November 14, 2004 - November 20, 2004 Archives

Various authors have already shown why Dembski’s Design Inference is an ‘argument from ignorance‘, also known as an ‘argument from incredulity’ or ‘God of the Gaps argument‘. In addition, the Design Inference has been shown to be unreliable (Gedanken), susceptible to false positives, unsuitable for detecting new design (Del Ratzsch), unable to distinguish between apparent and actual design (Elsberry), without practical applications or using the words of Dembski ‘useless if it cannot avoid false positives (see footnote [10])’.

And yet ID proponents are still touting Dembski’s Design Inference as a reliable and practical tool for inferring design (and even designer(s)).Why do we see the concept of Complex Specified Information (CSI) described as a reliable indictor of design when Dembski himself argues that there is apparent and actual CSI and has presented no tools to differentiate between the two. If the Design Inference cannot reliably detect design,and all indications are that it can’t, ID has failed to address the central issue of the argument namely that the real question is not (appearance of) design in nature but rather the nature of the designer.

To resolve these issues, I will first show why the Design Inference is a classic ‘argument from ignorance’. Furthermore I will document the various arguments (often contradictory) used by ID proponents, specifically W.A. Dembski ,when arguing these issues and how the argument varies when preaching to different choirs. I will show why the Design Inference is unreliable, unsuitable to detect new design, prone to false positives (and thus ‘useless’ (see footnote [10])), unable to distinguish between apparent and actual design and unable to eliminate natural selection as the ‘designer’. Finally I will discuss the (hidden) costs of Intelligent Design rushing ahead of establishing a scientific foundation and ignoring or misrepresenting scientific knowledge. My concerns are particularly the potential cost of what Lamoureux described as the false dichotomy between science and religious faith.

In a series of events that surprised me almost as much as the people from my hometown, long-lost friends, and distant relatives, I appeared as a guest on NPR’s Talk of the Nation: Science Friday today. The show description is here, and the archived show can be heard online here. I have been a fan of Science Friday since high school. I’ve even sent in questions, which have never been read because they get so many questions. Even in the unlikely event that I ever became a famous scientist, I thought it unlikely I would ever be on Science Friday. I mean, people like Richard Dawkins get on Science Friday (he was in the second hour this week, as it turns out). Then, one day, I’m called up and asked to be on the show. It just so happened that I work at the National Center for Science Education, and it just so happened that I have been the guy monitoring the “Intelligent Design” situation in Dover, Pennsylvania, and it just so happened that the issue has exploded in the media over the last several weeks for several reasons, and it just so happens that almost everyone from Dover that might be interviewed is consulting lawyers and so isn’t talking to the media. So, on I go. There were six guests total, so each person got to say only a few things, but I think it ended up being a pretty good show.

Listen to the archived show and say what you think. NPR may be hosting an online discussion over here although I can’t find one for today’s show yet.

Whenver one does this kind of thing, afterwords you think of dozens of things you wish you’d said. So, to get them off my mind, I’ll list them in the rest of this post. Suggest your own!

Creationists and Intelligent Designists have long pointed to bats as problems for evolution, because of the general lack of transitional fossils.

Here’s a sample of such an argument from the dean of young-earth creationists, Duane Gish of the Institute for Creation Research:

Bats (of the order Chiroptera), the only flying mammal, are especially interesting. Evolutionists assume, of course, that bats must have evolved from a non-flying mammal. There is not one shred of evidence in the fossil record, however, to support such speculations, for, as Romer says, “Bats appear full fledged in both hemispheres in the Middle Eocene …”

And here’s an example from the dean of ID, Phillip Johnson:

It isn’t merely that grand-scale Darwinism can’t be confirmed. The evidence is positively against the theory. For example, if Darwinism is true then the bat, monkey, pig, seal, and whale all evolved in gradual adaptive stages from a primitive rodent-like predecessor. This hypothetical common ancestor must have been connected to its diverse descendants by long linking chains of transitional intermediates which in turn put out innumerable side branches. The intermediate links would have to be adaptively superior to their predecessors, and be in the process of developing the complex integrated organs required for aquatic life, flight, and so on. Fossil evidence that anything of the sort happened is thoroughly missing and in addition it is extremely difficult to imagine how the hypothetical intermediate steps could have been adaptive.

And here’s another from Johnson:

Perhaps one day scientists will be able to test some macroevolutionary mechanism, involving changes in the rate genes or whatever, that will explain how a four-footed mammal can become a whale or a bat without going through impossible intermediate steps. The difficulties should be honestly acknowledged, however.

I’m pleased to report that that “one day” has arrived.

Brent Rasmussen and DarkSyde (who never tells anyone his real name, I suspect because his first name is Orville or something like that) have begun a series of posts on the Unscrewing the Inscrutable weblog that introduces readers to the various voices within the Intelligent Design Creationism (IDC) movement. Part one of this series features perhaps the two leading thinkers of the movement, Michael Behe and William Dembski, famous for the concept of irreducible complexity and the explanatory filter, respectively. The introductions are pretty good as far as they go, and they accurately nail Behe for his continual goalpost moving and Dembski for his refusal to apply his filter to any objects in the real world. As they post new entries, I’ll continue to link to them. They should do a valuable service as a brief introduction to the terms of the debate.

More tangly, banky goodness!

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Tangled Bank #16 is online at Rhosgobel!

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Guess what? The Fossil Hominids website has just reached the ripe old age of 10 years! The site’s goal is to present the evidence for human evolution, and to address creationist arguments about it. I started it in 1994 because the archive had no material on human evolution, despite it being a hot topic in the creation/evolution debate. The first version of the site was not a web page, but a 53K text file available by ftp from the archive, which at the time was an ftp site rather than a website. (ftp, or File Transfer Protocol, was a common way of getting files to and from other computers before the web took off). The original page was just a list of descriptions of species and fossils and a brief rebuttal of some creationist arguments. I converted it into a web page in November 95 and added the first illustrations. The page had grown to 151K by April 96, and in October 96, it was split into multiple web pages. The site has been steadily growing since 1994. At the moment, it consists of 170 web pages totalling about 1.8M in size, including a number by other contributors, along with about 230 image files. The home page gets about 400 hits per day. The site is now one of the top resources on human evolution on the web, and (I think) the best source of information about human evolution and creationism on or off the web. I’ve enjoyed building the site and plan to keep improving it. If you’ve never visited, please drop by!

Schrenko Rap

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Just about everybody knows that Georgia’s current Republican state school superintendent, Kath Cox, wanted to gut science education of anything that might upset bible thumpers. She not only eliminated the term “evolution,” she also took out references to the “long” age of the earth, and she removed about 70% of the material covering evolutionary biology.

The woman she replaced, Linda Schrenko, was even worse. Schrenko, the first woman elected to a state wide office, was once the darling of the Republican Party and the Christian Coalition. In 1996 Schrenko asked the state attorney general if creationism could be taught in public classrooms. Apparently Linda never heard of Edwards v Aguillard. Undeterred, she continued to insist that it was a local issue and encouraged teachers to decide for themselves how they were going to teach biology. (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.)

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This page is an archive of entries from November 2004 listed from newest to oldest.

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