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A “Facilitator” of the Intelligent Design Movement — Dembski Pays Tribute to His Father

David Klinghoffer

William Dembski is of course a key figure in developing the modern theory of intelligent design. His father, William Joseph Dembski, passed away on October 17, and we wish our friend much comfort from his dad’s memory, to which he pays a moving and beautiful tribute here. He concludes with a link to the final scene from Babette’s Feast. If you watch it, or already know it, you’ll understand why.

The elder Dr. Dembski lived a rich life, concluding at age 94, with significant trials along the way that his son candidly describes. The father, generous and open minded, was not a founder of a major intellectual movement. In fact, his accomplishments in scholarship are modest. Instead, W.J. Dembski’s contribution was more as a “facilitator” of others’ direct contributions:

By the standards of this world, my Dad may seem not to have accomplished all that much. He had exactly one publication (his doctoral work on sperm dimorphism in snails). He never made a ton of money. And no streets are likely to be named after him. Yet in my book he looms large. I take Jesus’ parable of the talents seriously, and the challenge there is to make the most of what you’ve been given. My Dad was dealt a pretty poor hand early in life, but I would say he played it as well as anyone could have played it. I know he would have enjoyed being a biology professor, like his mentor at the University of Illinois (whose name escapes me), teaching and doing research at a good university. But it was not to be.

His gift was to encourage others. I never had the sense in him of envy or wanting to diminish others so that he could seem bigger or better. Nor did his own obstacles earlier in life cause him to want others to experience those obstacles as a kind of lesson or punishment. My Dad had to work his way through college and university (summer jobs included being a garbage man), but when it came time for me to go to college, he urged me to stay focused on my studies and avoid anything that would keep me from giving them my full attention. He and my Mom made this possible, and I think I can honestly say that I did not disappoint or misuse their generosity….

I’m not sure he consciously saw his role in life as a facilitator (in the good sense of that word!), helping others to find their way and even to exceed him in accomplishment. But it’s a role he fell into naturally, and he found contentment in it.

The younger Dembski describes some of the remarkable contingencies in his father’s life, and “how easily things could be different — completely different.” You can see in that the suggestion of providence, or mere luck. Bill wonderfully evokes his dad, and it’s worth considering the array of facilitators, including parents and other kind and encouraging souls, that deserve credit not only for the emergence of ID but for any advancement in human understanding.

Often those who make their children’s work possible remain nameless. Many thanks to Bill Dembski for making his own father’s name, and legacy, known to us.