Saturday, December 29, 2007

Matt 24 watch, 44: A Blog discussion on adverse "reader" "reviews" of Dembski and Wells' Design of Life at Amazon

Over the past several days, my most intense online engagement has been taking a look at the wave of adverse "reviews" of Dembski and Wells' new book, Design of Life, over at Amazon, by the Internet's ever so active Darwinistas.

This has unfortunately delayed my onward post on the developments with tidal wave no 2, but is of interest in itself.

Interested onlookers may wish to look at the book's Amazon page here, and at the full set of reviews to date, starting here. Notice how the reviews are essentially all 1 - star or 5-star [averaging out at as highly misleading 3-star as art just now], and that it is the positive reviewers who seem to have by and large actually read the book and set out to write actual reviews.

I therefore did a quick survey of the then relatively small number of adverse "reviews" here, on Dec 20, and followed up shortly thereafter with a survey of the positive ones here.

Of the Darwinistas, the most serious seems to be a certain ID Critic, who although he has not actually reviewed the book attempts to knock down the basic case for inference to design as a scientific enterprise with relevance to origin of life and body-plan level biodiversity.

In so doing, he inadvertently reveals the spin tactics of the Darwinistas, which is of course of deep interest to those of us who wish to heed our Saviour's caution in Matt 24:
MT 24:3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?"

MT 24:4 Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you . . . . 24 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect--if that were possible. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time."
Sadly, such false prophets now include those who abuse the wonders of Science and Technology to make them into the claimed signs pointing to the "truth" of their Evolutionary Materialism, which actually cuts its own throat through self-refutation,when it has to stand on its own merits.


[Evolutionary Materialism] . . . argues that the cosmos is the product of chance interactions of matter and energy, within the constraint of the laws of nature. Therefore, all phenomena in the universe, without residue, are determined by the working of purposeless laws acting on material objects, under the direct or indirect control of chance.

But human thought, clearly a phenomenon in the universe, must now fit into this picture. Thus, what we subjectively experience as "thoughts" and "conclusions" can only be understood materialistically as unintended by-products of the natural forces which cause and control the electro-chemical events going on in neural networks in our brains. (These forces are viewed as ultimately physical, but are taken to be partly mediated through a complex pattern of genetic inheritance and psycho-social conditioning, within the framework of human culture.)

Therefore, if materialism is true, the "thoughts" we have and the "conclusions" we reach, without residue, are produced and controlled by forces that are irrelevant to purpose, truth, or validity . . . .

Thus, evolutionary materialism reduces reason itself to the status of illusion. But, immediately, that includes “Materialism.” For instance, Marxists commonly deride opponents for their “bourgeois class conditioning” — but what of the effect of their own class origins? Freudians frequently dismiss qualms about their loosening of moral restraints by alluding to the impact of strict potty training on their “up-tight” critics — but doesn’t this cut both ways? And, should we not simply ask a Behaviourist whether s/he is simply another operantly conditioned rat trapped in the cosmic maze?

In the end, materialism is based on self-defeating logic, and only survives because people often fail (or, sometimes, refuse) to think through just what their beliefs really mean.

As a further consequence, materialism can have no basis, other than arbitrary or whimsical choice and balances of power in the community, for determining what is to be accepted as True or False, Good or Evil. So, Morality, Truth, Meaning, and, at length, Man, are dead.

As Francis Schaeffer and others have so ably pointed out, this inner contradiction explains modern man's dilemma and confusion. For, his soul — created by God, our real Maker — tells such a man that he is significant, but what he thinks he knows tells him that he is nothing but a random bit of rubbish cast up by an ultimately chaotic and purposeless universe. He therefore knows not which to believe, and so lives under a cloud of hopeless despair, "a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

It is also of interest to those of us who wish to take seriously the worldviews and argument implications of spiritual warfare, as the Apostle Paul discussed in 2 Cor 10:4 - 5 and again the implications of the need to restructure all wisdom and knowledge in light of its source, the Divine Logos, as Paul also highlights in Col 2:2 - 3:
2 Cor 10: 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish [misleading] arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ . . .

Col 2:2 b: . . . Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
I therefore reviewed this "review," here.

I excerpted his key points, then responded with brief notes, as follows [with additional links, a note or two, some clarifying adjustments and a bit of highlighting]:

ID Critic, IDC, tries to take opportunity [of the customer reviews section onthe Amazon page] to make a “devastating” case against ID.

Let’s take up a few excerpts, as — though it does not actually address a review of the book, it is the closest to a substantial addressing of the book by a critic that I came across before giving up on the noxious smoke from burning strawmen:

1] [IDC remarks:] Intelligent Design (ID) starts with an unfounded assertion that design is that which remains once natural processes of regularity and chance have been eliminated.

H’mm. IDC, kindly tell us whether or not what we routinely and generally observe stems from one or more of the causal factors: [a] chance, [b] natural regularity tracing to mechanical, law-like necessity, [c] agency?

Or, did Plato et al [cf Cicero] . . . get it wrong?

[Or, inserting an example, is it not the case that we can easily see the three in action for instance by considering that: "heavy objects tend to fall under the natural regularity we call gravity. If the object is a die, the face that ends up on the top from the set {1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6} is for practical purposes a matter of chance. But, if the die is cast as part of a game, the results are as much a product of agency as of natural regularity and chance. Indeed, the agents in question are taking advantage of natural regularities and chance to achieve their purposes! " cf. discussion here.]

2] available empirical evidence and logic suggests that there is nothing necessarily supernatural about intelligence. In fact, intelligent behavior seems quite well reducible to regularities and chance . . .

The first part is right: empirically based inference to intelligence in action is not inference to the supernatural.

H’mm, didn’t Dr Dembski say something like that, somewhere, sometime . . .

Intelligent design begins with a seemingly innocuous question: Can objects, even if nothing is known about how they arose, exhibit features that reliably signal the action of an intelligent cause? . . . Proponents of intelligent design, known as design theorists, purport to study such signs formally, rigorously, and scientifically. Intelligent design may therefore be defined as the science that studies signs of intelligence.

Unfortunately, the second statement is not at all an empirically anchored fact, but an unproved core worldview level assumption, that of the self-refuting system of thought known as naturalism, or more descriptively evolutionary materialism. [Cf the discussion on this in the Darwin Thread, Aug 20, from 48 on. See how the materialist scheme of thought becomes dynamically impotent to account for a credible mind, and thence self-refutes.]

We can simply ignore — as obviously inane — IDC’s reference in the rest of the second sentence to “polling, profiling, advertising and many other arenas.”

3] Intelligence is in other words predictable and since intelligence has the ability to make choices given multiple options, there will be a certain level of variation or uncertainty present.

H’mm I always thought Napoleon used to say that when you have an opposing general pinned down to one of two options, each bad, he will “predictably” choose the third one. That is the unpredictable option.

IDC, FYI, the essence of intelligence is that it is rational, and so will follow logic in general, but also creative, and so is able to do the utterly unexpected and unforeseen.

4] Since Dembski also argues that science as it exists right now rejects the design inference a-priori, it seems clear that Dembski’s design is different from the design detected by the sciences.

A neat but futile attempt at the rhetoric of turnabout.

In fact, IDC, inference to design is — as my own discussion identifies, as common as inference to signal/message in the face of noise. [NB: IDC managed to ignore this and I followed up with relevant intro level technical details here.] Where things get interesting is when the otherwise obviously valid inference to intelligence may cut across the agenda of the evo mat advocates. They they impose a radical, philosophically unjustifiable and historically ill-founded attempted redefintion of science that says that in effect only entities compatible with the evo mat view may be adverted to in scientific work.

In short, they are begging worldview level questions — as you exemplify.

5] Dembski argues that if something can be explained as a regularity, its probability becomes close to 1 and the information goes to 0. But the same applies then to intelligent design. If something can be explained as intelligently designed, the amount of information is zero.

This simply reflects the erroneous assertion already addressed under 3. In short the “contradiction” IDC sees in WD is of his own making, and reflects on his own erroneous logic, misunderstandings and evident disconnect from the real world of intelligent actors, especially those of us who have had to design complex things that have to WORK. [NB: followed up here in general terms on being challenged by IDC (esp. see point 11 on the sadly mistaken notion that intelligent agencies generate low information when they issue messages!), and again here with initial level technical details.]

6] perhaps we can define the amount of information as the likelihood that the item arose under uniform probability? Under that scenario, something is `designed’ if it has a function and if its pure chance probability is too low. But then we still do not know if designed means `designed by regularity/chance’ or `designed by an intelligence’

IDC, please, first of all, read some basic materials on information theory, perhaps even my modest summary in my always linked, section A . . . If you had submitted something like the just excerpted in my Comms classes, you would have been given 0. [Let’s just say my students had a saying when I turned up in class: “More work, sir!” I freely confess to being of the heavy workload school of thought on learning in college.]

In the bolded part, IDC sets the essence of the EF in a context that is confused, the better to dismiss it. So, let us disentangle:

–> We see an object which is functional, and evidently information-bearing.

–> We ask, 1: is it contingent or the product of law-like natural regularity tracing to mechanical necessity of nature? If not contingent, then obviously necessity explains it and the object is not designed.

–> On the alternative that the object manifests contingency [multiple possible outcome states for a given event], we ask, 2: Is the object complex, i.e does the configuration space taken up by the set of possible outcomes require at least 500 - 1,000 bits to store? If so, it is complex in the sense relevant to the ID inference.

–> We ask, 3: is the outcome specified, especially in a message-oriented or information-processing, functional sense. If so, the object exhibits functionally specified, complex information [FSCI, a relevant subset of CSI, and the subset IDC addresses] beyond the reasonable reach of chance acting alone on the gamut of the observed cosmos.

–> We conclude, provisionally (as is true of all scientific reasoning) but confidently (and IMHCO, reliably):


[p] in all cases of directly observed origin of such FSCI the cause is intelligent agency,


[q] on excellent grounds tracing to the principles of statistical thermodynamics [cf my always linked, app 1 section 6], this is likely due to the impotence of random-walk searches [including those functionally filtered before moving on to the next stage] on the gamut of the cosmos to find such islands or archipelagos of functionally specified complexity,


[r] We are well-warranted, on solid empirical and logical bases,


[s] such FSCI is the result of intelligent agent action, even in cases where we do not see the causal process in action directly.

7] if chance alone does not explain it and if regularities cannot explain it (yet) then we have to accept `design’ as the default explanation. So `design’ includes anything from `intelligent designer’ to `an unknown regular process’.

Let’s see: on this proposal, there is an unknown regularity of nature at the cosmic level that forces the emergence of FSCI-based life.

That sounds like a very serious bit of organised, fine-tuned complexity at cosmogenetic level to me. What sort of agent could possibly be responsible for such?

[And if the alternative chance across a quasi-infinite multiverse of proffered, we note that this is now an unobserved, empirically unanchored inference, at worldview level. So it has no right to censor out the alternative that an agent has made the cosmos as a fit habitation for life.]

More seriously, we note that all scientific inferences are provisional. So, we will observe that we KNOW that agents routinely produce such FSCI. The inference to agents as the best, current, empirically anchored explanation for the nanotech of life as we see it, and thus also for the macro-level biodiversity as we see it, is an inference based on what we do know.

What then, does IDC offer as a better explanation?

A hypothetical natural regularity that forces the emergence of life. Without any empirical warrant.

What sort of desperation in defence of a worldview-level commitment does this sort of blind faith and promissory note reveal?

8] given Dembski’s logic, natural selection matches his definition of an intelligent designer. Once again we notice how ID fails to distinguish between apparent and actual design

Of course, NS is in effect the fact that certain already functioning organisms survive and differentially reproduce better on average in their environment than competitor organisms.

That explains the survival of the fittest, but not their arrival, which was the key issue in the first place. NS simply cannot be the DESIGNER. [Has IDC ever had to design and develop a serious system that used say a machine-language programmed microcontroller at its core?]

9] since ID refuses to propose positive hypotheses, it is thus doomed to be unable to deal with the issue of apparent versus actual design in any scientifically relevant manner

In fact, the design inference is a positive hypothesis,and provides a step by step process for inferring to agent action that is familiar to anyone who has ever had to do even a first course in statistical inference testing.

Such as, say, those having at least a first degree in biology. So, the ever so prevalent willful obtuseness on this topic is inexcusable.

But, perhaps, IDC means here that ID so far does not allow us to infer to the identity of the designer.

The best away to look at that is to go back to IDC’s cite of Nichols’ excerpt from Dembski.

WD: “even though in practice inferring design is the first step in identifying an intelligent agent, taken by itself design does not require that such an agent be posited. The notion of design that emerges from the design inference must not be confused with intelligent agency” (TDI, 227)

In short, we use the design inference to recognise the credible existence of design.

Now, in our background knowledge, design comes form the action of intelligent agents, without exception where we directly know the cause. But, epistemically, we are first inferring to design, then inferring onward to the agents that are the observed cause of the designs that exhibit FSCI.

And, we may then onward ask about the candidates to be the designer, and what intents such candidates may have had.

We could go on and on ad nauseum, but let’s cap off with this stunning bit of turnabout rhetoric:

10] science has shown that information can in fact increase in a cell under purely natural processes of regularity and chance. Unable to eliminate chance and regularity, the design inference remains quite powerless. But all hope should not be abandoned, one can always move the origin of `information’ to an earlier time in history, such as the `first cell’ or if that does not work, to the origin of the universe.

Here IDC first conflates mere increase of information storage capacity [easily done thought chaining of discrete state elements, e.g. a random polymer] with increments in functionally specified complex information beyond the[Dembski Universal Probability Bound] UPB, 500 - 1,000 bits [e.g. the increment on the order of 100 mn functional DNA bases required to get the information to code for an arthropod at the Cambrian revolution, as Meyer aptly pointed out in his famous PBSW article].

In fact, directly opposite to IDC’s second assertion in the teeth of the facts, the EF based on FSCI is fully and reliably capable of discriminating agency [as the presumed source of design] from chance and necessity on EVERY case where we do directly observe the source of the FSCI. To give just one instance, is IDC committed to the notion that this and all other posts here at UD in this thread, and in the Amazon reviews on DOL are the result of lucky noise, save of course his own?

As my always linked, Section B shows in summary and with suitable excerpts, the third assertion here is the ultimate in chutzpah.

For, in fact, it is notorious and plain that it is the evo mat OOL researchers who have found themselves in ever deeper despondency as they see more and more how complex the nanotech of life is, and they have not got ANY credible, robust model that passes the muster of the principles of statistical thermodynamics and information theory relevant ot the matter. [Cf also my always linked, App 1, esp. section 6.]

CONCLUSION: Dembski wins, by a knockout.

IDC then tried to brush away my remarks in his comments thread.

I subsequently followed up, and went on to finally look at his argument on whether agents produce information -- I kid you not! -- here and here.

Perhaps the best in-a-nutshell survey of the core of the issue is this, though, posted in response to a critic known as Q, at Uncommon Descent, whose line of argument was to challenge the claimed indefensible premises that causes reliably trace to one or more of chance, necessity and agency:

b} . . . one is far more directly aware of one’s cognition and conscience than one is of any scientific finding, which one accesses through these [faculties] and on the grounds of their general reliability.

c} Thus, if a claimed “scientific” view of the world asserts that chance + necessity of material forces [NB: which BTW INCLUDES quantum states and associated indeterminacies] drive neural network activity thence the epiphenomenon of the mind, a la Crick [et al], then it is self-refuting.

d} And then one looks and lo, the claimed scientific theories are in fact plainly and objectively riddled with a priori [materialistic] philosophical, wordview commitments that filter and indeed cherry-pick which facts to attend to and which to dismiss . . . .

e} Under such circumstance, one is perfectly in order to look at the reductio ad absurdum, and reject the a priori commitments that led up to it, namely evolutionary materialism . . . .

f} On the issue at stake on the [design-detecting] explanatory filter, I have simply noted that we do observe chance, necessity and agency and their diverse and distinguishable empirical traces:

1 –> I then noted how the filter is reliable where we can check it.

2 –> I see that it has good roots in the statistical principles of systems with large configuration spaces.

3 –> I see no good reason to brush the filter aside simply because it yields results objectionable to a theory that is already rooted in dubious a priori commitments.

4 –> I know agents exist today far more certainly than I can claim to know that they emerged spontaneously through chance and necessity in the primordial past — a claimed process which I know is dubious on independent grounds as already described.

5 –> Above all, I have no good reason to assume or assert that agents were not possibly present at the origin of life, or of body-plan level biodiversity.

6 –> I then see the organised complexity manifest in the FSCI required, which I know empirically to be a good sign of agency.

7 –> I therefore infer that OOL [origin of life] and body plan level biodiversity trace to agency, on [reliable] inference to best, empirically anchored explanation — the way science infers.

8 –> Extending to cosmogenesis, where I see a fine-tuned organised complexity in the physics of a life-facilitating observed cosmos, I see good empirically anchored reason to infer that the cosmos is also designed.

9 –> Designs imply designers, and the overall cluster of design inferences is consistent with the concept of a cosmogentic desingner who intended to implement a cosmos for life and put life in it, however s/he may have done so.

10 –> But observe, the direction of inference is from known properties of chance, necessity and agency, to distinguishing signs and a filter that reliably separates. Thence, on cases of interest individually we see well-warranted inferences to design. Thus, we start from design and build to designer, only refusing to a priori rule out the possibility of agency before inspecting evidence.

11 –> On the principle of simplicity, when we see the cluster of relevant designs, it is reasonable to infer that the designs fit into a common, coherently purposeful framework.

12 –> Going beyond the domain of Science proper, but still in the spirit of seeking empirically anchored truth on worldviews, it seems reasonable to see that this inference is compatible in broad terms with the traditional view that science thinks God’s thoughts after him. And since that is precisely how some of the greatest of all scientists thought and worked, I have no problem thinking and working like that as a scientist.

g} So, going back to the scientific inferences proper, I conclude that on well-known principles of scientific inference, and on evidence that is otherwise inexplicable, but which I know agent action routinely generates, that agents are the well-warranted explanation for these phenomena.

Here I stand, and in a nutshell, why . . . . And, as the above thread abundantly shows, the alternatives are vastly inferior once their difficulties are brought out on a level playing field.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave when we resentfully refuse to recognise the obvious!

As Paul sadly but aptly summed up:
RO 1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God-- 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord . . . . RO 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes . . . 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."

RO 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. RO 1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened . . . .

RO 1:28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity . . . .

RO 2: 6 God "will give to each person according to what he has done." 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil . . . 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good . . . 11 For God does not show favoritism . . . . 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) . . . .

RO 13:8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

So, let us now arise and call our civilisation to repentance, and to God's wonderful grace! END


PS: It may help you to know that in a galaxy far away and a time now vastly remote, I actually used to lecture, inter alia on communication systems and thus on basics of information theory. In a galaxy even more distantly removed from the here and now, I studied the topics and did research on a comms theory exercise for post-graduate qualifications . . .

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