At Panda’s Thumb: An evaluation of Dembski, Ewert, and Marks’s Search For a Search argument

Tom English and I have posted at Panda’s Thumb a careful evaluation of William Dembski, Winston Ewert, and Robert Marks’s papers on their Active Information argument. We find that it does not show that we require a Designer in order to have an evolutionary system that finds genotypes with higher fitness. Basically, their space of “searches” is not limited to processes that have genotypes with different fitnesses — many of their “searches” can ignore fitness or even actively look for genotypes of worse fitness. Once one focuses on evolutionary searches with genotypes whose reproduction is affected by their fitnesses, one gets searches with a much greater chance of finding genotypes with higher fitnesses.

I suspect that most discussion of our argument will occur at PT — I have posted here to point to that post. If people want to discuss the matter here, I will try to comment here as well. But you can also comment at PT.

20 thoughts on “At Panda’s Thumb: An evaluation of Dembski, Ewert, and Marks’s Search For a Search argument”

  1. Alan FoxAlan Fox

    I can’t say I’ve noticed these papers being discussed at Uncommon Descent. On the other hand there is this.

  2. Joe FelsensteinJoe Felsenstein Post author

    Alan Fox,

    The talk by Dembski at the Computations in Science seminar at the University of Chicago was publicized at Uncommon Descent last September. The post included a full video of the talk, which concentrated on the Active Information argument and cited the Dembski and Marks and DEM papers.

    Dembski’s Chicago talk was even touted in advance at Uncommon Descent, twice (here and here).

    So these arguments are the main ones Dembski and Marks use these days, and they have not been ignored at UD.

    (The hatchet job on Tom English, which you cited, is a truly disgusting example of an ad hominem argument).

  3. Alan FoxAlan Fox

    Joe Felsenstein: So these arguments are the main ones Dembski and Marks use these days, and they have not been ignored at UD.

    The three post drew five comments in total, Joe.

  4. Alan FoxAlan Fox

    keiths: The UDers are still struggling to understand CSI. It will be a while before they get to active information, and probably a decade before they tackle algorithmic specified complexity.

    Yes, I hope Joe or you do not think I was criticizing your take down of DEM and their latest offering. I was just thinking it must be really discouraging for DEM to see their work ignored “at home” and trashed elsewhere. That the recent papers have not been promoted at UD or EN & V seems almost to suggest the DI just want to add published papers to the count but don’t want to draw attention to them because they are so weak. I’m not qualified to criticize the math but there’s no relevance to evolutionary processes that I can see.

  5. keithskeiths

    Alan,

    Yes, I hope Joe or you do not think I was criticizing your take down of DEM and their latest offering.

    It was Joe and Tom who did the takedown of DEM’s Active Information paper.

    I was just thinking it must be really discouraging for DEM to see their work ignored “at home” and trashed elsewhere.

    Dembski in particular must be disheartened. Every major IDea he’s proposed has been shot down. Ewert and Marks at least have careers outside of ID.

    To add insult to injury, the DEM paper misspells Dembski’s name:

    *Corresponding author: dempski@discovery.org

  6. Creodont2

    keiths,

    It would be wise for Dembski, Marks, Ewert, Sewell, and other IDiots to ask and pay people like you, Joe, Tom, etc., to review their gibberish before they make it public, but doing the wise thing is obviously not something they’re interested in.

  7. Alan FoxAlan Fox

    keiths: It was Joe and Tom who did the takedown of DEM’s Active Information paper.

    I didn’t mean to ignore Tom English. One reason I linked to Denyse O’leary’s egregious piece was the simple fact that she missed Tom defending Marks against over-zealous Wikipedia editors.

  8. DNA_Jock

    Uugh. I just looked at that “Shout-out to Tom English”. Wow.

    Is it just me (well, me and Vishnu…) but that piece does not read like anything that Denyse has written in the past year or two.
    Using my madd ID skilz, I reckon that piece was ghost-written. Any nominations for the real author?

  9. Piotr GasiorowskiPiotr Gasiorowski

    DNA_Jock,

    I’d put my money on Dembski. There are characteristic phrases traceable to his articles, and formal details such as the list of references not only follow the same stylesheet conventions that can be found e.g. here; they are copied whole, with the same abbreviations, etc. News wouldn’t be able to compile a neat bibliography if her life depended on it.

  10. Alan FoxAlan Fox

    That reminds me, Dietmar has transcribed the video of the talk that Dembski gave at the University of Chicago (referred to by Joe Felsenstein upthread) at his Dieblog

  11. Tom EnglishTom English

    Alan Fox:

    I didn’t mean to ignore Tom English. One reason I linked to Denyse O’leary’s egregious piece was the simple fact that she missed Tom defending Marks against over-zealous Wikipedia editors.

    If you think that she missed it, then you’ve missed her psychopathy. She studiously avoided any claim as to what I’d actually done. Look again, and you’ll see that her tactic was false innuendo. Just keep in mind, every time she holds forth on First Amendment freedoms in the United States, that she, as a Canadian journalist who feels no compunction about abusing them, is the worst of hypocrites.

  12. Alan FoxAlan Fox

    Tom English: If you think that she missed it, then you’ve missed her psychopathy. She studiously avoided any claim as to what I’d actually done. Look again, and you’ll see that her tactic was false innuendo. Just keep in mind, every time she holds forth on First Amendment freedoms in the United States, that she, as a Canadian journalist who feels no compunction about abusing them, is the worst of hypocrites.

    I think calling her a journalist is a bit strong, Tom. 🙂

  13. Alan FoxAlan Fox

    keiths: I just noticed that Winston Ewert has replied to Joe and Tom at ENV. I haven’t read his article yet.

    Thanks for the headsup Keith. Wonder what prompted Winston Ewert to break cover on Joe and Tom’s PT article?

  14. keithskeiths

    Some excerpts from Ewert’s problematic reply:

    Clearly, some configurations of matter are birds. However, almost all configurations of matter are not birds. If one were to pick randomly from all possible configurations of matter, the probability of obtaining a bird would be infinitesimally small. It is almost impossible to obtain a bird by random sampling uniformly from all configurations of matter.

    However, birds actually do exist. Given the essentially zero probability of such a configuration of matter, how could this happen? Considered in a materialist framework, the only possibility of explaining the origin of birds is a bird-making machine, process, or search. Something has to be in operation that greatly increases the probability of birds. The Darwinist will identify this process with Darwinian evolution…

    Whatever search or process might be in play, it must be highly biased towards producing birds. That is, it produces birds much more often than chance would otherwise lead us to predict. It is this bias towards producing a bird that we call active information…

    Having postulated Darwinian evolution, the improbability of birds hasn’t gone away; we’ve merely switched focus to the improbability of the process that produced birds. Instead of having to explain the configuration of a bird, we have to explain the configuration of a bird-making process. It will not do any good to postulate additional processes that produced the first process, as they will face the same problem. Ultimately, the fact that birds exist has to be explained in terms of the initial configuration of the universe. The universe must have begun with a large amount of active information with respect to the target of birds.

Leave a Reply