Creationist Dembski gives academic talk at MY university!

An outraged alumnus of the University of Chicago called my attention to an upcoming “Computations in Science” Seminar. It is being given by none other than intelligent-design creationist William Dembski, famous for his characterization of ID in Touchstone Magazine:

Intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory.

And now he’s coming here to talk about this?

Screen Shot 2014-08-08 at 9.51.40 AM

So Dembski is going to come here and talk to a bunch of computational scientists about how evolution can’t be right because of his No Free Lunch Theorem, which has already been debunked (see here. here, and here for the debunking). I can’t believe that my own university, proud of its reputation and academic rigor, is presenting creationism as serious science. As my correspondent noted: “WTF is happening at my alma mater?”

University of Chicago, and especially those responsible for inviting speakers to this series, you should be ashamed of yourselves! Don’t you vet your speakers.

Notice two things, though:

1. Dembski’s seminar is the only one in the series lacking a host
2. Dembski’s home institution (really just a tiny warren of offices in Seattle) is misspelled.

 

153 Comments

  1. Posted August 8, 2014 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    Invite the press, record it, take him apart piece by piece, and distribute widely!

  2. Posted August 8, 2014 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    At first it was CSI; now it’s CoI. Meet the new infophilia, same as the old infophilia.

    Dembski has the charm and originality of an automaton.

    • Taz
      Posted August 8, 2014 at 8:27 am | Permalink

      That’s because CSI (Complex Specified Information) implies a measurable quantity, and Dembski was never able to define it well enough for it to be measured. A vague principle is much better suited to the purposes of ID.

    • JoeBuddha
      Posted August 9, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      The only thing that seems to evolve in his philosophy is the name of his philosophy.

  3. NewEnglandBob
    Posted August 8, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Someone should organize a “sit-out” to encourage no attendance. Let him speak to an empty room.

    • docbill1351
      Posted August 8, 2014 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      The word “teleology” is right there in the abstract!

      “Teleological laws mooted by Thomas Nagel?”

      This is tent revival stuff, not academics. Somebody in the CMRC needs to learn to read. What’s next, “Effective Materials For Successful Water Dowsing ?”

      • Matt G
        Posted August 8, 2014 at 9:44 am | Permalink

        “The Homeopathic Approach to Dose-Response Studies.”

      • steve oberski
        Posted August 8, 2014 at 10:01 am | Permalink

        Yes, when I read the phrase “natural teleological laws” I though to myself, you only get to use 1 out of those first 2 words in the same phrase.

        • Matt G
          Posted August 8, 2014 at 10:25 am | Permalink

          When you practice the One True Religion, you can connect any two points you like. Theology and computer science? Totally compatible! It’s like getting a free lunch….

          • Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:26 am | Permalink

            When you invoke magic, you can do anything! (And know nothing.)

          • darrelle
            Posted August 8, 2014 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

            Or a free bowl of soup and a hat.

          • Posted August 8, 2014 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

            In fact I see the Pope has now stated that modern communication devices such as smart phones and tablet computers are a gift from God.
            Probably Steve Jobs is having an argument with God right now over patents and copy writes.

          • Posted August 8, 2014 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

            Hey, that’s a great point!

            He’s all worked up about evolution being an impossible free lunch – so what does he make of god’s omnipotence? Seems to me that’d be even…free-er.

        • michaelfugate
          Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:03 am | Permalink

          someone pointed out that natural law is deontological not teleological….

  4. frankschmidtmissouri
    Posted August 8, 2014 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    Maybe while he’s there, his committee can revoke his Ph.D.? His “understanding” of probability wouldn’t get a passing grade in an undergrad course let alone be the basis for a doctorate.

  5. Alex Shuffell
    Posted August 8, 2014 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    Is the audience likely to take this seriously at the University of Chicago? In the description when he started talking about natural teleology it sounded a description of a conspiracy theory.
    The gig is at 12:15, seems like a nice place to have a cup of tea with a laugh at lunch time.

  6. Posted August 8, 2014 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Dembski has been corrected on this nonsense so often and so thoroughly that his continued advocacy of it can only be deliberate lying.

    In just the summary of his talk he makes a basic error. The NFL theorems do not say “the average performance of any search is no better than blind search.” What they say is that no search algorithm is better than random search when averaged across all possible search spaces. For any particular search space, some algorithms perform much better than random search.

    I don’t know if it would be better for someone to show up and humiliate him or for no one to show up at all.

    • Matt G
      Posted August 8, 2014 at 8:33 am | Permalink

      Is he actually lying, or is he so deluded that he is convinced he’s right?

      I thought the NFL theorem involved beating your wife/girlfriend when she acts up….

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted August 8, 2014 at 9:49 am | Permalink

        I think it was in The God Delusion where Dawkins used an appropriate quote for a book review. The quote was in effect: ‘Before deluding others, the author has taken great pains to delude himself’.

      • Draken
        Posted August 8, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

        You thought NFL stands for Neo-Fascist League?

    • Posted August 8, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      In just the summary of his talk he makes a basic error. The NFL theorems do not say “the average performance of any search is no better than blind search.” What they say is that no search algorithm is better than random search when averaged across all possible search spaces. For any particular search space, some algorithms perform much better than random search.

      Exactly — it’s the same problem as compression. There is no compression method that can be applied to arbitrary input which will always result in reduced file sizes. However, given a particular subset of file sizes, a well-constructed method can reliably achieve astonishing ratios. The more narrowly targeted the scope of data you want to compress, the better you can compress it.

      As an extreme, you can even consider a library’s catalog as a compression scheme; the catalog number is the compressed version of the full text of the book. If you’re old enough to remember card catalogs, those dozen or so small cabinets near the front entrance of the library are the compressed version of the entire rest of the library.

      When it comes down to it, Dumbski’s “argument” is as idiotic as those who say Evolution violates the laws of thermodynamics…because they’ve neglected to take note of that bright light that slowly passes overhead once each day and the way it gets cold at night.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Daoud
        Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

        What is this “bright light” you speak of? I wish to learn more, does your movement have a pamphlet? 😉

        • Posted August 8, 2014 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

          Most of what you need to know about this movement can be summarized by our chant:

          Sun god! Sun god! Ra, Ra, Ra!

          If you wish to join, simply send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to me with a completed application form. The form is simple: a sufficient number of large, unmarked bills.

          b&

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted August 8, 2014 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

            Sun worship makes the most sense to me – the sun is real, it can make things grow or destroy them (skin cancer, scorched earth). So, it’s like Apollo (a sun god) as it can heal or destroy. And it’s right there, except at night. Then it’s scary, but then it comes right back! Yay! Sun!

            • Posted August 8, 2014 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

              There’s a reason why I live in the Valley of the Sun, in the City of Tempe, on Apollo Avenue, in an house whose roof is covered with solar panels.

              b&

              • Posted August 8, 2014 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

                Does Baihu get up and allow himself to be worshipped on the solar panels?

              • Posted August 8, 2014 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

                Well, first, he’s strictly an indoor / leashed outdoor cat…and, this time of year, that’d be just a wee bit too much Sun to worship. Right this minute, the glycol in the water heater panels is at about 213°F — and it’s gotten over 325°F.

                Wintertime — or, rather, during that less-hot time of year that we refer to as “winter” for nostalgic reasons…well, when the Sun is at a low enough angle to come through the windows, he generally manages to find the sunniest spot for his naps.

                It’s supposed to get all the way down to 100°F for the daytime high this coming Wednesday. If that holds, we might head back out to the park late next week…but, even early in the morning, the Sun will be such that I’ll have to keep his coat wet with ice water to keep him from panting. We’re both getting a bit stir-crazy, so I’m hoping that next week really is the end of the worst of the heat….

                b&

              • Posted August 8, 2014 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

                He allows you to put ice water on his coat???

                I feel for you. We did a 2 hr hike in Moab recently @ 40C/104F and I came back to our rented house for a short nap and ended up sleeping 12 hrs. I can attribute that a tiny bit to the unused to high altitude but still it was too bloody hot. Up in the La Sal Mtns it was a more pleasant 90 ish. Feline Fred was not along but Currie the Pooch’s paws definitely suffered when we weren’t near a river or creek.

              • Posted August 9, 2014 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

                He allows you to put ice water on his coat???

                Believe it or not, when we’re out on the trail in the heat, he really welcomes it. Of course, this is the same cat who, if but one drop of water falls off my hands onto his coat as I reach from the sink to the towel, spazzes out. But, on the trail in the heat, he stands still as I soak his coat to the skin.

                We did a 2 hr hike in Moab recently @ 40C/104F and I came back to our rented house for a short nap and ended up sleeping 12 hrs.

                If you’re not used to the heat, and especially not used to exerting yourself in the heat, that’s pretty much what you should expect. Especially since you probably didn’t drink enough water, even if you were consciously trying to on the walk. (And if you weren’t consciously drinking lots, you were definitely dehydrated.)

                Of course, a mere 104°F is mild, and what Baihu and I typically wind up hiking in….

                b&

      • gluonspring
        Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

        Wait, is this bright light outside? If so, that might explain how it’s been overlooked.

      • Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:28 am | Permalink

        Calling in from Seattle … Bright light … ????

        • noncarborundum
          Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:47 am | Permalink

          Occasional dull glow?

        • Diane G.
          Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

          Where people don’t tan, they rust, right?

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted August 8, 2014 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

        Same thing applies to computer sorting algorithms. In a majority of cases the QuickSort is really the fastest, but there are possible arrangements of data in which it turns out to be horribly so. Computers use QuickSort because it is the fastest for a sufficiently large number of sets of data.

      • Posted August 8, 2014 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

        The abstract of his talk looked like gibberish to me, but I question even the notion that no search algorithm is better than random search across all possible spaces.

        I’m speculating here as this might be difficult to work out in the comment thread of a website, but it seems he has just reformulated the P versus NP problem.

        One method that would prove the idea that P = NP would be to solve the subset sum problem for any arbitrary set without examining every subset. That is, show that for a set, there exists (or not) a subset which sums to 0 and do this in polynomial time. Conversely, if you prove that this can’t be done in polynomial time, you’ve just proven P is not equal to NP.

        Given a set of numbers and a random search algorithm, it seems to me that Dembski is in fact stating that no search algorithm could possibly do better than the random one, which has a worst case scenario of searching all subsets. You will find tour answer (whether any subset sums to 0) only upon examining the last subset. Perhaps Dembski should be laying out his formal proof for solving one of computer science’s great problems…

        • Posted August 9, 2014 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

          I’ve heard some interesting speculation that P ?= NP may well be an example of the sort of thing that is inaccessible thanks to Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem — with the kicker that, if it really is, we’ll never know the fact. Lending strength to such speculation is that the difficulty in coming to a conclusion one way or another is exactly what one would expect were it the case…but it still could be the case that we’re just not clever enough (yet?) to figure it out, and the solution really is out there….

          But, yeah. Something that reduces to a proof of P = NP or P != NP can be instantly disregarded, unless that person has just been awarded the Fields.

          When you’ve got so many examples of just how spectacularly worng Dumbski is on this…well, he might as well just prove that 1 + 1 = 3 by way of dividing by zero and be done with it.

          b&

          • Posted August 9, 2014 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

            Intuitively, it seems that P != NP, especially when solving an instance like the subset sum problem doesn’t yield any obvious way of knowing the answer without examining all 2^N – 1 subsets. Of course, intuition doesn’t mean anything when it comes to a mathematical proof and I don’t think Dembski is even aware he may be offering a proof of P versus NP, intuited or otherwise.

    • Curt Cameron
      Posted August 8, 2014 at 9:19 am | Permalink

      Right. Also, Jerry said “his [Dembski’s] No Free Lunch Theorem.” The NFL theorem is valid and accepted math. It’s Dembski’s interpretation and misapplication of it that’s the problem.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 8, 2014 at 10:39 am | Permalink

        Which makes me worry that he’ll convince computer science folk that he is correct.

        • Matt G
          Posted August 8, 2014 at 10:56 am | Permalink

          It could easily happen. Engineers, for example, are famously susceptible to ID.

          • Kev
            Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

            Engineers, Sweetie, they’re so….. ingenu!

          • Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:29 am | Permalink

            I don;t know about that (being an engineer myself). Engineers are famously conservative, which may correlate well to a belief in religion –> ID.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink

              Probably depends on the engineer as well. Software engineers are probably less conservative than say mechanical engineers.

        • Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:53 am | Permalink

          Unlike pure maths & perhaps engineering computer science leads pretty directly to atheism. Computational theory of mind, Turing machines etc are entirely deterministic and don’t leave any room for a god. I’ve never met anyone who understands and can talk intelligibly about these ideas who is a theist, although judging by the contortions that some scientists are able to undergo, I suppose there are probably some. Anyway, have to defend my own :).

          • Posted August 8, 2014 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

            Indeed. If Church-Turing holds, then anybody and everybody could be completely and perfectly simulated by a computer with he correct programming and sufficient memory. (From a practical standpoint, actually creating such a simulation would require software and hardware well beyond anything we will have for decades at least; it’s the same idea as that we could, in theory, perfectly copy a body atom-by-atom but the technology to actually do so is a looooooooong way away.)

            Does Church-Turing hold? Yes, with confidence equivalent to the confidence of the CERN team’s discovery of the Higgs. As Sean Carroll so eloquently puts it, the laws underlying the physics of everyday life are completely understood, and those laws are completely computable by a Turing device. Invalidating Church-Turing would require a conspiracy theory at the level of aliens controlling our thoughts with their mind rays.

            Not coincidentally, all proposals I’ve ever encountered for an “hyper-Turing” device either require or could power a perpetual motion machine — the ability to perform infinite computations in finite time, be able to compute molecular motion faster than real time and thus operate as Maxwell’s Daemon, that sort of thing.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Posted August 8, 2014 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

              Yes, the mistake that Dembski & religion makes is to assign “life” a special importance in relation to the universe. One of the great insights of computer science (cellular automata theory etc.) is that iterating a simple set of rules can give rise to complex patterns, including the creation of entitities that can act to preserve their form. In fact such things occur because constructs that have long lifetimes outlast those with shorter lifetimes and so become more prevalent in the output, just because they are more persistent (or stable). We can aggrandise our own achievements, but in relation to the rules that govern the universe we just represent the most stable configuration of matter at our particular place and time and we persist in the same way that vortices form and dissipate in rivers.

              • Mark Joseph
                Posted August 8, 2014 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

                iterating a simple set of rules can give rise to complex patterns, including the creation of entities that can act to preserve their form. In fact such things occur because constructs that have long lifetimes outlast those with shorter lifetimes and so become more prevalent in the output, just because they are more persistent (or stable).

                This is a really interesting idea! I think we might want to give it a name, sort of a shorthand way of referring to the set of concepts you’ve laid out there so clearly. Perhaps something like “natural selection”?

                If anyone shows up at the talk, perhaps he or she could explain it to Dembski; he might find it interesting.

              • Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

                ++

    • steve oberski
      Posted August 8, 2014 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      This is also just the creationist claim that evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics recast in information theory terms.

      There is a direct correspondence between the thermodynamic measure of entropy and information theory measure of entropy.

      Entropy is allowed to decrease in a local system as long as there is a net increase in the overall system, and creationist ‘voodoo’ thermodynamics and Dembski’s “Conservation of Information” are one and the same thing.

    • gluonspring
      Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      “I don’t know if it would be better for someone to show up and humiliate him or for no one to show up at all.”

      Definitely A. I think nothing is so damning to their cause than to catch them in deliberate distortion.

      • Draken
        Posted August 8, 2014 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

        If you suspect there might be people in the audience who are bound to believe him, (a) is definitely the better choice.

  7. GBJames
    Posted August 8, 2014 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    So, who is sponsoring him?

  8. Matt G
    Posted August 8, 2014 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Who are the people responsible for inviting him, and to whom should letters of protest be addressed? How embarrassing! And why are we learning about this just a few days ahead of his talk? Were people too ashamed to let word get out?

    • Posted August 8, 2014 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      If you go to the link I’ve provided to the seminar page, you’ll see a lists of hosts and organizers on the right. The organizers are the people that I contacted (I already sent an email).

      • Dustin Kleckner
        Posted August 8, 2014 at 10:55 am | Permalink

        FYI, the people responsible for determining who speaks are the _hosts_, not the organizers. (The organizers are mostly postdocs who arrange the speaker’s schedule, etc., and have essentially no influence on choice of speakers.) If you would like to express displeasure with the choice of speakers, direct it accordingly.

        • Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:03 am | Permalink

          There is no host specified for Dembski.

          • Dustin Kleckner
            Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

            True, but there are five hosts listed just above the organizers on the right hand side of the page. They are the people responsible for determining who speaks, not the organizers listed below them.

            • Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:25 am | Permalink

              Yes, the hosts have all been emailed as well. One of them, the person who invited Dembski, has sent me a fairly appalling rationale for the invitation. I’ll try to write about that this weekend. I’ve responded to that rationale as well, and my response went to everyone: the hosts and the faculty organizers. So I’ve got it covered.

              I have not, by the way, asked for Dembski to be disinvited. I’m only making the organizers aware of who he is and what they’ve done, which , as an evolutionary biologist, is to erode the public understanding of sciernce.

              More later.

              Thanks!

    • steve oberski
      Posted August 8, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      I suspect that the actual purpose of this talk is to allow IDiots to say, see we give seminars at reputable scientific institutions therefore we must be real scientists doing real science.

      I think that Mr. Dembski would prefer that this talk be as low profile as possible.

      I’d say that every effort should be made to publicize this event to ensure that as many people as possible, preferably with real scientific credentials, attend and publicly scrutinize and criticize this talk,

      • darrelle
        Posted August 8, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

        I agree.

      • Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

        “I suspect that the actual purpose of this talk is to allow IDiots to say, see we give seminars at reputable scientific institutions therefore we must be real scientists doing real science.”

        This statement has hit the bulls-eye. It’s rather disappointing that such an esteemed institution would provide Dembski with a forum. The University is really just being used as a prop.

        Dembski really just gussies ID up with some complicated mathematical verbiage. I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone who is even remotely proficient at literary criticism and is familiar with all the clubs in ID’s bag.

      • Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:32 am | Permalink

        Yep, same as getting a well-known scientist or philosopher to debate them. Looks great on their cv but not on their opponent’s.

      • microraptor
        Posted August 8, 2014 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

        If Dembski wants to keep things on a low profile, I’ve got a number of nice, deep holes I could recommend.

      • Nick
        Posted August 8, 2014 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

        I think words like hoping to keep this “low profile” are way off the mark. The Disco Inst web site (I won’t link) was promoting this a month ago, and I expect they might again in the next few days.

        “A Rock Star of the Intelligent-Design Movement: Hear Dembski July 16 in Seattle; at the University of Chicago on August 13”

        and a quote from the article: “Also, next month Dr. Dembski will be speaking at the University of Chicago as part of the Computations in Science Seminar.”

        You really don’t want a low profile when you are attempting to sell copies of your next IDiot book.

        • John Scanlon, FCD
          Posted August 12, 2014 at 4:06 am | Permalink

          Optimal profile: very very low in Chicago, loud and proud on the Disco Institue’s [sic] web-thingy.

      • Diane G.
        Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

        “I’d say that every effort should be made to publicize this event to ensure that as many people as possible, preferably with real scientific credentials, attend and publicly scrutinize and criticize this talk.”

        And record it and put it on YouTube. The criticism, of course.

  9. bonetired
    Posted August 8, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    If I were you ( unless you are worried about giving him credibility) is wander over to the talk and tear his arguments apart …..

    • kieran
      Posted August 8, 2014 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      Send in the undergrads! it’s what they are there for preferably someone from a debating society

  10. steve oberski
    Posted August 8, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    By the way, Allen Orr’s review of Dembski’s “No Free Lunch” was a pleasure to read and made me laugh out loud a few times. It was a fine evisceration of some very bad ideas presented by a very silly (and in my opinion intellectually dishonest) person.

    I have not yet read your and Allen Orr’s jointly authored book “Speciation” but if your individual writing styles are anything to go by it should be very readable and well worth the effort.

    • darrelle
      Posted August 8, 2014 at 9:27 am | Permalink

      A link to Allen Orr’s review of Dembski’s “No Free Lunch”, for anyone interested. It is well worth a read.

      • Trophy
        Posted August 8, 2014 at 10:08 am | Permalink

        I read it and he gives way too much credit to Dembski’s silly ideas.

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted August 8, 2014 at 10:36 am | Permalink

        Excellent. I had read this many years ago, and very much enjoyed reading it again. It is like good, wholesome food.
        Maybe this can be slipped to the attendees of the talk…

    • Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      I enjoyed reading Orr’s rebuke of Dembski as well. Particularly well written, I thought, in that it was relatively easy for someone lacking a sophisticated knowledge of mathematics to follow.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted August 8, 2014 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      For myself I have to admit that in the words of the old Sam Cooke song “Wonderful World”. I just “don’t know much about biology”.

      However, I know a lot about math and computation theory, and this is sufficient background to make entirely clear to me the fallacies in WD’s thinking.

  11. Posted August 8, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    At the University of Oklahoma we have been plagued by Dumbski and DI speakers several times. They rented space and were not hosted by any groups. On one visit a full page ad was taken out to oppose Dembski and attendees were given a handout spelling out the absurdities of his stands. During the Q and A students and faculty pretty well shot down the delivery. Either failing to attend or publicity to oppose could help?

    • Diane G.
      Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

      So they essentially invite themselves?

  12. Mark R.
    Posted August 8, 2014 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    I like what Dennett has to say about the Discovery Institute in “Breaking the Spell.”

    The Discovery Institute and other well-funded havens for Intelligent Design research could easily afford to produce a high-quality, peer-reviewed journal if there were anything to publish in it, and if they could find credible scientists to do the peer reviewing. Literally thousands of peer-reviewed scientific articles are published every year elaborating and extending the basic theory of evolution, and most of the authors of these articles never become famous, in spite of their proven expertise. Surely a few of them would happily jump ship and risk ridicule from the establishment for the chance to become world-famous as the Scientist Who Refuted Darwin. But the backers of creationism don’€™t even bother offering the lure. They know better. They know that all they have going for them is propaganda, so that is what they spend their endowment on.

    He goes on to talk about Dembski himself, but you get the gist.

    And I’m sure Dembski’s “academic talk” will be full of much propaganda, for the sound of ch’ching.

    • Kev
      Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      “A distorted view of reality presented in a way so as to manipulate people”. This is a definition not only of propaganda but also of religion. Dembski is not mistaken in that what he is doing has worked for thousands of years. If he were interested in ‘truth’ he would have to compete with more competent scientific brains than he has. As an ‘idea manipulator’ he has more chance: the anti-evolution market is probably bigger than the pro one. A bit of ‘scientific’ polemic is grist to his mill, makes him look heroic to his supporters. I think the time will come when the scientific community will have to refuse debate with the ID crowd: to do otherwise is to lend it credence.

  13. docbill1351
    Posted August 8, 2014 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    This is no different than the Disco Tute renting a room at Cornell and calling their meeting the “Cornell Conference” implying sponsorship. The rubes they market to don’t know the difference.

    You can be sure that Dr. Dr. will pad his resume with this.

    Regardless of the flak Dembski’s invitation should be rescinded.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted August 8, 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      This is no different than the Disco Tute renting a room at Cornell…

      Was the Disco involved in that? I thought it was Cornell “courtesy associate professor” John Sanford doing the lifting, with his personal nonprophet entity, the Feed My Sheep Foundation, being listed as the official sponsor.

      • michaelfugate
        Posted August 8, 2014 at 10:33 am | Permalink

        “nonprophet” does that mean he can’t predict the future?

        • Reginald Selkirk
          Posted August 8, 2014 at 10:58 am | Permalink

          Among other things.

      • docbill1351
        Posted August 8, 2014 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

        Sanford and the Tute are like Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dumber. But, yes, that was probably the case. The outcome was the same in pretending Cornell had hosted a creationist conference.

        The casual observer would miss the fine points but Tute watchers saw through the ruse immediately.

        It’s quite easy, actually. Anything the Tute does is a scam and anything a Tooter says is a lie. The game is to pin it down.

  14. GBJames
    Posted August 8, 2014 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Some other speakers they may want to consider:

    Dr. William G. von Peters: noted authority on chemtrails

    Christopher Noel: Yale educated author and Habituation researcher, Development of the Backyard Bigfoot theory

    Alex Orito: famous practitioner of psychic surgery

    Deepak Chopra: cosmic consciousness pioneer, although his fees might be prohibitive

    • GBJames
      Posted August 8, 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      (and sub)

  15. Posted August 8, 2014 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    [sigh] I read Dembski’s stuff nearly fifteen years ago, and felt sorry for him. He seemed like a true believer trying to prove an impossible case. It was so easily refutable to anyone having both clear eyes and an introductory education in probability and information theory. I would love to understand why some people stick to their guns so tenaciously.

    Dembski isn’t the first or last author to chase after probability-oriented “proofs” against the natural origin of life. My pet theory (which is NOT rigorous) is that any probability-based ID theory can be excluded a priori by an appeal to algorithmic information theory (AIT). Dembski’s work already overlaps with AIT; unfortunately for him, Godel’s incompleteness theorem also overlaps with AIT, and makes it impossible to compute the long-run probability distribution of a sufficiently complex system with random initial conditions, except in highly constrained special cases. (AIT is also closely related to what Ben Goren was saying about compression in his reply to #6.)

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 8, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      Don’t feel sorry for Dembski. He takes a good cut of the religious money, and there his pseudoscientist ilk is as revered as the televangelist ilk.

      • gluonspring
        Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:28 am | Permalink

        And probably goes a long way to answering the “why some people stick to their guns” question.

  16. Posted August 8, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    This is appalling. Out and out lying-style pseudoscience. Hope you can get it canned, Jerry.

    It seems this seminar is associated with the physicists over there – Vic Stenger’s one-line refutation of the BS that is “conservation of information” should be routine to them …

    • Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      I haven’t asked for it to be canned; that’s not my call. I’ve simply called it to people’s attention. I have a response from the person who invited Dembski, which is pretty appalling, and I’ll write about it this weekend.

    • Diane G.
      Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

      “Vic Stenger’s one-line refutation of the BS that is “conservation of information” should be routine to them …”

      Don’t keep us in suspense…

  17. George
    Posted August 8, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Subject: Why are you devaluing my degrees?

    Could you please tell me who came up with the idea to invite William Dembski to give a talk at the University of Chicago? He is presenting ideas which have been thoroughly discredited. Jerry Coyne has done a good job of summarizing that –

    It is bad enough that Dembski is abusing the Ph.D. he earned from UofC but why is the University compounding the problem by inviting him to spew his anti-scientific propaganda under the guise of an invited academic talk?

  18. Posted August 8, 2014 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Sub

  19. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted August 8, 2014 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    When my department hosts a seminar, Q&A are not reserved for afterwards. Talks are regularly interrupted with questions.

    I don’t think Dembski would get very far if he got called out on his lies immediately. Imagine if he were asked to state up front what his definition of “information” was, &tc.

  20. dorcheat
    Posted August 8, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    I take it, Dr. Coyne, that your schedule next Wednesday, August 13, is already pen and inked for a not so delightful lunch. Hopefully, many of your colleagues from the Chicago metro area science community could plan to attend on short notice. Perhaps the “hosts” will video or allow the event to be be videoed for proper critique for all who cannot attend. Finally, one can hope Dembski will allow for a lengthy question and answer session.

    • Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      I ain’t going. Waste of time.

      • steve oberski
        Posted August 8, 2014 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

        I was going to wax poetic on the relative merits of cats versus rats but I think it’s obvious to all that the former is superior to the latter.

        Especially creationist rats wearing lab coats.

      • dorcheat
        Posted August 8, 2014 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

        I understand completely. Hopefully a video can be posted on youtube or somewhere else or even perhaps WEIT for vigorous critique.

      • dorcheat
        Posted August 8, 2014 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

        I understand. Hopefully a video may be posted on youtube or even perhaps WEIT for vigorous critique.

      • dorcheat
        Posted August 8, 2014 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

        I understand. Hopefully a video is posted at youtube or even perhaps on WEIT.

        Your work is outstanding on WEIT!

        • dorcheat
          Posted August 8, 2014 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

          OOPS. DOH. I apologize for the multiple postings. I have an issue with my Google Chrome browser not updating.

  21. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 8, 2014 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    You are the censor of the year – you need to use your super powers here! 😉

    • docbill1351
      Posted August 8, 2014 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, Censor of the Year. With great powers come great responsibility. I think you should wear a cape, too.

      Perhaps you could have a COTY business card made up to give to Dr. Dr.

      Kink approves this message.

  22. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Dumbski’s game is just the old “information from the genome” gambit of pseudoscience creationists for the hoi polloi and the old “you can’t evolve the genome machinery” question for the biologists.

    As for the refutations, physicist Wolpert’s starts out as written in jello as the (orrect) observation he does on Dembski. You can’t test testing? Really!? I’m certain that unappreciated problem will be a revelation for statisticians, the whole field laid waste by Wolpert’s 10 paragraphs (with no math). Seems Wolpert has drunk of the malodorous absinthe of philosophy.

    The rest is on point as far as I understand the issues, from Wolpert’s research over Orr’s review to Perakh’s analysis. In nature evolutionary mechanisms works better than random search, and even organisms hits on Lévy walks as better food search than Dembski’s drunken walk.

    Here is an amazing jellyfish with two non-random search strategies, showing profoundly how Dembski can’t predict any of that happens in biology:

    “But because the barrel jelly is more discerning about its choice of meal, and amount it wants, it has developed another technique of finding prey—it moves suddenly to a higher or lower place in the water, notes if food is present, and if not, returns to its prior position. Scientists call this bouncing, and some have suggested it’s merely a random tactic and likely not very effective. Reynolds disagrees, pointing out that it’s a form of fast simulated annealing, and is very effective when used for finding a specific target among a mass of noise, very quickly—which is exactly why computer scientists use it with supercomputers that have been designed to look for the best possible solution among many, rather than a variety.

    The combined strategies appear to work very well for the barrel jelly, it’s the largest jelly in the area …”

    [ http://phys.org/news/2014-08-jellyfish-food-finding-strategy-complex-thought.html ]

  23. Posted August 8, 2014 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Let us all hope that he only succeeds in revealing himself as a PROSTITUE for ID.

  24. George
    Posted August 8, 2014 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    I got a reply from Leo Kadanoff
    http://jfi.uchicago.edu/~leop/

    The invitation is my idea. Do come to this and other seminars to confront ideas with which you do not agree.
    Sincerely,
    Leo Kadanoff

    Dear Ivo:
    Please refer people to me. I did it, I take responsibility.
    Yours, Leo


    Leo Kadanoff

    • George
      Posted August 8, 2014 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      Frankly, I am flabbergasted. I don’t know how to respond. Kadanoff is a very impressive guy. But what Dembski is putting forth is not ideas – it is propaganda. And now he will use the imprimatur of my alma mater to advance his crap. How do you confront spin and lies?

      • Posted August 8, 2014 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

        I know have some email correspondence with Kadanoff, who told me he was Dembski’s Ph.D. advisor (though he repeatedly spells it “Dembsky”).

        I don’t think it’s ethical to repeat what Kadanoff told me, but I can certainly characterize it, as I will this weekend, and I can post my replies. In short, Kadanoff sees this as the “widest possible dialogue” in a university. “Let a million ideas bloom” seems to be his view.

        You can imagine my reply. I’ll put it up this weekend.

        • George
          Posted August 8, 2014 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

          Please delete my post if you think I should not have posted.

          • Posted August 8, 2014 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

            Are you sure it’s not Dumbsky?

        • JonLynnHarvey
          Posted August 8, 2014 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

          Let a million flowers bloom, but please get rid of the weeds.

        • Hrafn
          Posted August 9, 2014 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

          Some indication of Kadanoff’s view of Dembski’s work can be found here: http://jfi.uchicago.edu/~leop/AboutPapers/Complexity.pdf (Rather old, and does not acknowledge Wolpert’s own damning indictment of the book.)

  25. Posted August 8, 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    I’m just a plain old biologist, not some information maths genius who thinks maths show evolution can’t work. However, I’m pretty sure there’s lots of data that shows evolution has and is working. I’ll take data any day.

    • Posted August 8, 2014 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

      Feynman quote goes here.

      /@

      • Posted August 8, 2014 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

        ant: Actually, I was trying to remember the Feynman quote when I wrote that.

        • Posted August 9, 2014 at 12:11 am | Permalink

          Sorry for being lazy, then: “It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is. It does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is – if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. That is all there is to it.”

          /@

          • Matt G
            Posted August 9, 2014 at 3:14 am | Permalink

            Oh, I thought it was “It’s not religion, it’s science. If it’s not science, it’s Crrrap!”

    • hank_says
      Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

      Heck, I’m not even a biologist but I’m pretty sure that if maths disproved evolution, my dad – who was a biologist – wouldn’t have spent three decades teaching it to teenagers (and Dembski would have literally ALL the Nobel prizes).

      Also, my wife wouldn’t have a job as a doctor where she employs knowledge gained from, among other things, the study of evolution to treat sick people.

      Hell, if evolution was bunk I wouldn’t even have a beagle. I’d just have a wolf.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 9, 2014 at 7:20 am | Permalink

        and the corn we ate would taste awful!

  26. Posted August 8, 2014 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    Another detailed refutation of Dembski’s arguments, by Joe Felsenstein, can be found here:

    http://ncse.com/rncse/27/3-4/has-natural-selection-been-refuted-arguments-william-dembski

    The gist is that, contrary to Dembski’s claims, the No Free Lunch theorems are irrelevant to populations evolving by natural selection.

  27. Michael J
    Posted August 8, 2014 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    I’m surprised that Dembski is still around, the last I heard he was teaching at a third rate Bible college.

    I think canning the talk smacks too much of censorship. The best outcome would be if nobody turns up or if they manage to ship creationists in then have some good questions for the Q and A.

  28. docbill1351
    Posted August 8, 2014 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    I sent an email to Kadanoff and urged him to cancel Dembski’s talk. I told him that academic freedom and being open to “new ideas” excluded “intelligent design” creationism and other science stoppers.

    I also told him the damage the Disco Tute has wreaked on science education across the country and the cost and time wasted battling Dembski and his cohorts.

    I also urged Kadanoff to mentor Dembski in a Hail Mary sort of idea to turn the boy around. Fat chance, but you never know.

    I think that Kadanoff made an honest mistake but one he can correct without embarrassing the university.

  29. Marella
    Posted August 8, 2014 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    He is far from the only person going round giving lectures he knows to be misleading in order to bring people to Jesus.

    http://www.amazon.com/Telling-lies-God-Reason-creationism/dp/009182852X

    • Matt G
      Posted August 9, 2014 at 3:25 am | Permalink

      “What harm would it do, if a man told a good strong lie for the sake of the good and for the Christian church? […] a lie out of necessity, a useful lie, a helpful lie, such lies would not be against God, he would accept them.”
      — Martin Luther

      “Reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed. Faith must trample underfoot all reason, sense, and understanding, and whatever it sees must be put out of sight and … know nothing but the word of God.”
      — Martin Luther

  30. kelskye
    Posted August 8, 2014 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    I wonder what those teleological laws that Nagel set out in Mind & Cosmos were. Was Nagel a gamechanger in the 2500 years of teleological reasoning?

    • Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

      He was destined to be so.

      /@

    • Hrafn
      Posted August 9, 2014 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

      He didn’t “set out” any laws at all, merely expressed the (somewhat wishful) hope that someday somebody would come up with some.

  31. JimV
    Posted August 8, 2014 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always thought the NFL theorem (mis-stated by Dembski, correctly stated in previous comments) was evidence against ID and for evolution. My intuitive understanding of it is that a random search is the only search guaranteed to work (eventually) for all pathological cases, whereas other methods can get trapped in a local minimum and/or stymied by discontinuities.

    All possible combinations of DNA base-pairs “exist” (conceptually) in a Platonic fashion, they simply have to be searched for what works better in a particular environment-niche. If good solutions exist, evolution will find them (given enough time and a stable-enough environment), and there is no magic method which will work any better over the long run and over as many environments, according to mathematics.

    I’m just a mechanical engineer though, so I could be wrong.

    If I lived in Chicago and could attend the seminar, and more qualified people were not available, I would go to lodge my mathematical and logical protests. However, I hope and expect there will be plenty of well-qualified people there who will let Dembski speak, then rip his presentation to shreds. As long as that will be the case, I would be happy to let the ****-blossum bloom. (I don’t expect anyone could make Dembski see his errors, but it would be instructive for onlookers to see how bankrupt ID thinking is.)

    • Posted August 9, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      If you breed dogs by selecting those with bright eyes and bushy tails, then you end up with a population of bright eyed, bushy tailed dogs (I don’t imagine any one would argue with that?). If instead you put your dogs in a jungle full of ravenous tigers that prefer the taste of dull eyed, straight tailed dogs then you get the same result… That is all one really needs to consider to refute Dembski’s argument.

  32. Jeffery
    Posted August 8, 2014 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    Like I’ve said before, these people never give up, because they feel that they’re operating under a mandate from God. We’ll be playing, “Whack A Mole” with them for the next 200 years, I’m afraid.

  33. Shwell Thanksh
    Posted August 8, 2014 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    Orr: “Dembski comes precariously close here to saying that while there’s no such thing as a free lunch, you can help yourself to brunch.”

  34. Posted August 8, 2014 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    I forgot who it was – it might have been Lizzie Liddle or one of her bloggists – who showed that 1) Dembski’s formula simply doesn’t consider an evolutionary mechanism. To employ it you’d first have to rule out an evolutionary mechanism and 2) you can’t actually calculate anything with it. No one has any idea how to calculate SC for even a simple molecule. So his impressive equation is just window-dressing.

  35. docbill1351
    Posted August 9, 2014 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Censor of the Galaxy

    • docbill1351
      Posted August 9, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      oops, no pic. rats.

  36. docbill1351
    Posted August 9, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Screen Shot 2014-08-09 at 12.31.35 PM

  37. Posted August 10, 2014 at 5:01 am | Permalink

    The conference could have had Charles Ofria from Michigan State University come and discuss the Avida project, in which they prove Dembski wrong.

  38. Posted August 10, 2014 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    It bears repeating that there is an actual, proven, No Free Lunch theorem. The abstract correctly summarizes it: no learning heuristic (including evolutionary algorithms) is consistently better than any other. Evolutionary computation is a well established field of computer science.

    BUT…Dembsky’s “conservation of energy” is not well defined and has nothing to do with NFL. And evolutionary algorithms do not say much about natural evolution. (I say this as a leader in evolutionary algorithms who happens to also be an evolutionary biologist.) Dembsky is more like Deepak here, mixing up things that mean something with stuff that does not.

    As a UC alumnus, I am also embarassed about this seminar. My colleagues at UC Cmp Sci could have invited an actual scholar on evolutionary computaion theory, or even a CS/Biology crossover (there are more and more of us). Why not invite Wolpert and MaCreedy, who first proved NFL, for example? Both are smart guys. This is shameful.

  39. nurnord
    Posted August 10, 2014 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    Jerry – it seems he may be an anti-vaxxer on top of the other layers of scum !…

    From his Wikipedia page, Bio section…

    “Dembski and Jana have one daughter and two sons. One of his sons is autistic and Dembski has attributed some of his son’s problems to vaccines”

  40. janicec
    Posted August 12, 2014 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    My magic 8-ball predicts a sellout crowd. There are many, many religitards who will want to see the ‘great man’.

  41. oneshot
    Posted August 13, 2014 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Stop by U Chicago’s CS department; ask John Lafferty to join you for lunch. He looks well-equipped to point out the holes in Dembski’s math.


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