Re: The scientific vacuity of Intelligent Design

From: Pim van Meurs <>
Date: Fri Nov 25 2005 - 23:19:26 EST

Don Nield wrote:

> Pim van Meurs wrote:
>> wrote:
>>> Pim Van Meurs wrote
>>>> I am working on a larger posting addressing this excellent paper
>>>> but let
>>>> me point out that Intelligent Design is nothing more than the "null
>>>> hypothesis" and can thus not even compete with 'we don't know'. In
>>>> fact,
>>>> we have seen in the past how a 'we don't know' position were used to
>>>> propose evidence of a deity, only to be replaced later when our
>>>> ignorance decreased.
>>> I'm getting a little lost here. I would see most of the problems with
>>> application of the "design inference" (in matters of experimental
>>> science) to be that of establishing proper probabilities.
>>> Ignoring the common (and useless) rhetoric from the ID group,
>>> I'll go back to "The Design Inference". Although the last chapter
>>> gets a little into the direction Dembski was intending to go, within
>>> the body
>>> of the book, the basic model was something like this: (1) __find__ a
>>> correct
>>> probability function (2) set a lower bound on the odds that are
>>> reasonable to expect. The examples therefore centered on
>>> card games (etc. ) where the odds can be predicted without dispute.
>>> Even "honest" gambling parlors can make money off of these odds
>>> and I suspect with a high degree of reliability.
>>> The major problems seem to appear when this is applied to empirical
>>> problems where not all the information is know with certainty. I don't
>>> quite see what you mean by vacuity. People use probability theory all
>>> the time, and the issue should be which model is to be used and how
>>> accurately it reflects what we observe in the world. Quite
>>> understandably,
>>> probability models immediately raise suspicions (as they should),
>>> but that
>>> does not make them vacuous.
>>> by Grace alone we proceed,
>>> Wayne
>> By vacuity I mean that ID does not add anything to our scientific
>> understanding. For instance in the design inference, design is that
>> which remains when chance and regularity have been eliminated. This
>> however does not add any more to our understanding of a particular
>> system than if we were to replace the 'design inference' with a 'we
>> don't know'.
>> Without any further constraints, the Explanatory Filter does not
>> present much of anything scientifically relevant beyond having
>> eliminated chance and regularity hypotheses, but this does not depend
>> on the ID hypothesis itself. In other words, elimination of
>> hypotheses cannot give scientific content to ID beyond what regular
>> science already offers. In other words, we have to look at the
>> conclusion drawin by the EF, namely that what remains should be
>> considered 'design'.
>> Finding the correct probability function is but one problem of false
>> positives, finding relevant hypotheses of chance/regularity is
>> another one. In other words, despite Dembski's claim that the EF is
>> free from false positives, we do not really know, and have no way to
>> establish, how common such false positives are.
>> So now we have a 'design inference'. How can we compare this
>> hypothesis with the already existing hypotheses or even the
>> hypothesis of 'we don't know'? Let's assume that the probability for
>> known processes is smaller than 150 bits, does this mean necessarily
>> that the design hypothesis (whatever that may be) has a probability
>> larger than it's competitors? We don't know because the probability
>> of the design inference is never calculated, because it is inferred
>> from the failure of 'competing hypotheses'. So why does the design
>> inference deserve such a position?
>> Why should we not accept 'we don't know' until we have independent
>> evidence or a real hypothesis to be tested?
>> Of course, the answer is that such a position would make the Design
>> Inference utterly useless for testing supernatural events.
>> In the limited ID relevant research, it already is self-evident that
>> the design inference at most can lead to tests of existing scientific
>> hypotheses and that ID never presents an independent hypothesis of
>> its own, other than by arguing that the failure of other hypotheses,
>> combined with a vague concept of specification can only be explained
>> by intelligent design.
>> Does such a position help us understand why? According to Behe we
>> know that the designer wanted to design the object, and we know that
>> the designer had the ability to design the object (Kitzmiller
>> testimony). Even the former assertion is not clear as we know that
>> intent may not be needed for something to be 'designed'.
>> So ID does not give us much of anything that helps explaining the
>> 'designed' object. Nothing about, how, why, by whom (motive, means
>> and opportunity), no independent evidence (eye-witnesses), no alibis...
> What Wayne has said about the design inference is reasonable as fars
> as he goes. I agree with him that the problem is essentially that of
> assigning the appropriate probabilities. But it precisely here where
> Dembski meets a wall. In the case of card games the probailities can
> indeed be assigned accurately, but in the case of biology Dembski can
> never assign the probabilities, even within orders of magnitude,
> because he does not have the knowledge -- and Behe will never be able
> to give him the knowledge -- to assess all the possible alternatives.

Behe is not even interested in all possible alternatives, merely natural
selection. That's the fascinating part of Behe's argument, that
'disproving a selective pathway to a particular system' somehow is
evidence for design

> All Dembski has is a Designer of the the gaps argument, and Pim is
> justified in calling Dembski's argument vacuous. Another way of
> expressing this is to say that the design inference is set up in such
> a way that false positives are fatal to the ID argument, and Dembski
> will never have the knowledge to rule out false positives with certainty.
> Don

False positives are incredible fatal to the ID argument but the ID
argument is vacuous for various other reasons. Since ID is basically the
set theoretic complement of regularity and chance, it does not present
ANY mechanisms, methods, explanations for a particular 'designed'
system. In other words, ID explains nothing. When ID attempts to explain
observed data, it has to start making assumptions about the designer(s),
but there are no foundational principles that describe the interest,
motivation, capabilities of said designer(s).
One can at most draw the 'circular' conclusion that the designer could
design system X because he designed it or that the designer wanted to
design system X because he designed it.

Let's look at Behe's testimony in the Kitzmiller trial in Dover

Q: It does not identify who the designer is, correct?
A That s correct. Let me just clarify that. I m talking about the
scientific argument for intelligent design based on physical data and
logic, yes.
Q You believe it s God, but it s not part of your scientific argument?
A That s correct.
Q It does not describe how the design occurred.
A I m sorry?
Q Intelligent design does not describe how the design occurred.
A That s correct, just like the Big Bang theory does not describe what
caused the Big Bang.
Q Does not identify when the design occurred.
A That is correct.
Q In fact, intelligent design takes no position on the age of the earth
or when biological life began.
A That s correct.
Q But think it was — the earth as billions of years old or 10,000 years
A That s correct.
Q It says nothing about what the designer’s abilities are.
*A Other than saying that the designer had the ability to make the
design that is under consideration, that’s correct.
Q It sounds pretty tautological, Professor Behe.*


A Well, as I think I said in response to the question, we know the
designer had the ability to make the design. So, but beyond that, we
would be extrapolating beyond the evidence, so we can t say more than that.
Q And we know nothing about the designer s limitations.
A Well, we have to infer what we have from the data, and the data tell
us that a designer can make a certain object. It does not say what the
designer might not do. our everyday world somebody who makes some simple
object might be able to make a more complex one or so on.
Q Intelligent design says nothing about the intelligent designer s
*A The only statement it makes about that is that the designer had the
motivation to make the structure that is designed.*
Q How can intelligent design possibly make that statement, Professor Behe?
A I don t understand your question.
Q How can it possibly say anything about the intelligent designer s
motives without knowing anything about who the intelligent designer is?

And so on. The designer designed because he was motivated to design it,
he had the ability to design it because he designed it, but we don’t
really know much of anything….
Received on Fri Nov 25 23:21:12 2005

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