Professor Olofsson on probability, statistics, and intelligent design

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Professor Peter Olofsson is a prominent mathematician, expert in probability, mathematical statistics and related fields (in particular, he has recently authored an outstanding textbook on probability and statistics). In a new essay Olofsson offers a devastating critique of Dembski’s and Behe’s mishandling of probabilistic and statistical concepts in their attempts to utilize these powerful mathematical tools to support intelligent design “theory.” Olofsson provides a superb analysis of the fallacy of Dembski’s treatment of the Caputo case, reveals Dembski’s distortion of Bayesian approach, and offers strong mathematical arguments against Behe’s latest book. The full text of Olofsson’s essay is available at Talk Reason.

(This essay was also printed in the Chance magazine, 21(3) 2008,)

107 Comments

If you stuck these guys heads into 100% proof of evolution they still wouldn’t change. There is no way that expert rebuttal of their arguments is going to do any good.

Olofsson’s observations are the simplistic, but most elegant, probabilistic and statistical refutations of ID’s main “concepts”. How Dembski can still claim to call himself a mathematician with a background in statistics is quite a mystery to me, especially when he has all but admitted to me - both in person and in e-mail - that he can’t calculate the confidence limits to his explanatory filter.

Now Behe is changing his definitions like Dembski? There goes my last ounce of respect for Behe as a scientist.

cimple?

alhypotheses?

appoach?

contasnts?

Moverover?

elimative?

Interesting essay. Shoulda run it through a spell-checker.

Jon,

There is a link to the properly proofread and spell-checked Chance article here:

http://ramanujan.math.trinity.edu/p[…]arch/ID.html

Cheers, PO

Olofsson’s argument with Dembski is about whether one can really reject “chance” in favor of “design”. It has been pointed out that Dembski’s Explanatory Filter does work – but that the alternative to “chance” could be natural selection, not just Intelligent Design. Dembski invokes his Law of Conservation of Complex Specified Information, which supposedly makes it impossible to explain adaptive information, when we see it, by natural selection. Thus when he rejects “chance”, all that is left is Intelligent Design, in his view. However Elsberry and Shallit (2003) and I (2007) have each found major holes in Dembski’s LCCSI. Dembski’s Explanatory Filter does reject “chance”, but it leaves us with ordinary evolutionary mechanisms as the major alternative.

Joe F,

Depends on what you mean by “chance.” Demsbki routinely uses it as a synonym for the uniform distribution but in general it means any stochastic mechanism for example mutation + natural selection. The problem Dembski has is then how to rule out every possible chance explanation, not merely the uniform distribution.

PO

In response to Jon Fleming’s comment: Thanks for pointing to the typos in Olofsson’s essay posted on Talk Reason. I’ve forwarded your comment to Talk Reason’s technical editor with a request to promptly spellcheck the text and fix all errors. I am sure she’ll do it. Usually she has been very thorough, but this time she had serious reasons to do the job in a hurry, for which I apologize on behalf of Talk Reason team.

Regarding Joe Felsenstein’s comment: I take the liberty of disagreeing with his statement that Dembski’s Explanatory Filter “works.” I believe such an assertion cannot be made, as the infamous filter readily produces false positives and false negatives in too many situations, so its conclusions (in particular conclusions asserting design, regardless of the design’s nature) are unreliable (not to mention its many other shortcomings). I had discussed these points in detail already in my book of 2003, as well as both before and after that in various posts and printed articles.

Peter Olofsson said:

Joe F,

Depends on what you mean by “chance.” Demsbki routinely uses it as a synonym for the uniform distribution but in general it means any stochastic mechanism for example mutation + natural selection. The problem Dembski has is then how to rule out every possible chance explanation, not merely the uniform distribution.

PO

Please bear with my weak math background. As I understand Dembski’s argument, he seems to be pulling something of a statistical bait-and-switch, by which he rules out the general evolution of unicellular motility by ruling out specifically the e-coli flagellum. But as Ken Miller points out in Finding Darwin’s God, this particular iteration of motility is neither the only nor the simplest propulsion system–so Dembski is cheating, in a manner akin to equating the probability of one specific human being born with the probability of any human being born. Am I somewhat correct?

This essay reminds me of an interesting piece on Dembski’s flagellar argument from Howard van Till a few years back in which he criticizes Dembski’s explanatory filter as claiming to exclude all stochastic processes (which Van Till describes as “N”), when in fact it only excludes “n,” known stochastic processes. As such, Dembski’s denominator can only shrink as “n” approaches “N.” (I’m sure that I’m paraphrasing this poorly–see introductory note.)

What all this leaves me with is a curiosity about who Dembski thinks his audience is. (This is also true of Behe.) It isn’t likely to convince anyone with the requisite mathematical or scientific training, and it isn’t likely to be understood by anyone without it. All that’s left is a few creationists adding “universal probability bounds” to angular motion and entropy in their rhetorical toolkits. Anyway, thank you for the post.

JPS,

The idea behind Dembski’s “explanatory filter” is to assume a “chance hypothesis” and argue that, under this assumption, the observed biological phenomenon is so unlikely we cannot possibly believe it happened by chance.

In his biological example of the bacterial flagellum, he argues that if all the proteins needed are assembled randomly, odds are solidly against anything useful being formed. This conclusion of his is correct but no biologist have ever claimed that the flagellum has come about in such a way. Rather than using this particular chance hypothesis, Dembski ought to form a hypothesis involving mutation and selection, and under this hypothesis compute the probability of the flagellum evolving. I claim that this task is more or less impossible.

PO

JPS said:

What all this leaves me with is a curiosity about who Dembski thinks his audience is. (This is also true of Behe.) It isn’t likely to convince anyone with the requisite mathematical or scientific training, and it isn’t likely to be understood by anyone without it.

Of course the matching interesting item to this observation is that they make little or no effort to publish their work in the journals of the professional communities who might be thought to be the targets of their argument.

Whatever the actual intent, the end effect is simply muddying the waters. Dembski seems consciously blatant in doing so.

White Rabbit (Greg Goebel) http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

Peter Olofsson said:

JPS,

The idea behind Dembski’s “explanatory filter” is to assume a “chance hypothesis” and argue that, under this assumption, the observed biological phenomenon is so unlikely we cannot possibly believe it happened by chance.

In his biological example of the bacterial flagellum, he argues that if all the proteins needed are assembled randomly, odds are solidly against anything useful being formed. This conclusion of his is correct but no biologist have ever claimed that the flagellum has come about in such a way. Rather than using this particular chance hypothesis, Dembski ought to form a hypothesis involving mutation and selection, and under this hypothesis compute the probability of the flagellum evolving. I claim that this task is more or less impossible.

PO

Not only have no biologists ever claimed that the flagellum has come about in the way that Dembski tries to model, no physicist has either.

There are no stochastic processes in nature from which organization emerges that assemble the constituents of those processes according to elastic collisions among atoms and molecules moving with pure randomness. This simply isn’t the way the universe works at any level, from the formation of protons and neutrons, to the formation of atoms and molecules, to the formation of liquids, solids, crystals (periodic or aperiodic), dendritic formations, and onward to the organization of complex organic structures and living organisms.

The perspective that both Dembski and Behe bring to their analyses has its roots in the egregious misconceptions about chaos and randomness that have been abused repeatedly among the ID/Creationists. These misconceptions are characteristic identifying features of ID/Creationism.

There is, however, a perspective that a layperson can use to get some insight into the main issues of evolution and natural selection. I have often advocated using dendritic growth in a contingent environment as a metaphor.

Singling out a particular dendrite and attempting to calculate the probability that this particular shape and location occurred is analogous to making the confusion between the probabilities that a particular individual would win the lottery and that someone would win the lottery. It doesn’t allow for what else could have developed under slightly different contingencies.

ID/Creationists tend to look at a given organism or biological feature as a target of evolution. Proper estimations of the probability of such an organism should instead take into account the cluster of related organisms surrounding that particular organism. Such an approach could at least give partial account of those organisms that might have appeared had environmental contingencies been different.

Unfortunately for the ID/Creationists, this means acknowledging that many similar organisms are related in the way evolution suggests, just as emerging dendrites can be related by having emerged as a result of slightly different contingencies on top of the same underlying substructure.

The other problem that is characteristic of Behe’s and Dembski’s approach is an underlying assumption that self organizing systems assemble by a single path (or a single permutation of events). Most physical systems opportunistically assemble along multiple paths simultaneously with these paths interacting with each other. Thus the probabilities associated with any given path are intricately linked to those of all those other paths. Here again dendritic growth, crystal growth are examples. For a variety of reasons crystals can develop defects that can change the direction of subsequent growth. Some of these defects can be a result of strains that occur as more crystalline material grows, say, in a gravitational field.

The first thing most people in the scientific community recognize when reading Dembski’s work is how out of touch with physical reality it is.

Waving around math and equations often seems to have a way of convincing its practitioners that they are in command of understanding when, in fact, they are simply quantifying gibberish. And when this is driven by attempts to justify a preconceived picture of the outcomes you want, getting the “right” answer makes some of these practitioners impervious to argument.

To my comment that Dembski’s filter “works” but what it detects is not design but natural selection,

Peter Olofsson says

Depends on what you mean by “chance.” Demsbki routinely uses it as a synonym for the uniform distribution but in general it means any stochastic mechanism for example mutation + natural selection. The problem Dembski has is then how to rule out every possible chance explanation, not merely the uniform distribution.

and Mark Perakh says

Regarding Joe Felsenstein’s comment: I take the liberty of disagreeing with his statement that Dembski’s Explanatory Filter “works.” I believe such an assertion cannot be made, as the infamous filter readily produces false positives and false negatives in too many situations, so its conclusions (in particular conclusions asserting design, regardless of the design’s nature) are unreliable (not to mention its many other shortcomings). I had discussed these points in detail already in my book of 2003, as well as both before and after that in various posts and printed articles.

I think we are closer to agreement here than it might seem. If we make a Filter that detects whether the DNA sequence (of some part of the genome) is in the top 10-150 of fitnesses of all sequences of that length, is this unlikely? Yes, if the mechanism imagined is just mutation and other evolutionary forces, but does not include natural selection. No, if it includes natural selection. So depending on whether or not you take the “chance” mechanism to include natural selection, you either have a Filter that is so vague as to be unworkable (Olofsson and Perakh) or one that works but then can’t rule out natural selection as the cause of the adaptation (me). Dembski imagined that he had a proof that natural selection could not do the job, but his proof was wrong, and also was of the wrong theorem that could not do the job, even if it had been provable.

Nice article. I think that Peter dismisses specification a bit too quickly. I agree it is a meaningless term, especially as applied to biological outcomes, but Dembski does go a bit further than “the type of pattern that highly improbably events must exhibit.…”. In Specification: The Pattern That Signifies Intelligence” he tries to define specification in terms of simplicity which roughly corresponds to what is the minimum number of concepts you can use the describe the pattern. The whole thing falls apart with a bit of analysis and doesn’t even get off the ground when applied to biology - but I think it is important to take into account what he wrote.

As for Dembski’s treatment of hypothesis testing and Bayesian inference. I find it hard to read it without feeling slightly embarrassed for the poor man.

Mike said,

The perspective that both Dembski and Behe bring to their analyses has its roots in the egregious misconceptions about chaos and randomness that have been abused repeatedly among the ID/Creationists. These misconceptions are characteristic identifying features of ID/Creationism.

I’m just surfing through Dr. Olofsson’s arguments and statements, (it’s gonna take a while), but I am happy to report one thing: In a previous (July 31) dialogue at Uncommon Descent, Dr. Olofsson said:

“Also, I don’t view ID as creationist.”

That’s important. (And refreshing as well.)

I’m hoping that Dr. Olofsson’s clear refusal to conflate ID and creationism will provide motivation for other evolutionists to seriously think about and follow his example.

FL

JPS Wrote:

What all this leaves me with is a curiosity about who Dembski thinks his audience is. (This is also true of Behe.) It isn’t likely to convince anyone with the requisite mathematical or scientific training, and it isn’t likely to be understood by anyone without it.

I see them as targeting 2 audiences. The first one is the “big tent” of YECs, OECs and would-be theistic evolutionists who crave the anti-“Darwinism” sound bites that they strategically place among the more technical language. The second one is their critics who understand the technical language, and how the IDers play fast and loose with definitions. As long as they can bait critics into defending “Darwinism” or arguing against “design in the general sense,” instead of forcing them to elaborate on their own “theory,” the IDers stay a step ahead with their first audience. While the technical refutations are certainly necessary, unfortunately they merely provide the IDers with more facts and quotes to take out of context with which to impress their first audience. I would like to see more “putting them on the spot,” in plain non-technical language. I don’t think that their first audience has quite gotten the message that all they have to offer in terms of their own “theory” is (my paraphrasing of a famous Dembski quote) “we don’t need to connect no stinkin’ dots.” While many YECs and OECs are beyond hope, many would turn against ID once they fully realize that none of it validates the natural history that they desperately want to believe.

What all this leaves me with is a curiosity about who Dembski thinks his audience is. (This is also true of Behe.) It isn’t likely to convince anyone with the requisite mathematical or scientific training, and it isn’t likely to be understood by anyone without it.

Frank J is right - techno-babble to impress the faithful, but near enough to real science to draw in the experts and stir up a controversy they can point to.

What this confirms for me is that this is essentially a political issue that will never be resolved through scientific discourse. If it were about science, it would have been buried long ago.

It seems that while the Know-Nothings remain a political force in your country, no politician will tackle them head-on. Have none of the biotech companies ever raised concerns about the collapse in educational standards that would probably happen if the likes of the Discovery Institute got its way?

One problem that is not sufficiently discussed is that ID does not present an alternative, and does not even make an attempt at a calculation of the probability for any alternative to evolutionary biology.

To take the “ballots” case as an example. (Assuming that the facts are as usually presented. I don’t know anything about the real case. I’m not going to use his name, because I don’t want to gossip about someone I know nothing about.) Suppose that we knew some different facts about the suspect. The suspect could be a Republican, or it could be that he didn’t like some of the candidates. It could be that he had no responsibility for the production of the ballots. And what if we learned that he thought that names at the bottom of the ballot tended to get more votes? Information like that would surely change our estimate of whether the suspect “designed” the ballots.

No matter how unlikely it is that the ballots turned out as they did by “pure chance”, is it any more likely that he designed them? If he had no opportunity or no means to design the ballots, then, no matter how unlikely it is that the ballots turned out that way by “pure chance”, he didn’t do it. If he had no motivation (because he would favor Republicans, or because he was ignorant of the results of ballot-placement), then we can’t say that he did it.

In the case of ID, what do we know about “Intelligent Designers” that makes us believe that they would “design” bacterial flagella?

The answer is, of course, that ID does not tell us anything about the opportunity, means, or motivation of the “intelligent designers”, so we have no idea at all whether “intelligent design” is more likely than “pure chance” as a reason for bacterial flagella.

No matter how slim the odds that something happened by chance, we cannot reach a conclusion just on that basis. We have to compare the probability with the probability of the alternatives.

So if Intelligent Design Theory isn’t Creationism, then what is it? Prominent Intelligent Design proponents have even admitted that Intelligent Design is neither scientific nor a legitimate alternative explanation. And then there is the distinct problem that all of the so-called “arguments” proposed by Intelligent Design Theory have all been recycled from Creationism.

Amadán said:

It seems that while the Know-Nothings remain a political force in your country, no politician will tackle them head-on. Have none of the biotech companies ever raised concerns about the collapse in educational standards that would probably happen if the likes of the Discovery Institute got its way?

The Biotech Industry is not worried at all about the Discovery Institute and like-minded religiously anti-intellectual political entities wrecking the US’ educational standards in order to please GodThe Designer.

If things get bad, they’ll simply move to better hunting grounds overseas. The Discovery Institute and their political cronies don’t care if that happens.

Dear Stanton,

You forget that the DI is promoting actively its rather peculiar brand of mendacious intellectual pornography elsewhere in the English-speaking world, especially in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. That is why ID has become an issue lately in the United Kingdom.

John

FL said:

Mike said,

The perspective that both Dembski and Behe bring to their analyses has its roots in the egregious misconceptions about chaos and randomness that have been abused repeatedly among the ID/Creationists. These misconceptions are characteristic identifying features of ID/Creationism.

I’m just surfing through Dr. Olofsson’s arguments and statements, (it’s gonna take a while), but I am happy to report one thing: In a previous (July 31) dialogue at Uncommon Descent, Dr. Olofsson said:

“Also, I don’t view ID as creationist.”

That’s important. (And refreshing as well.)

I’m hoping that Dr. Olofsson’s clear refusal to conflate ID and creationism will provide motivation for other evolutionists to seriously think about and follow his example.

FL

If one by creationism means the belief that the Bible presents a literal account of how species were created, then I don’t view ID as creationism. One might of course claim that a “designer” is also a “creator” at least if the design leaves the drawing board and results in an object. As neither Behe nor Dembski refer to the book of Genesis, I prefer to address their arguments rather than try to figure out what to call them. If they call themselves ID proponents, so be it.

Mark Frank said:

Nice article. I think that Peter dismisses specification a bit too quickly. I agree it is a meaningless term, especially as applied to biological outcomes, but Dembski does go a bit further than “the type of pattern that highly improbably events must exhibit.…”. In Specification: The Pattern That Signifies Intelligence” he tries to define specification in terms of simplicity which roughly corresponds to what is the minimum number of concepts you can use the describe the pattern. The whole thing falls apart with a bit of analysis and doesn’t even get off the ground when applied to biology - but I think it is important to take into account what he wrote.

As for Dembski’s treatment of hypothesis testing and Bayesian inference. I find it hard to read it without feeling slightly embarrassed for the poor man.

Mark,

Thanks for the comment on Bayesian inference which I don’t think has been addressed before. The filter has been debated ad nauseum and I included it because of the target audience of Chance readers were not likely to have heard of it. The Bayesian part and the criticism of Behe’s “The Edge” are new.

Stanton said:

So if Intelligent Design Theory isn’t Creationism, then what is it? Prominent Intelligent Design proponents have even admitted that Intelligent Design is neither scientific nor a legitimate alternative explanation. And then there is the distinct problem that all of the so-called “arguments” proposed by Intelligent Design Theory have all been recycled from Creationism.

In contrast to ID, creationism is scientific and provides an alternative explanation!

Tom S. said:

To take the “ballots” case as an example…If he had no opportunity or no means to design the ballots, then, no matter how unlikely it is that the ballots turned out that way by “pure chance”, he didn’t do it.

Well, you don’t need an intelligent agency to explain systemic bias. This is the point that Dembski misses. Such a lopsided and unexpected result should lead you to question whether the one specific random system you thought was operating actually is. But Dembski leaps from that observation to “it must be intelligent cheating.” He completely ignores other possible sources of systemic bias. Maybe the hat had 1 red ball and 100 blue balls in it, and Caputo’s only crime was being willing to accept the results.

Amadan said: Have none of the biotech companies ever raised concerns about the collapse in educational standards that would probably happen if the likes of the Discovery Institute got its way?

As Stanton said, corporations have many States to choose from. But Universities, private citizens, and nonprofit groups - i.e. people who already have a stake in how well a State does - have raised this concern.

In some respects its a weak argument. Committed creationists don’t believe that TOE is ever used in applied science, and think ‘a more theistic science’ will lead to greater innovation, so they aren’t going to change their mind based on economic arguments. Of course they completely ignore DI’s lack of scientific innovation over 20 years, but that’s an argument for another day.

Dear Peter:

I believe Wesley Elsberry and others have addressed the issue of Dembski’s inappropriate usage of Bayesian Inference in several articles published earlier in the decade. Alas I don’t have the references handy, but I am sure Wesley could provide you with a bibliography.

John

John Kwok said:

Dear Peter:

I believe Wesley Elsberry and others have addressed the issue of Dembski’s inappropriate usage of Bayesian Inference in several articles published earlier in the decade. Alas I don’t have the references handy, but I am sure Wesley could provide you with a bibliography.

John

John,

I don’t think the points I make have been brought up by Wesley & Co, but I may be wrong. Peter

Mark Frank said:

(snip)In Specification: The Pattern That Signifies Intelligence” he tries to define specification in terms of simplicity …(snip)

Who was it that so clearly exposed Specified Complexity as an oxymoron?

Dr. Olofsson, let’s see how IDC is creationism. This comes through clearly to people familiar with the phenomenon. We should drop the “literal interpretation” and Genesis hangups. The words “literal” and “interpretation” don’t go together well. There are Old Earth, Young Earth and ID no earth creationists. IDCs tell religious audiences and readers that ID = the Gospel of John expressed in mathematical information theory (among other things). This covers Genesis while leaving interpretation unspecified. Dembski, accused by YEC master Henry Morris of stealing his and other IDC’s ideas, said IDists take these ideas and make them rigorous. [Can someone please find the reference for this?] As a mathematician you will be sensitive to the difference between making an argument more formal as Dembski does, and rigor. But Dembski did not try to tell Morris that no, these are new ideas.

Unlike ID creos, we let the critics of our position to freely express themselves on PT threads. The lengthy dissertation presented by the commenter signed as “Nils Ruhr” as a comment on this tread is an illustration of our policy.

In all of “Nils Ruhr”s endless post there is one correct statement - it is his assertion that biology is an empirical science and therefore its problems can’t be solved by purely mathematical argument. True! Indeed, such an argument has been offered more than once before, and legitimately it has to be addressed to Dembski in the first place. As an example, one may look up this post wherein the notion of mathematical arguments being intrinsically incapable of repudiating the empirical data was evinced, thus making “Nils Ruhr”s thesis late by nearly five years.

It is Dembski who has devoted his career to repudiation of evolution theory by supposedly mathematical, in particular statistical “arguments.” It is only natural that real experts in mathematics, seeing Dembski’s awkward attempts to “demolish” evolution theory by means of obviously inadequate mathematics, analyze Dembski’s mathematical discourse and demonstrate its utter fallacy, leaving biological aspects of the matter to biologists. The main thesis of “Nils Ruhr” is hence first of all applicable to ID advocates’ output, Dembski’s including.

In view of that “Nils Ruhr”s pseudo-sophisticated notions, rooted in biology, are irrelevant insofar as Olofsson’s article is in question. As to the validity of Dembski’s and Behe’s arguments, they have been shown to be utterly wrong many times over, so continuing the debate with Dembski and Behe looks to me as beating a dead horse, but I also can understand the desire to pounce time and time again upon those two ID advocates whose output, while patently wrong, is invoking the continuing debate simply because of the arrogance and impudence of their behavior.

Frank J said:

Mike Elzinga Wrote:

This is a perfect example of the perils of avoiding scientific peer review. The result is a whole sequence of “oh crap, I screwed up and now it’s out there for everyone to see” moments.

You don’t seriously think that Dembski lost a minute of sleep over what mainstream science thinks of his antics? …

It was a wisecrack, Frank. Of course I understand that this is not about science.

The pseudo-science “rebuttal” of Peter Olofsson’s article is a copy/paste by “Nils Ruhr” of a comment on 11/28/2008 by “Gordon” on the kiarofocus.blogspot.com website.

It is complete gibberish, and is a nice example of the tactics of pseudo-scientists who try to make it appear that they are knowledgeable and on top of the science.

Word salads, especially long ones, are clear indications of hocus-pocus. Digging into them and looking for meaning is time-consuming, but always comes up with nothing, as was the case with this one. Going over it line-by-line will simply derail this thread.

I suggest taking one and only one specific argument he makes and taking it, and only it, apart in detail. Ignore any commentary he may make in rebuttal that is not specific to that point. The creationists take advantage of people thinking in anecdotes, so it is time we adopted that tactic as well. As Sam correctly pointed out earlier, this battle is political, not scientific, so our weapons need to be political too. So prove one thing wrong and keep throwing it in their faces.

gpuccio (via Nils Ruhr) said:

That is a common tactic of the darwinian field: as they cannot really counter Dembski’s arguments, they use mathematicians or statisticians to try to discredit them with technical and irrelevant objections, while ignoring the evident hole which has been revealed in their position by the same arguments.

A most astute observation! I am indeed a member of Team Darwin’s Revolutionary Math Guard and have been sent out by my masters to present technical and irrelevant objections.

PO

Science Avenger Wrote:

As Sam correctly pointed out earlier, this battle is political, not scientific, so our weapons need to be political too. So prove one thing wrong and keep throwing it in their faces.

And the one area where they are not just wrong, but increasingly “not even wrong”, is regarding “what happened when” in biological history. Whether or not they are wrong about evolution being falsified or unfalsifiable (and they indeed try to pretend both whenever they can), there’s really no need to go there. First of all, that’s been done to death elsewhere. Second, making them squirm trying to evade questions that force them to take positions that are not just easily falsified, but also contradicted by other anti-evolutionists, is much more informative to newcomers than just giving them more facts and quotes about evolution to take out of context.

I didn’t read all of Nils’ comment, but I’ll bet that he gave no clues of how old he thinks life is, or whether he thinks that humans, dogs and dogwoods share common ancestors.

I must say this is a very interesting essay.

Zepp said:

I must say this is a very interesting essay.

Which one? Mine or gpuccio’s (via Nils) reply?

PO

Sam Centipedro said:

Isn’t this entire discussion falling into the creationists’ honeytrap?

Creationism is a political movement. The real debate is political, not scientific. The battle must be won on the political field.

Intelligent design was concocted as a trojan horse for creationism. It has no other basis, no other raison d’etre. To dignify it with reasoned discussion is to be lured by the creationists’ honey trap, to allow these liars the unearned dignity and respectability of scientific debate.

The challenge must surely be: if you ID/creationists reckon your field is scientific, you do the science and publish it properly. You prove it.

But the fraudulent crapmeisters Dembski and Behe weave around tickling your funny bones with their featherweight arguments and you guys are falling for it!

Who is going to actually be swayed by this paper? ID/creationists will ignore it, rationalists and scientists already know what’s going on. Nice arguments, complete waste of time.

Yes, creationism is a political movement. None the less the fraudulent arguments of creationism need to be addressed. Given that the public is in general not scientifically literate, it is important to remind them of why creationism is not science and why. It is important to take folks like Dembski head on as scientists do with any other pseudo science practitioners. The courts are a last resort. It is worth the effort to keep folks from falling for creationism’s sciency sounding BS; that way fewer political/court battles are needed.

gpuccio (via Nils Ruhr) said: The first, and main, critic that he does is the following: “He presents no argument as to why rejecting the uniform distribution rules out every other chance hypothesis.” I’ll try to explain the question as simply as possible, as I see it. … There can be differences in the occurrence of single aminoacids due to the asymmetric redundant nature of the genetic code, or a different probability of occurrence of the individual mutations, but that can obviously not be related to the space of functional proteins.

We can rule out every chance hypothesis because we can rule out more than one chance hypothesis? I can’t tell if that is gpuccio’s argument or not.

BTW, different mutations can be related to the space of functional proteins: a base pair change is far more likely to yield a functional protein than a base pair deletion. That is, if they are acting on a pre-existing genome rather than a random sequence of nucleotides.

Dear Peter -

I didn’t know we had a “Team Darwin”, but since you’ve alerted me to its existence, I am most delighted that you’ve provided a quite useful contribution to our “team”:

peter olofsson said:

gpuccio (via Nils Ruhr) said:

That is a common tactic of the darwinian field: as they cannot really counter Dembski’s arguments, they use mathematicians or statisticians to try to discredit them with technical and irrelevant objections, while ignoring the evident hole which has been revealed in their position by the same arguments.

A most astute observation! I am indeed a member of Team Darwin’s Revolutionary Math Guard and have been sent out by my masters to present technical and irrelevant objections.

PO

On a more serious note, Nils Ruhr’s inane comments are typical IDiot creo nonsense of the kind I’ve read too often from the Dishonesty Institute and sycophantic websites like Uncommon Dissent. They merely demonstrate how and why the Dishonesty Institute’s mendacious intellectual pornographers (“Fellows” and “Senior Fellows”) and their sycophantic acolytes (like those at Uncommon Dissent) show such a great capacity for inane reasoning, as though they were human members of a hive mind. That’s why I have referred sarcastically to the existence of a Dishonesty Institute IDiot Borg Collective.

Appreciatively yours,

John

Peter Olofsson said:

Zepp said:

I must say this is a very interesting essay.

Which one? Mine or gpuccio’s (via Nils) reply?

PO

Are you aware that the Uncommon Descent thread devoted to you just shrank considerably, with most of the “descenting” opinions consigned to the bit bucket.

Are you aware that the Uncommon Descent thread devoted to you just shrank considerably, with most of the “descenting” opinions consigned to the bit bucket.

Somebody took some bytes out of that thread? That’s not descent of them.

Henry J said:

Somebody took some bytes out of that thread? That’s not descent of them.

OUCH.

On said thread, there is an interesting comment by Bill Dembski in post 169, part (1).

Regarding the latest comment by Peter Olofsson: he shied away from explaining what precisely was interesting in Dembski’s comment, thus sending PT’s visitors to delve into the garbage can named Uncommon Descent. There is, though, no need to go there: Wesley Elsberry provided the necessary clarification in a post titled “Vindication” on this blog (dated Dec 4, 2008). The “interesting” point Peter had in mind is Dembski’s admission that his Explanatory Filter (EF) is not up to the task he until now persistently maintained to be within the filter’s abilities. Of course, Dembski has not acknowledged multiple critiques of his EF, as if he came to its rejection completely on his own. Also, he asserts now that the better argument is a direct application of his CSI (“complex specified information”) concept. Everybody familiar with the long history of the debate about ID knows that the the concept of CSI, as rendered by Dembski, is not any better than his EF. I believe I have shown (in an article published in the Skeptic magazine in 2005, see here ) that CSI argument in fact is nothing more than a slightly disguised argument from improbability. A detailed critique of CSI was also offered in the excellent article by Elsberry and Shallit (see here).

Mark Perakh said:

Regarding the latest comment by Peter Olofsson: he shied away from explaining what precisely was interesting in Dembski’s comment, thus sending PT’s visitors to delve into the garbage can named Uncommon Descent. There is, though, no need to go there: Wesley Elsberry provided the necessary clarification

I’m sorry, I posted here before I saw Elsberry’s post. I should have checked first.

As for linking to UD, I apologize. I was not aware of the policy that PT visitors are not allowed to visit UD. You may not have noticed that Elsberry also provided a link to UD.

As for your “shied away” comment, I didn’t want to insult the intelligence of Pandasthumb visitors with an explanation of why it is interesting that Dembski admits error. Why would they need my explanation??? Elsberry has a long history with Dembski and can offer much more insightful comments than I.

Personally, I find the comment interesting, not so much for Dembski’s change of mind as for what his followers will say. Ask the question “Are chance, necessity, and design mutually exclusive?” and they must decide whether Dembski was wrong then or is wrong now.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Perakh published on November 24, 2008 3:04 PM.

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