James Tour interviews William Dembski

I haven’t watched this in its entirety. I wonder if Tour will challenge this pseudoscientist as strongly as he does legit researchers in evolution and abiogenesis.

Actually, no, I don’t wonder about that at all.

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Haven’t watched this yet but I expect the bullshit to be dialed to 11 on a 10 step knob. And to laugh a lot.

Edit: I have to eat my own words. It’s at a 12 and I am facepalming.


Okay so, Dembski says that in an “evolutionary search” (he’s apparently speaking about things like machine learning algorithms, and attempts to use genetic algorithms to solve optimization problems) they only work because there is some sort of fitness landscape that has been “set up”. Then he junps to the classic that the evolutionary algorithms only work because they have targets(and that this “target”, or the setting up of a fitness landscape, is smuggling in information), then gives the example of Dawkin’s WEASEL.

Then follows some blather about what he thinks she’s shown using his no free lunch theorem.

Tour responds by talking about how in his mind molecules don’t care about life(this phrase about molecules not having desires is repeated over and over again), and then starts blathering about how he just can’t see how life could originate because all the usual tropes, and then Demski and Tour take turns nodding and agreeing about how inconceivable life’s origin are to each other and nobody knows anything and molecules have no desires to move to life(no desires at all) and selection is like magic, or “like God to the materialists” (wink wink).

I wonder if Tour thinks water molecules desire to make ice when it’s freezing, or God has to help them do that.


At about 31:50 Tour starts droning (rambling) on about experiments in abiotic chemistry saying that even in cases where scientists are trying to do “hands off” experiments, they still have to buy the chemicals off the shelf and “they still have all this tubing going into the computers”. This really is the dumbest of all his talking points.

They are trying to recreate natural microenvironments in the laboratory, as they would have existed on the primordial Earth, to understand how they function.

Can we all take a moment to appreciate that a volcano, or a hydrothermal vent, or an ancient crater lake isn’t just going to spontaneously form in someone’s fume hood so scientists can conveniently study it under controlled conditions, removed from the influence of modern life and the extant atmosphere?

What would Tour have them do here other than to deliberately set up and create these environments so that the processes that occur in them can be explored and understood?

Does Tour think volcanoes didn’t exist 4 billion years ago, and that God had to sort of reach in and fart out volcanic gasses, because the Earth’s interior was just totally inert otherwise? How deep does this rabbit-hole of his go? Does God push every single atom in the universe around constantly? Is God wishing the Earth to stay in orbit around the sun, or is gravity a real thing in Tour’s land of fables?


At about 48:00 Bill Dembski starts blathering about Douglas Axe’s work on beta-lactamase, and he doesn’t seem to know even what Axe was presuming to show with this work. Demski characterizes Axe’s work as attempts to show the probability of evolving the beta-lactamase function from a protein with another catalytic activity(as in evolving an enzyme with one function into one with another).
But Axe was actually trying to show(at least in the paper) the probability of the de novo emergence of an enzyme with the beta-lactamase fold and function, which is a very different thing.

Now one problem here is that Axe and the Discovery Institute have been working hard over-selling Axe’s conclusions(saying it applies to all proteins of all functions), so I can’t help but laugh at the irony that the DI propaganda is misleading even their own people. Of course, Dembski could just be lying here but I suspect this just isn’t something he’s been following particularly closely and he’s just sort of trying to paraphrase what it was about from memory.

This subject has been discussed to death around here already, but regardless of which of the numerous different stories output by the DI about Axe’s work you go by, his work simply isn’t capable of supporting the absurd numbers he extracts from it.


At around 49:00 Tour and Demski’s eyes glaze over and they stare blankly into space at the thought that the chance of “all the non-covalent protein-protein interactions in a yeast-cell” having a combined probability of “ten to the negative seventy-nine billionth power”. 10-79 billion, Tour says. They agree they don’t know what to even do with numbers like this.

The technobabble in this last part is off the charts. They are having a Q/A section with questions from the audience, and some of the questions they are getting are meaningless technobabble from laymen, that sort of sound like they have heard something they neither fully understood or correctly remember, and Bill and Tour sort of just run with it and start blathering about random technical-sounding stuff of questionable relevance. The whole thing is ridiculous. This is the dumbest crap I have ever seen output by Tour, by leagues.

Dembski concludes by answering a question about Theistic Evolution’s compatibility with ID by rejecting common descent and theistic evolution, by stating he does not find the DNA or fossil evidence for this compelling.


Many thanks for this summary. Sending virtual beer.


As a palate cleanser, perhaps you’ve seen these videos?


That was my initial expectation. My initial intention was to not bother to watch, especially after reading your sequence of posts here. And thanks for those, by the way.

And then I started watching anyway. And the first few minutes were pure Christian apologetics. And I almost gave up at that point.

Actually, once I got past the first few minutes, I found it fascinating. Dembski, and then Tour, are both explaining in great detail where their thinking goes wrong. I’m sure that they don’t realize they are doing this.

I’ve been debating ID people for many years – no, not formal debates, but informal Internet discussions. And the ID people often accuse me of being materialist and reductionist.

So where are Dembski and Tour going wrong? Their thinking is far too materialist and reductionist, and that is what leads them astray.

My puzzle with Dembski and his “specified information”, was always that I never understood “specified”. In this video, Dembski at least attempts to explain that. And it seems that what Dembski means by “specified” is specified by humans based on our reductionist accounts of reality. But perhaps I should actually say “specified after the fact”, because Dembski never does point to an actual specification that biological systems could be said to be following.

That reminds me of when, as a child, I first tried to ride a bicycle. I just leaned the bike against the fence, climbed on, and pushed off. I fell a few times, but soon got the gist of it.

An alternative way would have been for me to look at book which specified how to ride a bike. And then I could have attempted to follow those specifications. But it could not have worked, because what was in the books at that time was wrong.

Where Dembski and Tour are going wrong, is that they insist on starting with a specification and following that. This is what I consider too reductionist. The alternative is to just use trial and error to find ways of doing something useful – no starting specification needed. And if you really want a specification, look at how you actually solved the problem as a guide to creating that specification.

In short, Tour and Dembski are looking at the problem backwards.


Yes it’s great work, and I’m happy to also say Dave states many of the same criticisms I’ve also done of James Tour.

Did you watch Tour’s whole series as well? I watched all but the last few, even though I didn’t understand much. I saw that in Dave’s responses he decided to reference papers now. :sweat_smile: I’ve only watched a few minutes but noticed within those minutes he doubles down on personal attacks on Tour and his “preaching.” I haven’t even seen that kind of behavior in the forum. And every comment on the videos is the same. It’s really gross. I usually like to listen to both sides…but yeah…it makes Dave look pathetic in a way. I haven’t work myself up to watching any more than that.

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Their worldview pretty well requires that they do that, however, since they believe the universe exist so that human beings would exist. In that narrow sense, they are less wrong than those theistic evolutionists (not all of them), who believe that evolution can operate in such a way that H. sapiens must eventually arise. Creationists at least understand that cannot be the case.

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Thank you for saving me hours of listening. As to Dembski’s “specification”, it initially looked as if he meant functionality that was positively correlated with fitness. And that he thought he had some proof that this could not increase. But after his 2005 paper “Specification: The Pattern That Signifies Intelligence” it became clear that one had to compute the probability that this high a level of functionality could be achieved by ordinary evolutionary processes. How does one do that? He doesn’t tell us. So the argument is:

  • We want to see if we can show that this high a level of functionality is implausibly improbable given natural evolutionary processes, so
  • We compute whether Complex Specified Information exists there, which we do by
  • Computing first the probability of getting this high a level iof functionality given natural evolutionary processes

So the CSI part is irrelevant, and he doesn’t tell us how to do the implausibility calculation.


Faizal Ali quoth:

I haven’t watched this in its entirety. I wonder if Tour will challenge this pseudoscientist as strongly as he does legit researchers in evolution and abiogenesis.
Actually, no, I don’t wonder about that at all.

Darn, for a minute I was thinking you might be open to a side bet …


You get the exact same crap from Tour, who accused Dave of not having a clue, and even introduced the whole Dunning Kruger crap himself.

They’re no different from the comments by Tour’s fans on his 14-part “course” series.


Full credit to @thoughtful , however, for readily admitting she doesn’t understand any of this. That already puts her a leg up on Tour and Dembski, who also don’t understand it but try to create the impression that they do.


I’m not persuaded that the reality isn’t actually the opposite, that they understand it perfectly well but pretend not to. After all, in between declaring that it’s all nonsense, one of Tour’s favorite talking points is to act out this totally ignorant person who just wants someone to explain it to him. It always comes back to the classic God of the gaps where we have to show how X, otherwise wink wink.

Now you will never hear Tour explicitly state that because we don’t known - therefore God, they leave their fans to play out the rest of this argument in their minds every time. And oh they do.

This has the fantastic rhetorical effect that Tour can always just deny having made a God of the gaps argument (quote me doing it, you can’t!) yet their suckling, abiding fans subconsciously do it every time: They come advertising Tour’s presentations after having watched them, as having shown life’s origin to be impossible.

When you ask these fans to show how Tour’s crap shows life’s origin to be impossible, they discover how they’ve been hoodwinked into this trap by their hero(they discover that to defend their belief they would have to state the God of the gaps argument explicitly), and so they run away instead. I’ve had this experience multiple times now when I’ve engaged people who are so infatuated with his presentations. They watch his presentation, come away thinking life’s origin is impossible, want to convince others of this so start commenting on different websites, youtube videos, and so on, I ask them to show how they got to that conclusion, they play out the argument in their minds and discover the rhetorical trick that got played on them and run away, leaving me without any answer. Some of them squirm for a bit and try to invert the burden of proof and demand I show how life originated, before ducking out and running. I can point to instances on this very forum where this has occurred.


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