Did Sidney Poitier play Dembski?

I found this post  on a blog by someone who’s apparently an academic somewhere up in Canada. In case you’ve missed the background, William Dembski recently published a challenge to James Shapiro, saying that since they seemed to share many of the same criticisms of Neodarwinism, maybe they should work together. Shapiro issued a counter-challenge on Evolution News and Views to the effect that maybe if ID dropped its commitment to the supernatural and stuck to science, it might be possible. Both Ann Gauger and Doug Axe have posted replies – Dembski not so far. I think the atmosphere could be described as “cordial, but still far apart.”

So it seems odd that my blogger wrote this:

James A. Shapiro, author of Evolution: a View from the 21st Century has been criticized for being an Intelligent Design Creationist, or at least a sympathizer. He denies it but his denials sound very much like someone who protests too much.


Do you know any respectable evolution supporter who would post on a creationist blog?

My first impression was surprise that someone working daily on the incredible complexities of God’s creation should appear to have acquired such a grubby little mind. Maybe that’s what atheism does for some people. But then I suddenly remembered what had been niggling at me – the whole blog resembles the plot of a film I seem to remember seeing once. So maybe the blogger was being satirical, or something – see what you think.

The film was set in a small town in the deep south, at the height of the colour bar. The local biology teacher, Wally Moron, discovers that a black attorney has set up in town. Being one of the great and good in the community, the teacher contrives to confront the newcomer on the street, and drawls, “You may think you’re a lawyer, but remember you’re still a darkie slave.”

The attorney replies, in a cultured voice, that Moron is mistaken. None of his ancestors has ever been in slavery, and he is in fact the son of an African head-of-state, and has a first class degree in law from Oxford. From then on, Moron always refers to the attorney, both in public and to his face, as “the Oxford lawyer darkie slave.” Because, as he says, he can smell them.

Why, do you suppose, did he adopt this practice? In the first place, of course, it is deliberately dehumanising. But perhaps we should not judge too harshly because, in fact, this teacher knows of only two categories of individual: people (ie, whites) and black slaves. Since the lawyer is self-evidently not in the first category, he must be in the latter.

The next significant development is that the biology teacher learns that the town’s (white) doctor has been seen visiting the lawyer’s house. The doctor was always known to be a “goddam liberal” because he reads philosophy and Shakespeare for pleasure, but as Moron says to his friends, “No respectable white man would visit with a darkie slave.” His first assumption is that the doctor is trying to bed the lawyer’s squaw, but the true answer comes to him soon enough – the doctor, in reality, must be a darkie slave too.

The right solution, once this obvious conclusion is drawn, is inevitable. You can’t have a darkie slave doctor treating decent white folks, so Moron and a few of his Good Old Boys run the doctor out of town. This isn’t difficult, because they’ve already got rid of a couple of teachers at the local University who showed too much unnatural sympathy to the blacks. And while they’re about it, they lynch the lawyer as well.

I can’t remember the rest of the film, but I don’t think it gets any happier. It’s in black and white, too. It might be that the author of the blog I quoted didn’t intend it as a satire on this film at all, or even objects to the association I’ve made. If so, no doubt he’ll have the right eloquent words to correct me, such as, “Hush your mouth, N*-lover.”

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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6 Responses to Did Sidney Poitier play Dembski?

  1. Gregory says:

    The Sandwalk is no match for the Sand Stream! : )))

    A key issue, often missed in this context is what you wrote: “deliberately dehumanising.”

    With this in mind, I’d like to ask perhaps an uncomfortable question: how is ‘intelligent design/Intelligent Design’ theory actually ‘humanising?’ (Please let us leave aside USAmerican ‘culture war’ themes.)

    It’s a bit of a soft ball pitch (not sure of the cricket equivalent of a ball easy to hit), since both capitalised and uncapitalised forms of id/ID are included.

    The question is asked because ‘ID’ actually might turn out in the end to be one of the most unhumanistic/unhumanitarian theories yet seen, since Rev. Thomas Malthus’ population theory. (!)

    An unembodied, unidentified, uninvestigatable ‘designer/Designer’ in contrast to the ‘human sciences’ that study ‘actual persons’. How ‘impersonal’ does ID get at its extremes?

    To the TEs, ECs and/or almost-IDs here,
    – Gr.

    p.s. That Sandwalk is easily eroded in a flood! ; )

  2. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Hi Gregory

    Potiphar, of course, has his own way of walking on sand, with 4 big feet.

    My first reaction to the question is that ID isn’t deliberately dehumanising. The extent to which it is in practice is, I suspect, dependant on the non-ID commitments of its advocates, ID itself having the limitation of operating within physical scientific parameters. Surely it shares that with, say, physics? Once a past-incomplete Universe is established, it’s the non-physics commitment to a loving Creator or something else that decides how human-friendly it is.

    So far, at least, its spokespersons behave a lot more charitably than the new atheists, who make an art-form of bigotry.

    I’d be interested to hear how you would foresee ID’s success ending in a Malthusian nightmare?

  3. Gregory says:

    “I’d be interested to hear how you would foresee ID’s success ending in a Malthusian nightmare?” – Jon G.

    Because there is little time at the moment, though it is an interesting question, and because I’m packing and pondering new steps, let me answer briefly with a quotation, from the same ‘thought system’ generally as that in which ‘intelligent design/Intelligent Design’ (1980/90s) was conceived:

    “We have not the reverent feeling for the rainbow that a savage has, because we know how it is made. We have lost as much as we gained by prying into that matter.” – Mark Twain

    And now we *can* understand ‘design/Design’ from the mind of the Designer, ‘scientifically?’ Indeed, S. Fuller’s definition of ID as ‘divine technology’ is the best yet available.

    Just as robots…we are ‘code readers.’ It is Zamyatin’s ‘We’ or Orwell’s ‘1984’ for the 21st century. Organisms are really machines, didn’t you know it?

    Tell me please, how are human beings actually involved as ‘objects/subjects’ in ID theory as you know it? Are they or are they not? Yes, we make the theory of ‘design’. But we are still entirely separate personally from the ID theory according to ‘naturalism’, just as good ‘objectivists’ and ‘positivists’ should be.

    IDists feast on the ignorance of people, mainly USAmerican ‘evangelical Christians’ with little education. They clearly and undisputably discount the human. Do you notice the lack of humanitarian-social scientists in their ‘roster’? How do you account for this, Jon?

    “Malthus is the last absurdity in mankind; one cannot go any further in that direction.” – Prince V.F. Odoevskii (1844)

    Since you are British, as was Malthus, who was an inspiration for Darwin, what do you think Odoevskii might have had in mind suggesting this ‘last absurdity’?

  4. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Fair enough, Gregory. But there’s quite a strong strand in ID against evolutionary psychology and materialist explanations of mind.

    Let me flip the question back to you – were you in the biological sciences rather than HPS, how would you reconcile the apparent evidence for organic evolution with Christian faith?

  5. Gregory says:

    Now realising that I missed following-up on this question. After a two-country trip, back in familiar territory again…

    Jon wrote: “ID itself having the limitation of operating within physical scientific parameters”

    Yes, this is a key factor in ID’s ‘dehumanisation.’ Surely I agree that the extra-scientific committments of (most) IDists, suggests a(n indirect) human-friendly approach, in large part as human beings are thought to be created ‘imago Dei.’ Why then does DI ignore 75%+ of the Academy that deals with ‘human agents’ and instead focus only on fields where human agency is not involved, except through the double hermeneutic (oftentimes not acknowleged) of those who study natural-physical things? They have explicitly agreed to putting forward a ‘dehumanising’ approach by their choice of fields and scholars to support.

    A brief answer to your question:
    “were you in the biological sciences rather than HPS, how would you reconcile the apparent evidence for organic evolution with Christian faith?”

    This doesn’t seem to be such a difficult task, to be honest, except if one is a ‘biblical literalist’ (scriptural literalist) or otherwise committed to a fideistic view of the universe in which we live. Organic (or natural) evolution is distinct from the spiritual origins of humanity or the non-natural (cf. ‘unnatural) origins of ethics, values, morals, etc. Recognizing general bio-physical change-over-time presents little threat to likewise accepting a supra-physical source of universal and local ‘creation/creativity’.

    I’ve written on my blog recently:
    “The most challenging and influential problems with ‘evolution’ involve human morals, ethics, meanings, goals, purposes, dreams and choices. This is what matters most to people; not what biologists do in their labs or out in the field.”


    This seems to provide an answer to Christians, Muslims *and* Jews who are reluctant to accept a scientifically reductionistic view of reality wherein ‘natural-physical’ views are elevated above humanistic and religious understandings of who we are living in the universe on Earth.

    The ‘darkie slave’ dehumanising condescension now takes place from natural-physical sciences towards other scholarly fields. Professors in lab coats think they have priviledged knowledge, for which they should be ‘worshipped.’ Ironically, the field of business administration oftentimes has the last laugh, as ‘pure scientists’ are rewarded mainly for their ‘status’ or ‘prestige’ and not monetarily on nearly the same scale as business or economics graduates.

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