Falsehoods on the Air

The “Powerpoint” radio show from Atlanta, Georgia this evening was about evolution and “intelligent design”. The guests included Barbara Forrest, Casey Luskin, David Schwimmer, and John Calvert. It was an interesting discussion, to say the least.

I called in to make a comment, in response to an assertion by John Calvert that “intelligent design theory” was being used in science, referencing “design detection” methods in archeology and life sciences.

My response:

I’m a theist who is a critic of the claims of “intelligent design” advocates. I’d like to focus on the claim made by Dr. Calvert that ID has theoretical content, and that the design detection methods of ID are being applied in science. Briefly, design detection in ID refers to the concept of “complex specified information” expounded by William Dembski. However, Dembski has never shown the full and successful application of his concept to any phenomenon whatsoever. No one else has, either. Dembski’s design detection method is both incoherent and unworkable. It is of no value to science. This is detailed in the recent book, Why Intelligent Design Fails.

I started off the way I did because Calvert was doing his best to cast this as a “theists vs. atheists” sort of issue.

What was instructive was the response from the ID advocates, Calvert and Luskin.

Calvert asserted that biochemists assume design in trying to “reverse engineer” biological systems, and thus are using “design detection” without giving ID the proper credit for what they are doing. This is, of course, so much flapdoodle. What biochemists assume has nothing to do with intervening disembodied designers and everything to do with evolutionary processes constrained by the environment. It also overlooks identifying exactly what process of “design detection” proposed by ID advocates has been unfairly denied credit… which is explicable on the view that there is no such process to be credited.

Luskin simply asserted that I was wrong, and that Dembski had applied his concept of CSI, notably to the E. coli flagellum in the pages of Dembski’s book, No Free Lunch. I’m not sure what to make of this, because I’m pretty sure that Casey and I discussed Dembski’s failed methodology before. In any case, Dembski failed to fully apply his “generic chance elimination argument” to the E. coli flagellum. First, Dembski failed to give a specification for the flagellum. Second, Dembski failed to eliminate any evolutionary hypothesis of origin for the E. coli flagellum. The single hypothesis Dembski considered was one of random assembly, a thoroughly non-evolutionary proposition.

It does show the advantage to being a guest on a show, since any sort of nonsense may be spouted with little threat of exposure.

[I’ve removed a possibly inflammatory bit of rhetoric…] I do appreciate that Barbara Forrest did note that Dembski’s work, including No Free Lunch, has been extensively debunked.

For those who still think Dembski’s CSI has something going for it, check out this article by myself and Jeff Shallit.