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Complex specified information indicates design (Talk.Origins)

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Response Article
This article (Complex specified information indicates design (Talk.Origins)) is a response to a rebuttal of a creationist claim published by Talk.Origins Archive under the title Index to Creationist Claims.

Claim CI110:

Design can be recognized by the following filter:
  1. If an event E has high probability, accept regularity as an explanation; otherwise move to the next step.
  2. If the chance hypothesis assigns E a high probability or E is not specified, then accept chance; otherwise move down the list.
  3. Having eliminated regularity and chance, accept design.

This filter is equivalent to detecting complex specified information.

Source: Dembski, William A., 1998. The Design Inference: Eliminating chance through small probabilities. Cambridge University Press.

CreationWiki response: (Talk.Origins quotes in blue)

1. The filter is useless in practice because the probabilities it asks for can never be known. Step 1, in particular, does not ask us to accept or reject just one regularity hypothesis, it asks us about all regulatory hypotheses, even ones that nobody has thought of before.

This shows that Talk Origins does not understand how the Explanatory Filter works. Step 1 simply asks whether the event has a high probability of occurring based on known natural laws. When Talk Origins claims that step 1 requires rejecting all regularity hypotheses they are shifting the burden of proof by trying to force intelligent design advocates to disprove regularity hypotheses, when it is up to those proposing a regularity hypothesis to prove it.

This is seen because Talk Origins included regulatory hypotheses that nobody has thought of before. They are saying, in effect, that design can never be accepted since Evolutionists can always invent new 'just so' stories, when current ones are disproven. Furthermore, they are saying that even if no regularity hypothesis exists, design can still not be inferred because one may be invented some day.

Based on this Talk Origins claim, one can not conclude that houses, cars or even Space Shuttles are designed since there may be a regulatory hypothesis that nobody has thought of before, that would allow them to be explained as resulting from natural causes.

Similarly, rejecting chance requires a complete list of all chance processes that might apply to the event.

WRONG! There are certain principles that govern what is probable and improbable such as the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. These principles show that order does not come from chaos by chance.

2. The filter is based on the premise that the categories of regularity, chance, and design are "mutually exclusive and exhaustive". But they are not mutually exclusive. R. A. Fisher, for example, included mutations in all three categories. Individually, they were due to chance, but collectively they were governed by laws, and all of this was planned by God.

Now all Talk Origins has to do is actually put forth a set of laws governing mutations so that they can be tested, until then the best evidence we have is that they are exclusively random. As far as its all being planned by God is concerned, that is part of General Intelligent Design not Restricted Intelligent Design.

3. Although the filter claims to detect design, it really says nothing about design. The filter defines design as the elimination of regularity and chance, not, as most people would define design, as purposeful, intelligent arrangement. The two definitions are not equivalent.

The Explanatory Filter is intended to detect design, it does not define design. It simply detects design by eliminating those factors that can produce an undesigned system as a cause of the system under investigation.

Dembski himself noted that some intelligent design will be eliminated in the first two steps.

This is a strength of the Explanatory Filter not a weakness. It shows that when it makes a mistake it is a false negative, not a false positive.

And what the filter actually detects is copying, not intelligent agency.

How? Without an explanation this is a baseless claim.

The Explanatory Filter eliminates all possible causes that produce undesigned system so that only design is left. It follows the Sherlock Holmes axiom: when all other possibilities are eliminated, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. The filter shows that when natural laws and chance have been eliminated, all that remains is design.

4. Since the filter does not say anything about design, there is no intelligent design hypothesis that can be used scientifically or for any practical purposes.

The Explanatory Filter is just a detection device, nothing more. Obviously, there is more to intelligent design than this filter; this is particularly true of General Intelligent Design.

5. Key terms in the filter, especially "chance hypothesis" and "specified," are poorly defined

The term "chance hypothesis" simply means the hypothesis that E is a result of chance. The term "specified" clearly refers to E's being known in detail.

What does Talk Origins mean by poorly defined? The meaning of these terms is quite clear.

6. Dembski does not consider that design is a process. The process that produces design is itself not regularity (or the resulting design would have high probability) or chance (or the design would likely not result), so the filter says the process must itself be design. Thus, the design process must have another design process to produce it, which needs a design process of its own, ad infinitum, or somewhere along the way there must be no process at all and design must come out of nowhere.

This is bogus on the face of it. The design and design process always come from the mind of the designer; they do not come from nowhere.

In actuality, design is typically done as an iterative process involving lots of trial and error. Regularity and chance are both parts of the process, as is selection. Evolution uses the same processes.

This is a false comparison; it ignores the fact that design involves intelligence and a specific goal beyond simple survival. Furthermore selection is based on intelligent choice. Evolution, on the other hand, has no intelligence and its only "goal" is for the organism to survive long enough to reproduce.

While design often involves lots of trial and error, it always involves a lot of thought and little if any chance. Talk Origins is totally ignoring the involvement of intelligence in the design process.