known – in particular he is the author of several articles posted to the
Talk Reason website (www.talkreason.org). These articles deal
with problems related to Judaic theology and show Eterman's wide knowledge of
theology, history, and philosophy. If Alexander Eterman wished to review my
book, which in his opinion deserves 5 stars, and has done so under his own
name, he certainly has the right to do so without asking for approval from
those pseudo-reviewers who hid their names. As to Helena Eterman, how does Salma
know that she is part of Alexander's family rather than just having the same
surname? Even if she is, what is the
significance of that fact? Can't she have her own opinion and the right to let
it be known? Unlike some other "reviewers" she has not used a pseudonym or
anonymity, so her review has to be judged on its merits rather than hinting at
alleged conspiracy to "load up" the rating of my book.
If the "family" of the Etermans has indeed posted their reviews only to
"load up 5-star rating" wouldn't they rather use pseudonyms or remain anonymous
like many authors of "one-star" reviews chose to do? The very fact that they
signed their posts with their real names points to a lack of collusion on their
part – and in that their reviews differ favorably from some of those anonymous
and pseudonymous negative reviews which have not invoked any protests from
Furthermore, Salma Shapiro reproaches Alexander and Helena for
criticizing other reviews instead of reviewing my book. First of all, this is
not true regarding the review by Alexander Eterman, who did not write in his
post anything about any other reviews but only about my book. Second, even
though Helena Eterman has indeed written about the "review" by "Skeptical
Sciencist," what wrong was with her arguing against the "mumbo-jumbo" offered
by that "sciencist?" Has Salma Shapiro herself not referred to the reviews by
Alexander Eterman and Helena Eterman in a post supposedly reviewing my book? If
this was allowed Salma, why was it wrong for Helena?
Besides the sniping remark about the alleged "family" trying to "load
up" the five-star rating of my book, Salma's "review" contains no notions
casting any light upon the contents of my book. She recommends, instead of my
book, a book by Jonathan Sarfati. Recommending some other book is OK, except for
one odd side to Salma's recommendation. Sarfati (whose name and literary
production has not been mentioned either in my book or in any other of my
publications because I am not interested in his writing) is a propagandist of
the biblical literal inerrancy, of the young-earth creationism variety. In
comparison to Sarfati's production, the books of Dembski or Behe which I
criticized in my book look like pinnacles of a quality research (of course,
everything is relative, as, in my opinion, both Behe's and Dembski's books are in
fact unsatisfactory and contain poorly substantiated concepts and arguments).
Sarfati represents a narrow, strictly evangelical literalism many tenets of which,
in particular, are inimical to the tenets of Judaism. On the other hand,
Shapiro is a typical Jewish surname. This gives rise to the suspicion that Salma
Shapiro is a pseudonym selected because it sounds Jewish thus providing a false
picture of a wide front of unbiased readers of varying persuasions, all
dismayed by my book.
The absence of any reference in such "reviews" to the actual contents of
the reviewed book is apparently of no consequence from the creationist's
viewpoint, as long as he/she can give the offending book a low rating.
About faith and nonintelligence
The title of this section is based
on the title of the next "one-star review of my book which was posted to
Amazon.com the same day (September 20, 2004) as the review by Salma Shapiro
discussed in the previous section. The author of this review signed his name as
Perhaps the best way to start discussing this review is to
quote it almost in its entirety. Here it is:
"In trying to follow
the reasoning here, the following questions came to my intelligence:
How could there be the development of a Natural Select Process before
processing even existed, before development existed, before 'existed' existed?
How could there be Time from non-Time, Space from non-Space, Natural from
non-Nature, Origination from non-Origination, Physics from non-Physics?
Where does the mechanism of Selection arise from non-mechanism?
How does Absolute Scratch itself originate Recipes like DNA, Physical Laws from
scratch? We've heard of Intelligent Creative Chef with necessary implements,
equipment, ingredients using a Recipe to bake edibles from scratch, but never
imagined unintelligence, non-creativity, non-Chef without necessities
formulating a Recipe or any useful edibility. This book means to suggest to
rational readers: Scratch itself baked the Chef, Ingredients, Recipe, Mixing
Bowl, Oven, Appetite, Nutrition, Taste, etc.?
How do Evolution and Volition, Necessity and Chance arise from Absolute
What can the expressions such as "Absolute
Scratch itself originate Recipes... from scratch, " "Origination from
non-Origination," "before 'existed' existed?" or "non-Chef without
necessities," etc, possibly mean? And what all that gobbledygook has to do with
the contents of my book which Abel H. purports to review? It looks as though
Abel H, like some other authors of the one-star "reviews," offered the above
pseudo-sophisticated claptrap with the sole purpose of giving my book one star.
If we distill from the quoted piffle its apparent gist, shrugging off its
quasi-philosophical verbiage, it boils down to Abel's preconceived disagreement
with the thesis of my book. As in the case of some other reviews discussed in
the preceding sections, such a disagreement is fine in itself, but it is not
sufficient reason to evaluate the reviewed book as bad – such an evaluation has
weight only if it is supported by specific argumentation. Abel H. provided none
(unless we construe his rhetorical questions about "mixing bowls," "appetite"
etc, as arguments).
Perhaps an example may be helpful. I have reviewed more than one book on
Amazon, signing my reviews with my real name. Among my reviews was one of the
book by Del Ratzsch. Needless to say, I don't share Ratzsch's views
– he is one of the prominent "design theorists" whereas I am an opponent of
"intelligent design." I disagree with
Ratzsch's views in many ways. However, in my review of his book (which still can
be seen at Amazon.com website though it was first posted a couple of years ago)
I gave Ratzsch's book five stars! I did
so because the mark given to a reviewed book is not a device to argue against
the reviewed author's thesis (although such argumentation may be included in a
review) but a reflection of the reviewer's opinion regarding the quality of the
reviewed book's arguments with which the reviewer may disagree without
denigrating the reviewed writer's effort. If the reviewer wants to argue
against the writer's views then, to give the critique legitimacy, the reviewer
has to offer specific counter-arguments rather than resorting to "one-star" rating
plus rhetorical questions in a hardly comprehensible "philosophical" jargon.
A "school teacher" wonders
The next "one-star" review of my book is
signed by "James Rockwell." Like most
of the rest of one-star reviews, clicking on the button "see all my reviews"
reveals that there seem to be no more reviews on Amazon.com posted by James
Rockwell. This suggests that here we again have a case of a pseudonym used
to provide the "reviewer" a free hand in writing whatever his/her fancy may be,
with impunity. Also as in the other
one-star reviews, Rockwell shows no signs of having in fact read my book as he
does not refer to any specific points discussed in it.
While short on argumentation, Rockwell's review is quite
categorical. He writes, "In all my years as a high school teacher, I never thought I would
encounter such lack of higher-critical thinking outside of a room full of
students. But this book makes one wonder...."
I would rather say
Rockwell's review makes one wonder what kind of a teacher he is as he seems not
to realize that his opus is utterly irrelevant to the book he pretends to
In the quoted sentence Rockwell hints at the author of the
reviewed book being an incompetent fool incapable of a "higher-critical
thinking" in which the high school teacher Rockwell (if he indeed is such) is supposedly
much better versed. If this is so, Rockwell has succeeded in keeping his own
expertise in "high-critical thinking" well concealed. His review contains no
cogent arguments in any way related to the contents of my book, suggesting
instead some nebulous notions about "micro vs. macro investigator in the ID
search for the source of intelligibility in our universe."
As to the substance of Rockwell's own notions, it is expressed as
"My view is: as much as the details, math,
explanations, ideology and illustrations the author uses, it's magnifying glass
sort of data and evaluation on the forest floor. What's needed is a Big Picture
Sweep of the canopy with focused binoculars to see if we're in the right jungle
according to the maps. As the old saying goes: "What good are maps drawn
from not being there? Get up and scope things out from Higher Air."
Well, I leave it to
Mr. Rockwell to write a book wherein he would offer the "Big Picture Sweep" he
favors. Perhaps he will even find a publisher interested in the virtues of
Rockwell's eloquence and in comic values of his attitude. What, though, does it
say about the contents of my book? Nothing. I can myself suggest a long list of
points I have not discussed in my book, but listing them hardly says much about
what in fact my book talks about.
Are anti-IDers on the defensive?
The "one-star" review" posted on September 27, 2004 and signed by
"T.S.E." makes an odd impression. This
reviewer writes, for example, that my "writing was well done and the arguments
were quite lucid." He also states that my book is "valiantly" trying to make
its points; if this is so, and if writing is well done and arguments lucid, it
seems to suggest that my goal was successfully achieved - at least this is the
conventional logic. Then why has T.S.E. gave the book just one star?
Contradicting himself, T.S.E. tries, using his own words, "to
prove the improvable, establish the disestablished, demonstrate the
undemonstrative, conclude the inconclusive" whatever these words may imply.
He also says, "the book is recommended,"
but adds a condition – "only as companion to Johnson's 'Darwin on Trial', and
Dembski's 'Intelligent Design' and Behe's 'Darwin's Black Box' and other recent
publications showing anti-IDers on the defensive trying to shore up Blind and
Unintelligent forces at work to no purposeful end developing all that is
thought to have purpose at this end of the spectrum of life."
Well, the books
recommended by T.S.E, "as companion" to my book are exactly those subjected to
a critical analysis in my book. Naturally, if I offered a critique of these
books, readers were invited to check them on their own and therefore T.S.E.'s
condition seems to be utterly superfluous. The question still remains: why one
star? It is hard to avoid the conclusion that T.S.E. in all probability has not
read my book and the sole purpose of his/her review was to push down the rating
of my book by giving it one star. As to
alleged "defensive" position of "anti-IDers," it exists only in T.S.E.'s
imagination and betrays his being a member of the ID crowd whose sweet dream is
to gain respectable status in the mainstream science. So far there are no signs
of that happening any time soon.
Once again about oxymorons
This one-star review signed by "Max" is a rather lengthy discourse
about many things except for the contents of my book. This reviewer writes
first about probability; his notions are not related in any discernable way to
those parts of my book where I discuss probability, hence there is nothing for
me to argue about as far as that part of Max's review is concerned. Then he
deviates into abstract ruminations about such concepts as "metaphoring"
whatever this term means, and again, his remarks do not address any parts of my
book but are just general notions which I see no reason to discuss, as they
have little relation to any part of my discourse.
Max writes that my
book "implodes just from the title and premises: UNintelligent Design. It
acknowledges appearance tantamount to Design, equivalent to Design,
intelligible as Design and labeled Design, but of course not the dictionary
definition of Design. It's all a metaphor. A more accurate term for the theory
would be Spontaneous Generation in Vacuo." All this is Max's own notion as none
of it appears in my book. Max concludes, "UNintelligent Design is the ultimate
Oxymoron of the 21st Century. What hath nonGod wrought?"
Whether my book "implodes"
just by virtue of its title regardless of its contents, or, regardless of its
title its contents are meaningful (as scores of other reviewers, many of them
scientists of high stature, not to mention the authors of private messages I
have received, seem to think) is an interesting point for discussion; in such a
discussion the term "oxymoron" could perhaps indeed emerge, but more plausibly
in regard to some statements by Max.
Are the nine reviewed posts unique?
Although in the preceding sections I discussed only the "one-star"
and "two-star" reviews of my book, a similar picture emerges if we look up the
reviews of some other books critical of the intelligent design '"theory," such
as the already mentioned anthology Why
Intelligent Design Fails (edited by Young and Edis), Creationism's Trojan Horse (by Forrest and Gross), and God, the Devil, and Darwin (by Niall
I will briefly
discuss now the negative reviews on the Amazon.com web site of the three books
As of October 9, 2004, there are on the Amazon.com website 27
reviews of the anthology Why Intelligent Design Fails (edited by Matt
Young and Taner Edis). Out of 27 reviews, 15 gave it five stars, and 12 – one
One of the
"five-star" reviewers, Al Exvol, wrote, among other things, that "While a
positive review may legitimately be of a general type without delving into a
book's specifics, a negative review carries no weight unless it critically
addresses specific notions in the discussed publication." This statement has
invoked a sharp rebuttal by one of the "one-star" reviewers, who signed his
post as A. Mollison Jr. I would like to comment on this point.
I share Exvol's opinion.
Here is why. If a reader has a positive view of a book and wishes to announce
it to other potential readers, he/she may not necessarily suggest new, additional arguments to those
offered by the author of the recommended book. By expressing his/her positive
opinion of a book, the reviewer asserts that he/she accepts the arguments of
the reviewed author. These arguments have been already offered in the reviewed
book and therefore need not be repeated in the review – every potential reader
may turn to the source and see what these arguments are. This does not mean
that a positive review must not contain argumentation. It may, but not
necessarily so, and if it does not, it does not make the review illegitimate or
meaningless – it states for the record that the reviewer shares the opinions of
the reviewed author, while the argumentation favoring these opinions is already
known and available for all to see.
reviews have to meet different criteria. The "negative" reviewer rejects the
reviewed author's opinion and finds his arguments faulty, either in their
entirety or partially. Of course the reviewer may simply state his disagreement
with the reviewed author, for the record.
However, without specific counter-arguments a negative review carries
little weight being nothing more than simply a statement of disagreement with
the reviewed author, and such a disagreement is not convincing unless it is
substantiated by a specific analysis of the reviewed work.
find Mollison's rebuttal of Exvol's position lacking merit.
essay seems to become rather long, I will discuss only one example of a
negative review of the anthology in question.
The review by
A. Mollison, Jr. seems a suitable example for my purpose.
starts his review with an odd accusation of some of the readers who posted
positive reviews of the anthology. He
asserts that there are among the positive "five-star" reviews four reviews
written by the same "guy" under four different pseudonyms. He does not point out which four reviews he
has in mind, so there is no way to verify his accusation. Anyway, I don't know how one "guy" can post
more than one review using different pseudonyms. When I open the Amazon.com
website, it recognizes me as the visitor. When I post a review, Amazon knows
which email address it comes from. I may not know all the tricks available to
ingenious reviewers, so perhaps Mollison (which, according to Amazon, is a
pseudonym as well) knows something I don't. If this is the case, perhaps he
also knows who the "guy" is who used four pseudonyms, and if so, why does he
not name that resourceful "guy"?
I can imagine, though, that several reviews
written by the same "guy" or "gal" may be posted with different signatures if
this "guy" or "gal" asks his/her friends to post the reviews he/she has
composed. However, if this is the case, there is nothing illegitimate in it
unless the "guy" or "gal" is in a position of superiority – like a professor
asking his/her students, or a supervisor in a company asking his subordinates,
to post the reviews he composed. As a professor myself, I can't imagine any
professor risking his reputation and position in such a blatant manner. If, though, a reviewer has written several
reviews and asked his friends and colleagues to post them, and the colleagues
do it because they share the reviewer's views, and have the complete freedom to
reject the suggested text, or to alter it to fit own views, or to post it as it
is, there is little to complain about, and Mollison's lamentations about the
alleged four "personas" all being the same reviewer, even it is correct (which
is by no means clear) are immaterial.
Moreover, even if some reviewer has indeed managed to post four positive
reviews under different names (which is just Mollison's unsupported allegation)
it does not even come close to the documented tricks employed by ID advocates.
A good example is the "review" of my book by Dembski who used the review of my
book on Amazon to propagandize his own book, hiding behind anonymity. Another example is the use of boilerplate
reviews applied to different books. One such boilerplate review was posted by
an anonymous "reader" twice – once "reviewing" my book and once again
"reviewing" the book by Forrest and Gross (both examples discussed elsewhere in
this essay). Obviously, if the same
review is posted for two different books this points to a "reviewer" who has
not read either of the two books and posted his "reviews" only to throw mud on
the books he is scared by. The level of
integrity of such reviewers and of the ID crowd they represent and defend seems
to be perfectly exposed by such invidious tricks as using boilerplate reviews.
there is anybody to blame for tricks used by reviewers, it is Amazon which
employs no filters, thus enabling anybody to post as reviews any drivel with
impunity. Amazon's position is understandable. They are in the business of
selling books. They are not concerned about the contents of the books they
sell. From their standpoint, every device increasing sales is legitimate. The
larger the number of reviews of a book, the more copies may be sold - as simple
as that. Amazon has little concern about the reviews being positive. Negative
reviews serve the same purpose, and when the "Readers' reviews" section holds a
mix of both positive and negative reviews, it is, generally speaking, even
better for sales than a bunch of only highly positive reviews. Perhaps that is
why the appeals to Amazon to stop posting anonymous reviews fell on deaf ears.
Let us see
what Mollison's arguments against the anthology under review are. He starts the substantive part of his review
by the following unexpected admission, "The book itself admittedly is well done. No
complaint there. Then why the lone star rating, you ask?"
Indeed, this is a
natural question. If the book is "well done" (hopefully Mollison does not mean
it in the sense applied to steaks in eateries), why is it rated as low as
giving it just one star?
Here we have two
competing explanations. One, given by Mollison himself, is hardly convincing
and not quite logical. Explaining the one-star rating, Mollison writes,
"Because it [the anthology. MP] assumes its points of contention - some valid,
some invalid - are under its terms and conditions unanswerable and
unassailable. But that is simply far from the case."
To anybody who has read the anthology
in question, is clear that its 13 contributors made no such assumption in any
shape, form, or manner. First of all,
each of the 13 chapters has its own topic, approach, and sets of arguments,
independent of other chapters. To paint all 13 chapters with one brush could
only mean the reviewer either has not bother to read the anthology or had a
goal quite separate from an unbiased evaluation of its merits.
Mollison's explanation lacks logic. If the assumption attributed by Mollison to
the authors of the anthology were indeed present in it, the book hardly could
be referred to as "well done." If,
though, the anthology was indeed "well done," it certainly must have offered better
notions than the ridiculous assumption ascribed by Mollison to the 13
scientists who contributed to the anthology. Mollison has erected a straw man
and then attacked it.
alternative explanation of why the book that is "well done" was given by
Mollison just one star is more plausible. It assumes that Mollison's very goal
in posting a review was to give the anthology just one star, thus pushing down
its overall rating. In pursuing that goal the contents of his review mattered
little but rather served as a filler whose gist was irrelevant to the goal
except for providing a more or less credible maquillage covering the real
purpose of the post.
To fill the
review with a semblance of real discussion, Mollison chooses just one paper in
the collection as his target, wherein he assaults Matt Young's critique of
analogies employed by Behe and Dembski. Mollison's arguments regurgitate the
same worn out and often repeated references to "astronomically" small
probabilities of spontaneous emergence of complex biological structures –
arguments refuted many times before. He does not refer, though, to any specific
arguments against intelligent design suggested in the reviewed anthology, as if
these arguments do not exist. Perhaps Mollison's arguments sound convincing to
himself and to other members of the ID crowd, but they do nothing to rebut the
specific, detailed, and fact-based arguments by the 13 authors of the anthology
telling point in Mollison's review is the following statement, "Just wait for Behe's
and Dembski's next books."
I believe this
statement cinches the matter – how familiar is this promise to answer all
questions and solve all problems in the next opus by Dembski – the "Isaac
Newton of information theory" (as ID defender Rob Koons referred to Dembski) resorts
to such promises each time he deigns to react to a critique of his latest
publication. This habit of Dembski and Co. has been documented in Forrest and
Gross's book Creationism's Trojan Horse. We know, however, that when the
promised next book appears we find there little new, but rather the same
endlessly recycled mantras about astronomical improbabilities, complex
specified information, the Explanatory Filter, mousetraps, the NFL theorems
allegedly prohibiting evolution, the non-existing "low of the conservation of
information," and all that panoply of crank science familiar from the preceding
opuses by the ID proponents.
Since Mollison took
the liberty of accusing four "personas" of being the same "guy," I feel
entitled to my own guess. The promise "to get" the critics in the next books by
Dembski and Johnson makes it seem plausible that he is closely connected to the
denizens of the Discovery Institute's amusingly named Center for Culture and
Quasi-reviews of Forrest and Gross's book
As of October 9, 2004, there are on the Amazon.com website 22
reviews of the book Creationism's Trojan Horse by Barbara Forrest and
Paul R. Gross. Among them 12 reviews give the book 5 stars, 3 reviews give it 4
stars, 2 reviews give it 3 stars, 1 review gives it 2 stars and 4 reviews give
it 1 star.
Perhaps the most
interesting item in that list of reviews is a "review" posted on January 18,
2004 and signed by an anonymous "reader." The interest here is not in the gist
of that "review" since it is irrelevant to the contents of the book. It is
interesting and telltale because it is an exact copy, word for word, of a
review of my book, discussed previously in this essay. The title of these two
indistinguishable "reviews" is in both cases "Neither Fair Nor Balanced," and
both were posted on the same date. Needless to say, a boilerplate review which
is applied to two different books does not require reading the supposedly
"reviewed" books. The only purpose of posting such boilerplate pieces of mud is
to push down the rating of the "reviewed" books thus possibly sabotaging their
sale. Apparently Amazon sees it differently, adhering to the principle that
there is no bad publicity, so the larger the number of reviews, the better for
sales, regardless of whether the reviews are positive or negative. Anyway,
having these two boilerplate copies of the same piece posted is quite
educational, as it testifies to the underhanded methods the ID crowd resorts to
in their feverish fight against science.
The rest of the
negative reviews of Forrest & Gross's book are the familiar attempts to
smear the authors' well documented exposure of the ID movement and its "Wedge"
strategy by accusing them of promoting "conspiracy" theories. These accusations
are substantiated about as credibly as in the boilerplate review discussed
above, which is not at all.
Niall Shanks under fire
Although Niall Shank's book God, the Devil, and Darwin was
published almost simultaneously with my book and with that by Forrest and
Gross, only 14 readers have so far (October 9, 2004) chosen to review it on
Amazon.com website. Out of 14 reviews, 6 give the book 5 stars, 1 gives it 3
stars and 7 reviews give it just one star.
However, the sheer
arithmetic tells little about the impact of that book upon the readership. To
explain what I mean, I will present here copies of just two "one-star" reviews
which speak for themselves.
Here is one of the
reviews in question:
"Evolution Gone Bad, October 6, 2004
This truly mean-spirited book illustrates the
evolution of Darwin's theory into Darwin's dogma."
The only commendable feature of this "review" is that its author,
unlike most other detractors of the anti-ID books, signed his post by his real
name. Otherwise, it is just an expression of a personal belief not supported by
any quotations or specific arguments. For anybody who has at least briefly
perused Shanks's book is obvious that the epithet "mean-spirited" is a
deliberate distortion of the book's contents.
Shanks offers a
multitude of data from science, which testify against the tenets of intelligent
design. What is mean-spirited in describing Bčnard cells and Belousov-Zhabotinski
reaction which demonstrate the spontaneous self-organization observed in
nature? What is mean-spirited in the analysis of the role of the 2nd
law of thermodynamics in evolution? Shanks book is written in calm and restrained
language throughout, is void of personal attacks or insinuations, so the term
"mean-spirited" seems to fit much better the meaningless epistle by Reese.
As to the alleged
evolution of Darwin's theory into Darwin's dogma, obviously Mr. Reese is
uninformed about the lively discussions among evolutionary biologists reflected
in thousands of papers in biological journals where the only criterion for
coming to a conclusion is factual evidence. With such an obviously meager ken of
the actual situation in biology, for "reviewers" like Reese the only chance to
be heard is to use the omnivorous character of the Amazon.com website.
The other "review"
of Shanks's book which I will quote is, however, even more remarkable. Here it
"Give it a rest Perakh, June 3, 2004
Perakh's itch for disputation and vituperative
opining is matched only by his unfounded arrogance and his unhealthy fixation
with William Dembski (I recommend more time outdoors; it might ease the
Regarding the reviewer from Ann Arbor, the
demands that he append his identity are pure pedantry. These are amazon blurbs,
not formal literature."
This review is a real pearl. Remember that it is supposed to be a
review of Shanks's book! Isn't it funny that this supposed review does not even
mention Shanks's book or is in any way related to it. Instead it is a spiteful personal
assault on me. Since this post has nothing to do with Shanks's book, its
purpose, besides insulting me, was obviously only to push down the rating of
Shanks's book. Therefore there seems to be a good reason not to attach any
significance to the set of negative reviews of Shanks's book – they do not
reflect the book's actual merits but are rather expressions of their authors'
visceral animosity to Shank's thesis, an animosity which is probably even more
spurred by Dawkins's eloquent foreword to that book.
As to the quoted
"review," the full name of this reviewer became known after he posted a long
series of comments to Panda's Thumb (PT) weblog, where he used the
same email address but openly signed his posts as Robert O'Brien. Like the
quoted "review," O'Brien's comments on Panda's Thumb were of the same type –
full of personal insults and short on substance.
There was once on the
PT blog a discussion of certain mathematical concepts including the so called
Kantorovich metrics. In his usual disdainful style, using quite rude language,
O'Brien claimed that all the contributors to PT were fools with a low status in
science and/or mathematics, while he was a student of the prominent
mathematician Rachev who, in turn, was a student of a Nobel laureate, the
famous Soviet mathematician Kantorovich, the author of the Kantorovich metrics.
One of the contributors to PT suggested to O'Brien, as to a supposed specialist
in this matter, that he post to PT an explanation of the Kantorovich metrics.
The effect was amusing – soon the name of O'Brien whose numerous vituperative
comments until then were emerging on PT day in and day out, ceased appearing on
the PT blog.
It is good that
Amazon is so omnivorous and keeps on its website O'Brien's spiteful assault on
me in the form of a supposed review of Shanks's book - it is a testimony to
what kind of defenders are found in the ranks of the ID's fighting force.
The authors of the negative reviews are entitled to their opinions
and I'd happily appreciate their input. The "one-star" and "two-star" reviews of
my book, however, clearly belong in a special category. These nine "reviewers" as
well as many of those "reviewers" who pounced upon the other three books
discussed in this essay, most probably have not read the reviewed books since
their 'reviews" contain no specific references to any points discussed in the
books in question. Some of them – as the review by Dembski and by another
anonymous "reader" – were obviously posted with a two-fold goal. First, to hurl
mud at my book thus undermining its possible impact, and second, to
propagandize instead their own output, in the case of Dembski's "review" doing
that under disguise of a supposedly impartial disinterested observer.
I must stress that
I tend to dismiss the "one-star" or "two-star" reviews not because they gave my
book just one or only two stars. I would gladly appreciate any reviews
regardless of the number of stars if they contained at least a brief discussion
of substance relevant to my thesis. In fact most of the negative reviews in question
are useless as they do not at all relate to the contents of the reviewed books.
Why then have many readers asserted on Amazon that they found the reviews in
question helpful? The answer seems to be obvious – Amazon allows complete
freedom and anonymity to whoever chooses to click the button asserting this or
that opinion. There is little doubt that the ID crew has organized a concerted
effort urging their cohorts and admirers to write "one-star" reviews of the
books they feel threatened by, and the qualifications required for posting such
a review do not entail having actually read the attacked books. If, though, a
particular ID crew member or an admirer had difficulties writing a review,
he/she was invited to at least click the button asserting that a review of
his/her colleague is helpful. In a "cultural war" where, as Dembski has put it,
the "Glory of God" is at stake, all means are acceptable,
regardless of the norms of intellectual decency.
On March 7, 2004 Dembski gave a talk at the Baptist Fellowship
Church in Waco, TX. The lecture was taped and the tape is available on request.
Among other things, Dembski said in that lecture, "When
you are attributing the wonders of nature to these mindless material
mechanisms, God's glory is getting robbed." He continued, "And so
there is a cultural war here. Ultimately I want to see God get the credit for
what he's done -- and he's not getting it."
The intention of "winning" the
"cultural war" regardless of means was, for example implied by Dembski's
assertion that the ID proponents will "never capitulate" to their opponents,
which could be seen in his untitled post at www.arn.org/cgi-bin/ubb/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f13;t=000483
accessed December 26, 2002. It has since then been removed and seems not to be
available any longer unless it is re-posted elsewhere.
 The review of my book of January 21,
2004, on Campus Inquirer can be seen at (www.campusfreethought.org/inquirer/2004.01.21.htm#a10; accessed on October 8, 2004.
Prometheus Books is a publishing house located in Amherst, NY.
Since its founding in 1969 it has published over 3,000 books and continues to
do so at the rate of about 110 new titles annually. The categories of books it
publishes include popular science, science and the paranormal, contemporary
issues, social science and current events, children's fiction and non-fiction,
history, religion and politics, philosophy, humanism, Islamic studies, Jewish
studies, biblical criticism, psychology, women's issues, health, self-help,
sexuality, reference, and more. Here are some randomly selected titles
of books from its most recent (Fall 2004 – Winter 2005) catalog: Barry Parker, Albert
Einstein's Vision (page 3); Warren Ashby, A Comprehensive History of
Western Ethics (page 9); Michael R. King and Gregory M. Cooper, Who
Killed King Tut? (page 13); Isaac Asimov, It's Been a Good Life
(page 17); Andrew R. Thomas, Aviation Insecurity (page 25); Anwar Hekmat,
Women and the Koran (page 33); Milton D. Heifetz, Ethics in Medicine
(page 38); Steve Allen, Meeting of Minds (page 42); Aristotle, The
Metaphysics (page 50); Rene Descartes,
Discourse on Method and The Meditations (page 50); Siegfried
Mandel, Nietzsche and the Jews (page 66); Raye Linne Dippel and J.
Thomas Hutton, Caring For the Alzheimer Patient (page 74); James
Christopher, Escape From Nicotine Country (page 80), etc. I challenge
Dembski to provide a similar random selection of titles from the catalog of InterVarsity Press which has published most
of his books. Unlike Prometheus Books, with its wide range of topics, authors,
and philosophical attitudes, InterVarsity Press is indeed a very parochial
publisher with an ideologically restricted scope of publications all expounding
the narrow evangelical world view. This shows the abject fallacy of Dembski's disdainful
reference to Prometheus "Press" (sic).
As a devout Christian, Dembski should be familiar with the parable about
noticing a straw in a neighbor's eye but missing a log in one's own eye. I feel
quite comfortable with being published by the same publisher that also
published books by Aristotle, Hegel, Descartes, Gardner, and Asimov.
Del Ratzsch, Nature, Design and Science. NY: State
University of New York Press, 2001.
Panda's Thumb (PT) is very popular weblog at www.pandasthumb.org/ . While its title
is in a reference to the well known book by Steven Jay Gould and, accordingly,
its main goal is defending evolutionary biology against pseudo-scientific
attacks from creationists and their allies of various brands, in fact the
material on that blog covers a wide range of topics. It consists, first, of essays posted by the members of a group of
contributors which includes biologists, physicists, mathematicians,
philosophers, lawyers, etc., and, second, of comments to the posted essays
which can be posted by every visitor. According to the data by Alexa, PT is one
of the most visited blogs on the web, and the number of comments accompanying
its essays sometimes is in hundreds. These comments include many from
creationists who obviously watch PT closely. While the administrators of PT
display a considerable tolerance allowing the writers of comments sometimes
quite sharp assaults on the posted essay, in those cases when the comments
become too malicious, off-color, or immaterial, they may be transferred to the
special subdivision of this blog named Bathroom Wall.