Vacuity of Intelligent Design: Intelligent Design and Alchemy

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In an updated paper, Dembski discusses alchemy and describes why he believes evolutionary theory, under certain circumstances, is analogous to alchemy. To appreciate his argument, it helps to realize that on closer scrutiny, Dembski is arguing against philosophical materialism, not evolutionary theory. Secondly, I believe that Dembski has made an excellent case for an analogy between alchemy and Intelligent Design: Namely, both are lacking causal specificity.

The term ‘causal specificity’ means “… specifying a cause sufficient to account for an effect in question” and is used by Dembski to describe to what extent one can specify the pathways and processes through which a particular system has arisen.

Dembski Wrote:

Here, then, is the fallacy in alchemy’s logic. Alchemy [ID] relinquishes causal specificity, yet confidently asserts that an unspecified process [design] will yield a desired transformation [complex specified information]. Lacking causal specificity, the alchemist [ID activist] has no empirical grounds for holding that the desired transformation can be effected. Even so, the alchemist [ID activist] remains convinced that the transformation can be effected because prior metaphysical beliefs [Intelligent Design] ensure that some process, though for now unspecified, must effect the desired transformation. In short, metaphysics guarantees the transformation even if the empirical evidence is against it.

Source:: EVOLUTION AS ALCHEMY By William A. Dembski.(Note: I have added my edits in square brackets [.…])

Although Dembski is arguing that there is an analogy between alchemy and evolution (or more accurately materialistic evolution), there seems to be a much stronger similarity with Intelligent Design when it comes to the lack of causal specificity. Take for example the following response by Dembski when Rafe Gutman asked him for some specificity in explaining how Intelligent Design explains a particular system:

Dembski Wrote:

As for your example, I’m not going to take the bait. You’re asking me to play a game: “Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position.” ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories. If ID is correct and an intelligence is responsible and indispensable for certain structures, then it makes no sense to try to ape your method of connecting the dots. True, there may be dots to be connected. But there may also be fundamental discontinuities, and with IC systems that is what ID is discovering.”

Source: ID in their own words: Dembski at Panda’s Thumb

Any more questions? Perhaps “No Free Lunch” should more properly be described as “ID’s Free Ride”. ID has a lot to learn from Darwin, including Darwin’s observations that:

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

Charles Darwin, 1871 THE DESCENT OF MAN

More on causal specificity

Causal specificity seems to be yet another buzz word from the Intelligent Design crowd. So let’s explore it in more detail.

Richard Wein

In 2004, Richard Wein discussed Dembski’s usage of this term in his critique The Designer-of-the-Gaps Revisited: A critique of William Dembski’s article “Irreducible Complexity Revisited”. He shows how Dembski’s assertion, that ID is causally adequate to explain design in biology because we are familiar with analogous examples from human design, is flawed.

Wein Wrote:

Dembski goes on to argue that intelligent design is known to be causally adequate to explain irreducibly complex systems, based on the assertion that “humans regularly produce machines that exhibit irreducible complexity”. Let’s accept for the sake of argument that humans really do produce machines that exhibit irreducible complexity in Dembski’s sense of the term (though he gives no examples). It does not follow that an intelligent designer could have produced the irreducibly complex biological systems that we observe. Dembski offers no evidence of the capabilities of any designer who was in a position to design biological systems. Nor does he offer any evidence that such a designer could have existed. Thus, Dembski is very far from demonstrating the causal adequacy of his explanation. He is just resorting to an old chestnut of religious apologetics in which divine explanations are invoked while ignoring all the explanatory problems associated with the nature and existence of gods. Replacing “divine” with “design” does not make this style of argument any more convincing.

In other words, instead of demonstrating the causal adequacy of Intelligent Design, Dembski presents nothing more than a lot of ‘just so stories’ but nothing that seems even close to be scientifically relevant.

Allen Orr

Similarly, Allen Orr discussed the flaws in Dembski’s claim of ‘causal specificity’ or lack thereof when discussing irreducibly complex systems. While Dembski concedes the logical plausibility of Irreducibly Complex systems being built via Darwinian pathways (remember: causal adequacy), he still insists that Behe’s argument from irreducible complexity presents real problems for Darwinian theory.

Allen Orr Wrote:

Dembski more or less concedes that the above paths show that irreducibly complex machines can be built via Darwinism.16 Despite this, however, he bizarrely concludes that “[t]he challenge of irreducible complexity to Darwinian evolution is real, and to claim that Behe’s ideas have been refuted is false.” I must admit that I re-read this sentence four or five times, searching for signs it reflected multiple typos. But concluding that Dembski meant what he said, I tried to piece together why he still thinks irreducible complexity is a bone in the throat of Darwinism.

The answer is “causal specificity.” The scaffolding and incremental indispensability arguments are not, Dembski says, causally specific. This means they have not, in any particular biological example, been fleshed out in sufficiently gory detail that Dembski can judge their validity. You might think scaffolding, say, can account for the bacterial flagellum but no one has told Dembski just which protein came first and which second:

Indeed, there is no way to argue against a putative transmutation that seems plausible enough to our imaginations but has yet to be concretely specified.…This is of course another way of saying that the scaffolding objection has yet to demonstrate causal specificity when applied to actual irreducibly complex biochemical systems. The absence of detailed models in the biological literature that employ scaffoldings to generate irreducibly complex biochemical systems is therefore reason to be skeptical of such models.

This argument is more than a little annoying. Though Behe griped that evolutionists hadn’t faced up to particular biochemical machines, his chief claim was that Darwinism just couldn’t get here from there. He asked “What type of biological system could not be formed by ‘numerous, successive, slight modifications’?” and answered “a system that is irreducibly complex.” He announced that “[i]rreducibly complex systems are nasty roadblocks for Darwinian evolution” and spoke of “unbridgeable chasms.” That’s what all the hoopla was about, that’s why Behe got in Newsweek, and that turned out to be dead wrong. So now the argument shifts. Now the problem is historical concreteness. But to leave readers with the vague impression that nothing’s changed, Dembski brands his point “causal specificity.” But this is a category mistake of the first magnitude. His point has nothing to do with causation. It’s got to do with historical narrative. Which gene begat which protein in which order? Dembski’s bait and switch here is transparent and puerile. If the ID community wishes to be taken seriously as honest intellectuals seeking truth (even if they’re wrong; the two are not incompatible) they must plainly say: “Behe’s chief claim was wrong. Irreducible complexity is accessible to Darwinism.”

The causal specificity argument is also an exercise in nerve. We are, recall, trying to choose between two theories. One says bacterial flagella were built by mutation and selection and the other says they were built by an intelligent designer. And Dembski concludes the first theory lacks historical concreteness? Darwinism suffers a shortage of specificity? When, after all, did Dembski’s designer come up with plans for flagella? Just how did he reach out and shape that flagellum? Which protein did he move first or did he touch them all at once? It is the height of hypocrisy for Dembski to complain that Darwinism lacks causal specificity when his own theory lacks any specificity, including one atom of historical concreteness. Dembski may not have much of an argument, but you’ve got to admit he’s got chutzpah

Source: Allen Orr Book Review: No Free Lunch Boston Reviews

In other words, on the one hand Dembski argues that Darwinian theory lacks in causal specificity but on the other hand, he seems to ignore that ID’s own ‘theory’ lacks any specificity.

Dembski’s ‘response’

Undeterred by the simple facts, Dembski, in his response to Allen Orr’s review of his book, argues that the essential point is ”… a demand for details”. Ironically, Dembski does not explain why the lack of details when it comes to Intelligent Design should not be considered a problem.

Dembski Wrote:

The charge here is the same charge I’ve been making throughout this paper. I’ve variously tagged it “causal specificity,” “sheer versus real possibilities,” “failure to provide detailed, testable models,” and so on. The essential point behind this charge is a demand for details. The devil is in the details, and ID proponents want to see the details by which the Darwinian mechanism accomplishes the magnificent feats attributed to it. But since those details are neither available nor forthcoming, ID proponents suggest that it is time for Darwinism’s exclusion of design from biology to end.

Source: Dembski Evolution’s Logic of Credulity: An Unfettered Response to Allen Orr

Orr was however correct in his argument to point out that Dembski’s request for causal specificity (detailed mechanisms, pathways etc) was irrelevant to the argument of Irreducible Complexity. Namely that Darwinian mechanisms are unable to explain such systems. And if the charge is one of lack of sufficient detail then ID seems to be ultimately guilty. The main difference is that science is progressing in more detailed hypotheses while ID can only sit at the sidelines hoping that science fails.

Confronted with the scientific vacuity of Intelligent Design, Dembski addresses why he believes Intelligent Design does not have the burden of causal specificity. It seems to me that Dembski forgot his own statement that “The essential point behind this charge is a demand for details”… To explain why ID does not have a similar burden, Dembski has to turn it into a metaphysical concept which lacks a causal chain.

Dembski Wrote:

But what about intelligent design? Orr suggests that the same fault applies to it, but it does not. Intelligent design, in contrast to Darwinism, is not a theory about process but about creative innovation. Now creative innovation is not a process. Creative innovation can occur in a process, but even then it is a process where each step constitutes an individual creative act (a micro-innovation, as it were). In our experience with intelligences, creative innovation is a unifying conceptual act that ties together disparate elements into a purposeful whole. The act can occur over time in a process or it can occur in one fell swoop. But in either case, creative innovation is not reducible to a causal chain where one step “causes” the next. Causal specificity is about finding antecedent circumstances that account for and thus predict (whether deterministically or probabilistically) an event, object, or structure. But intelligences are free. In the act of creation they violate expectations. They create as they choose to create. There’s nothing that required Mozart to compose his Jupiter Symphony or Bell to invent the telephone or Shakespeare to write King Lear. And there’s no way to have predicted these creative innovations. Consequently, causal specificity applies secondarily, not primarily, to creative innovation and therefore to intelligent design

In other words “Creative innovation is not reducible to a causal chain”… Weird… while intelligences can ‘violate expectations’ there is still a causal chain, just one which may run counter to the expectations of an observer. But such creative acts can also take place in evolution, so why should evolution be held to a standard to which ID refuses to be held? In addition, note how Dembski switches from a ‘lack of causal chain’ to being unpredictable. Does Dembski realize that even unpredictable things still have a causal chain of events?

Dembski however believes that causal specificity is relevant to the pre and post-creative periods and argues that ID can be relevant in tracing causal specificity in these areas. So far, it seems that ID has remained mostly empty-handed. For instance, lets consider an often quoted example of a Design Inference, namely the Cambrian explosion. Let’s for the moment accept Dembski’s argument and look at the causal specificity of the antecedent circumstances of said explosion. Perhaps Dembski can explain how ID has contributed to our knowledge of causal specificity here? What about the ‘follow-up’ of the Cambrian? What explanations does ID have to offer here?

Dembski Wrote:

Causal specificity is certainly relevant to the antecedent circumstances that lead up to a creative innovation. It is also relevant in the aftermath of a creative innovation. Creative innovations, after all, have consequences. Causal chains flow out from them. Causal specificity therefore applies both to the lead-up and to the follow-up of a creative innovation. Indeed, that is where much of the intellectual labor on intelligent design will focus in coming years, namely, in tracing the antecedent circumstances that lead-up to and thereby condition the design of biological systems and then in tracing the impact of those systems throughout the biological world. Causal specificity therefore remains a live issue for intelligent design.

Of course, Dembski realizes that addressing follow-up or lead-up of a creative act is irrelevant until one can establish whether or not something is designed. And even if something is ruled to have been designed, we all know that Dembski has admitted that it need not involve the act of an intelligent designer.

“even though in practice inferring design is the first step in identifying an intelligent agent, taken by itself design does not require that such an agent be posited. The notion of design that emerges from the design inference must not be confused with intelligent agency” (TDI, 227).

Nevertheless, without a Design Inference, ID has nothing to argue so the primary focus of ID should be making a reliable Design Inference. And there we come to realize that Intelligent Design has been totally lacking in making any such Design Inference based on the Explanatory Filter. While Dembski describes the steps needed to draw a conclusion of design, ID seems to have failed to apply these necessary steps to any non-trivial example.

Dembski Wrote:

But it is not the primary issue. The primary issue is to determine whether there is design (i.e., creative innovation by an intelligence) in the first place. Causal specificity is no help here. For that you need specified complexity. Once specified complexity is identified and design thereby detected, then causal specificity becomes an issue. I indicate how I see this interaction between specified complexity and causal specificity playing out in coming years in the “research themes” portion of my essay “Becoming a Disciplined Science: Prospects, Pitfalls, and Reality Check for ID” (go here for the essay).

Dembski is wrong: the lack of causal specificity in existing hypotheses is used as evidence against these hypotheses and in favor of the hypothesis of ‘design’. As I have shown in the past, specified complexity is a fancy phrase to describe nothing more than that we do not fully understand how something with a function arose. Of course, ID is similarly unable to explain how the system with said function arose, other than by calling it ‘designed’. But that merely conflates design with ignorance rather than a productive hypothesis of design. If Intelligent Design can reject causal specificity for its own claims then requiring it for science seems to be ironic. Until one realizes that causal specificity or lack thereof is an impediment to Intelligent Design since ID is unable to reject said hypothesis based on the design inference. After all, the lack of sufficient detail makes ID impotent in determining the probability (known in ID speak as complexity) of this particular hypothesis. And since ID has no competing hypothesis, it cannot even compare its own ideas to scientific hypotheses. In other words, the requirement for causal specificity is to hide ID’s inability to present any scientifically relevant hypothesis and thus is unable to compete with even our ignorance.

And yet it seems Intelligent Design which refuses to present causally specific data, yet requires such data from evolutionary science. And while science can be observed improving upon its hypotheses (such as for the flagellum), it should be clear that ID remains fully empty handed, by design.

In other words, at every single step, we notice how Intelligent Design sets itself up to be and remain scientifically vacuous.

Dembski does realize that a major task lies ahead for Intelligent Design

Bottom line: Darwinism has a burden of proof that intelligent design does not have. Darwinism is a theory of process and therefore needs to provide convincing evidence that the processes it describes are able to bear the weight placed on them. That weight is considerable – indeed, no less than the whole of biological complexity and diversity. Intelligent design by contrast has a different burden. As a theory of creative innovation, its burden is to show where creative innovations first emerge and then trace their causal antecedents and consequents. Darwinism and intelligent design therefore face fundamentally different tasks, though there will be considerable overlap in their practical outworking (intelligent design, for instance, does not require that every aspect of biology be designed and is fully capable of assimilating the Darwinian mechanism). Ultimately what will decide the controversy between Darwinism and intelligent design is scientific fruitfulness. Darwinism, despite having many bright guys like Allen Orr to plough its fields and despite having all the research moneys you could want and despite having had almost 150 years to prove itself has come up empty in accounting for the emergence of biological complexity. Behe’s book, which was the first major positive statement of intelligent design, was published a mere six years ago. Intelligent design researchers are presently few in number and cannot obtain government funding for their research. That will change. Interest is mounting. And George W. is after all my neighbor.

So far ID’s lack of fruitfulness indicates that the battle between ID and science has been decided in favor of science. Of course, as Dembski seems to suggest, such failures of ID should be blamed on lack of sufficient funding, lack of sufficient researchers. Perhaps it’s time for ID to take responsibility for its own failures? And contrary to Dembski’s rethoric, science has made significant steps forward in understanding how evolutionary processes play roles in the emergence of biological complexity. Of course, we should not confuse, the term complexity as used in science with the term as used by Intelligent Design. If we accept ID’s terminology then of course by definition science will never be able to explain complexity. The moment it explains it, the complexity dissolves.…

Howard van Till

Howard van Till also quickly pointed out how Dembski’s demands seem to stop when it comes to explanations given by Intelligent Design.

van Till Wrote:

In the absence of full causal specificity (a quality, incidentally, that ID demands of scientific explanations but not of its own explanations) the ID movement does indeed have opportunity to posit its non-natural, intelligent design explanations as logically permitted alternatives. However, each time a new causally specific scientific explanation for one of these biotic structures is developed, the ID explanation for its actualization immediately becomes superfluous.See NFL, p. 364, for Dembski’s acknowledgment of this. “Even if the Darwinian mechanism could be shown to do all of the design work for which design theorists want to invoke intelligent causation…ID’s insistence that its claims can be refuted only by causally specific scientific accounts stands as an open invitation to false positive claims regarding the need for its appeal to non-natural causes.

Source: van Till, The Darwinian mechanism, Meta-Library

The following claims by Demsbki require some comments as they may leave the impression that evolution as a science shows analogies with alchemy when in fact it is materialist evolution which is held culpable. So, let’s remember that Dembski’s arguments are against a philosophical position, not a scientific one.

Dembski Wrote:

Evolution, on the other hand, seeks to transform nonlife into life and then organisms into very different organisms, but — when biased by materialism — excludes any place for intelligence or teleology in the transformation. Such a restriction is gratuitous given evolution’s lack of causal specificity in accounting not only for the origin of life but also for the macroevolutionary changes supposedly responsible for life’s subsequent diversification.

and

Dembski Wrote:

Science needs to be a free inquiry into all the possibilities that might operate in nature. Design, therefore, needs to be kept as a live possibility in scientific discussions of biological origins.

Dembski is correct here, science needs to be and actually science is a free inquiry into all the possibilities that might operate in nature. In fact, science has been extremely successful in extending its practices to detect intelligent design as possibilities that might operate in nature. However, Intelligent Design, is not about natural intelligence as it relies on elimination of all (known) natural processes of chance and regularity to infer Intelligent Design (properly capitalized to distinguish it from intelligent design). In other words, science is not rejecting Intelligent Design a-priori but rather it observes that Intelligent Design is scientifically vacuous and thus correctly rejects Intelligent Design a-posteriori as ‘bad’ science. And as far as teleology is concerned, natural selection has been argued, convincingly, to inevitably lead to teleological systems. Dembski himself suggests as much when he argues that ‘function’ in biology is sufficient for specification.

Resources on causal specificity/adequacy

1. Dembski, Principle of Causal Adequacy and Specified Complexity, ISCID, March 2002 2. Dembski, Evolution’s Logic of Credulity: An Unfettered Response to Allen Orr December 2002. 3. Richard Wein, The Designer-of-the-Gaps Revisited: A critique of William Dembski’s article “Irreducible Complexity Revisited”, February 2004

28 Comments

Richcare and Mike Klymkowsky: I do understand your sentiments but please keep things civil. In other words, no name calling or the use of the term lying, liars etc.

As to how Dembski feels, I think his latest ‘contributions’ to Uncommon Descent show exquisitely how he ‘deals’ with these matters.

Dembski’s just trying to take the offensive where he no doubt feels he is properly on the defensive. Indeed, we have often faulted him for lack of any mechanism, so what is he going to do, accept such sound criticisms?

He is playing on some genuine unease that arises for many in the area of evolution, however. The lack of strong predictive ability for particular evolutionary events is a problem for convincing many people, another reason why Dembski wants to take the offensive where his only alternative is “poof”.

Of course the strong predictive ability of evolution for patterns in taxonomy and its ability to explain patterns in detailed comparisons of genomes argues strongly in favor of evolution, thus for the mechanisms of evolution that we already know. He wants to take the offensive in order to obscure the fact that evolutionary mechanisms do predict and/or explain patterns that we do see. It is effective to portray “common design” or the like as a sensible “explanation” for the commonalities that we see, while he constantly avoids dealing with the details of evolutionary expectations vs. “design expectations”. To accuse evolution of a kinship with alchemy is a way of avoiding the lack of any ID explanations for the patterns of similarity that we see.

To a degree, he is also working with an “intelligence can explain anything” notion. The fact is that the “natural predictions” for intelligent design are inherently vague. Evolutionary relationships are not uncommon, even, in design, and he wants to make use of the fact that design makes few predictions. Of course it does predict that rational design would be the actual mark of “intelligent design” (if not necessarily evident in all designs–it would be evident in most designs effected by intelligent civilizations), something that is sensibly absent from organisms. Again, to take the offensive is to obscure the IDists’ inability to defend their “theory”, to smother over the fact that they cannot demonstrate rational design of organisms.

The facts are that we do have proximal, efficient causation mechanisms for evolution, ones that agree so well with the evidence that it is unlikely that any sea change in the overall set of evolutionary mechanisms is likely. Which mechanisms are most important may change substantially (tandem repeats?), but we probably do know the most important mechanisms of mutation and “selection” already. Dembski wishes to place a wedge between known causes and our inability to predict what will happen in the future. The obvious selective pressures on our genome, as well as the other genomes, can be thus voided in the minds of those who do not know better.

The worst aspect of ID is probably that many of its proponents do accept the evidence for evolution (Dembski’s a questionable case, since he sometimes simply argues that “evolution is wrong”, while he has in the past suggested that evolution did occur) while denying the actual causal predictions possible through “mechanistic evolution”. They’ll accept “nested hierarchies”, for example, when they do not have any mechanisms that would actually produce “nested hierarchies”. They try to co-opt the causal predictions of modern evolutionary theory as if they applied to any sort of evolutionary scenario whatsoever. But what does ID propose to account for evident selective effects in human genomes, vs. neutral or nearly neutral evolutionary processes that appear to have occurred? We have mechanisms that explain both “mechanistically”, while they have really nothing at all to explain silent mutations genetically underlying “common design” of enzymes, for example.

That is to say, Dembski tries to take the offensive with respect to the unknowns of evolution so that he can at least bring science down to the level of ID, if not even further (in the eyes of the poorly educated, that is). The predictions of modern evolution are substantial and well-attested in the evidence, while his project depends upon nullifying this fact in the minds of many.

Btw, chemistry did begin without the predictive abilities of current evolutionary theory. Xian scientists, for the most part, assumed “mechanism and matter” to be behind chemistry, and began to treat chemical transformations quantitatively and causally. The fact that the actual mechanisms were not known did not prevent chemistry from being science, as it was nonetheless empirical and treated as following laws. It was much later that the most important quantum “mechanisms” were elucidated.

By contrast, the causal events underlying evolutionary mechanisms is much more advanced than were the causal events underlying very early chemistry, say, in Lavoisier’s time.

And even alchemy was scientifically a cut above ID, for it assumed that transformations occurred according to inherent properties of elements and substances. That’s why chemistry has sound roots in alchemical practices, though it had to discard a large body of metaphysics included in alchemy.

ID does not assume that transformations have always occurred according to observable qualities, unlike both science and alchemy.

We do have mechanisms, though cannot predict many real-world outcomes. There’s nothing odd about that in science, however, for physics can only tell us what will happen in situations where the phenomena being tested are highly controlled. Evolution is simply the application of physics, via chemistry biology and selection (ecology, etc.), to poorly controlled phenomena, hence it is tested according to patterns that will appear under “ordinary evolutionary conditions”. We have the mechanisms, but not all of the pre-conditions needed for a full understanding of evolution. Much like predicting sunspots, we can identify mechanisms that give continuity to solar weather, but cannot predict when and where a sunspot will occur months in advance.

What Dembski needs to do is to tell us how ID can rectify our lack of knowledge about evolution. More importantly, he needs to tell us how ID can avoid setting back our understanding of evolutionary relationships, genomes, and the fossil record, if it were to supplant modern evolutionary theory. Chemistry replaced alchemy because it explained phenomena much better mechanistically than alchemy did through its “influences” and the like. Evolutionary theory replaced ID for much the same reason. Unless Dembski can develop ID into something that explains what we see better than does evolution, ID will remain as the inadequate precursor of biological explanation, much as alchemy is understood as the inadequate precursor of chemistry.

Yet let it never be said that alchemy was as poor at prediction and explanation as ID is. To some extent, chemistry evolved out of alchemy, while evolution simply supplied explanations where none (or virtually none, at least) had existed beforehand.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

The penultimate demski quote can easily be transformed into a quote about nuclear chemistry. With fusion, fission, and nuclear decay, the elements transform from one to another, all within a natual context. So is demski going to deny nuclear chemistry too?

There is a book that I would like to recommend to you and your readers. It is several years old, but still worth the read. It is called Evolution of a Creationist. It was written for laymen, not scientist, but you may find it and the ideas it presents very interesting. It is not written to argue the points that are usually argued on this site, but rather to share with the reader one man’s journey and I do not think it is inappropriate for even a scientist to read. It was written by Jobe Martin, D.M.D. Th. M.

Re “but you’ve got to admit he’s got chutzpah”

I wonder if chutzpah is irreducibly complex? And would that mean that it had to be intelligently designed?

Re “Intelligent design, in contrast to Darwinism, is not a theory about process but about creative innovation.”

In other words, I.D. as currently unformulated doesn’t even contradict evolution by accumulated genetic change. The presumed engineer did after all have to employ some method or other, and that may as well be simply the accumulation of change expected by current theory. So where’s the beef? Wendy’s, perhaps?

Re Dembski’s “The notion of design that emerges from the design inference must not be confused with intelligent agency”

IMNSHO, the absurdity of that statement kills his whole nonargument from the get-go. Offhand, I think that “design” implies that some party external to the “designed” system caused it to be that way, in order to satisfy some goal of that party. So to establish “design”, establish the nature of that party, its motivation, its opportunity to do whatever, and its methods. Or at least some of those details.

How do people have the patience to read all the way through a whole book of this stuff, I wonder? I tend to zone out after the first few absurdities.

Henry

Alchemy relinquishes causal specificity, yet confidently asserts that an unspecified process will yield a desired transformation. Lacking causal specificity, the alchemist has no empirical grounds for holding that the desired transformation can be effected. Even so, the alchemist remains convinced that the transformation can be effected because prior metaphysical beliefs ensure that some process, though for now unspecified, must effect the desired transformation. In short, metaphysics guarantees the transformation even if the empirical evidence is against it.

Huh? First of all, he’s claiming that evolution is analogous to alchemy and that evolution (like alchemy) is only accepted because of certain metaphysical suppositions. It means that no one except atheists can accept evolution. (Don’t tell Ken Miller and all the others.) Second, he’s saying that evolution is without a known mechanism. Has Dembski heard of computational evolution, like Avida and the entire field of genetic algorithms? No, sorry, we understand evolution well enough to write software programs that use it. We aren’t invoking miracles to explain our data (unlike ID).

Dembski Wrote:

Causal specificity is about finding antecedent circumstances that account for and thus predict (whether deterministically or probabilistically) an event, object, or structure. But intelligences are free. In the act of creation they violate expectations. They create as they choose to create. There’s nothing that required Mozart to compose his Jupiter Symphony or Bell to invent the telephone or Shakespeare to write King Lear. And there’s no way to have predicted these creative innovations.

In your face, psychology, sociology, and neurology! Silly people, thinking they can discover anything about the functioning of the mind and brain. Dembski’s here to set them straight–it’s all one big supernatural black box.

I’ve heard this from more than one scholar on the ID/creationist movement, and it sounds awfully plausible–they’re going after the psychologists and neurologists next.

That idiot Dembski Wrote:

Darwinism, despite having many bright guys like Allen Orr to plough its fields and despite having all the research moneys you could want and despite having had almost 150 years to prove itself has come up empty in accounting for the emergence of biological complexity. Behe’s book, which was the first major positive statement of intelligent design, was published a mere six years ago.

Since when is it the job of evolutionary biologists to satisfy demands for an explanation of an arbitrary idea of “complexity”? Almost all the crap that Dembski writes about “specified complexity” is complete and utter nonsense packaged in made-up, important-sounding words so that it might seem as though he’s actually talking about something.

Besides which, biologists have already accounted for complexity in biological systems: it exists because it developed naturally, and we have a pretty good idea of some of the paths it may have taken in doing so. Just because we can’t explain step-by-step the development of every so-called instance of complexity that Dembski and his cohorts pull out of their asses doesn’t mean that those steps didn’t take place, and we should therefore throw the whole of evolutionary science out the window and go back to Bronze Age myths. It’s mind-bendingly and demonstrably ridiculous.

The reason the IDiots don’t have funding isn’t because of some sort of political conspiracy - it’s simply because it’s laughable pseudoscience and most universities can recognise that. If only they had any concept of how stupid they sound.

[sidetrack]

Jan Wrote:

Evolution of a Creationist… by Jobe Martin, D.M.D. Th. M.

I haven’t read the book, but I’ve been presented its contents by proxy. If I may make a counter-suggestion, The Index to Creationist Claims. Most points offered by Dr. Martin is addressed with a rebuttal from mainstream science there. There are other things not quite addressed but which still demonstrate that Dr. Martin doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about, such as his insistence that there are discrete species, that if Evolution were true we’d expect to see something half-beetle/half-elephant, his conflation of Big Bang and Evolution, his lack of understanding about transitional forms (and apparently they don’t exist at all?), and from a personal communication that was relayed to me by a go-between he still (as of June 27th) insists that no new information can be added to the genome. All of this sort of thing is old-hat, it’s been around the block more often than a sugar-powered eight year old on a bike, and there’s no excuse for Dr. Martin to be making these sorts of claims anymore. Overall, hearing his rehashed “arguments” for Creation left me about as warm to the idea as a frozen poptart. And I’m fairly sure that’s not going to be read as most pluggers don’t stick around, but there’s nothing on TV at the moment and the library is closed. :)

Anton Mates: I’m actually surprised that they haven’t started, since due to the acceptance of mind-body dualism on the part of Catholics and others they already have a “wedge” between the materialists and others. (As I have warned here previously.)

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Dembski ranted at nausea, Intelligent design, in contrast to Darwinism, is not a theory about process but about creative innovation. Now creative innovation is not a process. Creative innovation can occur in a process, but even then it is a process where each step constitutes an individual creative act (a micro-innovation, as it were). In our experience with intelligences, creative innovation is a unifying conceptual act that ties together disparate elements into a purposeful whole. The act can occur over time in a process or it can occur in one fell swoop. But in either case, creative innovation is not reducible to a causal chain where one step “causes” the next. Causal specificity is about finding antecedent circumstances that account for and thus predict (whether deterministically or probabilistically) an event, object, or structure. But intelligences are free. In the act of creation they violate expectations. They create as they choose to create. There’s nothing that required Mozart to compose his Jupiter Symphony or Bell to invent the telephone or Shakespeare to write King Lear. And there’s no way to have predicted these creative innovations. Consequently, causal specificity applies secondarily, not primarily, to creative innovation and therefore to intelligent design

Why oh why does Dumbski waste all those creative juices and innovation when everything he wanted to say can be summarized as; POOF GODDIDIT

Intelligent design, in contrast to Darwinism, is not a theory about process but about creative innovation. Now creative innovation is not a process. Creative innovation can occur in a process, but even then it is a process where each step constitutes an individual creative act (a micro-innovation, as it were). In our experience with intelligences, creative innovation is a unifying conceptual act that ties together disparate elements into a purposeful whole. The act can occur over time in a process or it can occur in one fell swoop. But in either case, creative innovation is not reducible to a causal chain where one step “causes” the next. Causal specificity is about finding antecedent circumstances that account for and thus predict (whether deterministically or probabilistically) an event, object, or structure. But intelligences are free. In the act of creation they violate expectations. They create as they choose to create. There’s nothing that required Mozart to compose his Jupiter Symphony or Bell to invent the telephone or Shakespeare to write King Lear. And there’s no way to have predicted these creative innovations. Consequently, causal specificity applies secondarily, not primarily, to creative innovation and therefore to intelligent design.

Or another way of putting it, invoke intelligence as the cause of anything at all, and you don’t have to produce evidence.

The circularity in his “argument” is not accidental, of course. It’s just the old metaphysics, which explained mind through mind. Cut out science from considerations of mind and you’re back to having nothing better than such circular “explanations” for the mind. It’s as useless as anything can be, of course, but the anthropomorphism inherent in human thought will often accept “mind produces mind” in an associative/magical “cause” in default of a real scientific explanation.

Neuroscience would not be science if Dembski’s apologetics were accepted. Indeed, literary studies would be nothing if such a poor concept were used. Shakespeare wrote what he wrote because he was free. Well, there you are. We need not concern ourselves with the Renaissance’s effect on literature and Shakespeare. Did Machiavelli have any sort of causal influence on Shakespeare? How could it, if the mind isn’t ultimately the result of (essentially) causal mechanisms? English professors have been wasting their time considering the effects of Shakespeare’s Catholic background, his place of birth, his education, the relationship with his daughter and the death of his son, and his experiences in the theater. In fact, why does anyone at all care if the Earl of Oxford actually wrote Shakespeare’s plays, or if it was Shakespeare, considering that the mind is simply free and unpredictable.

What Dembski has done is to come up with a good counterexample to his concerns about causal specificity. We don’t actually have the exact causal mechanisms figured out for complex thoughts, as opposed to the well-known causal mechanisms of evolution, yet we can be quite certain that the “mind” is indeed operating according to physics, and that any freedom involves a certain freedom of energy (that is, energies are at the disposal of the decision mechanisms), not actual causal freedom. I could go on about reasons for thinking this, but the fact that we are concerned with what made Shakespeare into the writer that he was should suffice.

Perhaps what is most noticeable in Dembski’s dys-analogy is that once again he relies upon non-scientific bases in order to do his “science”. He wishes to insist that science does not account for “mind”, and by analogy and precedent to claim that evolution does not account for life, from which follows circularly the fact that mind is something other than an evolved organ. Furthermore, we could never explain the brain and its operations without evolution, meaning that a successful ID movement would cut off our access to explaining the “mind”.

He cannot begin to invoke science to bolster his prejudices about the “mind”, however. Rather, Dembski’s ID remains stuck where it ever has been, in religion/metaphysics. Dembski once again shows himself to be one of the worst enemies of ID’s attempts to be taken as science, since his entire framework for “origins” is predicated upon unsupported and apparently false conceptions regarding the mind and creativity. It is not surprising that he is generally not used as a witness for ID, given his penchant for using blatantly religious arguments in support of his “science”.

One rhetorical question I still have: Is he so ignorant that he doesn’t know that his “theory of mind” is as scientifically objectionable as his “theory of origins”? Or is he simply writing for those who are just that ignorant?

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Anton Mates Wrote:

I’ve heard this from more than one scholar on the ID/creationist movement, and it sounds awfully plausible—they’re going after the psychologists and neurologists next.

I guess they’re going to have to eventually, aren’t they? I mean, if the entire claimed point of “Intelligent Design” is to provide a scientific basis for determining which things are the result of natural processes and which things are the result of intelligence, this doesn’t very well work if it turns out intelligence is something that is produced by entirely natural processes.

Glen Davidson Wrote:

Neuroscience would not be science if Dembski’s apologetics were accepted. Indeed, literary studies would be nothing if such a poor concept were used. Shakespeare wrote what he wrote because he was free. Well, there you are… the mind isn’t ultimately the result of (essentially) causal mechanisms

It’s kind of funny to me. If you look at this a certain way, what we basically have is Dembski arguing that intelligences cannot be viewed as subject to causal processes because to do so would violate the principle of free will. And this is being done by a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute, which is… funded by a Calvinist. Is this an accurate summary of the situation?

Great essay showing how Dembski is engaging in nothing except a god of the gaps style of argumentation. Find a gap, but then refuse to detail exactly what sort of god might fill it.

Amazing. H. Allen Orr exposes Dembski incredible chutzpah. So how does he respond? With even more chutzpah, of course:

The devil is in the details, and ID proponents want to see the details by which the Darwinian mechanism accomplishes the magnificent feats attributed to it. But since those details are neither available nor forthcoming, ID proponents suggest that it is time for Darwinism’s exclusion of design from biology to end.

Note especially the play on the word “design.” “Darwinism” has never excluded design in the general sense, and Dembski is fully aware of that. What “Darwinism”, and science in general, exclude is the design strategy, with its bait-and-switch, double standard for causal details, quote mining, and other typical antics of pseudoscience.

Glen Davidson Wrote:

And even alchemy was scientifically a cut above ID, for it assumed that transformations occurred according to inherent properties of elements and substances.

I was thinking that classic creationism is more like alchemy than ID is. At least they make positive claims (e.g. “life is only a few thousand years old,” “I can turn Pb into Ag”). IDers seem to know that such claims are unsupportable, so they cleverly sidestep them.

There’s no way to sugar coat it. ID is a scam, and with every additional statement ID leaders like Dembski leave less doubt that they know it’s a scam.

My first post, intercepted by the webmaster, has not yet appeared. I will have web access only for the next 2 days of the next 10. Posting would be appreciated.

AGF

Dembski Wrote:

But intelligences are free. In the act of creation they violate expectations. They create as they choose to create. There’s nothing that required Mozart to compose his Jupiter Symphony or Bell to invent the telephone or Shakespeare to write King Lear. And there’s no way to have predicted these creative innovations.

This is one of the more interesting aspects of Dembski’s worldview. It makes for rather dramatic narrative:

Then, without warning, Michelangelo decides to sculpt David…

and rhetorical questions:

But what’s the probability of me writing this book? What’s the probability of Rachmaninoff composing his variations on a theme of Paganini? What’s the probability of Shakespeare writing his sonnets?

But answering those questions would be “problematic and prejudicial,” whatever that means:

When the issue is creative innovation, the very act of expressing the likelihood P(E|D) becomes highly problematic and prejudicial. It puts creative innovation by a designer in the same boat as natural laws, requiring of design a predictability that’s circumscribable in terms of probabilities. But designers are inventors of unprecedented novelty, and such creative innovation transcends all probabilities.

What does “transcends all probabilities” mean? Does that mean that the probability is zero? Or is it incomputable, like the halting probability (which can still be computed to some degree of accuracy)?

Granted, we have a limited amount of information about mental processes, but probabilities are calculated from limited information all the time. Why should it be taboo to talk about probabilities of creative events?

Here is the “lost” posting:

Bill Dembksi says that

“ID proponents want to see the details by which the Darwinian mechanism accomplishes the magnificent feats attributed to it,” whereas “ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories.”

“Darwinism has a burden of proof that intelligent design does not have. Darwinism is a theory of process and therefore needs to provide convincing evidence that the processes it describes are able to bear the weight placed on them.” “Creative innovation is not a process. …Intelligences are free. In the act of creation they violate expectations. They create as they choose to create.”

Despite the seeming inconsistency in “wanting to see” the “pathetic level of detail” of mechanistic “stories,” on certain presumptions his position is eminently logical - - the presumptions being that mechanistic explanations, while they are (1) capable of infinite detail, are useless because they are (2) incapable of explaining intelligence.

Presumption #1 sets up a straw man: explanation complete and certain in every detail, with no room left for doubt. It is not science, however, which says that certainty is attainable, but fundamentalism. This is not the approach of reason, but that of faith. If Dembski is correct in characterizing what “ID proponents want to see;” the ID movement is inherently religious, and not scientific. They are looking for certitude in all the wrong places.

We each, even Dembski if he would admit it, presume causality - - as Hume throughly discussed - - “by habit;” explanations of causality do not exist “out there” (objectively) but “in here” (subjectively). We individually decide when to be satisfied with any of them (and that is an act of faith). In the case of Darwinian evolution, the novice should, minimally, read The Sacred Depths of Nature, by Ursula Goodenough (1998), which while covering the entire span of evolution even accounts, if briefly (p. 68-70), for the chance-driven, success-fixed emergence of the bacterial flagellum.

Presumption #2, that mechanistic explanations are incapable of explaining intelligence, and its substrate of consciousness, is at the very core of religion itself. But, many scientists and philosophers consider consciousness to be intimately linked to the neural functioning of the brain, dictating the way by which the world is experienced. The brain is a wonderfully complex result of life’s variations, and IMO the mind is the brain as seen from within.

Consciousness, while undeniable as a personal experience, provides no demonstration of non-mechanistic (or, top-down) causation, differing in kind from the external universe, as Descartes argued and as many still believe. Nor does free will deny determinism; while we do what we will, we will what we must. “Purpose” and “intent” in self-regulating, living, and self-aware systems are convenient terms for closed-loop set points, departures from which induce bottom-up counter-changes.

What Dembski (like, most notably, Dr. Stephen Meyer at the Discovery Institute) refuses to accept is that causal sequences permeate free will and innovation - - that is, intelligence. He considers them exempt. His inferences rest on that characterization. Darwinism has “a burden of proof that intelligent design does not have” only because Dembski does not count intelligence as a causal process. As soon as he declares it detected by its effects, he declares it undetectable by its nature. Others would argue, however, that whatever is by its nature undetectable is by its nature ineffectual. Even if it exists, it does so to no avail. That is how in Newton’s day his Third Law dispatched the supernatural - - and still does.

Contrary to Dembski, mechanistic explanations are neither capable of infinite detail nor, granting that restriction, incapable of explaining intelligence.

My takes on evolution and intelligent design are explained in further detail at my blogs on Darwinian Murder and Intelligent Design. But, as a newcomer to blogging, I am just beginning to gather that short and snappy (as above) (?) does it, not the carefully developed arguments I have posted at the blogs. One place or the other, differ with me or agree.

The term “transcends all probabilities” means that Dembski classifies intelligence as a First Cause, like God. Then of course it is “transcendent.” But my long post on this has not yet passed review. Wait and all will be made clear.

Thanks, A. Granville. It seems to me that First Causes have a well-defined probability of zero, but I’ll wait for your long post.

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What Dembski (like, most notably, Dr. Stephen Meyer at the Discovery Institute) refuses to accept is that causal sequences permeate free will and innovation - - that is, intelligence. He considers them exempt. His inferences rest on that characterization. Darwinism has “a burden of proof that intelligent design does not have” only because Dembski does not count intelligence as a causal process. As soon as he declares it detected by its effects, he declares it undetectable by its nature. Others would argue, however, that whatever is by its nature undetectable is by its nature ineffectual. Even if it exists, it does so to no avail. That is how in Newton’s day his Third Law dispatched the supernatural - - and still does.

Contrary to Dembski, mechanistic explanations are neither capable of infinite detail nor, granting that restriction, incapable of explaining intelligence.

My take on evolution is explained in further detail at my blogs on Darwinian Murder, and on Intelligent Design. But, as a newcomer to blogging, I am just beginning to gather that short and snappy (as above) (?) does it, not the carefully developed arguments I have posted at the blogs. One place or the other, differ with me or agree.

I will, however, be unable to reply until after July 20th. Sorry about that.

With regards to uncaused events and probabilities: It seems to me that if an event has no causal antecedents, then any outcome is possible, with nothing to bias one outcome over another. In other words, the outcome is selected from an infinite, uniformly distributed set, and therefore has a probability of zero. I don’t see how Dembski translates that into a claim that uncaused events “transcend all probabilities.”

My posting #111498, dated July 11, was delayed pending webmaster approval. In the interim, with a vacation pending, on July 13 I re-posted the same in three parts. These postings, #111729, 734, and 735, are now redundant. My apologies. Perhaps the webmaster can delete all three, and this one.

Nevertheless, science must hold no brief against faith. It can be granted that faith exercises no reason - - else it would not differ from reason. Yet faith enters when reason tires, and says “enough of doubt!” While reason blazes trails in the wilderness, faith provides the refuge huts in which reason can stop and rest. Faith then watches while reason sleeps. The obvious problem being that The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (as painted by Goya, 1797).

(Fragment posted in error while previewing.)

Several of us (see my posting #111498) have been spotting the same premise made fairly explicit by Dembski in regard to intelligent design. It’s just a matter of which words to use in pinning the tail on the donkey. With hopes that hereafter, due to our efforts, the tail will follow the donkey wherever he brays - - excuse me, strays.

The problem is shared by religion in general, with the distinction that religion candidly makes no claim to being scientific. The logic starts intimately close to home: one’s own free will seems to defy causal explanation, ergo, the soul, as an instance of the “supernatural,” really exists. Indisputably Wonderful Me; hence in others like me, Wonderful Us; hence from ancient times, in the trees and in the breeze, Wonderful It, or theism. The reality of the not-natural is thus attributed not just to Intelligent Design, but to mystical motivation of the inanimate world-wide. This magnificent edifice (with all its inferred ethical imperatives) utterly collapses, however, if free will is seen as a mere causal process.

Which it does if the mind is explained as simply the brain as seen from inside. It’s really childishly simple. Toothaches have their own private paths to cognizance - - as do the workings of cognizance itself. No miracles are required. It’s just the nature of the entity to be aware of itself. And thus (as I said) while we do what we will, we will what we must. A causal process. Free will constitutes no proof of acausality.

Dembski claims an exemption from causality for Intelligent Design because he claims an exemption for all intelligence, most assuredly (as his only first-hand encounter with it) his own. Wonderful Me; hence Wonderful It. The causal explanation for the Cambrian Explosion, or irreducible complexity, is itself (he infers) a Wonderful It, explicitly NOT a causal process! The act of Intelligent Design was not caused; it just happened, mirabile dictu, like The Tempest. (The play, not the storm.)

“Secondclass” remarked in postings #11540 and 949 that “if an event has no causal antecedents, then any outcome is …selected from an infinite, uniformly distributed set, [with] a probability of zero.” Neat; but I say more simply that thoughts do not constitute reality, they only grasp at it. The very premise of causality is that every effect has its cause; if so, absent a cause there was no such effect. Other than sheer existence, nothing is a First Cause. This is why the entire top-down causative hierarchy of religion hangs from a sky-hook. Other than as seen by sheer faith, nothing happens from the top down; all causation is bottom-up, rising from the mere fact of existence. Top-down causation is the still-gasping victim of, as I have said, Darwinian Murder.

In resistance to this demise, Intelligent Design claims to be science, but perpetuates the evidentiary structure of religion. ID is (dishonestly) not science for the same reasons that religion is (straightforwardly) not science. Judge Jones ruled correctly. Believe what you wish; but do not teach mystic (contra-Newtonian) causation as if it were physical causation. It is not.

Nevertheless, science must hold no brief against faith. It can be granted that faith exercises no reason - - else it would not differ from reason. It is faith which enters when reason tires, and says “enough of doubt!” While reason blazes trails in the wilderness, faith provides the refuge huts in which reason can stop and rest. Faith then watches while reason sleeps. The obvious problem being that The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters(as painted by Goya, 1797).

Faith and reason are the differing, yet mutually essential, components of a world-view. To offer another metaphor, faith contributes the knots and reason the cords of a net which seemingly captures, and yet never really holds, reality.

Faith and reason require each other. It would be wrong to derogate either in favor of the other; for faith has no mobility, and reason, no security. As one’s world-view matures, reason may find paths such that one of the refuge huts no longer can be reached; then that faith is no more. Yet a trail which reaches no refuge hut has no merit.

“Intelligent Design” is still for some a refuge hut. Hopefully, for others it is a hut now ready for abandonment. For still others, it was from first mention an empty hut, located self-evidently far from any trail of reason.

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on July 9, 2006 4:17 PM.

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