Good Reason: A Ouija Board?

There’s an essay by Randal Rauser at “Christian Post” offering what’s termed a rebuttal to a criticism of an earlier essay. Rauser seems to be a run-of-the-mill “intelligent design” creationism (IDC) cheerleader.

Rauser defends Dembski’s ideas early on.

Joseph H. Axell posted a long rebuttal in the comment section of my article “Unintelligent arguments against intelligent design: A Primer”. There are a number of claims I’d like to challenge in the response. For instance Axell writes: “Dembski’s ‘explanatory filter’ for detecting design has been shown to be inadequate (false positives being but one problem)….” That’s like saying that an umbrella is inadequate because it is ineffectual in a windy rainstorm. Dembski’s explanatory filter, like an umbrella, can still be a useful tool even if it is not perfect. Is Newtonian physics tossed out as illegitimate because it doesn’t work at the quantum level?

Joseph Axell is right. Rauser, not so much. Newtonian physics is useful somewhere, which distinguishes it from Dembski’s “design inference” that has never had a fully-worked out example applied to any non-trivial problem. So much of Rauser’s original essay is based upon the conflation of ordinary and rarefied design inferences that it seems that he must not have read The advantages of theft over toil yet. The deficiencies of Dembski’s CSI are detailed in this essay. In the appendix, we introduced the concept of Specified Anti-Information and demonstrated that it formed an upper bound on Dembski’s CSI and disproved Dembski’s proposed “law of conservation of information”. A concerned reader wondered why we would bother repairing “specification”, and I replied:

The existence of a minimal program/input pair that results in a certain output indicates that there exists an effective method for production of the output. Since effective methods are something that are in common between intelligent agents and instances of natural computation, one cannot distinguish which of the two sorts of causation might have resulted in the output, but one can reject chance causation for the output. We haven’t so much repaired specification as we have pointed out a better alternative to it.

This leads me to a claim about Dembski’s design inference: Everything which is supposedly explained by a design inference is better and more simply explained by Specified Anti-Information.

SAI identifies an effective method for the production of the output of interest. The result of a design inference is less specific, being simply the negation of currently known (and considered) regularity and chance. The further arguments Dembski gives to go from a design inference to intelligent agency are flawed. On both practical and theoretical grounds, SAI is a superior methodology to that of the design inference.

Back to Rauser:

Second, Axell writes: “So you concede that ID proponents have so far failed to achieve even the preliminary goal of establishing that a causal intelligence has been engaged in creating features of the natural world.”

First of all, whether they have or haven’t suceeded in establishing any particular instance of intelligent design is completely irrelevant to the claim that such a project is, in principle, viable. That’s the point! (And philosopher of science / atheist Bradley Monton makes it much better than I ever could.)

I need to reiterate that ordinary design is not the same as rarefied design, and here we have Rauser explicitly trying to ignore that point.

Now for the relation to the title. Here’s Rauser moving in for the rhetorical kill, at least apparently in his mind:

Finally I turn to the main point. Is it true that a person is obliged to provide “a detailed account of the nature of that intelligent cause and of the time, manner and place in which it has engaged with the natural world” if that intelligent cause is one with which we are not “familiar”?

Axell just invented that stipulation but provided no reasoning for it. He just asserts it. But not only is there no reason to accept it. There is also a good reason not to accept it. Consider the following illustration:

Axell’s friend tells him: “Joseph, I fear that there is some kind of intelligence in my house that doesn’t want me here.”

Axell, being a scientifically enlightened denizen of the twenty-first century is skeptical. “What evidence do you have?” he asks.

Axell’s friend then pulls out a ouija board and sets it on the coffee table. Immediately the planchette begins moving across the board and it spells “Get out of here.” Axell can clearly see that nobody is touching the planchette and immediately he picks it up, inspects it closely. There are no magnets: it is only a piece of wood. There are no wires. There is no draft. He puts it back down. Immediately the planchette begins to move again as it spells out “I said get out of here.”

Highlighting added.

Good reason? Excuse me, but all I see here is a pathetic fantasy, one in which Rauser ludicrously inserts his critic. There is no reason, and further, no reasoning, going on in Rauser’s response. It is, rather literally, the demon-haunted world being given as a basis for the legitimacy of IDC. We all knew that already, Randal.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

10 thoughts on “Good Reason: A Ouija Board?

  • 2011/07/07 at 7:43 am

    Rauser claims there are “good scientific reasons to accept” that “the best type of explanation for the origin of DNA is intelligence.” And yet, his only example of a good reason to accept a supernatural explanation is a ouija board. Apparently, Rauser thinks a ouija board is a scientific instrument.

    P.S. Isn’t there a bit in the Bible saying that it’s sinful to engage in divination?

  • 2011/07/07 at 8:01 am

    I was thinking it was ironic for a professor of theology to light upon that apologetic tool.

  • 2011/07/12 at 9:56 pm

    The cartoon is a LOL, but I’m scratching my head over the link to the current post.

  • 2011/07/12 at 10:24 pm

    no connection to current post, just a way of sending it on
    i suppose there’s an email address around here somewhere

  • 2011/07/15 at 9:18 am

    I have just today noticed your remarks on Randal Rauser’s response to a comment that I had left on his blog. For what it is worth, I posted my rejoinder on Rauser’s blog (the “Ouija Board” thread) on 10th July 2011: a bit tardy but I wished to deal carefully with his various points, not least his ridiculous “thought experiment”. I of course drew his attention to, amongst other things, your excellent “theft over toil” paper.

  • 2011/07/16 at 6:06 am


    Either Rauser hasn’t passed it through moderation, or it has been deleted. It isn’t showing in the comments following the post.

  • 2011/07/16 at 8:21 am

    You might consider re-posting here if you saved a copy of your “Christian Post” comment.

  • 2011/08/08 at 12:50 pm

    With apologies for the inordinate delay, I offer my thanks for your invitation to post my response to Randal Rauser on your own blog. However, my response has already been posted on Rauser’s own blog, where I had submitted it. Thanks also for alerting me to the fact that Rauser sometimes re-posts on The Christian Post. My rejoinders are longer than the Christian Post will allow, so I merely indicated on that site where my rejoinders could be found. For what it’s worth, Rauser’s original piece was entitled “Unintelligent arguments against intelligent design: A Primer” posted on July 1, 2011 ( under which I commented on July 1, 2011 and again (in response to Rauser’s reply) on July 4,2011. On July 5, 2011, Rauser came up with “Intelligent Design, Unknown Intelligence and a Ouija Board” ( , on which I commented on July 10, 2011. The indefatigable, if slippery, Rauser then reacted on July 21, 2011 with “The tortured attempts to avoid intelligent design continue” (, on which I commented on August 3, 2011, with a minor correction on August 4. I haven’t engaged in such a debate before, so if you think any of my comments are unhelpful to the anti –ID cause, do please let me know.

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