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Why did Bill Dembski make this apparent “concession”

Thus, a scientist may view design and its appeal to a designer as simply a fruitful device for understanding the world, not attaching any significance to questions such as whether a theory of design is in some ultimate sense true or whether the designer actually exists. Philosophers of science would call this a constructive empiricist approach to design. Scientists in the business of manufacturing theoretical entities like quarks, strings, and cold dark matter could therefore view the designer as just one more theoretical entity to be added to the list. I follow here Ludwig Wittgenstein, who wrote, “What a Copernicus or a Darwin really achieved was not the discovery of a true theory but of a fertile new point of view.”

Bill Dembski
No Free Lunch

The reason is that CSI is a legitimate empirically testable hypothesis with respect to an assumed distribution function. The distribution function can be falsified. What Bill tried to demonstrate was if some chance distribution is assumed, a Darwinian mechanism on average cannot do better. My favorite simple example: passwords. Darwinian mechanisms cannot surpass the chance hypothesis in resolving passwords. Even if the distribution function is slightly off (for example not all alphabetic characters are equiprobable since humans prefer certain letters, nor are all patterns equiprobable since humans like to use words and names that are commonly known), but even then the inference that Darwinian mechanisms will not perform better than the chance hypothesis is correct, i.e. the Darwinian search still has to begin with a presumed distribution function and there is no guarantee the Darwinian mechanism will even be loaded with an optimized distribution to begin with (like having some optimization toward common words and names).

Bill devotes an entire book to what seems like a common sense conclusion. I think he was right, but most of the criticism seem to miss the important issue. So why the “concession”? The Designer’s existence (presumably God for IDists who are also creationists), is not relevant to showing Darwinian mechanisms on average will not out perform random search unless there is a special property to the search space and the selection mechanism has specialized knowledge. I don’t see why this should be controversial. Non-trivial passwords can’t be resolved by Darwinian mechanisms illustrates NFL beautifully.

Biology has lots of systems analogous to the difficulty of resolving passwords such as highly specific protein protein binding sites, some aspects of OOL like the numerous chicken-egg-paradoxes (you need DNA to make protein, and protein to make DNA), or even the relatively “simple” problem of homochirality (if homochirality is essential for life, then how can Darwinian mechanisms operate to begin with if there is no living organism to begin with, in that case, the probability of a Darwinian mechanism is zero to begin with).

I also wrote in a comment: Falsification of Certain ID hypotheses for remotely controlled dice and homochirality

even though I feel the Designer is real, in my view that conclusion is formally unprovable, but one that is assumed by many IDists, and is reasonable from the resemblance of Design even as Dawkins said:

Some of the greatest scientists who have ever lived ­ including Newton, who may have been the greatest of all ­ believed in God. But it was hard to be an atheist before Darwin: the illusion of living design is so overwhelming.

Richard Dawkins

CSI formally demonstrates that resemblance, even if the distribution function is wrong. If the distribution function used to infer CSI is wrong then the CSI hypothesis can be falsified. Good example the craters on the moon. Some scientist long ago saw the craters looking like perfect circles, and inferred design. The CSI inference was faulty and then falsified.

Same could be argued with the Chladni plate experiment if one declared CSI to explain the patterns. See:

http://www.uncommondescent.com…..ry-mccall/

An ID hypothesis can be falsified by falsifying the CSI claim that underlies it. The assertion that “CSI can only be generated by intelligence” is assumed even if:

1. intelligence is left undefined, or even poorly defined
2. the statement is wrong to begin with
3. the statement is unprovable

That’s not the claim that empirically important, the claim that is empirically important is the CSI claim for an object. That claim can be falsified. And if that claim is falsified, the ID claim for that object is potentially (not necessarily) falsified as well. That is definitely the case for homochirality.

[scordova is posting a little extra this week to help Denyse out. Now I really appreciate how hard she works.]

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6 Responses to Why did Bill Dembski make this apparent “concession”

  1. Hi Sal,

    I actually don’t understand why you are interested in taking this position. It seems that you want to show that an ID claim for some object can be falsified without having to deal with defining intelligence. But who cares about that? ID is all about making the claim that an intelligent being created life (and the universe).

    Dembski’s point is that ID can accomplish this without arguing for the existence of this intelligent being, but only arguing that positing such a being is helpful in predicting and explaining our observations. Dembski does not abandon his interest in characterizing ID as the action of a god-like being, however.

    So I don’t think it helps with the definitional issue at all.

    By the way – would you cross-post my TSZ OP here to see what folks here have to say about it?

    http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/?p=2719

    Cheers,
    aiguy

  2. RD:

    It seems that you want to show that an ID claim for some object can be falsified without having to deal with defining intelligence.

    We have defined intelligence and any given design inference can be falsified just by demonstrating that nature, operating freely, can produce the object in question.

    And your TSZ post is a joke and proves that you have a one-track mind that won’t be denied.

  3. But who cares about that?

    Maybe only me, but it’s important people know what they can and can’t prove, imho.

    I care that people aren’t making non-sequiturs. I don’t have problems with them articulating a reasonable belief not a formally provable one. I think it would help their case to come clean as to what they actually can and cannot prove.

    Sal

  4. Sal:

    Two questions:
    (1) What is the actual probability distribution for CSI,
    and
    (2) How can we discover it?

  5. PaV!

    Nice to hear from you. The probability distribution can be estimated based on physics and chemistry of the objects considered.

    i.e. the coin example or homochirality or the probability of a nucleotide in a particular position.

  6. Sal:

    Good to see you back. Do you have degree ‘in hand’?

    As to my question, you said this above:
    The distribution function can be falsified.

    You suggest in your above response that these distributions can be known. So, then, how can they be ‘falsified’?

    You’ve got me scratching my head.

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