Thank you to all who have participated in the CSI debate over the last few days, especially Winston, vjtorley, keiths, KF, HeKS. It has been an illuminating discussion. Thanks especially to vjt for his effort to synthesize the various positions. I have a real job and I have already spent far too much time away from it on this subject, but I wanted to address one final topic before heading back to work.
Some of our opponents have criticized my “challenge” as being impossible to meet “by definition.” They say that CSI is “defined” as that which is beyond the reach of chance/law processes, and therefore it is literally meaningless to set up a challenge that calls for a demonstration of chance/law processes creating CSI. Of all the responses to this objection (including my own), I think HeKS had the best. He writes:
What needs to be understood is that this does not mean, by definition, that it could not have been produced by any natural process. It is not logically impossible that some natural process could cause the effect in question. Rather, the argument is that we have not actually observed any natural processes ever producing the types of specified effects in question and overcoming the astronomical odds against them doing so, but that we have observed – and do observe – intelligent agency bringing about those kinds of specified effects all the time.
Hence, the reasoning goes that if some effect is calculated to display a high degree of CSI on all chance hypotheses – or, put another away, is found to match an independent specification and also be astronomically improbable with respect to every known natural process that might be proposed to explain it – then design is tentatively considered to be a better explanation of the effect (being the only kind of cause known to be capable of producing it) than an appeal to extreme good fortune that would not be expected to happen even once in the entire history of the universe.
This is the important part:
There are at least two ways this inference could be falsified: [i.e., my challenge could be met]:
1) A natural process could be discovered that shows the effect not to be improbable, thereby falsifying the claim that it demonstrates CSI; or 2) A natural process could be demonstrated to bring about specified effects that are highly improbable with respect to that particular natural process, thereby falsifying the claim that CSI implies design for similar and lesser degrees of complexity (improbability).
This last paragraph articulates the intuition that lead to the challenge. For any specification that we BELIEVE to be beyond the capability of chance/law processes– 500 coins all heads, the first 20 lines of Hamlet, any meaningful English paragraph, etc., etc. – show that belief to be false by showing a chance/law process that has been actually observed creating the specification. The challenge will then have been met.
In other words, if a materialist were to show a chance/law process landing on what we believe to be a highly improbable specification, one of HeKS falsification criteria will have necessarily been met. The materialist will have shown either:
(1) that our belief that that the pattern was improbable given the chance hypothesis with respect to chance/law processes was wrong; or
(2) that even if the belief about low probability was correct, we were wrong to believe that only design can land on specifications with low probability.
Here is the flaw in the “by definition” argument. When we designate a pattern as having CSI one of the things we are saying is that based on our current understanding of all chance/law processes, the probability of those processes landing on the specification in question is astronomically low. The probability is not “defined” to be astronomically low. It is believed to be astronomically low. To meet the challenge, all the materialist has to do is demonstrate that that belief is false. When we make a design inference based on the existence of CSI, we are also saying that our best understanding of the cause of the specification is “design.” Another way to meet the challenge is to show that is not the best understanding, because chance/law forces have been observed creating the improbable specification. Nothing about the definition of CSI precludes that demonstration.