Compare Dembski and Coulomb

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William Dembski (in Intelligent Design, 1999) suggested the so-called "Law of Conservation of Information (LCI). On page 170 he wrote about his own alleged new law: "LCI has profound implications for science." In his later book No Free Lunch (2002) Dembski claimed that LCI is in fact not less than the Fourth Law of Thermodynamics. Since 1999, there is not a single reference to that alleged new law in scientific publications on information theory or physics. Moreover, in publications specifically devoted to the discussion of Dembski's work, this alleged law has been shown to make no sense - by mathematicians, information theorists, physicists, philosophers and biologists. However, ID advocates have praised this "law" in superlative terms. For example, Dembski's colleague, another Fellow of the Discovery Institute Rob Koons wrote a blurb to Intelligent Design where referred to Dembski as "the Isaac Newton of information theory and one of the most important thinkers of our time." Koons claimed that LCI is a "revolutionary breakthrough." Such exaggerated praises and self-aggrandizing claims are typical of the ID writing (as is documented in an essay by Elsberry and myself to be published shortly).

Now take a look at a quotation from Coulomb. Charles Augustin de Coulomb (1736-1806) was a distinguished scientist and mathematician, a member of the French Academy of Science, who made great contributions to physics and design of scientific tools. His name has been profoundly featured in every textbook on physics (e.g. Coulomb's law on electric charges' interaction; Henry Cavendish (1731-1810) was influenced by Coulomb's design of the torsion balance invented by Coulomb for measuring electric and magnetic forces and used by Cavendish for "weighing the earth." The unit of electric charge is named Coulomb. Here is what Coulomb wrote when submitting his work to the French Academy of Science in 1773: "If I dare to present it to this Academy it is only because the feeblest endeavors are kindly welcomed by it when they have a useful objective. . . Every citizen ought to contribute to them according to his talents. While great men will be carried to the top of the edifice where they can mark out and construct the upper floors, ordinary artisans who are scattered through the lower floors or are hidden in the obscurity of the foundations should seek only to perfect that which cleverer hands have created." This is typical of how real scientists refer to their own work.

11 Comments

Mark said:

Moreover, in publications specifically devoted to the discussion of Dembski’s work, this alleged law has been shown to make no sense…

To what publications are you referring? Journals or other periodicals? Or to articles specifically?

Mark is probably referring mostly to book reviews and books written by those who are skeptical of ID (such as himself),

I’ll let him provide specific references though.

There are multiple critical reviews of Dembski’s law of the conservation of information. Right out of my sleeve here are just a few examples (which could be multiplied by spending some time on this search which you can easily perform yourself).

Besides my own book Unintelligent Design where Dembski’s law of conservation of information is critically discussed in chapter 1, starting on page 88, you may look up the book by Niall Shanks (God, the Devil and Darwin, Oxford Univ. Press, 2004) starting on page 123. Then here are some of the web posts where LCI is critically discussed: Erik (Tellgren) : www.talkreason.org/articles/dembski_LCI.pdf ; Richard Wein, www.talkreason.org/articles/choc_nfl.cfm , section 6.5; Wesley Elsberry and Jeffrey Shallit, www.talkreason.org/articles/eandsdembski.pdf , section 6; Perakh, www.talkreason.org/articles/dem_nfl.cfm , section 7. There also was, as far as I can recall, a fine analysis of LCI by Jason Rosenhouse but I don’t have the ready reference at hand. From the above references you can proceed to a further exploration of sources critical of Dembski’s LCI.

I have to say that there are plenty of real scientists with hugely overinflated egos. Coulomb’s style may indeed be what we should aspire to, but it’s oft honored in the breach.

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Apparently you can’t have a link in a comment. You can find my review at:

http://www.math.jmu.edu/~rosenhjd/dembski.htm

Jason, you have to put the url in quotes, e.g., href=”http://www.math.jmu.edu/~rosenhjd/dembski.htm” goes here.

Sure, I agree with QrazyQat that there are plenty of genuine scientists with inflated egos. However, they usually shy away from explicitly praising themselves as such a behavior would invoke only derision on the part of their colleagues. It is just not an accepted manner of relating to own work. ID guys, though, do not seem to be ashamed of praising themselves and their cohorts in a most ridiculous way. In an essay by Elsberry and myself, to be published shortly, we document their behavior as one of the signs (there are others) of their eneterprise being anything but genuine science.

Thanks, Jason, for your clarification. It is indeed a fine review. In the initial version of my chapter in Young & Edis’s edited anthology (forthcoming from Rutgers) I extensively quoted from it ( as well as from Wein’s essay) but Taner mercilesslly cut off the entire section with quitations for the sake of enforcing the size limits, which was a pity. Still, the repudiation of the LCI by Wein, Elsberry and Shallit, Erik (and perhaps, as I hope, to some modest extent also by myself) is IMHO more than enough to show the absence of meaning in LCI.

I might point out that the observation that pseudoscientists often have a tendency to declare themselves to be brilliant is very old indeed.

Martin Gardner in his classic Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science from the 1950s gives us five ways which “the sincere pseudo-scientists’s paranoid tendencies are likely to be exhibited.”

  • “He considers himself to be a genius.”
  • “He regards his colleagues, without exception, as ignorant blockheads. Everyone is out of step except himself.…”
  • “He believes himself unjustly persecuted and discriminated against.…”
  • “He has strong compulsions to focus his attacks on the greatest scientists and the best-established theories.…”
  • “He often has a tendency to write in complex jargon, in many cases making use of terms and phrases he himself has coined.…”

HTML tags are being filtered out. So I guess this “Quick Code,” which seems to be a UBB variant, will now be required?

– To email replace “usenet” with “harlequin2”

In fact, creationists often satisfy more than one of these criteria.

1. William Dembski is not alone among creationists in considering himself a great genius. Walter ReMine has allegedly used the userid LaserThing to praise his book The Biotic Message pseudonymously in the Usenet newsgroup talk.origins

2. Creationists consider mainstream scientists blinded by materialistic presuppositions – and worse.

3. Creationists consider themselves persecuted by all those godless materialists and their theistic-evolution lackeys.

4. Darwin and evolution are certainly big names.

5. Dembski’s argumentation certainly qualifies, as does some baraminological terminology.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Mark Perakh published on April 15, 2004 9:52 AM.

Dumping on Dembski II was the previous entry in this blog.

Development. Evolution. Genes. Fish. What’s not to like? is the next entry in this blog.

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