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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

A Double Dose of Dembski

I got home late Saturday night from attending a lecture by William Dembski held on the UC Berkeley campus, under the auspices of the Berkeley IDEA Club student group. This was the second lecture Dembski gave for the IDEA Club; he had one Friday night on the "scientific status of intelligent design". I spoke with him briefly after the lecture on Saturday and met his young daughter Chloe. Dembski is a personable guy.

But personal interactions are not really relevant to the issues. What's of importance there is the content that was provided in the two talks. And there I have to take issue with many of Dembski's claims and arguments.

So my first effort is going to be to provide the notes that I took at these two lectures. These will go up in very rough form, complete with typos and unmarked contractions of longer words. (I was typing in notes on an old Palm PDA that I have a fold-out keyboard for.) The Berkeley IDEA Club is selling CDs of the two lectures, and will be providing the recordings of the question and answer sessions on their website, so if you want to hear it for yourself, you can with a bit of effort. As I get time, I will work on cleaning up the notes. I will also start commenting upon and critiquing the content a bit later on. Tomorrow, though, requires attention be paid to Rusty, since it is the last day of rabbit season for the 2005-2006 hunting calendar.

2006/03/17 Dembski Idea Club Lecture

The Scientific Status of ID

Luke Lee introduces Dembski

Trying to make ID plausible
Home run tomorrow night
mentions Dover
Lots of questions

Debate at AMNH in 2002
Email invitation to debate: panel discussion, with a topic of "blind evolution or ID"
Debate that actually occurred, Behe, WAD, Rob Pennock, and Ken Miller, Eugenie C. Scott moderated, but did a fair job. Blind evolution or ID. This was a well-put title. Show up, and the title was changed to "Evolution or ID".

ID is not antievolution, even common ancestry is not a problem for ID. Not a position that is required for ID. The issue is not whether all organisms are related back to a last universal common ancestor.
Q. is what is propelling the evo. process? ID is compatible with a form of "intelligent evolution", but not "blind evolution". Unplanned, unsupervised in Wiesel letter to Kansas, and National Association of Biology Teachers statement some years ago.

If you are at the mall in DC, play a game of coin flips. Have each person in the crowd stand or sit down on coin flip, cumulate sitting down. Person left standing after 20 rounds, how did you do that? But probability says this will happen. But a person standing after 100 flips would be beyond the reach of chance.

Darwin's achievement was to explain "design" without resort to an entity.

As Biologists, we want to push natural cause as far as it can go.

Focus now on ID and intelligence: the type of cause that is able to find, select, and implement effective means of bringing about an end. For a purpose, that's what intelligences do.

Material mechanism: The type of cause that brings about its effects throught the interplay of matter and energy as constrained by unbroken deterministic and nondeterministic laws.

Feynman: one sentence to leave to posperity: atomic hypothesis, everything is composed of particles and their interactions.

Chance and necessity.

Evolution is material mechanisms plus history.


ID:: the study of patterns in nature that are best explained as the result of intelligence.

Where's god in this, where is the supernatural.

Plenty of opportunities to talk, and I will keep using them.

Forensic science, archaeology, etc. It is a basic part of human rationality to locate these sorts of causes. Many special sciences fall under ID.

When it gets controversial, if there is an intelligence behind biology, who or what is it. SETI is not controversial because it is assumed to be an evolved intelligence. If in fact Bio systems are due to an intelligence, then we are left with an unevolved intelligence. But this doesn't make it supernatural. Likewise, saying that nature is just material mechanisms, it may be true or it may not be true. If nature is animated by intelligence, buy teleology, then we have to deal with it.

Car crash photo. Design or material mech. MM or both. Car is design, crash isn't, design and natural forces mixed together.

Honda commercial. MM obviously there.

TEs. Gave coin tossing example. In a sense, that is all contrived. I or someone got the million people together to flip those coins. You can see the design surrounding the system, and that's where TE is. But can we look at systems in biology and ask whehter MM can get there or not.

Have to have series of small steps or it is magic, not science. Problem is, can the mech. that have been proposed do the work.

Mt. Rushmore. Face on Mars. Rushmore, no one will think it is wind and erosion. Stonehenge. We don't know who or what did think, suspect humans.

What sorts of patterns point us to intelligence? PRNG, crypto, data falsification in science, etc. Here we have all these sciences that dist. between MM and intel. causes. Schon case. Got same dist. of errors in separate experiments. How does that make us pay attention. Errors show copying. Correct is only one way, can go wrong in many ways. That pattern of errors becomes too improbable. "I don't know the answer to this question, either" joke.

Schon's pattern of errors pointed to data falsification. Lucent Tech. tossed him out, considers his research suspect. There's a methodology here. Probabilist, so looks to methods for identifying intel. causes. This is what ID is trying to do. If it pushes you to acceptance


Dawkins, The Root of All Evil. If you are worried about theo implications, that cuts both ways.

Dawkins, think he appreciates this tension, biology is the study of complicated things that appear to be designed for a purpose. RD proposes the BW. This sentiment is seen over and over again.

Crick: must keep in mind that what they see is not designed, but evolved.

What is I doing in front of D? Reason is that because as far as bio is concerned, there is no intelligence that goes with "Design" that is seen. The I emphasizes that there is a real intelligence. (Doesn't say "agent".) This is design that is jury rigged, there is design that is pretty nasty. But ID is concerned with is there any real design there at all?

Kauffman: evolution is the invisible hand that puts togather these systems.

Information. Matter has to be organized in very special ways for it to be alive at all. NS is sifting natural variations. NeoD view that these variations are errors in genetics. Think of it as sources of variation , can talk about evodevo, endosymbiosis (hybridization). Idea that random changes produce these variations. There has to be change, but these changes are not teleological, can't look ahead. Evo. doesn't think at all. Random stuff, benefit right now. Demographics, survival and reproduction. Darwin's promissory note, that evolution can do it all.

That certain resources can get you from point A to point B? Mt. Everest climbing, can a checy get you there? Are the resources that the theory gives you adequate to do the job? ID is posing the question that is any MM adequate to get us there. We're not saying that we cannot figure it out and have to accept design.

What does it take to show the evo bio approach does not work? Darwin seemed to give an account of that. "numerous successive slight modifications, theory breaks down". Is this a sweeping concession or an impossible test? Proving a negative here. Science is supposed to be falsifiable. How is CRD's statement falsifiable?

Theories should be in conversation with data, you should be able to put theory in harm's way.

Given Jones, can't teach Darwin's theory in the public schools. Because Darwin compared his views to creation.

Why do we think that there are problems with this theory, and why do we think that ID has something going for it?

M. Behe, DBB, IC. This is about a surrealistic, Lilliputian realm. Little machine filled place, usual stuff and guff. CRD thought cells were a blob of Jello enclosed by a membrane. Abiogenesis was a foregone conclusion then. Now we see that to understand inside a cell, we need to be engineers, and better understanding with better engineering.

Most proteins don't just float along, work with other proteins. Protein complexes, these are necessary for life to exist. "Truck" "tramway" : this comes from a *?real* animation.
Flagellum. Remarkable little device. "LIQUID COOLED" on slide.

This is just the outboard motor part, doesn't describe the signal transduction.

Q. How has the evolutionary community explained this? People who have explained this honestly say that there are no explanations. James Shapiro: wishful speculations quote. Franklin Howard : similar. Behe is right, wishful speculations. Lynn Margulis, in her 2002 book with Dorian Sagan: NeoDarwinism is like a sugary snack, but is bereft..." quote. Hon. Ph.D. ceremony in Galapagos, she's still a Darwinian: because she is wedded to a form of blind evolution.

There are no evo. mechanisms for these systems. Resp. to biologist: Not that I don't know, but you don't know, and no one else does either. Thomas Kuhn and paradigms. You can say that I'm going to stay with the Titanic.

Just want to raise doubts for you, raise some suspicions, show that there may be some possibility to ID.

Behe out there for ten years, so what do biol. do? Flagellum. Divide and conquer is how this always works. Cave fish, eyes now blind, but once they saw. Not a profound insight. Profound would be explaining how the eye came about in the first place. For flagellum, those committed to blind ev

blind evol. latch onto the TTSS. Therefore the bact. flag. could have evolved.

Motorcycle: motor can do something, therefore motorcycle could come about, but that required intelligence.

What is needed is a complete full evolutionary path, not just a couple of widely isolated endpoints. If landscape is like widely separate points, then the theory cannot work.

david Raup, NAS, paleontologist. Four poss. ID, some nat. process that is undiscovered, existing evo alg do not adequately mimic evo processes, existing evo proc are ok, but not enough iterations to do the job. Favors B, undiscovered. The process can only be helped by folks like you asking the hard questions. Compares ID advocates favorably to Socrates.

This was a "consciousness raising" talk.

Question period.

Q. There doesn't seem to be a distinction not knowing where it is going and ID. Intermediate step.
A. Programs that you describe, in AI you have to give purpose by outside designer. Beyond that not sure... can you elaborate on the intermediate.
Q. The appearance of the intermediate, not just NS, but sex. sel., gen. drift.
A. Evo comp. can do a lot of neat stuff, but you are not getting the equivalent of a perpetual motion machine, you have to pay for the information you get. Once you run, you ccan get unexpected stuff. Altschuler's antennas. Very crooked wire antenna. Evo comp. can do that, but information still has to be put in. This is being worked out between ID advocates and workers in evo comp.

Q. Impetus for rejection , looking forward to talk tomorrow. L. Margulis directed me to Butler, evolution through will and choice, a process of intelligence influencing evolution. What of role of organism?
A. Problem there, problems being converted into their own solutions. SC Morris, Life's Solution, this sort of theme you see, some cases genomic changes that seem to be directed, James Shapiro talks of this. Want to move ID closer to those possibilities. Robert Laughlin at Stanford, Kauffman at Santa Fe, they see that there is a problem there. But we can be more open to the form that teleology can take. There's no bible science controversy that we're pushing. Designer turns out to be an intelligence.

Thermostat, human being stands there, but you can automate. So how much in life;'s history has been automated? Babbage 9th Bridgewater Treatise, talks of nature being programmed to produce bio complexity. In bio, you cannot go anywhere near teleoolgy.

Q. Fine to ask tough questions about origins of eyes and rotors, that's great. Problem many have with ID is that they try to teach it as a form of science. Even Templeton says no.
A. They funded me. NFL.
My little lovefest was in 1999. Does this mean that there is no intellectual merit to ID? I will try to lay that out tomorrow.
Q. Testable hypotheses have been lacking.
A. Main thing that came up was evolvability, therefore you can examine what are the hurdles to be overcome. Interface compatibility.
0 in sci. lit, then 0 in bio, then 0 cited, so there is constant backpeddling. So I think ID is having an impact in the sci community. Lenski and Pennock paper didn't mention Behe, but Pennock's expert report says the paper refutes Behe.

Q. Lipid bilayers around DNA, have they isolated any such and grown in a lab setting?
A. Has a simple lifeform been made in the lab?
A. James Trefil debate, he claimed that in the next several years, that they would create life in the lab, he saw this as a vindication of evo. Nelson: line labs with mirrors to remind them of what is doing these things.

Q. Def. of science: repeatable, testable, falsifiable.
A. Phil. of science specialization. Demarcation criteria, these have not stood up. Testable, if by that you mean in contact with empirical data, it seems certainly that ID can be confirmed or disconformed. The genome by evo has been cobbled together, easier to copy than to edit out redundancies. Steganography could apply, what if you found that in the cell? We think of DNA as a long string. Colleague at U Idaho says TTSS genes. Temp. dependence. DNA when it ge


DNA as thermometer. Layering of info in cell, test that could go either way. Falsifiability. Defeat ID by coming up with testable repeatable pathway for flagellum. Mousetrap pathway, but has to be a fully articulated pathway, but you never get the pathway from evo. But if you could find that, ID would be dead in water. ID superfluous. Popper, Coj and Refut., plenty of reasons for getting rid of ID.

Q. If there is designing force, what might it be? If it can aid in the design of these complex molecules and lifeforms?
A. Who designed the designer type question. Once you say designing force, you have naturalized the designer. You don't have to go there. A designer can interact with nature without violating it. QM and openings that it allows. (Shades of KM.) Polarizing filter through 45 deg. , photons about half get through, no way to tell which goes through. Random source that solves cancer, answers questions, etc. There's no force as such, there's a clear interaction.
A. If the coin tosser cannot be reduced to material, then the question doesn't arise.
A. If D is material then your question applies.

Q. (interrupter asks) Some moment when design took place, when were theese things supposed to take place.
A. If there is a ID weakness, it is in the implementation of design. Thought exp.: say you have computer output, random strings, then sublime poetry. When did design come in? Not at that time.
Q. But that implies evolution.
A. I made this point early on, ID in principle has no problem with evolution. What brought evolution about? Darwin's second plank, NS wassufficient to account for life, and it is that plank that ID advocates have a problem with.
Q. Implies that it needed to be created. If at beginning, then
A. Informationally open uni, intel. can interact with universe. Photon goes through or not,,, saying that there is an intelligent cause.

Q. Take evo. out, how do you test ID?
A. Study of patterns in nature. Focus is on patterns and what is required to get them there. The whole approach, we didn't have a video camera going. In terms of exp.... Theory f evo, blind evo., attacking evo. affects the other. Evo and design a partition. Doug Axe research, evolvability of certain proteins. Perturb and all biological function is lost. Engineers and information, conservation of energy but for information. Lines of research. Focus is on evolvability because evo comm says it is not a problem.
Q. Evo proved wrong, then what for ID.
A. Where it goes is this. The approach is very different. ID is a theory of creative innovation, fall under an engineering umbrella. Can we rev. eng. them, perturb them, tease apart ID from natural.. All are q to be posed, but can't do that in evo framework. Science in a different key. but not a science stopper. Will open up possibilities. Nothing to be lost. If it could be shown that NS has more power, then I'd be willing to scotch ID. But I don't see that.

Q. Threat? Total change in worldview?
A. There are implications. How profound? YECs distancing themselves. What are the concerns? Dysteleology and biology. Craziness and cruelty in nature, goes back to Hume's dialogues. Warmed over cre. I think ID is fundamentally different. Those who want to kill ID find this convenient. There are qs of real scientific merit. Bio complexity at subcellular level. If we don't have an answer for that we don't have an answer for life. Science is not just a cumulative enterprise.

Q. Two parts. Ruins of ancient city. Sci would look for details of nature of designers. Stewart's testicles, baseball bat, vulnerabilities, HIV, bubonic plague, ID community has not been forthcoming about nature of designer. How can ID be a genuine science when details not forthcoming on the focus of the field?
A. Basis is that ID community is monolithic on view that is withheld. You have all sorts of people. These questions don't really touch on the science. If ID is patterns, then why can't we leave it there. I'm agnostic on ho much the designer has relied on surrogates.
Q. Whole different standards on ID answering qs.


There's a whole history and we may not be able to recover it. Evo. can do something by showing how flagellum can be developed step by step in the lab.

Q. Blind evo and evo. Confused on diff. Bird flu mutations, blind or not.
A. Long history in flu viruses. Darwinian process accounts for flu pretty well. ID does not have to show that everything is designed.
Q. All-encompassing, or just looking to put a dent in evo?
A. History shows expansion of theory, then later contraction. Newton, then Einstein. Very large and very fast needs Einstein. Stuff has to be front-loaded to make things interesting. Keep what's good, but ack. limitations. Committed evo thinkers say unlimited change between any two things.

Q. Distinctions. God of the gaps. MM cannot explain, thus god did it.
A. GoG an epistemic point. There's a precommitment that the MM really exist. ID is more ontological. On what basis can we say, which way is nature composed, landscapes with stepping stones or wide breaks. Those gaps may not just be in our heads, but may really be out there.

Q. Evo theory 3 parts. CD, NS, pattern. How does ID rationalize contingent, extinction-dominated history of life?
A. Short: look to technological evolution. What you find is that technologies evolve and go extinct. Anseres to routine problems can be reached by tinkering. Other problems require grand technical leaps. Russian engineers. Patterns of technological evolution. Don't see why extinction is against ID. The dead, the defunct, the passe get superseded.

Second Lecture notes, 2006/03/18


Tom Tim, Pres. of IDEA Club
interest of acad. freedom, keep an open mind. UC police statement, respect spirit of event. Police intervention, criminal or student sanctions.

Luke Lee. Intro for WAD.

Dembski. Want to focus on q of information. "Wall Street" "Greed is good." "Information is everything."

//info is important in other contexts. Inside the cell. Information processing, storage, and retrieval. That this is the heart of bio. D. Baltimore, M. Eigen, JM Smith.

Kauffman: NS believed to be the invisible hand that produced these well wrought forms.

Darwin's promissory note: explain life through RM + NS.

This view runs smack into another view, that of ID. Patterns. Best explained through intel.

How can we approach the question? Darwin appreciated it, "vera causa" quote.

How can we distinguish between these rigorously?

Distinction, goes back to Aristotle. Stoics saw world as passive matter informed by information.
If art if ship building were in wood... but they don't. //acorn has info to make an oak tree.

Info gets there by design, or by nature. Can nature generate info by itself, or does it have to have it inserted from outside? How do we know?

Contact example. Something persuaded the researchers that there was an agent. "This has structure." Prine number string.

Says SETI looks for narrowband signals.

A criterion for detecting design. What do we look for?
1. Contingency
2. Complexity or improbability
3. Specification (ind. pattern)

Complexity and probability connection. The possibilities speak to improbability of chance finding target.

"Spinal Tap" drummers dying. SHC.

"Dumb and Dumber": "You're telling me there's a chance". Does evo theory have that sort of chance, or not?

Getting too lucky is not a scientific explanation. Origin of life on earth. Can consider other planets. Dawkins quote.

Miller/Urey exp. Produced amino acids. This didn't go anywhere in my view, because he didn't get to bio macromolecules. If high prob. confirms, shouldn't low prob disconfirm? If HP confirms, but LP does not disconfirm, then theory is inoculated against risk.

Need a pattern. Cow pic.

Randomness is always provisional, not a fundamental part of nature.

Archer and wall.
"Rejection regions"

If we are to apply this to bio, we are setting the target after the fact. Have dealt with this in my work, and this has been refined recently.

Encrypted text example. Trying to find pattern in it. Take background knowledge and try to figure it out. Weasel via Caesar cipher.

You can discover patterns after the fact, and do so reliably.

Exp. Filt.
Be careful.. treating D,C,N as mutually exc. and exhaustive. But what is relevant is the pattern that you are looking.

TDI. Lot of people who think it has merit or is a slam dunk.

What does the filter identify. It identifies specified complexity. This is my answer to Darwin of how you distinguish a designer.

SC is a marker for design. Design as a causal category. Venn diagram: is SC entirely within "actual design". Flase negatives are not a problem.

Worry is that false positives might exist.

There are no known counterexamples.

Dawkins, Climbing Mt. Improbable. Divide and conquer. Dissolve improbabilities.

Bio contends that there is no actual SC.

Design industries that use this method, at least implicitly.
Crypto, Archeology, Anthropology, SETI, CS, data falsification.

Dawning recognition that SC is the key to biology. Orgel quote, living org are distinguished by their SC.

Thaxton, Bradley, Olson, (Doesn't mention book name.

Paul Davies. "tightly specified complexity".

None of them are using SC in truly rigorous sense.

From SC to Bio Complexity.
DCO stuff again.
p_origin <= p_avail x p_synch x p_local x P-i_c_r p_i-f-c x p_o-o-a x p_config

i-c-r interfering cross reactions
i-f-c interface compatibility

i-f-c Are the parts recruited mutually compatible. In tech evolution, standardization is absolutely vital to get anything done. There's no reason for parts to mesh in a blindly evolving system.

M. Behe has a paper on this sort of thing, gets small prob


Behe gets small prob on protein formation.

How small is small enough? My number is 1e-150 as a probability thrreshold.

Even more reliable bound from Seth Lloyd at MIT, uni prob bound of 1e-120. Computational capacity of the universe. Crypto looks at this sort of thing.

SC is rel,. marker.

Sator-Arepo word square, same expression in four directions.

Imagine genome where info is packed this tightly. Hard to account for this in evo terms. If there is design, then we might expect to see this.

Anthony Flew conversion. Did so because of ID research, that it was convincing. A. Flew has agreed to be in Cal. to receive PE Johnson award for acad. freedom and truth.

R Numbers. ID isn't creationism, but it's the easiest way to discredit ID.


Q. Evo is allowed, but not blind evo. Most presentations of ID, as in Dover, that species show up as from mind of creator.
A. Dover school board maybe, but that wasn't the policy. And ID advocates all over the map. ID allows that entire range of views.
Q. Bad reaction because of other presentations. Slam dunk of high improb. How do you make these prob calcs with rigor?
A. Just because it is difficult doesn't mean we shouldn't do it. Flu. But you have to run the numbers.
Q. Improb until science finds an explanation.
A. Wimsatt endorsed my work. Didn't see my method as forcing a conclusion. Challenge to take this method and apply it. You have to find systems that are tractable.

Q. Clarify: Levels of information, talked about an enzyme.
Q. DNA is a macromolecule, the shape change is simply due to laws of physics, and isn't another level of information.
A. Y. pestis, bub. plague, when does it know to start using its toxins, and that's when it hits body temp. Don't think it is inaccurate. Don't see notebook bursting into flame as a good analogy. There is a real adaptation here of fit to host. What would be more more interesting is more direct multi level info.
Q. Example?
A. The search is on at this point. Guelph person doing data mining, Chiu.
Q. UCB is a big bio school, has resources to study this. Could you give an example of an experiment to carry out?
A. Very interesting to find a level of info that gave you insights into bio. construction that did not have other function. Would not have a selective advantage. Maybe NS is stupid and there is an actual designer that is more clever than us.
A. Start looking for things in steganographic sense. Look for levels that are not obvious. Don't think this is as crazy as the bible codes. How much DNA has function, how much is junk.
Q. Not sure what the exp. is.
A. Seems that you could do something in bio like stegan.

Q. Timeline, info there since Big Bang, or evolved and then triggered.
A. Could be front loaded in BB. Could have info coming in a QM way, but see coordination there to show agent behind it. Photons and pola. filter. Physics could not say that there is a violation of physical law anywhere there. Magic penny that communicates with you on flips. Raises poss. that info can get into the system without violating laws.
Q. Why is the switch thrown to make this info available to us. At what point does data become design?
A. U. Chicago days, conf with Crutchfield, video with swirling stuff in dynamical system, then pattern appeared. The cow is always there staring at us. Beethoven. Info and then experience of the info.

Q. Textbooks as truth is wrong view, things change all the time, appreciate what you are doing. Miller/Urey confirmed material platform?
A. Not quite, but it was right to take it as confirming evidence. Repeatable, high prob., confirming. But that means that low prob. must be disconfirming.
Q. That exp. doesn't confirm material causes are correct. Just shows that there are tendencies, the cause is part of philosophy. Feel that there must be someone who set it motion rather than just happened.
A. Buddhists/Hindus have animism, for reductionist everything is dead matter.

Q. From Montana, didn't see cow. Enormous web of confusion. Boils done to fork in the road, everything chance, or has purpose. SC, how


Q. Aristotle said water had telos. Smuggle in idea that there is purpose in the world. Don't call it telos, though.
A. Arist. thought ends built into the world. Has SC simply subst. for Arist. telos? I don't think so. Intell. as causal power that can adapt means to ends.

Q. 2 qs. Uni. prob bounds. Idea depends on things like flagellum being beyond uni prob bounds.
A. Look at known universe, number of particles, number of changes of state per unit time, then length of time. Not unique in this, there's crypto literature on this. S. Kauffman, etc. One way to get around is to invoke a multiverse. Problem is that there are lots of design inferences that you do want to draw that are put in doubt. Arthur Rubinstein multiverse who produces music without knowing. How do you distinguish our universe from those others?

A. We make inferences based on salience. SETI hasn't identified any ET yet, but maybe it's because we haven't seen the design in signals we do have.

Q. Natural intelligent designer?
A. Would be a natural principle. There may not be any break between designer and the natural system. Yes, design intelligence could be perfectly natural.

Q. Darwin's distinction between species that have evolved and... Can you say bird evolved from another bird, from dinosaur, etc.? Where do you have a problem?
A. Not where, but whether there is a designer involved, what is driving the system. Darwin proposed uni. common ancestry and mechanism to account for it.
A. Have to look at degree of change that is required. Don't see a problem with avian flu evolution. Antibiotic resistance seems to result from a small change. But flagellum is based on multiple coordinated parts, there it seems that the level of difficulty has to be accounted for. And this is seen in technological evolution as well. Bell's telephone is revolutionary technology. Plus: reptile-mammal trans. Minus: Cambrian explosion. It's a problem for the theory, and I think it needs to be admitted as a problem.