Home » Evolution, Informatics » Bill Dembski on the Evolutionary Informatics Lab – the one a Baylor dean tried to shut down

Bill Dembski on the Evolutionary Informatics Lab – the one a Baylor dean tried to shut down

Continuing with James Barham’s The Best Schools interview with design theorist Bill Dembski – who founded this blog – on the computer science lab that Darwinist academics really couldn’t deal with:

TBS: You wear many hats. We’ve just discussed your affiliation with Discovery Institute and the theological world. You are also a senior research scientist with the Evolutionary Informatics Lab, which was formerly at Baylor. Tell us about your association with that lab? It appears that you have been publishing extensively in the peer-reviewed engineering and mathematical literature on active information. Is that work ID-related? How much attention has it been getting?

The term “evolutionary informatics” was chosen deliberately and was meant to signify that evolution, conceived as a search, requires information to be successful, in other words, to locate a target.

WD: For the last four years, my main work on intelligent design has been in collaboration with Robert Marks, a very senior and high-profile engineer on the faculty at Baylor. Even though I’m teaching these days in Ft. Worth (at Southwestern Seminary), on account of family concerns, we continued to live in the Waco area, which is the home of Baylor. So, Bob and I meet regularly to discuss our research. We’ve also brought some graduate students in to help with this work.

The lab used to be one of Bob’s several labs at Baylor, but when he was interviewed back in 2007 by Casey Luskin for a Discovery Institute podcast, it became public knowledge that the lab’s research was related to ID. That was a no-no as far as then-Baylor-president John Lilley was concerned. In consequence, Bob was told by his dean (at Lilley’s instance) to disassociate the lab from Baylor by removing that work from his space on the Baylor server. When he refused, the Baylor administration did it for him. That sordid episode is recounted here, and was also featured in Expelled.

[See also: The Great Escape A tribute to Bob Marks]

The term “evolutionary informatics” was chosen deliberately and was meant to signify that evolution, conceived as a search, requires information to be successful, in other words, to locate a target. This need for information can be demonstrated mathematically in the modeling of evolutionary processes. So, the question then becomes: Where does the information that enables evolutionary searches to be successful come from in the first place? We show that Darwinian processes at best shuffle around existing information, but can’t create it from scratch.

We’ve done this in various theoretical articles, published in such places as Journal of Advanced Computational Intelligence and Intelligent Informatics. And we’ve done it in various application articles, where we look at concrete computational scenarios proposed by evolutionists (such as Avida or Tierra) and demonstrate where the information needed for them to be successful is inserted (rather than generated from scratch). This work has also been published and presented in standard engineering venues, such as IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers---ed.] journals and conferences.

We’re not saying that evolution doesn’t happen. We’re saying that even if it happens, it requires an information source beyond the reach of conventional evolutionary mechanisms.

I see this work as providing the theoretically most powerful ID challenge against Darwinian evolution to date. As for the attention this work has garnered, there has been some, but Darwinists are largely ignoring it. I’m justified in thinking this is because our methods leave them no loopholes. We’re not saying that evolution doesn’t happen. We’re saying that even if it happens, it requires an information source beyond the reach of conventional evolutionary mechanisms.

Here’s an irony. Jeff Shallit, a former professor of mine (in computational number theory) at the University of Chicago, spent the better part of one of his sabbaticals going after my 2002 book, No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot be Purchased without Intelligence. That book had a few minor errors and infelicities, which I will be correcting in an expanded second edition. In any case, Shallit harped on these errors, such as a probability calculation that was numerically wrong, but whose right answer was still within the universal probability bound that I had established, thus not changing the validity of my argument.

In any case, when I presented Shallit with some of this newer work on evolutionary informatics, he emailed me back saying he wasn’t even going to look at it because I hadn’t responded to his prior critiques. My Wikipedia bio, which prominently cites Shallit’s criticisms of me, last I looked, also says nothing about my publications on evolutionary informatics or the significance of that work, merely mentioning my association with the lab and its expulsion from Baylor. Indeed, I’ve tried to get the Wikipedia bio corrected on a number of points, but always in vain. Wikipedia is fine for lots of things, but on controversial topics with biased editors, it can be quite bad.

Although it would seem that this work on evolutionary informatics is getting ignored, I wonder whether in fact it is being taken quite seriously, only left unmentioned publicly lest it receive legitimacy simply by being on the mouths of our critics. I’ve seen this before. Robert Pennock, for instance, in a Nature article purporting to show how, in the Avida computer simulation, evolutionary processes can build complex structures and functions, omits any reference to Michael Behe and his work on intelligent design.

And yet, in my 2004 Cambridge UP collection, coedited with Michael Ruse and entitled Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA, Pennock, who has an article there, gloats that this work refutes Behe. Why didn’t he make that point in the Nature article? Obviously, because citing Behe there would have given Behe another mention in the science citation index and thus further legitimized his efforts to advance intelligent design. I’ve seen the same thing with my own work, which is clearly in the background of some scientific discussions, but doesn’t get cited lest it be legitimized.

I suspect that at least part of the rationale for the NSF giving our tax dollars to fund this boondoggle is the threat to Darwinian evolution posed by the Evolutionary Informatics Lab.

Another thing that makes me think that maybe this work is having an impact is that after it started gaining momentum, Michigan State University, home of Pennock’s Digital Evolution Lab, received a huge $25 million NSF grant in 2010 for BEACON (Bio-computational Evolution in Action CONsortium). I suspect that at least part of the rationale for the NSF giving our tax dollars to fund this boondoggle is the threat to Darwinian evolution posed by the Evolutionary Informatics Lab.

Next: Bill Dembski on young vs. old Earth creationists, and where he stands

See also:

Why Bill Dembski took aim against the Darwin frauds and their enablers #1

Why Bill Dembski took aim against the Darwin frauds and their enablers Part 2

Bill Dembski: The big religious conspiracy revealed #3

Bill Dembski: Evolution “played no role whatever” in his conversion to Christianity #4

So how DID Bill Dembski get interested in intelligent design? #5b – bad influences, it seems

So how DID Bill Dembski get interested in intelligent design? #5a

So how DID Bill Dembski get interested in intelligent design? #5b – bad influences, it seems

Bill Dembski: Trouble happens when they find out you mean business

What is Bill Dembski planning to do now?

What difference did Ben Stein’s Expelled film make? Dembski’s surprisingly mixed review

Bill Dembski on the future of intelligent design in science

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2 Responses to Bill Dembski on the Evolutionary Informatics Lab – the one a Baylor dean tried to shut down

  1. I would like to see dembski address some of the critisms of his law of conservation which were raised here on UD and other places like scienceblog and rationalwiki.

  2. The term “evolutionary informatics” was chosen deliberately and was meant to signify that evolution, conceived as a search, requires information to be successful, in other words, to locate a target. This need for information can be demonstrated mathematically in the modeling of evolutionary processes.

    Since anything that contributes to a search’s likelihood of success falls under the EIL’s definition of “active information”, the statement that information is required for a successful search is true by definition. So how does it make sense to say that this need can be demonstrated mathematically?

    We’ve done this in various theoretical articles, published in such places as Journal of Advanced Computational Intelligence and Intelligent Informatics. And we’ve done it in various application articles, where we look at concrete computational scenarios proposed by evolutionists (such as Avida or Tierra) and demonstrate where the information needed for them to be successful is inserted (rather than generated from scratch).

    See my question above. What does it even mean to generate the needed information from scratch? If a search could generate this information, then that very ability would count as active information, so the notion of generating active info without pre-existing active info is nonsensical.

    We’re not saying that evolution doesn’t happen. We’re saying that even if it happens, it requires an information source beyond the reach of conventional evolutionary mechanisms.

    But where do they show that? The conventional evolutionary model includes reproduction with variation and feedback from a sufficiently smooth fitness function to the reproduction mechanism. Which of the sources of active information that they identify for ev, Avida, and WEASEL are not part of that model? The only outliers that I can think of are the “perceptron” in ev and the initialization of Avida.

    But the ev perceptron is not necessary for success. If you remove it, the search is still tractable — it’s essentially a 256-bit WEASEL. On the other hand, if you replace the evolutionary algorithm with random sampling, the search requires an intractable 2^90 queries (as estimated by the EIL, which they erroneously describe as an upper bound).

    And yes, Avida needs to be initialized in a certain way for replication to get started. Producing the right conditions for evolution to occur is obviously “beyond the reach of conventional evolutionary mechanisms”, but we don’t need the EIL to tell us that processes cannot bootstrap themselves.

    Another thing that makes me think that maybe this work is having an impact is that after it started gaining momentum, Michigan State University, home of Pennock’s Digital Evolution Lab, received a huge $25 million NSF grant in 2010 for BEACON (Bio-computational Evolution in Action CONsortium). I suspect that at least part of the rationale for the NSF giving our tax dollars to fund this boondoggle is the threat to Darwinian evolution posed by the Evolutionary Informatics Lab.

    With no offense intended to Dr. Dembski, I can’t resist pointing out the irony: Five years ago he said that the EIL promises to put Pennock out of business, and now he credits the EIL with helping to keep Pennock in business.

    I’m curious if Dr. Dembski’s suspicion is based on any actual evidence that the NSF sees the EIL as a threat to Darwinian evolution. Can anyone point to anything specific in the EIL publications that poses this threat?

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