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Not For Laughs, Unfortunately
on June 16, 2002
This book is the latest ammunition in the war between creationists and scientists over whether public school science classes ought to teach theology along with science. This book is also the first time that any of the advocates of "Intelligent Design" have attempted to set forth any actual scientific methodology in an attempt to convince open-minded scientists (who the creationists claim do not exist) that "Intelligent Design" is a valid scientific conclusion when examining evidence of biological changes over time (also know as "evolution").
Unfortunately, Dembski's setting forth of his actual mathematical equations backfires on the entire "Intelligent Design" movement as now real scientists and real mathematicians have something to grab hold of when attempting to critique the idea that "Intelligent Design" isn't just a new label for theology. Needless to say, Dembski is caught weilding smoke and mirrors, and he failed to even convince a Chemistry Professor from a Calvinist private college who faulted Dembski twice on theological grounds and twice on scientific grounds. The response of the non-religious scientific community hasn't even been that generous.
Richard Wein posted roughly 37,000 words of criticism of this book on the Talk.Origins site, and elicited two rounds of replies from Dembski himself. The high-level summary is that Dembski admits that his system is subjective. This means that if you are predisposed towards believing that "God did it" then you will tend to value the underlying probabilities in such a way that his mathematical model will crank out a "God did it" answer.
The unfortunate part of this whole mess is that Dembski suceeds in cloaking his religious tract in enough techno-babble that any school board faced with this book as evidence of the viability of "Intelligent Design Theory" as part of science classes could easily fail to see the many large flaws in Dembski's actual scientific assertions and might actually be led to believe that there really is scientific support for the idea of "Intelligent Design" when there is not. Thus, while this book isn't worth purchasing unless you are a creationist and want to use it as part of a battle with your own local school board, it is certain to cost the proponants of "real science" a pretty penny in the many forthcoming battles over the real meaning of this book. I would only hope that any school board who is presented with a copy of this book would also be required to read at least Richard Wein's rebuttal and the exchanges he had with Dembski over this book.
Frankly, as a believer that naturalism and "Intelligent Design" do not inherently conflict with each other, I would have far preferred discovering that this book by Dembski did finally prove that there really is a scientific case to be made for the idea of "Intelligent Design." In that case, those of us who believe in the sanctity of keeping religion out of our science classrooms could cave in and say that if it really is scientific, then we really do need to let "Intelligent Design" in. However, in this book Dembski once again demonstrates that there is no real science in the idea of "Intelligent Design." Instead, this appears to be only for the purpose of political posturing in front of thousands of local, regional, or statewide school boards.
Knowing all that, I must ultimately conclude that Dembski is incapable of being honest with himself as to exactly how bad his own theory actually is. The reviews I've read by esteemed mathematicians and statisticians have been about as negative as they could be. Surely, Dembski cannot be unaware of just how unsupported (or unsupportable) his idea actually is. So, I will leave it as an excercise for others to determine what Dembski's own culpability might be for this failure to support his theory in any meaningful way.