Circularity of using CSI to conclude Design?

At Uncommon Descent, William Dembski’s and Robert Marks’s coauthor Winston Ewert has made a post conceding that using Complex Specified Information to conclude that evolution of an adaptation is improbable is in fact circular. This was argued at UD by “Keith S.” (our own “keiths”) in recent weeks. It was long asserted by various people here, and was argued in posts here by Elizabeth Liddle in her “Belling the Cat” and “EleP(T|H)ant in the room” series of posts (here, here, and here). I had posted at Panda’s Thumb on the same issue.

Here is a bit of what Ewert posted at UD:

CSI and Specified complexity do not help in any way to establish that the evolution of the bacterial flagellum is improbable. Rather, the only way to establish that the bacterial flagellum exhibits CSI is to first show that it was improbable. Any attempt to use CSI to establish the improbability of evolution is deeply fallacious.

I have put up this post so that keiths and others can discuss what Ewert conceded. I urge people to read his post carefully. There are still aspects of it that I am not sure I understand. What for example is the practical distinction between showing that evolution is very improbable and showing that it is impossible? Ewert seems to think that CSI has a role to play there.

Having this concession from Ewert may surprise Denyse O’Leary (“News” at UD) and UD’s head honcho Barry Arrington. Both of them have declared that a big problem for evolution is the observation of CSI. Here is Barry in 2011 (here):

All it would take is even one instance of CSI or IC being observed to arise through chance or mechanical necessity or a combination of the two. Such an observation would blow the ID project out of the water.

Ewert is conceding that one does not first find CSI and then conclude from this that evolution is improbable. Barry and Denyse O’Leary said the opposite — that having observed CSI, one could conclude that evolution was improbable.

The discussion of Ewert’s post at UD is interesting, but maybe we can have some useful discussion here too.

210 thoughts on “Circularity of using CSI to conclude Design?

  1. Creodont2,

    I believe, although I haven’t confirmed, that Joe is able (if not willing) to comment at AtBC. That might be a shared forum in which you could fairly engage him.

    If no one else here is supporting Joe’s claims, though, repeating them seems not just unfair but somewhat pointless.

    I’m curious to see how you’ll be tying all this together.

  2. Creodont2: That comment from joey and many others from him show that he is claiming that Shannon information is not only not “CSI” but that it has nothing to do with “CSI”, yet he also claims that “CSI” is Shannon information with ‘meaning/function’.

    Confusion about “information” is very common. And the confusion is not limited to ID proponents and creationists.

  3. Confusion about “information” is very common. And the confusion is not limited to ID proponents and creationists.

    Indeed. I’m confused about the concept. Is information formally defined in math?

  4. Is information formally defined in math?

    It’s formally defined in mathematical and scientific contexts where it is used. I remember someone posting a list of dozens of definitions of information used in peer-reviewed papers, but my Google fu is on the fritz today.

    Intelligent design creationists avoid rigorous definitions, of course, because such details allow their claims to be tested. That never turns out well for them.

  5. Patrick, it looks as though you missed this part of my previous comment about joey: “He also rarely if ever responds to my questions/comments directed to him at AtBC, where he does have the privilege of response.”

    So yes, I know that he can respond to me or anyone else at AtBC, but he either doesn’t respond or he responds with a whole bunch of insults.

    I also said: “I would post my comments directly to joey on his blog but he won’t let me, even though he calls me and every other non-IDiot a coward (and a lot of other false things).” He has blocked many comments that I have submitted at his blog, including a bunch of recent comments that I submitted.

    I’ll add that I have questioned/challenged joey at UD but he either didn’t respond or responded with nothing but insults, and I was banned. He can also respond to me on my own blog but he is too much a coward to do so even though he constantly calls me (and other non-IDiots) a coward.

    As I said before, I understand your sense of fair play (in general) but I don’t understand why you, petrushka, or anyone else would be concerned about my postings here of things that joey says. ‘ID’ is a major topic here, isn’t it, and joey is an ‘ID’ pusher, isn’t he? And since only joey is to blame for getting himself banned from here, why should I or anyone else be even the slightest bit concerned about being “fair” to him?

    Why is it okay to bring up, quote, and sometimes or often criticize other people (whether they are IDiots or otherwise) who will not or cannot respond here but it’s not okay for me to bring up, quote, and criticize joey? DEAD people who cannot respond are regularly brought up, quoted, and sometimes or often criticized here and I’ve never seen anyone here say that it’s unfair to them.

    To all: Who is in charge of this site and where in the rules does it say that what joey spews is off limits?

  6. Patrick, it looks as though you missed this part of my previous comment about joey: “He also rarely if ever responds to my questions/comments directed to him at AtBC, where he does have the privilege of response.”

    I did miss that. My apologies.

    To all: Who is in charge of this site and where in the rules does it say that what joey spews is off limits?

    I don’t believe it’s against the rules. I have just two criticisms. First, Joe can’t reply here so it strikes me as unfair to challenge what he says here (regardless of his documented atrocious behavior elsewhere). Second, I don’t think any other intelligent design creationist, at UD or elsewhere, takes anything Joe says seriously. If you know of someone basing an argument on Joe’s pearls of wisdom, I could see the point.

    Now, I am interested in hearing an IDCist defend CSI or some variant thereof. I hope you manage to get one or two to venture out of UD and come play over here.

  7. Thanks for responses re “information”, Neil and Patrick. I’m sort of wondering if there is a coherent group/type of things that can go in a set called information. Say I look at something. At some point the information is transferred from the scene I’m looking at to a pattern of neurons firing in my retina, so information about the scene is transported to my brain by a particular pattern of photons. So is light information or is it carrying information or is the distinction semantic? And information must be carried or stored in some medium, be that light, print, a memory chip etc.

  8. I’m sort of wondering if there is a coherent group/type of things that can go in a set called information.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that “information” should mean “Shannon information”. That is to say, “information” should refer to a sequence of meaningless symbols.

    I’ll note that it took me a long time to reach this conclusion, because it is anti-intuitive.

    I read a newspaper. The newspaper has ink marks (meaningless symbols). But what always seems obvious, is that it is the meaning of those symbols that matters. But that’s what causes confusion.

    What is really communicated by the newspaper is just a sequence of meaningless symbols (ink marks). The meaning comes from me. It could not work any other way.

    So, to your question, I say that light is not information, though it can be a carrier of information. But the semantic part of the information can only come from within. It is never in the medium. It is removed by the message sender and put back by the message receiver. And, of course, there is always a risk that the meaning put there by the receiver is not what the sender actually intended (hence miscommunication).

  9. Neil Rickert: That is to say, “information” should refer to a sequence of meaningless symbols.

    Meaningless, perhaps, but faithful to the original after copying or receiving. Fidelity is central to Shannon information.

  10. Hi Patrick,

    Sorry for the extreme delay but this is the first chance I’ve had to write a response to you.

    Thank you, I think I understand your argument now. Essentially you are summarizing Dembski’s math in English, focusing on the structure of his conditional statement. If my understanding is accurate, you are saying that Dembski’s equation for CSI means:

    “If known evolutionary mechanisms are not sufficient to explain some biological artifact (that is, P(T|H) is small) then it is reasonable to conclude that artifice (design) is an explanation.”

    Is this an accurate restatement of your claim?

    Thank you for trying to accurately understand what I’m saying. I recently took issue with one of your TSZ compatriots for seeming to intentionally do the exact opposite.

    In any case, you have very nearly understood what I’m saying, so let me reuse what you wrote and simply change/add a few words:

    “If known evolutionary or other relevant purely naturalistic mechanisms are not sufficient to explain some biological artifact (that is, P(T|H) is small) then it is reasonable to tentatively infer that artifice (design) is the best causal explanation based on the current state of our scientific knowledge.”

    There are only a few changes there, but they are not insignificant ones, as in some cases they speak to the points you subsequently raised.

    If so, I would like to address two points. First, P(T|H) can only take into consideration known mechanisms. We can’t calculate probabilities for what we don’t know.

    Of course, this is true, and I don’t know anyone who would disagree with you. This is why a design inference is always tentative. There is no “irrevocable design inference for all time”. A design inference is considered to be justified only after one has put forth due effort to consider all known, relevant naturalistic hypotheses and has been convinced that they are either highly improbable explanations for some effect or are for some reason incapable, in principle, of producing the effect (i.e. the evidence we have suggests to the one making the design inference that the naturalistic mechanisms we know about simply aren’t the right tool for the job). At that point a design inference will be made tentatively, allowing that future discoveries may reveal that the effect in question is actually not highly improbable on one of the previously known naturalistic hypotheses, or that there is some other previously unknown naturalistic mechanism that makes the effect probable. However, as I said before, the design inference, tentative though it may be, does not simply stand in as a placeholder for our lack of knowledge. Rather, it is the tentative designation of a causal explanation known to be capable of generating the kinds of effects in question as the currently best causal explanation available.

    I understand that you think “ID is nothing more than religious apologetics” but I simply don’t agree. I see it as proceeding from a different (and I think better) philosophy of science, which says that scientific knowledge should not forever be held captive to a priori philosophical commitments. If design is, at present, a uniquely adequate causal explanation for certain features of life, as some think it is, why should people be prevented (possibly on pain of losing their careers) from making an inference to design as the currently best explanation? If people are unconvinced by naturalistic just-so stories, why should they be forever bound to wait until the ‘correct’ naturalistic explanation is found? What if it turns out that there is no correct naturalistic explanation and design really is the right one? A refusal to ‘allow’ it as an acceptable causal explanation on philosophical and methodological grounds would permanently prevent us from recognizing design as a scientific truth and would instead consign us to eternal intellectual darkness, demanding that we refrain from making a design inference on the basis that maybe, just maybe, there might be some unknown naturalistic process out there that can satisfactorily explain (rather than simply explain away) effects that appear to be the product of design … and with no expiration date on how long we are required to wait.

    Conversely, because of the nature of a design inference, it does not close any intellectual doors. The design inference does not simply take the form of saying that design is the correct explanation. Rather, it makes the much bolder claim that design is a necessary explanation. Because it takes this latter form, and because the design inference is made only once naturalistic hypotheses have been rejected, a design inference is easily open to future falsification. If some naturalistic explanation is found that renders an effect inferred to be designed highly probable via some natural mechanism, the design inference will be overturned, because even though the possibility would remain that design was, in fact, the correct explanation, it would no longer be a necessary explanation, and naturalistic explanations would always be preferred where they are viable. This allows one to follow the evidence where it leads, when it leads there, whether towards design or away from it.

    Second, “design” is not a clear concept in the ID world.

    I’m not sure exactly how to respond to that. As I’ve said, I’m least familiar with Dembski’s work, but as I understand, he offers the most leeway in terms of what he means by design, because I believe he allows that the design may be the result of some kind of natural teleology present in the universe rather than necessarily being something brought about by a conscious agent. In this I think he is looking for common ground with people like Thomas Nagel. That said, Meyer and Behe (and I think Axe and Gauger) have been quite clear, as I recall, that they mean the activity of a conscious agent; the purposeful application of an intelligent mind to the end of achieving some functional goal. This is not some kind of obscure meaning of “design”, so I find myself wondering whether you simply mean that they have not been clear on what they think the designer’s actual methodology was for instantiating the design. If that’s what you mean, then they have still been quite clear that they don’t think this can be discerned from the present scientific evidence, though Behe seems to think that the design was front-loaded into the first life to unfold according to a predetermined design up to a certain point, at which time natural processes would then account for the less significant diversification that subsequently took place.

    As I noted previously, you need to demonstrate that known evolutionary mechanisms and whatever you mean by “design” are mutually exclusive and exhaustive categories. ID proponents have been remarkably reluctant to define their terms clearly enough to make that determination. You responded:

    Design is artificial. Do you not think that artificial processes and purely natural processes are mutually exclusive? If artificiality is part of the process than we are not dealing with a purely natural process.

    I don’t agree with that distinction because it presumes its consequent. If human beings are the result of “natural” (for lack of a better term) processes, then any behavior of human beings, including whatever you mean by “design”, is also natural. Artifice is thus a subset of “natural”.

    I disagree with your assessment.

    Even if we assume for a moment that human intelligence has ultimately sprung forth from an incredibly slow outworking of purely natural processes that had no goal, direction or intention to produce that intelligence, the fact would remain that there are still qualitative differences between intelligent processes and non-intelligent processes. For example, intelligent processes do have goals, direction, and intentions to reach specific future targets. They can do things in the present that have no value or benefit except when viewed in the light of future goals, and there’s no limit to how many such otherwise-useless things they can do, because intelligent processes are unhindered by non-functional intermediate stages. Intelligent processes can also purposefully adapt concepts for reuse in an entirely new context.

    In reality, however, the question of whether something like intelligence can simply be reduced to states of matter and its origin explained by reference to purely natural processes is precisely the issue under dispute. Intelligence is something that we know exists, and we see it regularly producing certain kinds of effects, which effects happen to display the same types of characteristics as the biological systems and molecular machines we see in living organisms, even if those happen to be more sophisticated than what humans can presently produce (though we do now have humans engineering molecular machines). That some sufficiently intelligent being would be capable of producing the kinds of things we see in living organisms is not really in dispute. What is primarily in dispute is whether an appeal to intelligence is necessary to explain these things. ID proponents think it is. Anti-IDists, on the other hand, think it is not, and say that natural processes are sufficient to explain … well, everything.

    In order to adjudicate this dispute we must at least consider the “normal state of affairs” and recognize that there is a clear distinction to be made between the types of effects that we actually observe intelligence bringing about in the present and those that we presently observe being brought about by unintelligent natural forces. Due to the aspects of intelligent processes that I mentioned above (goals, direction, intention, ability to overcome non-functional states, etc.), we’re not surprised to see intelligent humans produce incredibly complex pieces of machinery, like computers and jets, and ever more astonishing forms of technology. But what about when it comes to unintelligent natural processes? Would we be surprised to see natural processes produce a multi-part booby-trap out of purely natural materials, like sticks, vines and rocks? Have you seen the movie Predator? If so, consider the all-natural booby-traps they set up in that movie. Would we be surprised to see those traps come about without some intelligent being constructing them? I would.

    Generally speaking, we simply do not expect natural processes to bring about anything like the sorts of multi-part systems and machines that intelligent humans create. Certainly, if the complex biological systems and molecular machinery we find in living organisms, and even human intelligence itself, were brought about by purely naturalistic evolutionary mechanisms, then evolutionary mechanisms are utterly unique among natural processes. And so they are, say the Darwinists. In the process of natural selection acting on random genetic mutations, the Darwinists claim we have a natural mechanism capable of doing just about anything. Small changes that render a net benefit in survival and reproduction within a certain environment can add up over time in a population to produce any kind of complicated, tightly integrated functional system you can imagine with a degree of sophistication and efficiency that outshines even the brightest of human designers, programmers and engineers. In the view of ID proponents, however, this is (at least so far) an unevidenced assertion that relies on extreme and unwarranted extrapolations from very modest observations. What remains to be established is that any natural mechanisms, including evolutionary mechanisms, can actually produce the types of integrated, functional systems that we observe intelligence producing all the time. Until that happens, intelligence remains the only cause we are aware of that we know is adequate to produce these kinds of effects, even in principle.

    The application of the argument from CSI is based on what we know right now and the evidence we have access to right now. It is not unchangeable, but so far we have little reason to think it will change. We routinely observe intelligence producing certain kinds of effects that we have never observed unintelligent processes producing. Therefore, based on the current state of our knowledge, if we see these kinds of effects and if their production on any given naturalistic hypothesis seems highly unlikely, we are warranted in tentatively inferring that they are the product of the only cause we currently know of that is actually adequate to explain their existence, which is intelligent design. However, the inference to design is subject to revision or to being overturned if an adequate naturalistic mechanism is discovered, or if the effects are shown to be probable on existing hypotheses, or if we observe a pattern of naturalistic mechanisms routinely overcoming highly improbable odds to produce functionally specified results.

    So, given that we can only compute the probabilities for mechanisms we know about and given that “natural” and “design” as used by ID proponents have not been demonstrated to be mutually exclusive or exhaustive categories, I stand by my previous statement that your claim boils down to “If what we know isn’t sufficient, something else must have happened.”

    That provides no positive evidence whatsoever for ID claims.

    See above.

    Regarding the first point, appeals to unknown mechanisms are not helpful. They are a materialism-of-the-gaps argument that happens to ensure the gaps will never close. They are also irrelvant to a design inference because a design inference is always tentative. If those unknown mechanisms are found, the calculations get reworked and the design inference will be overturned if appropriate.

    Regarding the second point, intelligent and non-intelligent processes are qualitatively distinct. That the latter can ultimately produce even the capacity for the former is an unevidenced assertion. However, even if it is true, non-intelligent processes would still be subject to fatal restrictions that have no effect on intelligent processes, and so if one wants to demonstrate that they can both produce the same end results then one must show that the non-intelligent mechanisms would not have faced the kinds of obstacles that would have stopped them in their tracks and that all the changes that would have been required would have been accessible to those proposed mechanisms.

    ———–

    In response to your second comment…

    What exactly do you mean by “functionally specified information”? How, exactly, can it be measured? What are its units? How much functionally specified information is there in a ferret?

    That’s a good question, and it is an area where much of the confusion surrounding the terminology seems to arise … and understandably so. Allow me to quote my own words to R0bb from the thread at UD:

    I will say that I think your confusion on this issue is not entirely your own fault. Different proponents of ID have sometimes used the term Complex Specified Information in different contexts. But as confusing as it can be, it is also understandable because, for example, it is perfectly sensible to speak of something like DNA having Complex Specified Information even after making a design inference IF one is using the term “Complex” according to its more common meaning of “having many well-matched parts”. In this case, one would be using CSI as a descriptive term for one or more features of a system rather than as a calculated value of the system’s improbability on chance hypotheses. And if this is what one means – that a system has many well-matched parts, that it matches an independent specification, and that it has some kind of semiotic dimension – what descriptive term could be more apt than “Complex Specified Information”? Personally, I think this is the more intuitive context in which to use the term CSI, which is why I think it would be more helpful if the CSI related to improbability was renamed for clarity to replace the “complex” with “highly improbable” or something of that nature.

    I find the use of the term “complex” in Dembski/Ewert’s CSI to be problematic. It’s not wrong, it’s just not very intuitive for most people. Most people understand the term “complex” to refer to “many well-matched parts”, and that is how many ID proponents use it, even when using phrases like “Complex Specified Information”, or “Specified Complexity”, or “complex, functionally-specified systems”, and other things of that sort. This understandably causes some confusion, but I think it is also understandable why many ID proponents do this: it is the more intuitive and natural way to use the word. I try to make a clear distinction between the way I’m using the term “complex” when I don’t think it’s clear from my context, and where possible I just use the more intuitive, “highly improbable”, when that’s what I mean so as to avoid confusion. In this discussion, however, I’ve mostly tried to stick with Dembski and Ewert’s usage of complex (and have tried to explicitly state when I mean something different).

    Now, coming back to your question, I would say that humans produce complex, functionally-specified information. But your question asks what I mean by this so let me try to explain. Humans produce machines and other systems that are complex in the sense that they consist of many parts that fit well together in some way. The complexity of these fitted parts is functionally-specified in the sense that they work together as a system to carry out one or more functions.

    Now, I want to try to be clear here about what I mean by “function”. In some sense you can say that just about anything has or can fulfill a function. A rock can fulfill a function as a paperweight or a doorstop, as can a specifically designed paperweight or doorstop, but this function does not rely on any real complexity. A lego block can also fulfill a function, which is to be paired with other pieces of lego, and that final structure of lego pieces may very well be complex, but it doesn’t really do anything other than sit there. Conversely, a computer monitor or television consists of many well-matched parts that have been put together in just the right way to allow it to display a meaningful visual signal, and a printer consists of many well-matched parts that allow it to print documents, and a software program consists of very many lines of code that adhere to a specified syntax and work together to create the intended functionality of the application. It is these latter kinds of “functions” that I’m referring to. And I’m particularly referring to functionality that is objectively useful in a larger context. For example, a computer monitor decodes and displays a visual signal, but the displaying of a visual signal is only one part of a larger system and purpose. A monitor displays a signal, but it is not itself the signal. The signal is independent of the monitor that decodes and displays it. The monitor is not particularly useful without a signal. Also, the display of a signal is not, in itself, the ultimate purpose of a monitor. The ultimate purpose is to allow people to see and understand the signal and interact with or process the data contained in it in some way. In other words, the function of the monitor (displaying a visual signal) is 1) interdependent on a separate system and 2) is useful in the larger context of human activity (i.e. exists to fulfill an independent purpose).

    Now, you ask how exactly can we measure functionally specified information and using what units. I would say that when it comes to something like molecular machines, we can at least begin by looking to the genetic code that specifies their parts lists. There would be approximately 2 bits of genetic information per base pair of nucleotides (1 member of the pair specifies the other but there are 4 options to choose from). We may be able to add another bit per base pair signaling methylated or non-methylated where appropriate (and there are other types of epigenetic information, but we’ll ignore them for this purpose). On this basis one could determine the number of base pairs that impact the folding of the individual protein parts and their ability to do their job. This would give a low-ball measure of information in bits, since there’s also the matter of assembly instructions for molecular machines, which would likely include further epigenetic information (and perhaps further genetic information) as well. Nonetheless, this would give us somewhere to start. That said, I’m not really in a position to personally figure out those numbers.

    Now, when it comes to directly measuring the functional complexity I’ve been describing, I’m honestly not exactly sure what would be the best way to measure it. There are ways to measure the complexity of systems, but to the best of my knowledge there is no single way to measure this kind of complexity that holds across all systems. I’m not an expert in this area, so I’m not the best person to provide an answer to this question. And yet, at a certain point I think pretty much anyone would agree that something is, indeed, complex in this sense. Would you disagree that a computer, or a monitor, or a printer, or a car is complex in this sense, and in a way that is functionally-specified in the sense I’ve described above? We might debate whether or not something with three or four parts is truly complex (depending on how the parts fit together), but we’d likely agree that something that consists of 10 parts working together is complex. Certainly it seems very likely we would agree that something consisting of hundreds of interrelated parts is very complex. I think we’d probably also agree that a system consisting of several separate but interdependent subsystems, each of which rely on tens or hundreds of interrelated parts, is also very highly complex.

    To those open to a design inference, functionally-specified complexity of the sort I’ve just been describing suggests design, because it suggests that a top-down understanding of the whole system, along with its role in a larger context, has guided the bottom-up construction of the individual parts and their placement in relation to each other, which is to say that it suggests the system is the product of a process that is qualitatively different from the kind of mindless micro-evolutionary mechanisms we actually observe in nature and through experiment, and that the random mutation / natural selection mechanism simply seems like the wrong tool for the job. As an explanation, it seems inherently implausible and inadequate even without certainty regarding exact probability calculations. In this case, the issue largely becomes one of epistemic probability. The question becomes how probable one thinks it is that evolutionary explanations are correct given their background knowledge of the relevant evidence. It seems to me that this is the kind of probability people are often referring to when they discuss the probability of evolutionary explanations at the level of full-scale systems or organisms, but the degree of epistemic probability assigned to evolutionary explanations is determined by a wide range of lower level considerations, which can include CSI calculations of the Dembski/Ewert sort for lower level elements of systems or organisms, like the origin of novel protein folds, or for events taking place in an OOL context where something like Natural Selection would not yet have been acting, and considerations of things that unguided evolutionary mechanisms seem incapable of doing in principle, or consistent barriers to microevolutionary mechanisms that seem to be suggested by experiment. Of course, I do not speak for all ID proponents, and they are welcome to either agree or disagree with me on this point, but this is presently my own take on the matter.

    Now, relating all this to the issue of circularity in the use of CSI, I think it’s important to be clear on what any given ID proponent is actually talking about when they refer to CSI. For example, when I say that living organisms have complex, functionally-specified information, biological systems and molecular machines, and that I think they are therefore unlikely to be the product of unguided evolutionary mechanisms, I do not mean it in the sense that Ewert rightly identified as circular. I am not saying that organisms have functionally-specified information that is highly unlikely to arise by natural mechanisms and that this therefore suggests they are unlikely to arise by natural mechanisms. Rather, I mean that they have many well-matched parts that work together to fulfill a function, often within the context of a system that consists of further sub-systems, that this is a hallmark of intelligent top-down designs, and that based on my understanding of the relevant evidence, I assign evolutionary explanations a very low epistemic probability. In other words, I consider them highly unconvincing and unlikely to be true based on the observable evidence that is currently available to us regarding what they are and are not capable of, even if I cannot calculate an objective probability value for the whole affair. This is obviously a different use of the phrase “CSI” (or some form of the phrase) than what Dembski and Ewert mean. This argument is not circular, but its easy to mistake it for circular if you take the reference to “complexity” to mean what Dembski and Ewert mean by it (i.e. highly improbable). And yet, I think that in normal discussions, this is the type of CSI that ID proponents are often referring to: many well-matched parts working together to fulfill a function that is useful in the larger context of the organism.

    That having been said, when ID proponents do use CSI in the sense that Ewert and Dembski mean it (i.e. ‘highly unlikely’), they typically use it in association with events in an OOL context or where multiple mutations are required before any net benefit is produced in an organism. Both of these contexts relate to the P(T|H) issue. While it would be very difficult if not impossible to calculate the probability of a complex system having evolved through of a successive series of individually beneficial mutations, it is less murky to calculate the probability of a series of unrelated and individually neutral or deleterious mutations taking place and spreading in a population to ultimately produce a net benefit once all the necessary pieces were in place. Again, making these calculations is not in any way my area of expertise, but (at least) both Behe and Axe have discussed such calculations. Furthermore, the matter of needing multiple mutations factors into epistemic probability as well, since someone might determine it is unlikely that some complex system came about through a series of mutations in which virtually each one was beneficial and added to those before it to produce some kind of complex functionality (in a moment of unguarded honesty, Dawkins admitted that the belief that this actually happens and that such viable pathways existed for all complex adaptations is a matter of faith for him). There are numerous instances where this certainly doesn’t seem to be the case (Denis Noble, a committed evolutionist, refers to some examples in a recent lecture: http://musicoflife.co.uk/). Axe, Meyer and Behe have discussed other examples. And if one is correct in their belief that some system would have required multiple instances of several coordinated mutations in order to arise, then it would reasonably follow that the system would have been highly unlikely to have arisen through known evolutionary mechanisms. All of these sorts of things need to be taken into consideration when an ID proponent makes an argument involving “CSI”.

    On the other hand, we also know that we have never observed any natural process or mechanism actually producing any complex (in the sense of many well-matched parts), functionally specified system at all, much less one that is even at the level of sophistication that humans are currently able to produce.

    We don’t know that. In fact, we know the opposite. Known evolutionary mechanisms are capable of producing new functionality. If you provide a precise definition of “functionally specified information” I suspect I can provide examples of those mechanisms creating it.

    First, I referred to a complex, functionally specified system, not just functionally specified information. However, even when referring just to the latter, the term “complex” cannot be left off, though I will again use it in the sense of ‘many parts’. When asking whether evolutionary mechanisms are capable of adding functionally specified information to the genome, we would have to answer yes, in a sense. For example, if some existing functionality has been knocked out with a simple point mutation, it’s possible for a chance mutation to revert the code back to its original form and thereby restore the prior functionality. In doing this it has, in some very limited sense, added functional information. Such events are fortuitous, but not all that surprising or impressive. It’s kind of like having a pre-built machine with electricity supplied to it and all that is needed for system functionality to arise is for some final connection to be made between two points on a circuit board. If you start flipping pennies in the direction of that board until one happens to bounce into the right spot and complete the connection, system functionality will ensue, but the fortuitous fall of the penny conferring functionality is not what needs to be accounted for. It’s the fact that everything else was in the right place, all the necessary parts being present and each part being correctly related to the others, such that only one final step was needed for functionality to arise.

    Of course, there are other means by which functional information might be added to the genome, such as in the case of gene duplication, but in terms of information creation this is tantamount to accidentally hitting CTRL+V twice when you’re trying to paste something. What needs to be explained is not that more content is added to the document in the second paste action, but how the functionally-specified information that was originally copied arose in the first place; not to mention the hardware and software that allows for that information to be copied and pasted at all. The duplication does not constitute the de novo creation of complex, functionally-specified genetic information.

    And again, sometimes some regulatory switch will get thrown to allow an organism to do in one environment or context something that it already does in another environment or context. These kinds of things (and others like them) are kinda cool, but these are not the types of things that anybody is insisting needs to be explained by reference to intelligent causes, and they do not themselves provide warrant for the large-scale extrapolations that are commonly made from the very modest abilities of natural mechanisms that we actually observe. Decades of experimental evidence suggest that the mutation/selection mechanism is quite limited in what it can do, and that in the overwhelming majority of cases it increases the net fitness of an organism in a particular situation by blunting and/or breaking existing biological function. We’ve seen no evidence that it can give rise to novel functional body plans, consisting of novel biological features (an extra set of legs growing where antennae should be don’t answer this problem, nor do an extra set of useless wings that prevent flying, or anything else of that sort). We’ve never witnessed any unguided evolutionary mechanism producing a novel molecular machine. And even when it comes to what would seem to be rather modest genetic adjustments, such as converting the secondary function of a promiscuous protein into its primary function (and possibly losing its prior primary function), achieving such things seems to require an inordinate amount of intervention by investigators in the lab. Furthermore, long-term laboratory evolution studies have suggested that selection can consistently cause organisms to increase their net fitness through complete loss of genetic information even when a very simple, short, smooth pathway to increased function exists (e.g. one point mutation confers partial function while a second confers full function).

    It seems that the real problem anti-ID people often have is with the technique part. How exactly would the designer have done it? How did he or she get the right parts in the right places and in what order?

    That’s not the problem I see with ID. One of many problems with ID is that there is no evidence for any entity capable of doing what is claimed. There is no agreement on what this supposed entity did or when it did it. There is no evidence or theory for the capabilities of this unevidenced designer. There is no scientific theory of ID that has testable entailments.

    Well, apart from the case of Young Earth Creationists, you’re probably not going to get all that many disputes over when the designer actually did stuff. In most cases an ID proponent will think the designer did something relatively shortly before it showed up in the historical/fossil record, so there won’t be all that much dispute with otherwise accepted timelines. Also, what this entity would have done doesn’t seem like much of a mystery at the macro scale, so I have to wonder if you really are referring to the technique/methodology issue that you said wasn’t your problem with ID. Also, to say that there’s no theory for the capabilities of the designer is a little odd. There are no scientific theories for the full complement of the designers ultimate abilities, but basic logic would entail that the designer possesses the attributes and abilities necessary to produce the effects in question. We typically observe the attributes and abilities that need to be present in humans for them to produce comparable but significantly less sophisticated effects. One can reasonably infer that the designer would need to have similar attributes and abilities but on a significantly more advanced scale.

    Finally, the claim that there is no evidence that any such entity exists is also a little odd. The argument for ID is an abductive argument that infers from observed effects back to best causal explanations. There is plenty of evidence and argument for the existence of some highly intelligent and powerful being, ranging from the realms of chemistry to cosmology. That those who don’t want to accept the conclusion of such a being’s existence try to undercut or explain away the evidence by reference to unsupported assumptions, unwarranted extrapolations, or untestable flights of fancy does nothing to change the facts on the ground. These other theories and hypotheses all seek to provide an alternative naturalistic explanation to account for why things that give the strong appearance of having been designed for a purpose by an intelligent and powerful being were actually just the fortuitous result of interactions between chance and necessity. If those are the types of explanations people want to accept, that’s fine, but for those people to then turn around and say that there is no evidence for any such designer is simply disingenuous, or at the very least mistaken. Perhaps what you mean is that once we set aside the significant amount of indirect evidence and logical arguments for the existence of such a designer, we do not also have direct observational evidence for the existence of such a designer, as we have not actually seen this designer, we haven’t observed his (or her) literal footprints or found his bones, we wouldn’t know where to look for him now, or even if he is still alive. If that is what you mean, then fine, but that’s a very different claim. At present, none of these issues are capable of being scientifically investigated. But then, ID is about the detection of design, not designers. If design itself is the best causal explanation for some observed effect based on the current state of our scientific knowledge, then, at least for the time being, the inference to the existence of a corresponding designer capable of producing the effect is warranted even in the absence of additional direct, independent evidence of the designer’s existence over and above the observed effects that triggered the design inference in the first place.

    In any case, as you can see, it has taken me almost three months to find the time to respond to your comment (and next to Joe’s), and I’ve had to rush this response as it is and finish it now while on vacation. So I’m afraid I’m going to have to cut myself off from further discussion here at the moment. I’m sure you’ll have stuff to say in response to this post, and I’m sure I’d have stuff to say in response to that, but my time is limited and I’ve avoided participating at UD all this time because I didn’t think it would be fair to spend time commenting there while I owed you a response here. My primary commitment is to UD, so I’m going to turn my attention back over there after I finish my response to Joe, but I very much appreciate the polite discussion.

    Take care,
    HeKS

  11. Hi Joe,

    Sorry for the lengthy wait for this response.

    Fair enough. And I will be patient and wait for your response. Thanks for your attention to this.

    As for the contradiction between your statements and Ewert’s: let me be lazy and use your comment upthread here. You say that

    You don’t seem to have understood the point of Ewert’s “circularity” post, which was not an admission of any inherent circularity in the the use of CSI, but merely a corrective for those who misuse (or sometimes even merely misstate) the concept or argument in a circular fashion.

    Ewert’s “circularity” post was indeed such a corrective. It was response to the persistence and clarity of commenters “keiths” and “learned hand” (and a few others) whose efforts led to this. Ewert did not mention who at Uncommon Descent had made such circular arguments. Barry Arrington and Denyse O’Leary are two. Numerous other pro-ID commenters there have also argued that CSI is something that can be determined without any consideration of natural processes, and they have interpreted Dembski’s argument as saying that the observation of CSI establishes that there is an extremely low probability of that pattern being caused by natural evolutionary processes. Fairly clearly, on the 2006 interpretation of Dembski’s CSI argument, all those commenters were being circular — they could not establish the presence of CSI without first looking into probabilities of occurrence of the pattern under natural evolutionary processes.

    I’m going from memory here on something that happened a few months ago, but I believe Ewert did specify that he was addressing his understanding of a comment made by vjtorley. And while Ewert did mention keiths in the post, I’m not sure that I would say (or that Ewert would say) it was in “response to the persistence and clarity of” keiths. I don’t believe keiths ever gave any evidence of actually even understanding what Ewert wrote in that post, and having spent weeks discussing another issue with keiths, I was not particularly impressed with either his reading comprehension or his intellectual honesty.

    But let’s set that aside. In my rather long post to Patrick I addressed some of what you’re saying here. I agree that some ID proponents have spoken of CSI as something that can be determined apart from any consideration of natural processes and that this suggests the events, effects or systems containing CSI are unlikely to have arisen through evolutionary mechanisms. Nonetheless, in most cases they are not making a circular argument when saying this for the simple reason that they are using the term CSI in a different and more intuitive way than Dembski, where “complex” is referring to “many well-matched parts” rather than to improbability. Can this be confusing to the anti-ID crowd? Absolutely. That’s why I wish Dembski’s CSI used a different word other than “complex”. His meaning is obviously not wrong, but it’s also not intuitive. When you understand what those pro-ID commenters are meaning when they refer to CSI (in those cases where they aren’t using “complex” to mean “improbable”), then it becomes obvious that it is perfectly sensible to determine that this kind of CSI is present even without considering natural processes. Then, having determined that such CSI is present in some system, they conclude that the system was unlikely to have arisen through natural mechanisms because they believe it is improbable that natural mechanisms could construct functionally-specified systems made up of very many well-matched parts. And this they believe to be improbable because they find there is a complete lack of compelling evidence demonstrating that purely naturalistic, unguided mechanisms could do such a thing and much compelling evidence that they could not. But I don’t want to repeat myself too much, so you can find some elaboration on this point in my post to Patrick.

    If one tries to use CSI (or SC) to make the argument for intelligent design, one either engages in that circularity or one must calculate P(T|H), or at least put an upper bound on it. For biological adaptations that is hard to do. It is rarely even attempted by pro-ID commenters. One cannot simply establish the improbability of the adaptation under simple mutational processes. One needs to bring in natural selection as well.

    This is another instance where I addressed this issue in my response to Patrick, so I won’t go into too much detail here. In short, the concept of CSI, as it is used by Dembski and Ewert, is often cited in relation to OOL scenarios where natural selection is not active, or in cases where multiple neutral or deleterious mutations are known or believed to be required before any net benefit to an organism emerges, such that if natural selection is to be accounted for it would make the eventual adaptation less likely rather than more likely. While I’m not personally qualified to make such calculations (math really isn’t my thing, unfortunately), Axe and Behe (and perhaps others) have made the calculations in various cases. Both scenarios (OOL and multiple-mutation requirements) are more conducive to a calculation of P(T|H) than hypothetical instances (or assumptions) where each mutation confers a net benefit and manages to produce a brand new functional system at the end.

    Ewert’s acknowledgement of the circularity issue is an “admission”, because it in effect acknowledges that most attempts by pro-ID commenters to use CSI to argue for Design fell into such circularity. Ewert’s argument was not “merely a corrective” of a few misguided individuals.

    Well, Ewert is free to disagree with me on this, but I think you are mistaken. I saw him address a particular example by a particular person. I didn’t notice the kind of sweeping dismissal of “most attempts” that you mention. Furthermore, even if he did make such a sweeping admission, I suspect it would be rather premature, and would result from the same confusion that the anti-ID crowd suffers from over what these pro-ID commenters are actually meaning with respect to the term “CSI” (i.e. that they mean it differently than Dembski and Ewert himself mean it). But again, I don’t think Ewert was making the kind of sweeping statement you suggest. The term CSI has caught on within the ID community, but in most cases it doesn’t seem to me that it is being used in the same way that Dembski and Ewert use it, which I think has led to much confusion among the anti-ID crowd. On the one hand, I can sympathize with the confusion, but on the other hand I think much of it could be avoided if the anti-ID people paid more attention to what the pro-ID people are actually saying and the concepts they are expressing rather than simply noting the term “CSI” and jumping to conclusions about their argument on that basis.

    Your own argument that (as you say upthread)

    the argument is that we have not actually observed any natural processes ever producing the types of specified effects in question and overcoming the astronomical odds against them doing so, but that we have observed – and do observe – intelligent agency bringing about those kinds of specified effects all the time. [boldfacing by HeKS]

    is a statement that once we have calculated the probability of observing the adaptation and find it to be extremely small, then it is an empirical observation that we do not see natural processes making that adaptation. Do you see why this looks circular? Why, despite Ewert’s approving reference to your argument, it looks to me as if you are falling into the very circularity that he acknowledges?

    Yes, I believe I see the confusion, but not really how the confusion came about. When I made that comment, I was not trying to argue that certain things were highly improbable. I was only pointing out that even if something was found to be highly improbable on naturalistic hypotheses, the concept of CSI did not, by definition, logically rule out the possibility of naturalistic processes producing the effect. It would only say that design was a very much better explanation based on the current state of our scientific knowledge, but the design inference would nonetheless remain tentative. That is what I was addressing. Furthermore, I was speaking in the context of Barry’s initial challenge and the discussion I had with R0bb in the thread I’ve linked to here, which is important to understand, because I was actually talking about some hypothetical scenario where we have some candidate natural mechanism at work and actually observe it producing some functionally-specified effect that we know is highly improbable to be produced given that specific mechanism. If we observed that kind of thing happening, and especially if we observed it regularly, that would wreck the logic of the Dembski/Ewert CSI argument, such that even finding that P(T|H) really was low wouldn’t necessarily matter, because we would have evidence of natural mechanisms regularly producing highly-improbable functionally-specified effects. Again, my comment related entirely to the underlying conditional logic of the whole CSI argument, not to any attempt to establish that something was highly improbable. That is why my comment continued:

    Hence, the reasoning goes that if some effect is calculated to display a high degree of CSI on all chance hypotheses – or, put another away, is found to match an independent specification and also be astronomically improbable with respect to every known natural process that might be proposed to explain it – then design is tentatively considered to be a better explanation of the effect (being the only kind of cause known to be capable of producing it) than an appeal to extreme good fortune that would not be expected to happen even once in the entire history of the universe.

    And…

    There are at least two ways this inference could be falsified: [i.e., {Barry’s} challenge could be met]:

    1) A natural process could be discovered that shows the effect not to be improbable, thereby falsifying the claim that it demonstrates CSI; or 2) A natural process could be demonstrated to bring about specified effects that are highly improbable with respect to that particular natural process, thereby falsifying the claim that CSI implies design for similar and lesser degrees of complexity (improbability).

    So, again, I think I see your confusion over my comments and why you mistook them for falling into the same kind of circularity Ewert was speaking about, but I don’t really know how that confusion came about for you, because my comments were quoted and correctly framed by Barry entirely in the context I’ve just described.

    Anyway, thanks for what turned out to be your extreme patience in waiting for my response. I wanted to get back to you much sooner but circumstances kept conspiring against me. That said, I’m now going to wrap up my brief round of participation here at TSZ and turn my attention back to UD, which I’ve basically had to ignore for the past few months.

    Take care,
    HeKS

  12. Regarding the second point, intelligent and non-intelligent processes are qualitatively distinct.

    Actually, no. Brain behavior is subject to selection rules that are not qualitatively different from evolution.

  13. HeKS,

    You are still ensnared in the circularity trap. I’ll explain tomorrow, if Joe and others don’t beat me to it.

  14. HeKS, you are quite a devil. Not only are you circular while claiming not to be, you are also thoroughly disingenuous about ID while claiming to be advocating it. This latter point is more interesting.

    For example you fix Patrick’s interpretation of ID to say,

    “If known evolutionary or other relevant purely naturalistic mechanisms are not sufficient to explain some biological artifact (that is, P(T|H) is small) then it is reasonable to tentatively infer that artifice (design) is the best causal explanation based on the current state of our scientific knowledge.”

    This would be abductive reasoning, but it boils down to appeal to ignorance and change of subject, because the scientific community knows no such thing as “design as a causal explanation” or “design as cause”, while all known causes indeed explain everything. See, it’s not just that all known causes explain everything we know, it’s also that in science and in English there’s no such cause as “design”.

    When all known causes, including human(oid) voluntary and involuntary activity, explain everything, then there’s nothing left for “design” to explain. Nevermind that there’s no such cause as “design” in the first place.

    This is why a design inference is always tentative. There is no “irrevocable design inference for all time”. A design inference is considered to be justified only after one has put forth due effort to consider all known, relevant naturalistic hypotheses…

    If the design inference is always tentative – and as everybody knows, unexplanatory – it follows that it can only be put forth when no due effort has been made to consider other hypotheses. Moreover,

    I understand that you think “ID is nothing more than religious apologetics” but I simply don’t agree. I see it as proceeding from a different (and I think better) philosophy of science, which says that scientific knowledge should not forever be held captive to a priori philosophical commitments.

    Among the philosophical commitments you seem to be having in mind is the principle of causality. Since design is not a cause in any meaningful sense, it is not a cause of any effect. You at times say it is a cause of (some) effects, but you never mention any specific example. It must be because there is no such example.

    It is bad enough the way reductionist materialism distorts philosophical principles while doing its own thing, but you want to attract people to the ID camp with promises that even worse things are allowed in ID theory. Well, indeed worse distortions of reason and logic occur there, and it takes a certain kind of people to persist in this.

    Your lentghy explanations on how “complex” in CSI means something else than what it usually means while even with the usual meaning it’s still correct when used by ID proponents, but it’s a “misunderstanding” when used by ID critics, is brilliant. I personally have tried hard to see how possibly there could be any validity to ID theory philosophically or scientifically, and you here very convincingly remove any hint of intellectual appeal from it. Very well done!

    From now on I don’t doubt there’s nothing in ID but subversion tactics. This is also borne out by Ewert. Says Ewert,

    The notion of specified complexity exists for one purpose: to give force to probability arguments. If we look at Behe’s irreducible complexity, Axe’s work on proteins, or practically any work by any intelligent design proponent, the work seeks to demonstrate that the Darwinian account of evolution is vastly improbable.

    Also, Ewert provides examples of faulty arguments for ID,

    1. Each snowflake pattern is astronomically improbable.
    2. Therefore it doesn’t snow.

    Obviously, it does snow, and the argument must be fallacious.

    Plenty of ID arguments at UD have this form “Natural causes for this are improbable, therefore ID did it” (while the nature of design as cause remains undefined, naturally). Arguments of this form are of course fallacious, so Ewert admits,

    So Keith is right, arguing for the improbability of evolution on the basis of specified complexity is circular.

    Nobody can explain away this statement, not even Ewert himself.

    So much for the philosophical or intellectual merit of ID theory. As to the scientific merit, Ewert has said somewhere else,

    [Elizabeth Liddle] has objected that specified complexity and the design inference do not give a method for calculating probabilities. She is correct, but the design inference was never intended to do that. It is not about how we calculate probabilities, but about the consequences of those probabilities.

    This basically means to admit that CSI can’t be calculated, or even if it can be, it’s irrelevant to the purpose of ID theory. ID theory does not hold to the scientific method because it was not even intended as science, according to Ewert. So, HeKS, your self-flagellation concerning how you are not good enough to calculate CSI takes the prize of diversion tactics. You do as any good ID advocate would – weave a web of straws and ensnare, subvert, and delude, as if CSI really were a metric, as if design were a cause, and as if ID theory had some intellectual merit. You are the perfect pastor for the ID flock.

  15. HeKS, thanks for actually responding. As people here will have comments, I hope that, in addition to that response, you will read the exchange that follows, and make your replies here.

    Let me leave aside the issue of whether Ewert was or was not responding to keiths, as a side issue. Also I want to leave aside the Origin Of Life and deal with all the other cases where evolution is ongoing and natural selection is a possibility. I will leave to keiths the issue of whether or not he understood Ewert or dealt fairly with Ewert’s points.

    HeKS:

    I agree that some ID proponents have spoken of CSI as something that can be determined apart from any consideration of natural processes and that this suggests the events, effects or systems containing CSI are unlikely to have arisen through evolutionary mechanisms. Nonetheless, in most cases they are not making a circular argument when saying this for the simple reason that they are using the term CSI in a different and more intuitive way than Dembski, where “complex” is referring to “many well-matched parts” rather than to improbability. Can this be confusing to the anti-ID crowd? Absolutely.

    The term CSI has caught on within the ID community, but in most cases it doesn’t seem to me that it is being used in the same way that Dembski and Ewert use it, which I think has led to much confusion among the anti-ID crowd. On the one hand, I can sympathize with the confusion, but on the other hand I think much of it could be avoided if the anti-ID people paid more attention to what the pro-ID people are actually saying and the concepts they are expressing rather than simply noting the term “CSI” and jumping to conclusions about their argument on that basis.

    If William Dembski and the pro-ID commenters could just settle down to one definition of “CSI” that would certainly help. If they could decide whether complex means complex, or whether it means algorithmically simple, that would help. And if discussion of “CSI” and Dembski’s argument turns out to really be discussion of Michael Behe’s entirely-distinct argument, it would help if they pointed this out.

    I cannot put that much blame on opponents of ID for their supposed “confusion”. It should not be left to us to straighten things out, and detect that pro-ID commenters mean something different by CSI than Dembski and Ewert do.

    If we observed that kind of thing happening, and especially if we observed it regularly, that would wreck the logic of the Dembski/Ewert CSI argument, such that even finding that P(T|H) really was low wouldn’t necessarily matter, because we would have evidence of natural mechanisms regularly producing highly-improbable functionally-specified effects. Again, my comment related entirely to the underlying conditional logic of the whole CSI argument, not to any attempt to establish that something was highly improbable.

    Dembski’s post-2005 discussions have incorporated P(T|H) in the definition of CSI, of specified complexity. That term is the probability that specified patterns are produced, given natural processes.

    I cannot understand why you have us consider a case where natural processes have a reasonable probability of producing a specified pattern, when we are also supposed to have calculated P(T|H) and found that under those same natural processes this pattern is very improbable.

    I can’t put that together in my mind. And it doesn’t seem to me to be on my shoulders to figure it out. It may seem entirely clear to you, but a little clarification would go a long way for me.

    That said, I’m now going to wrap up my brief round of participation here at TSZ and turn my attention back to UD, which I’ve basically had to ignore for the past few months.

    I trust that you will ultimately find time to stop by here and straighten us out on what you meant by a pattern being both improbable and probable simultaneously.

  16. To the commenters other than Joe, you seem to have a really hard time taking a point in context or considering the entirety of a concept that is presented to you. Most of what you have said in reply is irrelevant and doesn’t actually address the points I was making. Isolating a comment from the whole to make it seem like I’m saying that ID is an argument from ignorance when I already explained why that’s not the case might be fun for you but it’s not helpful.

    To Joe, I was not saying that a pattern would be both improbable and probable simultaneously. I’m saying that it’s not logically impossible that highly improbable things could happen, or that something should seem to be highly improbable on a given hypothesis based on all our current knowledge and yet still happen as hypothesized, and perhaps often. The point that Ewert was agreeing with, at least as far as the present concept of CSI goes, was that the argument from CSI does not definitionally rule out the possibility of it being produced by natural mechanisms, it just makes it astronomically unlikely on the timescale of the universe.

    I have to run for now but I’ll check your comment again later to see if there’s anything further I want to address. I think there is but I don’t have time right now.

    Take care,
    HeKS

  17. HeKS:
    To the commenters other than Joe, you seem to have a really hard time taking a point in context or considering the entirety of a concept that is presented to you. Most of what you have said in reply is irrelevant and doesn’t actually address the points I was making.

    The point of the kind of responses you get is to point out that you contradict facts (of life, science, and logic), evidence (e.g. statements by Ewert), and yourself. Joe made the same point in a more civil manner. He is a good sport.

    And understood – you refuse to address the criticism, except by adding on contradictions and self-contradictions.

  18. HeKS: The point that Ewert was agreeing with, at least as far as the present concept of CSI goes, was that the argument from CSI does not definitionally rule out the possibility of it being produced by natural mechanisms, it just makes it astronomically unlikely on the timescale of the universe.

    Your problem is that CSI cannot be computed at all without knowing whether a natural process (evolution) can produce the observed configurations. There is no argument from CSI until you rule out evolution. And you can’t rule out evolution based on probability. that is circular.

    If you wish to rule out evolution, you need to deal directly with the biology and the biochemistry, and demonstrate it doesn’t work. No one except Behe has even tried.

  19. Agreed. Heks, perhaps you yourself could restate how CSI (methodology) is calculated? You may find the circularity yourself.

  20. HeKS:

    To Joe, I was not saying that a pattern would be both improbable and probable simultaneously. I’m saying that it’s not logically impossible that highly improbable things could happen, or that something should seem to be highly improbable on a given hypothesis based on all our current knowledge and yet still happen as hypothesized, and perhaps often. The point that Ewert was agreeing with, at least as far as the present concept of CSI goes, was that the argument from CSI does not definitionally rule out the possibility of it being produced by natural mechanisms, it just makes it astronomically unlikely on the timescale of the universe.

    Precisely. Dembski’s CSI argument (all versions of it) were about whether the adaptation (or whatever the specification is) was so improbable that it would not be expected to occur once in the whole history of the Universe. So one is not supposed to be showing that it is literally impossible.

    Your wording seems different than Dembski’s, or Ewert’s. You envisage

    … that something should seem to be highly improbable on a given hypothesis based on all our current knowledge and yet still happen as hypothesized, and perhaps often.

    Yes, that situation can happen, if our knowledge is imperfect. Upon being made aware of it, we (or Dembski) would then modify our assessment that the pattern contained CSI. So it would still be true that assessing whether a pattern is so improbable under natural processes of evolution as to be implausible is something you do before declaring it to have CSI.

    And hence that seeing CSI is not the way you decide whether the pattern is implausible under natural processes. To do that is to be circular.

  21. HeKS,

    The circularity should be obvious by now, but in case it isn’t:

    1. If P(T|H) is tiny enough, then the specified target T exhibits CSI.
    2. If T exhibits CSI, we can conclude that P(T|H) is tiny enough.

    To attribute CSI to T, you have to place an upper bound on P(T|H). Therefore, using the presence of CSI to conclude that P(T|H) is small enough is a circular argument.

    That is precisely what Winston Ewert was acknowledging when he wrote:

    So Keith is right, arguing for the improbability of evolution on the basis of specified complexity is circular.

  22. Keith,

    It is truly shocking to me how incapable you are of keeping an argument straight, or keeping different arguments separated. You are doing here exactly what you did in our last discussion.

    You said:

    The circularity should be obvious by now, but in case it isn’t:

    1. If P(T|H) is tiny enough, then the specified target T exhibits CSI.
    2. If T exhibits CSI, we can conclude that P(T|H) is tiny enough.

    What should be obvious to you is that you have here combined two different arguments that use the term CSI in two different ways. It should be obvious because I just spent a lot of time explaining it in some detail.

    Your (1) represents the CSI argument used by Dembski/Ewert where “complex” means “highly improbable”. Your (2) represents the argument that uses ‘CSI’ in the alternate meaning that is common among many if not most ID proponents other than Dembski and Ewert, which is the one where “complex” means “many well-matched parts”.

    This second argument can refer to cases, for example, where our knowledge suggests that multiple coordinated (i.e. well-matched) changes that are individually neutral or deleterious would be required before a net benefit was conferred upon an organism to make the whole affair more likely to be preserved by Natural Selection rather than eliminated by it. When that state of affairs is found, it suggests that what you’re looking at is unlikely to have come about through, for example, neo-Darwinian evolutionary mechanisms, because we have no reason to think that they could simply ‘power through’ multiple non-functional intermediate states. This is not a circular argument. One does not need to calculate a probability for the naturalistic evolution of some system in order to recognize that the system itself possesses certain features or characteristics (like CSI in the second, ‘well-matched parts’ meaning of the term) that make it seem unlikely, in principle, to arise through known evolutionary mechanisms due to evidently requiring precisely the type of things that those mechanisms are not particularly good at.

    ID proponents really do use the term “CSI”, or some form of it, with two different senses, and if you actually read what an ID proponent is saying and arguing when it comes to CSI, it’s usually not too difficult to figure out the sense in which they mean it.

  23. Hi Joe,

    Your wording seems different than Dembski’s, or Ewert’s. You envisage

    … that something should seem to be highly improbable on a given hypothesis based on all our current knowledge and yet still happen as hypothesized, and perhaps often.

    Yes, that situation can happen, if our knowledge is imperfect. Upon being made aware of it, we (or Dembski) would then modify our assessment that the pattern contained CSI.

    In the second case, that it happened often, that would probably be true. But it would not need to be true if it happened occasionally that some specific natural process produced a functionally-specified effect that was highly improbable – but not actually impossible – given that process. The fact that some effect or event would be unlikely to happen through a given process even once in the entire history of the universe doesn’t mean it’s impossible that it would happen once, or maybe even twice in the history of the universe. Heck, maybe even three times. Reality tends to fit statistical probability fairly well, but it doesn’t follow it like it’s some kind of absolute and unbreakable rule. For example, in poker you should only expect to be dealt a Royal Flush once in about 650,000 hands. Needless to say, in most games, the hand never turns up. You can go dozens or even hundreds of games without seeing a Royal Flush. And yet, I’ve seen a first-time poker player be dealt a Royal Flush in his first few hands of playing poker, and I once saw it come up twice in a single game, but of all the hands I’ve ever played, I believe those were the only three times I’ve ever seen it dealt. I’ve played less than 650,000 hands of poker in my life. In fact, I haven’t even seen that many hands of poker dealt in my life. And yet I’ve seen a Royal Flush come up a few times. Still, statistical probabilities being what they are, I wouldn’t be surprised if I never saw one again. Every now and then highly unlikely things happen even though the odds are greatly stacked against them. It can happen. What pretty much never happens, though, is for those odds to be grossly violated over and over.

    That said, I need to stress again that here we are only talking about claims that saying Dembski-CSI is present in some effect or system means, by definition, that it would be impossible for that effect or system to have come about by natural mechanisms. Both Ewert and I are saying that is not the case. Rather, saying that Dembski-CSI is present is saying that the effect or system has been calculated to be astronomically improbable given all known, relevant naturalistic hypotheses and that, having the hallmarks we associate with intelligent design, it much better fits an hypothesis of design. That is what it means. Actually determining the improbability is separate from the conditional logic and meaning of the claim and calculating such a probability (at least roughly) must precede the actual determination that Dembski-CSI is present.

    So it would still be true that assessing whether a pattern is so improbable under natural processes of evolution as to be implausible is something you do before declaring it to have CSI.

    I agree. I’m not sure why you think I’ve said otherwise. Again, I think you understood my original comment that you referenced in a sense and context that I did not mean it and I think that is causing ongoing confusion as to what I’m actually saying here. My original comment was about the logic and meaning of the Dembski-CSI argument and Barry’s challenge on UD. Ewert understood that and he agreed with my point. My comment that you referenced was not about trying to establish whether something was or was not highly improbable on a naturalistic hypothesis.

    And hence that seeing CSI is not the way you decide whether the pattern is implausible under natural processes. To do that is to be circular.

    I agree. That would be circular if you’re talking about the Dembski-CSI. It would not be circular, however, if you’re talking about the alternative-CSI that many ID proponents are talking about, and I laid out that argument in my long post to Patrick above.

    Take care,
    HeKS

  24. Hi Richard,

    Richardthughes:
    Agreed. Heks, perhaps you yourself could restate how CSI (methodology) is calculated? You may find the circularity yourself.

    I already addressed the methodology and logic of the Dembski/Ewert CSI argument in great detail at UD in a thread that I linked to in an earlier comment here. I see no reason to duplicate my efforts when you can just click over there and read it. Furthermore, you seem to be suggesting that there’s circularity in the actual calculation of CSI, but I’m not sure where you’re coming up with that. The claim so far has not been that the calculation is circular but that’s it’s essentially impossible when something like Natural Selection is on the table. What is claimed to be circular is the method of determining that CSI is actually present. While a few people may have been genuinely guilty of making such a circular argument, the majority of people are simply using the term ‘CSI’ to refer to a different concept than Dembski and Ewert mean by it. Specifically, they are using the term “Complex Specified Information”, or some form of that term, in a way that uses “complex” according to its more standard meaning of “many well-matched parts” and are arguing that when this sort of CSI is found to be an attribute of a system, they believe the system is unlikely to have come about through known evolutionary mechanisms because the attribute or state-of-affairs that it describes is one that seems to be highly difficult if not functionally impossible for those mechanisms to achieve, in principle, because of the way those mechanisms function.

    Now, in response to this form of CSI argument, you could always try to argue that nothing is highly difficult or functionally impossible for known evolutionary mechanisms to achieve in principle, or that the systems in question don’t actually display this type of CSI after all, but the argument from this kind of ‘CSI’ doesn’t require that the improbability be calculated prior to determining that it is present, and arguing from it being present in a system to the system being improbable on evolutionary hypotheses is not circular. If you fail to distinguish between the types of ‘CSI’ that ID proponents talk about, you will forever be hopelessly confused.

    HeKS

  25. It’s not mushy, Richard. The term ‘CSI’ is used by members of the ID community in two different senses, both of which are pretty clearly defined and easy to understand. I think Dembski got there first with a term that uses the word “complex” in a technical sense meaning “highly improbable”. Later, other ID proponents found the term, or a form of it, to be useful to describe a different but related concept that uses the word “complex” according to its more common meaning. They are not trying to change Dembski’s meaning or his argument. They are simply using the terminology in a different way to describe a different thing. It can be slightly confusing if you’re not paying attention, but it’s really not that complicated and it’s certainly not mushy.

  26. Well we may have different ideas of mushy. Do you think it is:

    Empirical
    Calculable
    Conceptual

    ?

  27. HeKS:

    That said, I need to stress again that here we are only talking about claims that saying Dembski-CSI is present in some effect or system means, by definition, that it would be impossible for that effect or system to have come about by natural mechanisms. Both Ewert and I are saying that is not the case. Rather, saying that Dembski-CSI is present is saying that the effect or system has been calculated to be astronomically improbable given all known, relevant naturalistic hypotheses and that, having the hallmarks we associate with intelligent design, it much better fits an hypothesis of design. That is what it means. Actually determining the improbability is separate from the conditional logic and meaning of the claim and calculating such a probability (at least roughly) must precede the actual determination that Dembski-CSI is present.

    I agree. I’m not sure why you think I’ve said otherwise. Again, I think you understood my original comment that you referenced in a sense and context that I did not mean it and I think that is causing ongoing confusion as to what I’m actually saying here. My original comment was about the logic and meaning of the Dembski-CSI argument and Barry’s challenge on UD. Ewert understood that and he agreed with my point. My comment that you referenced was not about trying to establish whether something was or was not highly improbable on a naturalistic hypothesis.

    I have been clear about Dembski’s post-2006 CSI definition requiring improbability that natural processes can bring about the adaptation, not absolute impossibility. And the circularity still is there if someone uses that definition of CSI but claims that observing it shows that bringing about the adaptation by natural processes is highly improbable. You are acknowledging that.

    I agree. That would be circular if you’re talking about the Dembski-CSI. It would not be circular, however, if you’re talking about the alternative-CSI that many ID proponents are talking about, and I laid out that argument in my long post to Patrick above.

    I see three CSIs, not two:

    1. Dembski’s original 2001 CSI, which had no term for the calculation of the probability that the adaptation could be produced by natural processes. What it had was a supposed Law of Conservation of Complex Specified Information, which claimed to prove that if you didn’t start with CSI, natural evolutionary processes couldn’t get you there. Alas, the Law didn’t work, as Elsberry and Shallit (2002) showed, and as I (2007) showed in a different way. The Law is rarely mentioned these days by ID proponents.

    2. Dembski’s 2005-2006 version which has the P(T|H) term. That requires us to compute that number and show that it is tiny in order to declare CSI to be present. Use of this definition to prove that the number is tiny is what is circular.

    3. The CSI that you argue is one many ID proponents are using. I am not sure how we know that natural selection, among other evolutionary forces, cannot get us to CSI, if that is the CSI. I will give you the benefit of the doubt — perhaps there is such a “CSI” and lots of people are referencing it. But how that CSI behaves I know not.

    When Barry or Denyse argue that when we observe CSI, that this is a problem for “Darwinian” evolution, I think that they are thinking of CSI #1, not #3. They just haven’t got the word about the P(T|H) term, or its implications.

  28. Joe Felsenstein: I have been clear about Dembski’s post-2006 CSI definition requiring improbability that natural processes can bring about the adaptation, not absolute impossibility.

    That may well be, but let’s not forget that our discussion here started because you referenced a comment I made at UD and said that it actually contradicted Ewert’s statements even though he said he agreed with it. In that comment, I was addressing a claim that had been made to the effect that declaring Dembski-CSI to be present meant, by definition, that it was actually impossible for any naturalistic process to bring about the thing that was claimed to have Dembski-CSI and so Barry’s challenge at UD was meaningless and impossible by definition. You may think that claim is false, in which case we agree, but I was responding to someone who was advocating that position. When you referenced that comment here, you seemed to think I was somehow arguing that some event or system having Dembski-CSI made it highly improbable on any naturalistic hypothesis, which was not what I was saying, and we all agree that kind of argument would be circular.

    And the circularity still is there if someone uses that definition of CSI but claims that observing it shows that bringing about the adaptation by natural processes is highly improbable.You are acknowledging that.

    Sure. I’ve never not acknowledged that.

    I see three CSIs, not two:

    1. Dembski’s original 2001 CSI, which had no term for the calculation of the probability that the adaptation could be produced by natural processes.What it had was a supposed Law of Conservation of Complex Specified Information, which claimed to prove that if you didn’t start with CSI, natural evolutionary processes couldn’t get you there.Alas, the Law didn’t work, as Elsberry and Shallit (2002) showed, and as I (2007) showed in a different way.The Law is rarely mentioned these days by ID proponents.

    And, of course, Ewert has significantly disagreed with your assessment, as well as with that of Elsberry and Shallit. But that’s a conversation for you to have with him.

    2. Dembski’s 2005-2006 version which has the P(T|H) term.That requires us to compute that number and show that it is tiny in order to declare CSI to be present.Use of this definition to prove that the number is tiny is what is circular.

    Agreed. I’m not sure that anyone actually disagrees with this. Certainly not on any significant scale. It’s rather obvious as soon as you grasp the basic concept of Dembski-CSI.

    3. The CSI that you argue is one many ID proponents are using.I am not sure how we know that natural selection, among other evolutionary forces, cannot get us to CSI, if that is the CSI.I will give you the benefit of the doubt — perhaps there is such a “CSI” and lots of people are referencing it.But how that CSI behaves I know not.

    Well, I’ve explained what is meant by this use of ‘CSI’ multiple times in this thread, so I’m not entirely sure which aspect of it is still unclear to you.

    The reality of the matter is that we cannot observe exactly what happened in the distant past. We can only observe how certain evolutionary forces appear to work based on the time we’ve spent observing and testing them in the present and the relatively recent past. Based on what we find we make certain extrapolations about what they likely could accomplish and what would seem to be beyond their grasp. As such, epistemic probability plays a significant role here. If our extrapolations lead us to decide that virtually nothing is beyond their grasp and there is no hurdle or state of affairs that they could not overcome, then we’re going to be inclined to assign evolutionary explanations a very high epistemic probability value pretty much all the time. On the other hand, if our extrapolations are more modest and we determine from our understanding of the evidence that there are certain things that would cause serious in-principle problems for known evolutionary mechanisms, we’re going to be inclined to assign evolutionary explanations low epistemic probability values when those conditions are thought to have been present. Furthermore, when it comes to this second group, it must still be determined whether those problematic circumstances are thought to have ever actually been present. If someone thinks they weren’t, then they, like the first group, will assign high epistemic probability to evolutionary explanations all the time (I would say Dawkins falls into this category). But if it is thought that such circumstances really were present, and perhaps very often, then evolutionary explanations will likely be assigned low epistemic probability values again. The alternative type of CSI that I’ve been talking about, which you list as #3, includes aspects of systems that are believed to actually require circumstances and states of affairs that are believed to be highly problematic for evolutionary mechanisms in principle based on the way the mechanisms are believed to operate, even apart from any specific prior probability calculations.

    When Barry or Denyse argue that when we observe CSI, that this is a problem for “Darwinian” evolution, I think that they are thinking of CSI #1, not #3.They just haven’t got the word about the P(T|H) term, or its implications.

    Well, I suppose you’d have to ask them directly, but I don’t really think that’s true. I haven’t had much interaction with Denyse, but in my interactions with Barry I don’t recall him ever completely misunderstanding that Dembski-CSI would be determined to be present in some effect only if the effect has already been found to be highly improbable on all known, relevant chance hypotheses. I’ve never seen him do anything but agree with me on this point when Dembski-CSI has come up. If Barry argues that something does display CSI and this therefore implies the thing is unlikely to have arisen through natural mechanisms then I expect he is probably using CSI #3 (according to your numbering), not #1 or #2. But again, you could always ask him directly.

    Take care,
    HeKS

  29. HeKS:

    It is truly shocking to me how incapable you are of keeping an argument straight, or keeping different arguments separated.

    You’re projecting again. See below.

    keiths:

    The circularity should be obvious by now, but in case it isn’t:

    1. If P(T|H) is tiny enough, then the specified target T exhibits CSI.
    2. If T exhibits CSI, we can conclude that P(T|H) is tiny enough.

    HeKS:

    What should be obvious to you is that you have here combined two different arguments that use the term CSI in two different ways…

    Your (1) represents the CSI argument used by Dembski/Ewert where “complex” means “highly improbable”. Your (2) represents the argument that uses ‘CSI’ in the alternate meaning that is common among many if not most ID proponents other than Dembski and Ewert, which is the one where “complex” means “many well-matched parts”.

    No, in both cases I am referring to Dembski’s CSI, which is the version of CSI that you embraced in the very comment at UD that you keep referring us to:

    The word “complex” is used in two primary senses. The first and most commonly used meaning is, “consisting of many well-matched parts”. The second meaning of “complex” is, “improbable”.

    When it comes to calculating a value of Complex Specified Information, “complex” refers to the second meaning, “improbable”.

    [Emphasis added]

    In that comment, you went on to defend Barry’s challenge in the context of Dembski’s CSI, which means that you fell into the circularity trap with Barry and most of your fellow IDers.

    You like to speak of intellectual honesty. It will be interesting to see whether you are honest enough to acknowledge your mistake.

  30. In addition, people who are talking about a structure that “consist[s] of many well-matched parts” are usually making Michael Behe’s argument about Irreducible complexity. Not Dembski’s argument, or anything like it. They don’t have a scale of a quantity such as fitness. They don’t have a target region T. They don’t calculate tail probabilities.

    As far as I can see, people who are invoking CSI are using it as Dembski’s original argument did. But people who try to relabel Michael Behe’s argument as using CSI are just confusing things.

  31. Some degree of forgiveness should be afforded to new ideas branching out and trying new things, but ID certainly isn’t new any more. Imprecise, conflated and obfuscated terms suggest wanting a veneer of science but not the rigor.

    ID should strive for clarity and calculations if it wants to become science.

  32. I think Behe and Dembski are complementary. Dembski — I think correctly — says that if evolution can’t produce living things, than some unknown intervention must have. One could imaging some future biologist pondering GMO organisms (if the history of such organisms were lost).

    Behe tries to argue that some adaptations are not possible through random mutation, because it would require walking through a region of non-viability. I guess Behe’s argument is a micro-Dembski argument. It’s a better argument, because it’s well structured and falsifiable.

    It would be nice if ID advocates strived to clarify, rather than to obfuscate. But that involves the risk of being demonstrated wrong.

    Which leads me to point out that Wagner (the topic of the OP) directly addresses Behe.

  33. keiths:
    HeKS:

    You’re projecting again. See below.

    Keith, you are truly hopeless. In the midst of denying my claim that you can’t keep arguments straight or different issues separated you go and blatantly do exactly that again.

    keiths:

    The circularity should be obvious by now, but in case it isn’t:

    1. If P(T|H) is tiny enough, then the specified target T exhibits CSI.
    2. If T exhibits CSI, we can conclude that P(T|H) is tiny enough.

    HeKS:

    What should be obvious to you is that you have here combined two different arguments that use the term CSI in two different ways…

    Your (1) represents the CSI argument used by Dembski/Ewert where “complex” means “highly improbable”. Your (2) represents the argument that uses ‘CSI’ in the alternate meaning that is common among many if not most ID proponents other than Dembski and Ewert, which is the one where “complex” means “many well-matched parts”.

    No, in both cases I am referring to Dembski’s CSI…

    It doesn’t matter what you think you’re referring to there. I was informing you what type of CSI is actually represented when those two different claims are used by ID proponents. You just took two separate arguments that use the term CSI (or some form of that term) in two different senses and combined them into two parts of a single argument, thereby misrepresenting them and making them circular in the process.

    …which is the version of CSI that you embraced in the very comment at UD that you keep referring us to:

    Try to keep this straight, keith.

    The comment I’ve pointed to that you just referenced was written to R0bb to explain to him his mistake in claiming that, according to an article Ewert had written at ENV, Barry’s challenge had already been met. I laid out for him in detail the logic and methodology of the design inference and how and where Dembski-CSI fits into it. I did not argue there that if we find Dembski-CSI in something then we can infer that it was improbable to have come about by natural processes, which would be backwards.

    That said, Joe was not referencing that comment. He was referencing Barry’s partial quote of a comment I made in a different thread. Barry’s quote is here. The comment it was taken from is here. When I hunted it down I laughed out loud because I had completely forgotten that my comment was actually directed at you and I was pointing out that you seemed to be misunderstanding the nature of the Dembski-CSI argument, leading you to mistakenly conclude that it was circular. Specifically, I was addressing this comment from you:

    keiths: “To argue that something is designed because it exhibits CSI is circular, because you have to know that it is designed before you can attribute CSI to it.

    Every part of that statement from you is wrong and it misrepresents the nature of the Dembski-CSI argument at every step. It is confused statements like that that I was addressing in the comment that Barry partially quoted, which quote Joe then referenced. And immediately before the portion of the comment that Barry quoted I said this:

    First of all, ID proponents do not exactly claim that something IS designed because it has CSI. Rather, they tentatively infer design as the BEST EXPLANATION for something that displays CSI.

    Second, you do not have to know that something is designed before you can attribute CSI to it. In order to attribute CSI to something (at least the type of CSI Dembski is talking about), you simply have to determine that it is highly improbable that it is the result of any known, relevant naturalistic process and that it conforms to some kind of independent specification.

    Once again, there is nothing circular about this. I was correctly pointing out that in order to determine that Dembski-CSI is present you must first determine something to be highly improbable on all relevant naturalistic hypotheses. And even there I was referencing that a distinction exists between the types of “CSI” that ID proponents talk about.

    In that comment, you went on to defend Barry’s challenge in the context of Dembski’s CSI,which means that you fell into the circularity trap with Barry and most of your fellow IDers.

    I never denied that I was talking about Dembski-CSI there. But nothing I said was circular. Furthermore, Ewert wasn’t addressing Barry’s challenge and claiming that it was circular. I’ve never seen Ewert claim it was and he’s had plenty of opportunity to do so since I’ve specifically discussed Barry’s challenge with him. Rather, he was addressing your misrepresentation of Dembski’s CSI argument that appeared in a post by vjtorley and admitting that you were correct in saying that your own representation of Dembski’s argument was circular, but that your representation was incorrect.

    There’s a reason Ewert started off that circularity post by saying:

    “Keith S is right. Sort of.

    The way you presented the CSI argument was, indeed, circular. However, your presentation of it was not actually accurate and did not represent Dembski’s CSI argument. What Ewert “admitted” was that your inaccurate presentation of the CSI argument was circular and that, in some cases, people on both sides of the issue have misunderstood the actual argument and either advocated or attacked some mistaken version of it. Then, in a comment on his own post, Ewert says:

    The problem is that people like Keith attempt to critique specified complexity as though it were a complete argument by itself.

    And hence the reason why I told Joe that I doubted Ewert would agree that his so-called ‘admission’ came about as a result of your persistence and clarity … unless by that he meant your persistence in error and your clarity in showing you didn’t understand the argument. All of this further makes the title of Joe’s OP quite a head-scratcher, since it doesn’t even accurately reflect what the text of the article claims Ewert conceded (there’s a difference between using Dembski-CSI to conclude design and using it to conclude improbability). To Joe’s credit, he admits in the OP that he’s not sure he fully understands Ewert’s post, and I think he’s correct in this, because it seems to me he has largely misunderstood it.

    And regarding there being different conceptions of CSI, Ewert says in another comment to his post:

    The version of specified complexity developed by Dembski isn’t an observable phenomenom. See http://www.metanexus.net/essay…..complexity. You can certainly have a notion of specified complexity that is observable, like Orgel and Wicken did. But care must be taken not to conflate it with Dembski’s conception.

    Indeed. The differing conceptions of CSI is not a new development. One is an observable phenomenon that can be detected apart from prior probability calculations. The other is not. Before you jump to the uncharitable conclusion that an ID proponent is making a silly and circular argument it would be best to make sure you properly understand the argument they are making and the form of CSI that they are referencing. In the comment thread to Ewert’s post WJM presents CSI as the former, observable type, and Box then specifically says that it is this version of CSI that is generally used by people at UD. That has also been my experience. If that is true, as I suspect it is, then the cases you and others have interpreted as being circular arguments were very likely no such thing and you have more likely confused which conception of CSI they were referring to.

    You like to speak of intellectual honesty.It will be interesting to see whether you are honest enough to acknowledge your mistake.

    Indeed, I do sometimes like to talk about intellectual honesty when I notice a conspicuous lack of it, and I think that you are lacking it, or are so careless as to have it amount to the same thing. What would truly be interesting is if you could keep arguments straight so you didn’t constantly go around misrepresenting people and then accusing them of making circular arguments they didn’t make.

  34. Well, everyone, thanks for the discussion, but my vacation is winding down and I don’t really want to spend my last couple days of nice weather arguing with people on the internet, so I’m going to excuse myself for now. I don’t expect I will check in for any new responses to my comments for the time being because I’m guessing that I probably won’t be able to stop myself from sitting down to reply.

    To Joe and Patrick in particular, thanks for the polite discussion. Perhaps we can talk again in the future.

    Take care,
    HeKS

  35. Enjoy your holiday.

    Perhaps later we’ll find out how your “third type” of CSI works, and in what way it is not just an inappropriate renaming of Irreducible Complexity.

  36. keiths:

    In that comment, you went on to defend Barry’s challenge in the context of Dembski’s CSI, which means that you fell into the circularity trap with Barry and most of your fellow IDers.

    HeKS:

    I never denied that I was talking about Dembski-CSI there. But nothing I said was circular.

    Sure it was. To defend Barry’s challenge is to fall into the circularity trap, given that you were speaking of Dembski’s CSI, as you admit. No amount of verbiage can change that.

    You made a mistake. The ID critics pointed it out. You learned something, and you now understand CSI better than before.

    Thanks would be appropriate, but I suppose you’ll continue to cast aspersions.

  37. Thanks Richard and Joe. Apparently I failed to stay away as I planned.

    Joe,

    Joe Felsenstein:
    Enjoy your holiday.

    Perhaps later we’ll find out how your “third type” of CSI works, and in what way it is not just an inappropriate renaming of Irreducible Complexity.

    You might find it useful to read through the comment thread to Ewert’s post since many of the questions you seem to have are actually discussed there.

    For example, to the idea that the observable form of CSI I’ve been discussing is just another name for Behe’s Irreducible Complexity, Kairosfocus said to Ewert:

    Pardon, a note. The point on multipart interaction to achieve a specific function is not necessarily an appeal to irreducible complexity.

    To which Ewert responded:

    Fair enough.

    Behe’s IC could be considered a specific, strict subset of this form of CSI, but IC is not identical with it.

    Take care,
    HeKS

  38. keiths:

    HeKS: “I never denied that I was talking about Dembski-CSI there. But nothing I said was circular.”

    Sure it was. To defend Barry’s challenge is to fall into the circularity trap, given that you were speaking of Dembski’s CSI, as you admit. No amount of verbiage can change that.

    You made a mistake. The ID critics pointed it out.You learned something, and you now understand CSI better than before.

    Thanks would be appropriate, but I suppose you’ll continue to cast aspersions.

    Keith, I seriously think you are one of the most dishonest and/or confused people I’ve ever debated online in the past 15+ years. You so consistently misrepresent the facts and other people’s arguments even after multiple corrections that no amount of charity on my part can lead to any conclusion other than that you do this willfully.

    Ewert made a post in which he said that some people, specifically people like you, misunderstand and misrepresent Dembski’s CSI argument in a way that makes it circular. He then agrees with comments I made in multiple places as accurately representing the argument in a non-circular fashion. You then proceed to get excited that he has supposedly made an admission about CSI, falsely claim that his comments about circularity were directed to people like me and to Barry’s challenge when they were actually specifically directed at you personally, and then say that I made a mistake, that you and other ID critics pointed it out and that now I’ve learned about CSI from you and should be thankful.

    There’s a word for what you are keith: delusional. I honestly don’t know how anybody here takes you seriously. That they seem to drastically decreases their credibility in my eyes. When time permits, I’m happy to engage in serious discussion with people who I think are intellectually honest. In your case, I more than gave you the benefit of the doubt and you have given me zero reason to trust that you care about honest discussion or have any intellectual honesty whatsoever. You would have the dubious honor of being only the second person in my life that I put on ignore status if I could do that, but I don’t think I can, so I’ll just have to try my best to ignore your inanity the old-fashioned way.

  39. I’ve spent some time on the receiving end of keiths, but in this case I fail to see how any version of CSI can fail to be circular. Perhaps if you simply made your case succinctly.

    Complexity is irrelevant if a system is reachable through evolution.

  40. petrushka: I’ve spent some time on the receiving end of keiths, but in this case I fail to see how any version of CSI can fail to be circular. Perhaps if you simply made your case succinctly.

    Complexity is irrelevant if a system is reachable through evolution.

    Hi petrushka,

    Did you get a chance to read Ewert’s post and the subsequent comments? Ewert addresses there why the CSI argument is not circular, and various other people chime in in the comments showing why the argument from the other form of CSI is not circular.

    ID proponents basically make two different arguments that employ the term ‘CSI’ (or some form it) in different senses. For the sake of brevity, let’s call Dembski-CSI just D-CSI, and the other type of CSI (which uses “complex” in the sense of “many well-matched parts”) Alt-CSI.

    The two basic arguments made by the pro-ID side, stated in their most streamlined form, are:

    1. If a target is highly improbable on all relevant naturalistic hypotheses and matches a specfication, the target exhibits D-CSI.

    And

    2. If a target exhibits Alt-CSI, it is highly unlikely to have come about through naturalistic processes.

    Now, as Ewert points out, these kinds of claims have further underlying reasons and arguments to support them, but these are the basic claims. Neither of these claims is circular. The circularity arises when someone like keith fails to distinguish between the two different arguments and the kinds of CSI they reference and instead blends them all together as he did in an earlier comment here to me, like this:

    1. If P(T|H) is tiny enough, then the specified target T exhibits CSI.
    2. If T exhibits CSI, we can conclude that P(T|H) is tiny enough.

    That truly is circular, but it’s not the argument that the ID side is making. Rather, it conflates the arguments the ID side is making and confuses the kinds of CSI that each argument is referencing.

    Now, you said you “fail to see how any version of CSI can fail to be circular”, but I fail to see how you can think either argument is circular when you properly understand them instead of conflating and confusing them.

  41. keiths makes a prediction:

    Thanks would be appropriate, but I suppose you’ll continue to cast aspersions.

    HeKS:

    Keith, I seriously think you are one of the most dishonest and/or confused people I’ve ever debated online in the past 15+ years. You so consistently misrepresent the facts and other people’s arguments even after multiple corrections that no amount of charity on my part can lead to any conclusion other than that you do this willfully.

    Prediction confirmed.

    HeKS,

    I understand that you attack in hopes of deflecting attention from your mistakes, but it isn’t working. The facts remain. You defended Barry’s challenge with respect to Dembski’s CSI, and you thereby fell into the circularity trap.

    Because of the circularity, Barry’s challenge is empty.

  42. Yes. Your argument hinges on alt-csi. You could lower the temperature of the discussion simply by defining this and showing a sample calculation. I’m surprised that Behe And Dembski didn’t think of this.

  43. keiths:

    Prediction confirmed.

    Gee. You predicted that I would call you on your continued errors and willfull misrepresenations and I did. You must be so proud.

    HeKS, I understand that you attack in hopes of deflecting attention from your mistakes, but it isn’t working.The facts remain.

    Keith, I understand that you constantly misrepresent other people’s arguments in hopes of deflecting attention away from your mistakes and intellectual bankruptcy, but it isn’t working. The facts remain.

    You defended Barry’s challenge with respect to Dembski’s CSI, and you thereby fell into the circularity trap.

    Because of the circularity, Barry’s challenge is empty.

    Barry’s challenge related to the validity and logic of Dembski’s CSI argument, which is that if some effect is both highly improbable on any relevant naturalistic hypothesis and also matches an independent specification (i.e. has a high CSI value on all chance hypotheses), it is vastly more reasonable to conclude it was designed than that it came about through unguided processes. Barry’s challenge says that if you think this isn’t true, demonstrate an unguided process generating large amounts of CSI (i.e. generating an effect that is both highly improbable on the hypothesis of that particular process and also matches a specification). His challenge is not circular and Ewert didn’t say it was. And my comments about his challenge weren’t circular either. Your claim that because I defended Barry’s challenge (though explained might be a better word), whatever I said just must have been circular, is utterly ridiculous, and therefore aptly represents the generally poor quality of your argumentation.

  44. petrushka:
    Yes. Your argument hinges on alt-csi.

    Exactly what argument do you think I’m making? If you go back to my first comment here you will see that I only came here to address Joe’s claim that my partially quoted comments in Barry’s post contradicted Ewert’s statements even though Ewert said he agreed with them. After that other people got involved and since then I have simply been explaining the distinction between the types of CSI that pro-ID people reference, which is mostly the Alt-CSI sort. I haven’t been making any particular argument that hinges on Alt-CSI or anything else, except to the extent that I’ve argued that Alt-CSI really is a conception of CSI that pro-ID people use.

    You could lower the temperature of the discussion simply by defining this and showing a sample calculation. I’m surprised that Behe And Dembski didn’t think of this.

    That seems unlikely to be true since I already did that in some detail in my long comment to Patrick. People also discuss it pretty extensively in the comments to Ewert’s post that was linked to in Joe’s OP. I’m not sure how else to express this concept to you if you’ve read everything I’ve written here and still don’t know what I’m talking about. With all due respect, I’m not talking about some strange concept that is particularly hard to grasp. It’s a much easier conception of CSI to grasp than Dembski’s, as it matches the term more intuitively.

  45. I’m browsing on a phpne and tablet. It really isn’t possible to follow your argunent across several different websites. I would appreciate a summary argument. I don’t understand how unlikelihood is calculated.

  46. HeKS:

    OK. Let me look for your discussion of alt-CSI. From your reply above to keiths I see two links:

    [to keiths]:

    That said, Joe was not referencing that comment. He was referencing Barry’s partial quote of a comment I made in a different thread. Barry’s quote is here. The comment it was taken from is here. When I hunted it down I laughed out loud because I had completely forgotten that my comment was actually directed at you and I was pointing out that you seemed to be misunderstanding the nature of the Dembski-CSI argument, leading you to mistakenly conclude that it was circular. Specifically, I was addressing this comment from you:

    I went to those links. The first leads to Barry’s post that summarizes part of your argument. It contains some quotes from you. The second leads to … the same place (not to a comment in that thread, as there is no comment by you in that thread)!

    The post does not have anything about “many well-matched parts”. CSI is simply stated to be something-or-other that you believe cannot be produced by naturalistic processes.

    Obviously I followed the wrong links. The second of them was supposed to lead to the comment in which you discussed why use of Dembski’s CSI to conclude that something was unlikely under naturalistic processes was not circular. Which are the right ones to find that, and where will I find your statement of alt-CSI?

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