A peer-reviewed article that supports ID ... or something else (part 2)

By Joe Felsenstein, http://www.gs.washington.edu/faculty/felsenstein.htm

In a previous thread here, and in other blogs, there have been many people arguing that William Dembski and Robert Marks’s recent “pro-ID” paper isn’t really pro-ID, that it is equally compatible with theistic evolution or even nontheistic evolution. William Dembski has now replied at his Uncommon Descent blog to these comments.

He argues that

The key contention of ID is that design in nature, and in biology in particular, is detectable. Evolutionary informatics, by looking at the information requirements of evolutionary processes, points to information sources beyond evolution and thus, indirectly, to a designer.


Theistic evolution, by contrast, accepts the Darwinian view that Darwinian processes generate the information required for biological complexity internally, without any outside source of information. The results by Marks and me are showing that this cannot be the case.

Dembski and Marks’s argument is (in effect) that smoothness of the adaptive landscape means that information has been built into the situation, and that natural selection does not create new information, but instead transfers this existing information into the genome. To Dembski, the Designer acts by creating this information.

There is no requirement that this creation of information happen multiple times. A Designer (or just the laws of physics) could set up the world so that it is one in which adaptive surfaces are smooth enough that natural selection succeeds in bringing about adaptation. That setting-up could have happened back before the first living organisms existed.

Should other supporters of ID be happy with such a picture? It certainly does not argue for the fixity of species, or against large-scale evolutionary change. But I suspect that many theistic evolutionists would find it consistent with their views.

Evolutionary biologists may prefer a different definition. Intelligent Design only differs from existing theories on evolution if it involves a Designer who intervenes at least once after the origin of life. If ID advocates want to argue that there is something wrong with evolutionary biology, they should put forward a theory that makes some different prediction about what happens during evolution after that origin.

Dembski draws the distinction as involving where the information comes from. Evolutionary biologists will probably prefer to focus on whether there is evidence for interventions by a Designer.