Part 3 — Dr. William Dembski, Dr. Robert Pennock Q&A

ES:
We will have an exchange of podia and I will introduce Dr. Robert Pennock, and then Dr. Dembski will speak from this podium. Dr. Robert Pennock is an associate Professor of Science and Technology studies at the Lyman Briggs School and associate Professor of Philosophy both at Michigan State University. He is also on the faculty of Michigan State's Ecology, Evolutionary Biology and Behavior Program. He graduated with honors in biology and philosophy at Earlham College and received his PhD. in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Pittsburgh. His research interests are in philosophy of biology and the relationship of epistemic and ethical values in science and has published numerous articles in these areas. He is the author of Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism and editor of the recently published Intelligent Design, Creationism, and it's Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives. He has received many research and teaching awards and was named a distinguished lecturer by Sigma Xi, the scientific research society. And, uh, now Dr. Pennock will question Dr. Dembski.

Dr. Robert Pennock:
Thanks. What we're going to look at here is the question, "What is Intelligent Design?" The pamphlet that is put out by Intelligent Design activists tells us that it is "a new science for a new century". We see here a graphic that indicates, uh, who's standing, we think, behind this.

Slide 1:
Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture pamphlet with its logo
banner showing Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel image of God touching
the double helix

But I'm not going to talk about what's standing behind us. My criticisms in the past have involved in part whether this is a form of creationism, and Professor Dembski has told us that that is not a fair criticism to do, that this is something where, um, Scientific Creationism is different from Intelligent Design, and that Scientific Creationism has prior religious commitments whereas Intelligent Design does not.

Slide 2: Not ID Creationism?:
"Intelligent design needs to be distinguished from what is known as
creation science or scientific creationism. The most obvious difference
between the two is that scientific creationism has prior religious
commitments whereas intelligent design does not."
(Quotation from Dembski.)

I think that there is more to the definition than that, but tonight I'm not going to deal with that issue directly. I'm going to [pause] try to become an Intelligent Design creationist. Excuse me, I said the word there, I do it all the time, I apologize for that. I want to become an Intelligent Design Theorist [laughter]. Today I will say IDT instead of IDC... and what I want to do here is, I hope, learn how to do it. My work is as an evolutionary design theorist, but tonight I'm not going to defend that, I'm going to adopt this position and ask...

ES:
There's a question in here?

RP:
What should I do? How should I teach this? There's the question.

Slide 3: The SETI Analogy.
Image of Jody Foster as SETI researcher in the movie Contact.

Um, you didn't bring this up today, so I'm going to skip this. This was in your article. I would say that the question about the SETI analogy is a red herring. We'll skip that since you didn't bring it up.

Slide 4a: 'Design' is Ambiguous.
- Design as pattern ...

Here's a question about Design. If I'm going to become a design theorist, what do I mean by "Design"? I'm not quite sure what that means. Is it fair to say that Design means patterns? Is that one example of design? At this point I just want a yes or no. Is that an example of, um...

WD:
Well...as, uh, John Searle has pointed out, usually what we do when we form a science, we start with certain common sense notions and then you try to formalize them. I think we have some pretty common sense notions about, about design as a sort of intelligent cause, intelligent agency. We start off with, human agency is clearly the most, the most obvious example we have, so let me try to make sense of it, how do we, how do we get a formal grasp on it? How do we get a formal grasp on energy? Energy is the notion of how to do work.

RP:
So we look at specific examples.

WD:
Well we look at examples but then we try to extract what is, what is the underlying, what, what, is there some sort of way to get a handle on it in a way that is rigorous.

RP:
And the thing we want are exemplars...

WD:
Well, the, uh...

RP:
...exemplars of Design.

Slide 4b: 'Design' is ambiguous.
- Design as teleology.
- "We systematically eschew teleological notions from our scientific theorizing."
(Quotation from Dembski)

WD:
...the exemplars are what starts you off, and then you try to extract, and you know, this is what I do with specified complexity. I argue that...

RP:
So the answer there is yes, pattern would be one notion, teleology is another.

WD:
No, now wait. Don't put words in my mouth. I said...

RP:
I just asked a question, yes or no.

Slide 4c: 'Design' is ambiguous.
- Design as intelligent agency.
- "Naturalistic explanations by definition exclude appeals to intelligent agency."
(Quotation from Dembski)

WD:
You look at examples there's common sense and then you try to extract something that's, that you can get a formal handle on. That's why complexity is a statistical and complexity theoretic notion tries to get a handle on intelligent causation. These are circumstantial...

RP:
I'm gonna ask you about that in a moment. At this point, I just want to know, when I infer design in the way you've used design in your book, it seems to me as though you've used it in a variety of ways. I'm pointing out here a list of some of the different ways that you've done it. You've used it as pattern, you've used it as teleology, you've specifically charged that science excludes this. I have a couple quotes here where you say we exclude design as teleology, that we exclude it because of our naturalistic prejudices, as intelligent agency. I would say that in fact we have a very ordinary notion of design that we do not at all exclude. All of these things I think are perfectly natural in science, we don't exclude these things. [crosstalk] Here's the ones that we, we allow.

WD:
Hang on a second hang on a second. In terms of excluding it within science you know the special sciences, which have no problem with design.

RP:
That's--I'm agreeing with you

WD:
Okay so the issue, the issue is, is it relevant to biology, and the knub there is that in biology, if there is a design there, a design-er there, then that designer would in all likelihood not be an evolved intelligence. And so it comes smack against where evolutionary biology is these days.

RP:
And where I'm inclined to agree with you is to say, "Design is fine in science up to a point" Here are some ways in which I think they are perfectly acceptable.

Slide 4d: 'Design' is ambiguous.
- Design as Design as choice or selection.
- Design as mind.

The key one we are interested in though is the one that we just now mentioned, conscious intention. That's the one that we're going to be after. And the question's going to be whether your complex specificity criterion allows you to do that, specifically, in your sense of "transcending natural causes".

Slide 4e: 'Design' is ambiguous.
- Design as conscious intention.
- Design as "transcending natural causes"
- Design as "the set-theoretic complement of necessity and/or chance"
(Quotations from Dembski)

If I'm going to be in ID here I need to know what all of these things mean. Specifically, in your definition of design in the explanatory filter, you describe it as the complement of necessity and chance. In the filter, that's going to be the key feature.

Slide 5: The Design Inference:
- The Explanatory Filter
A or B or C Necessity or Chance or Design
Not A Not necessity
Not B Not chance
Therefore C Therefore Design
- Negative argument by elimination.
- "Specified Complexity" is the magic word.
- To be valid, A,B & C, must be mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive.
- Dembski defines C as "not A or B".
- Only outputs "Design" as a mode!


WD:
Okay, can I stop here because, I think I need to speak to that but I will need more than just one second to, to address that. In the design inference, I was trying to get a handle on a certain pattern of structure of influence that I saw over and over again across many special sciences. What was common to that structure of influence was a small probability and some sort of pattern of specification, those came together to see that people were reliably referring to intelligence. So, I laid out a taxonomy of types of causes but I was not very clear in that book, I referred to design in both, and I did, I did say it explicitly at one point, that design is a causal notion, but it's also, as I'm using it, subtheoretic complement to chance and necessity and that's, that was an unfortunate usage. What you get in the explanatory filter is specified complexity, the what the design there is, but you still have to go from that complexity and statistical notion and map that onto a causal structure an this is what we do when we have criteria, there is the reality out there, and then we try it with medical tests, and say now there's something making me sick or not sick, and then there's a medical test that tells you the person is sick or not sick. Well, it doesn't do that with perfect reliability usually. That is, you know, so we've got the test and then the reality, and so in my case the test is specified complexity, the reality is trying to get a handle on is design or intelligence.

RP:
And what comes out then is attribution of, of design, of, of intention. There's an intentional notion here. Design is a subset of intention.

WD:
And, I, I, I claim that there could be...

RP:
Is that correct?

WD:
...be a connection...well...

RP:
I just want to know, is that correct that, that design is a subset of intention?

WD:
Well, where I think you're going with this is that...

RP:
I just want to know if that is correct or not, so I can be an ID Theorist. [Laughter]

WD:
It's...why when you talk about intention you are often talking about purpose, and my contention would be that we can detect design without knowing the purposes of the designer. So there's a room, for instance, inside the Smithsonian Institute which has obviously designed artifacts for which we do not know what the intention or purpose there is. So I tend to shy away from the language of intentionality because it gives you this whole, puts you in a whole sphere of purpose where we,...

RP:
So we shouldn't be talking about purpose?

WD:
You should...

RP:
I thought as an ID theorist that was my job, to look at purpose.

WD:
Purpose is downstream; you can detect design without necessarily knowing the purpose.

RP:
Okay. So what comes out of this as we've done the filter is attribution of design, and the way that you've put this there are three modes of explanation, and by eliminating necessity and chance you output design. How is it that in this output that's the only thing that we're able to say? I agree that in science we're able to have all sorts of design inferences, but we're rather specific about them, and what I'm just asking is, why can't you be specific about what comes out besides just the mode design?

WD:
Well, your, your obviously focusing on the explanatory filter, and if you'll notice in my paper today, I didn't mention it at all because the issue is really specified complexity and whether it reliably maps onto this notion of design as, as a causal property. Ah, I was in the explanatory filter, trying to make sense of, as philosophers, as philosophers would say, rationally reconstruct how we do these design inferences. When an archaeologist finds an arrowhead, um, is this just a random chunk of rock, is it perhaps a chunk of rock that would emerge out of some sort of, uh, repeated process where the thing would...chunks like that, of that form, would keep occurring. Where is, is there an intention is there an intelligence behind that. That's how we taxo-...[crosstalk] that's how we, [crosstalk] that's how we taxonomize it.

RP:
There's an intelligence, who intended something.

Slide 6: Design as production ex nihilo:
"[N]atural causes cannot generate CSI. To deny that natural causes can generate CSI is not the same as denying that natural causes can produce events that exhibit CSI. As has been stressed repeatedly, natural causes are ideally suited as conduits for CSI. It is in this sense, then, that natural causes can be said to 'produce CSI'. But natural causes never produce things de novo or ex nihilo."
(Quotation from Dembski)
- Design does production ex nihilo

WD:
Well, intelligence is to intend something. But I, but, I, I but we, we, we... This is not the first time...

RP:
I just want to know, as an ID theorist, what I can say.

WD:
...this is not the first time we're, we're meeting, at least in terms of print at it. And...

RP:
I'm just trying to understand your position; I want to be an ID theorist [laughter]

WD:
No, because...

RP:
...and, and I haven't heard...

WD:
...if you want to be an ID theorist, if you are I don't...

RP:
I don't even know if I'm allowed to say, you're saying I can't use purpose? I can't use intention?..

WD:
No I I'm just saying that... purpose, that purpose is, is not, you know, as I was saying we can detect design without knowing the purpose. If I'm hesitating here it's because I know that you take a certain view of probability, you know where, you know...

GS:
Ten Minutes

WD:
Go ahead.

RP:
I'm trying to learn what your position is, because, because, I'm not quite sure what it is. Here let me just ... just say yes or no at this point. [laughter] If I want to teach this we'll go through the list.

WD:
Just say yes or no, have you stopped beating your wife lately?

RP:
Just, we'll go through the list very quickly. If I'm teaching this, I want to teach this in the school as an alternative to evolution, okay. Now, as an evolutionist, say, here's something that we think is the case: the Darwinian Mechanism is the explanation for biological complexity. You say no. Is that correct?

Slide 7: Darwin's Mechanism: "It is a separate and prior question whether the fitness functions upon which the Darwinian mechanism operates exercises sufficient control over the evolutionary process to account for all of biological complexity.... [T]he irreducible complexity of certain biochemical systems argues decisively against the gradients of these fitness functions (or fitness landscapes) being smooth enough to make the Darwinian mechanism the driving force behind evolution. Note that in offering such an argument I do not challenge evolution as such but the sufficiency of the Darwinian mechanism to account for it."
(Quotation from Dembski. Emphasis added)

WD:
Depends on the system.

RP:
So, maybe it is. Maybe it...

WD:
Well, you know, if it's the bacterial flagellum, I would say yeah, that's that, there's, there's actual design there.

RP:
Okay so we're saying we're going to reject it. How about common descent? If I'm teaching this as an ID theorist...

Slide 8: Common Descent.
"Design theorists themselves are divided on this question. Dean Kenyon and Percival Davis, for instance, argue against common descent... Michael Behe provisionally accepts common descent."
(Quotation from Dembski. Emphasis added.)

as a... I'm saying specifically what I would say as an evolutionist: yes, we accept common descent. But as an ID theorist, what can I teach? I teach that it is compatible, sure, but do I teach that it might not be true?

WD:
[pause] I...[sigh] I don't...

RP:
Design Theorists are divided on this question.

WD:
No, DDDDdesign theorists are divided on this...

RP:
So that means I can teach both. [laughter]

WD:
I, I think that... No... I'm saying that you would teach evidence for and against, I mean it seems to me that there's some ...

RP:
Okay,

WD:
...some good evidence I, ...

RP:
...That's fine, that's a good answer. I just want to know what I can teach.

WD:
... there's some good evidence there's some good evidence for common descent. You know there are molecular phylogenies...

RP:
Microevolution, Can I teach that? [pause] Or do I have to reject that?

Slide 9a: Micro & Macroevolution:
"What evidence there is supports limited variation within fixed boundaries, or what typically is called microevolution." (Quotation from Dembski. Emphasis added.)
{NOTE: Biological def. does not say "fixed boundaries"}

WD:
We're a, you know...

RP:
I just want to find out what I believe.

WD:
we're a profession that, that...

RP:
If this is an alternative theory, I just want to find out...I'm just asking: what can I say as an ID theorist? What do I accept and what do I reject. Science lays its cards out on the table and says, here's what we accept, here's what we reject.

WD:
okay

RP:
All I'm asking is, do you accept this or not?

WD:
Well, let's back, back up just a moment. The great tree of life, Darwin's great tree of life, common descent. The mechanism that was supposed to drive this was the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection and random variation. If that mechanism is called into question then it seems that a lot of things that...

RP:
You're speaking of mic-, of macroevolution.

Slide 9b: Micro & Macroevolution:
"Macroevolution - the unlimited plasticity of organisms to diversify across all boundaries - even if true, cannot legitimately be attributed to the mutation-selection mechanism." (Quotation from Dembski. Emphasis added.)
{NOTE: Biological def. does not say "unlimited plasticity"}

WD:
Well, the full, the full ball of wax, alright. So you, if that's, if the mechanism that's supposed to underwrite the great tree of life is called into question then the... then there is, I think, place to reexamine that as well. So you get science, everything is open for reexamination. It seems that the evidence for common descent is actually pretty good.

RP:
So, so ID doesn't make a specific claim but, but it, but I can teach that, but some ID theorists do think that that's wrong.

WD:
Well, you know, when your putting it this way it's as though ID is this really ossified position.

RP:
I don't know, some people, you said yourself, it's...

WD:
We are very early, we are very early

RP:
I've got it quoted, some say yes some say no.

WD:
We are very early in the game. I think that, you know, as I've put it in my book, No Free Lunch, you want to be as conservative as possible in what you're, what you're teaching. You know, and how much you're changing the uh, the curriculum.

RP:
How about the age of the Earth, can I say how old that is?

Slide 10a: Other theses: Age of the earth
- Billions of years or Thousands of years

As a scientist I say it's billions, what can I say as an ID theorist?

WD:
Well, you've read the literature. It's entirely compatible Intelligent Design makes no claim about the age of the Earth.

RP:
So, so I may say-as some ID theorists do-that the Earth is thousands of years old. I'm allowed to say that as an ID theorist. I can teach that.

WD:
Allowed? [laughter]

RP:
I want to know what I'm able to do.

WD:
The theory, the theory makes no claims about the age of the earth. You get that from an independent source. So if you're going to go geo, geological evidence...

RP:
So if I'm teaching...The nice thing about Science is that science is integrated. It's not just one thing; you can't just throw one piece out. So as an evolutionist, I say here are all of the pieces, here's what I take a stand on. I want you to take a stand and tell me can I teach this?

WD:
There're a lot of things that are...

RP:
because some...

WD:
...that end up being...

RP:
ID theorists say yes...

WD:
That end up being independent of uh, of Intelligent Design. Much as...uh...

RP:
so...

WD:
I mean is it going to matter to Darwinian evolution if the earth is you know, four billion years old? Forty billion years old? I mean, you know...

ES:
one minute remaining.

WD:
You know, it'll still be true, you know, it wouldn't matter...

RP:
How about the flood?

Slide 10b: Other theses: Global flood.

Can I talk about the flood? [laughter] Some say yes, some say no.

WD:
I, I take Genesis figuratively...

RP:
I'm not talking about Genesis.

WD:
OK

RP:
I haven't mentioned Genesis.

WD:
OK

RP:

Slide 10c: Other theses: Origin of the universe
- Fine-tuned universe CSI?

OK. Is the universe fine-tuned? Does it exhibit CSI? [pause] As a whole?

WD:
As a whole I, I think there're there are problems trying to apply these arguments to the universe as a whole because, uh, where's uh, where's the contingency?

RP:
So fine tuning arguments don't establish CSI as, as ...

WD:
There are people who, and I think there are always metaphysical assumptions that you have to make with, with, the universe as a whole, because the laws, in what sense are they contingent.

RP:
OK

WD:
That, that's always going to be a part of it.

RP:

Slide 10d: Other theses. Scientific Method: Methodological Naturalism vs. Metaphysical Naturalism. Graphic of Sydney Harris cartoon: Scientist's equation on blackboard interrupted with words 'Then a miracle occurs', about which second scientist comments 'I think you should be more explicit here in step two.'

As an ID theorist you've said that you definitely reject the naturalist view. So is that correct? I'm allowed as an ID theorist to say, um, I'll appeal to a miracle in this case. I'm allowed to do that.

WD:
Intelligent design makes no commitment to miracles, and I, I would...

RP:
I'm just saying whether I can, not whether you're committed to it. Whether I can do it, um in your view...

WD:
There's uh, I, I, I...

RP:
May I do it?

Slide 11: Frequently asked questions.
'ID Please' Be Specific. Who? (ET? God of Abraham? Vital Force? Et al ad infinitum) What? When? Where? How? Why?

WD:
I'll say...

ES:
Dr. Dembski has one minute to answer.

WD:
I, I, I don't think, it has, it has no place. You know, it's not relevant. [pause] There there's no, no commitment to miracles at least.

ES:
the time is up.

RP:
I'm not talking about commitment; I'm asking may I do it. Is it methodologically necessary?

ES:
Rob.
[laughter]

WD:
Wh-, wh, wh, what are talking about may I do it?
[laughter]

ES:
Guys!
[Laughter]

WD:
Is it a Christian school system ...?

ES:
Gentlemen! [pause] that worked, I'll have to remember that. [laughter]. First time. Thank you very much... You're Done. You have to sit down now. [laughter and applause]. Well, that was fun.