Intelligent Design

Dembski’s pseudo-mathematical posturings

Spread the love

Here’s a critique of the mathematics of the design inference from an assistant professor of religious studies. The combination of ignorance and arrogance on the part of this individual is staggering. Compare here with the following:

You¹re probably referring to the pseudo-mathematical posturings of William Dembski. Dembski is a fraud whom nobody should take seriously. Here¹s why: Dembski¹s model of ³specified complexity² assumes that when attempting to determine the likelihood of a given pattern coming about randomly, that you have the pattern in mind from the outset. In other words, that evolution is a teleological process. But evolution is NOT teleological. It is not more unlikely, from a mathematical perspective, that, say, an eye should develop from a process of natural selection than that some other arbitrary result should take place. It¹s only mathematically unlikely because you are separating this singular event (i.e., the one that took place), from the billions of other equally singular events that COULD have taken place, but didn¹t. Those events were equally unlikely. PROSPECTIVELY, any one of them could have occurred. It¹s only RETROSPECTIVELY that we look at the one that did and say it¹s unlikely. . . .

Scott Paeth, PhD.
Assistant Professor of Religious Studies
DePaul University
(773) 325-4447

SOURCE: go here.

30 Replies to “Dembski’s pseudo-mathematical posturings

  1. 1
    crandaddy says:

    The combination of ignorance and arrogance on the part of this individual is staggering.

    Come on, Bill! You’ve been at this stuff a lot longer than I have. You should be quite used to it by now. When I came on here at UD, I discovered very quickly that ignorance and arrogance on behalf of many ID critics abounds at levels which I had previously not imagined possible. It’s so bad that I’m even beginning to wonder if there might be serious evidence that the Earth is thousands, rather than billions, of years old or if there really was a global flood. The point is that I simply could not be more convinced that the mainstream “scientific” establishment these days is much more solidly committed to enforcing materialist orthodoxy than it is to teaching objective science.

  2. 2
    Apoptosis says:

    Not surprising… Would you respond in the same non-sensical manner? I’m sure you find these critiques humourous by now, but in any case I don’t see what he’s getting at anyway.

    Out of curiousity, Dr. Dembski, would you consider yourself a bayesian statistician or a frequentist? Or something in the middle? I probably should know this, but I can only understand parts of your technical papers. If I were to guess, frequentist.

  3. 3
    Jason Rennie says:

    Come on Dr Dembski. Of course an assistant professor in religious studies knows more about mathetics than you do. I mean what have you got nothing more than a mere phd in the topic. How could you possibly think that that would be able to stand up to a doctorate in “religious studies” for indepth maths knowledge.

    For shame Dr Dembski. He rightly took you down a peg.

    Hang on a sec …

  4. 4
    klauslange says:

    From a mathematical perspective it is very very very unlikely that by random processes you have functional algorithm, like a software. To find those structures like the DNA Code on a CD-ROM it is sure that this code was developed by some intelligent persons.

    That program code and his unlikely creation by accident is independend from the media you found that code on or in it.

    Prospectively it is not likely to find those functional code in nature.

    That is true for one cell and even more for a eye or something high complex structure in function.

  5. 5
    Janice says:

    I checked his CV. BA, MDiv, PhD.

    I suppose he could have done some maths as part of a BA but, if so, he certainly didn’t major in it. His BA thesis is titled, “Karl Marx’s Romantic Spirit: The Influence of Romanticism on the Development of Marx’s Thought.”

    I’ve done a postgrad course that included biostats and epidemiology so I’ve heard of Fisher and have even used the test once or twice. But your specification paper started getting too hard for me at around page 5.

    So I’m amused that a person with Paeth’s (lack of) background in maths would be so presumptuous as to accuse someone who has a PhD in the subject of “pseudo-mathematical posturings”.

    But what worries me is that he’s ordained. How did that arrogance get past whoever decides whether or not you’re acceptable to function as a priest?

  6. 6
    mentok says:

    Following his mathematical probability paradigm it is just as unlikely to get gibberish if a monkey typed on a typewriter for an hour as it is unlikely for the monkey to write a novel. Meh, it just shows to go ya, evangelical evolutionists lack critical thinking capacity. Maybe that’s why so many biologists are atheists and why so many physicists are not. Biology requires memorization and rote learning for the most part whereas physics and math require more abstract thinking. For someone to be an evolutionist after seeing the evidence for and against it, they must lack quite a bit of critical thinking ability and mental clarity. They must be very confused people, and that is probably why they display such childish and frustrated lashing out type of behavior towards ID. They are mentally disturbed. Maybe we should treat them in a more appropriate manner bearing in mind their mentally unstable condition.

  7. 7
    gpuccio says:

    Dr Dembski,
    I obvously share your indignation. But the worst thing, I am afraid, is that this “religious” academic (after all not a mathematician) did not create that stupid argument about probabily, he is just responsible of his own arrogance, but not of the “idea”. The “idea” had been already expressed somewhere (unfortunately I don’t remember where, but it was a newspaper and it was on the web) by somebody (I don’t remember the name) who was, I think, a mathematician. A real shame!

  8. 8
    mike1962 says:

    Dr Dembski, I would like to see a reply in the forum from which it came. Thank you.

  9. 9
    Joseph says:

    Let me get this straight- IDists such as Wm D, Meyer and Behe have taken the time and efforyt to put forth specified criteria from which we can infer design if said criteria was met.

    On the “other” side the ONLT criterion I can find is- “we refuse to consider an intelligent agency regardless of the data.”

    IOW there isn’t ANY criteria for determining the obvious apparent design is merely an illusion.

    Am I the only person who finds this strange?

    The point being is that BEFORE someone says “this is bogus” or “that is bogus”, perhaps they should take the time to reference it against what is accepted by the consensus.

    So Bill, the next time you are debating someone who “trashes” the ID criteria just ask them about the criteria used to determine the design is illusory- then sit back and watch them squirm. That alone would be worth the price of admission.

  10. 10
    PaV says:

    klauslange: “From a mathematical perspective it is very very very unlikely that by random processes you have functional algorithm, like a software. To find those structures like the DNA Code on a CD-ROM it is sure that this code was developed by some intelligent persons.”

    In fact, in this week’s issue of Nature (Feb 8th), there’s an article about a micro-RNA that serves as a tumor suppressor agent by, according to the article, setting into motion a senescence “program”.

    I only have access to the abstract, but it’s fascinating to see scientists talking about, essentially, genetic/DNA “programs”:

    “The primary response to p53 was not apoptosis, but instead involved the induction of a cellular senescence program that was associated with differentiation and the upregulation of inflammatory cytokines. This program, although producing only cell cycle arrest in vitro, also triggered an innate immune response that targeted the tumour cells in vivo, thereby contributing to tumour clearance.”

  11. 11
    PaV says:

    Janice:

    “But what worries me is that he’s ordained. How did that arrogance get past whoever decides whether or not you’re acceptable to function as a priest?”

    I suspect he is not ordained, and not a priest. I think he’s simply part of the faculty. And, if he has a fascination with Marx, that makes him a leftie who very likely lives only a shell of what religion is about; namely, I’m sure he’s all for “peace and justice”–but women have the right to choose abortion. IOW, a ‘nominal’ Catholic.

  12. 12
    russ says:

    Can someone supply a link for (or produce here) a simple, clear refutation of Paeth’s argument? Simple folk may intuit that it’s bogus, but it would be nice to be able succinctly explain why.

  13. 13
    russ says:

    Paeth’s argument is made in the last six paragraphs of this TalkOrigins link: http://www.talkorigins.org/ori.....jun98.html

  14. 14
    Atom says:

    PaV: “And, if he has a fascination with Marx, that makes him a leftie who very likely lives only a shell of what religion is about; namely, I’m sure he’s all for “peace and justice”–but women have the right to choose abortion. IOW, a ‘nominal’ Catholic.”

    I’m think what dude posted was dumb, don’t get me wrong, but to assume all of the above based on his CV is a little leap in logic. I’m not comfortable when people jump to unrelated conclusions about IDers, lumping them with YECs, and so I’m also not comfortable when our side does the same thing.

    Let’s attack the argument, not the man.

    PaV, no offense at that, I do it sometimes too. But we have to keep our composure. (I love your posts, btw, some of the most informative on here.)

  15. 15
    jerry says:

    PaV,

    From his CV

    Ecclesiastical Status

    Ordained Minster, United Church of Christ

  16. 16
    jerry says:

    Russ,

    I am not the best one to answer this but Paeth is essentially using the argument that any combination of events is equally improbable so when we witness one, that specific event is hihgly improbable but some event had to happen.

    It is like the argument that anyone specific person’s chance of winning the powerball lottery is so low as to be almost impossible but someone eventually wins it.

    So the materialsit argument is that we are just witnessing the person who won the lottery.

    I do not know how to explain clearly the difference but when we see not only an unlikely event but one that is organized it is different. This is the argument of Dr. Dembski’s book, the Design Inference which I had a hard time understanding.

    I have to admit I do not know how to put this into simple language/logic so the average person can understand. What Paeth is equating is equally randoms versions of gibberisth to coherent sentences by the infinite number of monkeys. We all know the difference but it is hard to express the logic of it.

    It might be worthwhile trying to formulate clear refutations of this because I believe this argument is one of the bases of Dawkins defense of Darwin.

  17. 17
    WinglesS says:

    His argument is similar to the analogy of the lottery ticket. Prospectively, any one of the ticket holders could have struck the lottery. Retrospectively when we look at the lottery winner it seems highly unlikely that he would have won. This assumes that every other outcome would have been acceptable.

    However I don’t think it’s a valid analogy of the development of life. Life is exceedingly hard to create randomly, and mutation of genetic information just causes cancer. (pretty much each and every time) It’s not any pathway would have given rise to life, or new species of animal. A more valid analogy would be, a coin is tossed 1,000,000 times and each and every time it turns up a head. Is it reasonable to assume that it was just a coincidence or is the coin rigged?

  18. 18
    tribune7 says:

    OK, I thought religious study types weren’t allowed to comment on evolution? We have to get the groundrules straight?

    Actually, the critique is good for a grin. This country’s biggest problem might be the number of stupid people who think they are smart and have acquired influence in govement and education.

    Stupid people who know their limitations aren’t a problem. Stupid people who insist they are smart are a problem.

    Anyway, DePaul used to have a good basektball team.

  19. 19
    CJYman says:

    Furthermore, before there is even any discussion of random mutation of information causing evolution, three systems must already exist. An information storage system, an information processing system, and a replication system must be present.

    Information can not exist alone, for it is the compatible information processing system which defines the information as such by converting it into a functioning, interrelated system. And, of course an information processing system can not be defined as such if there is no information to process. Then, given these two preceeding systems, there still can not be any evolution of the information unless a replication system is tagged on within the lifetime of the information processing system.

    Moreover, is there any reasonably scientifically valid inference to the above three systems being “randomly accidentally actualized?” Is there even any need to postulate such an unreasonable accident? Then,is there any scientific testable and repeatable and predictable method of discovering if at least an information storage and processing system (even leaving out the replication system for now) will randomly organize itself?

    Finally, why even postulate such unreasonable, improbable events when we already know that information (sign systems) is a subsystem of mind (refer to Albert Voie’s peer reviewed published article) and that the universe and its natural laws behave as if it were a computer programmed from information (discussed by almost every phycisist [including anti-IDers]). Add onto this, the fact that every law within a program is the result of a foundation of information and every example we see of information arises from a mind. So, since the UK professor for the public understanding of science (Dawkins)tells us, the public, that we shouldn’t create improbable explanations when prefectly plausible ones already exist, then the most reasonable scientific explanation for an information processing system is an intelligent mind.

    Now, our next scientific goal is to discover how life was programmed to come into existence within the larger program of the universe. Who knows, maybe the information underlying our natural laws had something to do with it.

    And who said that ID was an unscientific argument from ignorance which stifled further scientific research?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

    cj – I found your comments in the spam bin and restored this one. I don’t know why it was there. You are not being purposely moderated. If it continues I’ll look into it further. -ds

  20. 20
    tribune7 says:

    .It¹s only mathematically unlikely because you are separating this singular event (i.e., the one that took place), from the billions of other equally singular events that COULD have taken place, but didn¹t. Those events were equally unlikely. PROSPECTIVELY, any one of them could have occurred. It¹s only RETROSPECTIVELY that we look at the one that did and say it¹s unlikely.

    Another thing. Dembski has addressed this argument specifically albeit the complexity perhaps was too much for the good prof (hee hee.)

    Still, he either never read the explanation or he didn’t understand it.

  21. 21
    PaV says:

    Jerry: “Ordained Minster, United Church of Christ”

    But Janice thought she was a priest. In fact, as I suspected, he isn’t. But since he was on staff at DePaul, I thought he would be Catholic. Happily, since I’m a Catholic, he isn’t a Catholic either. The comment wasn’t an attack on Haeth, but an attempt to assuage Janice’s reaction. But like Janice, I wonder how he got ordained. Now, before I am criticized, let’s all remember that I am certainly entitled to my opinion.

    As to Haeth’s argument, the key to seeing that he’s in over his head is his allusion to “billions” in this statement: It¹s only mathematically unlikely because you are separating this singular event (i.e., the one that took place), from the billions of other equally singular events that COULD have taken place, but didn¹t. (My underline).

    If we were dealing with only one in a trillion possibilities, Dr. Dembski would be doing something else for a living–and would probably be full-time at Baylor. But the sheer magnitude of improbability for just one sequence of DNA coding for an average-sized protein, dwarfs the number of subatomic particles that exist in the known universe.

    The lottery example can be illuminative. The “payoff” to winning the lottery is directly tied into the “improbability” of coming up with the right answer. What are you asked to do in the lottery? Pick six numbers from 1 to 40, for example. The odds of doing that are: 1/40 x 1/39 x 1/38 x 1/37 x 1/36 x 1/35= 1/76,760,000 roughly. Now if someone won the lottery three weeks in a row, what would people think? Well, the state lottery folk would have been all over it when the won two weeks in a row. Now, what if 100 million tickets were sold the first week, and no one won; and 100 million tickets were sold and no one the second week, nor the third; well, what would people think then? That something was wrong.

    But we’re not dealing with 1 in a billion, or 1 in a trillion, but 1 in 10^180 power while there are 10^60th subatomic particles in the universe. I suspect, as ‘gpuccio’ alerted us, he’s basing what he’s writing on what someone else has written. He’s just in over his head right now.

  22. 22
    gpuccio says:

    Well, after all it should not be too complicated.
    Obviously, any configuration of events, however improbable, can occur. But there are specific configurations which are very special, because they have some kind of meaning.
    Meaning is difficult to define. One way is the concept of specification, which Dembski has made very complete and deep. One other way could be in the terms of information theory: some numbers, for instance, may be compressed, that is expressed in a more limited number of bits than that which “describes” them (see Chaitin for that). Mathematical laws can be defined that way.
    Finally, I think that meanings can be defined by the appearance of function: for instance, an ordering alghorithm is a sequence of bits, but a very special one, and it can perform a very specific task, like ordering other numbers.
    Now, the important thing is that “meaningful” configurations of events (however you define meaning) are very very rare in the general space of all possible configurations. Strangely enough, they are exactly the configurations which intelligent beings can easily recognize or (not always so easily) generate. On the contrary, intelligent agents cannot easily recognize (or generate) specific random, non meaningful, sequences (try, for instance, to remember the first one thousand digits of pi versus remembering the first one thousand digits of 10^1000).
    Well, the fine tuning argument relating to the universe is that a very specific configuration of the fundamental principles is maybe the only one which can allow the existence of the ordered universe and of life. That is a very good argument, but after all it only refutes that a very meaningful (at least in the sense of function) and very improbable configuration happened once, at the beginning of the universe.
    But the ID argument about biological beings is much stronger: here we refute that very very improbable and very very meaningful (in every sense) configurations of events may have happened billions and billions of times, in ordered sequence, throughout practically the whole history of our planet. That’s really beyond any credulity, common sense, scientific anlysis, mathematical plausibility, or whatever you may want to say. That’s utterly impossible, completely and definitely.
    Oh, and of course natural selection does not, in any way, explain anything about that. But that’s anoter story…

  23. 23
    Douglas says:

    tribune7,

    “Anyway, DePaul used to have a good basektball team.”

    Yes, yes they did. Even before Mark Aguirre. And they just finished beating one of Dr. Dembski’s former employers, Notre Dame, 67-66. Coincidence? Or proof that Paeth is right and Dembski is wrong?

  24. 24
    russ says:

    PaV, so the person who trivializes the enormous odds has no basis for skepticism if I propose that there may have been 10 or 100 or 1000 men, somewhere in the universe all of whom went by the name “Abraham Lincoln”, wore a stovepipe hat and an Amish beard, wrote a speech called “The Gettysburg Address” and were shot by a John Wilkes Booth in a Ford’s Theater. If odds don’t mean anything, then my Abe Lincoln theory should be as plausible as any, right?

  25. 25
    tribune7 says:

    And they just finished beating one of Dr. Dembski’s former employers, Notre Dame, 67-66. And they just finished beating one of Dr. Dembski’s former employers, Notre Dame, 67-66. Coincidence? Or proof that Paeth is right and Dembski is wrong?

    You think if a certain crowd said there was a correlation Paeth would find himself nodding in agreement?

    OK, that’s just being too mean.

  26. 26
    DaveScot says:

    So I guess Paeth wouldn’t be surprised if the same person won the Illinois state lottery 10 times in a row. After all, it’s the same probability as any other 10 winners.

    “The two most abundant elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity.” -Harlan Ellison

    And speaking of stupid be sure to read Jason Rosenthau’s personal brand of stupid..

    Update: Not that it makes any practical difference but that should be Josh Rosenau not Jason Rosenthau.

  27. 27
    tribune7 says:

    You know, if you think about it, he might be a fun guy to invite to the weekly poker game.

  28. 28
    alints says:

    Dr. Dembski,
    You should tell Dr. Paeth that your calculations is testing the hypothesis that proteins spontaneous form in a useful life configuration. You are not calculating the probability life will form spontaneous, which is much more unlikely under current conditions. If simple life can form it should form in this world because we have a large number of decaying bodies, which are breaking in to smaller fragments all the time but they don’t form any new living cells.
    Take the genetic code from this we can calculated a reasonable size for proteins since there is three terminations out 64. If proteins randomly form on RNA a reasonable expectation of size is 7 1/9 amino acids long. The hypothesis to cover the simplest life form with such proteins would be 3, each amino acids would be used only once. Such life doesn’t exist and given the possibly to form in the decaying bodies clearly as well it doesn’t seem life has a simple replicating form.

  29. 29
    PaV says:

    russ: “If odds don’t mean anything, then my Abe Lincoln theory should be as plausible as any, right?”

    I was thinking of those guys I saw over the years at Disneyland until you mentioned the Ford Theatre. 🙂

  30. 30
    Jason Rennie says:

    “From his CV

    Ecclesiastical Status

    Ordained Minster, United Church of Christ ”

    That explains a lot 😉

Leave a Reply