Intelligent Design

1999 Templeton-sponsored ID conference

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In the recent discussion on this blog and elsewhere about the Templeton Foundation distancing itself from ID, there’s been no mention that in 1999 the Templeton Foundation had a brief dalliance with ID. That year, in Santa Fe, Paul Davies convened a private conference titled “Complexity, Information, and Design: An Appraisal.” In attendence at the conference were Sir John Templeton himself, Charles Harper, Paul Davies, Charles Bennett, Gregory Chaitin, Niels Gregersen, Stuart Kauffman, Harold Morowitz, Ian Stewart, Laura Landweber, and yours truly. The proceedings of that conference then appeared with Oxford in 2003, edited by Niels Gregersen, under the new title From Complexity to Life: On the Emergence of Life and Meaning. Design, however, figured centrally in the discussions of the original conference. Moreover, the original title of the conference, “Complexity, Information, and Design,” was mine — I recommended it to Charles Harper, who then mentioned it to Paul Davies, who then ran with it.

At the time, I was in regular touch with Charles Harper, a senior administrator with the Templeton Foundation and currently a public voice of the foundation expressing disapproval of ID. He had received a preprint of my book The Design Inference, had it vetted in-house (notably by British statistician David Bartholomew), and found it not entirely without merit. Indeed, at the time we discussed expanding Templeton’s “portfolio” to include some representation of ID. A year or two later, Templeton interest in ID dried up. The official story has always been that ID is bad science, bad theology, and bad politics. But I would suggest that the real reason is Templeton’s craving for respectability among the scientific elites, and ID, for now, is too iconoclastic for Templeton’s comfort.

It might interest readers of this blog to know that Charles Harper and I had explored a much bigger follow-up conference to the 1999 conference in Santa Fe. What follows is a conference proposal that I sent to Harper in 1999. At the time, he was interested in making this conference happen. I would still be interested in doing a conference like this and would welcome Templeton’s involvement.

An Interdisciplinary Conference on Complexity, Information, and Design

***DAY 1***
Conferees arrive.

Manfred Eigen, “The Origin of Biological Information”
[[Eigen in _Steps Towards Life_ writes, “Our task is to find an algorithm,
a natural law that leads to the origin of information.” This quote can
serve as both leitmotif and foil for the conference]]

***DAY 2***

Moderator: Manfred Eigen
Speakers: Bernd-Olaf Küppers**
James Shapiro
Michael Behe**
Michael Denton
[[James Shapiro is a senior professor in molecular biology at the
University of Chicago; he adopts an information processing model of
biological systems and regards the Darwinian mechanism as insufficient for
biology; he is nonetheless thoroughly mainstream; he has debated Behe and
resists Behe’s design inference]]
[[Although Denton’s natural theology in _Nature’s Destiny_ has some
weaknesses, he has some wonderful ideas about biological form and can give
a great talk on this subject]]

Moderator: David Gelernter**
Speakers: Mitch Marcus**
Gergory Chaitin**
David Goldberg**
Rosalind Picard
[[Rosalind Picard was at the Life After Materialism conference]]

Roger Penrose, “Can Computers Generate Information?”

***DAY 3***

Moderator: James Gleick
Speakers: Stuart Kauffman**
Chris Langton
Thomas Ray
James P. Crutchfield
[[James Gleick wrote the famous popularization titled simply _Chaos_–he
might want to see some of his old buddies and give his impressions on what
has happened to the field in the intervening years]]
[[Chris Langton is the Santa Fe Institute researcher who has been the main
force behind the artificial life movement]]
[[Thomas Ray’s Tierra program is probably the most successful attempt to
model evolution computationally; he’s on the faculty of the University of
Oklahoma and a fellow of the Santa Fe Institute: see]]
[[James Crutchfield has been with the Santa Fe program for years; I heard
him at a conference on randomness back in 1988–he’s articulate and sharp;
he has a book coming out titled _Computational Mechanics of Cellular
Processes_ (Princeton), which examines the information question by modeling
dynamical systems via computational mechanics; this is an edited collection
of over 1,300 pages]]

Moderator: Frank Tipler
Speakers: William Dembski**
Stephen Meyer**
Paul Nelson
Jonathan Wells

Mary Midgley**, “What’s So Special about Life?”

***DAY 4***

Moderator: Ian Stewart**
Speakers: Keith Devlin
Persi Diaconis
David Berlinski
David Bartholomew**
[[Devlin has written much about information and favorably reviewed The
Design Inference]]
[[Persi Diaconis is perhaps the premier statistician in the United States;
his work on how many shuffles does it take to render a deck of cards random
has appeared in Time magazine; his is brilliant and interested in
everything; I’ve known him since 1986; he’s one of the editors of the
Cambridge series carrying _The Design Inference_]]
[[David Berlinski was at Mere Creation; he’s extremely clever and will
liven the session; he will serve as a nice counterblast to Diaconis’s
thoroughgoing skepticism]]

Moderator: Ernan McMullin**
Speakers: Alvin Plantinga**
David Chalmers
Daniel Dennett
Fred Dretske
[[David Chalmers wrote _The Conscious Mind_ two years back in which he
posits information as a fundamental entity needed to explain
[[Daniel Dennett of _Darwin’s Dangerous Idea_ fame speaks to just about any
subject and will be an interesting foil]]
[[Fred Dretske wrote _Knowledge and the Flow of Information_ (MIT) some
years back; he should help the discussion]]

Bill Gates, “The Future of Information”

***DAY 5***

Moderator: Nancey Murphy
Speakers: Alister McGrath**
Keith Ward**
J. P. Moreland
Niels Gergersen

Moderator: Chris Isham
Speakers: Paul Davies**
Lee Smolin
Walter Bradley
John Barrow**

Sir John Polkinghorne, “Information, Science, and Divine Action”



The evening plenaries are self-explanatory. For the morning and afternoon
sessions each speaker would have 30-40 minutes for a presentation. After
his or her presentation each speaker would sit down with the other speakers
and begin a panel discussion. After a few minutes the panel would then
opened be to the audience. The moderator would have the role of framing the
session, introducing the speakers, and keeping a firm hand on time
constraints and any other things likely to get out of control. There would
be a 30 minute break at the middle of each session.

I would like to see a conference proceedings come out of this, preferably
published by MIT Press.

3 Replies to “1999 Templeton-sponsored ID conference

  1. 1
    crandaddy says:

    Wow, Bill! Looks like you propose an all-star cast. If you can get this thing set up I might actually fly half way across the country to attend. (As these things always seem to end up being on either the left or the right coast which is about half a continent removed from where I presently sit *sigh*!) I just wonder Dennett wouldn’t consider it beneath himself to attend a conference on design. If he’s anything like his “bright” counterpart at Oxford, it seems he would be too good to dirty his hands by intermingling with the “creationists”.

  2. 2
    Michaels7 says:

    If you could pull it off…

    I’d like to recommend Trevors and Abel, along with a few of the noted scientist on the Origins of Life prize, notably Davies as well is on there. Plus, Dr Sanford would be wonderful to hear talk. Heck, invite Dr. MacNeil 🙂 We could make it a Cornell shootout!

    Origins of Life or Origins of Information – Is there a Difference?
    I’m curious to know if the OOL Prize has stirred up any valid papers.

    Then we could move onto pattern detection and spatial relationships.
    IBM’s honcho in the search for patterns – BlueGene project would be interesting. To shake things up more, bring in Dr. Pellionisz for spatial considerations. I think he along with all you mathematicians and engineers would be considerably amused with this paper about “spacial proximity” at PLoS: The Transcriptional Regulator CBP Has Defined Spatial Associations within Interphase Nuclei.

    They utilized K-S to compare samples.

    The next stage of our approach was to compute NN distances between CBP and NCBP foci. We then carried out pairwise comparisons of these NN distance distributions. Our analysis uses the two-sample Kolmogorov-Smirnov test for point-wise equality of distribution functions

    The news release is titled:
    Scientists prove that parts of cell nuclei are not arranged at random

    “The nucleus of a mammal cell is made up of component parts arranged in a pattern which can be predicted statistically, says new research published today. Scientists hope this discovery that parts of the inside of a cell nucleus are not arranged at random will give greater insight into how cells work and could eventually lead to a greater understanding of how they become dysfunctional in diseases like cancer.”

    “The study, published today in PLoS Computational Biology, involved systems biologists working together with mathematicians to identify, for the first time, ‘spatial relationships’ governing the distribution of an important control protein in the nucleus, in relation to other components within the nuclei of mammal cells.”

    “When the ‘nearest neighbours’ of the CPB pockets, such as gene regions and other protein machinery are visualised, the spatial relationships become too difficult to define.”

    “To overcome this, the mathematicians involved in the research analysed the nearest neighbour distance measurements between the nuclei’s components, and developed a toolkit for showing where other proteins and gene regions are likely to be located in relation to CBP across the nucleus. Specifically, they were able to develop a model for showing which components were more likely to be located closest to a CBP pocket, and those that were less likely. This effectively created a probability map of the nucleus, with components’ locations derived relative to the location of concentrations of CBP.”

    I’m not sure, is it a “first”?

    Well, one of the mathematicians has done some work on “pattern detection” and in fact helped setup a workshop about it…

    They list all the statistical work related to distance, nearest neighbors, etc., here:

    Jerry’s CSI concerns might find the abstract a curious read regarding the “development of a theoretcial base” for pattern detection. As in they’re still building one.

    Dr. Demski, you’re being vindicated Sir.

    After the recent papers on Darwin’s TOL falling and Pattern Pluralism, Schwartz’s open declaration of “undemonstrable” evolution, Templeton at this time would be neglectful not to start up a new series.

    Information is busting out all over cellular study. Mathematics is coming to the forefront as well. So, Templeton, get with it.

    The complex maintenance and repair mechanisms in the RNA transcription process are beyond bottum-up random processes and shouts design, not just appearances of design.

    Santa Fe is a great place for a conference. Winter? Relatives in Taos, could turn it into a nice trip of busting my chops on the slopes. I miss the mountains, this is good as reason as any to go.

    There’s an old character I met briefly while traveling thru one of the artist communities just south of Santa Fe. He had an old covered wagon, mules and he wintered down south and summered in the north. He was getting along in age, rather doubtful he’s still alive.

    What a character, police let him be as he tracked them old mules back and forth each year. He lived off of selling trinkets and what-nots to the locals. He could’ve been Santa Clause during Christmas, except I met him during the summer. And I don’t think those mules could fly.

  3. 3

    […] Certain individuals associated with the Templeton Foundation see it as their duty to put as much distance as possible between the foundation and intelligent design. The most recent case is Billy Grassie’s explanation of how the Templeton Foundation could have been in their right minds when they awarded me a $100,000 book grant back in 1999: “The Case of the Missing Book: Setting the Record Straight on William Dembski, the Templeton Foundation, and Intelligent Design.” (Go here and here for earlier posts on this topic at UD). […]

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