Dr. Dembski has responded to my recent interview: Axe and Swamidass: Should Christians Embrace Evolution? with an article at ENV:
I stated in the interview:
Swamidass: “Dembski himself backed off from his book The Design Inference . He’s actually stated that he had it wrong in the explanatory filter. Are you aware of that?”
Axe: “He’s not backed off from the basic…”
Swamidass: “Yeah, I can show you the quotes later…. He’s even stated, I’ll give you the quote, that there was a gap in his argument. He doesn’t think the explanatory filter is the right way to make the ID case.”
Dembski responded, however, that I had him wrong.
In my book The Design Revolution , which appeared in 2004, six years after The Design Inference , I wrote:
Ultimately, what enables the filter to detect design is specified complexity. The Explanatory Filter provides a user-friendly way to establish specified complexity. For that reason, the only way to refute the Explanatory Filter is to show that specified complexity is an inadequate criterion for detecting design.
My position here hasn’t changed. I’ve beefed up specified complexity and developed it further over the years:
- “Specification: The Pattern That Signifies Intelligence” (2005)
- “Algorithmic Specified Complexity” (2014, w/ Ewert and Marks)
- “Algorithmic Specified Complexity in the Game of Life” (2015, w/ Ewert and Marks)
However, that is not the quote I was referencing. Nor did I claim that his retirement was evidence of his repudiation. In fact I agree, the issue is not his retirement nor whether or not he was repudiated. The issue instead is the status of the Explanatory Filter (EF). Here, I can’t reconcile Dembski’s article at ENV with this quote from 2008.
I’ve pretty much dispensed with the EF. It suggests that chance, necessity, and design are mutually exclusive. They are not. Straight CSI is clearer as a criterion for design detection." --Dembski, Vindication – The Austringer
In context, he is responding to criticism of the EF (Talk Reason: arguments against creationism, intelligent design, and religious apologetics). So that is important. He response to this legitimate critique was to back off from it, saying that he has dispensed with the EF any way. That’s just a fact.
It was good for him to do so, because EF has several logical flaws. See here:
The issue is that #1 and #2 are not an exhaustive list of all non-design causes. Until that gigantic loophole is closed, the EF is just not valid. This is important because (at least in principle) the EF can be invalid while the CSI is valid. By counter example, I’ve shown that there are large classes of entities that are not “designed” in this sense that come up positive. This logic seems to refute the EF in a straightforward way, and pointing to CSI is not a coherent defense for Dembski to offer.
Therefore, what Dembski says here is not accurate:
the only way to refute the Explanatory Filter is to show that specified complexity is an inadequate criterion for detecting design
In fact, on the surface, this claim is contradictory with his claim that he had “beefed up” the EF with his work in CSI. Why would CSI need effort to beef it up if the EF was adequate? In fact, it seems that any example produced by 4, 5, or 6 would be incorrectly called design when in fact they were not designed. THey would be “false positives” to the EF.
Now one objection often made is that all these false positives are in fact designed. After all, did not God create all things? And I agree. He did create all things. He designed Mount Everest after all! However, this objection is missing the sort of design that Dembski is after here in the EF. The structure of the filter is meant to detect design in a metaphysical context where some things are designed and others are not. If we rely on the doctrine that everything is designed…why exactly do we need to go through the song and dance of the EF any ways? Whatever the evidence, we can just say that God designed it.
(This is in fact is what Dembski is recognizing here: “[The EF] suggests that chance, necessity, and design are mutually exclusive. They are not.”)
So it does seem that Dembski did at one time back off the EF. It also seems that the EF has a massive logical loophole that has never been closed. It also seems that Dembski does not currently acknowledge any problems with the EF, but just redirects to CSI.
From here, it would be interesting to see how Dembski reconciles all this. It seems he had forgotten his quote where he backed off the EF. Can he contextualize it for us? Does he still think the EF is valid? If so, how does he deal with this logical error in the EF? Merely pointing to CSI isn’t enough, because the EF could be invalid even if CSI is valid. What exactly is the status of the EF in light of all this?