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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

Fuller's Invention?

Over on Michael Berube's weblog, Steve Fuller responded to various points being made about his advocacy of "intelligent design". One item caught my attention:

6.‘And please, to cite Dembski...the man is a dilettante who relies on speaking math to those who know a little biology and biology to those who know a little math. His ideas are useless.’ Well, his ideas may be wrong, but they are not useless. In any case, the man’s not finished yet – and (unlike Newton) he’s exposing his ideas for public inspection and critique, rather than going underground for 10-20 years to work all the bugs out. (Perhaps you’d prefer that approach.) Here you’ve got to take seriously what it means for ID to be primarily a science of ‘design’: God and humans design in exactly the same way (so says the theory), so the more we learn about detecting human-led design (e.g. Dembski has come up with scientific fraud detectors used by the NIH and NSF – I can already see students of Irony 101 raising their hands), the more we get (hopefully testable) ideas about how the universe might be designed. ID basically turns biology into divine technology. This is not a million miles from Herbert Simon in ‘Sciences of the Artificial’, in which he imagines (among other things) natural selection as a watchmaker who gets interrupted a lot and periodically needs to regroup from where he left off. [emphasis added - WRE]

William A. Dembski, mathematician, theologian, and philosopher, is also a heavyweight expert when it comes to self-promotion. So why is it, Steve, that Dembski has not himself boasted of the adoption of his particular methods by the NIH and NSF for "fraud detection"?

My basic stance on this is skepticism until such time as an independently verifiable reference is provided. One does not have to look far to find ID advocates exaggerating grandly from mundane reality, so I take the claim that someone other than Dembski has figured out how to make Dembski's methods work (when even Dembski has thus far failed at that task) with a dried-up Permian sea of salt.

What is a commonplace in Dembski's output is the claim that the methods actually employed by other people (read: not Dembski's methods) are actually in some sense mappable to or equivalent to Dembski's methods. The major practical difference being that whatever methods are actually employed by other people (read: not Dembski's methods) actually work, whereas Dembski's methods have yet to be shown to be applicable to any non-trivial real-world example in their full technical form, whether one takes the different statements in "The Design Inference" or "No Free Lunch" as the basis.

So far as I know, Dembski has yet to make a useful contribution to science. By useful, I mean the combination of empirically tested, readily applicable to real-world problems, and with a track record of such application, including application by other people than the original author(s) of the technique. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is useful. SELEX is useful. GIS is useful. Coalescent theory is useful. Dembskian "design detection" is, thus far, not tested empirically (and may not be amenable to empirical test; Dembski's responses since 1997 have seemed to indicate that Dembski has little use for empirical tests of his ideas), there is no indication that Dembski's full technical framework is applicable to real-world problems, and not even Dembski has so far managed to apply that full framework to even one instance of a non-trivial real-world problem.

Is Dembski unfinished? Perhaps. But what I've seen lately is not promising. When I was first getting acquainted with Dembski's ideas back in 1997, I mentioned to other critics that I thought that Dembski was at least making interesting errors, something that cannot be said for much of the rest of the antievolutionary community. Dembski's more recent contributions seem to be little more than sophistry in the service of evading criticism.