Dembski's detecting

From: Wesley R. Elsberry (
Date: Tue Jan 04 2000 - 09:54:57 EST

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    What does Dembski's DI detect?

    MikeBGene wrote:

    MB> For example, Bill Dembski does not seek out a vital force, he
    MB>seeks out empirical detectors of a mind's ability to implement
    MB>a plan.


    WRE>What I have read of Dembski does not indicate this.

    MB>It doesn't? I'm afraid you've lifted my quote out of
    MB>its context to raise another issue.

    The statement I quoted contains two claims which are not
    modified by the context of the paragraph from which that
    statement is taken. My quote is not "out of context".
    The issue I raise is that the statement as given is

    MB>I was not talking about the validity of TDI.

    Mike's statement about Dembski involved what DI is
    capable of telling us. Mike raised the issue that I

    MB>Here's the entire quote:

    MB>" The modern ID movement is heeding Kant's warning
    MB>and does think of teleology as a plan of organization
    MB>and not a vital life force. The software is just as
    MB>important as the hardware and the boundary conditions
    MB>are just as important as the differential equations.
    MB>These are valid insights and are being carried forward
    MB>by those in the ID movement. For example, Bill
    MB>Dembski does not seek out a vital force, he seeks
    MB>out empirical detectors of a mind's ability to
    MBimplement a plan."

    MB>I simply used Dembski as an 'example' of a
    MB>modern teleologist who focuses on the detection
    MB>of an implemented plan rather than the life
    MB>force of vitalism. Whether Dembski succeeds
    MB>was not the point.

    I didn't say that Dembski's success or lack of it was
    the point. Nice strawman technique, Mike.

    There are two claims within the sentence I quoted. I
    addressed the second claim. I will split them out so that
    Mike can see what I am talking about.

    1) Bill Dembski does not seek out a vital force.

    2) Bill Dembski seeks out empirical indicators of a mind's
    ability to implement a plan.

    I did not address the first, but there is evidence that it,
    too, is false. Notice that the second claim treats Dembski's
    work as assessing the capabilities of a mind behind a design.
    That is incorrect, and no amount of bluster is going to make
    it a correct statement. Specifically, trying to act as though
    claim (2) was actually "Bill Dembski seeks out empirical
    indicators of implemented plans" rather than "Bill Dembski
    seeks out empirical indicators of a mind's ability to
    implement a plan" will be rejected as any falsehood should be.

    MB>Now, as for the separate issue of the validity of
    MB>TDI, Wesley writes:

    I was exploring what DI does or does not do, which is relevant
    to Mike's claim (2) that Dembski's DI should yield up
    information about "a mind's ability to implement a plan".
    It was not a "separate issue".

    WRE>Dembski's TDI proposes that we can detect the "design"
    WRE>which an intelligent agent has left behind,

    MB>I agree, as long as we approach the topic in
    MB>a provisional fashion. I hope Wesley is not another
    MB>design critic who believes a design inference
    MB>should be a certain proof of design.

    I hold Dembski's DI to the standard that Dembski sets out: DI
    as a reliable marker of intelligent agent causation that makes
    no false positive identifications with no possibility that
    further information can change the identification. If Mike
    can show that Dembski has relaxed this standard somewhere, I
    would appreciate hearing about it.

    WRE>but Dembski's Design Inference tells us precisely zip
    WRE>about the intelligent agent.

    MB>This is not relevant, as a design inference is an
    MB>inference about how things came to be and not
    MB>about the identity/essence of the intelligent agent.

    It *is* relevant to the claim (2) that Mike wrote in
    his original sentence. If Dembski's DI does not tell
    us something about the designer's mind, then Mike's
    claim is *false*. And Dembski's DI does *not* tell
    us about the designer's mind.

    MB>Intelligent intervention can and does indeed shape
    MB>the world. It's detection is not dependent on any other
    MB>assumption other that the agent being intelligent and capable of
    MB>intervention (like humans). Dembski attempts to
    MB>look for fingerprints of such intervention - dynamics
    MB>that 'capture' and 'freeze' mind's intervention.

    Detection and discrimination are two different activities.
    Mike addresses detection in the above, and apparently hopes
    that others will mistake this as support for his claim (2)
    about discrimination.

    WRE>IMO, DI does not even get us as far as knowing that an
    WRE>intelligent agent existed, much less acted.

    MB>This may be important for people who need to "know,"
    MB>but if you don't have a need for certainty, it is not.

    Some people do have rather low standards for apologetics.
    But as I mentioned above, I am simply exploring whether
    Dembski's DI meets the standard that Dembski says it does.
    By my examination, it would appear not.

    WRE>Dembski has recently been struggling with the issue of what
    WRE>evolutionary computation can do, and has introduced the
    WRE>concepts of "actual CSI" and the "appearance of CSI" into the

    MB>I simply view CSI as positive evidence of intelligent
    MB>design thus there is no need for me to respond to anything
    MB>else Wesley writes.

    How true. When convenient apologetics are adopted, it really
    is best to avoid cognitive dissonance.

    MB>I will mention, however, that we should distinguish between
    MB>abiogenesis/the origin of life from non-life and evolution/the
    MB>origin of one life form from another. When this distinction
    MB>is made, all of Wesley's evolutionary computations become
    MB>irrelevant since the issue (for me) is how life itself,
    MB>endowed with CSI, arose ultimately from non-biotic processes.

    The god-of-the-gaps nature of IDC belief is well-known, but it is
    nice to see it acknowledged one more time.

    MB>To exclude intelligent design is to credit the dumb universe,
    MB>which shows little or no evidence of generating CSI, for the
    MB>most impressive and extensive example of CSI ever known -
    MB>life. If we proceed to evolution, and grant that natural
    MB>selection can generate CSI from previously existing CSI, then
    MB>the design inference simply becomes more fuzzy, not inherently

    Like I said, DI becomes at best an apologetic for Deism.


    Would that have been the section about Dembski's
    bait-and-switch on complexity measures? Mike offers no
    comment there. What is Mike's position on the right way to
    measure complexity? Should the same yardstick be used for all
    events, or should two different yardsticks be used, and you
    choose whichever one favors DI-as-apologetic?

    WRE>I mentioned proximate causation above, and that also is
    WRE>interesting in connection with Dembski. Even if we were to
    WRE>grant the claim that the Design Inference can identify
    WRE>intelligent agency,

    MB>Sure it can.

    Not reliably. It can mistake the products of natural selection
    for agent causation. See my review of TDI.

    WRE>the Design Inference is incapable of
    WRE>distinguishing between CSI proximately caused by an
    WRE>intelligent agent and CSI that was ultimately caused by an
    WRE>intelligent agent removed one or more steps from the event
    WRE>being analyzed.


    WRE>Even if Dembski is right about what his
    WRE>Design Inference does, Dembski has done no more than provide
    WRE>another argument for Deism.

    MB>So? The design inference is not supposed to be an argument
    MB>for Christian montheism, Buddhist pantheism, or Greek
    MB>polytheism. It is simply about detecting the intervention
    MB>of an intelligent mind. If Dembski can get us only as far as
    MB>deism, then anyone who wants more will have to invoke
    MB>more than TDI.

    If anyone wants some "empirical detectors of a mind's ability
    to implement a plan", they will *also* have to invoke more
    than Dembski's DI. Which was my point.

    As for what the DI means in terms of theology, it is clear
    that the Discovery Institute fellows, Dembski included, have
    learned much about the legal issues surrounding the inclusion
    of religion-based materials in public classrooms. It is
    important to them to be able to plausibly deny a direct link
    between DI and any religion. And whenever anyone outside the
    "true believing" group notices such a link, it gets
    vociferously denied. And yet in interview after interview,
    the impression that sympathetic reporters receive is that
    IDC tenets are aimed at demonstrating the action of the
    Christian God in life's history. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

    Now, I will return to Mike's claim (1) which I did not examine
    in my previous message. Is Dembski seeking a "vital force"
    or not? Let's review a little of Dembski's writing...


    Information-the information that God speaks to create the
    world, the information that continually proceeds from God in
    sustaining the world and acting in it, and the information
    that passes between God's creatures-this is the bridge that
    connects transcendence and immanence. All of this information
    is mediated through the divine Logos, who is before all things
    and by whom all things consist (Colossians 1:17). The crucial
    breakthrough of the intelligent design movement has been to
    show that this great theological truth-that God acts in the
    world by dispersing information-also has scientific
    content. All information, whether divinely inputted or
    transmitted between creatures, is in principle capable of
    being detected via the complexity-specification
    criterion. Examples abound:

    The fine-tuning of the universe and irreducibly complex
    biochemical systems are instances of specified complexity, and
    signal information inputted into the universe by God at its

    Predictive prophecies in Scripture are instances of specified
    complexity, and signal information inputted by God as part of
    his sovereign activity within creation.

    [End Quote - WA Dembski,

    I think that the link between Dembski and the "vital force" of
    the Christian God comes through quite clearly in the above
    quote. Dembski is comfortable with linking DI and Christian
    apologetics; why isn't Mike?

    My Dembski link page points to commentary on Dembski.
    If anyone has further suggestions for links, please send
    them to me.


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