Genuine Science Versus Dembski's "Z-Factors"
By Mark Perakh
Posted May 01, 2006
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
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
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.
examples illustrating the above assertions, I'd like to make a few preliminary
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
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
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.
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
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.
(1998, 2002) introduced the concept of the Universal Probability Bound (UPB),
which he chose to be about 10-150 . According to D>embski,
"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
If chance is
dismissed as the cause of the "close proximity," what would alternative
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
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 RaŽlians (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.
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
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 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
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
Intelligent Design as a
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
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."
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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
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
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).
Behe, Michael J. 1996. Darwin's Black Box, New York:
Simon and Shuster.
Chiprout, Eli. 1999. A Critique of the Design Inference.
http://members.aol.com/echiprt/dembski.htm. Accessed on July 25, 2001.
Cohen, Menachem. 2000. The Religious And the Scientific Aspects Of
the Debate on the Codes
Hidden in the Torah at Equidistant Letter Sequences.
http://members.cox.net/mkarep/cohen.htm. Accessed on October 15, 2002.
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