Academic martyr: Baylor professor Charles Weaver complains that William Dembski's work has been published in forums that lack peer review ("Monkey Business," January 11). If Weaver isn't satisfied with the grueling reviews Dembski's dissertations (two, count 'em) received at the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois Chicago, or the withering scrutiny Dembski's book The Design Inference underwent before being published by Cambridge Press in its "Cambridge Studies in Probability, Induction, and Decision Theory" series, I'm not sure anything would satisfy him. But then, who cares? It seems to me that Weaver, as a professor of psychology, is utterly unqualified to assess Dembski's work on any level.
It would be supremely ironic if scientists like those that opposed Dembski at Baylor continue to embarrass themselves in public and make Dembski out to be a modern-day academic martyr and themselves intellectual fascists of the same stripe that censured Galileo centuries ago.
Good fiction: The confusion in Lauren Kern's article on William Dembski and his intelligent-design theory is common. This is because his theory lacks the ability to distinguish between objects with intelligently designed structure and those objects that have an equally impressive structure because of other processes.
The discrepancy between your example of a homicide investigation, which assumes possible intelligent beings causing a death, and Dembski's theory of an intelligent deity causing natural law is only a problem if you do not distinguish commonly observed human activity (as in the case of murder) from never-observed magic (as in the case of invisible super-wizards casting spells to define universal laws). Although there was a time when supernatural magic was legally admissible as an explanation for homicide in courts (such as during the Salem Witch Trials) or for human anatomy (during the Dark Ages), most educated people are glad to leave those days behind. The rejection by rational investigators of magical explanations is proper.
Dembski's "contingency test" is meaningless since natural laws do not require anything to exist as a necessity, and as far as we know, such was the case prior to the Big Bang; therefore, everything will pass this test merely because it exists. (Since time did not exist before the Big Bang, our before/after concepts don't describe this very well.) Any system that demonstrates three things--replication, variation, and preference--will develop increasingly structured varieties based on environmental conditions. This has been observed in software, ideas, and biology, including mousetrap designs.
His "complexity test" and the mousetrap example, along with previous alleged examples of "irreducibly complex" biology (such as the eye, wings, etc.), have been painstakingly refuted, one by one, over the past 150 years.
The fact that there are books about mousetraps, with hundreds of simpler designs than the example, casts suspicion on his argument. This is especially true when one considers the assertion that any alteration renders a structure that "wouldn't work." The mistake here is in assuming that the altered structure's role is known, and that it is identical to its current use.
Behe's argument that the flagellum is too complex to have arisen in one single mutation is probably correct, but this is a straw man, since no evolutionist proposes such a theory. We have seen thousands of instances of gradual mutation producing huge changes in structure and capability over time without magical intervention. Unfortunately, Dembski's commitment to spreading biblical doctrine, when the proper role of academics is the pursuit of truth, limits serious consideration of his work.
Like the claim that "in reality your brain is floating in a jar and being fed sensory input by an evil genius," the supernatural appeal to magic doesn't explain anything and cannot be proven false, so although it doesn't make for good science, it might be good fiction.
John C. "Buck" Field
Living in fantasyland: In regard to the Miriam Rozen story "Dubya, We Knew You When" (January 4), I found the story very interesting and close to home! I know of the many players listed in this story; I attended Highland Park High School a few years ago and have lived there for many years. Just being a friend of G.W. Bush does not mean you are going with him to the White House, even if you gave money to the different causes and put up a yard sign for him. You will not be able to call and talk with "the Prez" anytime you wish.
I speak with many people from "The Bubble" (slang for Highland Park), and most say they know they are going to be "connected in Washington" from now on! Unbelievable, but very typical of the residents there, most of whom live in fantasyland and have everything they want or just spend everything they have to fit in. Sad but true. G.W. Bush will be one of the best presidents we have had in a long, long time. Wait and see--it will be great!
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.