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You Missed a Spot, Dr. Dembski


Original: You Missed a Spot, Dr. Dembski

William A. Dembski recently published a book, The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design. The subtitle offers a promissory note, and so do several of the blurbs on the dust jacket and front matter to the effect that Dembski covers herein all the criticisms that have been offered about "intelligent design" and Dembski's particular contribution, "specified complexity". This is untrue, as I will attempt to demonstrate.

Dembski has gone so far as to challenge critics to find criticisms that he missed entirely. I responded earlier, pointing out various difficulties in proving a negative as Dembski had asked for. At that point, I had not read the whole text of TDR carefully, and thus did not wish to offer something that might be discussed on pages I had not yet gotten to.

But now I have read the whole thing, and one rather glaring omission is evident to me. Throughout the book, Dembski touts "specified complexity" as a reliable marker of "intelligent design" and says that certain biological systems, such as the flagellum of E. coli bacteria (please note, Dr. Dembski, that the species name is NOT capitalized) have "specified complexity". This completely sidesteps and ignores a criticism I raised at the CTNS/AAAS "Interpreting Evolution" conference at Haverford College, June 17th, 2001, in a presentation on Dembski's ideas. I pointed out that Dembski's program of submitting events of known design and unknown cause to his "explanatory filter/design inference" were no test at all of the reliability of his apparatus, calling it a "verificationist program". To actually test his methodology Dembski and other ID advocates would have to examine cases where we had biological systems with a sufficiently detailed evidential record that even the ID advocates would agree beforehand that natural causes were sufficient to explain their deveolpment. Only then would running them through Dembski's "explanatory filter/design inference" place the EF/DI at hazard of showing a "false positive" result. I suggested that Dembski and his comrades at the (then) Discovery Institute Center for Renewal of Science and Culture concentrate upon systems like the impedance-matching system of the mammalian middle ear and the Krebs citric acid cycle, which exemplified complex systems for which biologists have accumulated a strong set of empirical data concerning their development.

I reiterated the criticism in a web page critiquing Dembski's book, "No Free Lunch".

TDR is bereft of any hint that this criticism impinged upon Dembski's mental processes at all. At least, there's no hint that I see. To the contrary, there are still the explicit statements that the EF/DI is somehow verified by Dembski's program of feeding it examples that cannot possibly put it at risk of failure. The bogus and completely unfounded "reliability" that Dembski claims thereby is used in several places in TDR to assert strong claims about the need to incorporate Dembskian notions of "design" into biology.

That seems to me to be avoiding a tough question about "intelligent design".

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