Vacuity of Intelligent Design

Dembski, apparantly unable (or unwilling?) to address the claims and observations by Intelligent Design critics that Intelligent Design is scientifically vacuous, seems to have changed his approach to: well if ID is scientifically vacuous then evolutionary science is evidence-free.

This all is particularly ironic because Intelligent Design is both evidence-free and scientifically vacuous for the simple reason that intelligent design cannot make any useful predictions since the design inference is based on a gap argument, also known as an argument from ignorance.

Dembski, via one of his ‘colleagues’, asks the following question

What are the other vexing questions facing biologists that we are led to believe have already been solved? How about the origin of the information in the first cell? How about the origin of molecular machines? What about Haldane’s dilemma?

Let’s look into these question in some more detail. For instance the origin of information in the first cell: Why would Dembski be interested in the origin of information in the first cell, one may wonder? Simple, because science has shown that information can in fact increase in a cell under purely natural processes of regularity and chance. Unable to eliminate chance and regularity, the design inference remains quite powerless. But all hope should not be abandoned, one can always move the origin of ‘information’ to an earlier time in history, such as the ‘first cell’ or if that does not work, to the origin of the universe. This concept is known as ‘front loading’ and merely acknowledges that given a particular initial condition, natural processes are sufficient in explaining its evolution. In other words, Dembski’s move to front loading has made Intelligent Design even more vacuous. So what about the concept of information? Much has been written on how Intelligent Design defines and in the eyes of some, redefines and muddles, the concept of information. So what is information in ID speak? It’s the negative base-2 logarithm of the probability p. If an event has a probability p, then Dembski defines the information of such an event to be -log 2 p. Nothing wrong with that other than that ID activists confuse the concept of information ala Dembski with how the term is used in science. So what’s the problem with Dembski’s definition? First of all, how is the probability p calculated? Is it the probability of the event happening under the assumption of a uniform distribution function? Is it the probability of the event happening under the assumption of a particular chance and regularity pathway? Irregardless of which one of these definitions is used, there are some major problems. Let’s take the first definition. Under this definition, there is no reason to presume that chance and regularity processes cannot be responsible for the event, for the same reason that ‘design’ is also a possibility. The second definition is more interesting because it shows the vacuity of the design inference. Once a particular natural pathway has been shown, the probability of the event becomes close to 1 and thus the amount of ‘information’ in the event drops to zero. In other words, by defining information in this manner, Dembski has all but guaranteed that natural processes cannot generate information. In addition, one may argue that if a designer was involved, then the probability of the event would also be close to 1 and thus the information would also be close to zero. In other words, the concept of information is a meaningless concept as proposed by Dembski. So how does real science deals with the concept of information? A good example is found in the work by Tom Schneider. Schneider uses ‘Shannon Information’ to show how natural processes can increase the amount of information in the genome. In other words, there is at least in principle no reason to reject natural processes as being responsible for information in the first cell. Of course, there is also in principle no reason to reject that the first cell was designed. It all comes down to the evidence and to a comparison of hypotheses generated by science versus the hypotheses generated by Intelligent Design. Fair enough, after all, lacking any such hypotheses from either side, one may at most conclude that ‘we don’t know’. And there is nothing wrong with such a position, at least from a science perspective. From an Intelligent Design perspective, our ignorance should be counted as evidence in favor of something called ‘design’. The question is why? Because of ‘specification’… So what is specification? Well, according to Dembski, specification in biology is merely ‘function’. But wait a minute, function is exactly that which one would expect to arise under the processes of chance and regularity (Dawin’s theory of evolution), so again, Intelligent Design cannot claim that specification somehow resolves our ignorances to one side or another.

Which means that we return to hypotheses and the very important question: What hypotheses does Intelligent Design propose to explain a particular system or event it claims to have been designed? Remember, we have already determined that design itself is not sufficient as natural processes such as variation and selection can lead to complex specified information.

In the past, people have in fact asked Dembski exactly this question and his response is quite helpful in establishing the scientific vacuity of Intelligent Design. Rafe Gutman described a plausible scenario as to how science explains the complement system and asked Dembski to provide an explanation based on Intelligent Design. Dembski reponded as follows:

Dembski wrote:

As for your example, I’m not going to take the bait. You’re asking me to play a game: “Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position.” ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories. If ID is correct and an intelligence is responsible and indispensable for certain structures, then it makes no sense to try to ape your method of connecting the dots. True, there may be dots to be connected. But there may also be fundamental discontinuities, and with IC systems that is what ID is discovering.”


In other words, not only will ID remain scientifically vacuous but also content free as ID cannot match the ‘pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories’ (aka hypotheses).

Let’s see what else we can say about the original question “ How about the origin of molecular machines? “

Again, we first can establish that Intelligent Design neither provides any detailed hypotheses nor a scientifically relevant foundation. So how well does science do? Before I answer this question, let me point out that science is in the comfortable position that from the start it is competing with ‘we don’t know’. The same of course applies to ID but as I have shown, ID cannot even really compete with the null-hypothesis. So how well does science do in explaining the origin of molecular machines? An often quoted example of ‘design’ is the bacterial flagellum. Nick Matzke has presented quite a detailed overview of the origin and evolution of the bacterial flagellum. But Matzke not only presented testable hypotheses, he also made some predictions which have recently been shown to be supported by additional data. So, a valid question seems to be: What has Intelligent Design contributed to our understanding of the bacterial flagellum? The answer is a ‘shocking’ nothing, nada… Don’t take my word for it, check out the content free, and science free website Uncommon Descent.