RE: [asa] Dembski's Specification Condition

From: Bill Powers <>
Date: Tue Dec 08 2009 - 16:38:45 EST


I can appreciate your comments regarding small, middle, and large views.
At least, I think I can.

But it seems to me that we only have and can only have a middle view.
There is no other view possible for us (outside of revelation).

I was thinking something similar in regard to what I wrote below.

The question is how we know that we have "knowledge."
What we call knowledge is always an amalgam of the particular and the
general. We "inituitively" believe that the merely particular is not
knowledge. To have knowledge we must get "behind" the particular to
something that governs or instantiates the particular. It is not merely
an epistemological objective that we have in mind. It isn't merely
a practical matter either (we can't store the infinity of particulars, we
require classes to stream line the information). Rather, it is
ontological. We really believe that "truth" is something that is
universal. It's not just a matter of human explanation of phenomena,
which might be no more than a form of pragmatic instrumentalism.

Hence, when a theory can account for not only some particular, but many
particulars, even those that are widely diverse, we intuitively sense that
we are drawing near to the truth.

Now, it is one thing to judge epistemically that such criterion are the
face of superior human knowledge. After all, it might just be viewed as a
matter of economy. And we might for this and other reasons prefer this
kind of "knowledge." But it is a wholly different matter to believe that
this is the nature of the world. The world is such that general, even
general abstract statements or mathematics, underlie the instantiation of
the world.

If all this sounds religious, it's because it is. Nietzsche may have been
one of the first to rail against this metaphysical presumption. It is,
however, more than Platonic. I'm not certain that its "actually"
Christian. It is surely evident in the Enlightenment and other forms of
rationalism. It is evident in Galileo and Kepler and Newton and Maxwell
and Einstein. What about Bohr?

I guess what I'm trying to say, getting back to your comment, is that
this, in
some sense, reflects the middle world. If not, it surely appears to
reflect human "knowledge." Our very notion of knowledge is religious in a
broad sense. It almost seems to me that Western knowledge is through and
through theistic, whether "atheist", "humanist," or "Christian."

  On Tue,
Dec 2009, Dehler, Bernie wrote:

> "In the first case, presume, as Caputa claimed, that the order of listing the candidates was done by the flipping of coins."
> I think this is where the fallacy starts to creep in for ID.
> As Dawkins explains, there are like three worlds: small, medium, and large. We are geared to medium world. That's why although we know about (small world) submicron geometries and existence, and the same with mega-sized (large world) objects (like the milky way galaxy being 100,000 light years in diameter), we still can't comprehend it, because our mind is a product of middle world.
> So in this article the analysis starts with something we already know about: probabilities. That is from middle world. Now what about all the things we don't know about? This is why people jump to "God did it" in my opinion (generally speaking on mysteries, not on this specific article).
> BTW, Dawkins idea of three worlds is discussed in "The God Delusion" appendix called "The mother of all burqa's."
> I share this as insight as for me it is an antidote to jumping to "God did it" because it is so mysterious and wonderful. The more we push ahead with science, the more we can explain these things. And I think that's what ID boils down to: "There's no way this could happen naturally, so God did it." The problem is we say "There's no way this could happen naturally" from the middle world view.
> ...Bernie
> -----Original Message-----
> From: [] On Behalf Of Bill Powers
> Sent: Tuesday, December 08, 2009 8:47 AM
> To:
> Subject: [asa] Dembski's Specification Condition
> I've been reading the most recent copy of Philosophi Christi in which
> there is an article titled Dembski's Specification Condition and the role
> of Cognitive Abilities by Wm Shrader.
> I recommend the article, at least for its review of the Design Inference.
> According to Dembski an event is considered "designed" if the event is
> contingent (and therefore not explainable by physical law and
> "necessity"), complex (hence low probability on the chance hypothesis),
> and specified.
> Low probability is not sufficient to conclude design. In addition,
> Dembski suggests that the event must be specified.
> Specification entails that you can devise independently of the event
> itself a conceptual pattern that the event entails.
> This notion is tricky, thus the motivation for the article.
> On revisiting these notions, here is what I notice.
> One event that Shrader and Dembski makes much of is the case where Caputa,
> an election clerk in NJ, in 41 elections had the Democratic candidates
> listed ahead of the Republican 40 out of 41 times.
> Consider two pieces of "side information." In the first case, presume, as
> Caputa claimed, that the order of listing the candidates was done by the
> flipping of coins. In this case, presuming this independent information,
> we would say that getting 40 heads and 1 tail in 41 tries was pretty
> unlikely, although clearly possible.
> Consider a second bit of side information. Here we know that Caputa is a
> Democrat. We know he is an intentional agent. And we presume that he
> intends to favor the Democrats over the Republicans. With this
> independent "side information," we would expect a pattern similar to the
> one that did occur. This "model" or presumption is independent of the
> event because, for one, we need not presume that it is even true. We
> simply posit a model. For another, we can easily imagine having such a
> model independent of the actual event. We don't even need Caputa to exist
> to imagine such a model.
> First, it seems that what is going on here is no different from any
> abductive method. We propose a model. We draw conclusions from the model
> and compare the patterns that result from the model with the "data." Now
> the model may be suggested by the data, which is always problematic. The
> difficulty of models being ad hoc, "specified" just to fit this particular
> data. This is a common problem with all theories, scientific or
> otherwise. This is the problem that Dembski attempts to address by
> requiring that the "side information" need be independent.
> What we first need to acknowledge is that this problem is not one uniquely
> confronting a design inference. It is one central to all forms of what we
> call knowledge. Scientific theories have a host of epistemic criteria
> that are intended to hopefully address the issue. For example, where a
> theory predicts new, previously unobserved, phenomena we gain confidence
> in the theory. We think that if a theory is internally coherent with
> accepted theory over a broad context that it is "reliable."
> Nonetheless, this is, in my view, a sticky problem of how to address the
> ad hoc problem. Because Dembski is addressing the problem from the
> context of his Explanatory Filter, he attempts to create "orthogonal"
> spheres, e.g., chance events from specified events. So side information I
> is independent relative to event E in contrast to a chance hypothesis H,
> i.e., P(E|H&I) = P(E|H).
> One can likely always come up with an explanation (a pattern) that can
> replicate some event E. We consider it to not be ad hoc if the same model
> or explanation can be used to explain (entail) a large class events. The
> less "similar" the class of events, the less ad hoc. Here the notion of
> independence from a specific event E is important, just as Dembski
> requires.
> In every successful theory there must be a part that is derived, in some
> sense, from the data, and a part that is not derived explicitly from the
> data. The part that is derived from the data is a kind of ad hoc part.
> The part that is not must, in some sense, be independent of the specific
> data.
> I don't have time to try to continue this analysis. I only would add here
> is that I have always thought that ID theory, esp. the work of Dembski, is
> getting at fundamental issues of the philosophy of science. It seems to
> me that it attempts to clarify and make nonamibiguous aspects of theory
> acceptance that have and will likely always remain ambiguous.
> All of the above I had not intended (when I began) to write. What I
> wanted to say was simpler, and here it is.
> If I throw 10000 pennies and get only one tail, I would not judge it to be
> a designed event. If Caputa devised the election ballots for 10000
> elections and only once was a Republican listed at the top, the situation
> is different. Here we know that Caputa is a Democrat and an intentional
> agent. So, even though it is possible that Caputa was flipping coins and
> was honest, we would judge (as the NJ courts did on far less evidence)
> that he was cheating.
> Why are the two events (the flipping of 10000 pennies and the election
> ballot order) different? It is because we know the means by which the
> events were produced. If, instead of Caputa, a computer was used and the
> code was determined to produce random results, we would not have concluded
> design.
> There are two points here.
> 1) In our everday experience we conclude design over chance because we
> know that designers were involved.
> 2) Where we don't know that designers were involved, the only apparent
> criteria we have is that the probability of an event on the chance
> hypothesis is so small (e.g., 10^(-150)) that we have to reject the chance
> hypothesis. This criteria is no different than the "classical"
> statistical rejection method of Fisher.
> All of this suggests that, while very low probability does not
> (necessarily) imply design, having a designer involved in the process
> does.
> The question then is this: Does specification really come down to simply
> trying to find a way of saying that a designer is involved. What Dembski
> and ID struggles with is trying to find an "independent" way of saying a
> designer is involved without actually presuming that a designer is
> involved, and hence that the criteria really are independent.
> It will nearly always be true that an event is more likely given the
> hypothesis of a designer than given the hypothesis of chance. Yet, many
> apparently argue that biological evidence is more likely on the chance
> (plus law) hypothesis than on the presumption of a designer (plus law and
> chance?).
> I'm done.
> bill
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Received on Tue Dec 8 16:39:15 2009

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