Joined: Oct. 2006
Dembski's original attack upon Kenneth Miller was premised upon the the accusation that Miller misrepresented Dembski's notion of CSI in the BBC program. Miller discussed ID's treatment of highly improbable events (through the example of one's misplaced retrospective amazement over a particular set of hands of cards dealt in a particular order) without addressing the "specification" fork of the concept of CSI. In doing so Miller distorted Dembski's position and set up a straw man in its stead. Similarly, a calculation of the probability of (for example) a flagellum spontaneously self-assmbling is beside the point, because it leaves out specification. This is evidence of the collapse of Ken Miller's psyche.
Miller responded that this impression results from the BBC's unfortunate editing, which suggested that he had been discussing Dembski's mathematical notions when he was not. In response WAD issued a petulant apology.
What has been lost in the ensuing discussion is that Dembski himself has characterized the flagellum as a "combinatorial object" and has discussed the overwhelming improbability of its chance self-assembly in the absence of reference to specification. He does this in NFL as he addresses himself to the relationship of Behe's concept of Irreducible Complexity to his own notion of Complex Specified Information. Miller's playing card analogy is exactly relevant to this discussion, because for the moment Dembski proceeds without relying upon specification, as specification is absent from Behe's IC.
This was underscored by Howard Van Till in his review of Dembski's "No Free Lunch," and resulted in an exchange between Van Till and Dembski that Dembski seems to have forgotten:
Van Till, from his review of NFL:
|So, then, we are asked to imagine a bacterial flagellum arising from the pure chance gathering of approximately 50 of the right kinds of proteins (and in the correct proportions) at some spot in the vicinity of the cell wall and plasma membrane of E. coli and then, again by chance, happening to configure themselves into a functioning rotary propulsion system for this bacterial cell.|
Not surprisingly, Dembski’s computations and estimations of the three probability factors lead him firmly to the expected conclusion: Considered as a discrete combinatorial object that must self-assemble from the chance localization of the requisite, chance-assembled molecular components, the probability of a flagellum assembling itself and attaching itself to the cell membrane of E. coli is exceedingly small in comparison to the universal probability bound. By Dembski’s measure, it is demonstrable beyond any shadow of doubt that bacterial flagella cannot self-assemble as discrete combinatorial objects....But, of course, no biologist has ever taken the bacterial flagellum to be a discrete combinatorial object that self-assembled in the manner described by Dembski. Dembski has not defeated any actual biological proposition. He has slain nothing more than an imaginary dragon - a fictitious adversary that Dembski himself has fabricated from a stack of rhetorical straw.
Dembski responded to Van Till's discussion, and therein restated his representation of the flagellum as a discrete combinatorial object:
|Van Till has a problem with my characterization of the bacterial flagellum as a discrete combinatorial object. Nonetheless, that's what it is. Moreover, the probability I describe for such objects, which decomposes into a product of an origination, localization, and configuration probability, does in fact constitute the probability for such objects. That decomposition holds with perfect generality and does not presuppose any independence or equiprobability assumptions. Now, how one assigns those probabilities and sorts through the different possible estimates of them is another matter. Thus, for Van Till to remark that "no biologist has ever taken the bacterial flagellum to be a discrete combinatorial object that self-assembled in the manner described by Dembski" is besides the point. The bacterial flagellum is indeed a discrete combinatorial object, and the self-assembly that I describe is the one we are left with and can compute on the basis of what we know. The only reason biologists would refuse to countenance my description and probabilistic calculations of self-assembly is because they show that only an indirect Darwinian pathway could have produced the bacterial flagellum. But precisely because it is indirect, there is, at least for now, no causal specificity and no probability to be calculated. Design theorists are closing off possible mechanistic routes for biological evolution. Van Till's biologists, by contrast, handwave at mere conceptual possibilities.|
Van Till responded, in turn:
|“Van Till has a problem with my characterization of the bacterial flagellum as a discrete combinatorial object.” Not so. Dembski here conveniently left off the essential qualification of my objection. What I actually said was, “But, of course, no biologist has ever taken the bacterial flagellum to be a discrete combinatorial object that self-assembled in the manner described by Dembski.” Dembski is free to call the flagellum a “discrete combinatorial object” if he wishes. But to then declare that it makes any sense whatsoever to think of it as something that self- assembled by pure chance is, I think, pure silliness. Feigning to compute the probability of such an “event” struck me as little more than an exercise in academic histrionics.|
In short, although Miller was not, apparently, addressing himself to any of Dembski's arguments in the BBC special, and certainly not during his Doverloo testimony, his criticisms would have been appropriate to Dembski's argument vis the flagellum as combintorial object in NFL, which was restated in this exchange, if he had.
Myth: Something that never was true, and always will be.
"The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you."
- David Foster Wallace