Thoughts on the first three chapters of Dembski and Witt’s “Intelligent Design Uncensored”

| 61 Comments

As mentioned, I have a couple of pro-ID books that need to be read and reviewed these holidays: Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design by Stephen C. Meyer, and Intelligent Design Uncensored by William Dembski and Jonathan Witt. While I’ve done preliminary readings of both books, in order to grasp their overall structure and scope, I recently started reading the latter in a greater level of detail.

What I’ve found has not been pretty.

Yes, Intelligent Design Uncensored is not a very healthy book to read, if you get angry at slick rhetoric in place of rigorous argumentation, blatant strawman arguments, and an easily digestible style of writing that doesn’t at all match with the supposed gravity of the topic at hand. Unfortunately, those are some of the things that push my buttons, so I’m not a happy little “Darwinist”. No sir.

In fact, it has been so infuriating so far that I’m seriously considering not doing a proper review of it: it may not be worth my time nor my effort. Meyer’s Signature is a much more worthy target - it’s held up by the ID community as some shiny tome of pure knowledge, blessed to humanity from the heavens, whilst Dembski and Witt’s book is a barely-mentioned teaching tool for prospective members.

61 Comments

Jack; I can well understand your disgust over what looks to be typical creationist schlock. But consider this: the emphasis in the ID camp has shifted from “teach the controversy” to “academic freedom.” The “uncensored” in the title points to a pitch in that direction. And the tone of the writing indicates a “pop-sci” approach. In light of this a full review of the book would be timely.

It’s sad how much delusional abuse of “censorship” is prosecuted by people who can’t accept that their ideas just don’t pass muster and try to blame everyone else for not seeing their brilliance. It cheapens genuine issues of censorship and cases of systematic ignorance cultivation. I’m sure many IDists, even a lot of the leading lights, believe they are being censored instead of rejected for lack of merit. I don’t think that even a trip to a genuinely censorial nation like China would disabuse them of the notion, because it’s a defense mechanism to protect their carefully nurtured views.

-Wheels

You might look at the “one star” reviews of ‘siggy’ over at Amazon dot com.

Evolution: No Intelligence Allowed.

In your reading of Signature don’t neglect to also read Dennis Venema’s review

This sounds like Dembski’s previous book The Design Revolution whose subtitle promised that it was Answering the Toughest Questions about Intelligent Design. That sounded promising, since by then a number of Dembski’s arguments had been seriously called into question. His original two arguments were

1. The Design Inference which would only work if his Law of Conservation of Complex Specified Information was both true and applicable in the right way, and

2. His No Free Lunch argument, using Wolpert and Macready’s theorem and applying it to fitness surfaces.

By 2004 both of these had been seriously called into question. And guess what? The Design Inference did not address those issues.

Since then Dembski and his co-thinker Robert Marks have added some more arguments:

3. The “smuggling” argument in which designers of successful computer simulations of evolution are alleged to have smuggled the information that ends up in life into the computer program in advance, and

4. The Search For A Search argument in which if fitness surfaces are typically ones on which evolutionary algorithms would succeed in substantially improving fitness, this means that some Designer has specially chosen those fitness surfaces and thus smuggled in information just like the program designers.

Points 1 and 2 are totally refuted. Point 3 is wrong for some successful evolutionary algorithms. Point 4 is likely to be invalid because the properties of physics make infinitely-rough fitness surfaces unlikely (and in any case Point 4 is talking about how you get into a situation where natural selection does in fact work). Let me give my usual reference to my article on all this.

So question: which of these major arguments does Dembski still uphold as valid in the new book? And does he deal with any of these counter-arguments? If he does, that would be a first for him.

Well, what else can you do when you don’t have the facts on your side? What else can you do when you can’t be bothered to even come up with a testable hypothesis, let alone actually test it? What else can you do when you don’t understand the real science and don’t even know enough to criticize it in a meaningful manner? In short, when else is a self respecting pseudo scientist to do? You can’t actually go into the lab and get any real evidence. You can’t actually review the literature. You can make up cute little stories trying to sell your strained metaphors to the ignorant. You can just pitch woo woo and cry and moan about censorship and “academic freedom” as if that had anything to do with it. Apparently that’s all you can do. Of course, nobody has to be fooled by such nonsense.

The woman beside you – the physicist – interrupts. “How crude could it have been if it could build copies of itself? We’ve never managed to build a factory that could build a factory that could build a factory that could build a…”

Ah yes, the essential mechanism of evolution, what indeed makes evolution at all possible, is a marvelous work of “design.” Don’t look behind the curtain that shows exactly the sort of derivation expected from reproduction and descent with modification, take Paley’s and the IDiots’ claim that reproduction is marvelous design at face value (Paley at least had some excuse).

And once again it’s the analogy/disanalogy that they typically make, without any apparent recognition of how contrary it all is. Why, it’s just like a factory, except that it’s really a whole lot unlike a factory. Which is fine for the IDiots, because their religion is about how God is like us, only so much better. The fact that a cell is very unlike what we have created, and seems to be “designed to evolve” as much as it is “designed” for anything, can thereby be swept under the rug. Their readers want nothing else.

If the cell didn’t reproduce, then it would “have to be designed”–at least in their narrow views–because it couldn’t have evolved without reproduction. Don’t note that this is one of many aspects that makes biology sensible only in the light of evolution, claim it as “design,” and ignore how this destroys the already tenuous (at best) analogy.

ID uncensored for sure. Dishonest both by what’s left out and what’s claimed regarding truly evolutionary mechanisms.

Glen Davidson

I’m not sure how long Jack Scanlan can hold to his commitment to review as much ID/creationist material as he has chosen for the holidays.

I’ve slogged through many papers and books of creationist and ID writers and have come out of it pretty disgusted for having wasted the time. Once I hit the first few misconceptions and misrepresentations of science within the introduction or the abstract, I already know how the rest will go. And, guess what; my slogging through the rest of the crap confirms exactly want I already learned from the first couple of pages.

By now it has all become pretty much cookie-cutter crap. If you’ve read one, you pretty much have the gist of the rest.

On the other hand, I suspect that anyone who has had to deal with misconceptions and misrepresentations in science does, at some point, have to choke back the nausea and plunge into the crap to get the “full, robust flavor” of how ID/creationists think and “reason.”

And it generally comes down to some very fundamental misconceptions and lack of knowledge on the part of ID/creationists. Despite their constant appearance of delving into the “arcane” and “advanced” topics in the sciences, they fail miserably with the most basic concepts. It is for this reason that they build all their complicated scaffolding of “information,” “complex specified information,” “conservation of information,” “irreducible complexity,” and all the rest of their pseudo-science. It not only hides all evidence of their ignorance of the basics, it makes them appear to be highly educated renaissance men to their followers (and as idiots to those who really know).

daijoboukuma said:

Jack; I can well understand your disgust over what looks to be typical creationist schlock. But consider this: the emphasis in the ID camp has shifted from “teach the controversy” to “academic freedom.” The “uncensored” in the title points to a pitch in that direction. And the tone of the writing indicates a “pop-sci” approach. In light of this a full review of the book would be timely.

Hmm, perhaps you’re right. And since the ID movement has gladly accepted that Dembski and Witt have accurately represented their arguments, skewering this book (most likely) won’t produce cries of “You’re going after strawmen!”

Joe Felsenstein said: So question: which of these major arguments does Dembski still uphold as valid in the new book? And does he deal with any of these counter-arguments? If he does, that would be a first for him.

If he does, they’ll be very, very superficial treatments of his critics. As I’ve said, the book reads like slick, severely dumbed-down popular science, which means that the topic needs to be changed every few pages (at the most) before the audience gets bored.

Mr Scanlan, would it be safe to assume that Dembski deliberately forgot, again, to explain why and or how Intelligent Design is supposed to be a science in this latest book of his?

Jack Scanlan said:

Joe Felsenstein said: So question: which of these major arguments does Dembski still uphold as valid in the new book? And does he deal with any of these counter-arguments? If he does, that would be a first for him.

If he does, they’ll be very, very superficial treatments of his critics. As I’ve said, the book reads like slick, severely dumbed-down popular science, which means that the topic needs to be changed every few pages (at the most) before the audience gets bored.

It might at least give us a good idea whether he has abandoned any of those arguments – if he gives a dumbed-down version of some of them, then it is documented that he is still upholding those. I don’t expect to see any coverage of the critics’ arguments there.

“Better to keep God tucked away, safely outside the universe.” Now that makes sense.

DS said: What else can you do when you can’t be bothered to even come up with a testable hypothesis, let alone actually test it?

Why can’t they even describe their hypothesis? Who, what, where, when, why, how?

TomS said:

DS said: What else can you do when you can’t be bothered to even come up with a testable hypothesis, let alone actually test it?

Why can’t they even describe their hypothesis? Who, what, where, when, why, how?

I wonder, do some of the illuminaries of Intelligent Design ever express regret that Intelligent Design will never be a science, or even develop even rudimentary explanatory power?

Or do they delude themselves into thinking that by going GODDESIGNERDIDIT over and over again, while “teaching the controversy,” they can vanquish the American scientific community and transform it into a Jesus-friendly cultural institute? (You know, as they’ve envisioned in the Wedge Document)

Jack Scanlan said:

daijoboukuma said:

Jack; I can well understand your disgust over what looks to be typical creationist schlock. But consider this: the emphasis in the ID camp has shifted from “teach the controversy” to “academic freedom.” The “uncensored” in the title points to a pitch in that direction. And the tone of the writing indicates a “pop-sci” approach. In light of this a full review of the book would be timely.

Hmm, perhaps you’re right. And since the ID movement has gladly accepted that Dembski and Witt have accurately represented their arguments, skewering this book (most likely) won’t produce cries of “You’re going after strawmen!”

Optimist. If IDiots gave a tenth of a tinker’s damn about whether or not their pronouncements were, like, accurate, or even vaguely congruent to any piece of Reality that exists outside their tiny little brains, they wouldn’t be IDiots.

I think it’s important for scientists to continue to review the ID Movement’s silly books. Their target audience is people without a scientific background who can be easily swayed. When an ID nut tries to get me to read one of their books, I like being able to refer them to a review by a real scientist.

Why can’t they even describe their hypothesis? Who, what, where, when, why, how?

The answer is always the same: “Don’t ask, don’t tell”

Karen S. said:

Why can’t they even describe their hypothesis? Who, what, where, when, why, how?

The answer is always the same: “Don’t ask, don’t tell”

Which takes megadembskis of chutzpah given their pretense of ID not being “creationism.” What they call “creationism” (old style YEC and OEC) states plenty of “whats, where’s whens” - mutually contradictory ones in fact - so the least that the ID peddlers could do is put their money where their mouths are and show where the real weaknesses are. Especially since the only clear position taken by any of them (Behe) concedes ~4 billion years of common descent.

But Jack Scanlan astutely noted:

…[Dembski and Witt are] writing for theists who are unsure about whether or not to accept ID, and their case is that if you don’t accept ID (or at least reject “Darwinism”) you’re not a proper theist…

We need to be doing that more. Framing it as “us vs. the creationists” and preaching to the choir practically guarantees a loss.

DavidK said:

“Better to keep God tucked away, safely outside the universe.” Now that makes sense.

“safely outside the universe” - isn’t that the definition of ‘supernatural’ ? when will IDiots learn? God is supernatural God works miracles a claim of the miraculous is by definition an extraordinary claim extraordinary claims require extraordinary EVIDENCE (in science/rational persuits)

“I don’t understand how this happend…must’ve been a miracle” is NOT SCIENCE (heck it’s not even good THEOLOGY) also “the odds of this happening (in the straw-man way presented) are astronomical- it must have been a miracle” demonstrates both a lack of understanding of probability/statistics and the word ‘miracle’

Miracle: something that happens by devine/supernatural intervention that would be IMPOSSIBLE by natural means.

so (in order to recognise the miraculous - one needs to have a grounding in the knowlege of natural processes.

but that’s ID: not science, not (good) theology, just PR smoke and mirrors that seems to exist only so that the proponents can sell books about ID

sorry - here’s punctuation “safely outside the universe” - isn’t that the definition of ‘supernatural’ ? When will IDiots learn? God is supernatural, God works miracles. A claim of the miraculous is by definition an extraordinary claim. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary EVIDENCE (in science/rational persuits)

here’s an interesting set of questions:

if ID is supposed to be science, why don’t they frame scientific questions correctly (in scientific journals etc.)?

if we accept ID is not science, it is proselytizing (a ministry), why do ID fellows SELL thier books? shouldn’t the discovery institute GIVE the books away?

the answer to both quuestions is that ID is a SCAM, it’s FRAUD - just a way to prey on religious folks who have a particular misndset in order to make money

court cases - PR stunts (eventually to sell more books, lectures etc)

I believe that there is a special place in hell reserved for those folks that would squander public money (court cases, school district $$ to defent lawsuits) and scam the faithful in the name of what they hold to be holy.

-JasonMitchell

Karen S. said:

I think it’s important for scientists to continue to review the ID Movement’s silly books. Their target audience is people without a scientific background who can be easily swayed. When an ID nut tries to get me to read one of their books, I like being able to refer them to a review by a real scientist.

It has been primarily for this reason that I have spent time slogging through ID/creationist writings. As sickening as it can be to have to plunge into the crap and analyze the misconceptions and rhetorical tricks, there really is some value in understanding where people get their misconceptions and attitudes about science. For me it has actually helped in my organization and preparations of lectures and educational materials for students and laypersons.

Research is extremely time-consuming and demanding of one’s attention; but I still think that working scientists need to connect with the wider public on issues such as virulent, sectarian pseudo-science and all other forms of pseudo-science. It is a public service that we in the science community owe to the people who support our research.

It is a public service that we in the science community owe to the people who support our research.

We very much appreciate this public service. Thank you!

Which takes megadembskis of chutzpah given their pretense of ID not being “creationism.” What they call “creationism” (old style YEC and OEC) states plenty of “whats, where’s whens” - mutually contradictory ones in fact - so the least that the ID peddlers could do is put their money where their mouths are and show where the real weaknesses are. Especially since the only clear position taken by any of them (Behe) concedes ~4 billion years of common descent.

If you want to see the extent of “don’t ask, don’t tell” You must watch The Great Debate, where The American Museum of History in NYC invited the ID guys in for a debate. The best part is where Robert Pennock becomes an ID theorist to see what he is allowed to teach, and asks Dembski to take a stand!

Karen S. said:

Which takes megadembskis of chutzpah given their pretense of ID not being “creationism.” What they call “creationism” (old style YEC and OEC) states plenty of “whats, where’s whens” - mutually contradictory ones in fact - so the least that the ID peddlers could do is put their money where their mouths are and show where the real weaknesses are. Especially since the only clear position taken by any of them (Behe) concedes ~4 billion years of common descent.

If you want to see the extent of “don’t ask, don’t tell” You must watch The Great Debate, where The American Museum of History in NYC invited the ID guys in for a debate. The best part is where Robert Pennock becomes an ID theorist to see what he is allowed to teach, and asks Dembski to take a stand!

Thanks for the link Karen. I especially liked the part where Dembski states: “ID is completely compatible with descent with modification.”

Seems his gap has gotten a lot smaller. I wonder if he mentions this in any of his new books?

All that remains for Dembski is to wind it all up with the remaining but oh so boring trifles: Who did what how and when?

All that remains for Dembski is to wind it all up with the remaining but oh so boring trifles: Who did what how and when?

Somehow, “academic freedom” is not extended to anyone who dares to ask such questions. Neil deGrasse Tyson has observed that ID is a theory of ignorance.

DS said:

Thanks for the link Karen. I especially liked the part where Dembski states: “ID is completely compatible with descent with modification.”

Seems his gap has gotten a lot smaller. I wonder if he mentions this in any of his new books?

Given that maybe half or more of his audience are Young Earth Creationists, and even many of the Old Earth Creationist ones are against common descent, he might feel pressure to fudge on the issue, if he believed in common descent. Here he is disclaiming belief in common descent. I believe that the school he teaches at requires its teachers to reject it (and even an old earth).

Those issues aside, the theorems he put forward (the Design Inference, the associated Law of Conservation of Complex Specified Information, and the use of the No Free Lunch Theorem) are supposed to make it impossible to explain almost any adaptation by natural selection. So even if he were inclined to accept common descent, he does not accept natural selection as an explanation for most adaptation.

By contrast, Michael Behe has accepted common descent and the role of natural selection in bringing about adaptations, except for the ones for which he invokes ID.

Karen S. said:

I’m surprised the Discovery Institute didn’t fire Behe for making such a monstrous gaffe like that.

Behe also agreed that there might be multiple competing designers, or that the designer might be dead. But ID is compatible with everything, and nobody knows what it really is. It’s like nailing jello to the wall. So I don’t think the great Behe will be let go unless he explicitly forsakes ID.

In other words, no matter incriminating, or damningly debilitating gaffe Behe says, whether it’s that Intelligent Design is a science only if astrology is a science, or that the Intelligent Designer did, indeed, design malaria to be a horrible, drug-resisting disease, the Discovery Institute will keep him as one of their own.

Unless, of course, like you’ve pointed out, he somehow rejects the cause of Intelligent Design.

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This page contains a single entry by Jack Scanlan published on December 22, 2011 10:02 AM.

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