The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

Re: Design as a scientific explanation
Post of the Month: September 1998
by Ivar Ylvisaker

I've been looking at Dembski's paper on "Intelligent Design as a Theory of Information" trying to make sense out of it. I also looked at Dembski's article in the October issue of "First Things" and at Dembski's paper on "The Explanatory Filter". Here is my simplified version of Dembski's thinking:

There are only three kinds of "causes":
- necessity
- chance
- intelligent beings

Necessary causes are those that conform to scientific laws. Chance causes are those that are described by probability distributions. Intelligent beings are recognized because they make choices.

Of these, only intelligent beings can create the "information" that is necessary for life. "Indeed, information in its most general sense can be defined as the actualization of one possibility to the exclusion of others." "The principle characteristic of intelligent causation is directed contingency, or what we call choice." Note that the title of Dembski's paper is "Intelligent Design as a Theory of Information."

Random mutation plus natural selection cannot create new information and, therefore, evolution is impossible.

The choices of intelligent beings in the past are recognized as such because the possibilities that were selected are distinguished by "patterns." (Also, there must be enough other possibilities to make the same selection by chance very unlikely.)

That's the end of my simplified version.

I do not understand precisely what Dembski means by necessity, chance, and intelligent beings but this is probably unimportant. Wesley Elsberry proposed an alternative to Dembski's filter -- both filter causes -- that essentially added "I don't know" as an option. But Wesley's purpose
and Dembski's purpose were, I think, very different.

Dembski has an almost mystical view of information. Dembski's words suggest that his intelligent being did not invent the bacterial flagellum; rather, she "chose" it.

To me, Dembski's use of the word "pattern" is obscure. How does one recognize a "pattern" in a choice that was supposedly made hundreds of millions of years ago? It seems to me that an inferred pattern, in practice, is the same as an inferred purpose.

First posted 29 September 1998

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