RE: [asa] on science and meta-science

From: Austerberry, Charles F. <>
Date: Thu Nov 12 2009 - 09:42:15 EST

Thanks for your post, Bill.

I agree that it can be worthwhile to try to calculate the probability of
living things coming about by nondesign means, even if one cannot
compare that probability to another. The best attempts I've seen must
make highly tentative assumptions, leading to highly tentative
"conclusions". The rest simply make wrong assumptions, repeatedly, and
typically pronounce their conclusions with great confidence!

I suspect some pretty reasonable but tentative calculations were part of
the recent Vatican Observatory conference on extraterrestrial life. My
guess is, the theological thinking at the Vatican conference went along
the lines of, say, Richard Collings' book "Random Designer."

Speculations at the very limit of our scientific knowledge do have
interesting metaphysical implications. For example, when it comes to
the big picture, I think the debate between chance (multiverses,etc.),
design, and necessity (yet undiscovered natural laws, etc.) involves
good philosophy and theology. It certainly interacts with science, in
both directions, both by using scientific data and by suggesting
scientific investigations. But those scientific investigations
themselves cannot compare one probability calculation (say that of a
flagellum arising undesigned) with .... nothing! (no other calculation!)
and still be called science.

The blog "Science and the Sacred" has a good post on this by Karl
Giberson. He writes in part [bracketed words are my insertions]:

"A typical example goes like this: 'If God [or any intelligent designer]
designed a structure, like the bacterial flagellum, then science will be
unable to explain its origin [without invoking design]. Science cannot
explain the origin of the bacterial flagellum [without invoking design].
Therefore God [or some intelligent designer, possibly even one that
cannot be physically detected] designed this structure.' In this
argument the truth of the consequent--science cannot explain the origin
of a certain structure [without invoking design] --is said to establish
the truth of the antecedent--God [some intelligent designer, absolutely
and completely unspecified, with absolutely no constraints on the means
or the motives for the design] designed the structure. This is a logical
fallacy because we can imagine another explanation. Suppose, for
example, that science is unable to provide the desired explanation
because some important discoveries have not yet been made. This would
imply the same consequent. If both A and B imply C, then the truth of C
can hardly be a proof of A and not B. This problem has a subtle
connection to the so-called scientific method. My anti-evolutionary
critic states, correctly: 'It is a logical fallacy to conclude that
confirmed predictions prove the theory (evolution) to be true.' The
problem here relates to the nature of scientific claims, however, not to
logic. This distinction is, unfortunately, often overlooked."

I think the entire blog entry is worth reading. It's at



Charles (Chuck) F. Austerberry, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Biology
Hixson-Lied Room 438
Creighton University
2500 California Plaza
Omaha, NE 68178
Phone: 402-280-2154
Fax: 402-280-5595
Nebraska Religious Coalition for Science Education

-----Original Message-----
From: wjp []
Sent: Wednesday, November 11, 2009 11:18 PM
To: ""; Austerberry, Charles F.
Subject: RE: [asa] on science and meta-science
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I'm certain that when I first thought some ten or more years ago that ID
was a kind of statistical inference I had more to say than I do now,
having forgotten much of understanding of statistical inference in the

However, if we consider and exhaustive set of inferences H & ~H, then
P(H|E) + P(~H|E) = 1

So that if P(H|E) < 1/2, we would reject H in favor of ~H.

This is essentially the way that Dembski's explanatory filter works.

He simply regards, "intelligence" to be anything that is not explicable
in terms of law and chance. If we would allow this (and it is a lot to
allow), then we don't need to know anything at all about the designer.

The problem, of course, of trying to specify designers is that there an
infinite number of them. We need a criterion that all would satisfy.
This is what ID attempts to do. Most IDers do not try to specify the
designer as a Christian God. Dembski explicitly says so.

So there are two approaches:

1) try to define intelligence negatively, or
2) try to define it positively.

The negative description results in the explanatory filter and the
statistical rejection of what "intelligence" is not.

The positive description is Dembski's specified complexity, or Behe's
irreducible complexity. If an entity is "irreducibly complex," it
requires "intelligence" to account for its existence.
Or is Behe saying that if it is "irreducibly complex," it could not have
been constructed by law and chance?

What ID does is force the non-ID constituency to examine seriously the
mechanistic resources available. It seems to me that much of the modern
anti-neo-darwinian voice is doing just that, although none of them are
or will be IDers.


On Wed, 11 Nov 2009 19:11:41 -0600, "Austerberry, Charles F."
<> wrote:
> Bill Powers wrote: "You "find" it convincing that houses and cell
> phones are the product of "intelligence." Why is that?"
> Good question! Given the problems houses and cell phones can cause
> us, it's not clear!
> But seriously, perhaps a more relevant example would be determining
> whether a stone is a human-crafted simple tool or was naturally
> weathered into its current shape, because these less obvious cases
> show that discerning products of design involves comparing two
> probabilities (in the obvious cases of houses or cell phones, the
> differences between the two probabilities are so extreme, we forget
> that's what we are actually doing.)
> For example, given our knowledge of geology, what is the probability
> that an arrowhead-shaped stone could form naturally? Given our
> knowledge of human cultures and technologies, what is the probability
> that such a stone was designed and shaped by human hands to be an
actual arrowhead?
> Both calculations are needed; neither probability is certain enough to

> be sufficient by itself.
> What happens if the designer is totally unspecified and thus could be
> supernatural? There is now absolutely no way to compare two
> probabilities, because there is no way to calculate one of the two
> needed probabilities. I just don't see, therefore, how ID works as a
> statistical inference.
> Cheers!
> Charles (Chuck) F. Austerberry, Ph.D.
> Assistant Professor of Biology
> Hixson-Lied Room 438
> Creighton University
> 2500 California Plaza
> Omaha, NE 68178
> Phone: 402-280-2154
> Fax: 402-280-5595
> e-mail:
> Nebraska Religious Coalition for Science Education
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Received on Thu Nov 12 09:42:56 2009

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