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Ken Miller: “Blame the BBC’s bad editing”

Two days ago I commented on a post at evolutionnews.org that seemed to catch Ken Miller red-handed in misrepresenting my work on specified complexity (go here for my post). Specifically, on a BBC program titled THE WAR ON SCIENCE, Miller is seen, right after I was shown speaking on probabilities, commenting on the use of probabilities by ID proponents to underwrite ID. Given what I’ve written on this topic and given what Miller said on the program, if he were commenting on my work, there’s no question it would be a blatant misrepresentation.

Now Miller is claiming that he was not commenting on my work at all. Rather, this was all the BBC’s fault. Miller claims that through bad editing, it only appeared as though he was commenting on my work. Here is his letter to Jeremy Mohn at the Panda’s Thumb explaining why he wasn’t really addressing my work at all (SOURCE: go here):

Dear Jeremy,

Thanks very much for your note. I apologize for the day long delay in answering. I spent much of today debating ID with John West of the Discovery Institute (at a conference in New Hampshire), and that slowed me down a bit. Also, before replying I wanted to look at the portion of the BBC documentary in which these comments were made to refresh my memory. I also reviewed the transcript of my testimony in the Dover trial.

If you take care to read my actual words, you will discover that the name “Dembski” does not appear in them. I was not referring to any specific argument made by Bill Dembski when I made those comments, so the notion that I was “distorting” or “misrepresenting” him is absurd. How can you misrepresent someone if you never refer to them?

I was interviewed by the BBC Horizons series more than a year ago, and I do not remember the exact question that prompted my response on the issue of probability. It’s clear, however, that all I was addressing was a general argument one hears from many ID supporters in which one takes something like a particular amino acid sequence, and then calculates the probability of the exact same sequence arising again through mere chance. I generally decline to answer questions about Dembski’s “complex specified information,” and that’s exactly what I did at the Dover trial (see end of message for part of the trial transcript demonstrating that point).

Unfortunately, the narration in the BBC program implies that I addressed Dembski’s ideas in my trial testimony (which I did not), and then offers my general response as an apparent example of how I handled those ideas. This does mislead the viewer, and it’s unfortunate that the BBC chose to imply I had testified on something I did not. This, however, is a fault in the editing of the program, something over which neither I nor Bill Dembski (who also appears in the program) had any control.

However, the Discovery Institute’s claim that I had misrepresented Dembski is absolutely false, and they should know better.

Sincerely,

Ken Miller

PS: Please note how I actually reacted to questions regarding Dembski’s ideas when Richard Muise (attorney representing the Dover Board) brought them up in my cross examination:

[link to relevant testimony]

Apologies are therefore in order. Miller, far from blatantly misrepresenting me, was merely setting up a strawman. Way to go.

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26 Responses to Ken Miller: “Blame the BBC’s bad editing”

  1. I was interviewed by the BBC Horizons series more than a year ago, and I do not remember the exact question that prompted my response on the issue of probability.

    Why would Miller be considered by anyone an authority on probability?

  2. 2

    I was wondering the same thing yesterday while reading some of the other articles.

    Why is it okay for Miller to discuss probabilities when that’s not his area of expertise at all, yet Miller (I would assume) and others like him constantly complain that a doctor, for example, isn’t an authority on evolution (biology), thus no one should care when a group of doctors says they don’t buy the chance-ruled Darwinian version of evolution?

    The same standards never seem to apply to the Darwinists themselves.

  3. 3

    By the way- shame on the BBC for seemingly deceiving and not allowing ID supporters a chance to reply to the charges made against them and the theory.

  4. “Apologies are therefore in order. Miller, far from blatantly misrepresenting me, was merely setting up a strawman.”

    That’s what I’ve been thinking in all of this broo-ha-ha. Whether or not he was misrepresenting Dembski is irrelevant. The fact is that he made a dumb argument that anyone even remotely familiar with ID literature knows that is dumb and has been answered over and over again by ID’ers. If he thought he was making a good argument (and thought that this had not been answered), it simply means that he has no credibility in this debate.

  5. Is this the video? Or was there a more recent BBC release?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aeVH_FtBgIo

  6. I might add, that itn he above clip, that Miller misrepresetns irredicible complexity. Behe has pointed this out already. Miller argues about how the individual parts of a bac. flagellum are used in other parts of the cell.. Since he is making a strawman argument here, it doesn’t surprise me about the probability claim.

    It’s also interesting that he said he generally aviods addressing the argument of complex specified information. That seems to be simply ANOTHER straw weaved into the strawman on the camels back.

    If he keeps this trend, he will have built his own demise.

  7. He might make the books.. in logic… and become an icon case study on logical fallicies :P

  8. [off topic]
    I guess Sydney didn’t see the global warming swindle:
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20.....ngblackout

    I hope they protest.

  9. Darwinian evolution is chance + necessity. Chance and probability are kissing cousins, therefore anyone who touts himself as an expert on darwinian evolution should be very well versed in probability theory, in the theory of chance.

    Miller suggests that

    a general argument one hears from many ID supporters in which one takes something like a particular amino acid sequence, and then calculates the probability of the exact same sequence arising again through mere chance.

    This is an interesting argument. When we find a particular amino acid with a precise particular sequence, we must conclude that one of three things happened: this particular sequence just happened, like the shuffling of a deck of cards, the sequence was the result of the interplay of chance and necessity — therefore there must be a pathway of improving fitness from a previous sequence to this one, or this sequence is the product of an intelligent agent. If the amino acid uses its precise sequence to perform a meaningful task, we can eliminate the first possibility. We now have two possibilities, chance + necessity did it, or agency did it. If chance + necessity did it then the (at least a) progressive pathway from pre-existing sequences to this one must be establishable. Let the evolutionary community establish at least some of these pathways.

    The latter is the argument that Miller is shooting down, the latter, in general, is the argument presented by the likes of Dembski and Behe.

  10. Miller:

    It’s clear, however, that all I was addressing was a general argument one hears from many ID supporters in which one takes something like a particular amino acid sequence, and then calculates the probability of the exact same sequence arising again through mere chance.

    This is not at all clear. In the video ( 38:00 ) he does not mention “ID supporters” but “one of the mathematical tricks employed by Intelligent Design …”. And his comments are sandwiched between BBC narrator’s remarks about Dembski’s maths not adding up for Miller and his being on Miller’s hit list.
    The editing is not Miller’s fault, of course, but his version is not “clear’ as he says. Rather, it’s impossible not to have taken him to be commenting on Dembski.
    One has to wonder which ID proponents the BBC had asked Miller about with reference to mathematical probabilities, and to whom he referred in his answer as “Intelligent Design”, in order that they could mistakenly edit his comments in such a way.

  11. re: Jguy’s off topic…

    “As for those at home who are faced with an hour of darkness on a Saturday night, ‘we hope people will be catching up with their neighbours and having barbecues.’”

    How do they figure thousands of barbeques are better for the environment than using efficiently massed-produced electricity?

  12. russ,

    Well, you know, cooking outside over an open flame is, you know, like, um, more natural.

  13. H’mm:

    Reality check time.

    Let’s see — just WHO is it that is well known to be currently associated with the mathematical form of the inference to complex, specifed information first made by Orgel, Yockey, Wickens etc in OOL research in the 60′s – 80′s? [Hint to newbies: he carries initials WD.]

    [Equivalent point: in British-style law -- relevant here as BBC is in a UK jurisdiction so a slander or libel suit under UK law is at least in principle possible . . . -- if one can be identified as a target of defamatory remarks, one has a right to sue, whether or not the identification was "intentional." For the underlying point of a tort is "negect of a duty of care." UK law on this is far more stringent on those who say unwarrantedly damaging things than in the US; something that Americans are often unaware of.]

    Further to this, Mr Miller either knows, or should know based on duty to do due diligence, that he consistently severely misrepresents the inference to complex, specified information. For it is abundantly plain that Mr Dembski joins two key parameters: complexity and specificity. If Mr Miller has done enough chemistry or physics to know introductory level statistical mechanics, he should instantly recognise the point: if a microstate or clustrer of microstatesis both hihgly improbable and functionally specified, it is not at all likely to be reached by chance. [The classic examples are things like finding 500 coins, all heads-up, or a similar pattern, or having all the molecules of oxygen in a room rush to one end, etc. This is the statistical root of the reliability of the second law of thermodynamics.]

    Further to this, as I have now several times pointed out in threads in this blog, the concept of CSI is not due to Prof Dembski, or the wider ID movement. In fact as TMLO CH 8 documents, it is the result of the natural progress of OOL research in the 1960′s – 80′s:

    . . . Nucleic acids and protein are aperiodic polymers, and this aperiodicity is what makes them able to carry much more information. By definition then, a periodic structure has order. An aperiodic structure has complexity. In terms of information, periodic polymers (like nylon) and crystals are analogous to a book in which the same sentence is repeated throughout . . . . It should be noted that aperiodic polypeptides or polynucleotides do not necessarily represent meaningful information or biologically useful functions. A random arrangement of letters in a book is aperiodic but contains little if any useful information since it is devoid of meaning.

    Only certain sequences of letters correspond to sentences, and only certain sequences of sentences correspond to paragraphs, etc. In the same way only certain sequences of amino acids in polypeptides and bases along polynucleotide chains correspond to useful biological functions. Thus, informational macro-molecules may be described as being [aperiodic -- from my print version] and in a specified sequence. 5 Orgel notes:

    Living organisms are distinguished by their specified complexity. Crystals fail to qualify as living because they lack complexity; mixtures of random polymers fail to qualify because they lack specificity.6

    So, whether or not Prof Dembski’s model is wholly successful, the relevance, clarity and applicability of the underlying concept,and its history, are quite plain.

    Until and unless Professor Miller, Professor Forrest, Judge Jones, et al fairly and frankly face such, they are guilty of misleading he public and slandering the ID’s leading spokesmen through neglect of duties of care. (Were I Mr Demsski, I would be looking up a good Barrister in the UK, preferably a QC. At minimum, IMHCO, a correctibve Lawyer’s letter to the BBC, cc Mr Miller and also relevant overseeing powers in Parliament, is warranted.)

    A similar stricture holds on the way the subset of CSI known as Irreducible Complexity [IC] has also been misrepresented, slandering its leading spokesman, Professor Behe.

    GEM of TKI

  14. kairosfocus:

    once again you have literally stolen in advance my ideas and words! (but I am very happy when you do that).
    Indeed, I had posted s couple hours ago on similar arguments (although maybe with more passion: I really admire your equanimity!), but I am afraid the post got lost in the filter. I try to attach it again here:

    Ken Miller is really a genious: he can still surprise me! His “defense” is almost better then his offense. So, he was not speaking of Dembski. The fault is of BBC editing. He never mentioned Dembski, the Discovery Institute should know better! He generally declines to answer questions about CSI! (Anybody try to guess why?)

    Well, he didn’t mention Dembski. Who did he mention, then? I paste here again his exact words (at least, as they were reported here, I have not checked the original):

    “One of the mathematical tricks employed by intelligent design involves taking the present-day situation and calculating probabilities that at the present would have appeared randomly from events in the past. And the best example I can give is to sit down with 4 friends, shuffle a deck of 52 cards, and deal them out, and keep an exact record of the order in which the cards were dealt. We could then look back and say ‘my goodness, how improbable this is, we could play cards for the rest of our lives and we would never ever deal the cards out in this exact same fashion.’ And you know that’s absolutely correct. Nonetheless, you dealt them out and nonetheless you got the hand that you did.”

    OK, there is not the word “Dembski” here. True. Who is he speaking of then? I think I spotted the words “Intelligent Design”. Am I right? Ken, please, correct me if I am misrepresemting you.

    So, Ken is not speaking of Dembski. I am afraid, then, that he is speaking of us. He is certainly speaking of me (without knowing it, I presume). In the very small measure that I feel to share the perspective of ID, and that I have a few times written on this blog, often referring to the statistical absurdities of the neo-darwinist paradigm (and always dutifully citing Dembski), in that measure he is speaking of me. And so I take offense. For Dembski, who is, with Behe and a few others, the theorist of ID, and has all the rights in the world to feel involved when someone speaks of the fundamentals of ID; and for me, and for everybody else in the ID field who wants to share the offense.

    So, again:

    1) Miller’s argument is stupid and offensive, whoever may have been in his mind when he proffered those words.

    2) As far as I know, nobody in the ID field has ever made the silly argument that Miller criticizes. Everybody, instead, in the ID field, constantly mentions the CSI argument due to Dembski, and so clearly and beautifully explained in many of his writing. The same CSI argument has been exhaustively and satisfactorily discussed on this blog many times, even recently.

    3) On the contrary, many neo-darwinist, many times, have repeated the silly argument of the “unlikely cards”, attributing it to ID, and therefore stupidly criticizing a stupid argument which has never been made by anyone, except themselves. Ken Miller is the latest instance of such a nonsense.

    4) If one (Miller just to speak a name) is speaking, publicly, of ID, and in particular of the statistical arguments in ID, who is he speaking of? Easy: he is speaking mainly of Dembski. Indeed, although certainly many other thinkers have contributed, before and after Dembski, to the formulation of the statistical framework of the ID scenario, nobody can deny that Dembski is the main “responsible” (and can be very proud of that) of that framework. I cite Miller again, at the risk of being repetitive:

    “One of the mathematical tricks employed by intelligent design”.

    What is he speaking of? CSI is the only “mathemathical trick” I have heard of in ID on that subject. All the other statistical discussions always boil down to that: accepting or refusing the CSI concept (and IC, obviously, although IC is less a statistical argument). So, I don’t think Miller can be so proud of not having named Dembski. That only means that he has misrepresented Dembski without even having the courage to name him.

    But, obviously, Miller knows better. The fault is not his. The fault is of BBC editing. (Not that BBC has not its faults, but they are other faults, such as not allowing Dembski to answer Miller. But BBC has not invented what Miller is saying. They have only made the obvious connection which anyone who knows something of ID would have done anyway: that Miller was speaking of ID’s statistical arguments, and therefore of Dembski).

    And, after all, Discovery Institute should know better. How could they not realize that the only true, innocent victim here is Miller himself?

  15. Chance and probability are kissing cousins, therefore anyone who touts himself as an expert on darwinian evolution should be very well versed in probability theory, in the theory of chance.

    An expert in Darwinian evolution should be well-versed in probability theory.

    BUT, a believer in it can’t be :-)

  16. kariosfocust, great post!!!!

    Dr. Dembski, it wouldn’t hurt to make a phone call to some U.K. law firm specializing in libel/slander and see if you got a case to make the BBC correct the record.

  17. OK so Miller wasn’t misrepresenting Wm Dembski personally. He was misrepresenting some generic ID argument- which was derived from the words and work of Wm Dembski.

    Thanks for clearing that up Ken.

  18. Here’s a thought-

    Write a blog titled “Only a moron would use this type of argument against ID” (or something like it) and then post Miller’s argument but do NOT mention his name anywhere at any time in the blog’s OP.

  19. If Ken Miller complains he was not referring to Dr. Dembski, perhaps he could provide the names of the ID proponents he WAS referring to, or are they, in fact, not flesh-and-blood, but of straw?

  20. In the testimony linked to above, when Ken Miller is asked about ‘The Design Inference’, he responds that he has “heard of the book”. Does that mean he has not read the book? Does anyone know?

    Granted, he says he avoids commenting on CSI but as someone recognised as one of the leading ID critics the very least he could do is read what leading ID proponents have actually written.

  21. Tribune7, “BUT, a believer in it can’t be :)”

    LOL! Right on.

  22. If Ken Miller is so careful to note that he was not critiquing Dembski, is he saying that Dembski’s argument is correct? Is he simply pointing out that the rest of the IDiots don’t understand Dembski?

    Dr. Miller, either Dembski is correct, or Dembski merits your criticism, one or the other. Now, get honest and criticize Dembski, or get over to the camp of honesty, bite your fear of rejection by the scientific zealots, and become the IDer that your inner heart is calling you to be.

  23. bFast:

    “and become the IDer that your inner heart is calling you to be.”

    Hmm… I am not really looking forward to the event. Maybe it’s better he stays where he is…

  24. Aw c’mon, Miller is an IDer in his soul. He admits that ID is the best explanation for first life. His general view on organic development is very similar to what Denton describes in “Nature’s Destiny”. Ultimately he believes that God did it, though he seem somehow certain that, with the exception of OOL, God didn’t meddle with his creation. (I’m betting that when he becomes honest, he’ll start wondering about that too.)Once he gives up on brown-nozing to the darwinazis, I think we’ll find him to be a good ally.

  25. Hi Folks:

    Thanks for the kind words.

    I do think though based on my experiences in other not so polite, carefully moderated fora, that it is wise to make a slight adjustment in terminology and approach.

    This can be seen in my own page on the matter [cf link though my handle]:

    1] Information has joined matter-energy and space-time as fundamental to understanding the world, over say the past 60 or so years.

    2] Information functions in information and communication systems [concrete and abstract], through the cascade: source, encoder, transmitter, channel, receiver, decoder, sink. In turn that implies a code, an associated mutually recognisable system of symbols for the code that can be used to transmit and process it so it functions, a physical system capable of so processing the information in the relevant physical manifestation of the code, and more.

    3] Thus, once we recognise information at work, then we credibly have seen a functional pattern that specified the information to correspond with the cascade just enumerated.

    4] Such information systems are the product — in all directly known cases — of intelligence. Information, the “stuff” processed by such systems is objective, observable, in some aspects measurable, functional and specified. (Intelligence, its known source, is also identifiable by in the first instance family resemblance in behaviour to known intelligent agents, namely ourselves.)

    5] In some cases, we can see that information is not only functional but complex, in the sense that across a reasonable gamut, it is immensely improbable to get to the information as encoded by chance. In this context, specification is implied by “functional” i.e. first observe the configuration acting in a meaningful way in some system, then address the issues on functionality, specificity and complexity. (A Royal Flush for instance is a specific recognisable, complex and improbable by chance but simply describable pattern of cards that functions in a certain way in a certain game.)

    Pausing . . .

  26. Continuing . . .

    6] As Demsbski has shown, a reasonable yardstick for cases of interest is ~ 500 bits. For, if something that is contingent is at or significantly beyond that level of complexity, the chance of the indicated configuration being arrived at by chance is ~ 1 in 10^150, which is comparable to the credible number of quantum states in the observed universe across its credible lifetime.

    7] So if we see FUNCTIONALLY SPECIFIC, COMPLEX INFORMATION (I use FSCI to abbreviate) at or beyond the 500 bit threshold, we should be confident in saying it is maximally unlikely that the information — much less the system that processes it, has been arrived at by chance and/or natural regularities only on the gamut of the probabilistic resources of the observed universe. (I do think Royal Flushes are significantly less improbable than the Dembski bound!]

    8] However, we know from observation and experience, that FSCI beyond the Dembski bound is routinely produced by intelligent agents [as a rule of course with chance and necessity also involved]. For instance, this web page is a case in point: more than 500 bits of information, and functioning as more or less text in English, making a meaningful message.

    9] But, in principle, it is possible that “lucky noise” has generated all of the posts in this page, not just this one. For, neither the logic nor the physics involved can rule that out — indeed the very measurement of information is based on a log ratio of a posteriori to a priori probabilities of the signal as detected. That is the inference to and measurement of signal not noise is based on an inference to design [signal] rather than chance + necessity only [noise].

    10] So, given that the probabilities of “lucky noise” are similar in a complex web post or in the DNA chain, why then do many routinely infer to design in the one case but so deeply wish to reject design in the other? [Apart from that prejudice that we may term selective hyperskepticism, i.e. without first doing the comparative difficulties analysis, one rejects what does not sit easily with the presuppositions of one's evolutionary materialist worldview?]

    11] This resort to prejudice is often disguised under fine-sounding prhases like Sagan’s: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    12] But, apart from the assumption of evolutionary materialism, what is so extraordinary about infererring that functionally specific, complex information — in say DNA as well as on this web page — is credibly the product of intelligence?

    We can extend this argument to cover the case of irreducibly complex systems. For instance, the bacterial flagellum is based on DNA and epigenetic structures that implement a self-assembling sophisticated movement and control system in bacteria. (A subset of the relevant DNA evidently codes for another biosystem, one hat implements an injector, i.e. we have a twofer here . . . that INCREASES the constraints and specificity of the code!] The blood clotting cascade is part of a subsystem in life forms that embraces a host of linked, coupled systems vital to life. And more.

    All of this, if we are sufficiently insistent, could in principle have originated by chance + necessity alone. But to do that requires a gross inconsistency between what we specially plead in this case and how we operate in other cases where core evolutionary materialist worldview agendas and assertions at the heart of a scientific research programme are not at stake.

    On an inference to best explanation basis, methinks the real issue is NOT adequacy of evidence that FSCI/CSI points to design in the heart of life systems, and indeed the cosmos too.

    That’s my take

    GEM of TKI

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