Response to Dembski’s Accusations

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In a recent blog entry, William Dembski alleges I am guilty of various and sundry offenses, but avoids once again answering my critiques of his work. I doubt his smokescreen will convince anyone except the usual sycophants, but in case anyone takes his bluster seriously, I’ll make a response.

1. He claims I have “harass[ed] anyone who endorses [his] work”. I categorically reject this charge of harassment. (A lawyer acquaintance of mine informs me the charge is probably actionable.) Here’s what really happened.

What I have done is to send copies of my critique to several people who have endorsed Dembski’s work, and I also asked some endorsers if they thought they had the mathematical training needed to arrive at a thorough assessment of his claims. (Some, such as Senator Rick Santorum, or Robert P. George, clearly do not.)

Most of the Dembski endorsers never replied. With some, such as Andrew Ruys at Sydney (whom Dembski alluded to but did not name) I have had spirited and enjoyable e-mail conversations. Not a single endorser ever asked me to stop contacting them or has expressed any objection to my having contacted them.

With respect to the “mathematician at Oxford” that Dembski refers to, that could be John Roche. Once again, I had a pleasant conversation with him by e-mail. Not only that, he agreed that I had made some good points and that my critique was serious and intended to ask Dembski about it. I never heard any more from him. I have had no indication from him that he felt our good-natured correspondence constituted “harassment”; to the contrary, he generously thanked me for my comments.

Or perhaps the “mathematician at Oxford” was John Lennox. He is listed on ISCID as a “fellow”, which means he is someone who has “distinguished [himself] for [his] work in complex systems”. I know of Lennox’s work in group theory, but I had not read any papers of his on “complex systems”, so I wrote to him to ask where I could find them. He replied that he had none, and that perhaps someone at ISCID was a bit too enthusiastic in labeling him as an expert in complex systems. Now it is years later and he is still described in the same way on the ISCID page. Professor Lennox never complained to me that he saw my question as harassment.

Of course, even if I had harassed supporters of Dembski, that would not negate my critique.

And isn’t it the pot calling the kettle black? For years now Dembski has sent unsolicited email to many of his critics. If sending unsolicited email about intelligent design is harassment, Dembski’s anti-harassment campaign should begin by examining the mote in his own eye.

2. Dembski claims my “criticisms tend to focus on trivialities”. This is wishful thinking. My criticisms go to the very heart of Dembski’s claims. For example, together with Elsberry, I dispute that Dembski’s “specification” is a coherent concept; I point out the inconsistent ways Dembski has chosen probability distributions, in order to make the outcome (designed versus not designed) fall the ways he wants; and I point our significant flaws in the proof of his bogus “Law of Conservation of Information”. These are not trivialities; they are the essence of his argument.

As an example of a “triviality”, Dembski writes “[Shallit] spent three years trying to show that a quote widely attributed to Schopenhauer that I cited in my work was not actually written by Schopenhauer.” This is extremely misleading. I began researching the origins of the bogus Schopenhauer quote long before Dembski used it. I became interested in it because I had serendipitously run across it in many different contexts, attributed to many different people. Furthermore, the quote is often used by advocates of fringe beliefs as justification for their work. I consulted many people in my research of this quotation, including Schopenhauer experts. All agree that Schopenhauer never said what Dembski claims, although he did say something vaguely along those lines.

I flagged the quotation as bogus in an e-mail message to Dembski in May 2002. He seemed uninterested, replying with a three-word answer: “Prove me wrong.” But of course I don’t have the burden of proof here; Dembski is hawking the quotation and so he has the burden of proof to verify it. Quoting some website that does not give any original citation of Schopenhauer’s work does not fulfill the burden of proof. I pointed out to Dembski that my forthcoming letter in Skeptic magazine would contain more details. None of this interested Dembski, who then continued to use the bogus quotation in The Design Revolution.

Where I come from, making sure that the quotations you cite are really due to the person to whom you attribute them is called scholarship, and it is respected, not sneered at.

For more details about the Schopenhauer quote, see http://www.pandasthumb.org/pt-archi[…]/000102.html.

3. Dembski claims “As for some number about which he keeps harping that I miscalculated in my book No Free Lunch, it turns out that when it is calculated correctly, it makes my case even more strongly.” This is a blatant falsehood. The number I am referring to is on page 297 of No Free Lunch. On that page Dembski claims that the perturbation probability is 10-288, whereas the correct calculation gives about 10-223. This means Dembski is off by 65 orders of magnitude in the wrong direction; in other words, his error makes the flagellum even more improbable than his absurd scenario suggests. Fixing this error would make his case weaker, not stronger.

Granted, anyone can make an error in mathematical calculation; I have done so myself on occasion. My point is the following: any scientist who made an error of 65 orders of magnitude in a scientific paper would feel compelled to issue an erratum. Why has Dembski never done so? Along those lines, why is it that No Free Lunch has no errata page? By contrast, my two books have readily-available errata pages.

4. Dembski takes me to task because I have not corrected mathematical errors in other people’s work. This is, of course, completely irrelevant to my criticism of Dembski’s work, and in any event but I have often criticized other people’s errors, as a glance at my reviews in Mathematical Reviews will show. And since I have not even read the book to which he alludes (Simon Conway Morris’ Life’s Solution), how can I possibly be criticized for not correcting an error in it?

5. Dembski labels me “obsessive” for criticizing his work (and also repeats the defamatory charge of harassment). It seems the critic of intelligent design cannot win. If the bogus claims of intelligent designers are ignored, proponents insist their arguments are so strong that they cannot be answered. If ID claims are addressed, but not in great detail, Dembski dismisses the critiques as “uncharitable” or because they do not “engage my technical work”. Finally, if ID claims are refuted point-by-point, Dembski calls the refuter an “Internet stalker” or “inhabiting a fantasy life” or “obsessive”. Contrast this behavior with Dembski’s claim that “I always learn more from my critics than from the people who think I’m wonderful.” If that’s true, it’s a strange way for Dembski to show his appreciation.

Of course, the issue is not whether I am “obsessive” but whether my critique is correct. Dembski offers no reason to doubt that it is indeed correct.

6. Dembski charges that I have engaged in conduct that is “frankly unethical”. His only example is his claim that I wrote to Michael Ruse “asking that an article of his be inserted in the book [Debating Design] without my knowledge”. This claim is simply false; I did not do that.

What I did do was express to Ruse my confidential worry that if I were to submit my paper with Elsberry for the Dembski-Ruse volume, that Dembski would find some way to keep it out and thus achieve two wins: he would know my arguments before they were published, and he would keep the article from being published. At no time did I ask that the article be inserted without Dembski’s knowledge. Ruse, ever the absent-minded professor, replied to my letter and accidentally copied Dembski — not “appropriately” as Dembski claimed — and Ruse later apologized profusely to me for this gaffe. Ruse even offered to drop out of his collaboration with Dembski to atone for his mistake.

What’s so strange about Dembski airing this episode in public is that soon after the incident of the accidentally-forwarded email, Dembski and I spoke on the phone about it. At the time, he accepted my explanation that my intent was not to have the article inserted behind his back, and he also accepted my apology for denigrating him to his co-author Ruse, something I should not have done. I assumed the incident was over. It is now very surprising to see Dembski’s revisionist history of the incident being put forth as a way to justify ignoring my critique of his work. This is a classic example of the ad hominem fallacy: Elsberry and Shallit’s critique is wrong because Dembski claims Shallit once did something unethical.

7. In order to avoid answering my criticisms, Dembski uses the ploy that my critiques are out-of-date, since he has recently written two new papers on intelligent design. Sorry, but that dog won’t hunt. I am glad to see that Dembski has now repudiated his own bogus account of “specification”, but there are still many other claims he has not withdrawn. The ball is still in his court, and he has not responded.

8. Finally, Dembski claims that I am “making a name for [myself] by parasitizing [Dembski’s] work”. This is hardly a credible charge, considering that my work in mathematics and computer science is well-known and respected, consisting of approximately 80 peer-reviewed papers and two books (with a third accepted for publication). The preponderance of my scholarly work makes no mention of Dembski and his claims.

In summary, Dembski’s “response” has addressed none of the issues Elsberry and I have raised.

85 Comments

Wow, is Dembski such a big name in the field of mathematics that being associated in any way (positive or negative) with his name would raise anyone’s stature? That idea sounds strange because I’ve never met a mathematician who knew his name. Honestly, getting involved in debates with IDers and creationists probably creates a net negative perception in the eyes of a scientist’s peers.

ID debating as a career enhancer: Dumb idea.

Question: How long do you think it will be before Salvador shows up to “take another grenade for Bill”.

“Every great scientific truth goes through three stages: First, people say it conflicts with the Bible. Next they say it had been discovered before. Lastly, they say they always believed it.” JEAN LOUIS AGASSIZ (1807-1883) (Who was an opponent of Darwin, but not a biblical literalist, by my brief Google research.)

Dembski displaying contempt for basic standards of scholarship and running away from arguments he can’t answer? I am shocked!

Why won’t Dembski teach the controversy?

ID debating as a career enhancer: Dumb idea.

Funny you mention that, when the ID article came out in Nature a while back I told the people who work in the lab I do that I regularly debate with creationists/IDists/cranks of various sorts (particularly abstinence and anti-vaccine). Interestingly, none of them could see the point of me arguing about ID at all, none of them knew who Dembski, Behe and the like were (until explained to them). Outside of the fundamentalist base in America, nobody really does care about creationists and neither is any of their ‘earth shattering’ literature paid any attention by the majority of scientists.

Arguing with IDers to ‘promote’ your career is silly, you’d be better off spending it writing in a lab. Then again, doing things in a lab is ultimately the entire point why IDers are ignored.

Salvador’s already there on Dembski’s blog, with his hilariously sycophantic comment (#1).

In order to avoid answering my criticisms, Dembski uses the ploy that my critiques are out-of-date, since he has recently written two new papers on intelligent design. Sorry, but that dog won’t hunt. I am glad to see that Dembski has now repudiated his own bogus account of “specification”, but there are still many other claims he has not withdrawn. The ball is still in his court, and he has not responded.

Hey, where did Dembski do this? Is it online anywere?

I love when Dembski says this part:

As for Shallit reviewing my work if submitted to “real journals,” I’m afraid that’s unlikely to happen — his area is computational number theory, mine is probability theory.

Yeah, that’s unlikely to happen, but not exactly for the given reason.

In the comments, Dembski says:

“He would need to know a fair amount of functional analysis and measure theory — certainly beyond the usual exposure of grad students in math who are not specializing in analysis/ probability theory.”

Wait a minute here…what is it about his “work” that acutally does require a “fair amount” of anything beyond grad-level math? (that is, other than requiring good facility with deconstructing rhetoric)

I confess I follow his work only casually, and I certainly haven’t kept up with his recent stuff, but I recall a lot of his argument is just based on Fisherian statistical inference…what have I been missing?

I have recently posted a comment on Dembski’s Blog. It is listed under June 23: New Article on Specification. He actually kept it on, which I was surprised. It seemed as though he did not read carefully where I showed that information, in the ecological sense, is not subjective nor objective, but then he accused it to being subjective. However, considering specifications as “background knowledge” (background for individuals I take it) makes it completely subjective and presupposes an intelligence that he barely even defines (I even criticized his idea of intelligence and showed that it is inadequate for a theory that focuses solely on intelligence, which is very harmful, but he did not comment on that).

Lastly, I argued that “You have only researched a small amount of information (at least you only written on a small amount of information out there).” However, he responded by stating, “Yes, I’m looking at a rather narrow problem. But it seems to me the approach to information that I’m adopting gets at the core issues in biology.” First, I did not state a “narrow problem,” but rather argued that he did not do his research and does not know about the progress in information theory and cognitive science.

Brian

Nothing I read on Dembski’s blog surprises me any more. His blog is getting increasingly sillier, as evidenced by the doctored picture of men in tights wrestling and Dembski claiming it’s a metaphor of the ID movement.

As for this comment he made:

“As for Shallit reviewing my work if submitted to “real journals,” I’m afraid that’s unlikely to happen — his area is computational number theory, mine is probability theory.”

One can only wonder if he posted the paper to his website in order to impress the rubes if most people are in no position to judge it for or against.

The looney Wrote:

Wow, is Dembski such a big name in the field of mathematics

Isn’t “Isaac Newton” a big name? Sounds like the local fire brigade ought to keep an eye on Dembski’s pants.

Dembski’s rantings are far from being free from contradiction. How can he both claim Shallit displays ‘obsessiveness in criticizing [Dembski’s] work’ and that the criticism is ‘completely out of date’?

Posted by Tristram on July 7, 2005 05:33 PM (e) (s)

The looney wrote:

Wow, is Dembski such a big name in the field of mathematics

Isn’t “Isaac Newton” a big name? Sounds like the local fire brigade ought to keep an eye on Dembski’s pants.

Posted by Tristram on July 7, 2005 05:33 PM (e) (s)

The looney wrote:

Wow, is Dembski such a big name in the field of mathematics

Isn’t “Isaac Newton” a big name? Sounds like the local fire brigade ought to keep an eye on Dembski’s pants.

Hey, Dembski is the Newton of Information theory..

Of course yes every IDixt craves attention and pompous ones even more than the usual. Shallit and Elsberry shdn’t waste time on this claptrap.

I am amused. SCordova seems to be pleading with Wes and Jeff to review Bill D’s latest “papers” in a post on antievolution.org while on Bill D’s blog commends Bill for having distanced himself from his one time mentor!

The entire TNR interview with conservativers on evolution seems to have been pasted in by Bill.

Dr. Shallit,

Do you have any intention of publishing comments on William Dembski’s latest 4 papers:

Specification the Pattern that Signifies Intelligence

Searching Large Spaces

Uniform Probability

Information as a Measure of Variation

Short of that, have you seen any technical errors in Bill’s last 4 papers? Did his conclusions at least proceed correctly from his assumptions. I can respect that you may not agree with his assumptions, but was Bill’s logic correct?

Salvador Cordova

Like Dembski’s work, mathematical derivations that purport to reveal aspects of reality are irrelevant if they do not begin with assumptions that are consistent with existing data and do not reliable predict more data. Dembski’s work fails on both counts. In the end, his papers are nothing more than symbol manipulations.

Dr. Shallit,

I reviewed your one of your last critiques of Dembski’s work:

Response to Elsberry and Shallit 2003

Though I appreciate your even tempered tone with regard to your former student, I must protest that your representation of CSI in Dembski’s was inaccurate. The definition Dembski provided for CSI:

Complex Specified Information :

The coincidence of conceptual and physical information where the conceptual information is both identifiable independently of the physical information and also complex.

You and Elsberry failed to cite the definition of CSI that Dembski provided. Your critique was therefore misplaced and essentially attacking a strawman. Had you utilized that defintion rather than your own representation of CSI you would not have thought the TSPGRID program generated CSI.

The TSPGRID program simply generated algorithmically compressible strings. Though CSI is sometimes detected in PHYSICAL objects that yield algorithmically compressible strings, the output of the TSPGRID program had no association with physical information in the sense that Bill intended. Thus I think Bill’s claim of an uncharitable reading by you and Elsberry is correct.

Salvador

Re the appallingly-amateurish editing job on the doctored wrestler photo… here are early versions of illustrations that will accompany a couple of satirical pieces I have in the works: I call them (the illustrations, that is) Magister Dembski and Saint Stephen.

In the latter, I identify strongly with the figure at the right.

BTW, my comment on the Dembski blog page with the wrestler photo was “An amateurish and sloppy job of photo-editing — and therefore obviously the work of an intelligent design creationist … “.

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Hi Sal. Welcome back.

Last time you were here, I asked a few simple questions of you. For some odd reason, though, you ran away without answering.

I’m sure you won’t mind if I ask again. And again and again and again and again. Every time you post here. As many times as I need to, until you answer …

*ahem*

1. What is the scientific theory of intelligent design, and how do we test it using the scientific method? And please don’t give me more of your “the scientific theory of ID is that evolution is wrong” BS. I want to know what your designer does, specifically. I want to know what mechanism it uses to do whatever the heck you think it does. I want to know where we can see these mechanisms in action.

2. According to this scientific theory of intelligent design, how old is the earth, and did humans descend from apelike primates or did they not?

3. what, precisely, about “evolution” is any more “materialistic” than weather forecasting, accident investigation, or medicine?

4. do you repudiate the extremist views of the primary funder of the Center for (the Renewal of) Science and Culture, Howard Ahmanson, and if so, why do you keep taking his money anyway?

I look forward to your not answering my simple questions. Again.

Milo and loonie’s posts have been deleted, and their IP addresses banned. I will do the same for any other insulting obscenity I come across. Through a combination of lack of time and the desire to promote open discussion, we don’t heavily police the comments on PT, but there are limits.

Re the appallingly-amateurish editing job on the doctored wrestler photo… here are early versions of illustrations that will accompany a couple of satirical pieces I have in the works: I call them (the illustrations, that is) Magister Dembski and Saint Stephen.

In the latter, I identify strongly with the figure at the right.

You can actually preview one of the satirical pieces here

BTW, my comment on the Dembski blog page with the wrestler photo was “An amateurish and sloppy job of photo-editing — and therefore obviously the work of an intelligent design creationist … “.

Sal Cordova:

I am not surprised that Wesley and Jeffrey ignored this “definition” of Complex Specified Information from Bill, “The coincidence of conceptual and physical information.….…and also complex.”

This is simply a “clever” way of saying, “Complex Specified Information is information that is specified in a complex way.” As Danny Kaye did in his side-splitting classic of the School Inspector. “what is an Inspector General?” “The Inspector General is one who generally inspects.”

Sal,

I believe Dr. Shallit has already addressed CSI:

Jeffry Shallit Wrote:

I dispute that Dembski’s “specification” is a coherent concept

Salvadore wrote:

Though CSI is sometimes detected in PHYSICAL objects

Can you provide examples of biological objects that have CSI? If you can, please identify the conceptual information without analogies to human design.

“EmmaPeel” questions how trivial Shallit’s work is if it causes the production of two papers in response.

Bill, I’m confused. First you say that “[Shallit’s] criticisms tend to focus on trivialities”. Then in your responses to #2 & #4 you say his trivial critiques goaded you into writing two whole new papers in order to “develop a new line of argument”.

Isn’t that a tacit admission that they are substantive criticisms? Why would you go to the trouble to develop a whole new line of argument if the critiques were “trivial”?

Since you’re confident you’ve already “render[ed] the previous criticisms passé”, why not simply acknowledge that your opponents had made a good point and move on? You’d be the bigger man for it. I mean, did Darwin ever roll up into a defensive ball and snipe at his critics? No! He regularly gave his opponents their props for bringing up arguments that deserved a serious response. Admittedly, for his trouble Darwin ends up getting characterized by the more mendatious creationists as harboring private doubts about his theory. But I’m sure you agree that among respectable, honest scholars on both sides of the debate, Darwin has retained enormous respect after all these years for his open & gracious attitude to the debates over his theory.

I’m not familiar with the details of too many of the great scientific feuds, so I don’t know who’s the negative example to cite. All I can think of is Nixon & his enemies list. Eeew!

Comment by EmmaPeel — July 7, 2005 @ 2:08 pm

http://www.uncommondescent.com/inde[…]5/trackback/

Dembski likes to act like a massif immune to anything less than large-scale tectonic shifts. I think back to the 1997 NTSE conference and my telling Dembski about evolutionary computation and the problems it poses for his arguments. I note that Dembski has spent the rest of his career attempting, but failing, to deal with that. Dembski may not say much about my arguments, but his actions – taken as the argumentative content of his essays and books aimed at evolutionary computation – indicate that he did find something I said insightful after all.

Jeffrey Shallit wrote

He claims I have “harass[ed] anyone who endorses [his] work”. I categorically reject this charge of harassment. (A lawyer acquaintance of mine informs me the charge is probably actionable.) Here’s what really happened.

Oh please… PLEASE take action. After seeing creationists, Scientologists, Ten Commandment worshipers and others of similar ethical quality abuse the legal system right up to the Federal Supreme Court level it would be so sweet to see one of this people (a term I am granting them charitably) have to learn that libel and slander have consequences even if fallacies sophistries and the like do not.

On another note, I wonder how Dembski and his colleges manage to keep such high self esteem when their work (work - more charity on my part) is consistently exposed to be so very, very poor. They seems to have discovered the secret to eternal happiness in the face of crushing failure. It seems that ignorance really is bliss at some fundamental yet irreducibly complex level.

Hi Thumbsmen. Check out my response to Shallit’s eight points at my blog: www.uncommondescent.com. By the way, here’s a mindbender: Imagine that I don’t believe all this ID stuff but am just doing it because I’m having such a good time. –WmAD

By the way, here’s a mindbender: Imagine that I don’t believe all this ID stuff but am just doing it because I’m having such a good time.

You’ve only dropped that hint for the umpteenth billionth time, for crying out loud. So I don’t think the thumbspeople suspect that at all. (They can be a little dense, you know.)

A brilliant non-response Dembski. I particulary like how you ignored point number 5 and turned it into a response on someone else entirely, ignoring the entire point of the argument put forward originally. Of course, saying that you ‘accept’ someones apology or reason at the time and but really not is something called ‘lying’ where I come from.

8. How many people know Shallit strictly for his work as a mathematician? How many of Shallit’s fans at the Panda’s Thumb even know what computational number theory is? How many know Shallit for his work bashing ID and me in particular? I suspect more of the latter

How many people outside of America and the creationist/evolution ‘controversy’ have any clue who you are Dembski? Could I go to my statistician professor tommorow and ask if he has any idea who the ‘Newton’ of Information theory is? Would anyone in the Mathematics and Statistics department at my university have even a vague idea who you are or what you write? None of the people in my department (biology though) knew who you were and neither could they name anything you had written. Then again, that is alright because they aren’t mathematicians and neither would I expect them to.

Perhaps I the same could be said for Jeffery Shallit above, it’s more than likely they wouldn’t know who he was either for that matter and I doubt if they were they’d know he ‘known’ for arguing against ID? I doubt it, because despite what you think in you’re own little world Dembski, ID is about as dead in the water everywhere else in the world except for the fundamentalist creationist Christians in the US. You accuse people of ‘cyber stalking’ you to gain fame or something, but in reality this is merely over stating your own importance. Without people on this blog, I wouldn’t have a clue who you were Dembski. Before I started coming here, I didn’t know anything about you or your books (which you’ll be pleased to know I bought so you can thank my New Zealand bananas as part of your royalties) which I subsequently had to buy. From where? The local creationists.

You know, you owe a lot to people like Shallit and those who ‘cyber stalk’ you for anyone (outside of America and those with an interest in ‘creationism/evolution’ debates) knowing who you were. They are your best advertising because even if you don’t want to admit it.

To answer you question incidently: No I don’t have any idea about what sort of work Jeffery Shallit does or what he has published. I am not a mathematician. At the same time, if it wasn’t for Jeffery Shallit and others here, I wouldn’t have had a clue who you were either.

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Salvador smirks:

Seems like a lot of you guys at Pandas Thumb would be disappointed to discover the universe and life were made for a purpose.

Actually I would be disappointed to discover that the Universe and life were made for the purposes you and your fellow IDC’ers so arrogantly assume, for that would mean that God was untruthful, and gave us reason and science as a cruel joke.

I will pray that you learn humility as you mature.

Salvador writes “I’m afraid you’re wrong Lenny. I answered to the satisfaction of ID friendly lurkers. “

Sal, you have a lot of imaginary friends, don’t you?

Wes-

Thank you, but the credit for this observation is really due to the lucid and unassailable logic laid out by a couple of dudes named Shallit and Elsberry, the authors of “Playing Games with Probability,” a chapter in Young and Edis, Why Intelligent Design Fails.

;-)

The right tool makes the job easy. You guys laid out the tools, and all I had to do was pick the right one and apply it competently.

-Jon

Jon A. Pastor wrote:

If the observer’s contextual knowledge can cause the same physical phenomena to be interpreted as either CSI or not, CSI would appear to be a pretty useless criterion for detecting design

Now I understand, I think. I need to cogitate on it. I have read the Bingo reference, but will dutifully go back and reread the reference.

I have another question and a response. I’ll move to the bathroom wall.

Things are not quite straightened out in the bathroom, so I’m continuing my comments here.

Jon A. Pastor wrote: If the observer’s contextual knowledge can cause the same physical phenomena to be interpreted as either CSI or not, CSI would appear to be a pretty useless criterion for detecting design

Ok, here’s what I don’t understand. At some point, doesn’t everything have to be evaluated in light of some piece of side information and it is that side information that is subjective? The side information places everything into context. This is circular, but I can’t see a way out, until one accepts the intellectually honest answer of “I don’t know”.

One example in the referenced paper uses life. The old old old fossilized high school biology argument was where to place viruses, what characteristics of life do they demonstrate that qualify them as alive? This is an extreme example of subjective side information. It seems to me, how you answer that question would affect the outcome of the filter. Starting with “I know the answer” (space aliens, you know who) directly affects subjective side information.

In my example, I inferred design because “I knew the answer” before I started. So the phylogenetic analysis supported my contention, ignoring any other possibilities. Any inference of design will be independently evaluated in light of side information. That’s why ID proponents can get away with the space alien analogy. If no one took SETI seriously then the analogy wouldn’t work.

So, I read the paper, wrote my response, reread your response, and it looks like what took you 1 sentence took me a several paragraphs. I feel more confident I understand, I think…

Minor rant which may be ignored.

My fundamental problem is that the ID/creationist arguments, starting from “I know the answer” combined with reverse engineering, are becoming so complex that refuting them takes specialists in specific fields.

I read Dembski’s papers through and 1. Pick out problems where I have counter arguments. 2. Toss out the mathematical symbols, some of which make no sense to me. 3. Reread and develop what I think are potential counter arguments. 4. Find and read a critique article. 5. Compare critique article with my observations. 6. Toss out my errors and try to evaluate errors I missed. 7. Try to formalize the arguments that are congruent between the critique article and my reading of the original article.

Distilling the arguments into everyday language is daunting.

End rant.

“If sending unsolicited email about intelligent design is harassment, Dembski’s anti-harassment campaign should begin by examining the mote in his own eye.”

Uh, you mean the *beam* in his own eye.

“If Dembski were trying to be a scholar, his inattention to accuracy would be a serious concern. But maybe we should judge his success on how well he achieves his goal, rather than Jeffrey Shallit’s goal.”

That’s disingenuous and downright stupid; Shallit isn’t making a judgment about Dembski’s success as an advocate – why should he?

“There has been some discussion along these lines before you got here. The basic idea is that we are equipped with a database of knowledge and experience which enables us to identify design when it matches closely enough with existing known design. This is Paley’s watch: Watches were well known artifacts in Paley’s time. What made his watch identifiable as a designed object was simply that watches were already known to be designed objects. Without this prior knowledge, the watch would be no different from a stone with a curious shape.”

This sort of claptrap gives ammunition to those who claim evolution is religion. A watch is no more a stone with a curious shape save for familiarity with existing design than Leeuwenhoek’s microbes were curiously shaped dirt specs save for familiarity with existing design. Watches have characteristics that stones don’t, and microbes have characteristics that dirt specs don’t. Paley’s mistake was the inference of *intelligence*, not of design; he wasn’t aware that there’s an *algorithm* that can produce the same sorts of characteristics that distinguish watches from stones. Paley asserted that no one of sound mind would ever conclude that a watch was the product of bits of dust, dirt, and rock being shuffled together under natural processes; that even if the natural processes were allowed to operate for a very long time, there would still be no rational hope for a watch to be assembled. But Paley was wrong – human beings are a result of a natural process, and by extension so are the constructions of human beings, just as beehives and bird nests are the result of natural processes. To suggest that an unfamiliar bird’s nest, absent from any birder’s database, is no more than a curiously shaped clump of straw is to completely misconstrue both the argument from design and it’s rebuttal.

“The hypothesis that biological reality has signs of intelligent design is rejected because it has theological implications, not because it fundamentally has no chance of being ultimately true.”

No, it is rejected because it violates Ockham’s Razor; because it’s the cheap easy sleazy way out for people too lazy or too stupid to do science. Anyone can declare “it was designed” and go home; but scientists do the hard work of figuring out the details and building predictive systems that give us the levers to shape our world.

“Dawkins in particular sees design, but can not accept that the designer is intelligent as that has theological implications, and because he has neither directly seen God making things.”

What an offensive ignoramus. Dawkins has declared that, prior to Darwin, there was no intellectually satisfying framework for atheists. Dawkins doesn’t accept an intelligent designer because he has something *far better* for a scientist, someone seeking to understand and be able to manipulate the way the world works. It’s like the difference between open source and proprietary code – the latter is opaque and inscrutable; it works in mysterious ways.

”… here’s a mindbender: Imagine that I don’t believe all this ID stuff but am just doing it because I’m having such a good time. –WmAD”

How is imagining you misrepresenting the facts “a mindbender”? It’s far more mindbending to try to imagine otherwise.

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I am unsure why Sal brings up the idea of a Turing Machine. The strict Strong AI has been mostly abandoned. Most of AI research is now focussed on how organisms can act withoutbeing programmed (having stored representations), instead they focus in interactions with the environment with affordances (see Andy Clark and Randall Beer for examples). Secondly, (and this follows from my point above), the idea of any type of processor is misleading. Organisms do not process environmental stimuli, but rather interact with environmental information, which shows that the specification of information is hardly dependent on a mind-independent entity. Instead, information is defined as that which leads to action, which means that the natural world is already meaningful and the meanings co-evolve through organismic interaction. Thus, ID’s definition of information is so far off base to adapt to biology and is just another mentalist approach that presupposes an a priori, pre-given, pre-made world; that is, a human bias.

Brian

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Not that any of this has any bearing on intelligent design, beyond showing that no intelligence is necessary for design – any design can be produced by a UTM, which can be a rather simple machine.

One of my favourite online devices is this:

http://rendell.server.org.uk/gol/tm.htm

which is a Turing Machine implemented in a Game of Life.

Now, what were those limits for complexity arising from simple mechanistic rules?

Bot everyone in the biological community believe that organisms are computational devices, or little Turing machines. Some view that evolution is possible because the organism is tightly coupled with the environment. They co-evolve with one another. This view is in the ecological approach (autocatakinetics) and in the enactive approach (autopoiesis) to biological systems. For papers on the former go here: http://dennett.philosophyofscience.net/index.html and here:http://www.rodswenson.com/humaneco.pdf . For the latter, go here: http://dialog.net:85/homepage/autopoiesis.html , here: http://www.calresco.org/papers.htm and here: http://www.edge.org/documents/Third[…]t-Ch.12.html . This last page is interesting since Varela speaks about autopoiesis along with Kauffman, Dennett, and others. Its hard to see if Varela subscribes to celluar automata since it is described as an input system where he goes against the idea of input/output systems.

Brian

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The natural world is full of Cellular Automata.

Nope. Cellular automata are mathematical constructs.

One could say that there are no trees, only collections of molecules, but that would be bad faith. The natural world *is* full of Cellular Automata.

“Per the Church-Turing thesis, every computation is equivalent to some Turing Machine (you don’t need an infinite tape, since computations that terminate don’t use the whole tape).”

Not true either. Not all computations that can be implemented on Turing machines do terminate

Since I didn’t say or imply that they do, I can’t imagine what you’re on about. But notably, all real-world computations do terminate. Of course, if one insists on acting in bad faith, one can claim that there are no computations in the real world, because computations are mathematical abstractions.

ts wrote:

One could say that there are no trees, only collections of molecules, but that would be bad faith. The natural world *is* full of Cellular Automata.

.

The way that I see it treating organisms as cellular computations is the same as treating trees as a collection of molecules. Computation theory presupposes that the world lacks enough information for an organism to act. However, as I stated above biologists are changing this interpretation, as in the autocatakinetics and autopoiesis. Here is a paper that criticizes the attempt to think that what organisms do is compute like mathematicians do. Especially a quote from Von Neumann, “Thus the out ward forms of our mathematics are not absolutely relevant from the point of view of eval u at ing what the math e mat i cal or log i cal lan guage truly used by the central nervous system is.… It is char ac ter ized by less logical and arithmetical depth than what we are nor mally used to.… What ever the sys tem is, it can not fail to dif fer considerably from what we consciously and explicitly consider as mathematics” (xii).

Brian

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This page contains a single entry by Jeffrey Shallit published on July 7, 2005 4:19 AM.

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