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Charles Darwin  Erasmus Darwin  Leonard Darwin  Richard Dawkins  William Dembski  Daniel Dennett  Michael Denton  Alan Dershowitz 

William Dembski  (b. 1960)  PhD Mathematics  PhD Philosophy  Web  Amazon  LoC  GBS  AV

Even if we have a reliable criterion for detecting design, and even if that criterion tells us that biological systems are designed, it seems that determining a biological system to be designed is akin to shrugging our shoulders and saying God did it. The fear is that admitting design as an explanation will stifle scientific inquiry, that scientists will stop investigating difficult problems because they have a sufficient explanation already.

But design is not a science stopper. Indeed, design can foster inquiry where traditional evolutionary approaches obstruct it. Consider the term "junk DNA." Implicit in this term is the view that because the genome of an organism has been cobbled together through a long, undirected evolutionary process, the genome is a patchwork of which only limited portions are essential to the organism. Thus on an evolutionary view we expect a lot of useless DNA. If, on the other hand, organisms are designed, we expect DNA, as much as possible, to exhibit function. And indeed, the most recent findings suggest that designating DNA as "junk" merely cloaks our current lack of knowledge about function. For instance, in a recent issue of the Journal of Theoretical Biology, John Bodnar describes how "non-coding DNA in eukaryotic genomes encodes a language which programs organismal growth and development." Design encourages scientists to look for function where evolution discourages it.

Or consider vestigial organs that later are found to have a function after all. Evolutionary biology texts often cite the human coccyx as a "vestigial structure" that hearkens back to vertebrate ancestors with tails. Yet if one looks at a recent edition of Gray’s Anatomy, one finds that the coccyx is a crucial point of contact with muscles that attach to the pelvic floor. The phrase "vestigial structure" often merely cloaks our current lack of knowledge about function. The human appendix, formerly thought to be vestigial, is now known to be a functioning component of the immune system.    Science and Design  October 1998

We need to realize that methodological naturalism is the functional equivalent of a full blown metaphysical naturalism. Metaphysical naturalism asserts that the material world is all there is (in the words of Carl Sagan, "the cosmos is all there ever was, is, or will be"). Methodological naturalism asks us for the sake of science to pretend that the material world is all there is. But once science comes to be taken as the only universally valid form of knowledge within a culture, it follows at once that methodological and metaphysical naturalism become for all intents and purposes indistinguishable. They are functionally equivalent. What needs to be done, therefore, is to break the grip of naturalism in both guises, methodological and metaphysical. And this happens once we realize that it was not empirical evidence, but the power of a metaphysical world view that was all along urging us to adopt methodological naturalism in the first place.    What Every Theologian Should Know about Creation, Evolution, and Design  November 15, 1998 

Constrained optimization is the art of compromise between conflicting objectives. This is what design is all about. To find fault with biological design -- as Stephen Jay Gould regularly does -- because it misses some idealized optimum is therefore gratuitous. Not knowing the objectives of the designer, Gould is in no position to say whether the designer has proposed a faulty compromise among those objectives.    Signs of Intelligence  (2001)  p.8-9

Even if the intelligent design of some structure has been established, it still is a separate question whether a wise, powerful, and beneficent God ought to have designed a complex, information-rich structure one way or another. For the sake of argument, let's grant that certain designed structures are not simply, as Gould put it, "odd" or "funny," but even cruel. What of it? Philosophical theology has abundant resources for dealing with the problem of evil, maintaining a God who is both omnipotent and benevolent in the face of evil.    Signs of Intelligence  (2001)  p.10

Pennock is guilty of his own form of magic, however. This third form of magic is the view that something can be gotten for nothing. This form of magic can be nuanced. The "nothing" here need not be an absolute nothing. And the transformation of nothing into something may involve minor expenditures of effort. For instance, the magician may need to utter "abracadabra" or "hocus-pocus." Likewise the Darwinian just-so stories that attempt to account for complex, information-rich biological structures are incantations that give the illusion of solving a problem but in fact merely cloak ignorance. 

Darwinists, for instance, explain the human eye as having evolved from a light sensitive spot that successively became more complicated as increasing visual acuity conferred increased reproductive capacity on an organism. In such a just-so story, all the historical and biological detail in the eye's construction are lost. How did a spot become innervated and thereby light-sensitive? How exactly did a lens form within a pinhole camera? With respect to embryology, what developmental changes are required to go from a light-sensitive sheet to a light-sensitive cup? None of these questions receives an answer in purely Darwinian terms. Darwinian just-so stories are no more enlightening than Rudyard Kipling's original just-so stories about how the elephant got its trunk or the giraffe its neck. Such stories are entertaining, but they hardly engender profound insight.    Signs of Intelligence  (2001)  p.19-20

Is intelligent design falsifiable? Is Darwinism falsifiable? Yes to the first question, no to the second. Intelligent design is eminently falsifiable. Specified complexity in general and irreducible complexity in biology are within the theory of intelligent design the key markers of intelligent agency. If it could be shown that biological systems like the bacterial flagellum that are wonderfully complex, elegant, and integrated could have been formed by a gradual Darwinian process (which by definition is non-telic), then intelligent design would be falsified on the general grounds that one doesn't invoke intelligent causes when purely natural causes will do. In that case Occam's razor finishes off intelligent design quite nicely.

On the other hand, falsifying Darwinism seems effectively impossible. To do so one must show that no conceivable Darwinian pathway could have led to a given biological structure. What's more, Darwinists are apt to retreat into the murk of historical contingency to shore up their theory. For instance, Allen Orr in his critique of Behe's work shortly after Darwin's Black Box appeared remarked, "We have no guarantee that we can reconstruct the history of a biochemical pathway." What he conceded with one hand, however, he was quick to retract with the other. He added, "But even if we can't, its irreducible complexity cannot count against its gradual evolution."

The fact is that for complex systems like the bacterial flagellum no biologist has or is anywhere close to reconstructing its history in Darwinian terms. Is Darwinian theory therefore falsified? Hardly. I have yet to witness one committed Darwinist concede that any feature of nature might even in principle provide countervailing evidence to Darwinism. In place of such a concession one is instead always treated to an admission of ignorance. Thus it's not that Darwinism has been falsified or disconfirmed, but that we simply don't know enough about the biological system in question and its historical context to determine how the Darwinian mechanism might have produced it.    Is Intelligent Design Testable?  January 24, 2001

What about the positive evidence for intelligent design? It seems that here we may be getting to the heart of Eugenie Scott's concerns. I submit that there is indeed positive evidence for intelligent design. To see this, let's consider an example that I recycle endlessly in my writings (if only because its force seems continually lost on Darwinists). Consider the movie Contact that appeared summer of 1997, based on the novel by Carl Sagan. In the movie radio astronomers determine that they have established contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence after they receive a long sequence of prime numbers, represented as a sequence of bits.

Although in the actual SETI program (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) radio astronomers look not for something as flamboyant as prime numbers but something much more plebeian, namely, a narrow bandwidth of transmissions (as occur with human radio transmissions), the point nonetheless remains that SETI researchers would legitimately count a sequence of prime numbers (and less flamboyantly though just as assuredly a narrow bandwidth transmission) as positive evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence. No such conclusive signal has yet been observed, but I can assure you that if it were to be observed, Eugenie Scott would not be complaining about SETI not having proposed any "testable models." Instead she would rejoice that the model had been tested and decisively confirmed.    Is Intelligent Design Testable?  January 24, 2001

To establish evolutionary interrelatedness invariably requires exhibiting similarities between organisms. Within Darwinism, there's only one way to connect such similarities, and that's through descent with modification driven by the Darwinian mechanism. But within a design-theoretic framework, this possibility, though not precluded, is also not the only game in town. It's possible for descent with modification instead to be driven by telic processes inherent in nature (and thus by a form of design). Alternatively, it's possible that the similarities are not due to descent at all but result from a similarity of conception, just as designed objects like your TV, radio, and computer share common components because designers frequently recycle ideas and parts. Teasing apart the effects of intelligent and natural causation is one of the key questions confronting a design-theoretic research program. Unlike Darwinism, therefore, intelligent design has no immediate and easy answer to the question of common descent.

Darwinists necessarily see this as a bad thing and as a regression to ignorance. From the design theorists' perspective, however, frank admissions of ignorance are much to be preferred to overconfident claims to knowledge that in the end cannot be adequately justified. Despite advertisements to the contrary, science is not a juggernaut that relentlessly pushes back the frontiers of knowledge. Rather, science is an interconnected web of theoretical and factual claims about the world that are constantly being revised and for which changes in one portion of the web can induce radical changes in another. In particular, science regularly confronts the problem of having to retract claims that it once confidently asserted.    Teaching Intelligent Design  February 7, 2001

Scientists rightly resist invoking the supernatural in scientific explanations for fear of committing a god-of-the-gaps fallacy (the fallacy of using God as a stop-gap for ignorance). Yet without some restriction on the use of chance, scientists are in danger of committing a logically equivalent fallacy-one we may call the “chance-of-the-gaps fallacy.” Chance, like God, can become a stop-gap for ignorance.     “The Chance of the Gaps”   (2001)  p.1 

If we take seriously the word-flesh Christology of Chalcedon (i.e. the doctrine that Christ is fully human and fully divine) and view Christ as the telos toward which God is drawing the whole of creation, then any view of the sciences that leaves Christ out of the picture must be seen as fundamentally deficient.    Intelligent Design  (2002)  p.206

An object, event, or structure exhibits specified complexity if it is both complex (i.e., one of many live possibilities ) and specified (i.e., displays an independently given pattern). A long sequence of randomly strewn Scrabble pieces is complex without being specified. A short sequence spelling the word "the" is specified without being complex. A sequence corresponding to a Shakespearean sonnet is both complex and specified.    No Free Lunch  (2002)  p.xiii

Briefly, intelligent design infers that an intelligent cause is responsible for an effect if the effect is both complex and specified. A single letter of the alphabet is specified without being complex. A long sentence of random letters is complex without being specified. A Shakespearean sonnet is both complex and specified. We infer design by identifying specified complexity.    Intelligent Design (2002)  p. 47

Intelligent design does not require organisms to emerge suddenly or be specially created from scratch by the intervention of a designing intelligence. To be sure, intelligent design is compatible with the creationist idea of organisms being suddenly created from scratch. But it is also perfectly compatible with the evolutionist idea of new organisms arising from old by a process of generation. What separates intelligent design from naturalistic evolution is not whether organisms evolved or the extent to which they evolved but what was responsible for their evolution.

Naturalistic evolution holds that material mechanisms alone are responsible for evolution (the chief of these being the Darwinian mechanism of random variation and natural selection). Intelligent design, by contrast, holds that material mechanisms are capable of only limited evolutionary change and that any substantial evolutionary change would require input from a designing intelligence. Moreover, intelligent design maintains that the input of intelligence into biological systems is empirically detectable, that is, it is detectable by observation through the methods of science. For intelligent design the crucial question therefore is not whether organisms emerged through an evolutionary process or suddenly from scratch, but whether a designing intelligence made a discernible difference regardless how organisms emerged.    "Still Spinning Just Fine"  February 17, 2003

Naturalism is the view that the physical world is a self-contained system that works by blind, unbroken natural laws. Naturalism doesn't come right out and say there's nothing beyond nature. Rather, it says that nothing beyond nature could have any conceivable relevance to what happens in nature. Naturalism's answer to theism is not atheism but benign neglect. People are welcome to believe in God, though not a God who makes a difference in the natural order.    The Design Revolution  (2003)  p.9

Naturalism holds out the hope that science will provide a theory of everything. Certainly this hope remains unfulfilled. The scandal of intelligent design is that it goes further, contending that this hope is unfulfillable. It therefore offends the hubris of naturalism. It says that intelligence is a fundamental aspect to the world and that any attempt to reduce intelligence to natural mechanisms cannot succeed. Naturalism wants nature to be an open book. But intelligences are not open books; they are writers of books, creators of novel information. They are free agents, and they can violate our fondest expectations.    The Design Revolution  (2003)  p.9

The very comprehensibility of the world points to an intelligence behind the world. Indeed, science would be impossible if our intelligence were not adapted to the intelligibility of the world. The match between our intelligence and the intelligibility of the world is no accident. Nor can it properly be attributed to natural selection, which places a premium on survival and reproduction and has no stake in truth or conscious thought. Indeed, meat-puppet robots are just fine as the output of a Darwinian evolutionary process.    The Design Revolution  (2003)  p.11

Astronomer Carl Sagan wrote a novel about SETI called Contact, which was later made into a movie. The plot and the extraterrestrials were fictional, but Sagan based the SETI astronomers’ methods of design detection squarely on scientific practice. Real-life SETI researchers have thus far failed to conclusively detect designed signals from distant space, but if they encountered such a signal, as the film’s astronomers’ did, they too would infer design...Here’s the rationale for this inference: Nothing in the laws of physics requires radio signals to take one form or another. The prime sequence is therefore contingent rather than necessary. Also, the prime sequence is long and hence complex. Note that if the sequence were extremely short and therefore lacked complexity, it could easily have happened by chance. Finally, the sequence was not merely complex but also exhibited an independently given pattern or specification (it was not just any old sequence of numbers but a mathematically significant one—the prime numbers).    Intelligent Design  (2003)

Regardless of one's point of view, it's quite easy to see that Darwinism is not in the same league as the hard sciences. For instance, Darwinists will often compare their theory favorably to Einsteinian physics, claiming that Darwinism is just as well established as general relativity. Yet how many physicists, while arguing for the truth of Einsteinian physics, will claim that general relativity is as well established as Darwin’s theory? Zero.    Uncommon Dissent  (2004)  p. xx

When a valid criticism of Darwinism is first proposed, it is dismissed without an adequate response, either on some technicality or with some irrelevancy or by simply being ignored. As time passes, people forget that Darwinists never adequately met the criticism. But Darwinism is still ruling the roost. Since the criticism failed to dislodge Darwinism, the criticism itself must have been discredited or refuted somewhere. Thereafter the criticism becomes known as "that discredited criticism that was refuted a long time ago." And, after that, even to raise the criticism betrays an outdated conception of evolutionary theory. In this way, the criticism, though entirely valid, simply vanishes into oblivion.     Uncommon Dissent  (2004)  pp. xxv-xxvi

We have this going for us, however, which the evolutionary naturalists don’t, namely, the evidence and arguments are on our side. It’s therefore to our advantage to discuss intelligent design and naturalistic evolution on their merits. Conversely, the other side needs to delegitimate the debate between intelligent design and naturalistic evolution, casting intelligent design as a pseudoscience and characterizing its significance purely in political and religious terms. As a consequence, critics of intelligent design engage in all forms of character assassination, ad hominem attacks, guilt by association, and demonization.     Dealing with the backlash against Intelligent Design  April 14 2004

Increasingly, design theorists and their program are regarded not merely as misguided and  pseudoscientific but also as perverse and evil. In a quote widely attributed to Arthur Schopenhauer, “All truth passes through three stages: First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” There’s no question that we’ve now entered Schopenhauer’s second stage.     Dealing with the backlash against Intelligent Design  April 14 2004

As Thomas Kuhn clearly taught us, the old guard is not going to change its mind. By being wedded to a failing paradigm, they suffer from the misconceptions, blindspots, and prejudices that invariably accrue to a dying system of thought. This, in turn, limits their usefulness as conversation partners. What’s more, insofar as they regard intelligent design as evil, and therefore as something to be destroyed, they adopt a purely adversarial stance that shortcircuits fruitful interchange. As lawyer Edward Sisson points out in a book I edited, “A psychology I see everyday in litigation is that opposing lawyers are primed to reject every statement by the other side because there is no advantage to considering that the statements might be true. I also see that psychology again and again within institutional science in the debate over the origin and subsequent diversification of life.”

I’ve witnessed this psychology in the attacks on my own work and that of my colleagues. By any objective standards, the principal players in the ID movement are reasonably intelligent people. Phillip Johnson, for instance, graduated first in his law school class at the University of Chicago and clerked for Chief Justice Earl Warren. Jonathan Wells got double 800s on his SATs and was awarded a full, merit-based undergraduate scholarship at Princeton in the 1960s. Guillermo Gonzalez, though a young assistant professor, has over sixty articles in refereed astronomy and astrophysical journals. These are just a few examples off the top of my head. And yet, when critics attack our work on intelligent design, we seem to get nothing right. You’d think that somewhere, somehow we might make a valid point critical of evolutionary theory. You’d think that no scientific theory can be as good as evolution’s defenders make it out to be. Alas, no, the design community is entirely misguided and confused in finding fault with evolution.     Dealing with the backlash against Intelligent Design  April 14 2004

Our critics have, in effect, adopted a zero-concession policy toward intelligent design. According to this policy, absolutely nothing is to be conceded to intelligent design and its proponents. It is therefore futile to hope for concessions from critics. This is especially difficult for novices to accept. A bright young novice to this debate comes along, makes an otherwise persuasive argument, and finds it immediately shot down. Substantive objections are bypassed. Irrelevancies are stressed. Tables are turned. Misrepresentations abound. One’s competence and expertise are belittled. The novice comes back, reframes the argument, clarifies key points, attempts to answer objections, and encounters the same treatment. The problem is not with the argument but with the context of discourse in which the argument is made. The solution, therefore, is to change the context of discourse.

Hardcore critics who’ve adopted a zero-concession policy toward intelligent design are still worth engaging, but we need to control the terms of engagement. Whenever I engage them, the farthest thing from my mind is to convert them, to win them over, to appeal to their good will, to make my cause seem reasonable in their eyes. We need to set wishful thinking firmly to one side. The point is not to induce a cognitive shift in our critics, but instead to clarify our arguments, to address weaknesses in our own position, to identify areas requiring further work and study, and, perhaps most significantly, to appeal to the undecided middle that is watching this debate and trying to sort through the issues.     Dealing with the backlash against Intelligent Design  April 14 2004

In science, there are no raw data. Data are always collected in light of background knowledge and assumptions. These condition the aspects of nature to which we attend and from which we collect our data. Once collected, we interpret these data. At one level of interpretation, we see facts. At a higher level of interpretation, we see patterns connecting these facts. At still higher levels of interpretation, we formulate hypotheses and theories to make sense of these patterns. It follows that, as an inherently hermeneutical enterprise, science can never guarantee consensus, especially at the higher levels of interpretation. More and more, critics of intelligent design are outraged by what they call “quote-mining.” Accordingly, they fault design theorists for going to the biological literature to pull out quotes and ideas that support intelligent design. The critics are outraged because they see the design theorists as shamelessly exploiting the hard scientific work of others and interpreting it in ways that the scientists who originally did the work would reject. We have nothing to be ashamed of here. As Nobel laureate William Lawrence Bragg remarked, “The important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them.” Intelligent design is doing just that -- discovering new ways of thinking about and interpreting the well-established facts of science that pertain to biological complexity and diversity.     Dealing with the backlash against Intelligent Design  April 14 2004

The mountains of evidence are already there. The problem is that evidence is itself inherently hermeneutical, influenced by cognitive predispositions to interpret certain types of data as supporting/confirming certain types of conclusions. If one wears materialistic blinders, there can be no evidence for ID — hence the constant refrain by people like Barbara Forrest and Eugenie Scott that there is no evidence for ID. There is none for them because they have shut their eyes to it.    Uncommon Descent post  June 29 2005

The ID movement is a big tent and all are welcome. Even agnostics and atheists are not in principle excluded provided they can adopt this open attitude of mind. In practice, however, agnostics and atheists have their minds made up. Agnostics know that nothing is knowable about a transcendent reality. And atheists know that no transcendent reality exists, so again nothing is knowable about it. Accordingly, agnostics and atheists tend not to join the ID movement. Johnson is a radical skeptic, insisting, in the best Socratic tradition, that everything be put on the table for examination. By contrast, most skeptics opposed to him are selective skeptics, applying their skepticism to the things they dislike (notably religion) and refusing to apply their skepticism to the things they do like (notably Darwinism). On two occasions I’ve urged Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine, to put me on its editorial board as the resident skeptic of Darwinism. Though Shermer and I know each other and are quite friendly, he never got back to me about joining his editorial board.     A Man for this Season  (2005)  p.10

Court cases don't decide anything. If you look at the Scopes trial, who won that trial? It wasn't the evolutionists. The Tennessee law was upheld (barring evolution) and yet in the popular imagination Scopes is the hero. Inherit the Wind the movie which is really bogus history based on the Scopes trial has carried the day. These issues go much deeper than any decision by a judge.     Expelled  April 18 2008  53.04

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