Wedgie’s World: Stung not bitten


ID proponents are stumbling over themselves in their haste to come to the defense of the Meyer 2004 review paper. But rather than defending the paper (given the critiques, an unenviable task now delegated to unnamed ‘DI Staff’), they quickly readjusted their sights and settled for strawmen to shoot down (see for instance the ‘response’ by DI Staff to Meyer’s hopeful monster. Only by creating a strawman argument as to what Gishlick et al were arguing can they even hope to make their case. And I won’t even mention the poor reading comprehension of the papers which were given to Meyer as examples of relevant papers missed by Meyer in his ‘review paper’.

Another example is a recent article by Mark Hartwig.

Although the article itself has received a share of the abuse–mostly in the form of a “critique” published on the Panda’s Thumb blog–the main target has been the editor who published the piece, Richard Sternberg. Mark Hartwig in Bitten

I understand that to ID proponents, peer review can feel like ‘abuse’ but that is mostly because typical ID ‘research’ tends to be based on appeal to ignorance and a restricted view of science. Unfamiliar with peer review, it may come as a shock when scientists expose the many flaws and shortcomings in what some may have hoped would be a glorious entry of ID into the world of science. But as the critique on Panda’s Thumb has shown, ID cannot really withstand the scrutiny of critical peer review. (A conclusion further supported by the response by the DI staff)

And that must sting…

Contrary to the musings of other ID proponents Hartwig seems to consider the Meyer 2004 paper as the first peer reviewed ID paper)

For years, now, the anti-ID party line has been that intelligent design should not be considered legitimate science because it has never been published in peer-reviewed scientific publications. This claim surfaces over and over again–whenever the origins controversy makes the news.

Right now, however, many of them may be regretting that line. Mark Hartwig in Bitten

Hartwig misses the point. Science proponents are not regretting the publication of the first peer reviewed article (isn’t it time that ID proponents get their story straight as to what counts as peer reviewed articles?). On the contrary, the paper serves to strengthen the argument by science proponents that ID is scientifically meaningless and even detrimental to scientific research as it has to rely on ignorance and incomplete scientific knowledge to make its case. Most importantly the paper shows that ID is unable to present a positive hypothesis of intelligent design. Even ID proponents like Del Ratzsch are highly critical of the eliminative appeal to ignorance approach chosen by ID

I think that some are certainly too far in the materialist direction, and they claim that science backs them up on that. ID can at least serve a ‘keeping em’ honest’ function, even if nothing else. I think that ID may very well have things to offer science, but I think that it is too early for ID to claim that it has done so. I don’t think that it is just obvious that ID will contribute substantively to science, but I think it has that potential, and that it should be pushed as far as it can be made to legitimately go. Del Ratzsc on ISCID chat

Hartwig then continues to focus on a strawman namely the disagreement between the claims by the editor of the Journal in question and the Council of the Biological Society of Washington. Contrary to the statement by the Council, Hartwig repeats the assertion by Sternberg that the article was well within the scope of the journal. A quick perusal of the journal’s content shows that it focuses mostly on taxonomy.

Hartwig, rather than addressing the scathing rebuttal and critique by Gishlick et al tries to refocus the issue:

At every point in the process, then, Sternberg acted ethically and adhered to customary practice at the journal. Because of this, Meyer’s piece is a bona fide peer-reviewed article. Mark Hartwig in Bitten

But contrary to Hartwig’s assertion the journal’s Council clearly ruled that the article was outside the scope of the journal. And given that science proponents have documented the many flaws and omissions in the paper, a conclusion that it is a bona fide peer-reviewed article seems to be suffering from the observation that peer-review does not end with the publication but rather starts. In this case peer-review has presented a compelling case that Meyer’s article is scientifically irrelevant.

ID opponents have invested heavily in portraying ID proponents as being unable to publish in peer-reviewed literature, which allegedly proves that ID is inherently bad science. Mark Hartwig in Bitten

Hartwig misses the point once again. The lack of peer review is just indicative of the scientific irrelevance of ID. The recent paper exemplifies and strengthens this observation because it shows that when ID is provided with an opportunity to present its best case, it is a scientific failure. A failure because it cannot and does not present any scientifically relevant hypothesis of design. A failure because it is flawed in its representation of scientific knowledge. A failure because it relies on appeal to ignorance. Hartwig may argue that the paper was reviewed by three reviewers and found to be acceptable. I would be interested for these reviewers to explain why they considered Meyer’s paper to be acceptable.

In this context, the story of the Scorpion and the Frog is quite appropriate. The scorpion, despite being fully aware that, by stinging the frog who is carrying him across the river, he is going to die, still stings the frog. When asked by the dying frog “why? Now we are both going to die”, the scorpion responds

“I could not help myself. It is my nature.”

And such is the nature of ID. The paper has become ID’s scorpion sting. ID was presented an opportunity to make its case and failed miserably on at least two fronts. First, it pretends to be an “extensive review essay” when in fact it fails to reference much of the research which undermines its claims. But more devastating, the paper fails to present any scientific hypothesis relevant to ID.

Finally let’s remember the real argument of the Meyer paper

In the article, entitled “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories”, Dr. Meyer argues that no current materialistic theory of evolution can account for the origin of the information necessary to build novel animal forms. Introduction to the Meyer paper on Discovery’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture website

When looking at the Meyer 2004, Gishlick et al and others have shown that not only do many of the papers quoted not support the thesis but additionally that many papers which show how science proposes testable hypotheses for the origin of the information necessary to build novel animal forms. Even more ‘shocking’ is that Meyer fails to present ANY scientifically relevant hypothesis of ID.

Even in ID friendly ‘peer-reviewed’ publications such as PCID, the absence of much of any ID relevant scientific contributions is self evident. The site has mostly turned into a ghost town since the decision to limit posting to invited contributors only, even after ISCID had lowered its acceptance standards. ID, even when in friendly waters, cannot really produce much of anything scientifically relevant. But one would have expected that it would have shown more interest in presenting its best case in the mainstream peer reviewed literature. When such an opportunity arose, ID failed once again to make its case scientifically.

And that is ‘the wedge’ of the story…

Wedgie’s world is an irregular contribution to discuss and explore how ID is pulling a ‘wedgie’ [1] on science.

  • wedgie: 2. The condition of having one’s clothing stuck between the buttocks, often from having had one’s pants or underwear pulled up as a prank. Inspired by David Farley’s Dr Fun
  • Quote Mining: The definition is clear enough. It is the use of a (usually short) passage, taken from the work of an authority in some field, “which superficially appears to support one’s position, but [from which] significant context is omitted and contrary evidence is conveniently ignored” .


Back from holiday.…

Well, let me see. Meyer’s paper has been published. There has been one “semi-official” response on an evolutionist website, which has been deconstructed in a similarly “semi-official” way by DI - and there has been much huffing and puffing. But if the paper was so flawed, then why did it pass peer-review? Where is the paper responding to Meyer which will deconstruct his paper and discredit BSW for publishing him? Is there real substance to the charges laid against Meyer - that we have yet to see - or is this just bluster? As for whether the DI response is attacking a straw man or not - is that so? Or is it the case that in actual fact that the Panda’s Thumb paper was guilty of quote mining itself? It certainly looked to me as though the papers cited by GME were assuming what the authors claimed they proved - which I think was a key tenet of the DI argument.

Oh, yes, we’ve had somebody in Nature saying (in effect) that this just shows how many rubbish journals there are now and how they all need to scratch around to fill their pages. Funny, I don’t think that PBSW had such a bad reputation before it published Meyer. What changed? Or could the correspondent cite similarly “bad scholarship” in other journals to demonstrate his case? Or is this just bluster? (Again?) ITWSBT

ID cannot really withstand the scrutiny of critical peer review

More accurately, it cannot withstand an hour or two of reflection by anyone with an advanced high school or undergraduate-level understanding of evolutionary biology.

One need never have opened a scientific journal to realize that “intelligent design theory” is a crock of crap floated onto the faithful by a group of ignorant and paranoid charlatans with an explicitly religious agenda.

The Scorpion and the Frog is indeed a relevant story. The Scorpion is religious fundamentalism riding on the back of rationality and science. In this case, the story has a happy ending because long before the scorpion was able to raise its sting, the frog submerged itself, using its powerful legs and knowledge of the swamp currents to swim far far away, leaving the scorpion to drown and sink slowly to the bottom, where it will eventually become food for worms and plankton and other creatures that don’t pretend to be more clever than they really are.

Welcome back Creationist troll. You have some good questions. Yes, Meyer’s paper was published. And Panda’s Thumb was the first to review and critique it but others are finding similar problems with the paper. The DI’s response has so far been to avoid dealing with the issues and focus on the creation of strawmen. Why did it pass ‘peer review’? Perhaps if we find out who was reviewing this paper we may know but irrespective of the peer review issue, it is obvious that Meyer’s paper lacks in some fundamental manners

1. It fails to present a scientific hypothesis of intelligent design 2. It tries to eliminate evolutionary pathways but fails to address the various relevant ones 3. It addresses Shannon information in the genome but fails to address the many papers that show that mutation and selection can increase (specified) complexity in the genome.

In other words, this ‘review paper’ fails to review much of the relevant research, fails to present a scientific hypothesis of ID and is basically a limited argument from elimination (or ignorance) with many of the flaws of earlier such arguments. So yes, I believe that PT and others have done a great job at exposing the lack of substance in Meyer’s paper and more is in the works :-) DI’s response has been missing the point, rather than addressing the issues and critiques raised they create a strawman argument as to what the authors of the critique argued. Of course I understand why they may have chosen this approach, the alternative does not seem to be very ‘appetizing’.

GWW Wrote:

The Scorpion and the Frog is indeed a relevant story. The Scorpion is religious fundamentalism riding on the back of rationality and science.

I am glad that the analogy was not lost on the reader :-)

Did someone recently post a review of Dembski’s latest - answering the hard questions about ID - on PT? I can’t find it, and don’t have an absloute memory of where I saw it, and now I need it. Can anyone point me in the right direction?

Desperately Evading the Toughest Questions about Intelligent Design: A Review of Dembski’s The Design Revolution Posted by Jeffrey Shallit on April 7, 2004 12:58 AM

Dembski’s Curious Incompetence With Quotations Posted by Jeffrey Shallit on April 3, 2004 03:28 AM

see also amazom reviews

ID: “Intelligent (?) Drivel”, August 20, 2004 Reviewer: R. C. MELIA “Pilgrim” (Covina, Ca)

I recently saw a portion of the author’s discussion about ID (and this book) on CSPAN, and thought I would see what it was about … might be interesting … it wasn’t!!! The book was a total struggle to get through. “Disappointed” doesn’t even come close to my reaction. Long before I finished the book I couldn’t help but draw many many conclusions, some of which I found the author trying to refute as I read later chapters. I have never read any critiques, or otherwise, about ID or the author, so my response is soley from his own words.

Such a disappointment, August 16, 2004 Reviewer: AZMedPhys (Scottsdale, AZ USA) - I began this book with an open mind, hoping to encounter some persuasive arguments for the point of view that Darwinian evolution is incomplete. Unfortunately, Dembski assumes what he purports to demonstrate, that living things are so complicated and well-suited to their environment that they simply must have been designed. He argues that since we cannot detail the evolutionary processes that produced life and its complexity, we must admit the possibility, indeed the likelihood, that a Designer created key elements through direct innovation, bypassing gradual processes.

A Disappointing Response, June 4, 2004 Reviewer: Taner Edis (Kirksville, MO United States) Disclaimer: I have published criticisms of Dembski’s work. But that’s all the more reason for me to be interested in a book advertised as answering tough criticisms brought against ID. So I’m bothered by the way Dembski has avoided what I would consider the more substantial scientific challenges to ID.

Evading Both the Toughest and the Easiest Questions, February 28, 2004 Reviewer: Mark Perakh (Escondido, CA USA) - See all my reviews This new book by William Dembski is of course what could be expected - a muddled and unsubstantiated attempt to bolster a conceptual set overwhelmingly rejected by scientists. Since I cannot provide here a detailed rebuttal of all the inconsistencies and plain errors which abound in Dembski’s new opus, I will only point out that the subtitle of that book should more properly be replaced by “Evading Questions About Intelligent Design.” To illustrate my assertion, note, for example, the following fact: Dembski’s previous book was titled “No Free Lunch.” This title referred to the “No Free Lunch theorems” proven by David Wolpert and Willian Macready. David Wolpert, who certainly is the foremost authority on his theorems, published a review of Dembski’s book tellingly titled “Wlliam Dembski’s Treatment of No Free Lunch Theorems Is Written in Jello.” Dembski never responded to Wolpert’s critique. Neither did he so in this new book, thus evading a question posited by Wolpert. The strong critique of Dembski’s ideas by Thomas Schneider merited in the reviewed book the following passage: “Evolutionary biologists regularly claim to obtain specified complexity for free or from scratch. (Richard Dawkins and Thomas Schneider are some of the worst offenders in this regard)” If this statement is an “answer to a tough question” it is news to me. There are many other critics of intelligent design and/or of Dembski’s ideas who asked questions, both tough and easy, but their names do not even appear in the Index of Dembski’s book. Here is an incomplete list of such names: Eli Chiprout, Taner Edis, Ellery Eels, Branden Fitelson, Philip Kitcher, Mark Perakh, Massimo Pigliucci, Del Ratzsch, Jason Rosenhouse, Jeffrey Shallit, Niall Shanks, Christopher Stephenson, Erik Tellgren, Richard Wein, and Matt Young. (I apologize for also including myself - I have no reason to omit myself, and I am in good company on that list). This list could be continued. Therefore those readers who may be attracted by the rave editorial reviews and accolades heaped on Dembski’s book by his cohorts must be warned: the subtitle of Dembski’s book is deceptive - it better be replaced with “Evading Questions About Intelligent Design.” As to the alleged Design Revolution promised by Dembski, let us wait and see. To my mind Intelligent Design theory, rather than generating a revolution in science, will land in the same place where the theory of phlogiston, the Blondlot’s N-rays, and Velikovsky’s great discoveries already reside.

Avoiding the toughest questions about intelligent design, August 1, 2004 Reviewer: ID Critic “IDC” (USA)

While initially hopeful that this book would finally address scientific criticisms raised, it seems that Dembski has chosen to avoid dealing with the toughest questions.

For instance, Wesley Elsberry has presented the challenge of the ‘algorithm room’. Inside a black box there is either a computer or a human who is going to solve the traveling salesman problem. After suitable time, the answer is presented. Since evolutionary computing can be used to find the solution, this example is to show that algorithms can in fact create ‘complex specified information’, contrary to Dembski’s claims. If the observer however cannot distinguish between the apparant ‘complex specified information’ generated by the algorithm versus the ‘real’ ‘complex specified information’ generated by the intelligent designer then Dembski’s approach to inferring design is fundamentally flawed.

Or the devastating critique by fellow intelligent design proponent Del Ratsch which remains to this date unaddressed

Del Ratzsch wrote in his book “Nature, Design and Science”

“So typically, patterns that are likely candidates for design are first identified as such by some unspecified (“mysterious”) means, then with the pattern in hand S picks out side information identified (by unspecified means) as releavant to the particular pattern, then sees whether the pattern in question is among the various patterns that could have been constructed from that side information. What this means, of course, is that Dembski’s design inference will not be particularly useful either in initial recognition or identification of design.”

Other shortcomings, and they are not trivial, include avoiding to explain why when calculating probabilities of events, Dembski uses two different methods depending on whether the event was human caused or not. When it is known that a human has caused the event, Dembski ignores the history of the events and assumes that the events are equiprobable and independent thus inflating the probabilities leading to a ‘successful’ design inference. But when calculating the probabilities for non-intelligent events, Dembski uses the causal history thus deflating the probabilities. In other words, the outcome is determined by the method chosen.

In other words, the ‘toughest questions’ are avoided. And for good reason because the real tough questions show that Dembski’s Design inference is fundamentally flawed and useless.

For instance: “no false positive”. Dembski argues that his approach does not generate “false positives”, in other words whenever it detects design it does so 100% reliably. Dembski has to argue this since his approach is one of elimination, or appeal to ignorance and thus any possibility of a false positive would render his method useless.

Dembski’s opinion on “false positives” seems to have evolved over time. From an initial claim of reliability and “no false positives” via an admission that if the filter erroneously attributes design, it is useless to acceptance of “false positives”, the “Explanatory Filter” evolved from reliable to useless.

In 1996 Dembski argued:

“I argue that the explanatory filter is a reliable criterion for detecting design. Alternatively, I argue that the Explanatory Filter successfully avoids false positives. Thus whenever the Explanatory Filter attributes design, it does so correctly.” From: The Explanatory Filter: A three-part filter for understanding how to separate and identify cause from intelligent design. An excerpt from a paper presented at the 1996 Mere Creation conference, originally titled “Redesigning Science.” In 1999 he states “On the other hand, if things end up in the net that are not designed, the criterion will be useless.” From: Dembski, William, 1999. Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology. P 141.

and in 2001 “Now it can happen that we may not know enough to determine all the relevant chance hypotheses. Alternatively, we might think we know the relevant chance hypotheses, but later discover that we missed a crucial one. In the one case a design inference could not even get going; in the other, it would be mistaken. But these are the risks of empirical inquiry, which of its nature is fallible. Worse by far is to impose as an a priori requirement that all gaps in our knowledge must ultimately be filled by non-intelligent causes.” From: Dembski, William, 2001. No Free Lunch, Rowman & Littlefield, p 123

Seems that Dembski’s argument evolved from ‘no false positives’ to ‘false positives are inevitable’ but if that is the case then the design inference is useless per Dembski’s own words.

Or Dembski’s initial reliance of the No Free Lunch theorems which he used to claim that evolutionary processes cannot generate complex specified information. Dembski’s appeal to these theorems was ill founded and erroneous.

In 1999:

“It follows that the vast majority of fitness functions on the phase space that coincide with our original fitness function on the target but reshuffle the function on the partition elements outside the target will not land the evolutionary algorithm in the target (this result is essentially a corollary of the No Free Lunch theorems by Wolpert and Macready). Simply put, the vast majority of fitness functions will not guide E into the target even if they coincide with our original fitness function on the target (see Appendix 8).” Why Evolutionary Algorithms Cannot Generate Specified Complexity, Metanews, Nov 1999

In 2001:

“The title of this book, No Free Lunch, refers to a collection of mathematical theorems proved in the past five years about evolutionary algorithms. The upshot of these theorems is that evolutionary algorithms, far from being universal problem solvers, are in fact quite limited problem solvers that depend crucially on additional information not inherent in the algorithms before they are able to solve any interesting problems. This additional information needs to be carefully specified and fine-tuned, and such specification and fine-tuning is always thoroughly teleological. Consequently, evolutionary algorithms are incapable of providing a computational justification for the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection and random variation as the primary creative force in biology. The subtitle, Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased without Intelligence, refers to that form of information, known as specified complexity or complex specified information, that is increasingly coming to be regarded as a reliable empirical marker of purpose, intelligence, and design.” From: Introduction to No Free Lunch 10-01-2001


The Design Inference laid the groundwork. This book demonstrates the inadequacy of the Darwinian mechanism to generate specified complexity. Darwinists themselves have made possible such a refutation. By assimilating the Darwinian mechanism to evolutionary algorithms, they have invited a mathematical assessment of the power of the Darwinian mechanism to generate life’s diversity. Such an assessment, begun with the No Free Lunch theorems of David Wolpert and William Macready (see section 4.6), will in this book be taken to its logical conclusion. The conclusion is that Darwinian mechanisms of any kind, whether in nature or in silico, are in principle incapable of generating specified complexity. Coupled with the growing evidence in cosmology and biology that nature is chock-full of specified complexity (cf. the fine-tuning of cosmological constants and the irreducible complexity of biochemical systems), this conclusion implies that naturalistic explanations are incomplete and that design constitutes a legitimate and fundamental mode of scientific explanation.

And Dembski’s reversal: Given my title, it’s not surprising that critics see my book No Free Lunch as depending crucially on the No Free Lunch theorems of Wolpert and Macready. But in fact, my key point concerns displacement, and the NFL theorems merely exemplify one instance (not the general case). The basic idea behind displacement is this: Suppose you need to search a space of possibilities. The space is so large and the possibilities individually so improbable that an exhaustive search is not feasible and a random search is highly unlikely to conclude the search successfully. As a consequence, you need some constraints on the search - some information to help guide the search to a solution (think of an Easter egg hunt where you either have to go it cold or where someone guides you by saying “warm” and “warmer”). All such information that assists your search, however, resides in a search space of its own - an informational space. So the search of the original space gets displaced to a search of an informational space in which the crucial information that constrains the search of the original space resides. I then argue that this higher-order informational space (“higher” with respect to the original search space) is always at least as big and hard to search as the original space.

And for fun check out the Guillermo Gonzalez contribution

answering critics effectively, February 23, 2004 Reviewer: Guillermo Gonzalez (Ames, IA United States)

Some people collect coins, dolls, or cars. Dembski collects objections to ID. It must have been easy to collect objections. He has written several books, dozens of articles on paper and on the internet, and he has given probably hundreds of talks. Each of these venues attracts both supporters and opponents of ID. Most opponents have the full backing of academic institutions. In fact, some opposition comes in the form of official edicts from high above. And yet, support for ID continues to grow, even as its opponents grow more vocal.

That’s what it’s all about? Support… Not really scientific support but political and religious support…

No doubt, one reason for the great success of ID in recent years is Dembski’s openness to dialogue with his most staunch opponents. Dembski and others in the ID movement are very open to receiving criticism and admitting where they might be mistaken. The academic community should pay close attention to how IDers handle criticism; they might have a thing or two to learn.

This is hilarious. If anything Dembski has shown is his unwillingness to admit that he was wrong. Indeed, the academic community can learn a lot about how Dembski and ID handles criticism. Time to document this…

I think Dembski does a masterful job of answering objections to ID in “Design Revolutions”. The opposition is back to square one. While it is hard to choose a “best” chapter of the 44, my personal favorite is “Peer Review”. It contains some real horror stories.

Is Gonzalez referring to Meyer 2004 paper :-) Why is Dembski still avoiding dealing with the algorithm room for instance or the real criticisms raised by various people and instead focuses on some strawmen?

Perhaps his recent return to theology may help understand why? Or perhaps

“I’ve just gotten kind of blase about submitting things to journals where you often wait two years to get things into print,” he says. “And I find I can actually get the turnaround faster by writing a book and getting the ideas expressed there. My books sell well. I get a royalty. And the material gets read more.”

- -William Dembski in The Chronicle of Higher Education Dec. 21, 2001

Or read the passage about using critics:

Critics and enemies are useful. The point is to use them effectively. In our case, this is remarkably easy to do. The reason is that our critics are so assured of themselves and of the rightness of their cause. As a result, they rush into print their latest pronouncements against intelligent design when more careful thought, or perhaps even silence, is called for. The Internet, especially now with its blogs (web logs), provides our critics with numerous opportunities for intemperate, indiscreet, and ill-conceived attacks on intelligent design. These can be turned to advantage, and I’ve done so on numerous occasions. I’m not going to give away all my secrets, but one thing I sometimes do is post on the web a chapter or section from a forthcoming book, let the critics descend, and then revise it so that what appears in book form preempts the critics’ objections. An additional advantage with this approach is that I can cite the website on which the objections appear, which typically gives me the last word in the exchange. And even if the critics choose to revise the objections on their website, books are far more permanent and influential than webpages.


Many thanks, I saw it in the past week and then lost it.


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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on October 28, 2004 1:59 AM.

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