Paul Gross's Dilemma:
An Open letter to the National Association of Scholars

by William A. Dembski

I have before me a letter dated January 5, 2000 from Bradford Wilson, the executive director of the NAS. It begins, “I really enjoyed your contribution to the recent symposium in the January issue of First Things, so much so that I’ve also decided to invite you to join the NAS. Many of your fellow contributors including Robert George, Jeffrey Satinover, and Father Neuhaus are among our current members, and I think you’d find it well worth your while if you joined ranks with us yourself.”

Even though I am sympathetic to the NAS’s values and goals, I decided not to accept Wilson’s kind offer. The reason was that with individuals like Paul Gross, E.O. Wilson, and Chester Finn deciding the NAS’s science policy, I was confident my work on intelligent design would in due course be reviled. Paul Gross’s article on intelligent design in the most recent Science Insightsproved me correct.

Gross no doubt believes that the abuse he heaps on me and my colleagues in the intelligent design movement is warranted. And given only his article, readers will feel justified drawing this conclusion. But there’s much that Gross doesn’t tell readers in his article. Because Gross addresses my work specifically in his article, I’ll concentrate on his criticisms of it. Even so, the same pattern of misdirection and selective presentation of facts that characterize his treatment of my work also characterize his treatment of my colleagues in the intelligent design movement (notably Michael Behe).

The editor John Wenger’s introduction to Gross’s article and the beginning of Gross’s article itself set the rhetorical tone. One reads phrases like “pretense to be science,” “poses as a scientific theory,” “symptoms of crankhood,” and “bogus science.” After that Gross describes Robert Park’s “seven warning signs of bogus science” and shoehorns me and my work into this taxonomy. Gross rightly notes that I’m best known for my work on a “design inference,” which he puts in scare quotes. He then cites the work of Victor Stenger, Jason Rosenhouse, and Richard Wein as having decisively refuted me. He also cites my semi-popular book No Free Lunch.

But what Gross doesn’t disclose is that the book The Design Inference, in which I lay out in full technical detail a method of design detection applicable to biology, was published by Cambridge University Press and peer-reviewed as part of a distinguished monograph series, Cambridge Studies in Probability, Induction, and Decision Theory. At the time of publication, the editorial board of that series included members of the National Academy of Sciences as well as one Nobel laureate, John Harsanyi, who shared the prize in 1994 with John Nash, the protagonist in the film A Beautiful Mind. The editors and referees of The Design Inference were in each case more qualified to judge its merits than the three individuals Gross cites (Richard Wein, for instance, holds nothing more than a bachelor’s degree in statistics).

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File Date: 09.28.03