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Just so stories

By Pim van Meurs

Posted November 27, 2006

Many of us are familiar with the accusation by Intelligent Design activists that evolution and Darwinism deals in just-so-stories. For example, Behe, after the Kitzmiller ruling, remarked that:

On December 21, 2005, as before, there are no non-design explanations for the molecular machinery of life, only wishful speculations and Just-So stories.

Source: Whether Intelligent Design is Science: A Response to the Opinion of the Court in Kitzmiller vs Dover Area School District By Dr. Michael J. Behe

Similarly, Dembski 'argues' that

Evolutionist explanations are just-so stories. They are entirely speculative and do not qualify as evidence.

Source: Dembski, William A., 2002. No Free Lunch, Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, chap. 6.

And of course we see these 'claims' parroted by the faithful.

So let's discuss the concept of just-so-stories and why Intelligent Design Activists use this term to describe Darwinian explanations.

The answer is trivially simple actually when one understands the nature of the Intelligent Design inference. As long as we are ignorant about how something happened, Intelligent Design can claim that it must have been designed. After all a pure chance explanation can easily be shown to be quite unlikely in most cases. However, the moment science provides for plausible pathways as to how some system may have arisen, ID is rendered useless. Why is that? Because the probability calculations to infer that something is still designed require one to establish that the probability under that particular scenario is still too small. Since ID has been unable to apply its probability calculations to any non-trivial examples, ID becomes unable to do the work needed to support its thesis. So, when lacking the scientific tools what else can an ID activist do but attack the nature of the hypothesis as a 'just so story'. Unable to address and compete with Darwinian theory, Intelligent Design has to use the 'ad hominem' approach of referring to the hypothesis as 'a just so story'.

Let's just ask Dembski:

Dembski wrote:

As for your example, I'm not going to take the bait. You're asking me to play a game: "Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position." ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it's not ID's task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories. If ID is correct and an intelligence is responsible and indispensable for certain structures, then it makes no sense to try to ape your method of connecting the dots. True, there may be dots to be connected. But there may also be fundamental discontinuities, and with IC systems that is what ID is discovering."

Source

It's not ID's task to match 'your pathetic level of detail'.

So ID does really not that much after all, other than calling our 'ignorance' design. And some ID activists are still denying that ID is scientifically vacuous... Perhaps some ID activist can explain to us what ID has contributed to our scientific understanding?

In my research I ran across Just So by Odd Digit

One things that the attackers of science (including ID advocates) frequently do is accuse scientists of constructing 'just-so stories'.

This is first of all a deeply ironic claim, given that the ID advocates either are unable to or refuse to identify any candidate for a designer. Therefore the ID 'explanation' for - well - everything is: 'an unknown intelligent designer did it using unknown methods for unspecified reasons at an unknown time'.

It only gets better. And notice how ID activists insist that detection of ID is separate from identification of the 'designer'. In fact, as Dembski admits, the detection of ID need not necessarily point to an intelligent designer...

Before I proceed, however, I note that Dembski makes an important concession to his critics. He refuses to make the second assumption noted above. When the EF implies that certain systems are intelligently designed, Dembski does not think it follows that there is some intelligent designer or other. He says that, "even though in practice inferring design is the first step in identifying an intelligent agent, taken by itself design does not require that such an agent be posited. The notion of design that emerges from the design inference must not be confused with intelligent agency" (TDI, 227, my emphasis).

Source: Ryan Nichols, The Vacuity of Intelligent Design Theory

Seems that ID activists quickly have forgotten about this. Or perhaps they were not even aware of this.