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Stephen Barr’s Unreasonable Reasonableness

Stephen M. BarrSteve Barr and I used to be friends. I’m not sure he would consider me one any longer. According to his latest posting at First Things (go here), “Religion has a significant number of friends (and potential friends) in the scientific world. The ID movement is not creating new ones.” And since creating new friends for religion among his scientific colleagues seems to have become Barr’s overriding concern, that presumably makes me and the ID movement the enemy.

I first learned of Barr back in 1992 through a friend of mine from the University of Chicago doing a postdoc at Caltech. Knowing my interest in the science-religion discussion, he told me about a talk he had heard at Caltech from a U. of Del. physicist named Stephen Barr. My friend sent me a typescript of the talk and I was intrigued. Barr quoted the Church Father Minucius Felix: “If upon entering some home you saw that everything there was well-tended, neat and decorative, you would believe that some master was in charge of it, and that he was himself much superior to those good things. So too in the home of this world, when you see providence, order and law in the heavens and on earth, believe that there is a Lord and Author of the universe, more beatiful than the stars and the various parts of the whole world.”

I called Barr and we had a nice chat. He indicated an openness to design in biology but felt that the better design arguments were to be made at the level physical law (God having designed the laws of the universe). Fair enough. Mere CreationIn that first conversation back in 1992, I urged Barr to write a book on his law-based approach to design and thoughts about science and religion — he seemed to have an enthusiasm for the subject and the smarts to pull it off. As a research scientist, he stressed how busy he was and at the time dismissed my proposal out of hand. In following years Barr and I kept in touch. I had him invited to the MERE CREATION conference held at Biola in 1996, which he attended and at which he was a valuable participant.

Then, in 2003, ten years after our first conversation, he published a fine book titled Modern Physics and Ancient Faith (I like to think, and believe evidence supports it, that I was part of the causal chain in its production). In an email with subject header “Can you help me out,” he asked me to help promote the book, asked me to write a blurb for it, and even asked me to direct him to others who might write blurbs for it (the blurb on the back cover by Peter van Inwagen was probably at my instance). In any case, I was happy to give him the following blurb: “Stephen Barr has an exceptionally clear style and a gift for illustrating complex ideas and making them understandable. More significantly, here is a free mind joyfully relating the physics he loves to the faith that sustains him, unconcerned about the reaction of the ‘professionals’.” I meant the blurb at the time and still think it’s a fine book (indeed, I’ve used it in some of my seminary classes).

But I’m not sure I can honestly say that Barr is unconcerned about the reaction of his colleagues any longer. Indeed, given his First Things piece, he seems overly concerned to distance himself from his past ID connections and to score points with a more socially acceptable community of scholars. He protests too much. A colleague of mine, reading his First Things post, reacted this way:

Barr is a good example of the Thomistic critique of ID. He’ll get attaboys from his department colleagues and some of his religious friends. The Church Fathers and the Apostles, however, cannot be reached for comment.

If the argument from designed laws keeps getting stronger with the progress of science, why do so many people well acquainted with the progress of science fail to accept the conclusion of the argument? Perhaps Barr should notice that IC phenomena promise to offer an argument that could rationally persuade some people to whom “designed laws” talk looks like window dressing or seeing by the eye of faith.

Too bad he doesn’t realize that his anti-gaps project is basically a commitment to a naturalistic research program. How does he think that saints are canonized? Why does he abandon scientific explanation for Jesus’s ministry? “Science must fail for ID to succeed.” Scientific New Testament criticism must fail for Jesus’s supernatural character to be manifest (partly) in miracles….

Patristic Understanding of CreationBarr quotes from the Apocrypha and the Church Father Clement to suggest that ancient design arguments focused on beauty and order and law to the exclusion of contrivance and complexity, but in so doing he misrepresents that literature. I co-edited a 600-page anthology on the writings of the Church Fathers about creation and design titled The Patristic Understanding of Creation. It’s available here from Amazon.com. Many of the design arguments there are in the spirit of Paley’s watchmaker, though instead of going with the best technology of Paley’s day (watchmaking), they went with the best technology of their day (musical instruments).

Fast forward to the middle ages, and one finds Thomas Aquinas distinguishing primary from secondary causes and stating explicitly in the Summa Theologiae that humanity was created not by secondary but by primary causation — in other words, not by God acting strictly through the physical creation but by God’s direct activity making the physical creation do things that were otherwise not in its power (thereby excluding any form evolutionism in accounting for the emergence of humanity): “The first formation of the human body could not be by the instrumentality of any created power, but was immediately from God.” (Summa Theologiae I:91:2)

ID-style natural theology, which admits limitations in nature that only divine power can overcome (a style of natural theology to which Barr has now become highly allergic), thus has a long and illustrious history. To call it a “debacle,” as Barr puts it, is thus historically misguided and suggests that Barr’s aversion to ID is motivated by other concerns. Actually, it’s not hard to see what that motivation is. As Barr states in his First Things piece: “There are plenty of ways to make a case for the reasonableness of religious belief that can be persuasive to many in the scientific world.” Barr puts a premium on appearing reasonable to his scientific colleagues. And even though he chides the ID community for appearing unreasonable and thus failing to win the scientific community, a bit of self-reflection should reveal that his own approach has hardly won the day. He writes, “I have addressed many audiences myself using arguments similar to theirs [i.e., those of Ken Miller, Francis Collins, etc.] and have had scientists whom I know to be of firm atheist convictions tell me that they came away with more respect for the religious position.”

Flew's conversion to theismMore respect? How much more exactly? Respect is fine and well, but I take it from this quote that these atheists are still atheists. In my own experience, I find that I’ve lost the respect of many in the scientific community, but I also receive emails now and again from persons who once were atheists but then found God because ID shook them out of their dogmatic slumber. The case of Antony Flew, the best known atheist in the English-speaking world until Richard Dawkins supplanted him in this unenviable position, is a case in point (see his book THERE IS A GOD). Flew attributes his conversion to theism not to a law-based teleology and not to the insight that neo-atheists such as Dawkins illictly extract faulty metaphysical implications from their science. None of the above. Flew attributes his conversion to ID, and specifically to the coding of information inside the cell. By contrast, the Templeton-sponsored theistic evolutionary community, which Barr has now fully embraced, is welcome to the respect that have so richly earned and which buys them nothing in the eternal scheme of things.

Although Barr’s reasons for rejecting design are mainly theological and philosophical, Barr opens his First Things piece by attacking ID’s supposedly poor scientific track record: “It is time to take stock: What has the intelligent design movement achieved? As science, nothing.” This statement is false and Barr, if it were not for wanting to appear reasonable to his scientific colleagues, would admit it to be false. ID, at the very least, has pointed out certain weaknesses in conventional evolutionary theory, weaknesses that evolutionists routinely ignore and which point up the need for a more complete theory of biological origins. As NAS member from my alma mater (U. of Chicago) Dave Raup put it to me in an email: “The search for the missing mechanisms can only be helped by people like you asking tough questions. Keep at it!”

Back in 2004, Barr actually agreed with David Raup that ID performs useful service for science. Endorsing my book The Design Revolution (IVP, 2004), Barr wrote a blurb that appears in the book’s front matter: “The Design Revolution is about questions of fundamental importance: Can one formulate objective criteria for recognizing design? What do such criteria tell us about design in the biological realm? Sad to say, even to raise such questions is dangerous; but fortunately Dembski is not deterred. In this courageous book he takes aim at the intellectual complacency that too often smothers serious and unprejudiced discussion of these questions. –Stephen Barr, Professor of Physics, University of Delaware, author of Modern Physics and Ancient Faith.”

But ID does far more than merely point up problems with existing theory. It suggests a way forward through the impasse that the study of biological origins now faces as a result of its commitment to naturalism, a commitment Barr shares. The website for the Evolutionary Informatics Lab (www.evoinfo.org) is being revamped and a new statement characterizing the lab’s purpose is being added. It reads:

Intelligent design is the study of patterns in nature best explained as the product of intelligence. So defined, intelligent design seems unproblematic. Archeology, forensics, and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) all fall under this definition. In each of these cases, however, the intelligences in question could be the result of an evolutionary process. But what if patterns best explained as the product of intelligence exist in biological systems? In that case, the intelligence in question would be an unevolved intelligence. For most persons, such an intelligence has religious connotations, suggesting that it as well as its activities cannot properly belong to science. Simply put, intelligent design, when applied to biology, seems to invoke spooky forms of causation that have no place in science. Evolutionary informatics eliminates this difficulty with intelligent design. By looking to information theory, a well-established branch of the engineering and mathematical sciences, evolutionary informatics shows that patterns we ordinarily ascribe to intelligence, when arising from an evolutionary process, must be referred to sources of information external to that process. Such sources of information may then themselves be the result of other, deeper evolutionary processes. But what enables these evolutionary processes in turn to produce such sources of information? Evolutionary informatics demonstrates a regress of information sources. At no place along the way need there be a violation of ordinary physical causality. And yet, the regress implies a fundamental incompleteness in physical causality’s ability to produce the required information. Evolutionary informatics, while falling squarely within the information sciences, thus points to the need for an ultimate information source qua intelligent designer. Such an information source, however, does not properly belong to the theory of evolutionary informatics, which can be conducted entirely in ordinary information-theoretic terms.

I contend that such an approach to intelligent design is fully scientific. Barr, though showing no awareness of the work of the Evolutionary Informatics Lab (which is presenting papers on ID at IEEE conferences and publishing papers in IEEE journals), would reject such a claim. Yet at the same time that he rejects it, MIT’s Technology Review (2.3.10) suggests in effect that we may be on to something: “There is a growing sense that the properties of the universe are best described not by the laws that govern matter but by the laws that govern information.” Conservation of Information, as described in various papers on the Evolutionary Informatics Lab’s publication page, constitutes such a law governing information and is directly pertinent to establishing the insufficiency of conventional material mechanisms for generating biological information AND the need for information sources not reducible to such mechanisms (which includes characterizing the flow of information among them).

Barr and his colleagues (he puts himself in the number of “John Polkinghorne, Owen Gingerich, Francis Collins, Peter E. Hodgson, Michal Heller, Kenneth R. Miller, and Marco Bersanelli”) have in the last several years been proclaiming ID’s imminent demise. Let me suggest that the ID community, given its limited resources and given the increasing attacks by once-sympathizers like Barr (attacks which limit ID’s talent pool by suggesting to budding scientists intent on a successful career that they need to look elsewhere than ID — thank you very much, Stephen Barr!), is nonetheless doing quite well. With the Biologic Institute and the Evolutionary Informatics Lab, ID’s scientific program has advanced considerably in just the last three years. As the information-theoretic basis of ID is developed and becomes more widely known, wet-blanket statments such as Barr’s dismissing ID’s scientific accomplishments outright will no longer be sustainable.

To sum up, Barr’s overriding concern is to appear reasonable to his scientific colleagues. The ID community’s overriding concern is to know the truth about design in nature. If that means appearing unreasonable, so be it. The funny thing about truth is that eventually it wins out, even if at first it appears unreasonable.

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60 Responses to Stephen Barr’s Unreasonable Reasonableness

  1. I seem to remember hearing that when Socrates was asked what is the most satisfying and fitting pursuit for a young man he replied, “Science.” When asked the same question about an old man he said, “Politics.”

  2. When was the last time, Dr. Dembski, that you and Stephen Barr were in touch? Perhaps the confusions you point to in your post could be avoided with more communication.

  3. That’s a shame about Stephen Barr.

  4. Will somebody out there suggest why there is sudden raise of this Theistic evolutionist in recent years? New websites, books published and so on…. I think fellow Christians (evolutionist) are more hostile to ID than out and out Atheist. one of the most strange criticism I constantly read from Theistic Evolutionist is, ID employs “God of the Gaps” argument. But as far as my percept goes, ID is just the opposite. Trying to find LEGITIMATE criteria to detect design so as to avoid “god of the gaps”.

    For the record, theistic evolutionist are going even to India. This issue is hardly “Just USA phenomena”. Here is the link

    http://www.breakingbarriers.in/

  5. Greetings, Bill:

    It seems to me that your argument for evolutionary informatics directly contradicts your argument in favor of primary versus secondary causation. To be specific, if there is an underlying “informatic” form of causation in nature – that is, a law-like form of causation in which currently unknown relationships between information and physical causation are the basis for some natural phenomena – then wouldn’t that qualify as “primary” causation, and the phenomena that flow from it (i.e. biology, chemistry, physics, etc.) be considered to be “secondary” causes?

  6. Furthermore, I’m not convinced that your reading of Aquinas is consistent with current catholic doctrine. Pope Benedict XVI (and his predecessor, John Paul II) have been very clear on the current position of the Roman church that the human soul is of divine origin, but the human body is the result of evolution, the scientific understanding of which is “more than a hypothesis” (i.e. a “theory”, and therefore as valid as anything ever gets in science). That this is the case is further supported by the catholic church’s current position on “mainstream” ID: that it is not legitimate science, and therefore excluded from the most recent conclaves on the subject of religion and the science of origins.

    To argue as you appear to do here seems to me to argue for two mutually exclusive positions simultaneously: that ID is a search for “primary” causes in nature (i.e. causes that are not reducible to law-like “natural processes” and ID (as represented by current work in biological informatics) is a search for explanations for the origin of “secondary” causes in nature (i.e. biological evolution that includes informatic processes).

    Which ID is it, Bill? Or do you believe that it’s both, and if so, why?

  7. With the Biologic Institute and the Evolutionary Informatics Lab, ID’s scientific program has advanced considerably in just the last three years.

    I’m aware of the work by the EIL, but the only published piece of work to come from the Biologic Institute’s labs (i.e. with the BI listed as the address of the authors) that I’m aware of is two theoretical papers from 2008. Does anyone know what they’ve been doing since then?

  8. To be very specific, it seems to me that this quote:

    Conservation of Information…constitutes such a law governing information and is directly pertinent to establishing the insufficiency of conventional material mechanisms for generating biological information AND the need for information sources not reducible to such mechanisms (which includes characterizing the flow of information among them)

    says exactly what I have summarized above: that the laws of information provide a deeper grounding for the laws of biology, chemistry, physics, etc., and that therefore biological evolution (i.e. what Darwin characterized as “laws working around us”) does not require the miraculous intervention of a supernatural entity in natural processes, in direct violation of the law-like properties of those processes. On the contrary, it seems to me that, if there are laws of biological information (as seems increasingly likely), that the existence of such law-like properties of natural processes point to a “lawgiver” Who is fully compatible with classical Deism, but completely incompatible with the underlying assumptions of modern neo-Paleyism.

  9. Kibitzer: According to my email record, the last time Barr and I were in touch was 6.28.05. I agree that communication could help, but that is precisely what the theistic evolutionist are avoiding. They don’t want our feedback, they don’t invite us to their conferences, and they don’t solicit our responses to their work.

    T. lise: You are correct that the theistic evolutionists now regard ID as public enemy number 1. All the energy they might be devoting to refuting the atheists is now being directed at us. Ken Miller, for instance, whom Barr commends, would not, some years ago, take Dawkins to task for supporting a “blasphemy challenge,” in which atheists at richarddawkins.net were offering prizes for young people to submit videos on YouTube in which they “blasphemed the Holy Spirit.” Instead of expressing outrage, Miller was content to note that the purveyors of the contest and those who participated in it really didn’t understand the underlying theology (of presumably blaspheming the Holy Spirit).

    Heinrich: The big thing Biologic is doing right now is setting up an international peer-reviewed journal that is open to ID (open, not biased in favor of, ID — informed criticism will be welcome). Stay tuned.

  10. Dr Dembski,

    Accepting the progress in EIL since 2008, Barr’s criticism does extend further into the past than that. He might legitimately ask where are the CSI calculations and uses of the EF as examples ID as science.

    I understand the need in science to clearly lay the foundations for your work, and for a research agenda that might extend into the future. As I see them, your EIL papers are not ID, but ID-friendly. We are still a long way from establishing a regress of information inputs, or proving that such a regress must end in a non-evolved intelligence. The leap from information to intelligence will be key, since we cannot equivocate on this distinction.

    With respect to information in evolution, I am looking forward to a design detection methodology which could distinguish design influenced evolution (of Man) from un-influenced evolution (of moss).

  11. For what it’s worth, my response to Professor Barr is near the end of the blog post at http://www.firstthings.com/ont.....ent-design . Date: 2.9.2010 Time: 10:32pm. (In the last paragraph, the name “Carter” should be “Barr.”)

  12. vjtorley, that was a great post.

    My second post has yet to appear on the thread.

    I noted that Galileo’s problems were really the result of accepting consensus as authority.

  13. Dr. Dembski,

    Their best arguments are being easily shot down. When that happens you can be confident of victory.

  14. (In the last paragraph, the name “Carter” should be “Barr.”)

    Georgia politicians on your mind :-)

  15. —-William Dembski: “Fast forward to the middle ages, and one finds Thomas Aquinas distinguishing primary from secondary causes and stating explicitly in the Summa Theologiae that humanity was created not by secondary but by primary causation — in other words, not by God acting strictly through the physical creation but by God’s direct activity making the physical creation do things that were otherwise not in its power (thereby excluding any form evolutionism in accounting for the emergence of humanity): “The first formation of the human body could not be by the instrumentality of any created power, but was immediately from God.” (Summa Theologiae I:91:2)”

    You are right, of course. The attempt to use Aquinas’ views on causality as an argument against ID is the equivalent of attempting to use Jefferson’s views on politics as an argument against political freedom. If Barr makes it to heaven, and I hope he does, Aquinas will be there waiting for him with a bucket of gatorade.

  16. I can’t see how this argument is legitimately made by people who believe in the resurrection. In the resurrection, there is at least one point where God puts in special providence over-and-above His normal actions. Why can’t there be more, and why can’t they be detectable?

  17. —Allen MacNeil: “Furthermore, I’m not convinced that your reading of Aquinas is consistent with current catholic doctrine. Pope Benedict XVI (and his predecessor, John Paul II) have been very clear on the current position of the Roman church that the human soul is of divine origin, but the human body is the result of evolution, the scientific understanding of which is “more than a hypothesis” (i.e. a “theory”, and therefore as valid as anything ever gets in science).”

    Your ID strawman should take you to court for subjecting him to cruel and unusual punishment. You know very well that JPII was talking about “evolution” in general and that he was not talking about a neo-Darwinian/naturalistic mechanism that is alleged to be driving it. Further, it makes no sense to “deconstruct” Aquinas’ text or make him say something he didn’t say on the grounds that some modern Catholics disagree with him.

    — That this is the case is further supported by the catholic church’s current position on “mainstream” ID: that it is not legitimate science, and therefore excluded from the most recent conclaves on the subject of religion and the science of origins.”

    The Catholic Church has no position on ID. The Notre Dame/ anti-ID contingent that cooked up that conference does not speak for the Catholic Church. Some Catholic prelates, including bishops, accept intelligent design.

  18. vjtorley in comment #11:

    In your comment at http://www.firstthings.com/ont.....ent-design you ended with this comment:

    “…if you ask these children ten years from now if they believe in God, they’ll look at you with an incredulous stare and utter the words of Laplace: “I have no need of that hypothesis.” Now THAT scares me.”

    Why, precisely, does that scare you?

  19. Allen_MacNeill,

    Why, precisely, does that scare you?

    Why doesn’t it scare you?

  20. Clive Hayden:

    Why have you assumed that it doesn’t?

  21. And:

    Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen.

  22. Dr. Dembski:

    Dr. Barr asserts: “there is not a single phenomenon that we understand better today or are likely to understand better in the future through the efforts of ID theorists.”

    Didn’t Behe in “Edge of Evolution” essentially make the case that ID predicts there is a probabilistic limit to what the “blindwatchmaker” can/will do?

    More specifically that a cure for chloroquine-resistant strains of malaria is “predicted” by designing a chemical or protein which would require a triple CCC ["chloroquine-complexity clusters"] mutation to defeat its toxic effects on a bacterium?

    Is that not a phenomenon (with beneficial, practical application) that we understand better today as a result of ID theorizing?

    Further, the insurance industry is always looking for ways the distinguish man-wrought fraud masquerading as accident. Likewise the gaming industry is always looking to detect man-designed systems that defeat house odds.

    As with pharmaceuticals, would not these industrys benefit in a practical way should ID’s theorizing on design detection be reduced to practice?

    Perhaps there are others, closer within reach, or like “chloroquine-complexity clusters” already being formulated in an ad-hoc fashion (rather than a methodological application of ID detection principals/theory)?

  23. Barr:

    “there is not a single phenomenon that we understand better today or are likely to understand better in the future through the efforts of ID theorists.”

    And yet one of the 3 basic questions that science asks is “How did it come to be this way?”

    Also if my premise is correct- that DNA is a medium- ie hardware- that carries and help carry out the software that it holds.

    IOW DNA may be reducible to chemistry and physics -iow it is material- but the information it carries is not.

  24. 24

    Nakashima:

    It’s not obvious, but Dembski and Marks infer human design when the performance of a search algorithm on a problem instance is much better than what they believe can be attributed reasonably to chance. They studiously avoid the word “design,” but refer instead to the “programmer who prescribes how knowledge about the problem gets folded into the search algorithm.” The circumlocution is strongly reminiscent of “Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased Without Intelligence.”

    In their journal article, Dembski and Marks say repeatedly that computer programs do not create information. This is very odd, because the programmer could acquire information about the problem without creating it. Not by coincidence, I suspect, the associate editor who recommended publication of the article was Yingxu “A fundamental finding in computer science is that software, an artifact of human creativity, is not constrained by the laws and properties known in the physical world” Wang. (I’ve very much enjoyed the recent UD posts railing against peer review.)

    Unless the EIL shifts from active information to something fundamentally different, it will be nothing but a website in two years. I took special note of this in Stephen Barr’s post:

    The emphasis in early Christian writings was not on complexity, irreducible or otherwise, but on the beauty, order, lawfulness, and harmony found in the world that God had made.

    Something Dembski and Marks fail to take into account is that only problems with extreme order (i.e., problems with compact computational representations) arise in the physical world. These problems are highly atypical, from a formal perspective, and highly atypical performance in computational search is much more common than Dembski and Marks believe. That is, if we pick a search algorithm and apply it mindlessly to all problems that come along in the physical world, it will not take long to observe cases of extreme performance relative to random search. Ignoring what we actually do to generate data, and mistaking their subjective probability distribution on problems for an objective distribution, Dembski and Marks attend selectively to the positive extremes, and falsely accuse us of intentionally or haplessly designing the algorithm to produce them.

    Back to Barr:

    It is time to take stock: What has the intelligent design movement achieved? As science, nothing. The goal of science is to increase our understanding of the natural world, and there is not a single phenomenon that we understand better today or are likely to understand better in the future through the efforts of ID theorists.

    I do not believe that Dembski and Marks would make the awful errors they do if they were engaged in legitimate exploration. Instead of looking to see how things are, and reporting what they find, they start with a conclusion, and scramble to assemble an argument for it. This is a pretense of science (and engineering), and it serves no one.

  25. Sooner Emeritus: I’m sorry, but you give no indication of understanding the work of the Lab or the implications of its findings.

  26. “In their journal article, Dembski and Marks say repeatedly that computer programs do not create information. This is very odd, because the programmer could acquire information about the problem without creating it.

    Not only does Sooner exhibit no indicating of understanding, but his second quoted sentence makes no sense beyond his impression of oddness. I’m an MSEE with extensive experience in some of the information theoretic topics discussed on UD. Additionally I have supported my career efforts by becoming adept at C/C++ coding. If Sooner is maintaining that a piece of software might generate information, I can only laugh. If he is not, he might want to rephrase and clear up his pronouncements.

  27. groovamos,

    If you have software that is failing to meet real-time requirements, you can run a profiler which will highlight bottlenecks in the throughput.

    The profiler software, which is completely seperate from, and not aware of the purpose of the software under test, has generated information that can be used to solve your real-time problem.

    The profiler software has generated information not known beforehand by anyone, man or machine.

  28. I just checked the First Things thread again.

    Barr, Beckworth et al seem to be basically rebutting naturalist arguments with theological ones.

    Barr, btw, responded to Dembski’s post.

  29. 29

    Dr Dembski, you mentioned Barr’s endorsement of your book The Design Revolution. Your own words in that book may go some way to explaining Barr’s subsequent loss of fervor.

    In the chapter entitled “Aspirations”, you wrote: “…My own sense is that within the next five years design theorists will have identified and done a sufficiently thorough analysis of certain biological systems to show convincingly that these systems lie beyond the reach of material mechanisms…”

    Since the publication of The Design Revolution in 2004, it doesn’t seem as if there have been many new ID papers published inside or outside the ID community.

    Where ID has been more successful is in the pop-sci book and movie publishing arena, and in acting as a gadfly to sting the Darwinian ox in some of its most sensitive areas.

    That’s certainly a noble pursuit, but it is not strictly a scientific one. Scientific progress in building a case for ID does not seem to have moved forward a whole lot since 2004.

    Maybe Barr became disenchanted during the long wait for “jam today”?

  30. Sooner Emeritus,

    In their journal article, Dembski and Marks say repeatedly that computer programs do not create information.

    I started out thinking I knew which definition of information was in play here, and then realized I didn’t. :)

    I understand what is meant by smuggling in information when Dembski and Marks criticise trivial fitness functions where the target is hardwired in plain text in the function. However, I can write a very simple program to factor integers, but that doesn’t mean I know the factorization of every semiprime that fits inside the universe.

  31. Tribune7, it’s BeckWITH not BeckWORTH. It’s a family pet peeve.

    However, why should it matter whether an argument is theological, scientific, or philosophical, etc.?

    That adjective adds nothing to the soundness of one’s case. Arguments are either sound or unsound, valid or invalid, strong or weak. If I offer a theological argument that I think works and it adequately rebuts naturalism, who cares if someone says, “yeah, but that’s a theological argument.” My answer: At least you didn’t say it was a bad argument.

  32. it’s BeckWITH not BeckWORTH. It’s a family pet peeve.

    Sincere apologies. I think I’ve been misspelling your name for about a year.

    However, why should it matter whether an argument is theological, scientific, or philosophical, etc.?

    If someone makes a claim regarding an observation of nature and you rebut the claim citing theology, you have an unsound argument.

    ID basically says that design is real, designed objects have distinguishing traits and those traits are found in life.

    This claim doesn’t lend itself to a theological rebuttal. A conclusion drawn from it maybe, but not the claim itself.

    The proper way to rebut the claim would be through other observations of nature.

    Now, you can’t reasonably dispute design being real, nor can you dispute that designed objects have distinguishing traits without taking a very anti-science, as in curiosity and investigation, position. What you can dispute are that the traits ID says designed objects have — irreducible complexity, CSI etc. — are false and that life doesn’t have those traits.

    If that avenue was pursued hostility would disappear from all reasonable parties.

  33. Dr. Beckwith,

    If you are still around, I have two observations to make. Until about 10 years ago I would be what is called a Theistic evolutionist. I never thought my religious beliefs depended one bit on whether Darwin’s ideas were valid or not. I accepted Darwinian evolution but in truth never really examined it. Survival of the fittest seemed so obvious and natural selection seemed like a likely process that it all seemed reasonable to me. I never knew if there were or were not other naturalistic processes that caused changes in species. I was busy raising a family and trying to make enough money to pay the bills.

    I had a background in science and was always interested in it but not necessarily in biology. My job required that I understand energy metabolism but that was the extent of my biology interest. A friend of mine who knew my interest in science suggested I go to a conference in NY City sponsored by a Catholic organization and about Intelligent Design. I had read where someone at San Francisco State had been censured for questioning Darwin and was intrigued. I later found out it was Dean Kenyon.

    After listening to the presentations for over 3 hours by Behe, Dembski and Meyers I noticed one very interesting phenomena. No one talked one bit about religion. I had expected to see a bunch of it. I was impressed with the arguments but wanted to assure myself that they weren’t superficial or easily answerable. Well 10 years later I have formed the conclusion that they are not superficial and no one has answered the arguments. And interestingly my religious beliefs have not changed one iota. They do not depend on whether Darwin or naturalistic evolution is true or not.

    Now here is my real point. It took me about 7 years to realize I was what is called a theistic evolutionists and now I am not sure what to call myself. I support ID in the sense that their scientific arguments are the best that are on the table as far as science is concerned. All other factions in the evolution debate depend upon misusing science to support their ideological beliefs, especially many of the TE’s and certainly the atheists and YEC’s. It is interesting that for many it is not really meaningful theology that is at stake. You are a Catholic, I believe, and I know Catholics who believe in ID and those who are TE’s. Both are Catholics in the real sense of the word so ID has no meaning theologically for Catholicism. Yet the criticism of ID by TE’s seems to be over theology. They cannot touch ID’s reason or evidence.

    My second observation is that no faction in the debate is willing to debate evolution with ID on a scientific basis. Every TE I have come across runs away from the issue. I have read books by Ken Miller, Falk, Keith Miller and one or two other TE’s and I see nothing in them to support the naturalistic mechanism or to disprove ID except assertions or religious arguments that God would not have done it that way. I have read Dawkins, Gee and Coyne and find nothing with any of them that contradicts ID. I will read Haught’s book after it comes out next week and see what he has to say. No one can defend naturalist evolution. They have been running away from it on this site for the 4 1/2 years I have been reading it and that includes evolutionary biologists. There is not one TE who has come here who can defend naturalistic evolution. Not one!!! I find that curious.

    But no one will admit this situation. I am not asking you to defend naturalistic evolutionary processes, but just to acknowledge that no one has yet provided support for it that does not require a leap of faith to support their judgment. ID uses science and reason. Its critics use faith and specious arguments.

  34. William Dembski said:

    Sooner Emeritus: I’m sorry, but you give no indication of understanding the work of the Lab or the implications of its findings.

    I agree. Sooner Emeritus is (rather pompously) responding to idealised mathematical proofs of the No Free Lunch theorems (work that others have done) and not to the actual content of those ID-friendly articles. He is essentially arguing that real physical systems have low entropy (high order) to begin with, but ignores the fact that these are not the systems ID is interested in. We are interested in low entropy functionality that is encoded in otherwise high entropy, unordered media such as DNA (which has complex, unpredictable fitness landscapes). The difference being, roughly, information.

    Now me quoting Sooner:
    In their journal article, Dembski and Marks say repeatedly that computer programs do not create information. This is very odd, because the programmer could acquire information about the problem without creating it.

    ?
    This is sneakily suggestive, but wrong. Intelligences do not merely suck existing information out of the algebraic statement of a problem. Intelligence adds value in exploring the problem, framing and testing new hypotheses.

    By contrast computer programs of the kind we can build are not truly intelligent; they do not create information but only transform it. The same is true of Nakashima’s example.

    And Natural Selection is at the bottom of the heap for stupidity.

  35. Let’s be honest. Barr is a coward, or hopelessly ignorant and uninformed (which is hard to imagine given his credentials, unless he is willfully ignorant and uninformed).

    He doesn’t want to lose his reputation among the “intellectual” elite by signing on to what has been promoted in academia as a movement that wants to destroy science.

    I am mystified by the fact that some defenders of theism accept cosmological design on the basis of a few fine-tuned laws of physics, but reject design in biology, in which fine tuning is countless orders of magnitude more evident.

  36. Jerry, I didn’t know that you used to accept the Darwin story. You are like Gil – the Darwinist’s worst nightmare, a former believer who has seen the light by examining the evidence wherever it leads.
    I don’t read this site as often as I should. Can you tell me what kind of topics you post on? Perhaps you could link to one of your posts. Thanks.

  37. Former believer in Darwinism, is what I meant, of course.

  38. tribune7

    it’s BeckWITH not BeckWORTH. It’s a family pet peeve.

    Sincere apologies. I think I’ve been misspelling your name for about a year.

    I guess, you (willfully?) started to do so on November 14th 2008 after Dr. Dembski announced that Dr. Beckwith disowns ID.

  39. “Former believer in Darwinism”

    Never a believer in Darwinism as the term is used today though I never knew of that specific term with its materialist implications till the last few years. I believed in Darwinian evolution because superficially it makes sense and still do believe it explains a lot of things. But it fails miserably on the important issues. I always felt that atheists were intellectually bankrupt. The world is too ordered not to be the handiwork of a creator. So my religious beliefs have not changed since reading about ID so that separates me from Gil Dodgen who has said he once was an atheist. I never was.

    My point was that ID does not have theological implications to many. It does not for me. My second point is that the TE’s can not debate ID on science. They would lose so they avoid it like a plague. They must resort to theological arguments which for someone like Barr is interesting because other Catholics accept ID with no hesitation. It is one way God could have worked. I once believed He worked through Darwinian processes but now understand that did not happen. Michael Behe expressed it best by saying the whole process is a mystery.

  40. Heinrich: The big thing Biologic is doing right now is setting up an international peer-reviewed journal that is open to ID (open, not biased in favor of, ID — informed criticism will be welcome). Stay tuned.

    Thanks for that information. I wonder, though, who will generate the content? The Biologic Institute doesn’t have a good track record of publication, so it’s difficult to judge the research that they’re doing.

    Although I think ID is wrong, I’m happy to see that some ID research is being done, and the more the better. The lack of output from the BI is genuinely disappointing for me.

  41. Mr Andyjones,

    By contrast computer programs of the kind we can build are not truly intelligent; they do not create information but only transform it. The same is true of Nakashima’s example.

    Leaving aside the slip from intelligence to information, which definition of information are you using in this assertion?

    Just to recalibrate what we mean by small problems, we humans are interested in problems with compact computational descriptions – they fit inside our computers or more generally, fit inside the universe. Problems whose statement doesn’t fit inside the universe we don’t worry about. And yet, in NFL terms this is a very small, vanishingly small subset of all possible problems.

    Because we are interested in an atypical set of problems, certain search procedures might work better than random for this set without violating NFL, no more than life violates SLOT.

  42. osteonectin –I guess, you (willfully?)

    That’s a very weird thing to say.

  43. I agree. The link might be illuminating, but alas it is broken. :-(

  44. Here’s the link to the thread to which I guess he’s referring.

    I still don’t know why he would think I would misspell Beckwith’s name willfully. I don’t think I was abusive to him on it or any thread.

    Actually, I think Christians who feel ID might be used as a proof for God have a legitimate concern. ID must not be used as a proof for God.

  45. William Dembski at 9:

    “All the energy they might be devoting to refuting the atheists is now being directed at us. Ken Miller, for instance, whom Barr commends, would not, some years ago, take Dawkins to task for supporting a “blasphemy challenge,” in which atheists at richarddawkins.net were offering prizes for young people to submit videos on YouTube in which they “blasphemed the Holy Spirit.”

    Instead of expressing outrage, Miller was content to note that the purveyors of the contest and those who participated in it really didn’t understand the underlying theology (of presumably blaspheming the Holy Spirit)”

    Okay, received. News from north (gee, I wish global warming would suddenly appear in local bus shelters): I am a stupid lay woman, but still – one must say something, or else explode so:

    Doesn’t That Tell You Everything You Need To Know about who these people are and what they stand for?

    Has it ever occurred to anyone that what the “theistic evolutionists” stand for might matter – to their positions and incomes, if nothing else?

    WHAT is the underlying theology, anyway?

    Like, what are you waiting for?

    In the world of Climategate, why does anyone care whether ID-related research has reached journals?

    Aren’t most of today’s journals, which address this issue, just a big bunch of tax burden materialist fraud that can’t be dealt with via normal challenges?

    The thing is, most of us are just bored with the problem of materialism pretending to be science.

    We must discover science by other means.

    The United States is cancelling its space programs, or so I hear. When I was a kid, that was the key reason we believed in the United States. Like, they put a man on the moon. How do you compete with that?

    So now what will they do? Front worthless Darwin nonsense?

  46. Mrs O’leary,

    Aren’t most of today’s journals, which address this issue, just a big bunch of tax burden materialist fraud that can’t be dealt with via normal challenges?

    I’m not sure what ‘this issue’ is, Climategate or ID-relevant research. But to look a the pride authors take in publication in a IEEE conference or journal, I would say that yes, people do care.

    We must discover science by other means.

    I would be fascinated to hear suggestions of what those other means might be.

    The United States is cancelling its space programs, or so I hear.

    I think the reality is a focus on funding basic research and adding funding for privatizing the use of that research in launch vehicles. Still something to look up to!

  47. When it comes to ID, I sometimes feel like this guy:

  48. :-)

  49. Re O’Leary in comment #45:

    “The United States is cancelling its space programs, or so I hear.”

    Wrong.

    What has actually happened is that the Obama administration has specifically canceled the Constellation manned space program (proposed by the previous administration), consisting of an Ares rocket and Orion crew module that aimed for a return to the moon by 2028. This would essentially have been a repeat of the Apollo program of half a century ago…BTDT, and it only took half of the projected 20 years back then.

    In reality, the Obama administration has shifted its funding priorities from government-sponsored and government-run (i.e. 100% taxpayer-funded) space flight to private industry, with the goal of encouraging the private development of both manned and unmanned launch, orbital, and (eventually) deep space missions and vehicles.

    To be specific, the Obama administration has announced immediate development grants for five private companies:

    • $20 million to Sierra Nevada Corp. of Centennial, Colo., for further development of its Dream Chaser seven-person spacecraft to be launched on an Atlas V rocket;

    • $18 million to Boeing Corp.’s space exploration division in Houston to develop new spacecraft on expendable launch vehicles, based on its experience in the Gemini, Apollo and Skylab programs;

    • $6.7 million to United Launch Alliance in Colorado, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing for an emergency-detection system for Atlas V and Delta IV rockets;

    • $3.7 million to Blue Origin of Kent, Wash., to develop a launch-escape system and a composite crew module for structural testing; and

    • $1.4 million to Paragon Space Development Corp. of Tucson, Ariz., which had missions aboard the space station, shuttle and Soyuz, for an air-revitalization system.

    In addition, two other companies are already working with NASA on spaceflight: SpaceX of California and Orbital Sciences Corp. of Virginia.

    NASA would also receive $6 billion more over five years under Obama’s budget to extend the International Space Station to 2020 and pursue basic research using mostly unmanned space vehicles.

    “During its first turn at bat, the Obama administration really hit it out of the park,” said David Thomson, chief executive of Orbital Sciences Corp. “This is the right time. It’s the right direction for the agency to take in this era.”

    (see http://www.floridatoday.com/ar.....paceflight)

    Not only will this new direction stimulate private industry while saving immense amounts of money, it will also put the combined public and private space program on a “fast track” to genuinely new discoveries:

    “‘We’re not abandoning human spaceflight by any stretch of the imagination,’ Bolden said at the National Press Club in a speech promoting Obama’s budget, released February 1, 2010. ‘I think we’re going to get there perhaps quicker than we would have done before.’
    Asked what destinations and timetables NASA would set, Bolden said the goals beyond the space station remain the moon, Mars and asteroids. He said committees have already formed to map where to go and how.

    ‘It’s more than a couple of weeks, but it’s less than years,’ Bolden said of the timetable to announce the goals.’Those are some of the definite destinations.’”

    Many planetary and space cientists have long complained that manned space vehicles are much more costly, dangerous, limited, and unreliable that unmanned space vehicles. The empirical fact that a vigorous and rapidly growing private space flight industry has grown up, primarily associated with the telecommunications industry, points to the conclusion that the Obama space flight program is both more economically efficient and scientifically worthwhile than the previous administration’s plan to return to the outdated 1960s model of massive, expensive, and scientifically pointless manned flights to the moon.

    To me, using taxpayer dollars to stimulate a flourishing private spaceflight industry that will repay the investment hundreds or thousands fold really is something to look up to!

  50. In comment #45 O’Leary also asked:

    “What is the underlying theology, anyway?”

    I’m unclear on this whole subject: is O’Leary asking what the “underlying theology” is for evolutionary biology? If so, the answer is, of course, none. Evolutionary biology is not a theological enterprise, it’s an empirical science. Yes, some of the founders of the “modern evolutionary synthesis” (e.g. R. A. Fisher, Sewall Wright, and Theodosius Dobzhansky, among others) were theists, as are some prominent evolutionary biologists today, but they all have taken care to keep their theology out of their biology.

    Perhaps O’Leary is asking a rhetorical question about the “underlying theology” of people like Richard Dawkins and P. S. Myers. Forgive me, but I thought they were atheists. Have I misunderstood the proper use of the common Greek prefix “a”? Does it’s use here mean the opposite of what it usually means?

    But perhaps O’Leary is inquiring about the “theology” that underlies ID. I thought the answer was again none. Am I wrong?

  51. As for scientists being “believers” in “Darwinism”, I for one do not “believe” in the theory of evolution at all. On the contrary, I (like most other evolutionary biologists) find the theory useful, in that it provides an internally self-consistent, logical, testable, and reasonably reliable explanation for the origin and history of many (but not all) biological phenomena.

    I also find it to be very productive, stimulating multiple empirically testable hypotheses, which in turn provide multiple opportunities to figure out how the natural world works.

    And, I find the theory of evolution intriguing; it stimulates my curiosity and my desire to get out and look at the world around me, rather than simply sit around and think about it in the abstract. It’s that overwhelming sense of curiosity that drives most scientists to “hold…the mirror up to nature”.

    Usefulness, productivity, and curiosity yes; “belief” no. Indeed, to be a good scientist means to maintain an attitude of radical skepticism, especially about one’s chosen field of study. T. H. Huxley said it best:

    “Science has taught to me the opposite lesson. She warns me to be careful how I adopt a view which jumps with my preconceptions, and to require stronger evidence for such belief than for one to which I was previously hostile.

    My business is to teach my aspirations to conform themselves to fact, not to try and make facts harmonise with my aspirations.

    Science seems to me to teach in the highest and strongest manner the great truth which is embodied in the Christian conception of entire surrender to the will of God. Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing. I have only begun to learn content and peace of mind since I have resolved at all risks to do this.”

    (see http://aleph0.clarku.edu/huxley/letters/60.html)

  52. 53

    Nakashima:

    I knew I could count on you to get what I was saying, and that’s why I addressed my earlier comment to you. Anyone with any depth of understanding of computational search would see that I had tossed off some substantive remarks. Who can say whether Dembski could not see or did not care to acknowledge?

  53. 54

    andyjones:

    The kind of computational search we address is one in which the the search algorithm supplies inputs to a “black box” and observes outputs. In practice, what’s inside the box is usually a function written by a human. The search practitioner can read the source code of the function and gain knowledge, possibly exploitable in search, that is inaccessible to a black-box search algorithm. The practitioner gains the knowledge by observation, not creation of information.

    It’s also possible for a computer program to read the source code for a function and attempt to establish exploitable properties of the function (e.g., differentiability). No one has established whether humans perform analyses that are not Turing-computable. That’s a philosophical issue, and it will not be resolved by taking the logarithm of a relativized performance measure.

  54. Sooner Emeritus,

    I realize that I should have put the point slightly sharper than I did in my last message. There are almost guaranteed to be search procedures which function better than random for the problems we are interested in. For purposes of NFL, these search procedures would have to have worse than random performance on other problems – problems which we are not interested in, perhpas cannot even state in a universe as small as ours.

    Because our universe, on our size and time scale, is relatively smooth we do wind up asking relatively compact questions – look how far we got with assumptions like continuous and everywhere differentiable! We’re so proud of our ability to model the weather with partial differential equations, but most problems look more like multidimensional TV static.

  55. 56

    groovamos:

    I’m an MSEE with extensive experience in some of the information theoretic topics discussed on UD.

    Then I’m sure you knew that so-called “conservation of information” is just the data processing inequality of information theory. See chapter 2 of Cover and Thomas.

    If Sooner is maintaining that a piece of software might generate information, I can only laugh. If he is not, he might want to rephrase and clear up his pronouncements.

    Computational search is automated observation of a physical system. Typically, a search program observes the responses of a function subprogram to inputs. The search program yields information. It does not create information.

    Dembski and Marks refer over and over to Leon Brillouin’s “brilliant insight” that computers do not create information. You can read the relevant portions of Chapter 9 (?) of Science and Information Theory at Google Books. Brillouin’s mid-1950′s perspective of computing was that scientists use their laboratory instruments to make observations, and then feed the information they gain into the computer for processing. He saw the processing as translation from one language to another, with possible loss, and without gain, of information. Information theory has made considerable advances in the past 50+ years, and the data processing inequality gives a more general understanding of what he was driving at.

    It’s important to understand that Brillouin did not contemplate the scenario of one software module making observations of another. His comments are not relevant to computational search.

  56. Dr. Dembski:

    Conservation of Information, as described in various papers on the Evolutionary Informatics Lab’s publication page, constitutes such a law governing information and is directly pertinent to establishing the insufficiency of conventional material mechanisms for generating biological information AND the need for information sources not reducible to such mechanisms (which includes characterizing the flow of information among them).

    CoI, as discussed in the EIL papers, seems to say something like the following:

    Given a search S that involves a function ƒ : X → Y (which may be a fitness function, a probability distribution, etc.), if ƒ is chosen randomly from Y^X (or a permutationally closed subset of Y^X), then S will on average perform the same random selection.

    This certainly illustrates the limitations of randomly choosing ƒ, but how does it show “the insufficiency of conventional material mechanisms for generating biological information AND the need for information sources not reducible to such mechanisms”?

  57. Correction above:

    “the same random selection” -> “the same as random selection”

  58. Another correction to 56: I should have asked “how is it pertinent to establishing” rather than “how does it show”.

  59. Catholics and Protestants have a different understanding of what happens during the Eucharist. This metaphysical difference might be what is underlying the difference in their respective views on evolution.

    Before I continue, I want to make clear that I am certainly not an expert on Aristotelian metaphysics. In addition, obviously what I say about Catholics and Protestants are broad generalizations that may not reflect the actual state of affairs.

    Catholics believe in Transubstantiation. Protestants do not. Catholics believe that God supernaturally acts in the Eucharist even though nothing empirically seems to change. Protestants do not understand or do not believe the Catholic’s view on the Eucharist. When they see bread and wine, they see bread and wine.

    Point is that Catholics have no problem with evolution and God supernaturally creating, providing, and sustaining the universe. They do not need empirical evidence to suggest that God had designed this or that.

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