The materialists have been doing a little end zone dance over at the The Circularity of the Design Inference post. They seem to think that Winston Ewert has conceded that Dembski’s CSI argument is circular. Their celebrations are misplaced. Ewert did nothing of the sort. He did NOT say that Dembski’s CSI argument is circular. He said (admittedly in a rather confusing and inelegant way) that some people’s interpretation of the CSI argument is circular.
Ewert is making a very simple point. To make a design inference based on mere probability alone is fallacious. I don’t know what all of the fuss is about. But just in case this is not clear by now, let’s go back to basics. The design inference requires two things: A huge ocean of probability and a very tiny island of specification. If you don’t have both, it does not work.
Perhaps a poker example will illuminate the issue. There are 2,598,956 five-card poker combinations. Only 1 of those combinations corresponds to the specification “royal flush in spades.” The probability of a royal flush in spades on any given hand is 0.000000385. Now let us suppose the “search space” (i.e., the ocean of probability) is “four consecutive hands of poker.” The probability of a series of events is the product of the probability of all of the events. The probability of receiving a royal flush in spades in four consecutive hands is 0.000000385^4 or 0.00000000000000000000000002197 or about 2.197X10^-26.
Here’s the interesting point. The probability of ANY given series of four poker hands is exactly the same, i.e., 2.197X10^-26. So why would every one of us look askance at the series “four royal flushes in spades in a row” even though it has the exact same low probability as every other sequence of four hands?
The answer to this is, of course, the idea behind CSI. Low probability by itself does not establish CSI. The fact that in the enormous probabilistic ocean of four consecutive poker hands the deal landed on a tiny little island of specification (“four royal flushes in spades) is what causes us to suspect design (i.e., cheating).
The fact that an event or object is improbable is insufficient to establish that it formed by natural means. That’s why Dembski developed the notion of specified complexity, arguing that in order to reject chance events they must both be complex and specified.
Poker analogy: The fact that a series of four poker hands has a very low probability (i.e., 2.197X10^-26) is insufficient to establish that it was caused by pure chance. That’s why we need a specification as well.
Hence, its not the same thing to say that the evolution of the bacterial flagellum is improbable and that it didn’t happen. If the bacterial flagellum were not specified, it would be perfectly possible to evolve it even thought it is vastly improbable.
Poker analogy: It is not the same thing to say that a series of four hands of poker is improbable and therefore it did not happen by chance. If the four hands were not specified, it would be perfectly possible to deal them by pure chance even though any particular such sequence is vastly improbable.
The notion of specified complexity exists for one purpose: to give force to probability arguments. If we look at Behe’s irreducible complexity, Axe’s work on proteins, or practically any work by any intelligent design proponent, the work seeks to demonstrate that the Darwinian account of evolution is vastly improbable. Dembski’s work on specified complexity and design inference works to show why that improbability gives us reason to reject Darwinian evolution and accept design.
Poker analogy: Dembski’s work on specified complexity and design inference works to show us why that improbability (i.e., 2.197X10^-26) gives us reason to reject chance and accept design (i.e., cheating).
In conclusion it seems to me that after all the dust settles we will see that Ewert was merely saying that Miller’s Mendacity (see the UD Glossary) misconstrues the CSI argument. But we already knew that.