This isn't the first time this happened. About twenty years ago, some local evangelicals were actually picketing outside the gates of my university with the same goal. They failed, but everybody had a good time laughing.
I am happy to say that DrIntellectual's plan also backfired. Nearly everybody ignored DrIntellectual's message, except the Dean, who wrote me to offer his support. I guess DrIntellectual has never heard of "academic freedom" and what it entails.
The two things that drove DrIntellectual to inchoate rage seem to be my review of Stephen Meyer's book, Signature in the Cell, and my review of Patrick Glynn's book, God: The Evidence. But DrIntellectual offers nothing against the views I presented there, except some variations on "Wow! Oxygen! Hence, God!". This is literally an 18th century view: it was Dartmouth's founder, Eleazar Wheelock, who reportedly once offered the prayer, "O Lord! We thank Thee for the Oxygen gas; we thank Thee for the Hydrogen gas; and for all the gases." But it's the 21st century now. We don't burn witches any more, either.
Why is DrIntellectual driven to act like this? I don't know, but it's typical behavior for a certain species of theist. This kind of person is so steeped in Jeebus that it's literally inconceivable that anyone could believe differently. Furthermore, anyone who disbelieves must be evil, and therefore no tactic against them is too slimy. (It's the same method used by Scientologists on what they call "suppressive people".) Luckily, these dirty tricksters are usually too impotent to do much harm.
What DrIntellectual is really saying by his actions is that my book reviews are powerful. They represent such a threat to his insecure world view that he has to resort to this kind of poison-pen attack. He can't simply leave a comment on my blog or write his own rebuttal. No, the rest of the world has to coddle DrIntellectual's weak faith by removing all obstacles to it. He even resorts to implicit threats, writing "in the end, there will be a test, a very important test. Don't fail it." Threats like these are the theist's weapon of choice.
The Internet is the most powerful weapon against this kind of theism ever devised. When people of good will see the kinds of tactics some theists have to resort to, they know very well who is winning the argument. We are.
Allow me to probe your principles a little deeper.
Suppose the University of Waterloo announced that they had hired William Dembski to lead their new Specified Complexity Institute. Would you consider sending an email to your colleagues that detailed your thoughts on the matter? Or would that be " too slimy", since only a "dirty trickster" would offend "academic freedom" by trying to get someone fired? Would fellow IDers note that your actions show that ID is "powerful ... such a threat to his insecure world view that he has to resort to this kind of poison-pen attack"?
My answer: you don't fire Dembski because of his religious views or because his work needs to be censored. It has failed scientifically, on their own merits. It competed in the free academic market and lost.
So the sliminess of DrIntellectual's attack is that it regards your personal beliefs, rather than your academic credentials. It's not that he/she is trying to get you fired, per se. (They would do well to remember: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.")
Do you actually have copies of these emails? There are several crazies who I would suspect, but they all have very distinct styles.
Well, I for one sincerely regret not being one of the recipients of this tirade against you. I must not be on the right mailing lists.
Luke, I don't consider your hypothesis about Dembski plausible, so I'm just addressing your question in general terms.
The sliminess is that the author (a) contacted many people who are busy and are not interested in ravings of an anonymous crackpot and (b) did so anonymously.
Surely you can see the difference between someone who is part of a group contacting their own colleagues to discuss an issue of mutual interest and a nut who is not part of a group contacting people who he has no way to evaluate whether they would be interested.
Wiliam, yes, I have a copy.
Also, contacting someone's colleagues to tell them explicitly that he is (gasp) an atheist is analogous to contacting someone's colleagues to tell them he is Jewish. And we all know how well that worked out in 1930's Germany.
I think anyone who calls themselves "Dr. Intellectual" can be dismissed out of hand ;-). Don't start by telling me how smart and well-read you are: demonstrate it.
I seriously question the sanity of anonymous individual. It fits a pattern I have seen of bi-polar people becoming fixated on their childhood religion due to hallucinations of seeing gods or angels, including a literal belief in the Bible (in the case of Christianity), and becoming very angry at those who question their facts and logic - since if those questioners are correct the individual cannot trust his or her own thoughts, which is a very hard pill to swallow.
I think the answer to Luke Barnes's question is that there should be faculty oversight of the establishment of new academic programs in any university. At the University of Waterloo, their Senate establishes educational policies. The faculty, directly or through their Senate representatives, would presumably work to prevent the establishment of a proposed "Specified Complexity Institute" or any other program that did not engage in legitimate scholarship.
I observe that Prof. Shallit authorizes the appearance of opinions he disagrees with on his own blog. That should answer Barnes's question about whether Prof. Shallit tries to get people fired for views he opposes.
It's reminiscent of the threat by Steve Forbes to cut off his financial contributions to Princeton in retaliation for the hiring of Peter Singer to the philosophy department. One difference between that situation and what Prof. Shallit experience is that Forbes was a member of Princeton's board of trustees, not a kid sending idiotic e-mails from his mother's basement. It's a good reason, incidentally, why you don't appoint someone as a trustee whose sole qualification is being fabulously wealthy.
Another case of this sort is Alan Dershowitz's outrageous, and unfortunately successful, effort to deny Norman Finkelstein tenure at DePaul University. The chairman of the political science department, which had voted in favor of granting Finkelstein tenure, was quoted in the New York Times stating that Dershowitz's intercession in a tenure and promotion case at another university "shows no respect for the integrity of our process and institution."
This boorish rube just did the same thing to me! This is what the charmer wrote:
"How proud all of you must be of Christine Fair (sic) - her "diplomacy," which is of course so much like that of Madeline Albright, who famously declared, "There is a special place in hell for any woman who does not support Hillary Clinton." You mean the way you supported Sarah Palin, Madeline?
The slut, and presumably lesbian, Christine Fair (sic) does not belong in any Catholic university, or for that matter, in any teaching institution. She is hatred, ignorance, and inhumanity personified. She is certifiably insane."
I am flattered to be in the fine company of Secretary Albright.
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