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No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased without Intelligence Hardcover – December 18, 2001

3.5 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


In No Free Lunch, William Dembski gives the most profound challenge to the Modern Synthetic Theory of Evolution since this theory was first formulated in the 1930s. I differ from Dembski on some points, mainly in ways which strengthen his conclusion. (Frank J. Tipler, professor of mathematical physics, Tulane University; coauthor of The Anthropic Cosmological Principle; and author of The Physic)

In this book, William Dembski takes his statistical work on inferring design and translates it into an information-theoretic apparatus relevant to understanding biological fitness. In doing so, he has brought his argument for intelligent design into a domain that overlaps current work in evolutionary biology. As I see it, this is a landmark for intelligent design theory because, for the first time, it makes it possible to objectively evaluate the claims of evolutionary biology and intelligent design on common ground. (Martin Poenie, associate professor of biology, University of Texas at Austin)

Dembski lays the foundations for a research project aimed at answering one of the most fundamental scientific questions of our time: What is the maximal specified complexity that can be reasonably expected to emerge (in a given time frame) with and without various design assumptions? (Moshe Koppel, professor of mathematics, Bar-llan University, Israel)

This sequel to The Design Inference further enhances the credibility of Intelligent Design as a sound research program. Through solid historical and philosophical arguments, Dembski succeeds in showing how specified complexity reliably detects design. His critique of Darwinian and other naturalistic accounts of evolution is built on a set of powerful and lucid arguments; his formulation of an alternative to these accounts is simply compelling. (Muzaffar Iqbal, author of Islam and Science and founder-president of the Center for Islam and Science (CIS))

The valid philosophical arguments and historical examples make the study really agreeable to a large audience. (Auss)

I disagree strongly with the position taken by William Dembski. But I do think that he argues strongly and that those of us who do not accept his conclusions should read his book and form our own opinions and counterarguments. He should not be ignored. (Michael Ruse, Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy, Florida State University)

No Free Lunch is written for scholars and is filled with equations and careful technical definitions. Much of the text, however, is accessible for a broad audience and the book should prove useful to anyone wishing to explore the degree to which intelligent design can be formulated in a mathematically rigorous way. (Research News and Opportunities In Science and Theology)

One of the best books available about ID. (Journal of Scientific Exploration)

About the Author

William A. Dembski is associate research professor in the conceptual foundations of science at Baylor University and senior fellow with Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture in Seattle.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers; 1st edition (December 18, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0742512975
  • ISBN-13: 978-0742512979
  • Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #936,233 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

A mathematician and philosopher, William A. Dembski is Research Professor in Philosophy at Southwestern Seminary in Ft. Worth, where he directs its Center for Cultural Engagement. He is also a senior fellow with Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture in Seattle. Previously he was the Carl F. H. Henry Professor of Theology and Science at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, where he founded its Center for Theology and Science. Before that he was Associate Research Professor in the Conceptual Foundations of Science at Baylor University, where he headed the first intelligent design think-tank at a major research university: The Michael Polanyi Center.

Dr. Dembski has taught at Northwestern University, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of Dallas. He has done postdoctoral work in mathematics at MIT, in physics at the University of Chicago, and in computer science at Princeton University. A graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago where he earned a B.A. in psychology, an M.S. in statistics, and a Ph.D. in philosophy, he also received a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Chicago in 1988 and a master of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1996. He has held National Science Foundation graduate and postdoctoral fellowships.

Dr. Dembski has published articles in mathematics, engineering, philosophy, and theology journals and is the author/editor of more than a dozen books. In The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance Through Small Probabilities (Cambridge University Press, 1998), he examines the design argument in a post-Darwinian context and analyzes the connections linking chance, probability, and intelligent causation. The sequel to The Design Inference appeared with Rowman & Littlefield in 2002 and critiques Darwinian and other naturalistic accounts of evolution. It is titled No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased without Intelligence. Dr. Dembski has edited several influential anthologies, including Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing (ISI, 2004) and Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA (Cambridge University Press, 2004, co-edited with Michael Ruse). His newest book, The End of Christianity, differs markedly from his others, attempting to understand how the Fall of humanity can be real in light of modern science.

As interest in intelligent design has grown in the wider culture, Dr. Dembski has assumed the role of public intellectual. In addition to lecturing around the world at colleges and universities, he is frequently interviewed on the radio and television. His work has been cited in numerous newspaper and magazine articles, including three front page stories in the New York Times as well as the August 15, 2005 Time magazine cover story on intelligent design. He has appeared on the BBC, NPR (Diane Rehm, etc.), PBS (Inside the Law with Jack Ford; Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson), CSPAN2, CNN, Fox News, ABC Nightline, and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

[Photo by Laszlo Bencze]

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
No Free Lunch, the sequel to mathematician and philosopher William Dembski's Cambridge University Press book The Design Inference, explores key questions about the origin of specified complexity. Dembski explains that the Darwinian search mechanism of random mutation coupled with natural selection is incapable of generating novel complex, specified information (CSI).

This observation translates into "No Free Lunch" (NFL) theorems, which Dembski explains are inherent constraints upon natural systems. Natural Darwinian mechanisms can shuffle this information around, but only intelligence can generate novel CSI. In other words, when it comes to generating truly novel biological complexity, Darwin can have no free lunch.

Some critics have asserted that he has never applied his model for detecting design to any real biological systems. The latter half of this book debunks this fallacious objection, and provides a detailed calculation of the CSI found in the bacterial flagellum. Dembski assesses the complexity of the flagellum on various levels, including its protein parts and its assembly instructions, finding that the amount of CSI contained in the flagellum vastly outweigh the probabilistic resources available in the history of the universe to construct such a structure, absent intelligent design.

No Free Lunch demonstrates that design theory shows great promise of providing insight in the field of evolutionary computation. If Dembski is right, then the ability of genetic algorithms to solve complex problems is a function of the amount of intelligent design inputted by their programmers.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Length: 1:47 Mins
I judge the quality of a book by how many index entries I give it, in this video, I provide screen captures of my index. Anything over a page is an excellent book, this gets a page and a half of index entries. The video also discusses the Dawkins Challenge, a thought experiment related to the origin of life emerging from the discipline of intelligent design that so far has not been addressed by those of the atheist persuasion.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a strong addition to the growing body of literature on Intelligent Design theory and its applicability to questions of biological origins. To those who are interested in ID, its progress, its arguments, etc., No Free Lunch (NFL) should be considered required reading; it contains important, milestone arguments for that school of thought.
NFL should also be required reading for ID's critics -- *especially* those who would assume to review it! I am dumbfounded that some of this book's reviewers here on Amazon presume to criticize Dembski, the book, or ID in general while failing to in any way engage the substance of the book; e.g. Tim Beazley comments that Dembski overlooks the possibility of common descent and Intelligent Design being compatible, when nowhere does NFL claim to disprove common descent. Jean P Villard complains that ID-proponents have failed to demonstrate that Christian doctrine follows from the truth of ID, a claim that is so far outside the scope of NFL that I question whether Villard read the book or not.
In sum, No Free Lunch speaks to the question of whether genetic algorithms - and hence Darwin's mechanism - are or are not capable of creating the sort of specified complexity that we find in the biological world, as many neo-Darwinians claim (e.g., in different ways, Stuart Kauffman and Richard Dawkins). In this work, Dembski claims to demonstrate that they are not.
Those kudos and criticisms of this book which do not deal with that claim are largely irrelevant. Time will tell whether Dembski is right or wrong about the NFL theorems and their applicability to biological origins. In the meanwhile, interested readers would be well advised to stay informed about Dembski's actual arguments and the relevant responses to them from competent critics, and one cannot know the latter without knowing the former.
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Format: Hardcover
Ignore the one-star reviews. The unifying factor in all of them is an irrational hatred of Christianity, a misrepresentation of both Christian teachings and ID, and a reliance on ad hominem attacks. Really, now, I thought most people got beyond such name-calling by about, oh, the third grade.

Despite the bombast, no one has adequately answered either Behe or Dembski. I think the evolutionists would be embarrassed by now by their reliance on so many just-so stories to support an increasingly implausible theory.
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This is Dr. William Dembski's main critique, at least to date (2015). His monograph of the late 1990s "The Design Inference", is quite mathematical and not for laymen really. And his late 1990's book "Intelligent Design" is a mere compilation of his essays, which though good, are not integrated into a full book length argument. This book however, "No Free Lunch", is.

The entirety of the Intelligent Design movement sees its impetus in a late 1980s with a book by the Australian Dr. Michael Denton, being, "Evolution: A Theory in Crisis". Perhaps intended as a extreme critiquing of Evolutionary Theory, a work of the spirit so to speak, that book has become very influential, and has lead to numerous followers in its wake. On the mathematical side on the argument -- which perhaps is the key challenge -- is William Dembski. I find that though he argues well, he does lack the penchant philosophers have in, if you will, clearly presenting their ideas and arguments. Dembski is too mathematically based, that is. Yes, mathematical analysis is of primary importance here, but it was unnecessary of him to get so complex: the basic ideas against Evolutionary Theory, in this arena, are relatively simple in the end.

I believe the onus is more so on the side of the Evolutionists to prove that this Conjecture of theirs, Universal Common Descent (U. C. D.) is possible. Merely because many of the naturalistic biologists/geologists/physicists have 'pulled the wool over the eyes of the world public', for 150 years, does not cancel the need for proof.

One might say that Dembski could offer counter proof: he could calculate and demonstrate that U. C. D. is impossible or very nearly so.
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