From: Howard J. Van Till (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Thu Dec 26 2002 - 09:22:03 EST
In my response to Burgy's wish to deal with the quality of some of ID's
scientific claims, I posed the following question:
>> Question: Is it possible, on the basis of what is now known about the
>> formational capabilities of the universe, to perform the
>>computation of the
>> actual numerical value of P(X|N) for the E. coli bacterial flagellum?
Peter Ruest answered:
> No, it is not, because the bacterial flagellum is much too complex.
HVT: Peter, I agree with you that it is not possible to do the calculation
to which I referred. In fact, getting people to face that simple fact was
one of the purposes of my question.
However, I would state the reason for this inability somewhat differently.
We are unable to do this computation -- the computation on which Dembski's
entire case for ID rests -- because we do not have nearly enough knowledge
concerning what the joint effect of all actual (both known and unknown)
natural processes is able, or has been able, to accomplish.
Regarding the computation of P(X|N), the fundamental problem is our lack of
Regarding ID's scientific claims, the fundamental problem is ID's persistent
denial that we lack sufficient knowledge to do this computation that is
essential to their case.
Regarding the reason for our inability to do the computation, it seems that
you and I do, after all, agree. As you rightly say,
> We don't even know of any much simpler system which would allow us to
> perform such a computation.
So, Peter, it seems we're on the same page on this matter. So far, so good.
I am content to let molecular biologists deal with the next section of
Peter's post, having to do with our difficulty in understanding particular
evolutionary processes (expressed in the language of information content) at
the molecular level.
I will, however, respond to a portion of Peter's last paragraph, where he
> For this reason, I think Dembski's approach (or others of the ID group)
> may perhaps provide some insights into this problem of the emergence of
> new information.
I respectfully disagree. The ID approach is to argue that, in spite of the
lack of sufficient knowledge to do the actual probability computation of
P(X|N) on which the supposed need for "intelligent design" action
(indescribable, non-natural, non-miraculous, form-conferring action by an
unidentified, unembodied, choice-making agent) is based, it is still
reasonable to assert that the value of the probability in question will
surely fall below the minimum value -- 10 exp (-150) -- that Dembski asserts
to be the relevant number. (What this particular number has to do with the
feasibility of evolution by natural processes is not at all clear to me.)
In short, ID's approach (especially as it is presented by Dembski) is: 1) to
feign the ability to do the computation of the crucial probability, P(X|N),
2) to declare that the value of P(X|N) is less than some "universal
probability bound" whose relevance to the possibility of evolution by
natural causes is unclear, and 3) to assert that certain biotic structures
could, therefore, have come to be formed only with the aid of some
indescribable, non-natural, non-miraculous, form-conferring action by an
unidentified, unembodied, choice-making agent
I cannot help but ask how this ID approach will contribute any actual
fruitful "insights." If the the provocation by ID advocates serves to
stimulate molecular biologists and other scientists to learn more about
evolutionary processes at the molecular level, then that will be more to the
credit of those working scientists than to the "insights" contributed
directly by the advocates of ID.
Howard Van Till
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