Thursday, February 22, 2007

William Dembski Needs to Stick to Math

Here’s a great example of when you should understand what you’re criticizing before you criticize it. William Dembski, one of the leading proponents of Intelligent Design recently left a post on his blog, Uncommon Descent, where he makes two arguments that vestigial structures in organisms are better evidence for design than evolution. Yes, you read that right. Dembski thinks that evolution would never have vestigial structures. Here’s his first argument:

Vestigial structures in biology are commonly cited as evidence for evolution, and it may well be that they did evolve. But if it is evidence of evolution, it is evolution in the wrong direction — it’s not the sort of function enhancing/innovating evolution that is supposed to give evolutionary theory its bite. Vestigial structures, after all, are structures that have lost their function. If all of evolution proceeded in this fashion, we’d quickly descend to a world of nonfunctionality.

Like most creationists, Dembski obviously thinks that evolution must have a set order of progression, hence his insistence on “direction”. Of course, he believes that a god directs everything in existence, so it’s not hard to see why he can’t escape the paradigm that everything must have a set path. However, the theory of evolution does not say that there is an inevitable progression of speciation. In fact, it says the exact opposite. Species will either survive or they won’t, depending on how well they are equipped to deal with the environment. This simply favors those that can reproduce enough to survive, and it means that the slightest environmental change early on could completely alter the outcome down the line. If evolution were to start over, life would certainly progress much differently and would be quite alien to anything we know today.

Additionally, Dembski refuses to acknowledge the fact that new features can arise through adoption. This undoubtedly comes from his belief that natural processes cannot add information to DNA, which relies on his rather dubious interpretation of information theory (for more, read here). I won’t go into this much further, but the idea that new features cannot arise comes from Dembski’s own hypothesis rather than the actual theory of evolution, creating yet another mischaracterization of the theory.

A great example of vestigial structures along side new ones can be seen in whales. Most modern whales have the remnants of hind legs. In the picture below, you can see the vestigial hind limbs of a humpback whale. The tiny bones hanging below the vertebra are the remnants of femurs (picture courtesy of

However, with Dembski’s version of evolution, that means all whales must have lost their hind limbs and should be stuck with nothing more than a pointed tail for swimming. However, this is not the case. As whales evolved, the tips of their tails flattened. Initially this probably helped with steering, but eventually the flukes became more efficient at providing propulsion than the hind limbs. As a result, whales’ hind limbs began to shrink since they became more of a hindrance than a help, and today whales have no externally visible hind limbs, if any at all.

As you can see, just because some structures disappear due to evolution does not mean that the same process cannot alter existing structures to the point where they become something new and more useful like the flukes on the tails of whales.

For more on whale evolution, click here.

Dembski’s second argument highlights Intelligent Design’s complete inability to usefully explain anything:

But vestigiality need not evolve by purely material means — it can also be designed. I was delighted to be informed (after my recent debate with Michael Shermer at Bridgewater College) of a nifty example of vestigial structures that arise not through “devolution” but rather through design, to wit, vestigial running boards on older automobiles.

He then shows a series pictures with old Fords that portrays a progression from useful running boards to small fairings in later models where running boards would normally go.

This brings us to an important question: why would an intelligent designer keep these vestigial features? Does he find them aesthetically pleasing? I guess Dembski’s god must find something interesting in whales with tiny, useless bones in their tails. Of course, Dembski can’t tell us why. I’m sure he’d say we can’t understand the Intelligent Designer’s (read: God’s) reasons. And that brings us to the ultimate problem with ID. It creates more problems than it solves and then declares the new problems unsolvable. This is not how science is supposed to work. It’s supposed to help us better explain the world, not fill it with more unknowns. Just saying “God did it,” is nothing more than a copout. With Dembski’s reasoning, we might as well shut down all scientific research and return to the Middle Ages because God does everything and we can’t understand it.

Now, I’m certainly not an expert in biology, but Dembski, as a leading advocate for a biological origins theory (however unscientific it might be), shows a remarkable degree of ignorance towards modern biology. Obviously, he would never accept the prevailing views on modern biology since evolution forms its foundation, but he should at least understand the theory if he seriously wants to challenge it. Clearly, Dembski hasn’t bothered to actually learn about evolution, or he wouldn’t have made such ridiculous arguments about vestigial structures or insist that evolution has a direction. This just shows why he can’t be taken seriously. A true scientific innovator would understand the prevailing theories, not completely ignore them. Clearly, Dembski either needs to do a bit more reading or stick to math.

1 comment:

Dr Umesh R Bilagi said...

Intelligent Design & Vestigial Organs
Dr Umesh R. Bilagi
Associate Prof of Medicine
KIMS Hubli

Topic :-Vestigial organs not necessarily proof of evolution for Darwin

I would postulate that it is possible to have a vestigial organ [ananatomical structure in organisms in a species, thought to have lost its original function through evolution] without the process of evolution. Let me illustrate this idea using an analogy drawn from popular computer software.

Assuming, I have a reasonable amount of storage space on my computer hard disk, if I first create an unformatted document using Microsoft(MS) Word, and then a second MS Word document that I format very rigorously, I do so because I consider MS Word software to be the best option for my purposes, as opposed to using, say, the less sophisticated Notepad software, where little formatting of documentsis possible.

Now, if you argue that there is a vestigial structure to the first MSWord document (the capacity - in this case, unused - for formatting)and that this only became functional in the second document,ultimately concluding that the first document evolved from the second document, you would be incorrect, since I am the creator of both documents.

Similarly, I would argue that vestigial organs do not necessarily confirm evolution; they only point to what tools - improvable overtime - the creator used while making the species. This same principle is seen even in electronic gadgets today.

Most probably, such an explanation did not occur to Darwin given that, in his time, there were no common tools to carry out varied, complex,seemingly disconnected jobs. So he concluded that unless a creator planned to mislead us, vestigial organs should not have existed

It is tendency of creators of to make some useful common tools, which can be used to carry out multiple jobs (or to make machines). so by virtue of this comman tools (if tools get fitted into machines), vestigenesity will come up.

Vestigial organs can be classified in to verticle & tranverse ones

Verticle ones are like appendix which are inherited from ancestor to next species

Tranverse one are in which one sex has fuctional capacity & in opposite sex it is vestigineous

Vertiginous Male breast can be better explained tools of intelligent design than Darwin evolution now look at male nipple which are functional in female. Male & female have come much before mammals, so presence of male nipple in mammals can be explained by theory of tools of intelligent design better than Darwin evolution.