Re: Quality of 'ID Science'

From: Peter Ruest (
Date: Mon Dec 30 2002 - 00:53:42 EST

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    Howard, you wrote:

    > 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.

    I am happy we agree here.

    > 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
    > sufficient knowledge.
    > 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.

    Computation of P is clearly impossible (especially if you include any
    possible future knowledge ;-) ). But even if this is impossible, might
    it perhaps be possible to estimate a Q > P such that Q < 10^(-150) (or
    any other terribly small number)? Such a result would be extremely

    We agree as far as P is concerned, but apparently not with respect to
    the very much weaker claim about Q.

    > ***********************************************
    > 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
    > says:
    > > 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)

    cf. what I wrote above about Q > P.

    > 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.)

    I don't know, but it might be the maximum possible number of elementary
    events in the known universe since the big bang. How else do you want to
    bound the unknown number of possible evolution-relevant events?

    I don't think we should fault Dembski or other IDers for not specifying
    the nature of the action or agent behind ID, as their goal is to first
    provide evidence that there (probably) is ID.

    > 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

    As I wrote in my answer to Dick Fischer, the trouble is that those who
    just _assume_ the configurational space is chock-full of functionality
    will never trouble themselves with any thought of checking this
    assumption. "We are here - therefore the spontaneous emergence of any
    biological functionality is no problem". As long as they don't see any
    problem here, they are not going to investigate these evolutionary
    processes at the molecular level, because they assume they already know
    the answer, cf. Dawkins.

    I am not suggesting that you are guilty of such circular reasoning. In
    your case, if I understood you correctly, this assumption is based on
    the theological argument of the functional integrity of creation.
    However, I feel we should be free to investigate such questions, both on
    the scientific side (what Dembski is trying to do), and on the
    theological side (which is your concern). Of course, I agree with you
    that the two sides should talk to each other, both about the scientific
    and the theological questions. Some time ago, I attempted to discuss
    these questions with Dembski, but never got an answer from him.

    And you know that I feel the functional integrity of creation is
    irrelevant to the question of the Creator possibly using "hidden
    options". Our job as scientists is to try to find scientific answers
    (probabilities...) to questions about the emergence of life, biology,
    evolution, etc., without regard to metaphysical convictions like
    functional integrity of creation or the scalable back side of Mount


    Dr. Peter Ruest, CH-3148 Lanzenhaeusern, Switzerland
    <> - Biochemistry - Creation and evolution
    "..the work which God created to evolve it" (Genesis 2:3)

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