Thursday, April 17, 2008

Dembski on Expelled, Shows the Basic Logical Blunder at the Heart of ID

For a solid illustration of the fundamental logical flaws at the heart of Intelligent Design, who better than William Dembski himself to provide us with one:

"In EXPELLED, Stein interviews atheistic scientist after atheistic scientist, and they all admit that they haven’t a clue how life arose. There is no materialistic theory of life’s origin, and anyone who suggests otherwise is bluffing."

OK, so far so good. There are certainly interesting hypotheses out there, but none rising to the level of theory. Given the time involved, and the rarity of fossilization, exacerbated by the nature of those first early replicables, this may be as far as it ever gets in our lifetime. However, I remain optimistic, as there are many problems of science that have taken a very long time to be resolved. Nonetheless, this problem is in the "not solved" bin with the grand unification theory, The Reimann hypothesis, and balancing the federal budget. But for Dembski, this somehow adds credence to his argument, and this is where he runs off the rails.

"To assert that life arose by purely material forces is therefore an article of speculative faith."

Non sequitor. The nonexistence of a fully ironed out scientific theory does not amount to speculative faith. The assertions that the presents that appear under the Christmas tree, the "Face on Mars", and the eggs that appear in Easter baskets, arose by purely material forces, is not speculative faith. They are supported by considerable evidence, albeit not iron-clad proof. But this does not make all options equally viable, which is what Dembski is implying. This is a common mistake of his, assuming all unknown probabilities are equal.

Whatever level of speculation is involved in those claims, the amount of speculation with the Santa, alien face-carvers, and Easter Bunny theories is larger by orders of magnitude, and for one very simple reason. None of these things has even been demonstrated to exist, and existence must be demonstrated before it is rational to assign any effect to the hypothetical cause. It makes no sense to blame a broken vase on my imaginary pet cat.

"Stein is on the side of freedom of inquiry and expression in asking for intelligent design to have a place at the table."

No, Stein is going much further than that. He wants the table to be opened up to any and all hypotheses, even those that don't even have identified mechanisms. It would be like someone in the 18th century wanting a chair at the table at the heavier-than-air flight discussion with his hypothesis that fairies will lift his plane into the sky. Does it matter that no one else at that time knew how to fly? Go find some fairies first, then we'll talk. That's ID reasoning in a nutshell: if you don't know the answer, we get to make shit up.

Dembski also doesn't get to declare the scientific search over:

"Materialistic approaches to life’s origin have failed. In Rennie’s words, they constitute 'nonanswers.'"

OK, so what? Does Dembski have some reason to think this problem, if it had a completely materialist explanation, would be solved by now? By what argument does he reach this conclusion? It's not as if tons of fossil evidence had been found from that era that showed absolutely no trace of any material processes. We just don't have much data from that era of earth's history. Maybe we'll find some, maybe we won't. Dembski's statement is missing the necessary qualifier "so far".

Even if the search remains unsuccessful for 1,000 years, that still doesn't warrant hypothesizing some sort of highly complex conscious being to explain how complexity and consciousness arose. That negative regress has never been resolved, and science simply doesn't allow for making shit up when you've grown impatient with its rate of progress. THAT is what Stein and Dembski are promoting.

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