(adapted from: Analogy, Induction, and Specious Arguments.)
Equivocation is a powerful technique if one has an indefensible position. For example, here is a way that one can argue that feathers cannot be dark:
A feather is light.
What is light cannot be dark.
Therefore, a feather cannot be dark.
Around 2003, Shallit and Elsberry put together a paper attempting to refute ID’s claims. They did not succeed in their attempt, but in the process they left behind a legacy in the art of equivocation and bluffing.
In their paper Information Theory, Evolutionary Computation, and Dembski’s Complex Specified Information they claim “naturally-occurring tools” can create CSI (complex specified information). If that really is so, then ID’s claims have failed. To argue their point, they resort to equivocations of the word “natural”:
Dembski’s inference of design is then undermined by the recent realization that there are many naturally-occurring tools available to build simple computational processes. To mention just four, consider the recent work on quantum computation , DNA computation , chemical computing [55, 89, 74], and molecular self assembly . Furthermore, it is now known that even very simple computational models, such as Conway’s game of Life , Langton’s ant , and sand piles  are universal, and hence compute anything that is computable. Finally, in the cellular automaton model, relatively simple replicators are possible .
The phrase “naturally occurring” was being equivocated here. What do you think when you hear the phrase, “naturally occurring”? Is it consistent with the way Shallit uses the phrase, “naturally occurring”?
Shallit’s usage of the phrase “naturally occurring” (along with a long list of peer-reviewed papers) can leave the impression that such “naturally occurring computations” can arise naturally– as in mindless forces in the natural world being the sole cause for a computation’s existence. Or he could have meant “natural” as in a natural consequence of computer design, in which case he completely invalidates the point he was trying to make, namely, design is not needed.
Let’s explore the possibility he meant natural, as in undesigned, natural world processes. Shallit cites DNA computing, but a simple investigation will reveal that DNA computers are the result of design. Thus, DNA computers are anything but naturally arising (unless one includes living cells, but then that’s what is at issue in the first place!). See: DNA computing.
Then Shallit refers to Quantum Computers. But here as well, Quantum Computers are anything but naturally arising. Sure, there is a thing called “natural computing series”, but look at the book which Shallit cites as proof of his claim:
Quantum Computing : Natural Computing Series
If one looks at the description of the book, “natural computing series” has nothing to do with undirected nature creating computational processes. Such equivocations are little better than arguing: “computers are natural because they can process ‘natural numbers’, therefore computers are naturally occurring, therefore, Blind Watchmakers of nature can create computers….”
Next Shallit cites Molecular self-assembly. But Molecular self-assembly is a pre-programmed design for nano-molecular machines to self-assemble. Those cannot therefore be used to remotely suggest undirected natural forces cause nano-molecular machines to “self-assemble” without intelligent design.
Shallit and Elsberry used similar equivocations with Sand Piles,
Langton Ants, Game of Life, and chemical computing.
Finally, to finish off their theatrical show, Shallit and Elsberry give a list of technical literature supposedly justifying their claim: “there are many naturally-occurring tools available to build simple computational processes“. However, upon tracking down the citations, they were just “literature bluffing” and equivocating the concept “natural”.
This paper reminds me of a literature bluff Elsberry perpetrated against Stephen Meyer as documented in One Long Bluff.
Shallit and Elsberry’s critique of Dembski follows the same pattern of what was concocted against Stephen Meyer, it followed same story line, just a different Design-proponent. Same thing with Ken Miller’s misrepresentations under oath against Michael Behe. In sum, we find a reliable habit of misrepresentation by the critics of ID — Same Stories, Different Design-proponents (SSDD).
I will go into detail of Shallit’s equivocations regarding genetic algorithms in another thread.
Cells are arguably DNA computers, but asserting that cells are proof that computers can “naturally” arise is circular reasoning.