Earlier today the News desk posted a video of Brown University biochemist Ken Miller’s takedown of ID. This is a fascinating video and it is worthwhile to post a transcript for those readers who do not have time to stream it. The video is excerpted from a BBC documentary called, with scintillating journalistic objectivity, The War on Science.
BBC Commenter: In two days of testimony [at the Dover trial] Miller attempted to knock down the arguments for intelligent design one by one. Also on his [i.e., Miller’s] hit list, Dembski’s criticism of evolution, that it was simply too improbable.
Miller: One of the mathematical tricks employed by intelligent design involves taking the present day situation and calculating probabilities that the present would have appeared randomly from events in the past. And the best example I can give is to sit down with four friends, shuffle a deck of 52 cards, and deal them out and keep an exact record of the order in which the cards were dealt. We can then look back and say ‘my goodness, how improbable this is. We can play cards for the rest of our lives and we would never ever deal the cards out in this exact same fashion.’ You know what; that’s absolutely correct. Nonetheless, you dealt them out and nonetheless you got the hand that you did.
BBC Commentator: For Miller, Dembski’s math did not add up. The chances of life evolving just like the chance of getting a particular hand of cards could not be calculated backwards. By doing so the odds were unfairly stacked. Played that way, cards and life would always appear impossible.
Now, to be fair to Miller, in a letter to Panda’s Thumb, he denies that his card comment was a response to Dembski’s work. He says poor BBC editing only made it appear that he was responding to Dembski, when really, “all I was addressing was a general argument one hears from many ID supporters in which one takes something like a particular amino acid sequence, and then calculates the probability of the exact same sequence arising again through mere chance.”
The problem with Miller’s response is that even if one takes it at face value he still appears mendacious, because no ID supporter has ever, as far as I know, argued “X is improbable; therefore X was designed.” Consider the example advanced by Miller, a sequence of 52 cards dealt from a shuffled deck. Miller’s point is that extremely improbable non-designed events occur all the time and therefore it is wrong to say extremely improbable events must be designed. Miller blatently misrepresents ID theory, because, as I noted above, no ID proponent says that mere improbability denotes design.
Suppose, however, your friend appeared to shuffle the cards thoroughly and dealt out the following sequence: all hearts in order from 2 to Ace; all spades in order from 2 to Ace; all diamonds in order from 2 to Ace; and then all clubs in order from 2 to Ace. As a matter of strict mathematical probability analysis, this particular sequence of 52 cards has the exact same probability as any other sequence of 52 cards. But of course you would never attribute that sequence to chance. You would naturally conclude that your friend has performed a card trick where the cards only appeared to be randomized when they were shuffled. In other words, you would make a perfectly reasonable design inference.
What is the difference between Miller’s example and my example? In Miller’s example the sequence of cards was only highly improbable. In my example the sequence of cards is not only highly improbable, but also it conforms to a specification. ID proponents do not argue that mere improbability denotes design. They argue that design is the best explanation where there is a highly improbable event AND that event conforms to an independently designated specification.
Here’s the interesting part. Ken Miller has been debating design proponents all over the country for many years. He knows ID theory very well. Yet instead of choosing to take ID’s arguments headon, he constructs a strawman of ID theory and knocks it down.
I am not a scientist or a mathematician. I am a lawyer, but perhaps my legal training has given me an invaluable tool in the Darwin-ID debate, the tool Phil Johnson calls a “baloney detector.” And my baloney detector tells me that Ken Miller is full of baloney. Miller knows that no reputable ID proponent equates mere “improbability” with “design.” Yet there he is declaring to all the world that it is a “general argument” of “many ID supporters.”
I have to wonder. If, as the Darwinsts say, ID theory is so weak, why don’t they take it on squarely? Why do they feel compelled to attack a strawman caricature instead of the real deal? Indeed, Darwinists’ apparent fear of taking on ID on its own terms is one of the things that gives me great confidence in the theory, and that confidence will be shaken only if Darwinists ever begin to knock down the real ID instead of their ridiculous caricatures of the theory.