Talk:The Design Inference

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Peer review of books[edit]

I don't understand why this article has a section about peer-review controversy. The current version claims

"The Discovery Institute's characterization of The Design Inference as a peer-reviewed scientific book has been dismissed by both critics of intelligent design and the judge in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial, a claim that clearly demonstrates their bias (since ID material has been published in multiple peer reviewed journals, including the Journal of Molecular Biology, the Journal of Theoretical Biology, the Annual Review of Genetics, etc)."

A close reading of the Dover judgement shows that the conclusion is that there are no peer-reviewed journal articles. This book is not mentioned in the judgement. Unless someone can supply a citation of a source which claims that this book was not peer-reviewed I shall delete the section. The claim of bias is in any case POV and should be reworded or removed. --Drallim 19:34, 26 July 2006 (UTC)


I rewrote the inaccurate statement about the Dover judgement (again) "In Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District in December 2005, United States District Judge John E. Jones III in his ruling stated "A final indicator of how ID has failed to demonstrate scientific warrant is the complete absence of peer-reviewed publications supporting the theory." . . . "evidence presented in this case demonstrates that ID is not supported by any peer-reviewed research, data or publications." [1] ". What the ellipsis hides is the definition of peer review being used there which is "peer review involves scientists submitting a manuscript to a scientific journal in the field, journal editors soliciting critical reviews from other experts in the field", so that the other statements clearly do not refer to books. Drallim 13:07, 22 August 2006 (UTC)

Fair use rationale for Image:Design inference.jpg[edit]

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Image:Design inference.jpg is being used on this article. I notice the image page specifies that the image is being used under fair use but there is no explanation or rationale as to why its use in this Wikipedia article constitutes fair use. In addition to the boilerplate fair use template, you must also write out on the image description page a specific explanation or rationale for why using this image in each article is consistent with fair use.

Please go to the image description page and edit it to include a fair use rationale. Using one of the templates at Wikipedia:Fair use rationale guideline is an easy way to insure that your image is in compliance with Wikipedia policy, but remember that you must complete the template. Do not simply insert a blank template on an image page.

If there is other fair use media, consider checking that you have specified the fair use rationale on the other images used on this page. Note that any fair use images lacking such an explanation can be deleted one week after being tagged, as described on criteria for speedy deletion. If you have any questions please ask them at the Media copyright questions page. Thank you.

BetacommandBot (talk) 19:49, 13 February 2008 (UTC)

Explanatory Filter[edit]

The overview section currently states:

In the book Dembski introduces what he calls an "explanatory filter"; a method by which chance is ruled out when a highly improbable event conforms to a discernible pattern which is given independently of the event itself.[1] The filter has three steps:

  1. Does a law explain it?
  2. Does chance explain it?
  3. Does design explain it?[2]

The filter states that if the thing being examined cannot be explained by a law, and it is too statistically unlikely to be explained by chance, then it must be attributed to design.[3] A pattern is given independently of an event if we can formulate this pattern without any information concerning the event itself, according to Dembski. Dembski calls a probability conjoined with such a pattern a "specified" probability and formulates what he calls the Law of Small Probability: specified events of small probability do not occur by chance.

Dembski claims his concept is useful to those concerned with detecting design, forensic scientists, detectives, insurance fraud investigators, cryptographers, and SETI investigators, and theologians who argue for the fine–tuning of the universe and the Anthropic Principle.[4]

Dembski defines "design" to mean "neither regularity nor chance,"; if something is not explicable in terms of natural law or chance, then by definition it is due to "design" in his thinking.[3] He argues that to say that something is attributable to "design" is to say that it exhibits a certain kind of pattern.[1] Dembski then offers a three–step schema of actualization–exclusion–specification to move from "design" to an intelligent designer, as proving that something is due to neither regularity nor chance does not logically entail that it is due to intelligence. He says that as one finds that a certain possibility has been actualized (presumably requiring a cause), one excludes accounts of the event based on natural law explanations (showing that the event is physically contingent), and finally one specifies that contingency so as to show that it conforms to an independently given pattern (distinguishing choice from mere chance as the cause of the event).[5]

Dembski concludes that life itself is such a highly improbable event,[6] conforming to a discernible pattern, and so serves as evidence in-and-of-itself of intelligent design.

A number of points:

  1. What pattern? This reeks of the Texas sharpshooter fallacy.
  2. The third step is logically redundant. The 'filter' has already eliminated the options of High Probability(HP) & Intermediate Probability(IP) events, so the question of whether it is a Small Probability(SP) event is automatically positive by elimination. This is noted in Sober et al: "Notice that the filter is eliminativist, with the Design hypothesis occupying a special position."
  3. This is an implicit admission of point [2].
  4. SETI at least have refuted Dembski's claims. And as far as I can see none of the other fields, except perhaps for his fellow theologians, use this 'filter'.
  5. This passage appears to be semantically meaningless jargon.
  6. Bare assertion -- not a "conclusion" based upon any substantive evidence.

The section is basically a credulous recitation of Dembski's (largely vapid) handwaving, unbalanced by critical analysis of his claims by the likes of Sober et al or Pigliucci. I am therefore intending heavily templating/tagging it until I can work through some of these problems. HrafnTalkStalk 05:35, 5 May 2008 (UTC)

I have eliminated the multiple (and often confused, jargon-filled & mutually contradictory) restatements of the filter & specified complexity. HrafnTalkStalk 06:53, 5 May 2008 (UTC)

Look, whatever you think of the ideas, that doesn't give you the right to make the article less readable. The whole part about probability was already there, and I just moved it. You're right that it was confusing, and I'm fine with you removing it. But why remove the simple layout of the filter's three steps? That's taken straight from an article by Dembski about the filter. Laying it out in the simple, three question method makes it easier to understand.
Whatever you or I think about the validity of the filter (and I think we think the same thing about it), Wikipedia is improved by laying it out in a better and more clear manner. At the moment there's one short sentence explaining it. It doesn't mention that the filter consists of questions or the logic behind them. Jfrank
Oh, and whether or not the third step in the filter is logically redundant is irrelevant to the laying out of the filter in an article. The article itself must be unbiased, meaning it must lay out for the reader *all three* steps. If another paragraph discusses the arguments against the third step then fine. It doesn't change the fact that the third step exists and needs to be reported. (Many ancient scientific ideas were logically redundant and ridiculous, but that doesn't mean we remove parts of them when we report them. So why should we do that here?) Jfrank —Preceding comment was added at 12:21, 5 May 2008 (UTC)
  1. I didn't "make the article less readable" -- I eliminated repeated and often incoherent and mutually-inconsistent restatements of the same point to make the article more readable. In any case, there is certainly no need for the article to state the same thing more than once.
  2. Reviewers of the article leave out the third step as redundant, as apparently does Dembski himself some of the time (assuming that the "Dembski defines "design" to mean "neither regularity nor chance,"; if something is not explicable in terms of natural law or chance, then by definition it is due to "design" in his thinking." statement was accurate). All I did was leave in one instance of the pre-existing two-step description of the filter.

HrafnTalkStalk 12:53, 5 May 2008 (UTC)

Apparently Dembski is withdrawing his support for the "Explanatory Filter". Perhaps some rewriting of this article is warranted? See The Austringer: The Weblog of Wesley R. Elsberry "Vindication". TomS TDotO (talk) 13:30, 5 December 2008 (UTC)

TDI and peer review[edit]

The article states:

The book was published by the Cambridge University Press as part of the monograph series Cambridge Studies in Probability, Induction and Decision Theory. It was peer-reviewed by logicians and philosophers. In 2003 Dembski cited it as one of "a few recent peer-reviewed publications supporting intelligent design in biology", arguing that it gives legitimacy to intelligent design.

In fact, the relevant expertise of reviewers of TDI, or even their existence, is unknown and unverifiable. Dembski at one point suggested that anyone with questions should ask the person in charge of the TDI manuscript at CUP, Dr. Brian Skyrms. So I did. Skyrms provided no answers beyond that TDI received the normal review procedure for a book in its series. Skyrms declined to even describe what a normal review process at CUP consisted of. Skyrms asked me if I knew that TDI does not apply Dembski's argument to biology and evolution, specifically whether I was aware that TDI did not even mention evolution. Not only am I not aware of that, I knew that, in fact, section 2.3 of TDI is "A Case Study: The Creation-Evolution Controversy", where Dembski does indeed apply his argument to the origin of life, or as Dembski writes it in TDI, "LIFE". That the person in charge of editing Dembski's manuscript at CUP, and that Dembski asserted was in charge of his manuscript, did not have even a cursory familiarity with its contents was stunning to me. That's the true measure of the level of "peer-review" that TDI received as best as I can determine.

The article as currently written includes unverifiable statements as to the character of the review process and the expertise of those involved. It should be amended to drop those claims. --Wesley R. Elsberry (talk) 00:35, 7 December 2008 (UTC)

Talk: Origins[edit]

WLU, I don't see how this is an RS, and it's almost certainly false to boot. Are the writers notable experts?

Reviewers for the Talk.Origins Archive stated that the peer review of the book was weak, being conducted by philosophers rather than mathematicians or statisticians who would be able to evaluate the quality of the math.[1][2]

SlimVirgin talk|contribs 02:14, 29 August 2010 (UTC)

They also don't say what the edit says. The second one says he suspects this, but of course he doesn't know. SlimVirgin talk|contribs 02:16, 29 August 2010 (UTC)
In my experience the talk.origins archive has always been an acceptable parity source for any creationist claims, focusing as it does on debunking the substantive claims made by creationists. It is award winning and described by Science, Scientific American, The Encylopedia of Evolution and Bad Astronomy as an excellent resource for debunking creationist claims and information about human evolution. It is recommended by numerous associations including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Smithsonian Institution and the Geological Society of America (among the notable ones with wikipedia pages), and is used by many university courses as well.
As for the the contributors, Mark Isaak has a large number of on-line publications on evolution in general as editor or author [2], [3], , including a book specifically dedicated to debunking creationist claims [4] published by University of California Press (or Greenwood Press [5]). I can't find a CV though, I could try contacting him. For Isaak I would say his reliability (particularly since he is the editor) is secondary to that of the archive.
Richard Wein is also published on the talk.origins archive. Dembski, notably, has actually replied to Wein's points, leading to a counter-rebuttal (and wash-rinse repeat a couple times). According to Dembski, Wein has a BA in stats [6]. Again for me, the reliability comes from its hosting on talk.origins than the author. The reason I initially included a quote by Wein was because of the equivocal and speculative nature of the discussion - but the core of it is reasonable; it's a philosophical text, not a mathematic one. But yeah, the summary wasn't the best, if it's judged reliable I'd like something longer and more substantive.
I see both as useable as parity sources for fringe claims like intelligent design, particularly given the recognized expertise of talk.origins' applicability to creationist arguments. WLU (t) (c) Wikipedia's rules:simple/complex 14:15, 29 August 2010 (UTC)
The problem is that it's self-published, and self-published sources are only allowed in certain circumstances; see WP:SPS, which is policy, not a guideline. What this means is that we can use a self-published source if he is a recognized expert in the field who has been published in that field by independent reliable publishers. But he must not be commenting on living persons. No self-published sources are ever allowed about living persons.
Also, if you stop to think about it, what they are saying makes no sense, and they don't sound as though they're familiar with Cambridge. The series editors are listed in the book. I've written to them to ask about the publishing process, though my guess is they'll tell me to mind my own business. But I went to Cambridge myself and I know people who were published by CUP. It is a rigorous process. SlimVirgin talk|contribs 16:51, 29 August 2010 (UTC)
Sure, but the reason we have pages like PARITY, FRINGE, REDFLAG is for topics that aren't mainstream, and intelligent design is one of them (in fact, PARITY mentions creation science, which is is the same thing as creationism and intelligent design is merely an updated form of creationism). ID is never published in mainstream journals, only in books (rarely peer reviewed books at that) and the whole criticism is that the book wasn't appropriately peer reviewed because it's purporting to be a mathematical argument but appears in a set of philosophy monographs. The real point isn't that it's wrongly peer reviewed, it's that it was peer reviewed by the wrong people with the wrong expertise in the wrong discipline. Rigor doesn't matter that much if you're getting a book on cancer reviewed by a geologist, or vice-versa. Finding criticisms of the book's peer review was difficult, which was why I included the Talk.Origins pieces, and the website's status as a recognized critic of creationism does give their opinions weight. Naturally though, it'd be better if more reliable sources are used so I'll try digging more.
Dembski also responds to Wein's comments - the thread comes down to Wein criticizing Dembski for publishing an ostensibly mathematical theory under the rubric of philosophy; Dembski replies that his theory isn't a mathematical one, but addresses instead a "broader framework". Dembski obviously felt the need to reply, which suggests a place in the page.
Also, within the overall context of science, biology and theology, this book is part of the ID "theory", which simply isn't science, biology, theology or theory. Tied into the greater arc of the ideas involved, the book is the first of many recycled, widely rejected set of ideas. Though I think that would be better addressed elsewhere, probably intelligent design.
You may want to have a look at the EL section as well - if you object to these sources as sources they probably aren't much better in your opinion as ELs. And for me, it looks like the EL section is being used as a holding area for what should be inline citations, a pet peeve of mine. I'll try to get to addressing them when I've got the time. I'll give this whole section more thought and research and see what I can come up with. WLU (t) (c) Wikipedia's rules:simple/complex 15:14, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
Hi WUL, I take your point about Dembski having replied. We need to stick to the content policies here. They are NPOV, V, NOR, and BLP. They determine content, and they're the ones we have to defer to when there's a dispute. All the others are just guidelines with varying degrees of consensus, some of them entirely disputed. I'll take a closer look again at the discussion, including Dembski's response. SlimVirgin talk|contribs 18:07, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
'Kay, thanks! I look forward to your thoughts but will see if I can redundant by finding more reliable sources to substantiate the point. WLU (t) (c) Wikipedia's rules:simple/complex 19:40, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
That would be a good idea. If the peer-review (or not) of that book is a real concern, it's likely to have been discussed elsewhere, perhaps in a book or paper. I'll also look around. SlimVirgin talk|contribs 19:56, 31 August 2010 (UTC)


Dembski was asked to bring his documentation for the "peer-review" of TDI at CUP to his deposition for the Kitzmiller case in 2005, which would have resolved this question definitively. Dembski withdrew from the case three days before the deposition was to start.
I agree with leaving off claims about "peer-review" of TDI in either direction. As noted in the section just above, claims about details of the review process for TDI going either direction are unverifiable and thus unsuitable for Wikipedia.
However, there is sworn testimony from Jeff Shallit concerning his experience in publishing through CUP that the book review process was substantially laxer than he has experienced for publishing technical papers, which at least is verifiable, comes from a notable critic, and applies to the generic claim that "it was published by CUP therefore it is peer-reviewed". See Shallit's rebuttal report in the Kitzmiller case for that.
--Wesley R. Elsberry (talk) 17:20, 24 April 2011 (UTC)

Sources[edit]

More recent critical sources and some corrections[edit]

Given that there are items in the article that involve me or my work that need correction, I'll broach the list of corrections here, and either someone else can make them, people can dispute them, or if nobody else objects or does anything about it, I'll come back in a couple of weeks and apply them.

  • My name is misspelled: "Ellsberry" is incorrect, "Elsberry" is correct.
  • My review is dated 1999, published in NCSE Reports. The date and the link should be changed. TalkReason is a good site, but it is a secondary source for the review, simply re-publishing it.
  • As it stands, the WP article fails to conform to WP:NPOV. The impression left by the article and the parts quoted from my early review of Dembski (it predates Pigliucci's review) gives the incorrect impression that Dembski's ideas expressed in TDI are still considered legitimate. For more recent (and unrebutted) thought on the standing of Dembski's "explanatory filter" idea and "specified complexity", I have two published papers on those topics. Pre-publication text of "The advantages of theft over toil: the design inference and arguing from ignorance, published in "Biology and Philosophy", November, 2001 [1], gives an extensive critique of the problems in Dembski's "explanatory filter/design inference". Longer source for the edited article appearing the the Synthese special issue on "Evolution and Its Rivals" (online publication in 2009/04, print publication in the 2011/01 issue) [2], taking up the more technical problems with "specified complexity" in Dembski's published work on the topic. A variety of other critics have weighed in as well. I suggest at least my two later published critiques be added to the article with summaries to correct this deficiency. Having only my 1999 review as a cited critique promulgates an inaccurate impression of my view on Dembski's ideas. More published critical work cited would be even better.

--Wesley R. Elsberry (talk) 15:37, 24 April 2011 (UTC)

Thanks to Hrafn for correcting the misspelled instance of my name and correcting the review citation and link. There are two (I think) dates listed as 2002 for my review of TDI that should be changed to 1999. The Wilkins and Elsberry paper was published in 2001, but my book review was in 1999. --Wesley R. Elsberry (talk) 17:30, 24 April 2011 (UTC)


Any chance of actually including positive comments on the book? I realize that wikipedia has taken a definite position on this but it just seems like a proper more detailed article showing actual positives along with the obligate negatives (of anything that opposes evolution) would be more welcome than this dreadful article. Wording like "anti-evolution" suggests a bias towards evolution. The critical sources are also not exactly objective. I realize that your rules probably facilitate that kind of bias, just pointing it out. I've come to realize how unreliable wikipedia is by reading the talk pages on certain topics --72.27.78.33 (talk) 16:14, 5 November 2011 (UTC)

  1. ^ Wilkins, John S, and Wesley R Elsberry. 2001. The advantages of theft over toil: the design inference and arguing from ignorance. Biology and Philosophy 16 (November):711-724.
  2. ^ Elsberry, Wesley R. and Shallit, Jeffrey O. 2011. Information theory, evolutionary computation, and Dembski’s “complex specified information”. Synthese Volume 178, Number 2, 237-270, DOI: 10.1007/s11229-009-9542-8