Luskin Thinks Critics Must Be Clairvoyant

Casey Luskin takes note of the Elsberry and Shallit 2011 essay in Synthese in this way:

I would have hoped that if Weber, a biochemist, was going to refute intelligent design, he would have provided more detail. Weber might protest that such an argument would be more appropriate to make in a scientific journal rather than a philosophy journal. What are we to make, then, of the fact that Wesley Elsberry and Jeffrey Shallit have a technical and scientific response to William Dembski in the issue of Synthese?

It turns out that Elsberry and Shallit have a sophisticated but extremely out-of-date contribution in the issue which seems based upon their old 2003 article, “Information Theory, Evolutionary Computation, and Dembski’s Complex Specified Information.” In fact, their piece in Synthese has exactly the same title as that old piece. This out-of-date paper has only one citation post 2004, and it isn’t to a paper that deals with the work of Dembski. In terms of their citations to Dembski’s work, their latest citation is 2004, despite the fact that Dembski has published multiple peer-reviewed papers in recent years studying the origin of information.

I’ve heard Elsberry complain in the past that Dembski doesn’t respond to critics or that he makes out-of-date arguments. This is ironic given how out-of-date his paper is. In any case, a fairly full response to Elsberry and Shallit’s old paper, which serves as a fairly relevant response to their “new” paper as well, can be found at: “Intelligent Design Proponents Toil More than the Critics: A Response to Wesley Elsberry and Jeffrey Shallit.”

We submitted our essay to Synthese on 2009/03/23. It was released online by 2009/04/20. It appears in print in the January 2011 issue. In general, authors can only respond to papers that are published before the date of publication.

So let’s look at the list of “peer-reviewed papers in recent years” that Casey says shows that we weren’t keeping up with Dembski. I’ve scraped these from the linked page and added dates and elapsed time values from our essay submission date.

Bernoulli’s Principle of Insufficient Reason and Conservation of Information in Computer Search
William A. Dembski and Robert J. Marks II
Published 2009/10, 6 months after our submission

Conservation of Information in Search: Measuring the Cost of Success
William A. Dembski and Robert J. Marks II
Published 2009/09, 6 months after our submission

LIFE’S CONSERVATION LAW: Why Darwinian Evolution Cannot Create Biological Information
William A. Dembski and Robert J. Marks II
Published 2009/06/16, 2.5 months after our submission

The Search for a Search: Measuring the Information Cost of Higher Level Search
William A. Dembski and Robert J. Marks II
Published 2010/04/01, 12 months after our submission

Efficient Per Query Information Extraction from a Hamming Oracle [with Erratum]
Winston Ewert, George Montañez, William A. Dembski, Robert J. Marks II
Conference held 2010/03/07-09, 11 months after our submission

Evolutionary Synthesis of Nand Logic: Dissecting a Digital Organism
Winston Ewert, William A. Dembski and Robert J. Marks II
Published 2009/10, 6 months after our submission

A Vivisection of the ev Computer Organism: Identifying Sources of Active Information
George Montañez, Winston Ewert, William A. Dembski, Robert J. Marks II
Published 2010, at least 8 months after our submission

Not a one of the linked papers Casey referred to was published prior to our essay’s submission. Casey obviously expects critics either to shut up entirely or to be clairvoyant.

It should also be noted that the papers Casey erroneously cites aren’t delivering modifications of Dembski’s “complex specified information” concept. Nor do they set aside any of the concerns we raised about Dembski’s earlier outings in critiquing evolutionary computation. Quite the contrary, Dembski has elaborated his “probability amplifier” tosh into what he now calls “active information”.

As for Casey’s “response” to our earlier essay, miscomprehension and ignorance hardly ever seem relevant. For example, Casey claims:

One of the most severe problems with Elsberry and Shallit’s response to Dembski’s book No Free Lunch is their misapplication of specified complexity and their repeated and incorrect claims that Dembski’s methods would yield “false positives.”

In fact, “false positives” appears but once in the 2003 essay, and in a prospective manner:

12.6 Provide a more detailed account of CSI in biology

Produce a workbook of examples using the explanatory filter, applied to a progressive series
of biological phenomena, including allelic substitution of a point mutation. There are two
issues to be addressed by this exercise. The first is that a series of fully worked-out examples
will demonstrate the feasibility of applying CSI to biological problems. The second is to
show that small-scale changes are assigned to “chance” and “design” only is indicated for
much larger-scale changes or systems already noted as having the attribute of “irreducible
complexity.” It is our expectation that application of the “explanatory filter” to a wide
range of biological examples will, in fact, demonstrate that “design” will be invoked for all
but a small fraction of phenomena, and that most biologists would find that many of these
classifications are “false positive” attributions of “design.”

Casey later takes us to task for a claim that “design” is not arbitrarily ruled out in science. If he had bothered to read the material we wrote after the statement that triggers his rant, he might have saved himself some embarrassment:

Scientists, however, are reluctant to infer “rarefied” design, a design inference based on
ignorance of both the nature of the designer and regularities that might explain the ob-
served phenomenon. But this reluctance is well-grounded. Empirically gained knowledge of
designers and the artifacts which they create permit us to recognize regularities of outcomes,
leading us to make an “ordinary” design inference in such cases. With an “ordinary” design
inference, a designer becomes just another causal regularity. This is not so with a “rarefied”
design inference, which Dembski urges us to make in ignorance of the properties of any puta-
tive designer and also of other causal regularities which may be operative. For more details,
see [94].

Casey’s supposed examples of design arbitrarily ruled out are all directed at “rarefied design”, not ordinary design.

It’s nice that Casey concedes that our essay in Synthese is sophisticated. He could have saved himself some trouble by admitting it was beyond his ability to critique. Coming unstuck in time may happen to Casey, but the rest of us have to experience things sequentially as they happen.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.