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  Topic: EF/DI & "the lust for certainty", Action on an ISCID thread< Next Oldest | Next Newest >  
Wesley R. Elsberry



Posts: 4807
Joined: May 2002

(Permalink) Posted: Dec. 13 2002,10:07   

Paul,

I'm not sure that John is disagreeing with Kitcher.  Kitcher is talking about postulates, things that are assumed to be true for some line of inquiry.  Rarefied design as an inference, though, is something that some people assert can be concluded from particular premises.

The problem with a postulate of the sort that Kitcher discusses, though, is that someone like Paul Nelson will come along and claim that what is being argued is theology and not science (as your 1997 NTSE talk set forth).

If "postulating an unobserved Creator" were as generally productive as "postulating unobserved particles" has been in physics, I don't think that we would be having this sort of discussion now.  Postulating unobserved particles has led to specific hypotheses and experiments aimed at producing empirical data which would bear on whether outcomes based on the existence of those heretofore unobserved particles are actually there.  So far in ID, though, there is no similar push to test the postulate: once the unobserved Creator is postulated, no evidence concerning whether that Creator exists is sought after or solicited.

But I wonder if this is going far afield from the topic of the first post.

Have readers of Dembski really been "thrown" by the "reliability issue"?  Is it the critics who have the "lust for certainty"?  I don't think so.

Let's revisit some history.  Back in 1998, Dembski published his book, "The Design Inference".  Before TDI came out, though, Dembski had a short piece published in "First Things" which discussed what TDI would be about.  Here's a snippet of that article:

Quote
Biologists worry about attributing something to design (here identified with creation) only to have it overturned later; this widespread and legitimate concern has prevented them from using intelligent design as a valid scientific explanation.

Though perhaps justified in the past, this worry is no longer tenable. There now exists a rigorous criterion—complexity-specification—for distinguishing intelligently caused objects from unintelligently caused ones.

(Source: http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft9810/dembski.html)


This claim has not been explicitly retracted.  It is echoed in the pages of "No Free Lunch" (p.6, IIRC).  It sure looks like a claim concerning certainty to me.

In that initial post, Dembski writes:

Quote
I argue that we are justified asserting specified complexity (and therefore design) once we have eliminated all known material mechanisms. It means that some unknown mechanism might eventually pop up and overturn a given design inference.


This seems to me to be inconsistent with, if not contradictory to, the earlier claim.  Perhaps, though, you have a different perspective that can accommodate both the "untenable worry" claim and the later admission that Dembski's "design inferences" can be overturned with additional knowledge.

Until such time as we get a statement from Dembski that the "untenable worry" claim is retracted, though, I think the critics are completely correct to hammer on this point.  Else we have the apparently inconsistent stance that the critics responding to the "untenable worry" claim are mistaken because application of the EF/DI is fallible, coupled with the continued use of the "untenable worry" claim whose basis is that application of the EF/DI is infallible for distinguishing intelligently caused objects.

Quote
This is known as having your cake and eating it. Polite society frowns on such obvious bad taste.


Wesley

--------------
"You can't teach an old dogma new tricks." - Dorothy Parker

    
Wesley R. Elsberry



Posts: 4807
Joined: May 2002

(Permalink) Posted: Dec. 15 2002,07:44   

From the ISCID thread.:

Mark,

Quote
Does Wesley's dissatisfaction just boil down to two things.


I get the feeling that rather than inquire whether this is the case, that this post is trying to assert this.

Quote
1) In the last decade, the ID God hypothesis hasn't produced any or enough as useful predictions as the micro-billiard ball hypothesis, supposedly over the same time span with adjustments for the number of people working on each.

Since both seem so equally simple, he ain't asking for much! Maybe another weeks extension will help.


This has the character of a strawman argument.  If Mark would re-read what I wrote, he would find no reference to "the last decade".  What I did discuss, and what Mark does not touch upon, is the privileged position of a postulated Creator in ID conjectures.  Once postulated, no attempt is made to determine whether the postulate is valid, and even broaching the topic is anathema to many ID advocates.  This contrasts strongly with how certain other "unobservable" postulates are treated in science.  Kitcher's insight is still quite useful.

Quote
2) Dembski was initially much to over-enthusiastic about his claims, unlike those poor, humble and tentative neo-Darwinists.

It seems that recently Dr. Dembski has become more tentative as well, I wonder if that will really be the case with the opposition?

Is that it!


IMO, humble or not, Dembski continues to be "much too over-enthusiastic about his claims".  Page 6 of "No Free Lunch" only dates back to January of 2002, after all.  I'm sure Bill does not need anyone to attempt to defend his arguments with another instance of the tu quoque fallacy, though.

Wesley

Edited by Wesley R. Elsberry on Dec. 15 2002,16:01

--------------
"You can't teach an old dogma new tricks." - Dorothy Parker

    
Wesley R. Elsberry



Posts: 4807
Joined: May 2002

(Permalink) Posted: Dec. 16 2002,01:51   

Mark,

Quote
Wesley, you say this about the God idea behind ID,

quote:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Once postulated, no attempt is made to determine whether the postulate is valid, and even broaching the topic is anathema to many ID advocates.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Really! How do you know they haven't been thinking of ways to do this all along and they're only in alpha stage before they're ready to release their beta's on the road to release candidate for version one. Hopefully, they wouldn't charge too much extra for later service packs like Microsoft.

If that's the case then my first comment stands. I'm being charitable and don't feel that they're trying to be deceptive. However, you seem to think that they are. Now that's juicy, do you have evidence for that charge or is that just how you feel about the situation?


This is getting bizarre.  A false dilemma is provided here by Mark to go with the strawman of the first post.  I haven't said anything here about "deception", and I don't feel like being treated to a smorgasbord of fallacies.  Mark's mindreading skills seem to be, ahem, not very well developed.

Since I don't claim to be a mindreader, I'm not
particularly interested in the "bare possibility" that the situation in ID advocacy will change drastically next week.  I am interested in what has been observed thus far, and nothing Mark provides here would indicate that my reportage has been anything but dead-on accurate.  Many ID advocates have dismissed suggestions that the existence or nature of a postulated "designer" be explored rather than being treated as a "brute given".  If Mark insists, I'll be happy to start a thread on collecting instances to document this claim.  But I think that this should be stipulated.  It is not an extraordinary claim.

Quote

quote:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
IMO, humble or not, Dembski continues to be "much too over-enthusiastic about his claims". Page 6 of "No Free Lunch" only dates back to January of 2002, after all.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

It's almost 2003 after all, so nothing he's written since counts?  


Dembski provided both tentative and non-tentative claims concerning his EF/DI in NFL.  See page 6 for a non-tentative claim, and page 14 for a tentative-style claim.  Nothing he has written since has been a retraction of the non-tentative statements used in NFL.  At least, nothing that I've seen does that.  I'd appreciate a reference if the "untenable worry" claim has been explicitly retracted.

Wesley

--------------
"You can't teach an old dogma new tricks." - Dorothy Parker

    
Wesley R. Elsberry



Posts: 4807
Joined: May 2002

(Permalink) Posted: Dec. 16 2002,03:09   

Frances,

Quote
Wesley raised some very good points. Lets stick to his arguments and try to refrain from distracting from them through the use of strawmen.


I was actually trying to steer discussion back around to Dembski's arguments given in the initial post.  Perhaps I should have left Paul's interchange with John alone, but I thought I could clarify things there pretty quickly and move on.  I may have been wrong about how quickly...

I appreciate the moderator letting the discussion continue in this thread at all, since it doesn't really seem to have a "brainstorming" style topic.  It is a pretty straightforward response to criticism, and in this case the critics have chosen to get somewhat involved.  (My involvement needs to be limited, as I'm getting acquainted with LaTeX for preparation of my dissertation and also have the usual daytime job.  Well, perhaps not that usual.)

Anyway, I think that what should be followed are Dembski's arguments.

Here's one:

Quote
(William A. Dembski:) Briefly, the claim that specified complexity is a reliable marker of design means that if an item genuinely instantiates specified complexity, then it was designed. As I argue and continue to maintain, no counterexamples to this claim are known.


I was there when Ken Miller presented the Krebs cycle as a counterexample to Dembski on June 21st of this year.  I think that Dembski should note that counterexamples have been proposed by Miller and also Rob Pennock.  Now, it is a given that these have not been demonstrated to Dembski's personal satisfaction, but I think Dembski's phrasing of his claim is somewhat misleading to the reader.

Further, I think the claim doesn't mean much, anyway.  Since 1996, Dembski has provided EF/DI calculations, in various degrees of completeness, for a total of four events.  


  • The Caputo case
  • The Contact primes sequence
  • Dawkins's METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL string
  • The E. coli flagellum


(If I've missed an application of the EF/DI that comes with actual numbers and complies with more than two or three of the seven steps outlined on pages 72-73 of NFL, please let me know so I can expand the list.)

That's not much of an empirical base upon which to build such sweeping claims as the "no counterexamples" claim above.

Back in 2001 at Haverford College, I made the point to Dembski that collecting "confirming" cases does nothing to test his EF/DI.  I suggested that he apply his EF/DI and perform calculations for a number of events that could be agreed have sufficient evidence of natural causation to provide real tests of his EF/DI.  These included the Krebs cycle, since shown by Miller to be a real counterexample (well, he convinced me).  I also suggested the mammalian middle ear impedance-matching system and "fairy rings" as good candidates for testing the EF/DI.

I think I brought up the point that the EF/DI should be applied to a broad range of biological phenomena at the June 21st get-together at the Fourth World Skeptics conference.  Create a workbook style presentation of a series of EF/DI calculations starting with small-scale events that everyone can agree should not trigger a "design inference" and work up to larger-scale events that biologists have evidence for saying that natural causes are sufficient.  Is the EF/DI a good guide to classifying biological phemomena?  Until we see a series of real examples of complete application of it, I think that the issue is still wide open.

Well, I'll come clean.  I expect that if such a workbook were attempted, that the EF/DI would find "design" at ludicrously small-scale events, ones that not even Bill Dembski would want to go on record as saying that they must be considered to be "due to design".  I think that Dembski's statement at the end of TDI that a "design" conclusion is not easily reached via the EF/DI is simply false.  A simple way to show me wrong is to actually produce such a compendium of example EF/DI calculations, where the EF/DI performs in a stable manner and produces expected (by ID advocates, natch) results.

The production of such a workbook would also do much to vitiate another criticism of mine, which is that the EF/DI framework is too unwieldy to be applied.  Dembski says of Gell-Mann's "effective complexity" that it "resists detailed application to real-world problems" (I think that's verbatim, but I don't have NFL in front of me.  Check around page 133.).  I think Dembski's EF/DI very much "resists detailed application to real-world problems", and the fact that Dembski has offered so few EF/DI calculations (even including the only partially complete E. coli flagellum example) supports my view.  Of the four examples, the Contact primes examples is plainly fictitious, neither the Caputo case nor the METHINKS string yield an improbability smaller than Dembski's "universal small probability", and the E. coli flagellum example suffers from a large number of defects.  Does it really take a year-and-a-half, on average, to apply the EF/DI to any sort of problem, no matter how trivial or how many steps are skipped?

I'd be interested in hearing if any third party has attempted to apply or applied the seven-step process outlined on pages 72-73 of NFL.  I no of no such examples yet.

Wesley

--------------
"You can't teach an old dogma new tricks." - Dorothy Parker

    
Wesley R. Elsberry



Posts: 4807
Joined: May 2002

(Permalink) Posted: Dec. 18 2002,00:26   

Paul,

Quote
3. Wesley, I recall that I brought up the Kreb's cycle at the CSICOP discussion, not Ken Miller. If you have the video or audio tape, could you check for me please? Thanks.


My VCR has taken up the habit of eating tapes, so I won't be putting in my copy until I get a new VCR.

I couldn't say from recall that you didn't mention the Krebs cycle first, since you preceded Ken, but I do recall that Ken specifically discussed the Krebs cycle as a counterexample to Dembski's EF/DI.  That's because Ken used my "origination probability calculator" to "do the calculation", putting his finding on a par with the discussion by Dembski of the E. coli flagellum.  The same equations were used in both cases.  (Ken's presentation even included a slide with a screenshot of my web page.  More of Dembski's equations are implemented on my Finite Improbability Calculator.)

I recall that you disputed Ken's use of the Krebs cycle on the grounds that the evolutionary scenario Ken cited was not complete enough to satisfy you.  That was during the panel discussion.  If I find my audio tapes, I'll give them a listen.

Wesley

--------------
"You can't teach an old dogma new tricks." - Dorothy Parker

    
Wesley R. Elsberry



Posts: 4807
Joined: May 2002

(Permalink) Posted: Dec. 19 2002,20:01   

I agree with John's clarification.

So, what are the central issues?  I'm thinking those are the issues from Dembski's topic-opening post.

The title of the thread talks about a "lust for certainty".  I think I've established that the claims of certainty can be found in Dembski's work.  That critics chose to respond to those claims should have been expected.  The more tentative claims came later and did not displace the non-tentative claims, leading to a state of inconsistency in Dembski's claims.

The claim by Dembski that there exist no counterexamples to his claim that his EF/DI is "reliable" is either abysmally weak (based on less than a handful of worked examples) or actually false (since various critics have put forward candidate counterexamples).

I've had a look at Demsbki's essay on "logical underpinnings" but I don't yet wish to comment.  I'm getting acquainted with BibTeX at the moment.

Wesley

--------------
"You can't teach an old dogma new tricks." - Dorothy Parker

    
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