Genuine Science Versus
By Mark Perakh
Posted on February 7, 2003
Science may be broadly defined as a human endeavor consciously aimed at acquiring knowledge about the world in a systematic and logically consistent manner, based on factual evidence obtained by observation and experimentation. (Perakh 2001 b).
Advocates of the so-called Intelligent Design theory (for example, Johnson 1993, Johnson 1998, Behe 1996, Dembski 1999, Wells 2000) often claim that “official” science unjustifiably views as legitimate objects of its inquiry only whatever is “natural” and rejects out of hand everything which is “supernatural.” Such “methodological naturalism” allegedly entails “ontological naturalism,” the belief that matter is all there is, thus leaving no place for intelligent design (Johnson 1993). Such an attitude supposedly stems from the dogmatic philosophical presuppositions of the scientific “establishment” and therefore is an obstacle to free inquiry.
William Dembski, who is one of the leading ID advocates, wrote (Dembski 1998a, p.28), ”We need to realize that methodological naturalism is the functional equivalent of a full-blown metaphysical naturalism… What needs to be done, therefore, is to break the grip of naturalism in both guises, methodological and metaphysical.”
In this article I will show that the thesis of the ID advocates, which equates the scientific method of inquiry with the a priori exclusion of anything that is deemed to be not “natural,” misrepresents the actual scientific approach. Besides refuting that thesis in general, I also will specifically discuss a concept suggested recently by Dembski (2002) wherein he introduced what he called “Z-factors” and the “inflationary fallacy.”
Whereas ID advocates regard the theory of evolution as the most perfidious offspring of materialistic philosophy, in fact they reject the norms of scientific inquiry in general and argue that it must be “liberated” from the shackles of materialism and thus lead to a much greater progress wherein the role of intelligent design (read: God) will take its legitimate place.
I shall try to show that “methodological naturalism” has indeed been a feature of the scientific attitude to the investigation of nature, but only as a matter of practical utility and not as a fundamental principle, and even less as a philosophical premise. Methodological naturalism is being used because it has so far worked and enabled science to achieve great success. I do not believe, however, that science is either based on that principle or restrained by it. The facts prove otherwise.
The difference between the scientific and non-scientific approaches to inquiry is not in the objects (some of which allegedly are deemed to be legitimate and others are not), but in the methods of inquiry.
In fact, science differentiates only between known and unknown, or between explained and unexplained, and is unconcerned with what is natural and what is supernatural. Every phenomenon which has been approached using accepted methods of inquiry is legitimate in science.
Before reviewing examples illustrating the above assertions, I’d like to make a few preliminary comments.
Scientific conclusions are always tentative. For example, all laws of physics are postulates; none of them can be “proven.” There are several reasons. One is that physics does not study real objects, but rather models of real objects. A model is not a replica of a real object but its simplified representation, wherein only the object’s properties which are crucial for the problem at hand are preserved while all other properties of that same object are ignored. For example, in Newtonian celestial mechanics the model of a planet is a point mass. It has only one property in common with the real planet – its mass. All other properties of a planet are ignored in that model. Since a point mass is immensely simpler than a real planet, such a model makes it possible to derive equations describing the motion of planets with a satisfactory approximation (often exceeding the precision required for successful interplanetary flights). However, since the theory is developed for models rather than for the real objects, and models are only approximate representations of the real objects, the laws of physics necessarily are postulates whose validity is limited by the degree of similarity between the models and the real objects they represent.
Furthermore, laws of physics are inferred from experimental data, which always are known only within the margins of inevitable measurement errors (see, for example, Perakh 2001 b). If scientific conclusions are inferred rather than proven, is this a serious shortcoming of science? Not in practical terms. The best testimony is the indisputable achievements of science and the great developments of technology and medicine based on scientific discoveries. If a powerful antibiotic cures me from a grave illness, I am not concerned with the admission by the scientists who have developed that antibiotic that their breakthrough was not based on a hundred-percent-certain proof.
Now I can discuss an example of how science may legitimately approach a problem regardless of its possible “supernatural” implications.
The Story of the So Called Bible Code
In 1994 the peer-reviewed journal Statistical Science printed an article (Witztum et al. 1994) by Witztum, Rips, and Rosenberg (WRR). The three authors claimed that they had discovered a meaningful code hidden in the Hebrew text of Genesis.
WRR noted that the text of Genesis contains a large number of what they called ELS (which stands for Equidistant Letter Sequences). This claim is true. The same, though, is equally true for any sufficiently long text in any language. For example, look at the word STORY in the title of this section. Its first, third, and fifth letters form an ELS (with a skip of 2) for the word SOY. Such ELS’s can be easily found in abundance in every text. With a suitable computer program, thousands of ELS’s with various skips can be instantly identified in every text, in the Bible as well as in the Manhattan phone book.
Although WRR did not mention the term Intelligent Design, the problem they faced was very similar to examples discussed by ID advocates (Behe 1996, Dembski 1998a, 1998 b, 1999, 2002a). Indeed, WRR wanted to determine whether the appearance of ELS’s in the text of Genesis could be attributed to chance, or design had to be inferred. This is exactly what the ID theorists claim to be the goal of their theory.
WRR conducted a computerized statistical experiment. They compiled a list of “famous rabbis” who lived between early medieval times and the 18th century. Their computer program located in the text of Genesis ELS’s with various skips that spell the appellations of 66 of those rabbis. They also located in Genesis the ELS’s which spell the dates of births and/or deaths of the rabbis from their list. Their program estimated the statistically averaged “distance” within the text between the ELS’s for appellations of individual rabbis, and ELS’s for dates of births-and/or-deaths of the same rabbis. Then their program created one million of permuted lists of appellations and of births-and/or-deaths dates, in which the appellations for individual rabbis and their dates of birth and/or death became mismatched. The statistically averaged distance between ELS’s for appellations and ELS’s for births-and/or-deaths dates was estimated for all mismatched lists and compared with that distance in the original (not scrambled) list. WRR concluded that the ELS’s for the individual rabbis’ appellations and the ELS’s for the dates of births and/or deaths of the same rabbis are situated in the original (not scrambled) text of Genesis statistically much closer (“in an unusually close proximity”) to each other than in scrambled lists. They estimated that the probability of such an “unusually close proximity” happening by chance did not exceed 1 in 62,000.
WRR’s conclusion had obvious religious implications. Since the rabbis in question all lived much later than Genesis was written, the unusual proximity of the “encoded” rabbis’ names to their “encoded” dates of births and/or deaths means the text’s author must have known the future. In other words, WRR’s article alleged scientific proof of a miracle.
If we believe the ID advocates, the dogmatic scientific “establishment” must have rejected WRR’s paper out of hand because it dealt with the supernatural. In the case in question the “establishment” was represented by the editorial board of Statistical Science. Lo and behold! The dogmatic cabal allegedly conspiring to suppress every non-conformist, anti-naturalistic study decided to publish WRR’s paper despite serious doubts regarding WRR’s statistical procedure expressed by five referees.
A number of experts set out to analyze WRR’s statistical procedure and found that it suffered from a number of irregularities.
Gradually an overwhelming consensus developed within the community of specialists in mathematical statistics and related fields that WRR’s data were totally unreliable. A paper (McKay et al 1999) was published by Statistical Science wherein WRR’s methodology was decisively shown to be contrary to the requirements of scientific rigor, hence their results could not be trusted. Additional critique of WRR’s work appeared elsewhere (Simon 1998, Perakh 1998-2000, Hasofer 1998, Ingermanson 1999, Cohen 2000, Perakh 2000, 2003).
The results claimed by WRR were rejected not because the object of their study was by definition beyond methodological naturalism but only because of the faults in their procedure.
What, however, if the codes were shown to be statistically valid? Would science reject the evidence for their existence because of their religious implications? Not at all. Science looks for evidence. It does not exclude anything by definition. Science is not concerned with the question of whether the phenomenon, event, or process is “natural” or “supernatural.” Science has no tools to answer such a question and does not ask it.
What If WRR's Claims Were True?
I shall now discuss the imaginary situation wherein WRR’s claim happened to be statistically sound.
William Dembski (1998, 2002) introduced the concept of the Universal Probability Bound (UPB), which he chose to be about 10-150 . According to Dembski, "specified" events whose probability does not exceed UPB cannot be attributed to chance (and even less to regularity); their cause therefore must be design.
In WRR’s case, the probability of the “unusually close proximity” happening by chance was estimated as 1 in 62,000. This is a far cry from Dembski’s UPB. However, in statistical studies an inference in favor of an alternative hypothesis is routinely made when the probability of an event happening by chance is by many orders of magnitude larger than Dembski’s UPB (Larsen and Marx 1986). Hence, if WRR’s data were statistically sound, there would be sufficient reasons to consider the possibility of a non-chance origin of the “code” in Genesis.
If chance is dismissed as the cause of the “close proximity,” what would alternative explanations be?
1. Regularity. An inference to regularity would mean a hypothesis that the semantically related ELS’s appear close to each in Genesis because meaningful texts possess a certain intrinsic structure (a certain hidden order) which has unique features in Genesis distinguishing it from non-biblical texts. This explanation would not be very likely (and WRR did not suggest it). Indeed, although the structure of all meaningful texts does indeed display strong features of order which are absent in gibberish (Perakh and McKay 1999), this order, which reflects the variability of letter distribution and is distinctive in meaningful texts, is “blind” to the text’s specific semantic contents. Moreover, this ordered structure of the text of Genesis turned out to be no different from other meaningful (non-biblical) texts.
Inference to regularity is considered in the schema of Dembski’s “design inference theory” as the first step in his “explanatory filter” (EF) (Dembski 1998). According to that schema, the event whose cause is to be determined is subjected to a three-step procedure, wherein each step constitutes a “node” of EF. At the first node the probability of an event is determined prior to determining what the event’s causal history was. Dembski does not explain how such probability can be calculated; actually such a scenario is unrealistic (Perakh 2001a, Perakh 2002a, Perakh 2003). The probability can only be estimated if the causal history of the event is either known or hypothesized. If the probability of the event is found to be large (Dembski does not explain what quantitative bounds of large probability are) then, according to Dembski, regularity (necessity, law) must be inferred as the causal antecedent of the event. It is easy to see that the above discussed inference to regularity in the case of ELS’s was made in a way opposite to the first node of EF. Indeed, the probability of the “close proximity” of semantically related ELS’s in Genesis was estimated based on the assumption of their random appearance, that is first assuming the causal history of the event in question, which is contrary to Dembski’s unrealistic procedure. The probability of a chance appearance of ELS’s in question was found by WRR to be small, and this opened the way for a possible inference to regularity, so that the order of inference, again, was different from Dembski’s artificially constructed procedure.
2. Intelligent Design. Dembski’s schema requires, for the inference to design, to identify the presence of “specification.” Dembski defines specification through a complex scheme including a number of subordinate concepts, such as detachability, tractability, delimitation, and conditional independence of the “side information” (Dembski 1998, 2002a). A critique of Dembski’s specification is given in a number of publications (Elsberry 1999, 2000; Fitelson et al, 1999; Wein 2000, 2002; Perakh 2001a, 2002, 2003; Wilkins and Elsberry 2001; Elsberry and Shallit 2002). Dembski’s concept of specification essentially boils down to recognizable patterns discernable in the event, phenomenon, or process in question.
In fact, Dembski’s specification is just one of the factors contributing to the estimation of probability (Perakh 2001a). The EF was shown (Ratzsch 2001; Perakh 2001a, 2002, 2003) producing both false negatives and false positives. In the case of a false negative, no specification is found but the event is due to design. In the case of a false positive, specification is identified, but the event is due not to design but to either regularity, chance, or a combination of more than one cause. Therefore, if WRR’s data were statistically sound, there would be no need to use Dembski’s criterion of specification. What counts for the possible inference to Intelligent Design is first the probability (or likelihood - see, for example Sober 2002) and second, various non-probabilistic data which can be very different in different cases and cannot all be defined by one versatile concept like specification. These data must reflect specific features of the event in question.
If an inference to Intelligent Design is attempted in the hypothetical case wherein the existence of a code were shown to be likely in a statistically sound way, several variations of that inference could be suggested, to wit:
2 (a). The human writers who wrote Genesis inserted the “code.” Since the alleged code is supposed to have predicted the future, the hypothesis of human writers is not very likely. Of course, an auxiliary hypothesis can be added assuming those human writers possessed a time machine which enabled them to know the future.
2 (b). The book of Genesis was written by extraterrestrials, who either possessed a highly advanced technology which enabled them to “compute” the future or somehow exploited unknown to us properties of time-space to travel back and forth in time. At least one author (Drosnin 1997) suggested such an explanation; also the beliefs of Raëlians (Raël, 1986) are in that vein.
2 (c). Some crooks have relatively recently forged the text of Genesis. This hypothesis may seem unlikely because ancient manuscripts have been found containing the text of Genesis. However, an auxiliary hypothesis may suggest that, say, the Qumran scrolls are also forgeries.
2 (d). A disembodied divine Creator is the real author of Genesis who knew the future.
If WRR’s data were statistically sound, all four (and possibly more) alternative inferences 2 (a), 2 (b), 2 (c), and 2 (d) would be scientifically legitimate (although not necessarily equally plausible).
Note also that Dembski’s EF, even if it indeed provided a reliable indication of design, could not distinguish among various versions of the inference to ID. Therefore such a design inference would have no real explanatory power.
Additional evidence could perhaps help to choose a specific inference. For example, if remnants of a spacecraft were found in the geological strata that could be dated to the time when the book of Genesis was presumably written, it would add weight to Raëlian’s argument. This would, however, have nothing to do with Dembski’s specification. Indeed, according to his definition (Dembski 1998, page 136), specification boils down to a unique pattern distinguishing the event in question. In WRR’s case this pattern could presumably manifest itself in such a unique map of ELS’s distribution within the text of Genesis which is absent in non-biblical texts. No such unique map exists (see, for example, Ingermanson 1999). Evidence gleaned from finding remnants of an alien spacecraft would have nothing in common with such a putative map, that is with Dembski’s specification.
The important point is that if WRR’s data were statistically sound, the inference to Intelligent Design in general, including the version of a disembodied divine creator, would be accepted in science as legitimate. In such a case no philosophical predispositions, naturalistic, atheistic, or any other, would prevent the inference to the “supernatural.”
Such an inference was rejected by scientists only because WRR’s data were found unsatisfactory, both for statistical (McKay et al. 1999) and extra-statistical (Perakh 2000) reasons. It has not yet been accepted in any other case either, again only because no evidence for such superhuman Intelligent Design has been demonstrated. Until such evidence is unearthed, the “supernatural” will not become a part of genuine science.
Science is neither based on methodological naturalism nor restrained by it, and likewise it is not restrained by any other metaphysical principle. It is restrained by one and only one requirement – it requires evidence.
Crank science is a permanent shadow of genuine science. Its purveyors often fervently adhere to certain ideas which in their minds constitute great discoveries but which are not recognized by mainstream science, either, as they believe, because of envy or because the majority of scientists do not approach the matter with open minds. Crank scientists include talented people who, for various reasons, go astray from the proven path of painstaking scientific investigation and, conscious of their own “genius” and of the greatness of their supposed breakthroughs, persist in pursuing the acknowledgment of their grandiose claims by the scientific community.
A very fine description of crank science was given by the renowned essayist Martin Gardner, who wrote in his popular book (Gardner 1973 ) that in some cases an obvious crank may nevertheless be “capable of developing incredibly complex theories. He will be able to defend them in books of vast erudition, with profound observations, and often liberal portions of sound science. His rhetoric may be enormously persuasive.”
Crank science may sometimes be harmless, invoking only smiles of mainstream scientists. Examples of such are the preposterous “theories” by Velikovsky, (1950), or the alleged discovery of cold fusion (Cromer 1993), or a theory (Nakhmanson 2002) suggesting that elementary particles such as electrons possess consciousness. In other cases a slightly different version of crank science (Johnson 1993; Dembski 1998, 2002a; Wells 2000), supported by the eloquent propaganda of its able purveyors, may become a distracting nuisance for scientists and hence impede the progress of real science. Its difference from real science is that it is not based on evidence but rather on either illusion, or erroneously interpreted data, or on some seemingly logical but actually arbitrary idea born in the mind of its author.
If crank science is coupled with a political or religious agenda, it may turn into a serious menace to science and society at large.
Today we are witnesses to a new version of crank science attempting to win a place under the sun by all means, including both political maneuvers and masquerading as genuine science. It has adopted the name of Intelligent Design (ID) theory (Behe 1996; Johnson 1993, 1998; Dembski 1998, 1999, 2002a; Wells 2000) which is supposedly disconnected from religious motivations. That it is a crank science becomes clear (Perakh 2002b) when we can’t find in the continual stream of publications by the ID practitioners any reliable empirical evidence in favor of their assertions, only specious argumentation usually of a purely philosophical or theological character, sometimes ingenious (Behe, Dembski, Wells, Ratzsch) and in other cases more like a speech by a stumping politician than a scientific discourse (Johnson).
Intelligent Design as a Z-Factor
In this section, I will discuss some features of the Intelligent Design theory evinced by the ID movement’s guru William Dembski. Dembski’s literary output was discussed in detail in several articles (Edis 2001; Fitelson et al, 1999; Perakh 2001, 2002a, 2002b, 2003; Tellgren 2002; Wein 2000, 2002; Wilkins and Elsberry 2001; Young 2001,2002). I will not repeat that critique but will instead discuss one specific element of Dembski’s discourse which is relevant to the topic of this article.
On pages 86-92 of his recent book (Dembski 2002), Dembski discusses in detail what he calls “Z-factors.” He defines the Z-factors (page 87) as “… some entity, process or stuff outside the known universe” which “…purports to solve some problem of general interest and importance…” The use of the Z-factors constitutes, in Dembski’s view, the “inflationary fallacy.” This term means, in Dembski’s usage, an unjustified inflation of probabilistic resources. Probabilistic resources is Dembski’s term for the available knowledge which can be used to estimate the probability of an event. If the probability of an event is estimated based not only on the available reliable knowledge but also on an arbitrary additional hypothesis (a Z-factor) this is an “inflationary fallacy.”
Dembski chooses for discussion four Z-factors: the bubble universes of Alan Guth’s inflationary cosmology (Guth 1997), the many worlds of Hugh Everett’s interpretation of quantum mechanics (Everett 1957), the self-reproducing black holes of Lee Smolin’s cosmological natural selection (Smolin 1997), and the possible worlds of David Lewis’s extreme modal realist metaphysics (Lewis 1986).
One of the features of the four listed concepts is that they postulate the existence of many (so far undetected) universes besides our universe. The listed theoretical constructs offer different assumptions regarding the origin of the multiple universes and their putative properties. None of these four hypotheses has a direct empirical basis, but their authors suggested certain considerations in favor of their plausibility, and each of these hypotheses has a certain explanatory potential regarding the structure and the history of our universe.
Since the available knowledge about the structure and history of the universe is insufficient to choose between various cosmological scenarios, including the hypotheses by Guth, Smolin, Everett, and Lewis, Dembski suggests that all four concepts are Z-factors. The four Z-factors in question are indeed speculative, but this is not the issue in this article. I am, rather, interested in some of the arguments Dembski suggests against the “inflationary fallacy.”
In Dembski’s view, “Each of the four Z-factors considered here possesses explanatory power in the sense that each explains certain relevant data and thereby solves some problem of general interest and importance” (page 90). However, continues Dembski, possessing explanatory power is not sufficient for accepting a theory. What is also necessary is independent evidence in favor of that theory. He writes, “Independent evidence is by definition evidence that helps establish a claim apart from any appeal to the claim’s explanatory power… it is a necessary constraint on theory construction so that theory construction does not degenerate into total free-play of the mind.”
Dembski discusses as an example a hypothetical gnome theory of friction. He writes, “Suitably formulated, the gnome theory of friction can explain how objects move across surfaces just as accurately as current physical theories. So, why do we not take the gnome theory of friction seriously? One reason…. is the absence of independent evidence for gnomes.”
Disregarding Dembski’s dubious assertion that the gnome theory can explain friction as well as current physical theories, it seems easy to agree with Dembski that a plausible theory has to offer explanatory power (otherwise it is hardly useful) and to be supported by independent evidence (otherwise it would “degenerate into total free-play of the mind”).
So, why not apply these two criteria — explanatory power and independent evidence — to the Intelligent Design theory promoted by Dembski and his colleagues in the Intelligent Design movement?
ID theory claims that it is possible to establish design by some rational procedure, whose principal features are encapsulated in Dembski’s Explanatory Filter (EF) briefly discussed in one of the preceding sections of this article. Detailed analyses of EF have been given elsewhere (Chiprout 1999, Elsberry 1999, 2000, Fitelson et al 1999; Perakh 2001, 2002a, 2002b, 2003; Wilkins and Eslberry 2001; Elsberry and Shallit 2002, and others). I am interested only in testing whether the ID theory, one of whose elements is EF, meets the two criteria Dembski suggested – explanatory power and independent evidence.
Does Intelligent Design theory provide explanatory power? To do so, it should have provided some information about the details of design, and to this end about the nature of the designer. However, the ID theory deliberately avoids the answers to this question. ID advocates insist (for example, in Dembski 1999) that their theory is not tied to any concept of a designer but just provides means to distinguish between chance, regularity, and design as the causal antecedents of the event in question.
Actually, the designer in the ID theory looks just like another Z-factor. In fact, the ID theory is characterized by a much more egregious “inflationary fallacy” than the previous examples. Guth, Smolin, and Everett at least suggested ideas in regard to the features, properties, and behavior of their Z-factors. By contrast, the attributes of Z-factor in the ID theory are deliberately left beyond consideration. Moreover, certain ideas have been suggested for possible indirect empirical tests of Guth’s and Smolin’s Z-factors, while nothing even close to an empirical test can be found in the opuses of the ID advocates.
In fact, the ID theory does not seem to have any explanatory power. To simply state that an event is due to intelligent design is not to explain anything, since essentially the term designer has no defined meaning in that theory and the modes of the designer’s activities remain mysterious and unexplained. Indeed, both Behe and Dembski refuse to even hypothesize the attributes of the designer (Behe 1996, Dembski 1998b, 2002) whose existence can supposedly be asserted using the “Design Inference” (Dembski 1998b, 1999, 2002). Hence, while Dembski has stated the necessity of explanatory power in any theory which has any usefulness, he strangely forgets about that requirement when turning to his favored theory.
Trying to deflect the criticism of their refusal to discuss the nature of the alleged designer, the ID advocates often suggest examples wherein a design inference is made despite the lack of knowledge about the designer. For example, Dembski asks, is the design inference legitimate in the case of Stonehenge? We all agree that it is. However, says Dembski, nothing is known about the designer in that case either.
In the case of Stonehenge and other similar cases, however, the inference is to a well known type of a designer, a human one. We attribute the creation of the Stonehenge to a human designer precisely because we know so much about the features of a human design and see those features in the object observed.
In another example, (Dembski 2002), Dembski refers to the book by Ratzsch (2001). Ratzsch suggests imagining that an expedition to some planet of the Solar system finds there a bulldozer standing in a field. Obviously we will conclude that it was designed rather than happened to exist by sheer chance. However, insists Dembski, our inference to a designer is made in this case without any knowledge about who the designer was and what his characteristics could be. So, why, asks Dembski, cannot the same attitude be applied to a mysterious designer in his Design Theory?
The fallacy of such an argument is evident. If we see a bulldozer on an alien planet, we certainly would not fail to notice that this object has features testifying to certain characteristics of its supposed designer and to the possible use for which it was designed. The bulldozer would have tracks evidently designed for motion, a seat evidently designed to accommodate a creature anatomically similar to earthly humans, pedals evidently designed for feet similar to those of earthly humans, and many other features providing good ideas as to what kind of a designer must be responsible for designing the observed object and what it was designed for.
In Ratzsch’s terms (Ratzsch 2001) a bulldozer displays an obvious artifactuality. In Shanks and Joplin’s terms (Shanks and Joplin, 1999) the bulldozer is antecedently recognizable as an artifact. It is because we know so much about both bulldozers and the humans who design them that we would infer design if a bulldozer were found on Mars. Moreover, the design inference in the case of that bulldozer will be made without any relation to Dembski’s Explanatory Filter, which is useless for the design inference in the discussed hypothetical case. (The bulldozer example is irrelevant for many other reasons as well. It is not a living organism which can reproduce, develop, evolve spontaneously, etc. The question of a design inference becomes controversial only with respect to biological entities. When we see a tractor or a poem there is no controversy; they are unequivocally attributed to design because of our extensive knowledge about such objects and the human designers creating them.)
Parents do not design their offspring. A child is not designed by parents but inherits a mix of genes from both sides. A tractor is designed by an engineer and built by laborers according to the engineer’s design. Dembski and his colleagues seem not to see the obvious difference between these cases.
Unlike with tractors or poems, nothing is known either about the alleged disembodied designer of the ID theory or about what his creations should look like. Therefore a reference to such a designer lacks explanatory power.
According to Dembski, an even more important requirement for a theory is independent evidence supporting that theory. Strangely, Dembski and his colleagues in the ID enterprise forget about the criterion of independent evidence as soon as they turn to their own theories. Where is independent evidence supporting the ID theory? There is none. The publications of the ID advocates almost exclusively belong in philosophy. In their literary output the “free-play of the mind” is the rule rather than exception. Despite their substantial financial resources, the advocates of ID have so far failed to come up with a real scientific research program, indulging instead in philosophical or theological discourses and political maneuvering (Forrest, 2001).
The absence of explanatory power and of independent evidence, according to Dembski’s own criteria, signify the degeneration of the ID theory into a “total free-play of the mind,” which Dembski seems to disapprove of for all theories except for his own.
Furthermore, Dembski views explanatory power as a category independent of evidence. Indeed, the “gnome theory of friction,” in his view, is capable of providing explanatory power despite the lack of evidence for the existence of gnomes. Explanatory power without evidence is, however, meaningless. In fact, the “gnome theory of friction” could not plausibly explain friction precisely because there is no evidence of the gnomes’ existence. The gnome theory is pure speculation having no real explanatory power. Explanatory power is meaningful only if it is based on facts and evidence. To say that friction is caused by gnomes is not to explain anything because we have no knowledge about what kind of a behavior those postulated gnomes may have.
In fact, a theory can have a plausible explanatory power only if it is also supported by evidence.
Dembski’s separation of explanatory power from evidence is artificial; it is just another version of the “free-play of the mind” he so categorically condemns (Dembski 2002).
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