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The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities (Cambridge Studies in Probability, Induction and Decision Theory)

3.5 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521623872
ISBN-10: 0521623871
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Editorial Reviews


"...quite readable. Those who have no knowledge of the mathematics of probability may be put off, but in fact the level of mathematics and symbolic logic employed is not very difficult...The main arguments...are given in ordinary prose, then translated into symbols...Dembski has made a real advance in probability and information theory..." Books & Culture

"...generally careful and precise, often persuasive, and at times surprisingly philosophically sensitive." Ethics

"Dembski has produced an astonishing work. The Design InferenceR^ will no doubt become the cornerstone of the intelligent design movement. A marked and dog-eared copy of The Design InferenceR^ deserves a place on your shel not just for its clear historical significance, but also to allow yourself a place in the momentous discussion to come. Philosophia Christi

Book Description

This book presents a reliable method for detecting intelligent causes: the design inference.The design inference uncovers intelligent causes by isolating the key trademark of intelligent causes: specified events of small probability. Design inferences can be found in a range of scientific pursuits from forensic science to research into the origins of life to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. This challenging and provocative book shows how incomplete undirected causes are for science and breathes new life into classical design arguments. It will be read with particular interest by philosophers of science and religion, other philosophers concerned with epistemology and logic, probability and complexity theorists, and statisticians.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (September 13, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521623871
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521623872
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,851,595 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I just finished a two-month reading group consisting of both supporters and critics of Dembski, so I finally feel competent to review this book.
While I am a naturalist and evolutionist, I greatly appreciate the writing of anybody who is intellectually honest and attempts to be rigorous: at least in this book, Dembski shows these traits with flying colors. 'The Design Inference' is Dembski's attempt to formalize valid inferences about design. That is, how can we validly infer, for any event E, that E is the product of intelligent design? Most people make such inferences all the time (how does the average person explain Stonehenge). What is the logical structure of such inferences?
Despite the math, the argument structure is actually quite simple. The way to infer that E is the product of design is to run it through what Dembski calls the 'explanatory filter.' Try to explain event E according to presently known statistical regularities (e.g., Newton's laws). If event E cannot be explained by any such statistical regularity, then it passes through the explanatory filter, and is therefore the product of design.
This argument structure is the first main weakness in Dembski's book. In employing the explanatory filter, TDI elevates an anachronistic fallacy to an imperative. Simply showing that we can't presently explain a phenomenon is not sufficient to show that it can never be explained! In the nineteenth century, the precession of Mercury in its orbit could not be explained in a well-confirmed classical worldview, but to infer design based on that would not be good science.
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Format: Hardcover
This book will surely please those looking for rational support of Christian faith, and it does have some very strong points throughout. But in the end, believers will enjoy it and non-believers will find it infuriating. Dembski's work has often unfairly been described as 'thinly disguised creationism' because of his political associations, and his associations with all that awful anti-evolution rhetoric among many of his colleagues. However, his work here stands on his own in some ways.
Dembski does come up with good criteria for detecting design in nature. It is in the final step in Dembski's reasoning, how design in nature is to be explained, that reasonable people may well strongly disagree. It is in the question of the role of naturalism in explanations that we find the most difficult sticking point, as a careful analysis of Phillip Johnson's books (such as Wedge of Truth) clearly reveals.
Dembski's work here is clever, careful, and creative. He does an admirable job of deriving reasonable criteria for detecting design in nature according to information theoretic principles. I don't consider this 'junk science' as some have claimed. In the end, of course, Dembski relates his discovery of specified complexity criteria for design with the God of the Bible, an intelligent update of Paley's design argument.
The question to me when I read this was not whether Dembski succeeded in coming up with useful design criteria. I decided that he did indeed. The question for me was whether he also made a convincing argument that Darwinian mechanisms could not have resulted in specified complexity in nature.
The technical issue seems to be this. His argument seems to me to potentially confuse different kinds of information.
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6 Comments 60 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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By A Customer on September 28, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Despite Eli Chiprout's critical review of The Design Inference, readers can be assured that Dembski stands by his calculation and is prepared to defend it. Chiprout's chief objection seems to be that Dembski's conditional independence condition founders when human agents get into the act. Chiprout may register his complaint, but we should all note that this book and the theories it puts forth have been thoroughly vetted: it was Dembski's doctoral dissertation, it went through a grueling review process with Cambridge University Press, and the author sent preprints to probably fifty or so scholars and academics for comment. No one, and I mean **NO ONE**, corrected Dembski on what Chiprout suggests is an obvious oversight. Long after the dust of criticism settles, The Design Inference will surely stand as an important and enduring advancement in our understanding of the theory of Intelligent Design.
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Format: Hardcover
A recent customer review called this book "junk science", despite its having been published by Cambridge University Press in their Cambridge Studies in Probability, Induction and Decision Theory. The reader appears to misunderstand the concept of specified complexity. The sentence "It [random] implies in fact that an inferrable order is present!" simply is wrong.
Random events occur independently of each other. This means that the result of the first toss of a fair coin has no effect on the second toss of the same coin: if the first toss is heads, the probability of the second toss still is 50% heads, 50% tails. The same is true if the first toss comes out tails: 50% heads, 50% tails for the second toss. Even if the first five tosses come out heads-heads-heads-heads-heads, the probability of the sixth toss is 50% heads, 50% tails.
Thus while the reader is absolutely correct that "we can predict that a fair coin flipped a large number of times comes up heads with a frequency of about 1/2 the time", we cannot predict the sequence of individual tosses. Even just 10 tosses has a thousand possible sequences, while 25 tosses has some 30 million possible sequences. "Specified" means that you predict the sequence of tosses beforehand. Try predicting the sequence of 25 tosses: it is most unlikely (1 in ~30 million) that the tosses will come out as you predict.
The key point is that the result of the 25 tosses (for example HTTHTHHTTT HTHTHHTHHT HTTTH) is minimally informative, no more informative than random typing on a keyboard: all one can say is that a random process is going on. A thousand tosses of the coin gives you no more information than 25 tosses: one can still only say that a random process is going on.
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