What does Bill Dembski think of David Abel’s “prescriptive information” theory?
|May 13, 2012||Posted by News under Design inference|
Continuing with James Barham’s The Best Schools interview with design theorist Bill Dembski – who founded this blog:
TBS: David L. Abel’s new book, The First Gene (LongView Press—Academic, 2011), takes aim at “self-organization” theories of the type mentioned in the previous question. We believe the publication of this book is likely to be a watershed event. Have you read it yet? What do you see as the relation between your work and his?
WD: I’ve dipped into the book and am familiar with some of the earlier literature on which it is based. So, even though I haven’t read the 500-plus pages that make up this book word-for-word, I think I have a pretty good idea of its content. I’m afraid I don’t share your optimistic view of the book. Which is not to say that I’m unsympathetic with its point of view or many of the arguments it’s making. I just don’t see anything all that original there in terms of fundamental theory, nor do I think it is presenting the most powerful information-theoretic case for real teleology in nature.
I’ve known Abel since 1998. He was back then heading up a Gene Emergence Project, which offered a multimillion-dollar Origin of Life Prize to the first person to make a convincing argument for how life might have emerged by naturalistic means. Abel took this tack on the assumption that, strategically, it’s easier and wiser to defeat the Darwinian naturalist, not by demonstrating design, but by demonstrating the repeated failure of naturalistic processes to bring about life. In fact, at the time, he wouldn’t have anything public to do with me or my ID colleagues, because he wanted to maintain his credibility within the scientific community at large.
In any case, I’m entirely with him that self-organizational scenarios, as they are typically characterized—in that they exclude real teleology—don’t work. But his preferred construct for analyzing such scenarios and making the case for teleology—something he calls “prescriptive information”—strikes me as too fuzzy and qualitative to serve as a powerful analytic tool.
In fact, insofar as this notion can be made rigorous (which Abel never seems to do in his book), it seems that it would be a special case of my own specified complexity. Specified complexity—or “complex specified information” (as I’ve also called it), and especially its most recent incarnation in the form of “active information”—seems to me in a better position to accomplish what Abel wants.
But let readers decide for themselves. Having read his book, let them check out my publications at the Evolutionary Informatics Lab.
Next: Is there any such thing as information in the abstract or is it always information “for an agent”?
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