Monday, December 05, 2005

Dembski and Dilbert

Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) feels a little of the same way that I do:

"Let me say very clearly here that I’m not denying the EXISTENCE of slam-dunk credible evidence for evolution. What I’m denying is the existence of credible PEOPLE to inform me of this evidence. "

I tried to read the Design Inference. I can cope with some of it but I have a sort of brain that does not cope very well with pages of equations. I have a brother in law who dreams in equations....but so far he has not had time to tell me what it all means. My choice at the moment is to trust Elsberry and Shallit or to trust Dembski. This is a thoroughly unsatisfactory state of affairs. The fact that The Design Inference was published by Cambridge University Press means that at least some people somewhere think it ought to be taken seriously.

Who are they? Where are they? Don't they realise that what they did was important?

The Panda's Thumb response of resorting to "believe Shallit and Elseberry or you are an idiot" and "Dembski is a wicked liar" is entirely unsatisfactory. What I need is a good collection of well qualified statisticians and probablity theory people - well respected in their fields to tell me that Cambridge University Press made a mistake here and some rubbish got through the filter.

I need someone who can communicate properly without resorting to pages of equations but someone who is respected by both sides to tell me what it all means.

Surely it should not be too difficult to get together a group of people and produce a report on the logic and probability arguments in this controversy.

If Dembski is totally and utterly wrong can I have some credible witnesses to tell me so please....


Anonymous Andy Groves said...

A number of people have written articles that say essentially that you do not need to udnerstand all Dembski's mathematics to understand that the principle of his idea is flawed. For me, the best critique of Dembski's book is an article by wilkins and Elsberry in Biology and Philosophy:

Wilkins, John S, and Wesley R Elsberry. "The Advantages of Theft over Toil: The Design Inference and Arguing from Ignorance." Biology and Philosophy 16, no. November (2001): 711-724.

I have the pdf if you would like to read it.

Another of Dembski's books, "No Free Lunch" made use of the No Free Lunch theorems of Daniel Wolpert and others. Wolpert is on record as saying he disagrees with Dembski's use of his theorems.

6:19 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...


I would be interested in a pdf
send to myfirstname(not yours)

It would help me greatly if you were able to get together a group of well respected experts in the field to agree with Wolpert and produce some papers showing that Dembski is wrong. Do you understand my problem with the fact that CUP published the book in the first place? There must be some mathematicians who know the field who thought it wasn't complete gibberish.

10:10 am  
Anonymous Andy Groves said...

I don't know what sort of review process Dembski's book went through at CUP, so I can't comment on whether his work was given the thumbs up by qualified people.

There are plenty of critiques of Dembski's work out there, (but I don't know how many of them are by mathematicians), for example in the volume "Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics" edited by Robert Pennock (MIT press) and "Why Intelligent Design Fails" edited by Edis and Young (Rutgers University Press). Mark Perakh also has a book which includes criticisms of Dembski's work, but I have not read it.

As I have said, I don't think mathematicians are the only ones who are qualified to critique his work. A number of people have suggested that many of his ideas could be expressed without the maths, and that he dresses his ideas up mathematically to make them sound impressive. I'm certainly not the person to organize a panel of experts, as I'm a developmental biologist, not a mathematician or an information theorist.

12:41 am  
Anonymous DrFrank said...

Well, the Cambridge University Press also publishes Bibles. Publishing houses, at the end of the day, want to make money, and they could see that Dembski's nonsense was going to sell well to the Christians in the US. Being published is in no way indicative of the quality of science, as Behe's `peer-reviewed' book showed.

If ID were science and not a huge scam to get God back into science classrooms, they would concentrate on doing research rather than spending millions on PR in America trying to get ID into schools.

On credible sources, once Dembski's arguments using information theory have been peer-reviewed by other information theorists, you might then consider him a credible scientific source. Oddly, though, he is a bit reticent about doing this, although he'd probably quote some enormous conspiracy against him if it got rejected (the popular cry of the pseudoscientist).

Overall, the thing I love about ID is its all-encompassing nature: it refuses to state definitively answers to simple questions like

a) How old is the Universe?
b) How old is the Earth?
b) Did humans descend from apes?

in order to avoid offending their fundamentalist Christian backers.

It makes me sad to see that there are people in the UK who give credence to the ridiculous ideas of ID.

11:41 am  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Dr Dembski's book is not just any old CUP book. It belongs in the Cambridge Studies in Probability, Induction, and Decision Theory. This is hardly the stuff from which to make money.

If you look at the list of Advisory editors for the series you do not immediately think... Ahaa this series is out for quick bucks!
General Editor is

Brian Skyrms

Advisory editors:
Ernest W Adams
Ken Binmore
Jeremy Butterfield
Persi Diaconis
William Harper
John Harsanyi
Richard Jeffrey
Wolfgang Spohn
Patrick Suppes
Amos Tversky
Sandy Zabell

3:21 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

The age of the earth universe and humanity are not really issues that ID deals with directly. The fact that anti-IDists continually bring up these issues is another reason to suspect that they are acting from a world view bias.

It is just a rhetorical device to attack the ethos of some of the ID people who for other reasons believe that there may be such a thing as apparent age. It is actually a distraction from the issues that ID does deal with.

3:29 pm  
Anonymous Andy Groves said...

I think the question of whether humans had ape-like ancestors is a fair question to ask ID proponents. If you like, it can be reduced to the question:

"Does the current evidence suggest that humans and chimps shared a common ancestor, or were separately designed".

I don't mind anyone saying they believe that humans and chimps were designed/created sepately, so long as they acknowledge that the current weight of evidence strongly suggests the appearance of common ancestry.

5:28 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I don't mind anyone saying they believe that humans and chimps were designed/created sepately, so long as they acknowledge that the current weight of evidence strongly suggests the appearance of common ancestry."

Question. How would you distinguish the Appearance of common ancestral decent from common design? What criteria do you, personally, use to say which you find more logical? And dose everyone have to agree with your, or for that matter anyone else’s criteria, for distinguishing between the two?

Additionally. ID seems to me to be primarily a theory that states that at least some specific and possibly all aspects of life are designed, based on the interpretation of bimolecular evidence and the information content of DNA. It seems that to ask for a firm statement of world-view on the three questions posed is unreasonable. The three questions would be more reasonably posed to someone who supports creationalisum (not confined to the ‘biblical account’ sense of the word though). For example, I would answer the three questions, based on my understanding of the world, like this.

1. 15 billion years (Approx).
2. 4.5 billion years (Approx).
3. No. They are to unrelated species that share common design.
(My Muslim perspective)

But different supporters of ID will give answers to the questions based on their worldviews. Extrapolation of the first two questions is not possible from the theory of ID as, like with Evolutionary theory, it is the point of the theory to explain the observations in biology that life exists and dose so in many different and complex forms. The age of the universe and earth questions belong to the realms of cosmology and geophysics (Or if you are Christian, as an example, you may see the answers to questions 1 & 2 as being the in the area of ‘biblical authority’). Question 3 however is more difficult. I find that ID provides a definite answer of ‘yes’ but others; Behe for instance, believes that ID would explain life in conjunction with naturalistic processes (at least that’s the understanding that I’ve gleaned from some of his articles.) Since it is still a problem to get ID even recognised, as at least a hypothetical possibility, by the bulk of the western academic community, it leaves ID research and its proponents to be funded and supported by primarily Christian sources. This undeniably leaves ID open to be used primarily as supportive ammunition for theistic (which as a Muslim I have no moral objection to!) worldviews. To confirm the truth (or fallacy) of ID, in the scientific sense, it must be treated as a legitimate line of inquiry with total objectivity. Since it represents’ a (potential) threat to the widely held Atheistic beliefs of many scientists. This has naturally produced an opposition to the idea that is driven, at least as much by ideology, then by any evidentiary. What can there for result from this except Theism Vs Atheism?

2:17 pm  

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