Dembski's consistent inconsistencies

Note: Dembski has submitted a posting to ARN called Condeding too much which mostly misses the point. More later.. In fact my conclusion was premature, it was just a revision of the same old with a new ‘topic’. What was first title “the benefits of reinventing the wheel” is now titled “conceding too much” and much of the text has been revised.

Note: The title borrows from a posting by Mark Perakh on Who says that Intelligent Design is not predictable

William Dembski’s strategy of ‘using critics’ has been well documented in his own writings.

Critics and enemies are useful. The point is to use them effectively. In our case, this is remarkably easy to do. The reason is that our critics are so assured of themselves and of the rightness of their cause. As a result, they rush into print their latest pronouncements against intelligent design when more careful thought, or perhaps even silence, is called for. The Internet, especially now with its blogs (web logs), provides our critics with numerous opportunities for intemperate, indiscreet, and ill-conceived attacks on intelligent design. These can be turned to advantage, and I’ve done so on numerous occasions. I’m not going to give away all my secrets, but one thing I sometimes do is post on the web a chapter or section from a forthcoming book, let the critics descend, and then revise it so that what appears in book form preempts the critics’ objections. An additional advantage with this approach is that I can cite the website on which the objections appear, which typically gives me the last word in the exchange. And even if the critics choose to revise the objections on their website, books are far more permanent and influential than webpages.

Scientifically speaking such behavior seems ‘odd’ as it suggests that it may be more important to appear right rather than being right. From an apologetic standpoint I can understand such a position but from a scientific standpoint I wonder about the effectiveness of such an approach in providing for a solid scientific foundation for ID.

Recently Bill sent an email to various well-known critics…

Dear Critics,

As I indicated in the preface to No Free Lunch, “my strategy in writing this book has been to include just enough technical discussion so that experts can fill in the details.” Because the experts have not done this, the burden remains on me to fill in the technical details.

This burden (of filling in the technical details) was there from the beginning and has not gone away. I am not sure why Bill expected ‘experts’ to fill in the technical details? Who is even included in the term ‘experts’? Was Dembski expecting that ID proponents would raise to the opportunity to work on the ‘theory of ID’? If that is the case he must be quite disappointed by the lack of interest or enthusiasm in this area. If Dembski was hoping for experts from the scientific community to contribute then I wonder what contributions he was expecting? Many critics of ID have shown the shortcomings, errors and flaws in the many claims in “No Free Lunch”. From such a perspective experts indeed have ‘filled in the blanks’, or better ‘blanked out the errors’.

I expect to place some of these articles in the mainstream statistics/probability/complexity literature. Once they are all finished, I plan to collect the articles in a straight mathematical monograph (perhaps with CUP in one of their lecture note series or with the IMS). Once this monograph is done, I plan to produce a second edition of The Design Inference (the book is now dated, needs to be cleaned up, and make its mathematical underpinnings clearer). I’ve already been in touch with CUP about this (though, sadly, Terry Moore, my editor at CUP, recently passed away).

The ‘tread mill” in action… When confronted with evidence that undermines his claims or arguments, Dembski is quick to give a promisorry not by stating that he intends to fix/address/clarify this in a future publication.

The next paragraph is of particular relevance given Dembski’s recent comments which seem to contradict his earlier claims.

I’m writing you because I want your scrutiny on this project. Certainly, I want the mathematics to be correct; I don’t want to reinvent the wheel; and I want to be sure that the results are not trivial or being misinterpreted (by either side!). Also, I see this as a crucial phase in the debate over my own contribution to design-detection methods: whether my program ultimately succeeds will depend on being able to fill in the technical details that till now I’ve only addressed in part.

Now compare this to his latest version:

I didn’t expect my usual critics (e.g., Shallit, Elsberry, Wein, Schneider, Stenger, and Perakh) to point out where the measure would have been introduced because the paper is beyond their expertise.

But if that is the case why did he sent out this email to his critics, especially requesting a mathematical evaluation. And if he were aware of the state of the art in ‘information technology’ and ‘complexity research’ why did he re-invent the wheel? As Dembski clearly stated ‘I don’t want to reinvent the wheel’, which is exactly what he did. And when critics correctly point this out, his comments seem to be at odds with his earlier statements.

Then Bill makes this ad hominem and somewhat arrogant claim

This chapter is supposed to lay some conceptual groundwork. As far as I’m concerned, it continues to do that job admirably. Mark Perakh, in his book Unintelligent Design (p. 90) criticizes my identification of information with the negative logarithm to the base two of a probability as “amateurish.” In “Information as a Measure of Variation” I show that my “simplistic” definition generalizes in ways that Perakh can no longer follow mathematically and that, as I intend to show in future installments, is deeply significant for science.

And yet Mark Perakh appreciates the fact that Dembski’s measure of information (or should we say entropy), remains amateurish in nature (calling it information/complexity does not resolve this) and Dembski’s “derivations” are nothing more than a re-invention of the wheel. Pehaps Dembski may be unaware of the vaste amount of work by Renyi and others in this area? But that’s hard to believe from someone who was once called ‘the Isaac Newton of information technology’. Or perhaps Dembski was unable to follow Renyi’s arguments no longer mathematically?

The rest is just another promise which if history is a reliable guide, will remain unfullfilled (see Forrest and Gross: Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design)

Dembski continues with his inconsistencies


If I thought there were new mathematics here, I would have submitted the paper to a mathematics journal.



I don’t want to reinvent the wheel.

So either there is something novel worth publishing in a mathematics journal or this is just ‘reinventing the wheel’. What is it Bill?

At any rate, it is not a mathematics journal, and I submitted my paper there fully conscious that its significance would lie in the insights it might generate for understanding evolving natural systems.

Notice that ‘insights it might generate’ is a yet to be fullfilled promise. With Dembski’s past history in living up to his promises one may wonder if this promise will ever be fullfilled.

If Dembski merely wanted to introduce some relevant concepts that might generate an understanding of evolving natural systems, all Dembski needed to do would be to mention the work of Renyi, explain why he uses Renyi’s formula with \(\alpha=2\) and move on to explain that in a future paper he may show how these concepts may be relevant to intelligent design. In the mean time science has already done a lot of work in this area. But that would be not much of a paper, although filling it with impressive looking ‘reinventions of the wheel’ may help ‘wow’ his supporters. Of course there is always the possibility that Dembski may be unaware of the state of the art as it applies to ‘information technology’?

So to conclude:

Bill requested his ‘critics’ to ‘check the mathematics’ since he did not want to ‘reinvent the wheel’? When critics did find significant “reinvention of the wheel” issues, Dembski seems to suggest that he did not consider his critics to be able to evaluate the mathematical foundations of his claim (but why then did he send an email to his critics requesting just that? Something just does not seem to add up.) But maybe this addition is math beyond my comprehension.

So what is Dembski trying to achieve here? The answer may be found in his email. Dembski observes that experts failed to fill in the details of his claims in “No Free Lunch” so Dembski sets out on the ‘treadmill” to correct the shortcomings of “No Free Lunch”. One of the more painful criticisms seems to have been the criticism that Dembski uses \(- log_2 P(A)\) as a measure of information/complexity rather than as a measure of (im)probability.

Dembski thus “reinvents the wheel” (40 years of research work since Renyi’s original paper) with his ‘variational information’ concept. So far there is nothing new in his argument, at least nothing new to those who have kept up with the state of the art in ‘information technology’ and ‘complexity research’.

What is left is a disagreement whether or not :

the information geometry that I introduced (yes, here I am claiming priority) is just reinventing the wheel. Shalizi gives no evidence of familiarity with the Kantorovich-Wasserstein metric. What’s more, the article by Streater that he cites, though describing a number of information geometries, does not describe the one I developed.

It seems to me that Dembski gets the “who should do what” wrong when he states:

At any rate, Shalizi has presented nothing like a cogent argument to show that the notion cannot have useful applications.

Should it not be Dembski who should show that the notion DOES HAVE useful applications?

Dembski, who has already explained how he uses his critics elsewhere, now asks for help in proving his conjecture P13:

Let’s call the conjecture on page 13 of version 2.0 of my paper “Information as a Measure of Variation” (go here or here), “Conjecture P13.” In the spirit of Paul Erdos, who used to offer small cash prizes for proofs of mathematical conjectures, I offer anyone who supplies the first correct, duly verified proof of Conjecture P13 a cash prize of $100. Please submit the proof to this thread.

Why not present his own proof of this conjecture first Bill? That assumes of course that you have succeeded in doing so? Did Bill not say:

This conjecture seems likely to be true, but has no simple proof.


Yet, regardless of whether this conjecture is true, it does not affect how we assess the continuity of probability paths.

So is the validity of the conjecture relevant or not? And has the conjecture been supported by rigorous mathematics or a mere dismissal?

Dembski revised his earlier posting on ARN. Some comments

Critics who charge that because my variational information paper contains “no new math,” it therefore shouldn’t be published at all, are thus missing the point.

Perhaps Bill would like to explain how pointing out that Bill was “reinventing the wheel” somehow has become “missing the point”? In fact, did Bill not send an email to his critics stating that he wants to avoid ‘reinventing the wheel’?

On ARN ID proponents are trying to spin the whole issue:

Salvador wrote:

Your critics have accused you of not responding to them. Now having examined their criticisms, like Elsberry’s, it’s apparent you have better things to do than waste time on voluminous misrepresentations of your work.


What I see here is critics are quick to misrepresent you, Bill, and attack the strawmen they erect. At first I caved in to their ploys until I actually started studying their material in detail.

Note how any evidence of misrepresentation of Bill is lacking? In fact, most of the critics are NOT misrepresenting Bill’s arguments but rather show how his arguments are without much scientific merrit. Confronted with this virtual onslaught of hard hitting criticism, some ID proponents seem to prefer the

‘ostrich approach’

And why is Salvador convinced that ID is true? Because it is true. Tautology at work

IDists have perhaps some kinks to iron out in our formulations, but the design argument will ultimately prevail because it is scientifically sound. In the mean time, our critics will keep helping us improve our arguments…..

And yet, in spite of these assertions that the design argument is scientifically sound, there is virtual no evidence that supports such a notion.

Appendix of critics notified

Critics emailed by Dembski included the following “motley crew”

Jeffrey Shallit Associate Professor of Computer Science at the University of Waterloo

Wesley R. Elsberry, One of the most soft spoken and well reasoned critics of the intelligent design movement, zoologist, webmaster of and Dembski Internet stalker (if we were to take Bill’s characterization seriously) and more recently Information Project Director for the National Center for Science Education. (His views as expressed at The Panda’s Thumb are his own and are not necessarily shared by NCSE, its employees, or its supporters)

Tom Schneider Research Biologist National Institutes of Health. His paper Evolution of biological information destroyed much of Dembski’s arguments.

Victor Stenger Professor Emeritus of Physics and Astronomy, University of Hawaii, Adjunct Professor of Philosophy, University of Colorado

Mark Perakh Professor Emeritus of Physics Cal State University, author of “Unintelligent Design” and famous for his hard hitting website.

The next two are authors of various No Free Lunch theorem papers

David Wolpert NASA Ames Research Center and auhor of William Dembski’s treatment of the No Free Lunch theorems is written in jello

Bill MacReady

Jason Rosenhouse Assistant Professor of Mathematics, Department of Mathematics and Statistics James Madison University

Richard Wein, hard hitting author of some of the earliest criticism of Dembski’s intelligent design arguments

Massimo Pigliucci Associate Professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Also well known ID critic.

Kenneth Miller Professor of Biology, Brown University author of Finding Darwin’s God and many articles about the failures of intelligent design

Richard Dawkins

Daniel Dennett

The authors of Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (Oxford, 2004). an in-depth expose of the Intelligent Design movement

Barbara Forrest Professor of Philosophy, Southeastern Louisiana University.

Paul R Gross University Professor of Life Sciences, emeritus, at the University of Virginia. His baccalaureate and doctoral degrees are from the University of Pennsylvania. He holds honorary degrees from Brown University and the Medical College of Ohio. He is a developmental and molecular biologist who has taught at Brown, Rochester, MIT, and the University of Virginia. A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he served from 1978 to 1988 as President and Director of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA, and was Vice President and Provost of the University of Virginia, where he helped to found and served as Director of the Molecular Biology Institute.

Eugenie C. Scott, Dr. Eugenie C. Scott, a former college professor, is Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education

Elliot Sober William F. Vilas Research Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1993-present. Hans Reichenbach Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Wisconsin-Madison,1989-present. Author of many papers critical of the intelligent design thesis.

Branden Fitelson Ph.D., Philosophy, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Expert in Bayesian theory, author of “Plantinga’s Probability Arguments Against Evolutionary Naturalism,” in Pennock, R. ed., Intelligent Design Creationism and its Critics, MIT Press.

Paul Davies Professor of Natural Philosophy, Macquarie University and much more… Prolific author

Don N Page Professor of Physics and CIAR Cosmology Fellow . On the jacket of No Free Lunch

And the Discovery crowd

Stephen C. Meyer Paul Nelson Jay Richards Jonathan Wells

Robert C. Koons (referred to Dembski as the “Isaac Newton of information technology” I wonder if he regrets this characterization?) Of course Dembski’s ‘Law of conservation of Information’ did not turn out to be ‘a revolutionary breakthrough’. How much can one get wrong in one paragraph I wonder.

Timothy Mcgrew Associate Prof. of Philosophy, Western Michigan University and author of Toward a Rational Reconstruction of Design Inferences

Robin Collins Associate Professor of Philosophy, Messiah College

Del Ratzsch, author of “Nature, Design, and Science (SUNY Press, 2001)” where Del Ratzsch shows the major problems and limitations with Dembski’s Explanatory Filter. See also ISCID chat for more refreshening comments from an ID proponent who understands the limitations of what ID can and has achieved.

Frank Tipler Professor Department of Mathematics Tulane University. Also a prolific author.