Re: CSI was [Re: Comment to Bill Hamilton

Brian D Harper (
Tue, 18 Mar 1997 00:40:19 -0500

At 05:21 PM 3/13/97 -0500, Burgy wrote:

>Brian wrote, very much in part: " And if this is a problem for Gell-Mann's
>effective complexity it is even more of a problem for Dembski. Basically,
>Gell-Mann just wants to separate out the patterns from a set of data that
>might contain, say, some "noise". Dembski wants to go a step further and
>label patterns as good or bad."
>If this is an accurate assessment, and I have no reason to think otherwise,
>does it not totally negate any possibility of Dembski ever demonstrating
>his thesis?

Undecidability is not really a key issue for me. After all, it
seems to undo Gell-Mann as well as algorithmic information theory
in general. Turning things around, while it may not be possible to
prove any observation is random, it is possible to prove something
is non-random by finding a pattern.

What really bothers me about Dembski's approach is what seems to
me to be an arbitrary labeling of some patterns as "good" and
some as "bad" or as "fabrications". It seems to me that much of
science is about finding patterns in data. Why is a pattern a
fabrication just because it can't be specified independent of
its actualization?

Since Dembski is not around to answer, I thought I would see if
I could play the role of a theistic scientist and try to rebut
my own arguments. Here goes:

==== reply from a theistic scientist============

It is true that undecidability and uncertainty create some problems,
however these problems are felt throughout all of science and are
not unique to the intelligent design hypothesis. For example,
Chaitin has found algebraic equations which have solutions for
no reason at all, i.e. in trying to decide whether a particular
equation has a solution one is just as successful tossing a fair
coin as applying mathematical logic. And so, if one has these type
difficulties even in pure mathematics surely we cannot expect
theistic science to fair any better.

Brian is correct in that if the intelligent designer is the God of
the Bible, then we should not expect to be able to reduce the
designer to a set of laws or principles. God is free to create
however he chooses and He could have chosen to create a universe
with laws so complex that beings of finite mental abilities
should never expect to discern them. But is this what we see
when we look at the universe God created? Einstein said that
the only incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it
is comprehensible. Isn't it reasonable to suppose that God
created the universe this way in order to reveal himself to
us, if only partially? This being the case, isn't it appropriate
to interpret nature and approach science from a theistic perspective?

Brian has used several examples from the history of mechanics.
Let me draw from the same field to provide an historical example
of the power of the theistic approach to science. The example I
have in mind is the principle of least action, which is arguably
the greatest principle of classical mechanics and one of the
greatest principles of physics.

The principle of least action is clearly a teleological principle,
is non-mechanistic ["Anyone desiring to regard the principle of
least action as mechanical would today have to apologize for doing
so." -- Max Planck] and history shows beyond any doubt that the
principle derived from a strong conviction that natural law is
closely related to a higher will and more specifically that natural
laws should mirror Divine attributes such as beauty, elegance and

Now, it may be argued that any mechanics problem which can be
solved by the principle of least action can also be solved by
direct application of the non-teleological, mechanistic, purposeless,
Laws of Sir Isaac. This is not terribly significant since one
often finds that natural phenomena can be described by several
different theories. The principle of least action is far greater
than Newton's Laws, though, for the following reasons:

1) The principle is not restricted to mechanical problems and
can also be applied in thermodynamics and electrodynamics.
2) Newtons laws can be derived from the principle of least
action (as can the conservation of energy principle)
3) The principle of least action can be applied even when
the detailed underlying physical mechanisms are completely
4) Newton's laws were robbed of some of their glory by Einstein's
relativity. Still a good approximation, but still an approximation.
The principle of least action escaped Einstein unscathed,
since the Hamiltonian Action is invariant wrt all Lorentz

It is true that the teleological approach has fallen into disrepute
since Galileo. Considering the great success of the principle of
least action, perhaps its time for a change.

--------- end reply from theistic scientist --------------------

Brian Harper
Associate Professor
Applied Mechanics
The Ohio State University

"Because there's no primordial soup;
we all know that, right?" -- Leo Buss