Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Scientists Respond to ID

Here is an excellent example of a scientist taking on the claims of an ID advocate and pretty much leveling them. The University of Rochester biologist Allen Orr takes on Dembski’s No Free Lunch, a book that attempts two basic tasks – to apply the No Free Lunch theorems to biological evolution, and to shore up Behe’s Irreducible Complexity (IC) idea. Orr points out that Dembski is misapplying the NFL theorems and that Behe’s best examples of IC – the flagellum and the blood clotting cascade – have in fact been shown to be quite reducible, and that there are very plausible evolutionary pathways for the evolution of those systems. Orr’s critique is, I think you will agree, a fairly devestating one.

Dembski then responded to this review with an essay that is stunning in its total lack of engagement of any of the actual arguments that Orr made. His numerous arguments against Dembski’s misapplication of the NFL theorems aren’t even mentioned, much less refuted. And on the subject of Behe’s IC idea, he takes the position that all Orr has done is show how such systems COULD have been made, not that they WERE made that way. Orr’s reply to this is absolutely on the mark:

Dembski’s response is to point out that I have merely shown that IC systems can conceivably be built by Darwinism (a point he does not deny), not that such systems were built by Darwinism or even that they were probably built by Darwinism. I am accused, in other words, of having low standards: “Orr, along with much of the Darwinian community, is satisfied with a very undemanding form of possibility, namely, conceivability.” The problem with this is simple. It was Behe who posed the problem in terms of conceivability versus inconceivability. Behe said that Darwinism could not possibly produce IC systems. Behe spoke of “unbridgeable chasms.” Behe asked, “What type of biological system could not be formed by ‘numerous, successive, slight modifications’?” and then answered, “A system that is irreducibly complex.” The discussion has, in other words, taken the following form:
BEHE: Darwinism can’t possibly produce IC systems.
ORR: Darwinism can produce IC systems. Here’s how . . .
DEMBSKI: Orr has merely shown that a Darwinian explanation is possible. What a risibly low standard!

As I keep saying, when you look at the actual work being done, you cannot escape the conclusion that there simply is no there there. To paraphrase Clara Peller, “Where’s the science?”

Comments

  1. #1 John
    March 16, 2004

    No discussion of Dembski’s treatment of the NFL theorems would be complete without reference to the comments of mathematician David Wolpert, the co-discoverer of the NFLT’s, regarding Dembski’s attempt to apply them to evolutionary biology.

  2. #2 Ed Brayton
    March 16, 2004

    An excellent point, John. My intention over the next few weeks is to post a series of essays looking at specific aspects of ID, and this was on the list to post. Wolper is only one of many who have stepped forward to say that Dembski and his colleagues are misusing their work. That should send up a huge red flag to their followers.

  3. #3 Aaron Pohle
    March 18, 2004

    I look forward to seeing those posts, Ed.

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