Re: [asa] Doug Groothuis v. William Dembski

From: David Opderbeck <>
Date: Thu Jan 01 2009 - 09:55:21 EST

Actually I should modify what I said about ID advocates and the analogia
entis. To the extent they deny the "designer" must be God, I'm not sure
what kind of analogy they're drawing. But IMHO that's blowing smoke in any

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

On Thu, Jan 1, 2009 at 9:53 AM, David Opderbeck <>wrote:

> 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
> certainty.
> 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
> extremes?
> 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 09:55:50 2009

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