We just read what is possibly the biggest Ark-load of nonsense ever published at the blog of the neo-Luddite, neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids, a/k/a the cdesign proponentsists).
It’s by William A. Dembski, who is best known for his central role in Intelligent Design’s Brief Shining Moment. His picture above this post originally appeared here: Dembski’s Creationist Revival Meeting. The title of his new post is Design Inference vs. Design Hypothesis.
Dembski has written a long, mind-numbing essay about what he calls the “design inference,” and it includes a lot of blather about “specified complexity.” It would take too much time to refute it paragraph-by-paragraph, and it’s not worth the effort. Instead, we’ll pull out a few excerpts that present what seems to be his central argument. This isn’t quote-mining because you can follow our link to his complete essay if you care to do so. Okay, here we go, with bold font added by us:
The design inference, as I developed it, looks to a marker of design, what I call specified complexity or specified improbability, and from there reasons to a designing intelligence as responsible for this marker.
Specified complexity is an information-theoretic property exhibited by certain systems. A combination of mathematical and empirical factors characterizes it. Specified complexity is a sign. A sign of what? An intelligent cause.
When we cut through all the verbiage, he’s talking about improbability, or what he calls the “logic of dealing with small probabilities.” Bear in mind that improbability doesn’t mean impossibility — he never claims that. Mere improbability is the heart and soul of his “theory.” If something were literally impossible, then its occurrence would be a miracle, but none of Dembski’s improbable phenomena are ever claimed to be that. Improbability is all he has to go on. Then he unintentionally gives the game away:
A design inference having this logic seemed to me necessary for reinstating design in science since without it design would be scientifically undetectable — how can you detect something unless you know what you are looking for?
Indeed. If one starts out on a quest for the magic designer, he’s likely to see the designer’s fingerprints everywhere. But unless one begins with that ghostly concept as a goal, the fingerprints are always invisible. A bit later he says:
The point is that intelligent design does not posit God as a theoretical entity. Rather, it infers that intelligence acts in nature, and in the biological world in particular, yet without prejudice for the metaphysics or theology that might say who or what that intelligence is. This is not duplicitous. It is simply being honest about how far the evidence of nature can take us. Intelligent design can infer that a designing intelligence has been active in nature. Such an intelligence, simply in virtue of the tools that ID uses to study intelligence, will have to be characterized in highly generic terms. Identifying that intelligence with God will always require additional philosophical or theological moves extrinsic to ID.
Got that? The idea is to search for clues (improbable things or events) which signal that the magic designer has been active, but not to be prejudiced beyond that point. It’s a delicate attitude to achieve, and we suspect that no one attracted to Dembski’s thinking is likely to practice it — even if he claims to be doing so. Let’s read on:
As far as any scientific theory of intelligent design is concerned, however, the intelligence or designer active in cosmology and biology does one key thing, namely, create novel information — and not just any information, but specified complexity.
Whatever that is. He continues:
Intelligent design therefore does not start with positing God as a theoretical entity for science. Rather it starts with finding specified complexity in nature and using this to infer that an intelligence is operating in nature, an intelligence especially implicated in cosmological fine tuning and various forms of biological complexity.
Dembski claims he doesn’t begin by positing God, but he certainly assumes that God is a possible — indeed, likely — cause to haul out whenever it’s convenient to do so. His design inference is all about finding something that seems improbable, and then making an inference (an assertion, really) that some magic intelligence is responsible.
Then he repeats himself, but the repetition is useful because it emphasizes just how circular the whole “design inference” really is:
The logic of the design inference moves from a marker of intelligence (specified complexity) to an intelligence as causal agent responsible for that marker.
Okay, that’s enough. Now, with our customary humility, we’ll demolish the whole shaky mess. As we said — and as Dembski himself says — it all hinges on the detection of something that is both complicated (whatever that means) and also improbable. Everything follows from there. However, as we’ve stated before, virtually everything is improbable. Consider our favorite example — your own existence. How improbable is that?
Human conception is preceded by the release of roughly 20 million sperm per milliliter, and the number of milliliters varies with age and other factors. The average for a healthy young male is estimated to be 300-500 million spermatozoa, per, ah … event. To be on the conservative side, let’s say that a specific human zygote has less than a one-in-100 million chance of being conceived. And that’s for one particular fertile moment for the female. A month earlier or later, the zygote will be different. In other words, dear reader, considering the odds against your turning out to be precisely you, it’s obvious that your existence is quite improbable. Nevertheless, there you are.
The same improbability analysis applies to the conception of each of your parents, and their parents, and so on, going back as far as you care to go. The odds against the whole multi-generational drama is a factorial computation, with the mathematical conclusion that your existence is so very improbable as to be virtually impossible — by Discoveroid reasoning. The same is true for each one of us, yet we’re all here — the good, the bad, and the ugly. But only a creationist would claim that every improbable individual in the whole human population is a “marker of design” (Dembski’s term), implying that each of us was exquisitely planned from the beginning.
Our point is one we’ve made before (see Creationism’s Fallacy of Retrospective Astonishment). We’ve even given it a name: the Rule of Reality. It goes like this:
If each event in a causal chain is a natural occurrence, then the historical totality of the whole chain of events is also natural — and not at all impossible. This is a chronological corollary of that well-known principle: The whole is equal to the sum of its parts.
In other words, there is no reason for Dembski’s design inference. None at all. It’s an unnecessary, unevidenced, and unproductive pollutant, gratuitously injected into and befouling any attempt to understand reality.
Now go ahead and read Dembski’s essay in its entirety. If you see things differently, let us know.
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