A brief look at two comments on one ID-creo site

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One of the hostile comments was by Salvador Cordova. In his frequent comments on Panda’s Thumb (PT) Salvador tries (not fully successfully) to restrain his apparent penchant for exaggerating his qualifications and denigrating the objects of his assaults. In his comment on Dembski’s site - where he is protected by the absence of counter-arguments - he indulges in wild attacks on Dembski’s critics, including me. His comment is full of repeated claims that I “mangled,” “fumbled”, and “misrepresented” Dembski’s great ideas and attacked straw men.

Assertions that his critics simply “do not understand” his concepts has been a device often used by Dembski – see for example his “replies” to the critique by Ellery Eels, Robert Pennock, Richard Wein, Erik Tellgren, Eli Chiprout, Wesley Elsberry, Jeffrey Shallit, and others. I seem to be in good company. Can it be that such a regularly employed accusation rather reflects Dembski’s (and even more so of Cordova’s) inability to offer more substantive counter-arguments?

Perhaps Salvador is sincere in his desperate attempts to find errors in the critique of Dembski. It is interesting, though, that, while Dembski lets Salvador jump high in the “defense” of his “Lord William,” (which is how Cordova referred to Dembski on PT) Dembski himself has so far never explicitly endorsed Salvador’s rants. Perhaps Dembski realizes the abysmal level of Salvador’s contentions and avoids being directly associated with them.

Salvador’s comment essentially repeats his earlier assertions on PT, which have been answered extensively in many other posts on PT. Therefore I will not take space here for one more demonstration of Salvador’s fallacies; they have already taken too much space on PT. Perhaps one brief comment may be in order. Replying to my earlier comment on PT, where I wrote that I’d not curtail Salvador’s freedom to post anything he wants in my threads, Salvador wrote that he respected me for that. If so, then, to be consistent, should he not disrespect Dembski, who deletes from his sites any comments he dislikes?

I’ll briefly discuss now the other two comments copied from Dembski’s site by Alan. Both relate to just one point in my Skeptic essay, namely one example of a false positive produced by Dembski’s explanatory filter (EF). This example refers to a rare form of snowflakes, which appears under certain weather conditions. Since the weather conditions in question are very rare, the appearance of such snowflakes has a low probability. These snowflakes also have a specific, easily recognizable form that is the simplest kind of snowflakes ever observed. Since in this case we have a combination of low probability with specification, the inference prescribed by Dembski’s EF is that the snowflakes in question are results of design – it is just one more case of a false positive. Furthermore, according to Dembski, low probability is just another face of complexity: the more complex the object, asserts Dembski, the lower its probability (in my Skeptic essay there are a number of direct pertinent quotations from Dembski). In fact, however, the rare snowflakes in question have the simplest structure of all known snowflakes (see the relevant references in my Skeptic essay). This exemplifies the fallacy of Dembski’s thesis, which equates complexity with low probability.

Both hostile commenters hide their names, one using a pseudonym (“taciturnus”) and the other just a first name (“dave”). What are these critics of my essay afraid of? Do they know that their arguments are false? Or are they just not sure their comments make sense? Or do they hide their names so they can hurl insults with impunity?

Let us see if their specific critical remarks regarding the rare snowflakes have any merits. To avoid accusations of distorting what my opponents say (if it is at all possible, given the predilection of some of Dembski’s supporters for slandering his opponents), I’ll reproduce here the full texts of the hostile comments as quoted by Alan.

Here is the first of these comments:

After addressing Alan, the comment continues as follows:

1. I’ve read your link to Mark Perakh (Dream_Dem), and I now see what the ID defenders mean when they imply that Mr. Perakh seems to go out of his way to misunderstand Intelligent Design. Consider some of his remarks about specified complexity:

I believe that the very concept of complexity as disguised improbability is contrary to facts and logic. For example, under certain (rare) weather conditions, an unusual triangular shape of snowflakes can be observed.26 Unlike more common forms of snowflakes with their intricately complex structure, these rare snowflakes have a simple structure. As Dembski asserted,(27 snow crystals’ shapes are due to necessity—the laws of physics predetermine their appearance. However, triangular snowflakes, while indeed predetermined by laws of physics, occur only under certain weather conditions, which are very rare and unpredictable. Therefore we have to conclude that the emergence of the triangular snowflakes is a random event. This is another example where at least two causal antecedents—chance and law—are in play simultaneously.

Since the appropriate weather conditions occur very rarely, the probability of the chance emergence of the triangular snowflakes is very small; also, they have a uniquely specific shape. Hence, according to the EF, these snowflakes were deliberately designed.

But complexity as improbability is obviously meant as conditional improbability. Given conditions A, the probability that B will occur is so low that we can infer design. Given whatever unusual whether conditions you prefer, the probability that wind and rain will carve the faces of Presidents on Mt. Rushmore is tiny. We can infer design. However, given the right weather conditions, the probability that triangular snowflakes will occur is high. We cannot infer design, especially since the only time we see these snowflakes is during the unusual weather conditions that make them highly probable. This does not seem a difficult point. Comment by taciturnus — September 9, 2005 @ 7:31 am

To start with, the example of Mt. Rushmore is irrelevant. The Rushmore pattern has a human origin and in such cases design inference is a well established procedure based on our familiarity with human design and its results. This procedure has nothing to do with Dembski’s EF (which anyway is, in my view, as evinced in my Skeptic essay, a meaningless schema). In the case of snowflakes no background knowledge of the kind we have with a human design is available. This point has been thoroughly discussed in literature (see, for example, the collection Why Intelligent Design Fails, edited by Young and Edis, now in its third printing with a paperback edition forthcoming, where this point has been discussed in detail).

Look now at taciturnus’s argument which asserts that “complexity as improbability is obviously meant as conditional improbability.” Unfortunately for taciturnus, it is not only not “obvious” that Dembski’s schema indeed implies conditional probability, but in fact this schema does nothing of the sort, either obviously or implicitly. Taciturnus seems to mix up two different questions. One question is whether or not the snowflake in question was designed? The other question is what inference follows for Dembski’s schema? If we were searching for the answer to the first question, taciturnus’s notion would be reasonable: it is indeed obvious that in the case in point there is no reason to infer design; the appearance of the triangular snowflakes is predetermined by the combination of proper weather conditions and laws of physics. This correct inference is, though, done outside Dembski’s EF. The answer to the second question is that EF requires inferring design, which is a false positive. Indeed, nowhere does Dembski’s schema imply the use of conditional probability.

If we turn to Dembski’s actual writing, we find that he pays a lot of lip service to evaluating multiple “relevant chance hypotheses,” although he never himself bothers to go beyond evaluating a single chance hypothesis that uses the uniform distribution. Dembski’s schema prescribes evaluation of probability, period. In the case of snowflakes, the overall probability comprises two components, one random, and the other non-random. The random component is the (low) probability of proper weather condition. The non-random component is the (high) probability of “laws of physics producing the snowflakes in question under the proper weather condition.” Obviously the random component precedes the non-random one in the causal chain. “Taciturnus” suggest to ignore the random component and to base the inference only on the non-random one. Such an approach would be contrary to Dembski’s schema.

Indeed, why should we base our application of EF on the conditional probability of the appearance of this type of snowflakes under given weather condition (which is high) when it is obvious that in the causal chain the probability of the proper weather precedes the probability of “physical laws producing such snowflakes”? Following Dembski’s schema, we cannot ignore the probability that is “upstream” in the causal chain, as taciturnus suggests doing. The small value of the probability that is “upstream” overrides the larger probability that is “downstream.”

Taciturnus’s correct judgment (that snowflakes in question are not designed) is based on common sense and available background knowledge, but the question is not about that. It is whether or not Dembski’s approach yields the correct conclusion. It does not, in part because it does not prescribe using conditional probability – its use is just taciturnus’s common sense suggestion rather than a feature of Dembski’s thesis.

From another angle, the probability of the rare snowflakes being conditional on weather, again, does not negate the fact that these snowflakes have a low overall probability. Therefore Dembski’s formal thesis, if applied consistently, requires the snowflakes to be complex. But they are simple. Taciturnus’s argument can in fact be used to argue against EF and against Dembski’s thesis of “complexity being equivalent to low probability.” Unfortunately for “taciturnus” his (her) argument fails to properly address the question at hand – the validity of my example of the rare snowflakes.

Here is the second hostile comment, as quoted by Alan:

2.The snowflake example also fails because the triangular design isn’t specified beforehand. This is just another version of the arrow and the barn example. All points on the barn are equally unlikely to be hit. A particular point on the barn is only interesting if it has been specified before the event — for instance by a bullseye. (sic).

The triangular snowflake is no more interesting than a four-leaf clover, ball lightning, or the aurora borealis. All are rare, complex natural events, but none of them are specified before the event. Their patterns are reducible to being a function of the natural conditions that produced them, rare or otherwise. All of them are surprising and remarkable, but from them no reasonable person could ever infer design.

The idea of specificity is so fundamental to design inferences, it’s astonishing that Perakh considers this example applicable. Bill has asked if Perakh understands the relevant math. After reading this, I’m wondering if Perakh understands the relevant English.

If Bill or any other ID proponent had to correct every published essay that exhibited a basic misunderstanding of the argument, they’d spend all their time chasing down op-eds and blog blather. Comment by dave — September 9, 2005 @ 1:33 pm

I will not respond to dave’s remarks about my misunderstanding “relevant English,” which parrots Dembski’s earlier infamous utterance – such derogatory remarks usually are offered when no arguments of substance are available. Let us instead look at his argument regarding the snowflake’s shape not being specified “beforehand,” which, according to “dave,” shows my lack of understanding of the concept of specification.

Before discussing dave’s specific notions, it is perhaps proper to point out that Dembski’s concept of specification has been severely critiqued by various reviewers. I have made some modest (although rather detailed) contribution to the discussion of Dembski’s specification in my book Unintelligent Design (Prometheus Books, 2004, pp. 47-53). In my Skeptic essay I also have analyzed that concept but dave chose not to notice that analysis. In an excellent article (which is available online - see here) Elsberry and Shallit made mincemeat of Dembski’s specification concept. (As could be expected, apparently incapable of providing a cogent response to Elsberry & Shallit’s article, Dembski’s camp responded with hysterical assaults like those by Salvador Cordova, who posted a number of meaningless pieces of “critique” baselessly accusing Elsberry and Shallit of [of course!] “misrepresenting” Dembski’s specification concept.)

Regarding dave’s specific argument (that specification must be made “beforehand”), dave may be surprised to learn that it is contrary to Dembski’s thesis. Dembski unequivocally asserts (see Dembski’s The Design Inference, page 14) that the pattern meeting the requirement of specification can be legitimately identified after the fact. Dembski’s criterion for distinguishing between “specification” and “fabrication” is not when the pattern was identified, but whether or not it meets what Dembski calls “detachability.” This term, explains Dembski, means that the pattern is “independent of an event.” (It can be noted that if the requirement for the specification to be determined “beforehand” were adopted, it would make the entire “design inference” a la Dembski not applicable to biology. We never know “beforehand” which pattern will have, say, a hitherto unobserved chunk of DNA, or, say, how a hitherto unknown species of bacteria will look like. That is why Dembski prescribes testing for “detachability” rather than for “when the specification is made”.)

If dave’s comment, as he formulated it, were correct, it would first apply to Dembski himself.

Recall Dembski’s example illustrating his concept of specification. (See, for example, again Dembski’s The Design Inference, where the “detachability” is discussed in many words). A pattern may serve as a specification, says Dembski, only if it is “detachable.” Let us see if the rare snowflakes meet this condition.

In Dembski’s own example, he talks about a heap of stones which happens to reproduce the shape of a constellation (this example is on page 17 of Dembski’s The Design Inference). When a layman sees these stones he does not recognize the shape of a constellation so the observed shape is not “detachable” and does not serve as a specification. If, though, an astronomer sees the same heap of stones, he recognizes the image of a constellation (which he has previously stored in his mind independently of the particular heap of stones he came across) and in this case the observed pattern is “detachable” and serves as specification.

The astronomer infers that some intelligent agent has, by design, arranged the stones in the shape of a constellation. He came to such a conclusion because the shape of that constellation was antecedently familiar to him. The astronomer did not expect “beforehand” to find these particular stones arranged as this specific constellation. However, the pattern he observed was “detachable” as it matched an image he had, antecedently and independently from this particular heap of stones, stored in his mind. Recall that all this is Dembski’s own example illustrating his concepts of “detachability” and “specification.” This is the essence of the notion that specification is predicated on prior knowledge of the pattern – which is a point rather different from that made by dave. Dave avoided mentioning “detachability,” which would be a proper reference to Dembski’s thesis.

Exactly the same argument applies to the snowflakes in question. For dave the shape of the rare snowflakes is not familiar and therefore not “detachable.” Hence, for dave these snowflakes are not “specified.” However, to an expert on snowflakes the shape is known, so when such an expert sees those rare snowflakes, he recognizes them as conforming to the image he has antecedently kept in his mind. The pattern is, in this case, according to Dembski’s thesis, “detachable,” exactly as the pattern of the heap of stones in Dembski’s own example. Dembski’s “theory” requires inferring design equally in the case of stones and in the case of snowflakes. This inference may be true for the heap of stones but is false for the triangular snowflakes, and this shows the inadequacy of Dembski’s thesis.

When dave correctly concludes that the rare snowflake is not a product of design, he (like taciturnus) does so outside of Dembski’s EF, and in fact his conclusion is contrary to what EF yields. EF yields a false positive.

Dave’s comment shows his own misunderstanding of the subject he decided to argue about.

The fact that neither hostile commenter identified in my essay any more targets for their (fallacious) critique, besides the sole example of the rare snowflakes, is telltale. It points to their apparently being at a loss when confronted with the entirety of my arguments. Perhaps this is also the reason that, absent any more visible targets for assaults, both commenters resorted to general assertions regarding my “misunderstanding” of ID and of Dembski’s work.

If the comments by “taciturnus” and “dave” plus the rants of Cordova are the best the ID advocates can offer in response to my essay in the Skeptic, their case has to be relegated to the dustbin of history, to borrow Dembski’s favorite pompous expression.

I believe unbiased readers can themselves now infer who in this debate indeed poorly understands Dembski’s thesis, “relevant English,” and the super-sophisticated collections of math symbols so loved by Dembski but evidently beyond the comprehension of some of his supporters.

I thank Wesley Elsberry and Matt Young for taking time to read the initial draft of this piece and suggesting pithy comments.

141 Comments

I believe the snowflakes are composed of frozen Waterloo.

Bill has asked if Perakh understands the relevant math. After reading this, I’m wondering if Perakh understands the relevant English.

Me, I’m wondering if Dave understands the relevent science.

It sounds to me as if he and his cohort are mostly saying “but a snowflake isn’t designed, so we know it’s not designed.”

Meh, I don’t know why you spend time worrying about these particular posters. They have little to say, much of it negative, and all of it wrong for the reasons that you have mentioned.

Tell them that if they have any serious critiques of your paper, they should submit them to the journal that published it.

That isn’t far away from what Behe said, after all he’ll know design when he sees it. This concept is utterly worthless scientifically but that just reflects the ID movement in general doesn’t it?

Re: Hyperion

I think that it’s important to respond to these types of comments sometimes because it gives the rest of us (who don’t have hundreds of published papers under our belts) information to use when discussing this with other people in daily life. Some of the ID arguments are so entangled that explaining to the average person why they’re crap is very difficult. And posts like these make it much easier to do so.

I like the concept of “detachability.” A lot of patterns are in a sense “independent of an event.” There’s got to be a better way to express that though. The whole process of pattern recognition seems to involve detaching and abstracting patterns. We do make mistakes (remember the face on Mars? Seen a face in a cloud? And faces are more complex than constellations. Would seeing a face in the clouds represent a false positive to Dembski?)

I don’t see how it applies to evolution though. What’s detachable about DNA or life? If I saw a string of DNA I wouldn’t think it looked like something else or know what it was for and a geneticist would only know what it does after the fact – it doesn’t really detach and match up with an “independent of an event” item. There’s no DNA constellation or face to match the pattern against.

I don’t recall Dembski ever explaining that.

Any Dembski defenders here – I’ll give you a fair shake at explaining that.

Mark,

Your experience in the sciences and wide world dwarfs the entire lifetimes of many contributors to this forum. Bill D can accuse you of many things (that’s the only thing he is good at) but can never accuse you of not taking him seriously. Even after knowing that BillD deliberately misquotes, cooks up fake ideas, and smears people, you have chosen to spend time not only on his books but also on the smears and slime cast about by his factotums on anyone who shows up ID to be the crackpot idea it is. Only a true teacher would do that. I wonder if you still see in BillD a good student who somehow refuses to turn out what he is truly capable of.

I know why Mark keeps on replying. It’s so damn infuriating to wrestle with these slippery bastards, but it’s bloody addictive ! I wasted the greater part of several days arguing with some guy named DaveScot who just started shouting at me and then I just got kicked off.

But I have to agree with Norman here, there is something interesting about the idea of detachability. Maybe it just boils down to cognitive science and the human mind. Either way, when someone really does come up with a way to work this question, there will be something to it.

How awesome would it be if someone blew the doors off this issue, and it got published in Nature and “design theory” really took of in a precise way within the field of cognitive science, but completely independent of creationism !

germline wrote: “I have to agree with Norman here,…”

As should everyone.

“… there is something interesting about the idea of detachability. Maybe it just boils down to cognitive science and the human mind.”

I’m not quite sure I can say this and be 100% correct yet, but it seems to me at the moment that everything a neural net does can be boiled down to the term “pattern recognition.” And then all pattern recognition would involve some form of detachment and abstraction.

Another clue to our brains pattern recognition processes would be “apophenia.” http://skepdic.com/apophenia.html

According to Brugger, “The propensity to see connections between seemingly unrelated objects or ideas most closely links psychosis to creativity … apophenia and creativity may even be seen as two sides of the same coin.”

“How awesome would it be if someone blew the doors off this issue, and it got published in Nature and “design theory” really took off in a precise way within the field of cognitive science, but completely independent of creationism.”

At the moment that looks like a real possibility to me. There really is an “illusion of design” in nature, but it probably says more about our perceptions than about any design in nature.

That isn’t far away from what Behe said, after all he’ll know design when he sees it.

Does this mean that we can call Behe the “Potter Stewart of Information Theory?”

Hey Norman,

Here is where all the real action is.

http://tinyurl.com/ajc8l

Too bad Dembski is about to miss the boat on it.

germline wrote: “Here is where all the real action is. http://tinyurl.com/ajc8l Too bad Dembski is about to miss the boat on it.”

Thanks, “Perception As Bayesian Inference” and pattern theory, some of those basic ideas were popping into my head, just not so clearly stated.

The snowflakes are messages from Him. They must be read and fitted like a super complex puzzle set that, because of global warming and the decline of piracy, will be lost to time. We must beseach His Noodly Appendage’s reach!

So, anyone think Dembski will actually deal with the arguments that Mark has put forward, or you think he’ll just put up another “You’re out of your element Mark! OMG PWND!!!” post where he fails to repond to anything that has been written?

Norman Doering wrote:

At the moment that looks like a real possibility to me. There really is an “illusion of design” in nature, but it probably says more about our perceptions than about any design in nature.

Well, certainly some of it has to do with the perceptual mechanism – the brain connecting the dots. For example, we have a face recognition system which sometimes works overtime. Seeing the face on Mars or a face in an open pair of scissors where the sharp ends are pointing down, etc.. Interestingly, there is a phenomena sometimes experienced by bipolars where visual patterns will appear to almost leap out as visual abstractions from textured surfaces, bushes, etc.. (Other perceptual signs include subjectively more vivid colors, increased brightness, louder sounds, etc.., which might also be related to what seems to be an important part of the mechanism behind bipolar states – the increased intensity with which emotions are experienced – which can have fairly significant effects upon cognition.)

But a great deal of the appearance of design which we find in the world has to do with what proponents of Intelligent Design try to ignore when attacking evolution as a random process (e.g., the tornado in a junkyard producing a passanger jet criticism). Evolution isn’t really random. The mutations are, but they keep getting passed through the sift of natural selection, and what arises from this process in the long-run are oftentimes very efficient solutions to engineering problems. When such solutions are efficient, these solutions will in many ways resemble what a brilliant engineer would have done facing similar engineering problems – which is why genetic algorithms may prove to be quite useful in engineering and design.

Timothy Chase wrote: “… a great deal of the appearance of design … getting passed through the sift of natural selection, and what arises from this process in the long-run are oftentimes very efficient solutions to engineering problems.”

You have a point. A working machine can’t really be called an “illusion.” I over extended my reach.

I said: “At the moment that looks like a real possibility to me.”

I’ve changed my mind. It’s not a real possibility. You can’t blow the doors off this issue with pattern theory. The field of cognitive science can add depth to some Dembski concepts, like “detachability,” but the fundamental question about designed or not designed in nature is really “intensionality” (if that’s the right word). Did something intend for us to be here. Did something want us to be here.

The concept of intelligence is vague (can the genetic algorithm be called intelligent?) but at heart ID isn’t about “intelligence” but about intension (intention?) and pre-planning and desire. That’s what sets the concept of God in ID apart from the evolutionary algorithms and neural nets.

Dembski is barking up the wrong tree and so have I been. It’s not a sign of intelligence you have to look for but a sign of intention.

The big problem with using conditional probability with Dembski’s EF is that you can’t apply such an approach unless and until you understand the relevant conditions and processes. Of course, once you do understand those processes, the EF is rendered moot.

Consider how Dembski’s EF would be applied by some design theorist who didn’t know about the relevant weather conditions and physical processes. This person would not be able to apply the “right” conditional probabilities - he or she could only apply some set of a priori probabilities. The EF would then result in a (wrong) conclusion of design. Worse yet, having reached this erroneous conclusion, or hypothetical design theorist would then stop looking for other explanations. His error would only be discovered if some scientist ignored the EF and proceeded to discover the conditions under which the probability is appropriately high.

If you tried to use the EF with conditional probability, it is vacuous. You can’t actually then calculate the right conditional probability until after you’ve determined whether it is in fact designed or not. If you try to use the EF with a priori probabilities, you’ll get wrong answers.

Mt. Rushmore (or mountains, anyway) can be relevant… at least as a false positive! After all, the (now former) “Man of the Mountain” in New Hampshire was clearly of low probability … so it must have been designed … just like the “man in the moon” … “the face on Mars” … the constellations themselves, as such as they are … etc … etc … etc …

“taciturnus,” if it’s really the taciturnus that’s been widely criticized on any score of subjects on which he’s offered an opinion, is a shallow-thinking high school neocon that runs his own blog. I can’t remember the name, but any ridicule directed his way would be lost in the competing voices (both left & right).

I don’t know anything about this “Dave.”

Actually Dembski has gone a great deal out of his way (and rather dishonestly, IMO) to reject the notion of conditioning on the data. There is an article (at ARN and other places) by Dembski where he tries to show how the Likelihood Principle and Bayesian methods is not valid with regards to the question of design. The Likelihood Principle is what motivates the idea of conditioning on data observed (and ignoring data that wasn’t observed, but might have been). Hence this idea of conditioning suggests the commenter is completely clueless as to Dembski’s actual argument.

Steve wrote: “… Dembski … tries to show how the Likelihood Principle and Bayesian methods is not valid with regards to the question of design.”

I’m not a hundred percent clear on Dembski’s argument, but the one thing he’s right about is the concept of “detachability” in regards to an intended communication from an intelligent entity. I remember something from Dembski where he uses Carl Sagan’s science fiction novel, “Contact,” in which astronomers at SETI detected a radio signal of extraterrestrial origin. The signal was, in part, a sequence of beats and pauses representing prime numbers: 2, 3, 5, 7, …, 101. Each prime number was represented by a sequence of beats equal to the number, with consecutive numbers separated by a pause. So you get: “110111011111011111110…” That would clue me in that it’s not just noise. What natural process could do that? (It’s possible that there is a natural process, but I have to agree - it’s unlikely.) That’s a good example of detachment. The prime numbers are detached and represented in the radio signal.

But I think you could apply Bayesian inferencing and pattern theory to SETI signals. Likelihood Principle and Bayesian methods would be the good thing for detecting detachment… I think.

Detachability would signal not just “intelligence” but also an intent to communicate something. (Though I suppose there could be unintentional, unconscious communication – but unlikely by radio waves.)

I also do not see how detachability can be found in life, DNA, those functional machines that are supposedly specified and irreducibly complex.

Regarding “detachable” patterns as they apply to “specifications”:

You wrote:

For dave the shape of the rare snowflakes is not familiar and therefore not “detachable.” Hence, for dave these snowflakes are not “specified.” However, to an expert on snowflakes the shape is known, so when such an expert sees those rare snowflakes, he recognizes them as conforming to the image he has antecedently kept in his mind.

It seem to me we could also postulate a set of “stored default-specificity patterns” – patterns which years of accumulated experience have led the vast majority of people to believe are significant. These include simple geometric shapes, easily grasped patterns of recurrence (e.g., alternating heads and tails in a series of coin tosses, or endlessly iterated “H-H-H-T-T-T” sequences), and simple curves (like straight lines, parabolas, and sine waves).

These stored patterns are fairly small in number, especially compared with the large number of alternatives in the real world. (Is the number of possible curves in space aleph-one, or a higher order of infinity?) Therefore, whenever some event occurs which matches one of these stored patterns, it could be regarded as specified, even though no particular stored pattern was selected for possible matching beforehand.

Karl Lembke wrote

These stored patterns are fairly small in number, especially compared with the large number of alternatives in the real world. (Is the number of possible curves in space aleph-one, or a higher order of infinity?) Therefore, whenever some event occurs which matches one of these stored patterns, it could be regarded as specified, even though no particular stored pattern was selected for possible matching beforehand.

In that case “specified” reduces to “familiar”, and ID perforce gives up any pretense of “specificity” being some sort of property of objects or patterns. It is instead a function of the perceiver’s experience.

RBH

Is it me, or do the people here seem to understand Dembski more than the people at his blog ?

Dr. Perahk,

My apologies for giving in to the general tendency to ad hominem that’s been all too typical of this discussion.

You’re correct that specificity as Dembski describes it is “detachable” not specified “before-hand,” and you’ve charitably restated my argument according to its intent. Frankly I’m surprised and not just a little flattered that you singled out my little off-hand post for such rigorous treatment, out of dozens that were more thorough and articulate.

That said, I still believe you’re wrong that the EF returns positive for the snowflake. But I was also wrong in arguing that specificity was applicable at this particular stage in the Explanatory Filter.

For any snowflake, no matter how rare the conditions that produced it, the explanatory filter would return negative in it’s very first stage, because the snowflake’s pattern is reducible to known natural algorithms.

Here’s Dembski’s description of the first stage of the EF: “At the first stage, the filter determines whether a law can explain the thing in question. Law thrives on replicability, yielding the same result whenever the same antecedent conditions are fulfilled. Clearly, if something can be explained by a law, it better not be attributed to design. Things explainable by a law are therefore eliminated at the first stage of the Explanatory Filter.”

All snowflakes would be eliminated in this stage. The rarity of the conditions that produced them isn’t relevant, because the first question that the EF asks is: can the pattern in question be replicated consistently in the same antecedent conditions? As you pointed out, an expert in snowflakes would immediately recognize the pattern as the product of natural conditions. That’s it. It’s that simple. The EF returns negative on all snowflakes, triangular or otherwise.

The question of specificity doesn’t come up until you’ve eliminated both chance and natural conditions as a causal explanation. So whether specificity is or isn’t simply a way of making the probabilities smaller is irrelevant, because the snowflake is eliminated before the specificity of the snowflake’s pattern would even be examined under the EF.

sorry – “Perakh” not “Perahk”

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dave Wrote:

The question of specificity doesn’t come up until you’ve eliminated both chance and natural conditions as a causal explanation.

I should rather have said: “The question of specificity doesn’t come up if the phenomena in question can be explained by natural conditions.” Chance isn’t actually eliminated until the third stage of the EF.

RBH Wrote:

In that case “specified” reduces to “familiar”, and ID perforce gives up any pretense of “specificity” being some sort of property of objects or patterns. It is instead a function of the perceiver’s experience.

And this takes us right back to subjective probability and conditioning on one’s own set of knowledge, experience, and beliefs. Further, this is precisely the kind of thing that Dembski has tried to come out against in the article I mention (located here).

Norman Doering Wrote:

Each prime number was represented by a sequence of beats equal to the number, with consecutive numbers separated by a pause. So you get: “110111011111011111110…” That would clue me in that it’s not just noise.

Sorry, but see RBH’s comment. To you (and me) such a signal would indicate something unusual. However, this is not true of everybody. Somebody who is clueless about the prime numbers might not consider it noteworthy. Again, this is “detachability” is based on your own knowledge and this is something that Dembski has rejected when it comes to using probability to evaluate various events as being designed or not.

Dave, it’s not clear to me that Dembski’s “replicable by application of law” and your “explainable by natural conditions” are equivalent.

When what we’re looking for are phenomena that are intentionally designed rather than naturally occurring, substituting your phraseology seems to come perilously close to “now that we’ve eliminated ‘natural’ causation, what’s left must result from intentional design.”

But that’s precisely the issue under discussion–how to distinguish between the products of natural processes and intentional ones. Eliminating replicable processes resulting from the application of a well-understood law arguably winnows the field of candidates, without necessarily assuming that we can always tell what’s natural or not. (And, please, understand that I’m very far from agreeing that Dembski successfully brings off the rest of his undertaking.)

Your equating of this initial and rather-limited winnowing process with the elimination of all naturally-caused phenomena goes too far, compressing into the first step what Dembski claims he can tell only after several additional steps–and in effect assumes your conclusion.

I don’t think the EF is the tissue of nonsense that many critics think it is, but I do wonder how anyone will ever usefully apply it to biological systems.

Or anything else, really. Each stage of the EF requires that whoever applies it estimate probabilities. These estimates are necessarily based on prior knowledge run through the filter of preference. The result is invariably and necessarily that the Filter tells us exactly what we suspected to begin with – *regardless* of what we suspected.

In addition, Dembski’s filter, much like Behe’s IC, assumes the conlcusion. Both Behe and Dembski have set up analytical frameworks whereby (a) the burden of proof is on someone else to show that they’re wrong; and (b) the default if nobody can do so to their satisfaction, must be design. Note that B&D have rigged things so that they NEVER have to demonstrate or even define what “design” is, it’s simply what’s left after they’ve rejected everyone else’s proposals!

So the EF is useful in practice for only one single thing: to obfuscate foregone conclusions with mathematistical decoration, in the hopes of of misrepresenting faith as “science” among those already predisposed to accept this message. It’s worth noting that nobody anywhere (including Dembski) has ever used it for anything else whatsoever.

I understand Tye’s behavior here: this thread is “degenerating” into direct questions and observations he cannot answer. So he misrepresents the trend and runs off. The depressingly universal trademark of creationism.

The original subject of this thread was the question of whether a triangular snowflake would produce a false positive under the EF. I’ve asked several pointed questions in this regard and recieved no direct explanations, but I have recieved a number of unrelated queries that I’ve done my best to engage in good faith, the responses to all of which seems to be: “I have no idea what you’re talking about, therefore you’re wrong. Now answer my question.”

I’m afraid I can neither conquer the problem of induction, nor invincible ignorance. So, I’m retiring the thread. And no, you can’t email me offline.

But for the record, guys, I’ve analyzed the response pattern that Lenny, Flint and AR seem to have mastered. So for future reference, in case you forget, here’s a 4-step process that I like to call the Panda’s Thumb Dialectical Design Dodge:

1. Ask a question of respondent. The less relevant to the current thread, the better, particularly if respondent him/herself has unanswered questions on the table.

2. No matter what answer is given, NEVER address it on its own merits; rather, yawn or curse at the respondent and demand that they answer the question.

3. When the inevitable good-faith clarification is posted by the sucker, er, respondent, proclaim loudly that their answer makes no sense whatsoever. Some forehead-slapping and groans of disbelief will help you get into the spirit of things.

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until respondent(s) give up in exasperation. Crow loudly. Buy beer. Look fondly at your autographed picture of Daniel Dennett.

Mr. Sims:

Thank you for evading my questions. Once again, you handwave and project your behaviour onto your interlocutors.

Please, if your precommitment to a magical worldview hasn’t completely obliterated your critical thinking skills, I would really like you to explain the difference, if any, between the formation of triangular snowflakes and abiogenesis.

Do we consider the appropriate preconditions of both? Do we not? In this case, why? If yes, how do we compute the probability of abiogenesis occurring? Can we? Can Dembski’s EF tell us anything at all about events where the causal mechanism is unknown?

David Tye wrote:

I won’t be posting here anymore because the conversation is degenerating into exchanges of profanity.

Panda’s Thumb allows a considerable degree of freedom to everyody who may wish to post a comment. From the very beginning the group of “contributors” who came together to start this blog decided that there should be as little limitations on whatever “commenters” may post as possible. Kicking a comment to the bathroom wall (not to mention a complete banning of a “commenter”) would be applied only to comments blatantly breaking the rules of a reasonable debate and would equally apply to both those comments opposing the views of the “contributors” and those supporting such views. The decision whether or not to remove an offending or too “off-topic” comment is usually left to the “contributor” who started a thread.

So far, these rules have been adhered to more or less consistently. Very few commenters have been banned by PT for being too rude and/or prone to clutter the site with irrelevant diatribes, and they included both pro-ID and anti-ID commenters. Each time a decision has to be made whether to remove a certain comment, the dilemma is how to balance the principle of freedom of speech with the necessity to keep the debate withim certain norms.

I personally disapprove of using supercilios remarks contemptuous of opponents (like those routinely used by Dembski and some of his supporters, whose names I dont want to list) and this equally applies to the comments supportive of my position. However, I also think the frank expression of all kinds of critical remarks must be allowed regardless of how sharp the critique is as long as the critique is supported by logical arguments and is not distorting the utterances of the opposite side.

In my view, this thread has so far not exessively suffered from impolite outbursts as compared with some other threads on PT, and even less so as compared with some sites maintained by ID advocates. If you go over the 120 comments posted so far to this thread, they all keep reasonably close to the topic, and I can’t recall profanities used in any comments on this thread. If you, Dave Tye, can point to a specific comment using profanities, I may consider moving it to the bathroom wall.

If you, Dave Tye, feel uncomfortable participating in this thread, it is up to you whether to continue the debate or to keep silent, regardless of your motivation - I personally do not blame anybody who may be fed up with the debate for whatever reason and wants to stay away from it. I know that it not necessarily means fear of the debate or inability to reply to adversarial arguments, but often is due to frustration caused by the apparent futility of round after round of the same arguments repeated in varying versions.

Cheers, MP

Aureola, it’s a good question and probably fruitful for discussion, but I’ve grown bored of navigating the trolls.

Please post at uncommondescent and we may be able to continue.

I believe comment 48804 by Dave Sims is just at the border between reasonable debate and an irrelevant display of arrogance. However, it has not been moved to bathroom wall - and this is just one more illustration of PT’s overall tolerance. Does Dave Tye approve such comments as Sims’s latest exercise in sarcasm?

Dave Sims’s recent comments wherein he accuses his opponents of “invincible ignorance,” while his own contortions trying to redefine Bayesian approach make one suspect his not quite adequate familiarity with the matter in point, speak for themselves.

No, thank you, Mr. Sims.

I think I’ll stay where both sides can articulate their point of view without fear of censorship.

After some reconsideration, I admit I can’t find any trace of the “response pattern” Dave Sims allegedly finds in my remarks. I do, however, find clear and present indication of what Aureola Nominee calls “projecting your behaviour onto your interlocutors.” Perhaps Dave Sims should understand that explanations based on false premises cannot be honestly answered by anyone presuming those premises. When the false premises are corrected, answers based on them are quite clearly shown to make no sense.

Sims: Have you stopped beating your wife? PT crowd: Since I do not beat my wife, this question makes no sense. Sims: You are evading the question, which calls for a simple yes or no. How can we continue this discussion if you refuse to answer? PT crowd: But I DID respond. Either a yes or a no answer would tacitly ratify an assumption contrary to fact. Do you wish me to lie? Sims: You people NEVER address a question on its own merits. I give up.

Hopefully, we can all understand that essentially this exchange describes all debates here between PT regulars and creationists. The creationists insist that their assumptions be accepted as fact, PT people refuse to do so on the grounds that the assumptions are false, the creationists accuse the PT people of evading the questions and responding in bad faith, and eventually most of them give up in disgust. And I suppose it makes equally little sense from the creationist point of view for the PT crowd to be saying “Assume there are no gods. NOW, in light of this absurdity, how might we explain what God has done?” Equally senseless, right?

Oh, crap. D. Sims left. Well, in the hope that he’s still lurking, and in the interest of fairness, I’ll try to explain to the best of my abilities the answer to the one specific, unanswered question of his that I’ve seen. The question reads:

“If you can explain why this [the induction problem] is specifically a problem for ID and not all of science […]”

The specific problem for the EF in particular and most of ID in general is not so much what you describe as the induction problem (is this a well-known philosophical problem? I’m rather lousy at philosophy).

The problem with the EF is that it tries to infer design by ruling out laws of nature (and there really is only this single step, since the distinction between ‘regularity’, ‘chance’, and ‘luck’ that the filter makes is merely a question of sample size - which is another reason to be sceptical: Redundancy in a model is a Bad Thing in science).

Now there are two ways (in principle) to rule out natural law (please note that I am not necessarily prepared to grant that the only alternative to natural law is design - but that is rather irrelevant to this explaination):

Either the object, event or whatever else you put through the filter is impossible (or sufficiently highly improbable - as compaired with the time available) through solely natural law - in which case we don’t need the filter and Ockam’s Razor is slashed across its throat, to put it a little poetically. Note that in this case probability/possibility is an intrinsic quality of the event or object in question - and as such should be easily determinable. The fact that none have, to my knowledge, been found yet suggest either that there are none, that there is no such intrinsic probability - or at least no way to reliably determine it, or that Intelligent Design Creationists are putting in too few lab hours.

Alternatively one might rule out natural law by examining the probability of an event or object based on its causal history. This, however leaves us with the problem that this probability is, in general, not single-valued (or, in layman’s terms: The probability computed by looking at two different causal histories is in general not the same). Since the path-dependent probability function is in general not single-valued, one has to take into account *every possible causal history,* which is of course an impossible task.

Now, your question was why this problem does not apply to scientific theories. The answer is simply that scientific theories do not try to prove negatives. “But,” I hear you cry, “Newton’s 2nd Law tries to prove that there is no maximum attainable speed!” (This is actually a bad example, but I’ll get back to that). In fact N2 doesn’t do anything remotely like that. N2 tries to prove that F = ma. This is a *positive, testable prediction.* In fact, if N2 did postulate that there was no ultimately unattainable speed, then that postulate would also be impossible to verify. That postulate would, however, not be science.

(The reason that N2 was a bad example is that N2 actually says that the sum of external forces equals the change of total momentum of a given system - and momentum and speed aren’t trivially related.)

There is actually also a semantic problem with the EF when applied to biology: When applied to biology it seeks to distinguish between natural and supernatural phenomena (for want of a better term - in fact ‘supernatural phenomenon’ is a contradiction in terms). This, of course, means that it is not science, since by way of definition stuff described by science is *natural*.

Please note the philosophical difference between this and the notion that science excludes the supernatural. If something is what we would today call supernatural and is then described by science, then it would *cease to be* supernatural. Which BTW is why trying to describe God(s) scientifically is a pointless exercise, since she/they are *by definition* supernatural - so describing her/them by science would also be a contradiction in terms.

- JS

Mr. Sims:

Thank you for evading my questions.

Mine too.

I’ll ask again:

How, exactly, does one calculate the “probability” of something happening, when you, uh, don’t know what that something is? How does one calculate the “probability” of an evolutionary pathway when one doesn’t yet know what that pathway *is*? How, precisely, does one calculate the “probabilities” of a particular sequence of events, when one doesn’t know what that sequence of events was? (After all, if we knew what the sequence of events was, there wouldn’t be any unknown thingie to explain, would there.) Please be as specific as possible and take as many screens as you need.

Once again, we are led to my original question (which you *still* have not answered). Does Dembski’s filter want to rule out all CURRENT explanations (in which case it is nothing more than “god of the gaps”), or does it want to rule out all POSSIBLE explanations (in which case I’m still waiting for you to tell me how we rule out all the explanations that haven’t even been thought of yet — how the hell do we calculate *their* “probabilities”?).

By the way, you didn’t respond to my point about the order of Dembski’s steps. Why is the sequence of Dembski’s Filter, “rule out law, rule out chance, therefore design”? Why isn’t it “rule out chance, rule out design, therefore law”? Or “rule out law, rule out design, therefore chance”? Is it because (1) Dembski has no more way to calculate the “probability” of design than he does the “probability” of law, and therefore simply has no way, none at all whatsoever, to tell what is “designed” and what isn’t (other than the Behe Method — “it sure looks designed to me”)?, or (2) Dembski has conveniently adopted the one sequence that removes the necessity for “design theory” to actually produce anything or test anything? Or (3) both?

Oh and I am *still* waiting for someone to answer my OTHER simple question:

*ahem*

Let’s assume that there is a thing, call it A, that science can’t currently explain. You jump up and shout “You can’t explain it, so goddidit!!!” Suppose, ten years later, we DO find an explanation.

Does this mean:

(1) God was doing it up till the time we discovered a mechanism for it, then stoppped doing it at that point

or

(2) God was doing it all along using the very mechanism we later discovered

or

(3) the newly discovered mechanism was doing it all along and God was actually never doing anything at all

Which is it?

Please post at uncommondescent and we may be able to continue.

How. The Isaac Newton of Information Theory censors any comments he doesn ‘t like there.

Any idea why he does that, Dave?

Any reason why you can’t answer them HERE, Dave?

But for the record, guys, I’ve analyzed the response pattern that Lenny, Flint and AR seem to have mastered. So for future reference, in case you forget, here’s a 4-step process that I like to call the Panda’s Thumb Dialectical Design Dodge:

No, Dave – it’s more like:

(1) I ask an IDer a question

(2) they don’t answer it

(3) I ask again

(4) they say they ALREADY answered it

(5) I ask them where

(6) they run away

(7) I wait till they come back, and then ask again

Sal and Paul are particularly good practitioners.

Note that B&D have rigged things so that they NEVER have to demonstrate or even define what “design” is, it’s simply what’s left after they’ve rejected everyone else’s proposals!

“God of the gaps”.

Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.

But a special sort of god of the gaps. They frame all their arguments in such a way that their faith is the default unless someone can prove it wrong to their satisfaction. In this way, they are no different than Hovind’s bogus reward for anyone who can “prove evolution” with Hovind as the judge.

The notion of continuing a “discussion” on a forum where the opponent’s posts are reflexively deleted and the opponents are banned for posting them is so comically characteristic of Creationist “debate” that you have to laugh. Yet one further (though entirely superfluous) illustration that it’s simply impossible to be honest and a creationist at the same time.

But a special sort of god of the gaps. They frame all their arguments in such a way that their faith is the default unless someone can prove it wrong to their satisfaction. In this way, they are no different than Hovind’s bogus reward for anyone who can “prove evolution” with Hovind as the judge.

Indeed. Despite all its pretensions to be “science”, ID in fact consistently and absolutely does the one thing that no science ever does —- it absolutely never under any circumstances makes any statements or predictions that can be tested.

Indeed, much of ID consists solely of whining and crying that they shouldn’t HAVE to make any statemetns or predictions that can be tested. Their motto seems to be “YOU have to explain EVERYTHING; WE have to explain NOTHING”.

ID cannot, indeed, explain anything. Not only do they not want to try, but they want to argue that they don’t HAVE to.

So once again, ID has nothing in common with science.

Please note the philosophical difference between this and the notion that science excludes the supernatural.

If you look in the “Nobel Laureates urge rejection of ID” thread, you will find my standard response to all the IDers who give me this “science unfairly rules out the supernatural” crap.

I would re-post it here, but it’s kinda long.

Mark writes “If you, Dave Tye, can point to a specific comment using profanities, I may consider moving it to the bathroom wall.”

I did use the profanity “bullshit” when writing “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit”

I apologize to all of the, until just recently, virgin ears.

I see, Stuart. My not so virgin (given my age of 81) ears failed to register the profanity you cite. Since yours was a generalized statement, not adressing any particular person, I’ll let it stay. Cheers! MP

David Tye Wrote:

Mr. Fox,

If you would like to continue the discussion, drop me a line at dmtphilosophy at hotmail.com. I won’t be posting here anymore because the conversation is degenerating into exchanges of profanity.

Apologies, my internet connection has been down for a couple of days. I’m not sure if there’s much more to say but I’ll drop you a line now.

David

My email has been returned “mailbox unavailable”

Dave Sims Wrote:

Please post at uncommondescent and we may be able to continue.

This man is the ultimate comedian.

Yeah right.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Perakh published on September 14, 2005 5:58 PM.

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