Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

The Collapse of Ken Miller


Below is a recent post from evolutionnews.org describing Ken Miller’s criticism of my approach to detecting design as he gave it on a recent BBC program. I was interviewed for the program, but had no idea that Richard Dawkins would be narrating it or that Ken Miller would be given the final word in assessing my contribution to the ID debate (I was not given a chance to see Miller’s response prior to the program’s release, much less the opportunity to respond to it in the program). In fact, I didn’t even know what the title of the program was until I received the DVD from the BBC. Titled “The War on Science,” it was immediately clear where this was going. I watched about three minutes of it and put it away. Thus it was news to me when Casey Luskin made the post below. It seems that Miller is committed to the following debate strategy:

  • Design theorist argues for X.
  • Design theorist takes pains to make clear that X is not Y.
  • Darwinist nonetheless attributes Y to design theorist.
  • Darwinist shows that Y is ridiculous.
  • Darwinist concludes ID is a failed intellectual project.

Miller has a talk that he gives on campuses throughout the U.S. titled “The Collapse of Intelligent Design.” Let me suggest that if there is any collapsing going on, it is in Miller’s psyche and in his increasing inability to prosecute a reasoned argument when it comes to ID.

Ken Miller Twists William Dembski’s Methods for Inferring Intelligent Design
SOURCE: www.evolutionnews.org/…

A reporter recently sent me an anti-intelligent design BBC documentary with the outlandish title “A War on Science.” In it, Darwinian biologist Ken Miller is shown purporting to refute irreducible complexity in the bacterial flagellum by citing the type 3 secretory apparatus, giving his usual misrepresentation of irreducible complexity. But it gets incredibly worse. Miller egregiously twists the basic arguments of leading ID theorist, mathematician William Dembski. To paraphrase Miller’s argument (Miller’s exact words are given ***below), when cards are dealt out in a game of poker, the hand you get is unlikely. But obviously that hand wasn’t intelligently designed. Therefore, unlikely and non-designed things happen all the time, so evolution can happen even if it’s unlikely, and we should never infer design. This completely misrepresents Dembski’s arguments. Dembski 101 explains that unlikely events happen all the time and that unlikelihood alone is not how we detect design. In fact, the first two paragraphs of the first page of the first section of Dembski’s first foundational work, The Design Inference, plainly makes this point:

> In Personal Knowledge, Michael Polanyi
>(1962, pg. 33) considers stones placed in a
>garden. In one instance the stones spell
>“Welcome to Wales by British Railways,”
>in the other they appear randomly strewn.
>In both instances, the precise arrangement
>of the stones is vastly improbable. Indeed,
>any given arrangement of stones is but one
>of almost infinite possible arrangements.
>Nonetheless, arrangements of stones that
>spell coherent English sentences form but
>a miniscule proportion of the total possible
>arrangements of stones. The improbability
>of such arrangements is not properly refer-
>red to chance.
> What is the difference between a ran-
>domly strewn arrangement and one that
>spells a coherent English sentence? Impro-
>bability, by itself, isn’t decisive. In addition
>what’s needed is conformity to a pattern.
>When stones spell a coherent English sen-
>tence, they conform to a pattern. When
>they are randomly strewn, no pattern is
>evident. But herein lies a difficulty. Every-
>thing conforms to some pattern or other –
>even a random arrangement of stones.
>The crucial question, therefore, is whether
>an arrangement of stones conforms to the
>right sort of pattern to eliminate chance.
(William A. Dembski, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance Through Small Probabilities, pg. xi (Cambridge University Press, 1998), emphases added.)

Could Dembski be any more clear? His point is that some unlikely events should NOT be attributed to design, but rather are best explained by chance. Dembski’s fundamental premise is that Miller’s random poker hand is a perfectly good example of an unlikely event which is best explained by chance. But what happens when one is dealt 50 consecutive royal flushes? What happens when the stones spell out “Welcome to Wales by British Railways”? Clearly, not all unlikely events are best explained by chance, especially when they conform to a special type of pattern. Dembski calls this conformation to a pattern “specification.”

The design inference therefore requires unlikelihood (related to complexity) coupled with specification. Miller implies that Dembski infers design by the mere unlikelihood of an event, but Miller egregiously ignores the fact that according to Dembski, we must also have specification to infer design. Dembski even uses this very example of dealing a hand of cards when illustrating an unlikely but yet non-designed event. (See how this is implied in Dembski’s essay “Intelligent Design as a Theory of Information.”) Ken Miller has put forth a patently false straw-man characterization of intelligent design arguments in order to falsely allege refutations to the public.

*** Here are Miller’s exact words when discussing this subject in the documentary:
“One of the mathematical tricks employed by intelligent design involves taking the present-day situation and calculating probabilities that at the present would have appeared randomly from events in the past. And the best example I can give is to sit down with 4 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 could then look back and say ‘my goodness, how improbable this is, we could play cards for the rest of our lives and we would never ever deal the cards out in this exact same fashion.’ And you know that’s absolutely correct. Nonetheless, you dealt them out and nonetheless you got the hand that you did.”

An interesting summarization of various responses to Ken Miller: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2007/03/a_list_of_selected_responses_t.html Patrick
"Ken Miller is a jackass" Hmm, I didn't write that. Although it is apparent that someone sharing or spoofing my IP did. "Petron and Guinness" I drink neither. mike1962
When nucleotide sequences can be shuffled and dealt at random and still sustain a viable organism, Dr Miller will have a point. IOW as Stephen Meyers, Wm Dembski, et al., have been saying for years- not any DNA sequence will do. And we know that chemically speaking, any DNA sequence is just as likely as any other. Joseph
Please pass the Petron and Guinness. Oh thank you. mike1962
Ken Miller is a jackass - COME ON! - let's get real - these egghead morons are not worthy of the sweart off our collected nuggets - and I think they know it - don't slack up on the fight, they are arguing as stupid idiots and they know it - fight fight fight Amen (in my drunken stupor) mike1962
Collin, I responded to your comments this morning but I think I may have been spam-filtered for too many cards references (or Lebowski references). Perhaps I'll re-word and repost if it doesn't show up by tomorrow. I could also have been moderated for my post's inanity -- I'm definitely not on the strong side of the brain trust in this environment. Still, I'll continue to post on occasion...on the off-chance that I might periodically come up with something mildly interesting. :') Apollos
Maybe... Ken Miller was watching too much Oprah Winfrey, and went out of his way to buy that new age religious philosophy & pop psychology film "The Secret" on DVD - that Orprah's promoting. After watching it, he now thinks he can alter space and time with "positive thinking". So, this denial of reality he has, is his actually his attempt to think "positive" and emit "vibrations" into the cosmos to "attract" a universe where Dembski is the loser and he is the winner... and the invisble pink flying wingless hydra unicorns exist only to torment ID-ist (don't ask.. I'm sleep deprived). As you can probably sense, I hate that film. JGuy
Hi Collin, Any sufficiently unlikely pattern will do I think; that's why I threw in the hand of prime numbers. They are not part of the 'poker' pattern, yet they conform to a meaningful arrangement. Although I'm certain that the hand-of-cards analogy is not without its flaws, my example served to represent Dembski's specifed complexity far better than Ken Miller's, which was intended to dismiss the concept altogether. Complex specified information, in my jejune understanding of it, requires not only sufficiently unlikely arrangements, they must also conform to a pattern that includes specificity. The irony is that in regards to the intelligent design of biological systems, we did indeed create the pattern before it was discovered, so-to-speak. Many of the components of the bacterial flagellum had parallels to our own designs -- before we knew what the flagellum looked like. Frankly, this is amazing to me. We can observe that the flagellum is a motor. We (the royal we) invented motors well before their discovery in single-celled organisms. Had motors (or similar systems) not been invented at the discovery of the bacterial flagellum, we would still be able to recognize it as a propulsion system, and would be using it as the basis for some of our own technology. Apollos
Apollos, I think your analogy is not quite good enough because you know the full house or flush pattern before it happens. Did we know the pattern of life and then discover it? Otherwise you have a case of dropping the flag and then marking the spots and calling it design right? It seems to me you have to know or even create the pattern first and then discover it to infer design in the cards analogy. Collin
[...] I’ve been busy lately, so I spent some time this morning catching up on some blog reading. Over at Uncommon Descent, Dembski catches Miller in an act of blatant misrepresentation. It is this type of misrepresentation which makes me truly wonder if Miller even understands Dembski’s arguments. [...] Miller Misrepresents Dembski - Telic Thoughts
RS+NS does not posit that just *any* old set of unlikely accidents occured. It posits that a *specific* set of unlikely accidents occured. How likely is it that this specific set of unlikely accidents occured to produce the biological systems we see? Effectively zero, given the amount of time available in the universe thus far. People would be extremely surprised if a man got two royal flushes in a given poker game. But if he got 10 royal flushes, and was the big winner of the night, people would start reaching for their weapons. The likelihood of this occuring in spacetime thus far is effectively zero. The deck was stacked. How likely it was that a particular series of lucky accidents occured, that led to a creature (humans) who, oddly enough, could contemplate this issue, and the nature of the universe itself? Effectively zero. The deck was stacked. Only a commitment to a particular philosophical view would lead someone to think otherwise. Just try pulling out that view next time you get 10 royal flushes in a poker game and see how far it gets you. mike1962
Coff mike1962
Miller seems unaware of the fact that it's not that just *any* unlikely combination of events had to occur, but that *certain* unlikely events had to occur, in just the right order, in order to build up biological information. The big question is, did, in fact, the necessary series of unlikely events occur to create the biological entities we see today? Statisically, no. And that is the point. When a man is dealt 10 royal flushes in one night of poker, every one at the table has a right to believe it was a setup. Because in the universe of time so far, the possibility is effectively zero. The deck was rigged. mike1962
I should footnote: Observe how ORGEL introduces the term:
Living organisms are distinguished by their specified complexity. Crystals fail to qualify as living because they lack complexity; mixtures of random polymers fail to qualify because they lack specificity.6 [Ref 6 is to L.E. Orgel, 1973. The Origins of Life. New York: John Wiley, p. 189]
Bet you won't see that quote in anti-ID discussions, in their rush to claim that ID is creationism in a cheap tuxedo and that Dembski's CSI is an ill-formed, poorly defined construct that makes no sense because any particular outcome in a complex situation is rare. Need I say that willful obtuseness is an intellectual vice, not an epistemic virtue? Or, that basing law and courtroom decisions on distortions and mirepresentations is hardly a way to achieve justice? Or, that the media have a DUTY to be fair, balanced, truthful and kind? GEM of TKI kairosfocus
H'mm: There are two distinct problems with a red herring leading out to a strawman that one burns in a claimed "victory": 1] On the merits, one shows oneself to be in grave error -- to the already correctly informed. 2] But also, if the access to the public microphones is vastly different, one can shout down the truth by this distraction. In short, we here see the gap between rhetoric -- the art of persuasion, and analytical discussion looking to achieve inference to best explanation. But in the popular domain, the rhetor (especially if he can apeal to prejudices and fears) usualy wins, short term. Just ask the ghost of Socrates. On the material point, I note from TMLO ch 8, that the concept of complex, specified information is not even an ID concept but one that came organically from the development of OOL reesearch in thew 1950's - 80's as the leaders like Orgel, Polanyi, Yockey, Wickens etc had to deal with bio-information in DNA etc:
Only recently has it been appreciated that the distinguishing feature of living systems is complexity rather than order.4 This distinction has come from the observation that the essential ingredients for a replicating system---enzymes and nucleic acids---are all information-bearing molecules. In contrast, consider crystals. They are very orderly, spatially periodic arrangements of atoms (or molecules) but they carry very little information. Nylon is another example of an orderly, periodic polymer (a polyamide) which carries little information. Nucleic acids and protein are aperiodic polymers, and this aperiodicity is what makes them able to carry much more information. By definition then, a periodic structure has order. An aperiodic structure has complexity. In terms of information, periodic polymers (like nylon) and crystals are analogous to a book in which the same sentence is repeated throughout. The arrangement of "letters" in the book is highly ordered, but the book contains little information since the information presented---the single word or sentence---is highly redundant. It should be noted that aperiodic polypeptides or polynucleotides do not necessarily represent meaningful information or biologically useful functions. A random arrangement of letters in a book is aperiodic but contains little if any useful information since it is devoid of meaning. Only certain sequences of letters correspond to sentences, and only certain sequences of sentences correspond to paragraphs, etc. In the same way only certain sequences of amino acids in polypeptides and bases along polynucleotide chains correspond to useful biological functions. Thus, informational macro-molecules may be described as being and in a specified sequence.5 Orgel notes: Living organisms are distinguished by their specified complexity. Crystals fail to qualify as living because they lack complexity; mixtures of random polymers fail to qualify because they lack specificity.6
Prof Dembski has put forth a mathematical model of CSI which is arguably at least partially successful. Let us hope that, long term, good sense prevails. GEM of TKI kairosfocus
In tribute to gpuccio's love for deck-of-card analogies, I'll throw this one out. Suppose a group of people were playing poker and in one hand, each person was dealt a full house, or four of a kind, or a straight flush. Suppose each person was dealt a series of prime numbers. What would the reactions be, when it was discovered to be so? The poker players might collectively ask a question in amazement, "what's going on here?" Not in the list of likely responses would be, "well, that's just as likely as any other arrangement." This would be a more fair approach to using playing cards as an analogy to specified complexity. Apollos
Darwinists misrepresent ID bkz that's the only way they can save face. See, if they were to correctly represent ID, people would logically see that science it's not in danger bkz of ID. Only unguided evolution is threatened with ID. Mats
Kenneth Miller has certainly done well careerwise, with his biology textbooks, the Dover victory, and his plethora of speaking engagements. In one of his lecture clips shown in this film, he displays a smugness and confidence most probably the end result of his popularity, and as has been stated, likely due to his own personal belief that he represents truth, and a much needed defense of science. I have to say however, that he is sadly deluded in both of these regards. It's irritating, however, when he misquotes not just Bill, but Behe by stating, (emphasis where speakers voiced emphasis) " ... if Intelligient Design is the proper explanation, the parts of these complex machines should be useless on their own, because all the parts have to be there to have any function whatsoever." His paraphrased misquotation of the IC principal leads into his cooption arguments (not quoted in this documentary, but spouted elsewhere), in which he's referring to the nasty TTSS that destroys cells, but without propulsion, what good would the syringe do?! The narrator then commented, "For Miller, the prediction of Irreducible Complexity was disproved. The flagellum could be broken down into other, simpler biological mechanisms." Hey, so can my car, but if the motor (or trans) was blown, it would sit in the garage a long time waiting for the rain that would never come, so that the wipers and the windshield washer 'syringe' could serve their purpose. Richard Dawkins made even sillier pronouncements, like: "When one says that in America, Intelligent Design is getting a hold, it is not getting a hold in the science community ... It's getting a hold only among those parts of the population who don't know anything." I would love to see that quote posted on one of the Dawkins quotation sites! LeeBowman
Every time I read the argument of the "unlikely cards" (let's call it this way) I would like to scream and I am definitely tempted to become violent... How can supposedly intelligent people keep on saying such stupid things? I remember I read, once, somewhere on the web, the same argument, and the person speaking was, I believe, a mathematician! More recently, I think it was re-enacted by some religious commenter. And now Ken Miller! Just to express my intellectual rage (I don't know how else to define it!), let me repeat here aloud: THAT ARGUMENT IS STUPID. TOTALLY, IRREDEEMABLY STUPID. I know you alredy know that, but it is a satisfaction just to say it. And I hope someone (Miller, are you listening?) takes offence. And believe me, Dembski is very, very clear in making his point on that subject. It is not even a difficult point. You need not know deep mathematics to understand it. I think I could explain it to any common sense person in five minutes. So, Miller and anybody else who repeats the "unlikely cards" argument: shame on you! gpuccio
Here's the link to A War on Science at Google video. It's too bad that Bill didn't have a chance to refute Miller concerning probabilities and specification, and that Behe didn't have a chance to refute him concerning irreducible complexity (that the challenge of IC does not depend upon the fact that, or claim that, subcomponents cannot have other functions). Miller got the last word in spreading disinformation. GilDodgen
After reviewing the first few minutes, I can understand why Bill put it in his drawer instead of watching the rest. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7cU8k0KYPY# idnet.com.au
I must say that the BBC documentary "The war on science" is the best and fairest secular documentary I have seen on ID. It came across to me that the supporters of Darwin were old and tired and the ID people were young, fresh and vital. It seems unfair that we can't answer our critics, and that they are allowed to edit us, and parody what we say, but "The war on science" was only a small distance from supportive of ID in my view. If Dawkins' fairy stories and Miller's straw men are the best they can do then give them a few years and perhaps we'll see a turn around. Is this on Youtube? idnet.com.au
eduran, Bill has addressed that question before:
I did not withdraw from the Dover case — the Thomas Moore Law Center fired me over a perceived conflict of interest relating to my role as academic editor of the Foundation for Thought and Ethics (the publisher of the book in question — OF PANDAS AND PEOPLE). I was frankly looking forward to being deposed by the ACLU and staring them down at the trial. Perhaps another trial is in the offing, and Ken and I can finally have our day in court.
The only question I have is why when the opportunity arreived to "squeeze the truth out of Darwinst (i.e. Ken Miller)", Mr. Dembski refused to continue participating as a witness for the defense in Dover. eduran
When they have to defend their "theory" using this kind of childish sophistry, they know they have lost on substance and are now clinging for dear life to keep the less educated segments of the public in the dark about the outcome. They are obviously not arguing with Dembsky any more. As concessions of defeat go, I think this thinly veiled way of saying 'we have lost and we know it and you know that' is as far as they will publicly humiliate themselves. nightlight
Well, He did state that" And the best example I can give is to sit down..." Of course that not a good example but if he claim this is his best then I trust it is. Smidlee
I truly will ~never~ understand Ken Miller. In my heart, I feel like he believes what he says and doesn't believe it to be misleading or dishonest. But, how he gets to the point where he justifies his arguments is extremely puzzling. Forthekids
This is another instance of, "when I want your opinion I'll give it to you." It's also an instance of the kind of thing that I think will cause evolutionists grief in the future. As long as they busy themselves refuting what ID doesn't say, they're neglecting what ID actually does say. And if they think they're successfully refuting ID in the process, they're missing the real progress ID is making. Someday they're going to have to address the real issues, and they're going to be surprised to discover those issues really exist and they're not so easy. In the meantime, they're giving ID a kind of a headstart by ignoring them. Sure, in some venues it looks like they're winning the race; but on another view, they're not even running in it. TomG
I am not equipped to psychoanalyze the professor. But I still find myself needing to understand his approach. I have personally known several people who's behavior is similar. In the one case, the man seemed to have used lies and the truth so long and interchangeably that it appeared he could no longer differentiate between the two. In the second type of case, the guy seems to believe that his SAYING a thing makes it so. He speaks past events or future predictions into reality. His account of history is true, regardless of how many witnesses you present with contrary accounts. russ

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