Digital forensic versus ID’s design inference

| 123 Comments

On UcD, the lack of scientific research seems to have gotten to Dembski who seems to be attempting to include much of anything as being relevant to ID’s ‘design inference’

Dembski Wrote:

Need it be added that digital forensics consists in drawing design inferences.

Need it be added that this would constitute a common problem of conflation. While the terms may sound similar, an ID ‘design inference’ is very different from how one commonly uses the term.

From the article we learn that Digital Forensics is a news science which attempts to detect manipulations in an image, audio or video.

It’s a new field. It didn’t exist five years ago. We look at digital media — images, audio and video — and we try to ascertain whether or not they’ve been manipulated. We use mathematical and computational techniques to detect alterations in them.

Why is this different from ID’s ‘design inference’? Simple, from the article we learn for instance that:

I think like a forger. I spend a lot of time in Photoshop making digital forgeries to learn the tools and techniques a forger uses. We’ll make a composite photograph of two people and ask, “How do you manipulate this photograph to make it compelling?” By working backwards, we learn the forger’s techniques and how to detect them.

or how regularities are used to detect design

o we’ve developed a way of measuring whether the lighting is consistent within various parts of the image. Lately, I’ve become obsessed with eyes. In a person’s eyes, one sees a slight reflection of the light in the room. So I’ve developed a technique that can take that little image of the reflection of light and tell us where the light was while you were being photographed. Does that match what we see in the image?

Compare this to ID which refuses to address such “pathetic” questions of motive, means and opportunity

Remember when Dembski was asked for details about the ‘designer’?

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.”

You have been warned, ID’s use of language is 1984’ish in nature. You decide is this by design or can it be explained by regularity and chance processes?

Science does know that we humans are very sensitive to ‘design detections’ and often see ‘design’ where there is none, so there could be a real simple physical explanation here.

123 Comments

This is hardly the first time that people have pointed out to Dembski that forensics do not use the ‘design inference’

See for instance Gary Hurd

Dembski Wrote:

. It would be interesting to see how much (or how little) “evolutionary evidence” can withstand the scrutiny of digital forensics.

I assume Dembski is totally unfamiliar with the evidence then? What a crock

Yea, didn’t Dembski use digital forensics to determine that the photographs of those moths were faked? What a great method!

Next time ID proponents argue that ID is both a new method of doing science AND point out that science has been using ID all the time, point out the inherent contradiction in their position.

When they object, show them how ID relies on ignorance, while in digital forensics, its actual knowledge of the designer and his methods which lead to design inferences.

Don’t be fooled.

At first I thought maybe Dembski - though completely wrong - was sincerely trying to prove an idea he thought was correct and could be verified if all the existing evidence was just analyzed from a new perspective. He, and others, really believed he was the Newton of woo.

It is clear now that he is a crackpot and/or charlatan.

Do you think your God is pleased with you, Billy?

Let’s say for the sake of discussion that digital forensics could be used to draw “design inferences” in exactly the sense that Dembski uses the term.

Wouldn’t this then mean that the intrepid ID scientists I keep reading about now have a quantitative tool that’s rooted in the refereed literature? If so, wouldn’t the ID scientists be immediately jumping into applying this tool to something like rocks vs. clovis points to validate design inferences (I can see a paper or two there), and then moving on to tell us, using validated tools from the refereed literature, which biological systems,or which portions of biological systems, are designed? I see lots of papers there as well.

This could be evolution’s Waterloo!

Or not …

Applying tools… Pathetic…

Is anyone else getting flashbacks of that footage of Bigfoot besides me?

SWT asks, “wouldn’t the ID scientists be immediately jumping into applying this tool to something like rocks vs. clovis points?”

SWT, this is so unfair. You don’t think Soutwestern archaeologists have enough problems with scorpions and rattlesnakes? Now they’re going to have IDers running all over their sites, screaming ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell!’ every time somebody tries to collect a carbon-14 sample?

No, no, it’s far better to leave them alone with their computers inventing fart jokes.

Yeah, right.

When’s the last time an archaeologist applied a DI-style inference algorithm to a find in order to “prove” that it was man-made?

Archaeologists examine their finds for clues about their origins, and go with what seems to be the best explanation for that evidence… just like biologists and cosmologists do. Archaeologists’ methods couldn’t have any less in common with the woo Dembski peddles.

Next he’ll be claiming that angelologists use the same methods that planetologists do.

Dembski and his friends never cease to amaze me.

They are continually coming up with new analogies where people are making a “design inference”. Oh, look, that flower bed with the flowers planted in the shape of a word must have been designed. Oh, look, this “car” must have been designed. Forensic scientists make design inferences on a daily basis. Archaeologists use my EF to make design inferences. And so on.

What he strenuously ignores is that all of these “design inferences” are actually deductions based on knowledge of the stuff that people do. It is pretty much impossible to compare Dembski’s “design inferences” with any human-made design, because we already know that people make things and design things. They do this using processes that we (1) already know about, or (2) can deduce from evidence that they leave behind.

ID, OTOH, refuses to speculate (or, heaven forfend!, form a detailed hypothesis) about the abilities or motives of the designer (*cough* God *cough*); but in so doing, it removes any possible predictive power it could conceivably possess.

For example, about 20 years ago, the National Park Authority in one of England’s most beautiful national parks, the Lake District, was growing increasingly concerned about footpath erosion. The popularity of walking was on the increase, and the paths were becoming gravelly ruts in the fellsides. A chance discovery provided the solution: some biggish stones (about 8 - 14” in size) were uncovered (whether by erosion or by digging I know not) that were worn smooth.

Well, you might think, that’s no big deal, since rocky stream beds wear stones to rounded pebbles all the time. However, these stones were smooth on one side only - the opposite face was as rough as if the stone had been freshly deposited from a glacier. Additionally, the smooth sides had the same polished look that you see on really old stone staircases, which is different from the look that stones get when worn smooth in a stream or river bed. The conclusion was that these stones had been used as a type of paving or flagging, probably by Viking settlers.

This design inference was based solely on the knowledge that humans had lived in the area, and that humans show ingenious use of available materials to solve problems. And they managed all this before Dembski’s EF had ever been published.

This also provided the solution for the erosion of the footpaths - by replicating the methods of the Vikings, the National Park Authority has been able to save many hundreds of kilometres of upland footpath from deterioration.

As summary for the above comments, we conclude:

“Design inferences are ok, as long as you don’t do them in biology

About design inferences in biology:

Denton’s book*, page 329:

We would see that nearly every feature of our own advanced machines had its analogue in the cell”

(* “Evolution: A Theory in Crisis)

A better summary of the above, for Children Who Can’t Read Good:

design inference is ok if we have already agreed that certain principles of causation exist … which is sadly not the case in the fantasy world of ID biology

this is reminiscent of the problem with positivism, the notion that real knowledge is entirely deduced from evidence - you can’t make deductions (as opposed to induction) about nature from observations without having apriori laws about the ways that reality translates into observations to form a logical framework for making those deductions. Science makes an “evolution inference” based on reasonable (and incrementally improving) inductions that verify evolutionary principles about as well as we can verify anything, while ID has no business at all making “design inferences” because it has no reasonable grounds for the God processes that would need to be accepted, apart from the design inferences themselves, which are therefore invalid

Mats:

As summary for the above comments, we conclude:

“Design inferences are ok, as long as you don’t do them in biology

No, design inferences are ok, if you can make rational and feasible explanations of how things were designed. In many of these cases, the person making the inference can do experiments to replicate much of what is done (with whatever technology is available to the creator). They do need to use any supernatural explanations to show something was designed.

Then there are times when design inference without evidence is clearly wrong. For an easy example there is the face on mars. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Face_o[…]Face_on_Mars How could something like the face on mars be natural? It must be designed. There must be some martian civilization.

One last thing to point out, is that in the example above, the way to infer design, is to essentially look for imperfections in the photograph that could not be there by random chance. This is not very analogous to intelligent design. The more ‘perfect’ the forgery the harder it would be to infer design.

HDX

No, design inferences are ok, if you can make rational and feasible explanations of how things were designed.

I am not sure I agree with you on that. Back in the 70s and the 80s, crop circles roamed in the english country side. No one knew how they were created by everyone knew someone created them. No one sugested the rain and the wind as the “creators” of such sctructures. They all sugested creative minds behind those patterns, even though they didn’t know exacly how they had been done.

Mats:

As summary for the above comments, we conclude:

Design inferences are ok, as long as you don’t do them in biology

Wrong. I described a strategy by which ID activists could – at least in principle – turn their activity into published, peer-reviewed scientific inquiry.

Let’s be clear: The ID activists claim that they have tools by which they can objectively detect design. There are plenty of objects in the world that we know are designed, but are similar to natural objects – these make an ideal test of whatever design detection algorithm there might be. No theistic inferences are needed to sort human-made objects from natural objects, overcoming one of the major hurdles the ID activists claim keeps their work out of print.

It’s not our fault if they choose not to apply the tools they claim they have to actual real-world objects and organisms.

No one sugested the rain and the wind as the “creators” of such sctructures.

- Mats wrote about crop circles.

My memory tells me that there were people who suggested some kind of wind as a cause for crop circles. A look at the Wikipedia article “Crop circle” turns up this:

A more recent historical report of crop circles was republished (from Nature, volume 22, pp 290-291, 29 July 1880) in the January 2000 issue of the Journal of Meteorology.[6] It describes the 1880 investigations by an amateur scientist named John Rand Capron:

“The storms about this part of Surrey have been lately local and violent, and the effects produced in some instances curious. Visiting a neighbour’s farm on Wednesday evening (21st), we found a field of standing wheat considerably knocked about, not as an entirety, but in patches forming, as viewed from a distance, circular spots.…I could not trace locally any circumstances accounting for the peculiar forms of the patches in the field, nor indicating whether it was wind or rain, or both combined, which had caused them, beyond the general evidence everywhere of heavy rainfall. They were suggestive to me of some cyclonic wind action,…”[7]

In regards to crop circles, you can conclude design all you want. The problem is that in the absence of any evidence of the designer or any knowledge of the motives and goals of the designer, that will get you exactly nowhere. Of course we all know that the crop circles were made by humans who eventually told everyone about their methods. Until then, I guess you could have concluded that God made the crop circles as well. Man, she must have been getting really bored.

Mats:

HDX

No, design inferences are ok, if you can make rational and feasible explanations of how things were designed.

I am not sure I agree with you on that. Back in the 70s and the 80s, crop circles roamed in the english country side. No one knew how they were created by everyone knew someone created them. No one sugested the rain and the wind as the “creators” of such sctructures. They all sugested creative minds behind those patterns, even though they didn’t know exacly how they had been done.

What you fail to understand, Mats, is that when looking at a specific phenomenon, an objective investigator asks: “What process could have created this?”. He doesn’t ask “Who designed this?” or “What ‘impersonal’ process created this?”. Do you see the inherent bias you have?

When examining a phenomenon, look at what processes were present when it was created and whittle them away with evidence. Some things turn out to be man-made, others not. When discussing crop circles, no known natural process was known that could have that effect, so people began examining human causes. This is precisely what happened in biology 150 years ago. When looking at life on earth, we didn’t have any known natural process that could explain it, so the assumption was “design”. People started looking at the evidence (and more became available), and we started discovering those natural processes.

Why is this hard to grasp? If the evidence for evolution was so thin, how is it feasible that it would be so widely accepted in the scientific community? Why do creationists assume that biologists are so much different from other scientists? I don’t get it.

Mats:

HDX

No, design inferences are ok, if you can make rational and feasible explanations of how things were designed.

I am not sure I agree with you on that. Back in the 70s and the 80s, crop circles roamed in the english country side. No one knew how they were created by everyone knew someone created them. No one sugested the rain and the wind as the “creators” of such sctructures. They all sugested creative minds behind those patterns, even though they didn’t know exacly how they had been done.

The design inferred by people seeing crops circles was based in their predefined understanding of the capabilities of human or human-like intelligence, and the physical capabilities of humans. Ie, they looked like patterns and shapes a human would make, and since they are within the capabilities of humans to produce, and no natural processes were known to produce such patterns, people inferred human design. Now some of those people were of the opinion that the patterns were *beyond* the capability of humans to produce so presumed the patterns were made by aliens (which was later shown to be an unjustified assumption), but still their inference was grounded in the assumption that these “aliens” has an intelligence that was human-like to the degree that they would design patterns significant to humans.

It’s also worth pointing out that the “human design” inference made about crop circles was confirmable by experimentation, so they could go from idle speculation to established fact. The “alien design” inference was not confirmable by experimentation, since it is rooted in paranormal conspiracy theories that, much like ID, seek only to evade scientific scrutiny, rather than present a legitimate empirical case for themselves.

The ID design inference is based on personal incredulity, rationalised by demonstrably incorrect mathematics and arguments from ignorance. In ID “design” is merely a label for “unexplained”. In order to apply their “design” label to evolution, they have to make every effort to present a case that certain evolutionary adaptations are “unexplained”, so that they can then slap a “design” label over the word “unexplained”. The trouble is instead of finding aspects of evolution that are as yet unexplained and calling them “design” they have decided to make demonstrably fallacious claims about areas of evolution that are not only explained, but often empirically verified. The fact that IDists like Behe and Dembski keep parroting claims that have been refuted to them over and over again calls into question either their motives or qualification in making such claims.

In short, the “design inferences” made by ID are not design inferences at all. They are an arbitrary pronouncement of “unexplained” on natural process that have in fact been explained in great detail, and verified by scientific experimentation and research. This is then followed a straight forward argument from ignorance that unexplained=unexplainable. This is NOT science. Of course, then then have the last easy step that they don’t explicitly make to avoid sending up obvious red flags - that unexplainable=god. Of course they would never admit this in court, but they are happy to make it clear this is the whole point of this exercise when in friendly company.

If so, wouldn’t the ID scientists be immediately jumping into applying this tool to something like rocks vs. clovis points to validate design inferences (I can see a paper or two there), and then moving on to tell us, using validated tools from the refereed literature, which biological systems,or which portions of biological systems, are designed?

No, because ID science doesn’t need the pathetic validated tools that evolution needs. Only evolution is so pathetic that it needs such nonsense.

Dogmatic evolutionists might think that their ancestors jumped from out of the pathetic trees, but ID scientists didn’t come from no pathetic monkeys.

Note that digital forensics, such as steganography detection and cryptography, are rooted in solid mathematics (IDers note the appropriate use of Shannon information theory). Discovering “design” in those cases is dependent on hard math, not hand-waving. The same is true for SETI, which, in many ways, is the same problem.

I would love to see anything remotely well-founded in mathematics from the ID clowns.

Dembski’s theory of design has failed for 150 years.

What it lacks is data to prove or disprove it. Theories are dime a dozen, even evolution has more than two. Lamarckism, Raelism (UFO aliens), Scientology, dozens of religious creation myths.

Evolution Modern Darwinian, OTOH has mountains of evidence whole libraries. Problems identified with evolution have turned out to be problems with other theories which were wrong. The earth is very old, not young. Inheritance is Mendelian, not blending or Lamarckian.

The other theories have either been falsified or gone from zero evidence to zero evidence.

ID today has drifted into the realms of bafflegab, Design Filters, Complex Specified Information, Digital Forensics, vague terms not defined and unable to be measured. Pseudoscience.

Coupled with bad theology even many or most Xians don’t accept. Biblical literalism which pretends that a few pages of 4,000 year old myth explains all of science even though it is obviously completely wrong. Billions of angels and demons wandering around causing good and evil in the world. Dembski believes the latter, as usual with zero proof. IMO, the scriptural basis for this is nonexistent. It also seems to call free will into question which would make the universe and our existence meaningless.

Need it be added that the blog is called Uncommonly Dense?

Mats:

As summary for the above comments, we conclude:

“Design inferences are ok, as long as you don’t do them in biology

YOu are wrong, design inferences are welcome anywhere. The problem is that ID’s approach is a total failure.

And Mats, you still owe us your description of ID’s design inference. Or are you going to run away for a while?

Mats:

As summary for the above comments, we conclude:

“Design inferences are ok, as long as you don’t do them in biology

I think you’re more likely to ‘make’ a design inference than ‘do’ one, so let’s make a biological design inference, shall we?

Let’s say - just for example - that you find a species of bacteria that mysteriously has an exact copy of a human gene, which produces a human hormone that the bacteria has no use for whatsoever.

So - where did this gene come from? There are a couple of possibilities - it could have evolved in the bacteria over millions of years, or it could have been copied from a human and placed in the bacteria by someone or something - i.e. it could have been designed.

So - how do we determine if it was designed or not? I would argue that the only way to determine this would be to put forwards some candidates for a designer, and see if they had the means, the opportunity and the motive to do it (just like a murder mystery this!). It would also be really nice if we could find some detailed blueprints for how the designer did it too. That would really nail it down.

Ok - first candidate for the designer - a team of human scientists. Would they have the means to splice a human gene into a bacteria? Yes, they would. Would they have the motive? Well, it’s an insulin gene, and many members of the human species lack the ability to produce sufficient quantity of insulin themselves (you may have heard of them, they are called diabetics), so having a bacteria produce insulin for you sounds like a very nice motive for doing this indeed. Would they have had the opportunity to do so? Indeed they would - it’s easy to imagine that someone would have provided the resources for a team of scientists to do just this very thing. How about the blueprints? A quick read of the relevant journals does the trick - yes it was designed by a team of human scientists.

Compared to the alternatives - another ‘unknown’ designer, or the likelihood of a bacteria sharing a complex gene with a human for something it doesn’t actually require - I think this is an open and shut case. A biological design inference wins the day. Case closed.

You will notice however that is was required to actually speculate on the identity of the designer, along with considering the means, motive and opportunity. Only once all these boxes were ticked were we justified in reaching a ‘design inference’.

Re “Next he’ll be claiming that angelologists use the same methods that planetologists do.”

They look for heavenly bodies?

On the plus side, everyone, Mats has successfully used both the italic and the bold HTML tags in the same sentence. Credit where credit’s due.

Henry J:

Re “Next he’ll be claiming that angelologists use the same methods that planetologists do.”

They look for heavenly bodies?

ROTFL, very funny… Conflation and equivocation are ID’s best, and only ‘weapons’ to confuse its readers. When people point out the vacuity and infertility, they cry, censorship, suppression, oppression, and more.

Playing victim seems to be the next best thing that allows one to explain to its followers, why ID has been such a failure.

What background knowledge did Paley and everyone else who has ever inferred design in nature, including Darwin, base their inference on?

In case it wasn’t obvious (which it should have been to informed persons without blinders), I’m referring to Darwin before his voyage – the Darwin who, as Wikipedia puts it, “was particularly enthusiastic about the writings of William Paley, including the argument for divine design in nature”.

The raw fact that inferences include probabilistic considerations shows nothing, any more than that the landing of airplanes involves control towers.

To sum up Dembski’s argument: “They use a control tower to land their planes, so our control tower will land planes.”

There’s a better response to this than to deny that control towers are used in landing planes.

Poppers Ghost Wrote:

Yes, people make these inferences – so what? That someone makes an inference doesn’t make the inference correct or valid. Dembski’s argument is, at it’s base, cargo cultism. Forensic scientists, like all scientists, make inferences to the best explanation, and the inference includes probabilistic estimates. But forensic scientists have the facts right; IDists don’t.

OK, so I slightly misunderstood your argument the first time around.

You do make a good point. Even when people make design inferences without background knowledge, they are not reliable, but that does not necessarily prevent anyone from making them.

I think there is still more to it. Because we all possess a certain amount of experience in the way that people make things and do things, it is only under unusual circumstances that people make a design inference without applying (even sub-consciously) any background knowledge at all. It is therefore very difficult for any of us to separate that background knowledge from any potential design inference we may make.

To illustrate my point: If we were to take someone from a hunter-gatherer culture, with no knowledge of modern technology, and ask him/her to assess whether or not a cellphone (for instance, but it could be anything of which the person had no prior knowledge) were designed, (s)he would make a design inference based partly on the object itself, partly on a knowledge of natural organic forms, and partly on knowledge of human ingenuity.

Knowledge of human behaviours will almost always intrude upon any potential design inference we try to make.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by PvM published on October 4, 2007 9:40 PM.

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