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Dembski’s teaching method

August 10, 2009

Bill Dembski is attempting to justify his pedagogical technique of sending students to “hostile” websites to drop comments. For example, in this syllabus we see:

At least 10 posts defending aspects of the Christian worldview totaling at least 3,000 words on “hostile” websites

For another course (AP 410), students have to

provide at least 10 posts defending ID that you’ve made on “hostile” websites, the posts totalling 2,000 words, along with the URLs (i.e., web links) to each post (worth 20% of your grade).

Now what’s problematic here isn’t that Dembski is encouraging students to post on “hostile” sites, it is that the assignment doesn’t force the students to engage with their critics in any way. Instead, all the student has to do is cut and paste some text, save the url, and pass it on to Dembski. Money in the bank.

Those of us who use discussion forums and webboards in our teaching know that if any value is to be gained from the exercise students must engage with each other and respond to claims while defending their own through a series of engagements. It is such long-term engagement that is profitable not “drive-by posting”.

In short, my objection is not that Dembski’s students are posting on “hostile” sites, it’s that he is not doing anything pedagogically useful by encouraging them to do so. Dembski appears to be as good a teacher as he is a mathematician or theologian.

Update (8/11): Joel Borofsky, Dembski’s former TA, tries to defend his master but completely ignores the sort of argument I’m making and instead wikers on about what he sees as argumentative fallacies. Come on Joel, defend Dembski’s pedagogy …


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  1. Lewis Thomason
    August 10, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    I have always wanted to have a Phd to tack onto my name,but have been to lazy and not smart enough to earn one. Thank jebuss that I now have a chance. Thank you Bill.

    Look for my ignorant ravings to be showing up soon.

  2. August 10, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    Yes indeed: post AND respond

  3. August 10, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    ID is science.

    Okay, only 9 more posts and 1,997 words to go… :)

  4. August 10, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    Actually James, if you repeat that a further 666 times, you’ll have more or less reproduced the output of the DI, though you should perhaps throw in a “Darwin is Hitler” every now and then just to spice things up.

  5. Wes
    August 11, 2009 at 6:13 am

    As far as I can tell, Dembski appears to be training his students to be trolls. But the trolling isn’t the worst part of his curriculum. The part that really makes my jaw drop is his “critical thinking” course:

    Course Description:
    How do we get people to believe things? This course examines the means by which we
    convince ourselves and others that something is true. Of special interest here are the
    pitfalls to logical thinking that prevent us from coming to the truth.
    Course Objective:
    The goal of this course is to help students become adept at making a persuasive case for
    the truth of the Christian worldview.

    http://www.designinference.com/teaching/2007_spring_crit_thinking/syllabus_crit_thnk_spr07_SWBTS_5373A.pdf

    [The following questions is worth 50 points. Answer it in 500 words or less.]
    13. You are the head of a large public relations firm in New York. A consortium of Christian
    businessmen and foundations is fed up with the godlessness of our society and approaches
    you to run a “rhetorical campaign” to make Christianity and its moral values credible again
    to the wider culture. You have $100,000,000 a year for five years to make the campaign
    work (i.e., half a billion dollars total over five years). What programs are you going to
    institute and how are you going to allocate that money to restore Christianity as a credible
    world view? What objectives could you realistically hope to accomplish? [Example of a
    zero-credit answer: give all the money to the ACLU or to the UN.]

    http://www.designinference.com/teaching/2007_spring_crit_thinking/Final_Exam_PHREL_5373A_Spr07.pdf

    At Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, “Critical Thinking” means exercises in how to conduct an effective PR campaign.

  6. Norm
    August 11, 2009 at 9:47 am

    I think he’s not training them to be trolls as much as he’s training them to be “Soldiers for Jesus”. That’s why he doesn’t care if his students engage in any dialogue; their job is simply to get the good word out into the “hostile” blogosphere.

  7. DLC
    August 12, 2009 at 4:51 am

    Back in the day, I had an instructor who insisted that each person join a specific newsgroup and post 1 reply per week to a topic. However, the idea here was to get the students answering questions on the newsgroup to broaden their problem-solving skills. The post had to be in response to one put out by another member and not simply copied and pasted out of a text or web page.
    But Dembski does not require actual discussion, just drive-by posting.

  8. J-Dog
    August 15, 2009 at 11:32 am

    How many times do you have to post for Dembski before you get one of them there cool sweaters?

  1. August 17, 2009 at 12:12 pm
  2. August 21, 2009 at 12:11 pm
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