|Wesley R. Elsberry
Joined: May 2002
I was able to attend the event due to good timing on other travel.
Eugenie Scott moderated. William Dembski and Michael Behe presented on "intelligent design" and were questioned by Robert Pennock and Kenneth Miller.
Dembski used a lot of negative argumentation in his presentation. One of the parts which wasn't so negative included his capsule example of specified complexity as needing a long message and an independent pattern to match it. Dembski invoked the bacterial flagellum as an example of specified complexity in biology. He floated the claim that the only known examples of successful co-option come from human engineering. He touted section 5.10 of his book, "No Free Lunch", as giving the probability calculations needed to find "horrendous" probabilities of getting a flagellum. While Dembski had a section of his talk devoted to talking about "arguing from ignorance", it did not seem to me that he actually disposed of the issue. Dembski reiterated the claim that design is a notion belonging to statistics and complexity theory. And to top things off, Dembski even repeated his claim that there is a room at the Smithsonian devoted to artifacts known to be designed but for which no purpose is known.
Of course, there is no such room, which can be confirmed by contacting the Smithsonian, as Jeff Shallit has done. There was once an exhibit (1980-81) with one display case in which some artifacts were displayed.
I have to wonder why it is that if design is properly a statistical and complexity theoretic notion, why hasn't Dembski published his "design inference" in that literature. It would seem to be a neutral ground in which to gain some credibility for the concept. I don't think that the statisticians really care about the evolution/creation issue, so the whole thing about the "Darwinist conspiracy" should be a non-issue in that context.
Rob Pennock tried to get Dembski to commit to saying what sorts of things can be taught if one accepts "intelligent design" by contrasting that to what science already has resolved. Issues like the age of the earth and whether a global flood could be taught were brought up. But Dembski dodged making any stand on these issues, saying that his stance is that "design" is detectable. I think this showed that Dembski is simply evasive on these points which might lose the ID movement the support of YEC fellow-travelers. Others have opined that this showed Dembski's fortitude in refusing to grant Pennock any points.
Miller tried to get Dembski to state when the intelligent designer had to infuse the "specified complexity" seen in various events mentioned by Dembski and other ID advocates. Did the origin of life 3 billion years ago indicate an intervention by the intelligent designer? Maybe, maybe not was about the extent of Dembski's reply. For the bacterial flagellum, the Cambrian explosion, the emergence of various animal groups, "maybe, maybe not" was the sum total of Dembski's stance. The specified complexity might have been input at the origin of the universe, and subsequent examples would have to be examined in detail. ID could thus be compatible with some form of Deism, or an interventionist theology, but doesn't seem to have any way within it to decide between the two.
Michael Behe gave his usual talk on "irreducible complexity", including some discussion of mousetraps.
Ken Miller presented a four-step logical argument based upon things that Behe has said in the past. Behe stated flatly that the second point was something he had never said, but Miller was able to pop up the full quote and citation showing that Behe had, indeed, said just that. Miller then proceeded to show that for each of three biological systems that Behe has used in the past (the blood clotting cascade, the bacterial flagellum, and the eukaryotic cilium) that functional systems with fewer parts do exist. Behe was caught flat-footed by Miller's citation of work from 1969 documenting that dolphins and whales lack Hagemann factor from their blood clotting cascade. "I feel sorry for the dolphins," said Behe. "There's no need to feel sorry for the dolphins," said Miller, "they are doing just fine." Take away 40 proteins from the bacterial flagella, or 80% of the system, said Miller, and you still have a fully functional Type III secretory system. Behe objected that these were not exactly the same proteins, but Miller countered that in each case they were quite similar with high sequence similarity in conserved regions. For the eukaryotic cilium, Miller presented the case of cilia from eel sperm, that are missing several parts found in other cilia, but which are still fully functional.
One criticism of Miller's presentation would be that Behe kept saying that Miller was not taking into account Behe's full argument. I think that Behe would have a point here if he could just cite the places where he had retracted the claims that Miller did critique.
Pennock made an incredibly telling point, in that neither Behe nor Dembski would reduce "irreducible complexity" to an independent and objective criterion that would not require Behe to pass judgment on whether a system was actually IC or not. Pennock proposed that the use of knockout experiments could establish what is or is not IC. Behe said that this would be a good place to start, but that he would reserve judgment.
Each of the participants was asked to give a URL.
"You can't teach an old dogma new tricks." - Dorothy Parker