Posts tagged ‘William Dembski’

October 3rd, 2012

Design Inference vs. Design Hypothesis

by Max Andrews

Original post by William Dembski.

In December 1994, I was in the middle of writing my philosophy dissertation for the University of Illinois at Chicago while also working on a masters of divinity degree at Princeton Theological Seminary. Visiting my parents in the Tucson area for the Christmas break, I was pondering what title to put on my dissertation. The dissertation focused on small-probability events used in chance-elimination arguments. Although the dissertation addressed some long-standing questions in the foundations of statistical reasoning, I also had my eye on bigger fish. Two years earlier, in the summer of 1992, I had spent several weeks with Stephen Meyer and Paul Nelson in Cambridge, England, to explore how to revive design as a scientific concept, using it to elucidate biological origins as well as to refute the dominant materialistic understanding of evolution (i.e., neo-Darwinism).

Such a project, if it were to be successful, clearly could not merely give a facelift to existing design arguments for the existence of God. Indeed, any designer that would be the conclusion of such statistical reasoning would have to be far more generic than any God of ethical monotheism. At the same time, the actual logic for dealing with small probabilities seemed less to directly implicate a designing intelligence than to sweep the field clear of chance alternatives. The underlying logic therefore was not a direct argument for design but an indirect circumstantial argument that implicated design by eliminating what it was not.

August 27th, 2012

The Language of God

by Max Andrews

In our experience, intentions get actualized any number of ways[1]: A sculptor by chiseling at stone, musicians by writing notes, engineers by drawing up blueprints. In general, all actualizations of intentions can be realized in language. Precise enough sets of instructions in a natural language can tell the sculptor how to form the statue, musician how to record the notes, and engineer how to draw up blueprints.

Why should an act of speech be God’s mode of creation? Language is the universal medium for actualizing intentions. The language that proceeds from God’s mouth in the act of creation is the divine Logos (Jn. 1.1-5). In the act of creation God the Father speaks the divine Logos in the power of the Holy Spirit. The divine Logos is not just language in the ordinary sense (utterances that convey information), but the very ground and possibility of language. Words need power to accomplish their end and God’s Word has that power (Is. 55.11).

Given that we are made in God’s image, the Trinitarian structure of creation is reflected in human speech.

“The word [goes] out of the mouth of God in such a manner that it likewise ‘[goes] out of the mouth’ of men; for God does not speak openly from heaven, but employs men as his instruments, that by their agency he may make known his will.”[2]

February 15th, 2012

A List of Peer-Reviewed Articles on Intelligent Design

by Max Andrews
There’s been a long running tradition in the Darwinian anti-ID camp propounding that there are no published peer-reviewed papers on intelligent design.  Ever since this mantra was first popularly proclaimed they’ve been wrong.  Below is a list of peer-reviewed articles cataloged by the Discovery Institute.  For abstracts and more on the articles please visit their site.

Publications Supportive of Intelligent Design Published in Peer-Reviewed Scientific Journals, Conference Proceedings, or Scientific Anthologies.

  1. David L. Abel, “Is Life Unique?,” Life, Vol. 2:106-134 (2012).
  2. Joseph A. Kuhn, “Dissecting Darwinism,” Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings, Vol. 25(1): 41-47 (2012).
  3. Douglas D. Axe, Philip Lu, and Stephanie Flatau, “A Stylus-Generated Artificial Genome with Analogy to Minimal Bacterial Genomes,” BIO-Complexity, Vol. 2011(3) (2011).
  4. Stephen C. Meyer and Paul A. Nelson, “Can the Origin of the Genetic Code Be Explained by Direct RNA Templating?,” BIO-Complexity, Vol. 2011(2) (2011).
  5. Ann K. Gauger and Douglas D. Axe, “The Evolutionary Accessibility of New Enzyme Functions: A Case Study from the Biotin Pathway,” BIO-Complexity, Vol. 2011(1) (2011).
  6. Ann K. Gauger, Stephanie Ebnet, Pamela F. Fahey, and Ralph Seelke, “Reductive Evolution Can Prevent Populations from Taking Simple Adaptive Paths to High Fitness,” BIO-Complexity, Vol. 2010 (2) (2010).
  7. Michael J. Behe, “Experimental Evolution, Loss-of-Function Mutations, and ‘The First Rule of Adaptive Evolution,’” The Quarterly Review of Biology, Vol. 85(4):1-27 (December 2010).
  8. Douglas D. Axe, “The Limits of Complex Adaptation: An Analysis Based on a Simple Model of Structured Bacterial Populations,” BIO-Complexity, Vol. 2010(4):1 (2010).
  9. Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig, “Mutagenesis in Physalis pubescens L. ssp. floridana: Some further research on Dollo’s Law and the Law of Recurrent Variation,”Floriculture and Ornamental Biotechnology, 1-21 (2010).
  10. George Montañez, Winston Ewert, William A. Dembski, and Robert J. Marks II, “A Vivisection of the ev Computer Organism: Identifying Sources of Active Information,” BIO-Complexity, Vol. 2010(3) (2010).
  11. William A. Dembski and Robert J. Marks II, “The Search for a Search: Measuring the Information Cost of Higher Level Search,” Journal of Advanced Computational Intelligence and Intelligent Informatics, Vol. 14 (5):475-486 (2010).
  12. Douglas D. Axe, “The Case Against a Darwinian Origin of Protein Folds,” BIO-Complexity, Vol. 2010 (1) (2010).
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February 1st, 2012

Thoughts on Dembski’s The End of Christianity

by Max Andrews

The following is a review I did of Bill Dembski’s The End of Christianity a couple of years ago.

The book was a fairly light read, easy to get through, yet deep and informative at the same time. I would recommend this to those who are somewhat familiar with modern cosmology, geology, and theological exegesis. If you are an adamant young earth creationist you will either dislike this book or be engaged to find more answers (which ultimately he believes to be untenable). To state the theodicy in a nutshell, both natural and personal/moral evil is a result of the Fall and God acted in anticipatory manner, though retroactively, to show the gravity of sin. I appreciate Dembski’s attempts to reconcile evil with sin and to exalt God’s grace and glory in the midst of suffering and evil.

August 10th, 2011

Einstein, The Big Bang, and Natural Theology

by Max Andrews

Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (GTR) had predicted that the universe was either expanding or contracting.  Einstein found the notion of a beginning to the universe so distasteful that he introduced a “fudge factor” to his field equation to keep a Steady State universe, an eternal equilibrium.[1]  Einstein introduced a term called the cosmological constant.  The cosmological constant was a force so weak, which factored into the geometric curvature of space, that it would make no difference on an eternal universe.

In the 1920’s Edwin Hubble was studying the Andromeda nebula.  At least since the time of Kant scientists wondered what these distant enormous objects were (galaxies).  Kant conjectured that they might be island universes in their own right.[2]  With further study, Hubble noticed that these galaxies had a red shift; the galaxies were appearing redder than they should have and Hubble postulated that these galaxies were moving away from one another.  What was being observed was the same thing that the Doppler effect has on sound.  The trajectory of an object has an effect on the wavelength of the sound, or in this case, light.

As a result of Hubble’s discovery and Einstein’s own equations the Russian mathematician Alexander Friedman and the Belgian priest and physicist Georges Édouard Lemaître suggested that the universe had a finite past and was not static and eternal.  There was now a problem with the cosmological constant; it cannot simply be deleted from Einstein’s equations. The cosmological constant could balance the equation from describing the geometric curvature (left hand side of the equation) to describing the energy momentum (right hand side of the equation).   If this expansion is extrapolated the equations of motion then (and even now) can only go but so far—until the universe comes to a singularity. With reluctance Einstein conceded the steady state model in the late 1920’s, though many scientists would not accept the implications of an expanding universe (its finitude).  One critic, Fred Hoyle, dubbed such an event the “Big Bang” in mockery and the name stuck.[3]

Einstein’s GTR [and aspects of STR] has made incredible contributions to natural theology.[4]  Given the fixed speed of light, that nothing can travel faster than light, and the billions of light-years separation between the earth and other stars, it follows that the universe is billions of years old.[5]  This has created a problem for young-earth creationists.[6] Current estimations for the age of the universe have been set at 13.73±2 billion years old.  Young-earth creationists have adopted three main approaches:  (1) embrace a fictitious history of the universe in the spirit of Philip Gosse’s 1857 work Omphalos; (2) view the speed of light as having decayed over time; and/or (3) interpret Einstein’s GTR so that during an “ordinary day as measured on earth, billions of years worth of physical processes take place in the distant cosmos.”[7]

Regarding a fictitious history of the universe, the argument states that all present light, which appears to be billions of light years away, was created in transit with an appearance of age.  So, when supernovae exploding in a galaxy millions or billions of light years away, the young-earth creationist [advocate of a fictitious history] must adopt the approach that no supernovae ever exploded.[8]  Einstein and the scientific theologian’s epistemic method reject such an interpretation.  Einstein’s method of inquiry based the natural order as having an ontological status of genuine reality and the discoveries are made a posteriori; no such method of inquiry is tenable under a fictitious history.  Einstein’s epistemology has influenced Big Bang theists and scientific theologians regarding GTR and the objectivity of the natural order.  It appears, objectively, that the universe really is billions of years old.

The second argument was a denial that the speed of light has been a constant [approximately] 300,000 km/s.  As previously discussed, Einstein’s E=mc2 states that energy is proportional to the mass of an object multiplied by the speed of light squared.  If c decays then that would imply that there has been a change in the quantity of energy in the universe.  This creates a problem for thermodynamics.  Thermodynamics would not be the only problem; many other constants would need to change as well to preserve the stability of a life-permitting cosmos such as Planck’s constant h (h-bar).  Suddenly the objection is not only with c because that would in turn change all of physics.[9]  All of this would be done to circumvent an old universe suggested by a constant speed of light.[10]  Before Einstein’s relativity theories, this would not have been a problem for the young-earth creationist.

The third foremost-misconstrued aspect of Einstein’s equations by natural theologians has been to misinterpret GTR and time dilation.  The mathematics of this theory shows that while God makes the universe in six days in the earth’s reference frame (“Earth Standard Time”), the light has ample time in the extra-terrestrial reference frame to travel the required distances.[11]  The problem with this theory is that there are mathematical errors in its use of Einstein’s GTR.

One misunderstanding is the theory’s use of the Cosmological Principle.  It wrongly assumes that the long-time-scale implications of Big Bang cosmology are crucially dependent on the global validity of the principle and that the relaxation of this assumption, through the introduction of a boundary to the matter of the universe, produces dramatic differences in the gravitational properties of the universe.[12]  A second misunderstanding is the nature of time.  The theory wrongly affirms that the physical clock synchronization properties, which occur in the standard Big Bang model are due to the boundary conditions implied by the Cosmological Principle and that modification of these boundary conditions can change the way physical clocks behave.  Clocks in either our bounded or unbounded universe will behave exactly the same way whether on earth or at a distant galaxy provided there are identical interior matter distributions.[13] The third misunderstanding to be discussed is how GTR relates to event horizons (the point where escaping a mass’s gravity becomes impossible).  The theory wrongly affirms that observers who pass through event horizons observe dramatic changes in the rate of time passage in distant parts of the universe when it is the case that no such changes occur.[14]  Einstein’s impact on young-earth creationism has been profound and, arguably, has overthrown the tenability of young-earth creationism altogether.[15]

Einstein’s impact on natural theology has not been completely negative, as in the case for young-earth creationists, but for scientific theologians [and old-earth creationists] he has been a catalyst for epistemic and religious advances.  It is important to understand that as a GTR-based theory, the model does not describe the expansion of the material content of the universe into preexisting, Newtonian space, but rather the expansion of space itself.  The standard Big Bang model, as the Friedman-Lemaître model came to be called, thus described a universe that is not eternal in the past, but which came into being a g finite time ago.  Moreover, the origin it posits is an absolute origin ex nihilo.[16]  Christian theologians and philosophers already had arguments for a beginning of the universe based on necessity, contingency, and the concept of an actual infinite, but Einstein’s equations, which led the Standard Model, gave a mathematical and physical description of the universe that supported the Christian doctrine of creation.  The metaphysical concept of creatio ex nihilo now had empirical evidence.

In the 1960’s there was a dramatic increase in a series of dialogue on the relationship between science and religion.[17]  Natural theology [by the tasks of primarily scientists and philosophers] has sought to demonstrate that God is a necessary element in any comprehensive explanation of the universe is a long tradition, one that the Darwinian crusade sought to eliminate.  It might be legitimate to say that this renewed relationship between science and religion is a return to normal if Einstein was right when he said that “science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.”[18]

            [1] Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Wesley Richards. The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2004), 171.

            [2] Gonzalez and Richards, 169.

            [3] Gonzalez and Richards, 171.

            [4] Natural theology supposes that the belief in God must rest upon an evidential basis.  Belief in God is thus not a properly basic belief.  Through the development of Einstein’s work, natural theology was undergoing barrage of attack from theologians such as Karl Barth.  Barth’s polemic against natural theology can be seen as a principled attempt to safeguard the integrity of divine revelation against human attempts to construct their own notions of God, or undermine the necessity of revelation. Alister E. McGrath, The Science of God: An Introduction to Scientific Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 81-82.

            [5] It is worth noting that space itself can travel faster than the speed of light, Einstein’s STR permits this.  It is expected that space begin to exceed this cosmic speed limit relatively soon.  William Dembski, The End of Christianity (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2009), 65.

            [6] Young-earth creationists have an epistemic method that begins with the Bible and shapes the rest of nature and science according to that specific interpretation rendered.  Their conclusion is that the six days of creation are a literal 24-hour day period and the universe is roughly six to ten thousand years old.

            [7] These are the three primary approaches as they relate to Einstein’s work.  Young-earth creationists have certainly developed scores of other arguments, but these are the most relevant and most cited.  D. Russell Humphreys, Starlight and Time: Solving the Puzzle of Distant Starlight in a Young Universe (Green Forest, AR: Master, 1994), 37 quoted in Dembski, 65.

            [8] Dembski, 66-67.

            [9] Dembski, 67-68.

            [10] There are models consistent with a 13.7 billion year old universe that suggests a change in the speed of light.  Recent varying-speed-of-light (VSL) theories have been suggested as a possible alternative to cosmic inflation for solving the horizon problem, the problem of causality over long distances in initial inflation, suggesting that the speed of light was once much greater.  This is not a popular view since it is difficult to construct explicit models permitting such a suitable variation.  Other constants have been suggested to change (a theory of varying fundamental constants) in part due to superstring theory and eternal inflation.  Even so with these theories and cosmic models, there are still more-fundamental (in contrast to varying) constants in the parent universes (preceding universes in the multiverse models).  Even with a theory of varying fundamental constants Einstein’s equations [of STR] still stand in such models. Andrew R. Liddle, and Jon Loveday, The Oxford Companion to Cosmology (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2009), 316.

            [11] Humphreys, 13.

            [12] Samuel R. Conner and Don N. Page, “Starlight and time is the Big Bang,” CEN Technical Journal 12 no. 2 (1998): 174.

            [13] Ibid.

            [14] Ibid.

            [15] In Conner and Page’s response to young-earth creationism’s cosmology they assume five mathematical and methodological points.  (1) GTR is an accurate description of gravity.  (2) Gravity is the most important force acting over cosmologically large distances, so that the conventional application of GTR to cosmology is valid.  (3) The fundamental parameters of nature, such as the gravitational constant G and the speed of light c, are invariant over the observable history of the universe.  (4) The visible region of the universe is approximately homogenous and isotropic on large distance scales.  Lastly, (5) the events which we witness by the light of distant galaxies and quasi-stellar objects are real events and not appearances impressed onto the universe by the intention of the Creator.  Ibid, 175.  The first two assumptions directly reinforce Einstein’s GTR equations.  The third assumption, as previously discussed, relates to Einstein’s STR equations.  The fourth assumption relates to the balancing of Einstein’s field equations and its adjustment after Hubble’s discovery of expansion.  The final assumption relates to Einstein’s epistemic method of reality having real ontological value in an epistemic inquiry.

            [16] Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, Creation Out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration (Leicester, England: Apollos, 2004), 222-223.

            [17] These efforts were predominately made by scientists and not theologians.  Such landmark works were Ian Barbour’s Issues in Science and Religion (1966) and later Paul Davies’ God and the New Physics (1983). Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 197.

            [18] Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions, Trans. and rev. Sonja Bargmann (New York: Three Rivers, 1982), 46. Stark, 197.

August 2nd, 2011

Inferring Design From Data

by Max Andrews

The data presented must be evaluated as either being the result of necessity, chance, a combination thereof, or design (intelligent causation).  How may one infer design?  As William Dembski advocates in his work, The Design Inference, there must be a relay of specified complex information.[1]  In the 1940’s, Claude Shannon at Bell Laboratories developed a mathematical theory of information.  The information-carrying capacity of a sequence of a specific length can then be calculated using the expression I=-log2p.[2]  When this formula is applied to genetic sequence probability formulas the information being conveyed is more than mere Shannon information.  The word information in this theory is used in a special mathematical sense that must not be confused with its ordinary usage.  In particular, information must not be confused with meaning.[3]

Since the late 1950’s, biologists have equated the “precise determination of sequence” with the property “specificity” or “specification.”  Biologists have defined specificity tacitly as “necessary to achieving or maintaining function.”  They have determined that DNA base sequences are specified, not by applying information theory, but my making experimental assessments of the function of those sequences within the overall apparatus of gene expression.[4]  The same application of specificity would be applied to complexity.  Given the complexity of the components need for and to sustain life, the complexity is that which maintains function, a specified complexity.[5]

When arguing for design, the argument cannot take one to Christianity or even God.  All one can purport is an intelligent cause.[6]  The evidence cannot identify who or what the cause is.  This is constructive empiricism.  Constructive empiricism states that one can only refer to the aspects of that being, in this case, the intelligence of the cause, respective to the issue and evidence at hand.  It is only be a cumulative case argument can one infer that the intelligent cause is God.

By experience, it can be deduced that mind originates information (as previously described) and that the other competing hypotheses do not have the explanatory scope and power as design does.  It is by the means of abduction one can infer that design, or intelligent causation, is the best explanation for the data.  Chance and randomness cannot substantially account for the data.  The improbability alone is infinitesimally improbable.  The necessity explanation has no support and the physical variations of the cosmic landscape place the explanation at implausible.

            [1] William A. Dembski, The Design Inference (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1998).

            [2] This equated the amount of information transmitted with the amount of uncertainty reduced or eliminated by a series of symbols or characters.  Claude Shannon, “A Mathematical Theory of Communication,” Bell System Technical Journal 27 (1948):  379-423; 623-656.

            [3] Claude Shannon, W. Weaver, The Mathematical Theory of Communication (Champaign, IL:  University of Illinois Press, 1998), 8.

            [4] Stephen C. Meyer, “ A Scientific History—and Philosophical Defense—of the Theory of Intelligent Design.”

            [5] Ibid. To avoid equivocation, it is necessary to distinguish “information content” from mere “information carrying capacity,” “specified information” from mere “Shannon information,” “specified complexity” form mere “complexity.”

            [6] Intelligent causation is entirely consistent with the scientific method.  For example:  The design inference begins with the observation that intelligent agents produce complex specified information.  The hypothesis would follow with predictions of design.  For experiments, one would one need to test whether scientific data has complex specified information.  The conclusion may follow as:  Because X exhibits high levels of complex specified information, a quality known to be a product of intelligence, therefore, life was designed.

February 12th, 2011

The Discovery Institute’s Seminar on Intelligent Design

by Max Andrews

I attended the Discovery Institute’s Summer Seminar on Intelligent Design (Social Science) in 2010.  My thoughts and comments will be general since we were asked not release specifics concerning information being shared (some of it was yet-to-be published and I don’t know if it has been published yet so I’ll remain silent) and I do not want to “out” any other attendees in their academic endeavors.  Once you’re labeled as an ID proponent your academic career is potentially slowed down or halted.  I’ve already outed myself and I’m pretty vocal about my advocacy of design (I’m a philosopher so it’s not as academically persecuted).

I have no negative comments concerning the DI’s seminar.  In fact, I have more respect for the institute and fellows.  There were two concurrent seminars (natural and social sciences) that interacted with each other on a regular basis and combined on many occasions.  I participated in the social science seminar and being philosophy graduate student I’m not as adept in biology, chemistry, and physics as many others are.  I certainly received a welcoming abundance of science in presentations, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Some of the lecturers included Stephen Meyer, Michael Behe, William Dembski, Doug Axe, Jay Richards, Jonathan Wells, Richard Sternberg, Ann Gauger, Bruce Gordon, Jonathan Witt, John West, and Casey Luskin.

Lecture topics included:

  1. The role and origin of information in DNA
  2. History of intelligent design
  3. The scientific basis of intelligent design
  4. Science and education policy
  5. Science and education law
  6. Evolution and academic freedom
  7. The media and evolution
  8. The Privileged Planet
  9. Neo-Darwinism
  10. Population genetics
  11. Natural theology in cosmology
  12. The multiverse
  13. Obstacles to unguided evolution
  14. Junk DNA
  15. Biological information and development
  16. The Edge of Evolution
  17. The Social Darwinian Evolution
  18. Theistic evolution
  19. ID and the origins of modern science
  20. The role of genius, beauty, and the aesthetics in design
  21. The metaphysical implications of ID

The schedule is demanding since it requires to fit so much material into a time span just over a week-long.  You’ll interact with the scholars on a one-on-one basis and even enjoy meals together.  They’re not distanced like some professors at the university may be like since there’s only about thirty participants.  I still keep in touch with many of the other participants and have made great friendships.  What’s beautiful about the seminar is that not everyone believes the same thing.  Every participant’s credentials were different ranging from philosophy, theology, law, journalism, biology, medicine, biochemistry, and nuclear physics with only a couple of undergraduates, mostly graduates, and a couple Ph.D.’s.  Religious affiliation was irrelevant, views on evolution and origins vary, and friendly/fruitful debate sparked throughout the seminar.  The DI accepted participants from around the world:  Africa, Norway, Scotland, Wales, California, Texas, and the East Coast.

I left Seattle with 59 pages of notes on my computer.  I’ve referred to my notes on several occasions and have gained valuable and beneficial knowledge.  They provided nearly two-dozen books for me to read in preparation and for studying while there (and of course post-seminar studies).  I spent a total of $50 on my ten day endeavor and that was only for a snack in the airport, an over weight suit case, and another snack at a 7-11 down the street from the campus.  I highly recommend the seminar to anyone who is friendly and open to the ID hypothesis.  I’m doing my graduate research on the multiverse as it pertains to the fine-tuning argument and this seminar has certainly been a valuable asset for me.  Thank you Discovery Institute for sharing this knowledge and granting me the opportunity to briefly study under these scholars.