Dembski and Marks Get One Past the Reviewers

William Dembski and Robert Marks finally managed to turn one of their joint manuscripts into a publication. The paper will appear in IEEE Systems, Man, and Cybernetics. There is a PDF of it available here. I’m in the midst of packing, so I just confirmed that Dembski and Marks carefully preserved the error I informed Dembski of almost 9 years ago and Marks almost 2 years ago.

I mentioned some time ago that I would write a response for publication, and I intend to do that. Right now, though, the trailers are partially loaded and there’s a fair bit more work and the trip to do yet.

One more thing… Dembski wants this paper to count in the pro-ID peer-reviewed category and show up in the DI list and whatnot.

P.S. Our critics will immediately say that this really isnít a pro-ID article but that itís about something else (Iíve seen this line now for over a decade once work on ID started encroaching into peer-review territory). Before you believe this, have a look at the article. In it we critique, for instance, Richard Dawkins METHINKS*IT*IS*LIKE*A*WEASEL (p. 1055). Question: When Dawkins introduced this example, was he arguing pro-Darwinism? Yes he was. In critiquing his example and arguing that information is not created by unguided evolutionary processes, we are indeed making an argument that supports ID.

The only way to understand the above is if one accepts the religious antievolution “two model” way of thinking. That goes like this: there are only two alternatives, evolution or {creation | design}. Therefore, evidence against evolution is evidence for {creation | design}. The “two model” argument got well-deserved thrashings in McLean v. Arkansas and Edwards v. Aguillard. It’s nice to see Dembski continuing to stick with just the classic, long-rebutted religious antievolution arguments.

Wesley R. Elsberry

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

13 thoughts on “Dembski and Marks Get One Past the Reviewers

  • 2009/08/20 at 3:00 pm

    Wes said:”Iím in the midst of packing, so I just confirmed that Dembski and Marks carefully preserved the error I informed Dembski of almost 9 years ago and Marks almost 2 years ago.”

    Well, Dembski does believe in Conservation of Inormation! :)

  • 2009/08/20 at 3:37 pm

    Ha! “joint manuscripts”

    Does that reefer to what Dembski and Marks were smoking, or the reviewers?

  • 2009/08/20 at 4:03 pm

    It should also be added that Dembski and Marks never actually critique either Dawkins or evolutionary theory. On the contrary, they agree that selection produces stuff that pure randomness wouldn’t produce in a zillion years, which was only point Dawkins was making with WEASEL. Their arguments neither dispute evolutionary theory nor support ID.

  • 2009/08/20 at 5:20 pm

    Is this nonsense still going on?

    First, as many people have pointed out, Dawkins’ weasel algorithm is not what Dembski and Marks call “partitioned search.” All they would have to do is follow the very clear explanation in The Blind Watchmaker, as I did here to see that for themselves.

    Second, this:

    P.S. Our critics will immediately say that this really isnít a pro-ID article but that itís about something else (Iíve seen this line now for over a decade once work on ID started encroaching into peer-review territory). Before you believe this, have a look at the article. In it we critique, for instance, Richard Dawkins METHINKS*IT*IS*LIKE*A*WEASEL (p. 1055). Question: When Dawkins introduced this example, was he arguing pro-Darwinism? Yes he was. In critiquing his example and arguing that information is not created by unguided evolutionary processes, we are indeed making an argument that supports ID.

    provides even more evidence that Dembski either has never read TBW or is for some reason incapable of understanding the extremely lucid prose it contains. For example:

    Although the monkey/Shakespeare model is useful for explaining the distinction between single-step selection and cumulative selection, it is misleading in important ways. One of these is that, in each generation of selective ‘breeding’, the mutant ‘progeny’ phrases were judged according to the criterion of resemblance to a distant ideal target, the phrase METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL. Life isn’t like that. Evolution has no long-term goal. There is no long-distance target, no final perfection to serve as a criterion for selection, although human vanity cherishes the absurd notion that our species is the final goal of evolution. In real life, the criterion for selection is always short-term, either simple survival or, more generally, reproductive success.

    Even if Dembski and Marks had addressed the actual algorithm in any meaningful way, it would have no bearing on modern evolutionary theory. It also wouldn’t provide any support for Intelligent Design Creationism.


  • 2009/08/21 at 3:33 pm

    The larger issue with respect to the paper is that creationists are still incapable of non-teleological thought. The purpose of a search algorithm is to find a single previously specified goal—such as the one pre-set combination of a lock. But biological evolution is not a “search” in this sense. Variation and selection operate only in the present, and are not “aimed” at any future goal.

    Therefore, it seems to make no sense to analyze evolution as a search algorithm of any kind.

  • 2009/08/21 at 3:58 pm

    It should also be noted that Dembski is actively resisting peer review on this article, as his deletion of my comment on his blog indicates. I have reviewed the matter thoroughly on my own blog.


  • 2009/09/16 at 3:56 am

    The exact form of the Weasel algorithm (partition or the more genetic version above) seem to be a very minor point.

    Dembski’s main point is that the information is in the algorithm to start with, and this enables the algorithm to find the target fast. This is clearly true for both algorithms. Remove the target phrase from either and you will not find the target.

    So, Wesley seems to be grasping at straws here.

  • 2009/09/16 at 7:48 pm


    Back in 1997 at the NTSE conference in Austin, TX, I apprised Dembski of the existence of genetic algorithms. There, I asked him how he would respond to a GA that gave a good approximate solution for a “Traveling Salesman Problem”. Dembski had no response to make on the merits of the example, only re-asserting that his logic was good and the conclusion he made followed … whatever the evidence might be.

    Dembski has never come to grips with the fact that the field of evolutionary computation has more in it than Dawkins’ “weasel” program. The point here is that Dembski has not managed to even describe such a simple system accurately. Nor is the conceptual difference between “partitioned search” and Dawkins’ actual “weasel” a “minor” one, despite how much longing IDC advocate apologists wish it were so.

    When one comes back to the TSP example that I specified at the outset back in 1997, one will find that the “information” is not and cannot be “in the algorithm to start with”. When one properly distinguishes between the genetic and environmental components of even the “weasel” program, the “information” is still limited to being in the environmental portion.

    In 1999, I wrote a draft article laying out my various responses to common antievolution criticisms of evolutionary computation. I put that up on the Panda’s Thumb later.

    Around 2002, Jeff Shallit and I formalized many of our criticisms of Dembski’s “complex specified information”, and we included discussion of a number of examples in evolutionary computation. Dembski has come nowhere close to providing a response to any of those.

    Sorry, Landau, but Dembski is hopelessly confused when it comes to the topic of evolutionary computation, and given your approval of his confusions, you likely share in them.

  • 2009/09/28 at 5:22 am


    On the contrary, the environment provides absolutely no information, only data. For the environment to contain information, there must be a receiver that can ‘interpret’ the data, converting it into information. An organism must be able to ‘recognize’ a particular movement in the environment, whether it be temperature, humidity, acidity, alkalinity, etc in order to be able to respond to it.

    IOW, how can any organism have the capacity to interpret environmental data without having a starter-kit of sensory capabilities? Without a SK, any rudimetary organization of organic molecules like amino acids would be thrashed by the envirnoment at the slightest increase of complexity (the taller they are the harder they fall). Complexity vastly increases the probability of failure, not success.

    Starter-kits must all be ‘assumed’ for neo-darwinian concepts of NS acting of RM and GV to ever have the slightest chance of explaining the breaking of even the simplest of biological thresholds.

    Come to think of it, even that seems too much to ask. I have yet to see even one biological development threshold modeled by NS acting on RM+GV. Could it be just because many of those thresholds were busted without the presence of RM+GV? So in reality, NS acting on RM+GV only kicks in when the show’s over?

    Clean-up crew?!!, the curtain coming down! Get ready to move!

  • 2009/09/28 at 5:45 pm

    You don’t seem to be on anything close to the right page, Steve P.

    “absolutely no information, only data”

    That is hi-lar-ious.

    The whole thing you produced has a standard label in argumentation: “begging the question”.

    And premature self-congratulation is just par for the course for religious anti-evolutionists.

  • 2009/09/29 at 12:41 am


    Of course it would be begging the question from your POV. What else could it be? You will forever be as the child asking ‘but why mummy?”

    To turn your own logic on your head, we don’t need to understand the origin of information in order to realize it exists apart from matter and interacts with it.

    The default position is the positive argument of design until such time that it is falsified. And the one thing that can falsify design is a scientifically rigorous model of organic material complexifying and then breaking biological development thresholds by ‘acquiring’ knowledge through relentless trial-and-error.

    Pick one. Just one is all you need. Here’s a nice list to choose from (and for your benefit I have left out the first and most difficult biological development threshold). So the first cell is complete.

    Model any of the following, showing how at each stage, the cell complexifies by acquiring knowledge in response to environmental change in order to preserve its integrity:

    1. The first cell developing a catalytic mechanism.
    2. The first cell developing a replication mechanism.
    4. The first cell developing an internal communications mechanism.
    5. The first cell developing an internal transportation mechanism.
    6. The first cell developing a defensive mechanism (against radiation, extreme temperature, etc)

    If not these, then lets assume the first cell has successfully divided:

    7. The development of the first multi-cellular organism.
    8. The first multi-cellular organism’s development of a catalyic system.
    9. The first MCO developing an inter-cellular communication system.
    10. The first MCO developing a sensory mechanism.
    11. The first MCO developing a metabolic mechanism.
    12. The first MCO developing a defense mechanism.
    13. The first MCO developing a replication mechanism.

    Shouldn’t evolutionary biology be working on all these development thresholds? Shouldn’t we be using our knowledge of physics, chemistry, electrical and mechanical engineering, etc to propose models of how amino acids become activated to created proteins, and how proteins become activated to do work which leads to the creation of cellular systems?

    Why all the reluctance to take them on? After all evolutionary biology IS science.

    Lets get those rigorous scientific models of evolutionary development on the table now, can we? Enough of the just-so stories.

  • 2009/09/30 at 3:47 am

    Charles Darwin:

    “Any one whose disposition leads him to attach more weight to unexplained difficulties than to the explanation of a certain number of facts will certainly reject my theory.”

    Still true today.

    First, you aren’t actually following the topic of my post. This is the last word for this digression.

    Second, you’ve implicitly conceded the point that Duane Gish’s view of “information” that you were forwarding is inapplicable.

    Third, saying that your speculations rise to a “default” is precisely “begging the question”. No “point of view” histrionics are required for a third party to figure that out.

    Fourth, evolutionary science is not dependent upon abiogenesis. Abiogenesis, though, has quite a bit of research going on your items 1 & 2. Those interested in some of the latest work should Google for “metabolism first”.

    Fifth, there’s plenty of things that happen in single-celled organisms that involve the accumulation of information in the genome that is relevant to the problem of living within a complex environment. This brings us to the quote from Darwin above. There is research that provides evidence for evolutionary science that you are not addressing, preferring instead to speculate about things that are still open questions (in some cases, perhaps, where you aren’t simply asserting that the question is open in ignorance of the state of the science, as excludes your 1 & 2 as noted before). And to that point I’ll note the sworn testimony of Scott Minnich from 2005 when Steven Harvey asked him about the biochemical pathway for DNT breakdown that evolved in bacteria.

    Q. We’ll come back to that. But you also testified about biochemical pathways, and you said we don’t understand the evolutionary history of any biochemical pathway?


    A complete pathway. There are adaptational responses that have been reported, and it’s good science. You can take a recalcitrant molecule chlorinated by phenol that normally isn’t broken down by organisms and expose organisms under selective condition and you can get a modified enzyme that will now cleave off that chlorine or introduce a new — I mean, there are some slop in enzymes that can broaden in terms of sub straight recognition.

    Q. So scientists have been looking at and do know a certain amount about the evolution of biochemical pathways, and that’s reported in the peer reviewed scientific literature?

    A. Adaptive responses for sure and looking at sequence comparisons of highly conserved pathways like glycolysis or the Krebs cycle. But in terms of the origin of those, we don’t have a good history of it.

    Q. Well, take a moment to look at what has been marked as P-842.

    A. Got it.

    Q. You’ve seen this paper before, haven’t you?

    A. I have. I think this was in my deposition.

    Q. And these are some research from the Air Force Research Laboratory who did some work on the biochemical pathway by which certain bacteria breakdown a substance called DNT?

    A. Correct. It’s very important.

    Q. That’s like TNT, except this is dinitroluene, correct?

    A. Uh-huh.

    Q. These researchers, this was published in a peer reviewed scientific journal?

    A. Yes.

    Q. And if you look on — at figure 1, which is on page 113. And Matt, perhaps if you can bring that up for us. These researchers, based on their own original data, have published the organization and evolution of the bacteria that breaks down DNT?

    A. Right. This is an adaptational response.

    Q. And that’s a DNT — this process by which these bacteria breakdown DNT, that’s a biochemical pathway?

    A. Correct.

    Q. So we do have published information in this scientific literature about the evolution of biochemical pathways?

    A. Steve, you’re extrapolating from the data here. I mean, not all these enzymes evolved specifically to break down this compound. I mean, you’re mixing and matching enzymes, I’m sure, from pathways that had some other property.

    Q. You’re not disagreeing with these scientists from the Air Force Research Academy, are you, Dr. Minnich?

    A. This is an adaptational response, okay. This is microevolution. I have no problem with that. That’s not what we’re discussing. These enzymes were present. You probably modified one or brought some in by lateral gene transfer from another system that can attack these problems. I mean, this is critical.

    The Air Force is working on this because TNT reservoirs in their munitions dumps are a problem for environment. And, yes, we can take organisms that — and adapt them by selective pressure to modify enzymes that they have and attack these compounds. I have no problem with that.

    Q. Well, you’re the one who said, we lack intermediate structures, and now — and you specifically mentioned subcellular organelles and biochemical pathways, and now we’ve seen literature that’s in the scientific literature that addresses these points exactly. And if I understand your testimony, it’s just not — we just don’t know enough to satisfy you that natural selection can drive the evolutionary process?

    A. I don’t think you understand my position, okay. I mean, this is an adaptational response. This entire pathway didn’t evolve to specifically attack this substraight, all right. There was probably a modification of two or three enzymes, perhaps cloned in from a different system that ultimately allowed this to be broken down.

    I mean, I’ve got good colleagues in my own department that are working on the same problem. And I don’t think they pretend to know that the evolution of the pathway from start to finish in their system.

    For Minnich, anything that happens cannot be evolution in general, it has to be dismissed with labels of “microevolution” or “adaptational response”. But he can’t simply dismiss what was observed, and his reaction shows that his conception of what evolution is is way out of kilter. Minnich is holding evolution to be where all the pieces of a system are developed de novo and assembled without dependencies or inheritance from other systems. News flash for Minnich and the commenters at the DI who thought he scored off Harvey: that’s not evolution, that’s creationism.

    Sorry, dude, but real evidence pointing to actual processes trumps speculations about unseen and unevidenced agents any day of the week.

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