Re: [asa] Doug Groothuis v. William Dembski

From: David Opderbeck <>
Date: Thu Jan 01 2009 - 09:53:49 EST

Rich mentioned that an explanatory filter "at best [is] a probabilistic
argument." In my view, that's one key difference between Dembski's approach
and the evidence offered by a forensic scientist at trial. The "beyond a
reasonable doubt" standard we use in criminal cases is not an absolute
standard. It's a probabilistic standard. We convict people of capital
crimes based on probabilities, not complete certainty!

"Beyond a reasonable doubt," of course, is intended to be an exceptionally
high degree of probability, to the point of practical certainty. But this
is a particular kind of practical certainty, because it is obtained in the
context of a court proceeding that is constrained by rules of evidence and
procedure that never allow a universally exhaustive search for the Truth.
Even a capital case can't go on forever -- the judicial system doesn't have
the resources for never-ending trials.

In fairness, most ID advocates do often cabin their arguments a
probabilistic, but they seem to act like they have acheived absolute

The other important difference between a design inference in nature and the
work of a forensic scientist in a criminal case is that criminal trials are
all about *human* conduct. Here we get into the theological questions: to
what extent is there an analogy between God's attributes and the creation
sufficient to draw an inference of divine design from an artifact of nature
that looks designed to a human. This is the question of the "analogia
entis," which has been hotly debated in theology for a long time (see here: Those
theologians who speak of God being "hidden" are taking an essentially
Barthian (negative) view of the analogia entis. ID advocates seem to take a
very strong view of the analogia entis. Is there a middle way between

David W. Opderbeck
Associate Professor of Law
Seton Hall University Law School
Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology

On Thu, Jan 1, 2009 at 8:49 AM, <
> wrote:

> Thanks for this update. I find this discussion very interesting. I tried to
> follow this analysis below but it quickly reminded me of Vizinni trying to
> choose which goblet of wine to drink in the Princess Bride. :)
> But stepping back for a second, don't we agree that there has to be some
> valid explanatory filter for the examples of science you mention below to be
> valid? If it is valid for forensic science then why wouldn't it be valid
> for ID? Excepting for a moment that we don't know anything about the
> designer because that seems to apply to me in forensics as well.
> I have an acquaintance that is a a big ID proponent and he is also a
> forensic scientist ptofessionally and he makes this argument all the time
> and I have not yet satisfactorily resolved this in my mind. His scientific
> findings and testimony in his field of forensic toxicology convict people of
> capital crimes in the court of law, how can we say that there is not some
> valid way to infer design or at least intent?
> We have also spent a good deal of time on this list discussing Wayne
> Williams who was convicted of several counts of murder in the 80's based on
> probability arguments of carpet fibers found on the victims and matching
> that of William's house and car. This is another example that my friend uses
> since it was his office and colleagues that ran this investigation and he
> has intimate knowledge of it.
> I am now convinced from theological reasons that it is a mistake to try to
> prove that we can detect a Designer from nature but due to the examples
> above I'm curious how we can rule out that we can't detect a designer? I am
> now thinking that we may have to give Dembski some credit here because this
> does seem logical to me to be able to infer design in the bacterial
> flagellum or the eye even if we don't try to make the irreducible complexity
> argument.
> How do others on the list reconcile this I'm curious?
> Happy New Year
> John
> Rich Blinne wrote:
> > In the latest PSCF Doug Groothuis opines: William Dembski has done more
> than anyone to theoretically ground the ID movement in a bona fide
> scientific strategy. The details of Dembski's thinking—which often reach a
> high theoretical level—cannot be pursued at length here. Dembski lays out a
> method for detecting design in nature by means of an empirical strategy that
> makes use of rigorous criteria. This method of detecting intelligent causes
> is already accepted in several areas of science, such as archaeology,
> forensic science, intellectual property law, insurance claims
> investigation, cryptography, random number generation, and the search for
> extra terrestrial intelligence (SETI). ID simply employs these methods used
> for detecting or falsifying design and applies them to the natural sciences
> as well. Design is detected through the use of an "explanatory filter"
> which checks for the marks of contingency, complexity, and
> specificity. An event or object may be reckoned the result of an
> intelligent cause—as opposed to a non-intelligent, material cause—if it
> exhibits all three of these factors. In other words, each factor by itself
> is a necessary, but insufficient, condition of design. However, if all three
> factors are combined, then this threefold cluster becomes a necessary and
> sufficient indicator of design. But there is a critic of the explanatory
> filter that Groothuis needs to deal with, Bill Dembski. On Uncommon Descent
> said, "I've pretty much dispensed with the EF. It suggests that
> chance, necessity, and design are mutually exclusive. They are not." So far
> as the explanatory filter being widely accepted, it is no longer accepted by
> its proponent! But then again Dembski trips up Dembski in the same issue:
> Bartholomew argues that my method of
> design detection as outlined in The Design Inference is fatally flawed
> because it presupposes design to identify the rejection regions I use to *
> eliminate chance and infer design* . Thus my method of design detection is
> supposed to constitute circular reasoning. But Bartholomew never engages my
> key notion of specification, which extends and enriches the traditional
> statistical understanding of a rejection region... By Dembski trying to
> acquit himself of circular reasoning he shows himself guilty of another
> logical fallacy, the false dichotomy. If you eliminate chance, you can
> only infer design if chance and design are mutually exclusive which Dembski
> admitted otherwise on UcD. It doesn't matter that Dembski's concept of
> specification is hopelessly flawed, making a hash out of Kolmogorov
> complexity and causing information theorists to wretch. This is because even
> if his so-called rejection region is not poorly specified, it nevertheless
> fails to
> make design necessary and is the reason why Dembski's hope that CSI will
> save him won't do the trick. By admitting that chance, necessity and design
> are not mutually exclusive, in my opinion he gives up the whole farm. This
> leaves the so-called design inference far short of the "rigorous criteria"
> that Groothuis credits Dembski with. At best it's a probabilistic argument
> and that is neither a "necessary or sufficient indicator of design". Even
> here another admission by William Dembski shows that you cannot make even
> a probabilistic argument, "The challenge for determining whether a
> biological structure exhibits CSI is to find one that's simple enough on
> which the * p robability calculation can be convincingly performed* but
> complex enough so that it does indeed exhibit CSI." A full decade after the
> The D esign Inference and we still don't have a single decent example.
> Young people have a phrase for this: epic fail. Rich Blinne Member ASA
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Received on Thu Jan 1 09:54:20 2009

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