Monday, November 8, 2010

The identity of the Designer

The elusive Kilroy has left his mark in exceedingly improbable places, all around the world. The only reasonable inference is....

Image copyright: Patrick Tillery

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What is the probability of life in the physical universe?

I’ll be giving a “Disbelief Discourse” to the Oklahoma Atheists and the Channing Unitarians on Tuesday, November 16, at 7:30 PM.
Channing Unitarian Universalist Church
2800 West 15th Street
Edmond OK 73012
The event is open to the public.

What Is the Probability of Life in the Physical Universe?

The question posed in the title has no objective answer, and creationists avoid confronting it directly. They instead give mathematically dandified arguments that particular features of life are objectively so unlikely to have arisen by natural processes that they must reflect supernatural intervention. Their conclusions imply that life is physically improbable, and thus their claims of objectivity are false. This simple rebuttal may seem unsatisfying to laypeople who believe incorrectly that scientists use math to prove the properties of nature. Consequently, the presentation will begin with an explanation of mathematical modeling in science.


Tom English flirted with creationism in his teens, and went so far as to deliver an anti-evolution talk to his biology classmates. What led him to abandon his naive beliefs about the truth and reconcilability of scripture and science, and to embrace methodological naturalism in scientific investigation, was a combination of studies in the Bible and the philosophy of science. After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology and English, respectively, at Mississippi College, and master’s and doctoral degrees in computer science at Mississippi State University, he began investigating evolution in computational processes. He independently proved what came to be known as the “no free lunch” theorem for optimization, and subsequently published six papers related to it. In empirical research, he obtained by computational evolution a predictor of annual sunspots activity that was far more accurate than any previously reported. Tom is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and has served as an associate editor of the IEEE Transactions on Evolutionary Computation. His most recent scholarly publication, coauthored by Garry Greenwood, is “Intelligent Design and Evolutionary Computation,” Chapter 1 of Design by Evolution.

Monday, November 1, 2010

“Dover II”: Forensic science is not engineering

It is no secret that William A. Dembski, who filed a brief before withdrawing as an expert witness for the defense in Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District, is looking ahead to “Dover II.” I just wrote the following in a response to “Conservation of Information in Search: Measuring the Cost of Success”:
The article is the first in a series of publications that makes no positive contribution to the design of search procedures, but instead develops and applies a formal approach to arguing that success in search evidences design. That is, Dembski and Marks have disguised as engineering what is actually an attempt at forensic science, appropriate to making cases in courts of law and public opinion.
I’d point out to anyone who might serve as an anti-IDC expert in Dover II that Dembski and Marks have not subjected their work to scrutiny as forensic science. They have done their damnedest to avoid calling attention to the fact that their engineering papers are really not about engineering. Thus they’ve evaded whatever appropriate scrutiny they might have gotten within an inappropriate community. You can count on it, nonetheless, that the defense will present their publications as peer-reviewed science when the next legal battle comes along.

My comments are also relevant to those of you who face in the court of public opinion the (few) IDC rhetoricians who have managed to write off complex specified information and move on to active information.