Beckwith, ID and science

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Francis Beckwith, author of various papers on the constitutionality of Intelligent Design recently visited the comments section of PT. Since Beckwith’s legal arguments are based on the premise that intelligent design is science, I will comment.

Francis Beckwith Wrote:

Dear Lenny:

First off, how’s Squiggy? Second, and more seriously, I’ve addressed your question in several of my works, including my book Law, Darwinism, and Public Education. The short answer is that there are no necessary and sufficient conditions to distinguish science from non-science on which philosophers of science agree. So, for me, the issue of what counts as “science” is not relevant. What is relevant is whether the argument offered for the point of view, ID or something like it, is reasonable or not obviously irrational and it does not rely on sacred scripture or religious authority.

Let’s for the sake of furthering the discussion point out that ID is scientifically vacuous. In other words, skip the issue of whether or not it is science, since this presents ID actvists with an opportunity to argue philosophy rather than addressing the issue at hand. That ID is religiously motivated and that ID’s designer is supernatural is self evident. So the question becomes: Can ID be reformulated in a manner which would make it non-religious and still scientifically relevant? The simple answer is no.

Since Beckwith’s legal arguments are based on the flawed assumption that ID is science or scientifically relevant, his conclusions should be rejected just as the Judge did in Dover. There is just no secular purpose which is neither a sham nor insincere when it comes to Intelligent Design.

I really urge ID activists to familiarize themselves with the excellent paper by Nichols

Ryan Nichols, Scientific content, testability, and the vacuity of Intelligent Design theory The American Catholic philosophical quarterly, 2003 ,vol. 77 ,no 4 ,pp. 591 - 611

Ryan Nichols Wrote:

Proponents of Intelligent Design theory seek to ground a scientific research program that appeals to teleology within the context of biological explanation. As such, Intelligent Design theory must contain principles to guide researchers. I argue for a disjunction: either Dembski’s ID theory lacks content, or it succumbs to the methodological problems associated with creation science-problems that Dembski explicitly attempts to avoid. The only concept of a designer permitted by Dembski’s Explanatory Filter is too weak to give the sorts of explanations which we are entitled to expect from those sciences, such as archeology, that use effect-to-cause reasoning. The new spin put upon ID theory-that it is best construed as a ‘metascientific hypothesis’-fails for roughly the same reason.

Similarly Patrick Frank, author of “On the Assumption of Design”, Theology and Science, Volume 2, Number 1 / April 2004, pp. 109 - 130 writes

Patrick Frank Wrote:

Abstract: The assumption of design of the universe is examined from a scientific perspective. The claims of William Dembski and of Michael Behe are unscientific because they are a-theoretic.

Finally, the argument from the unlikelihood of physical constants is vitiated by modern cosmogonic theory and recrudesces the God-of-the-gaps.

If Beckwith disagrees then perhaps he can show how ID contributes in a non-trivial manner to science directly relevant to the concept of ID?

Let me clarify with an example: Irreducible Complexity, often quoted as an example relevant to ID is nothing more than an argument against a particular Darwinian trajectory in which the original function is retained and selection is active at every single intermediate step. At most IC can be used to argue against such a limited formulation of evolutionary theory but proving that IC systems can arise naturally does nothing to disprove ID unless one conflates ID with “anti Darwinian”

The same applies to Dembski’s CSI. Even when it can be shown how CSI can be created by algorithms (necessity and chance), ID has not been falsified since Dembski can and has moved the origin of CSI to an earlier moment, taking it outside the view of scientific inquiry by arguing for the concept of front loading.

CSI nor IC do anything relevant to intelligent design. At most they argue that a particular pathway cannot be explained in purely Darwinian terms (IC) or that our ignorance should lead us to infer design rather than ‘we don’t know’.

ID is all about ignorance and scientific vacuity. This way we can at least circumvent the discussion of how to define science and at the same time show why legal arguments based on the premise that ID is science or scientifically relevant are doomed to failure.

Francis BEckwith Wrote:

Calling such an argument “religious,” “science,” or “swiss cheese” does nothing to support or undercut the quality of the argument offered. If, for example, the kalam cosmological argument is not irrational to accept—and suppose it was supported by legitimate inferences from empirical premises (e.g., the universe did not always exist)combined with reasonable conceptual notions (e.g., an infinite regress cannot be traversed, something does not come from nothing)— calling such an argument “not science” contributes nothing to the dispute over it. It is a way to marginalize people who offer it. It does not advance the conversation in an intellectually exciting way. It’s the secular version of “heresy hunting.”

Fine, let’s avoid the attempt to diver the attention and portray ID as the victim of its own failure to be scientifically relevant and focus not on whether or not ID is science but whether or not it is scientifcally relevant.

Judge Jones’ opinion shows in quite some detail why ID fails to be scientifically relevant, irregardless of whether or not one considers ID to be a science or not.

Elsewhere Beckwith has argued that

Rather than leaving it at that, they offer an alternative account that takes both the present cosmological evidence and what we know about agents and infers from them that an intelligence best accounts for the state of the universe at its genesis (pardon the pun).

But no such alternative accounts are presented beyond “The designer did it because he wanted to do it” and “the designer could do it because he did it”. Not details, no evidence that their ‘explanation’ is the best one, nothing.

76 Comments

Dembski’s complex specified information is another gloss on misconceptions that have been part of Creation Science and ID all along. Once the problem is formulated in that manner, low probability (high information) is guaranteed. Everything after that (including the explanatory filter) is just smoke and mirrors that are purported to “reveal” the answer that was put in to begin with. One doesn’t need to do all that to know what the answer will be. And it dodges the more interesting questions and approaches that real scientists are addressing.

Claim CI001.1: Intelligent design (ID) is scientific, not religious.

http://talkorigins.org/indexcc/CI/CI001_1.html

What frustrates me is how CSI conflates probability, complexity and information. The log of the probability is basically CSI. In other words, if something is likely then it contains little information. But this means that nothing really contains much of any information and the information argument becomes self defeating. Let’s assume that some designer created ‘x’, the probability of the designer creating ‘x’ is 1, the information is thus zero and adding an intelligent designer does nothing to explain information in this universe. In a Shannon sense, information is the reduction in entropy between a uniform distribution and the final distribution. Under such approach, information increases when the probability function changes from uniform but in the Shannon sense, regularity and chance can explain this information and thus defeat the ID argument. So either information is a real argument and ID’s arguments are flawed, or ID’s arguments are based on a flawed measure which conflates various concepts.

CSI is definitely a flawed measure. There’s no clear definition of ‘specified’, for one thing.

Claim CI110: Complex specified information indicates design.

http://talkorigins.org/indexcc/CI/CI110.html

Watch Elsberry and Shallit beat CSI like a rented mule:

http://www.talkreason.org/articles/[…]sdembski.pdf

Steve Wrote:

Claim CI001.1: Intelligent design (ID) is scientific, not religious.

http://talkorigins.org/indexcc/CI/CI001_1.html

That ID is religiously motivated is helpful in particular court cases but as Beckwith remarks, what if ID were true, would it still fail tbe scientific? I would argue that it would not be scientific in the sense that it is still scientifically vacuous, even though it is true. Science is not necessarily about the Truth but about what can be studied using certain limited principles. Of course, it is ok to discuss ID outside the science classes. Science can conclude that we don’t know or even that we do know. Outside science ID can make the argument that in both cases there is still an underlying intelligent cause. The real question of course is how to establish the veracity of such an intelligent cause…

Specified in biology means functional, if Dembski/Behe are to be believed. Of course function is inherently teleological and how to establish the difference between apparant and actual specification is something ID does not address. Let me see if I can find the reference where specification is ‘explained’

Okay, here we go

van Till Wrote:

However, when it comes time for Dembski to support his conviction that the bacterial flagellum is specified, the procedure becomes considerably more casual, almost facile. Speaking on the specification of biological systems in general, Dembski simply asserts that, “Biological specification always refers to function. An organism is a functional system comprising many functional subsystems. In virtue of their function, these systems embody patterns that are objectively given and can be identified independently of the systems that embody them. Hence these systems are specified in the sense required by the complexity-specification criterion.”NFL, p. 148.In these four brief sentences the foundation of Dembski’s entire strategy for certifying the specification of biotic systems is laid.

Van Till

Or in Behe’s terms “a purposeful arrangement of parts” where purpose and function are interchangeable.

Behe Wrote:

I said that intelligent design is perceived as the purposeful arrangement of parts, yes. So when we not only see different parts, but we also see that they are ordered to perform some function, yes, that is how we perceived design.

What philosophers of science think is irrelevant. It’s what scientists do that counts for what’s science. Until ID makes significant contributions to scientific research literature it’s not worth considering. There are plenty of research areas that already are in the scientific literaure that never make it to public education.

It should be noted that “the purposeful arrangement of parts” = “the appearance of design” = Nothing more than a restatement of the problem.

CJ O'Brien Wrote:

It should be noted that “the purposeful arrangement of parts” = “the appearance of design” = Nothing more than a restatement of the problem.

Yes but it suggests something to the lay person which is just unsupportable. Intelligent Design’s conflation of terms such as purpose, information, complexity all serve to confuse rather than to educate. Strip the terms from their perceived meanings and show how they are actually are used and nothing remains.

When I was in law school 20-odd years ago, a student named Wendell Bird was girding his loins to fight for a way to get “creation science” into the schools. Being a lawyer, and, therefore, by definition, not a very nice person, I enjoyed watching him crash and burn, and his dream go up in smoke, a few years later, despite, or perhaps because of his work. I’m no nicer than I used to be, so it’s fun watching Francis Beckwith turn into Wendell Bird Version 2.0, though Beckwith at least has a cushy academic job to fall back on. I don’t know what Bird is doing these days.

Update on Bird at Dispatches from the culture wars

Just noticed this article, about a month old now, about the ACSI lawsuit against the UC. It contains one statement that jumped out at me. Wendell Bird is the lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the case. He’s a young earth creationist who was affiliated with the Institute for Creation Research and who wrote the model policy that was later ruled out of public schools regarding creationism in public schools. Here’s the statement:

In 1978, when he was a law student studying under Robert Bork – whose rejected nomination to the Supreme Court was an early battle in the culture wars – Bird published an influential article in the Yale Law Journal. In it, he laid out a strategy for using the courts to compel public schools to teach creationism alongside evolutionary theory.

His strategy failed, of course. He was the lead attorney for the state of Louisiana in Edwards v Aguillard, the case that ruled that creationism could not be taught in public schools in the United States. But I had no idea he had studied under Bork at Yale. Interesting coincidence.

I’d like to add that ‘there are no necessary and sufficient conditions to distinguish science from non-science on which philosophers of science agree’ doesn’t mean the same as ‘anything we like can be called science if we want to call it science’.

Dembski’s complex specified information is another gloss on misconceptions that have been part of Creation Science and ID all along. Once the problem is formulated in that manner, low probability (high information) is guaranteed. Everything after that (including the explanatory filter) is just smoke and mirrors that are purported to “reveal” the answer that was put in to begin with. One doesn’t need to do all that to know what the answer will be. And it dodges the more interesting questions and approaches that real scientists are addressing.

Goodie, I get to cut-and-paste another standard answer for all the newcomers. I encourage Beckwith to pipe in. :)

Perhaps the most celebrated of the Intelligent Design “theorists” is William Dembski, a mathematician and theologian. A prolific author, Dembski has written a number of books defending Intelligent Design.

The best-known of his arguments is the “Explanatory Filter”, which is, he claims, a mathematical method of detecting whether or not a particular thing is the product of design. As Dembski himself describes it:

“The key step in formulating Intelligent Design as a scientific theory is to delineate a method for detecting design. Such a method exists, and in fact, we use it implicitly all the time. The method takes the form of a three-stage Explanatory Filter. Given something we think might be designed, we refer it to the filter. If it successfully passes all three stages of the filter, then we are warranted asserting it is designed. Roughly speaking the filter asks three questions and in the following order: (1) Does a law explain it? (2) Does chance explain it? (3) Does design explain it? . … . … I argue that the explantory filter is a reliable criterion for detecting design. Alternatively, I argue that the Explanatory Filter successfully avoids false positives. Thus whenever the Explanatory Filter attributes design, it does so correctly.”

The most detailed presentation of the Explanatory Filter is in Dembski’s book No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased Without Intelligence. In the course of 380 pages, heavily loaded with complex-looking mathematics, Dembski spells out his “explanatory filter”, along with such concepts as “complex specified information” and “the law of conservation of information”. ID enthusiasts lauded Dembski for his “groundbreaking” work; one reviewer hailed Dembski as “The Isaac Newton of Information Theory”, another declared Dembski to be “God’s Mathematician”.

Stripped of all its mathematical gloss, though, Dembski’s “filter” boils down to: “If not law, if not chance, then design.” Unfortunately for IDers, every one of these three steps presents insurmountable problems for the “explanatory filter” and “design theory”.

According to Dembski, the first step of applying his “filter” is:

“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.” Right away, the filter runs into problems. When Dembski refers to laws that explain the thing in question, does he mean all current explanations that refer to natural laws, or does he mean all possible explanations using natural law? If he means all current explanations, and if ruling out all current explanations therefore means that Intelligent Design is a possibility, then Dembski is simply invoking the centuries-old “god of the gaps” argument — “if we can’t currently explain it, then the designer diddit”.

On the other hand, if Dembski’s filter requires that we rule out all possible explanations that refer to natural laws, then it is difficult to see how anyone could ever get beyond the first step of the filter. How exactly does Dembski propose we be able to rule out, not only all current scientific explanations, but all of the possible ones that might be found in the future? How does Dembski propose to rule out scientific explanations that no one has even thought of yet – ones that can’t be made until more data and evidence is discovered at some time in the future?

Science, of course, is perfectly content to say “we don’t know, we don’t currently have an explanation for this”. Science then moves on to find possible ways to answer the question and uncover an explanation for it. ID, on the other hand, simply declares “Aha!! you don’t know, therefore my hypothesis must be correct! Praise God! – uh, I mean The Unknown Intelligent Designer!” ID then does nothing – nothing at all whatsoever in any way shape or form – to go on and find a way to answer the question and find an explanation for it.

Let’s assume that there is something, call it X, that science can’t currently explain using natural law. Suppose, ten years later, we do find an explanation. Does this mean: (1) The Intelligent Designer was producing X up until the time we discovered a natural mechanism for it, then stoppped doing it at that point? Or (2) The Intelligent Designer was doing it all along using the very mechanism we later discovered, or (3) the newly discovered natural mechanism was doing X all along and The Intelligent Designer was never actually doing anything at all?

Dembski’s filter, however, completely sidesteps the whole matter of possible explanations that we don’t yet know about, and simply asserts that if we can’t give an explanation now, then we must go on to the second step of the filter:

“Suppose, however, that something we think might be designed cannot be explained by any law. We then proceed to the second stage of the filter. At this stage the filter determines whether the thing in question might not reasonably be expected to occur by chance. What we do is posit a probability distribution, and then find that our observations can reasonably be expected on the basis of that probability distribution. Accordingly, we are warranted attributing the thing in question to chance. And clearly, if something can be explained by reference to chance, it better not be attributed to design. Things explainable by chance are therefore eliminated at the second stage of the Explanatory Filter.”

This is, of course, nothing more than the standard creationist “X is too improbable to have evolved” argument, and it falls victim to the same weaknesses. But, Dembski concludes, if we rule out law and then rule out chance, then we must go to the third step of the “filter”:

“Suppose finally that no law is able to account for the thing in question, and that any plausible probability distribution that might account for it does not render it very likely. Indeed, suppose that any plausible probability distribution that might account for it renders it exceedingly unlikely. In this case we bypass the first two stages of the Explanatory Filter and arrive at the third and final stage. It needs to be stressed that this third and final stage does not automatically yield design – there is still some work to do. Vast improbability only purchases design if, in addition, the thing we are trying to explain is specified. The third stage of the Explanatory Filter therefore presents us with a binary choice: attribute the thing we are trying to explain to design if it is specified; otherwise, attribute it to chance. In the first case, the thing we are trying to explain not only has small probability, but is also specified. In the other, it has small probability, but is unspecified. It is this category of specified things having small probability that reliably signals design. Unspecified things having small probability, on the other hand, are properly attributed to chance.”

In No Free Lunch, Dembski describes what a designer does:

(1) A designer conceives a purpose. (2) To accomplish that purpose, the designer forms a plan. (3) To execute the plan, the designer specifies building materials and assembly instructions. (4) Finally, the designer or some surrogate applies the assembly instructions to the building materials. (Dembski, No Free Lunch, p xi)

But Dembski and the rest of the IDers are completely unable (or unwilling) to give us any objective way to measure “complex specified information”, or how to differentiate “specified” things from nonspecified. He is also unable to tell us who specifies it, when it is specified, where this specified information is stored before it is embodied in a thing, or how the specified design information is turned into an actual thing.

Dembski’s inability to give any sort of objective method of measuring Complex Specified Information does not prevent him, however, from declaring a grand “Law of Conservation of Information”, which states that no natural or chance process can increase the amount of Complex Specified Information in a system. It can only be produced, Dembski says, by an intelligence. Once again, this is just a rehashed version of the decades-old creationist “genetic information can’t increase” argument.

With the Explanatory Filter, Dembski and other IDers are using a tactic that I like to call “The Texas Marksman”. The Texas Marksman walks over to the side of the barn, blasts away randomly, then draws bullseyes around each bullet hole and declares how wonderful it is that he was able to hit every single bullseye. Of course, if his shots had fallen in different places, he would then be declaring how wonderful it is that he hit those marks, instead.

Dembski’s filter does the same thing. It draws a bullseye around the bullet hole after it has already appeared, and then declares how remarkable it is that “the designer” hit the target. If the bullseye had been somewhere else, though, Dembski would be declaring with equal intensity how remarkably improbable it was that that bullseye was hit. If ID “theory” really wanted to impress me, it would predict where the bullet hole will be before it is fired. But, ID does not make testible predictions of any sort.

Dembski, it seems, simply wants to assume his conclusion. His “filter”, it seems, is nothing more than “god of the gaps” (if we can’t explain it, then the Designer must have done it), written with nice fancy impressive-looking mathematical formulas. That suspicion is strengthened when we consider the carefully specified order of the three steps in Dembski’s filter. Why is the sequence of Dembski’s Filter, “rule out law, rule out chance, therefore design”? Why isn’t it “rule out design, rule out law, therefore chance”? Or “rule out law, rule out design, therefore chance”? If Dembski has an objective way to detect or rule out “design”, then why doesn’t he just apply it from the outset? The answer is simple – 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. So he wants to dump the burden onto others. Since he can’t demonstrate that any thing was designed, he wants to relieve himself of that responsibility, by simply declaring, with suitably impressive mathematics, that the rest of us should just assume that something is designed unless someone can show otherwise. Dembski has conveniently adopted the one sequence of steps in his “filter”, out of all the possible ones, that relieves “design theory” of any need to either propose anything, test anything, or demonstrate anything

I suspect that isn’t a coincidence.

That ID is religiously motivated is helpful in particular court cases but as Beckwith remarks, what if ID were true, would it still fail tbe scientific?

Once again, I get to cut-and-paste a standard response. Once again, I invite Beckwith to pipe up.

Apologies to all the old-timers here who’ve already seen this repeatedly – it’s going out to the new folks. Alright, actually it’s going out to Beckwith:

The scientific method is very simple, and consists of five basic steps. They are:

1. Observe some aspect of the universe

2. Form a hypothesis that potentially explains what you have observed

3. Make testible predictions from that hypothesis

4. Make observations or experiments that can test those predictions

5. Modify your hypothesis until it is in accord with all observations and predictions

NOTHING in any of those five steps excludes on principle, a priori, any “supernatural cause”. Using this method, one is entirely free to invoke as many non-material pixies, ghosts, goddesses, demons, devils, djinis, and/or the Great Pumpkin, as many times as you like, in any or all of your hypotheses. And science won’t (and doesn’t) object to that in the slightest. Indeed, scientific experiments have been proposed (and carried out and published) on such “supernatural causes” as the effects of prayer on healing, as well as such “non-materialistic” or “non-natural” causes as ESP, telekinesis, precognition and “remote viewing”. So ID’s claim that science unfairly rejects supernatural or non-material causes out of hand on principle, is demonstrably quite wrong.

However, what science DOES require is that any supernatural or non-material hypothesis, whatever it might be, then be subjected to steps 3, 4 and 5. And HERE is where ID fails miserably.

To demonstate this, let’s pick a particular example of an ID hypothesis and see how the scientific method can be applied to it: One claim made by many ID creationists explains the genetic similarity between humans and chimps by asserting that God — uh, I mean, An Unknown Intelligent Designer — created both but used common features in a common design.

Let’s take this hypothesis and put it through the scientific method:

1. Observe some aspect of the universe.

OK, so we observe that humans and chimps share unique genetic markers, including a broken vitamin C gene and, in humans, a fused chromosome that is identical to two of the chimp chromosomes (with all the appropriate doubled centromeres and telomeres).

2. Invent a tentative description, called a hypothesis, that is consistent with what you have observed.

OK, the proposed ID hypothesis is “an intelligent designer used a common design to produce both chimps and humans, and that common design included placing the signs of a fused chromosome and a broken vitamin C gene in both products.”

3. Use the hypothesis to make predictions.

Well, here is ID supernaturalistic methodology’s chance to shine. What predictions can we make from ID’s hypothesis? If an Intelligent Designer used a common design to produce both chimps and humans, then we would also expect to see … ?

IDers, please fill in the blank.

And, to better help us test ID’s hypothesis, it is most useful to point out some negative predictions — things which, if found, would FALSIFY the hypothesis and demonstrate conclusively that the hypothesis is wrong. So, then — if we find (fill in the blank here), then the “common design” hypothesis would have to be rejected.

4. Test those predictions by experiments or further observations and modify the hypothesis in the light of your results.

5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until there are no discrepancies between theory and experiment and/or observation.

Well, the IDers seem to be sort of stuck on step 3. Despite all their voluminous writings and arguments, IDers have never yet given ANY testible predictions from their ID hypothesis that can be verified through experiment.

Take note here — contrary to the IDers whining about the “unfair exclusion of supernatural causes”, there are in fact NO limits imposed by the scientific method on the nature of their predictions, other than the simple ones indicated by steps 3, 4 and 5 (whatever predictions they make must be testible by experiments or further observations.) They are entirely free to invoke whatever supernatural causes they like, in whatever number they like, so long as they follow along to steps 3,4 and 5 and tell us how we can test these deities or causes using experiment or further observation. Want to tell us that the Good Witch Glenda used her magic non-naturalistic staff to POP these genetic sequences into both chimps and humans? Fine —- just tell us what experiment or observation we can perform to test that. Want to tell us that God — er, I mean The Unknown Intelligent Designer — didn’t like humans very much and therefore decided to design us with broken vitamin C genes? Hey, works for me — just as soon as you tell us what experiment or observation we can perform to test it. Feel entirely and totally free to use all the supernaturalistic causes that you like. Just tell us what experiment or observation we can perform to test your predictions.

Let’s assume for a moment that the IDers are right and that science is unfairly biased against supernaturalist explanations. Let’s therefore hypothetically throw methodological materialism right out the window. Gone. Bye-bye. Everything’s fair game now. Ghosts, spirits, demons, devils, cosmic enlightenment, elves, pixies, magic star goats, whatever god-thing you like. Feel free to include and invoke ALL of them. As many as you need. All the IDers have to do now is simply show us all how to apply the scientific method to whatever non-naturalistic science they choose to invoke in order to subject the hypothesis “genetic similarities between chimps and humans are the product of a common design”, or indeed ANY other non-material or super-natural ID hypothesis, to the scientific method.

And that is where ID “theory” falls flat on its face. It is NOT any presupposition of “philosophical naturalism” on the part of science that stops ID dead in its tracks —- it is the simple inability of ID “theory” to make any testible predictions. Even if we let them invoke all the non-naturalistic designers they want, intelligent design “theory” STILL can’t follow the scientific method.

Deep down inside, what the IDers are really moaning and complaining about is NOT that science unfairly rejects their supernaturalistic explanations, but that science demands ID’s proposed “supernaturalistic explanations” be tested according to the scientific method, just like every OTHER hypothesis has to be. Not only can ID not test any of its “explanations”, but it wants to modify science so it doesn’t HAVE to. In effect, the IDers want their supernaturalistic “hypothesis” to have a privileged position —- they want their hypothesis to be accepted by science WITHOUT being tested; they want to follow steps one and two of the scientific method, but prefer that we just skip steps 3,4 and 5, and just simply take their religious word for it, on the authority of their own say-so, that their “science” is correct. And that is what their entire argument over “materialism” (or “naturalism” or “atheism” or “sciencism” or “darwinism” or whatever the heck else they want to call it) boils down to.

There is no legitimate reason for the ID hypothesis to be privileged and have the special right to be exempted from testing, that other hypotheses do not. I see no reason why their hypotheses, whatever they are, should not be subjected to the very same testing process that everyone ELSE’s hypotheses, whatever they are, have to go through. If they cannot put their “hypothesis” through the same scientific method that everyone ELSE has to, then they have no claim to be “science”. Period.

'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank Wrote:

Perhaps the most celebrated of the Intelligent Design “theorists” is William Dembski, a mathematician and theologian.

In what sense is Dembski, High Priest of Designtology, a “mathematician”?

Yes, he got a Ph.D. in mathematics. He published one short paper, MR1067671 (91j:28007). Since then he’s used the language of mathematics frequently for various applied purposes, but that does not make one a “mathematician”. That fact that his uses are flat out incompetent only makes it more meaningless to call him a “mathematician”.

Why aren’t questions about probability answered with “Behe’s ton of soil” and a link to the proper Dover trial transcript?

Lenny:

William Dembski, a mathematician and theologian.

Maybe he falls into a new category of wing-butt: theotician.

Ok I guess I will have to provide the link

Ton of soil: Behe and Kitzmiller

it’s the effective difference between “stuff has happened” and “stuff that happened was desired”: zero. you need to infer rather more about God for that inference to have any relevence.

ID has done nothing other than nominate an invisible pink pixie that desired every event

LOL. Cute and concise.

Syntax Error: not well-formed (invalid token) at line 7, column 206, byte 931 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.16/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187.

First off…

Dear Lenny:

First off, how’s Squiggy?

Did this guy seriously just make a bad joke in reference to a 30+ year old TV show? Why not throw in a Green Hornet pun next time too, Francis. Hey! You’re not a mule who kicks field goals, are you? But seriously…

What a friggin’ tool. And as others have already said, things which are “reasonable or not obviously irrational” can still be false. “I live in Las Vegas” isn’t religious, irrational, or unreasonable, but it is nonetheless wrong.

Don’t these ID supporters think that we know exactly what they are trying to propagate? They try to say ID is scientific and not a religious theory, but it is completely religious and any random idiot out there can tell. It is obvious that it ties into their personal religious feelings. So the universe was intelligently designed by a “creator?” Who is that creator, you ask. Well if their not bs’ing you, they would tell you that this creator is their Christian god. They are just attempting a perversion of science to further their social/religious agenda.

PvM: Thanks for the link. I’ll be interested to see if Bird crashes and burns again.

Francis Beckwith:

Dear Lenny: First off, how’s Squiggy?

Another great example of ID’s complete inability to mount the most elementary research program. It took me exactly one try on Google to find the answer:

Michael Mckean (Lenny) went on to acting in many movies, notably This is Spinal Tap. David L Landers (Squiggy) acted some but changed careers and became a Major League baseball scout. He is currently the scout of my team, The Seattle Mariners.

[answer.com‘s answer to the question, “Where did Lenny and Squiggy go after Laverne and Shirley?” Answer submitted by Mark Lindahl.]

Their humor’s dim, their “theory” is dim; like the turtles that they probably think support the world, it’s just dimness, all the way down…

Judge Jones’ opinion shows in quite some detail why ID fails to be scientifically relevant, irregardless of whether or not one considers ID to be a science or not.

Aghh! It burns! It burns!

“Irregardless” is not a word. If it were, it would mean “without without regard” or simply “with regard” once the double negatives cancel.

The word you want is “regardless” or maybe “irrespective”

Sorry to nitpick, but this is a serious pet peeve of mine.

while we’re on the subject, it’s “a lot”, not “alot”, and it’s “no one”, not “noone”.

and a common error on my part. Will I ever learn. Irregardless, I will try

SYLLABICATION: ir·re·gard·less ADVERB: Nonstandard Regardless. ETYMOLOGY: Probably blend of irrespective and regardless. USAGE NOTE: Irregardless is a word that many mistakenly believe to be correct usage in formal style, when in fact it is used chiefly in nonstandard speech or casual writing. Coined in the United States in the early 20th century, it has met with a blizzard of condemnation for being an improper yoking of irrespective and regardless and for the logical absurdity of combining the ne>ative ir— prefix and —less suffix in a single term. Although one might reasonably argue that it is no different from words with redundant affixes like debone and unravel, it has been considered a blunder for decades and will probably continue to be so.

Mike said I don’t believe that Dembski ever did a thorough literature search before he embarked on his filter fraud Oh Dembski did mountains of research starting with that Bible of scientific literature …er the Bible. A cursory flick through some philosophers a deep scan of Paley finishing with the most modern text on evolution he could stomach “The origin of the Species” and “The decent of man” just to see if Darwin was an atheist.

He could have saved himself a lot of time if he had just read “Don Quixote”.

PaulC Wrote:

I agree with most of what you wrote including the validity of using an operational definition of mathematician if you see fit. I have to disagree completely with the quote above, though, since there are excellent mathematicians whose ideas do not connect to the real world, and whether they have the ability to make a connection does not reflect on their merit as mathematician. I think Dembski’s main problem as a mathematician is the first one you brought up—the verbosity.

I don’t think the verbosity is the key problem (try reading St. Augustine, for example). No, I think Dembski’s major problem is his disconnect between his math and reality.

Consider just three examples: he writes an entire book applying the NFL theorems to the design problem. The NFL theorems are inapplicable to the design problem - their own authors say so. Dembski offers up pages of gook on the EF - which cannot even in the theory applied to a real-world object. Finally, his recent work on searches through domain spaces for solutions(I don’t have the reference in front of me); his argument is based on the fact that the entire space must be searched - but evolution doesn’t work that way.

His flagrant (and considering his goal, inexcusable) ignorance of biology makes it essentially impossible for him to connect any of his rather trivial mathematical insights to any real-world problem.

The verbosity is just an added benefit.

PaulC Wrote:

I agree with most of what you wrote including the validity of using an operational definition of mathematician if you see fit. I have to disagree completely with the quote above, though, since there are excellent mathematicians whose ideas do not connect to the real world, and whether they have the ability to make a connection does not reflect on their merit as mathematician.

Yeah, but Dembski’s trying to make an argument about the real world based on his math. If you want to be an applied mathematician, failing to connect your ideas to the real world is the cardinal sin.

We’re confusing academic credentials with what one does for a living. I have an acquaintance with a PhD in psychology who sells real estate for a living; he’s a real estate salesman, not a psychologist. Dembski doesn’t make his living, so far as I know, as doing or teaching math. He’s a propagandist, and perhaps a theology teacher, not a mathemetician.

No!!! That’s my point exactly. He’s an M.D., not a doctor, although he can properly insist on being addressed as Doctor Crichton.

More precisely, he does hold an earned doctorate, but is not a practicing physician. In colloquial American English, only someone who practices medicine and holds the proper credentials and licenses to do so is normally called a doctor (note the use of the article), but a better term for that profession is “physician” (or “surgeon” if the person is board-certified in a surgical specialty and is a stickler for fine distinctions).

The title “Dr. Your-name-here” is also appropriate for dentists, veterinarians, optometrists, and people with Ph.D.s, Ed.D.s, etc. (About the only doctoral-degree holders in the U.S. who don’t normally use the title are people with the J.D. degree.)

As for whether Dr. Dembski is a mathematician: That seems like more of a theological question than anything else. :-)

Note the smiley, – Dr. Stahlhut the biologist (spouse of Dr. Stahlhut the M.D. who does public health research rather than clinical medical practice).

R’sD:

No, I think Dembski’s major problem is his disconnect between his math and reality.

I meant his major problem as a mathematician. I agree that his biggest problem in general is a disconnect with reality: his arguments are almost always irrelevant to the issue he’s claiming to address.

I was thinking more along the lines of whether hypothetically he would be a decent mathematician if that’s what he chose to do. It strikes me that he’s the sort of person who tests well on technical ability, but cannot identify and address an interesting open problem in mathematics. This is mere speculation, though there are a lot of people like that.

Finally, it’s safe to say the Dembski is not an active researcher in the field of mathematics, and it’s reasonable to limit the scope of the term mathematician to those who are.

On the other hand, the dictionary definition of “mathematician” is as broad as: “A person skilled or learned in mathematics.” http://dictionary.reference.com/sea[…]athematician Consequently, I think it’s virtually impossible to make the case that Dembski “is not” a mathematician in the sense that he is engaging in some sort of fraud by identifying himself as one. It also sort of sidesteps the more pertinent point that being a mathematician does not confer any particular credibility to one’s opinions about evolution.

Julie Stahlhut noted that:

About the only doctoral-degree holders in the U.S. who don’t normally use the title [of doctor] are people with the J.D. degree.

As one of the holders of the Juris Doctor, I can attest to the correctness of Julie’s statement. Some of the pickier lawyers like to tack the designation “Esq.” onto their names (for “esquire”), but that’s too high-falutin’ for most of us. (And I’ve never been sure why a U.S. lawyer should be equated with a Brit. “candidate for knighthood.”)

Some of the things they call us colloquially do not, of course, bear repeating in a family-friendly blog…

PaulC Wrote:

I meant his major problem as a mathematician. I agree that his biggest problem in general is a disconnect with reality: his arguments are almost always irrelevant to the issue he’s claiming to address.

I agree completely. I wasn’t thinking about the internal issue. Looking at his stuff, I don’t think much of his work in this field: he is prone to inventing terminology, cluttering up proofs with unecessary entities; and grossly misuing standard concepts (Shannon Information anyone?)

I was thinking more along the lines of whether hypothetically he would be a decent mathematician if that’s what he chose to do. It strikes me that he’s the sort of person who tests well on technical ability, but cannot identify and address an interesting open problem in mathematics. This is mere speculation, though there are a lot of people like that.

From what I can see, I agree - I think he’s a so-so mathematician, in that he doesn’t seem to have any kind of deep insight into how math works. He uses it, and seems most interested in a purely pragmatic support for this theology.

Finally, it’s safe to say the Dembski is not an active researcher in the field of mathematics, and it’s reasonable to limit the scope of the term mathematician to those who are.

Which was sort-of my original point. I didn’t mean for it to become a big deal.

On the other hand you are clearly a theoretical computer scientist. %:->

On the other hand, the dictionary definition of “mathematician” is as broad as: “A person skilled or learned in mathematics.” http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=mathema… Consequently, I think it’s virtually impossible to make the case that Dembski “is not” a mathematician in the sense that he is engaging in some sort of fraud by identifying himself as one. It also sort of sidesteps the more pertinent point that being a mathematician does not confer any particular credibility to one’s opinions about evolution.

PaulC Wrote:

I was thinking more along the lines of whether hypothetically he would be a decent mathematician if that’s what he chose to do. It strikes me that he’s the sort of person who tests well on technical ability, but cannot identify and address an interesting open problem in mathematics.

The MR review of his one paper was positive, and it seems Dembski was looking at something no one else was. But it’s also the sort of topic that, if continued, would at best get you tenure at some backwater college teaching remedial high school algebra to morons.

I don’t fault his following the money decision making as such. But it means he can’t honestly call himself a “mathematician”.

the dictionary definition of “mathematician” is as broad as: “A person skilled or learned in mathematics.”

This is the sense in much of English literature going back centuries. But this meaning, today, is almost completely archaic, left over from the days when career mathematicians didn’t exist. It’s almost as archaic as the earlier meaning “astrologer”. But the lexicographers don’t realize this yet.

For what it’s worth, I am unable to find a dictionary that includes the archaic meaning “student in a mathematics class”. That sense was common in older literature, and it certainly contradicts the given definitions.

Consequently, I think it’s virtually impossible to make the case that Dembski “is not” a mathematician in the sense that he is engaging in some sort of fraud by identifying himself as one.

I don’t call it fraud. Just puffery. The more accurate term for Dembski would be “mathematicaster”.

Beckwith’s legal opinion is free, and free legal advice is always worth every penny paid for it.

Just ask the Dover Dolts what happened to them when their free lawyers followed Beckwith’s free legal opinion.

(snicker) (giggle)

Syntax Error: not well-formed (invalid token) at line 1, column 54, byte 54 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.16/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187.

Please keep down the insults and namecalling.

What happened to Francis? He tuck tail and run already?

I’m still laughing at the classic Beckwith thread where the infamous Great White Wonder caught Beckwith admitting that he didn’t really understand “intelligent design” theory – but was nevertheless certain that it wasn’t unconstitutional to teach it.

Too freaking funny.

Is Beckwith’s understanding of “intelligent design” now “fully formed”?

I would have guessed that the Kitzmiller opinion would have helped Beckwith to understand the vacuity of “ID theory.” It certainly helped many other literate people understand. Perhaps Beckwith’s inability to grasp the concept has something to do with his, uh, a priori assumptions about the existence of all-powerful universe-creating beings …

Reference to the thread added

Beckwith Wrote:

As for my views on ID not being fully formed, let clarify this so there won’t be any mistake about it. I have studied the arguments of ID advocates, and I have read the critiques as well. I am not a scientist and do not pretend to be. I am a philosopher, and thus trained in how to assess and evaluate arguments. Whether a position or case is dubbed “science” or not is not particularly relevant to me. What I am concerned about is whether a person has a strong argument. If the argument is strong—and it is a potential defeater for a position—then I find myself congenial to the argument.

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on February 9, 2006 10:40 AM.

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