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The Problem with Intelligent Design

Copyright 2003 G.R. Morton. This can be freely distributed so long as no changes are made and no charges are made. (

I was challenged by an individual to cease characterizing the Intelligent Design movement as ‘play science’. I had noted that it was like when I was a child. I had written:

I don't think there is anything such as ID science. It is play science, like what I did as an 8 year old when I would ask my play mate to pass me the kurgian chemical and I would mix it (in my game) to dungarium to form the great explosive dinopoop. All in all it was great fun. There was nothing we couldn't make up and do in my ‘laboratory’.

This gentleman called upon me to cease treating colleagues in this way. Thus I wrote the following explanation of what exactly is wrong with ID:

If it is real science, will someone please tell me what is being measured in ID? What measurement makes something demonstrably designed? It sure isn't probability.

For those who think I was too disrespectful for calling ID play science, I will say that I have a right to express my opinion. I didn't call anyone any names, I said what I thought about what they were doing, which seems to be the rage these days on this list about what certain peoples do in their bedrooms. Of course, it is ok there, I guess.

Just because someone doesn't like hearing their favorite toy called ‘play science’ and want to stop it being called that, stifling the name ‘play science’ doesn't make ID not play science. I haven't seen anything but obfuscation and special pleading from the ID folks. And their lack of knowledge of information theory makes me cringe. If someone wants to tell me I can't call it what I think it is, which is play science, then I will call it bananas (a famous economist frm the 70s used that word for inflation because he was not allowed to use the I-word). So bananas id is and ID is bananas.

I stand by what I say. It isn't science. There is no design science, thus one can call it what one will, it simply ain't what I do, or for that matter, what anyone here does in science. There is no coefficient of design in any science I have ever heard of. It is bananas.

So if you don't want me to call it what I think it is, then explain to me what is being measured.

Now, [this gentleman] suggests it is bits.

[I had asked him]

>> Tell me exactly what you think would constitute a measure of intelligent
>> design? What are the units intelligent design is measured in? How many
>> bubnogs constitute intelligent design?

[this gentleman] replied:

>The first candidate seems to be Bits, the Units of Information Theory. And
>again, I must request that you reign in your disrepectful language.

Lets look at this suggestion. Information is measured in bits. It is the count of the number of choices one makes in selecting the message out of all possible measures. A string of characters which is meaningless has information. Information is

“Intelligent design properly formulated is a theory of information. Within such a theory, information becomes a reliable indicator of intelligent causation as well as a proper object for scientific investigation. Intelligent design thereby becomes a theory for detecting and measuring information, explaining its origin and tracing its flow. Intelligent design is therefore not the study of intelligent causes per se but of informational pathways induced by intelligent causes. As a result, intelligent design presupposes neither a creator nor miracles. Intelligent design is theologically minimalist. It detects intelligence without speculating about the nature of the intelligence. Biochemist Michael Behe's ‘irreducible complexity,’ mathematician Marcel Schutzenberger's ‘functional complexity’ and my own ‘specified complexity’ are alternate routes to the same reality.” William Dembski, Intelligent Design, (Downers Grove, Illinois, 1999), p.106-107

First off, it is not a theory for detecting information. Claude Shannon was the developer of the mathematics which detects information, not Dembski and the ID group. I have never seen a scientific publication in a scientific journal telling the reader the mathematics of how to detect design. Can you point me to one---just one article on this topic? Why is it that this stuff, if it is not bananas, doesn't appear in any scientific journals? Dembski avoids scientific journals.

Secondly, it is not a theory for measuring information--once again Claude Shannon did that. And he actually states in the first page of his article (which was in a scientific journal as opposed to ID stuff), that semantic meaning has nothing to do with information.

he wrote:

“The fundamental problem of communication is that of reproducing at one point either exactly or approximately a message selected at another point. Frequently the messages have _meaning_, that is they refer to or are correlated according to some system with certain physical or conceptual entities. These semantic aspects of communication are irrelevant to the engineering problem.” C. E. Shannon, “A Mathematical theory of Communication” The Bell System Technical Journal, 27(1948):3:379-423, p. 379

Like it or not, Dembski's ‘examples’ of specification, are not part of information theory. (see the bottom for more on this).

Thirdly, it isn't a theory for explaining its origin and tracing its flow. Where does Dembski or any one of them trace information flow anywhere, in any of their publications?? I have read most of them and they never talk about information flow.

The universal probability bound of Dembski is this:

Shoemaker Levy crashed into Jupiter on the 25th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landings. “. . .a straightforward probability calculation indicates that the probability of this coincidence is no smaller than 10-8. This simply isn't all that small a probability (i.e., high complexity), especially when considered in relation to all the events astronomers are observing in the solar system. Certainly this probability is nowhere near the universal probability bound of 10-150 that I propose in The Design Inference.” William A. Dembski, Intelligent Design, (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2001), p. 143

Lets take 96 pebbles off the beach. They are not designed. Put them in a bag and pull them out one at a time and line them up. What is the information content of that sequence if you want to tell Howard van Til how to align the rocks? Do you know? It is 1.008 x 10^-150, or Dembski's improbability bound. Now, I didn't design the pebbles, I didn't design the order. But the order has an information content of Dembski's probability bound.

OK, you say, I drew the pebbles out of the bag and ordered them. Lets make the example entirely naturalistic. I tell Howard the order of a set of 96 rocks I see on the shoreline. These rocks are in the wave zone. I don't touch them but to tell Howard how they are arranged, it requires Dembski's probability bound. Wow, someone designed that beach. The waves have nothing to do with it. Where is my Nobel?!!!

My point is this: Just because one has a chance factor of 10^-150 doesn't make it a conclusive fact that it was designed. If one lives by banana science, then one dies by banana science.

And Dembski speaks of silly things like ‘specified’ or having a pattern which shows how utterly lacking in knowledge of information theory he really is. He uses letter patterns in English as being equivalent with information. They aren't the same at all. Dembski writes:

“For example, if we turned a corner and saw a couple of Scrabble letters on a table that spelled AN, we would not, just on that basis, be able to decide if they were purposely arranged. Even though they spelled a word, the probability of getting a short word by chance is not prohibitive. On the other hand, the probability of seeing some particular long sequence of Scrabble letters, such as NDEIRUABFDMOJHRINKE, is quite small (around one in a billion billion billion). Nonetheless, if we saw that sequence lined up on a table, we would think little of it because it is not specified—it matches no recognizable pattern.’ But if we saw a sequence of letters that read, say, METHINKSITISLIKEAWEASEL, we would easily conclude that the letters were intentionally arranged that way.” Michael Behe, “Forward,”, William Dembski, Intelligent Design, (Downers Grove, Illinois, 1999), p. 10

Science is objective. It is not subjective and this is a point I have raised before in relation to ID. The ability of Dembski to determine whether or not something is designed depends upon personal knowledge--that is subjective. Science is repeatable and objective.







Which of the above have specified information? No one ever tries this test. Those who think ID is a ‘theory for detecting’ design should be able to tell me which of the above are designed and which aren't. Since NO ONE has EVER tried this test, I can only conclude that ID is BANANAS. Will you use ID to detect the designed sequences and then, more importantly, tell me HOW you did it? Some how I doubt you will do it either.

Conversely, tell me what was ‘designed’/‘intended’ in the following sequences.




hint: each of these have multiple semantic meanings but the same Shannon information. Semantic meaning is different than Shannon's information, which by the way is the opposite of entropy. And expenditure of energy can create information. That is the role of plants. They take the energy spent by the sun and create information in the form of complex molecules. The rest of the biosphere (almost) depends upon the information they create.

If you can't do these tests, then ID is simply BANANAS. The emperor didn't like hearing he was wearing banana clothes either.

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