Tag Archives: Bill Dembski

William Dembski reviews a new book by two theistic evolutionists

From Patheos, an opening statement by William Dembski. This is the first part of a four-part debate with two scientists of the Biologos group, which advocates for theistic evolution. (And not to be confused with the Biologic Institute, which is supportive of intelligent design).


Throughout their book, Giberson and Collins overconfidently proclaim that Darwinian evolution is a slam-dunk. Thus one reads, “There has been no scientific discovery since Darwin–not one–which has suggested that evolution is not the best explanation for the origin of species” (21-22). No theory is that good. Every theory admits anomalies. Every theory faces disconfirming evidence. Repeatedly readers are informed that mountains of overwhelming evidence support Darwin’s theory and that the authors are “unfamiliar with any premier scientists who reject evolution.” And just so there’s no doubt, in that same paragraph, they reiterate, “There are certainly a few scientists who reject evolution . . . But these are never premier scientists.”

Oh, you reject Darwinian evolution; you can’t be a premier scientist. What counterexample would convince Giberson and Collins to retract such a claim? How about Henry Schaefer’s signature on a “Dissent from Darwin” list? Schaefer heads the computational quantum chemistry lab at the University of Georgia, has published over a thousand peer-reviewed journal articles, and is one of the most widely cited chemists in the world. Then again, Giberson and Collins look askance at this list (according to them, it has too many emeriti professors and not enough biologists). But why engage in such posturing about scientific pecking order in the first place? The issue is not who’s doubting Darwinism, but what are the arguments for and against it and whether they have merit. Giberson and Collins’ constant drumming of mainstream and consensus science is beside the point–science progresses by diverging from the mainstream and by breaking with consensus.

Because Giberson and Collins assert that natural selection is such a powerful mechanism for driving evolution–and one that admits no reasoned dissent–it’s worth recounting here briefly why the intelligent design community is so skeptical of it. It’s not, as theistic evolutionists often suggest, that we have a desperate need to shore up faith and morality and are using ID as our instrument of choice to accomplish that end. Rather, it’s that natural selection is, in essence, a trial and error tinkering mechanism for which all evidence suggests that its power is quite limited. Trial and error works fine when you have something that’s functional and are trying to enhance it or adapt it to a new situation.

But for natural selection, as a trial and error mechanism, to traverse vast swatches of biological function space, we need to see an extended series of small gradual structural changes (under neo-Darwinism, these are genetic mutations leaving effects at the phenotypic level) that continually improve, or at least maintain, function, with evolving functions and evolving structures covarying and reinforcing each other. But we know of no detailed testable (macro-)evolutionary pathways like this in any field, whether in the evolution of living forms or in the evolution of language or in the evolution of technologies. In fact, when we can trace such evolutionary pathways, we find that significant change happens in creative leaps, not via trial and error tinkering.

Everyone who has read Dembski’s opening remarks in this four-part series is raving about the quality of what he’s written. I was hoping to wait for the response before publishing his opening salvo, so we could balance it, but no reply has appeared yet. For me, there is only one issue in the debate about the origin of life: if natural causes can create life from non-life with the time and resources available on the early Earth, then show me the mechanism. That’s all I want to see – the evidence that natural causes can do the creating that the naturalists say that it can do. I don’t want to hear about feelings, possibilities, what God could or couldn’t do, philosophy, what church you attend, your favorite hymn, the way you were raised, your religious experiences, etc. I just want to see you prove that nature can do all the creating that you say it can do.

William Dembski discusses irreducible complexity and co-option

William Dembski explains what the debate on origins is really about.

About the speaker:

Dr. Dembski has taught at Northwestern University, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of Dallas. He has done postdoctoral work in mathematics at MIT, in physics at the University of Chicago, and in computer science at Princeton University. A graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago where he earned a B.A. in psychology, an M.S. in statistics, and a Ph.D. in philosophy, he also received a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Chicago in 1988 and a master of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1996. He has held National Science Foundation graduate and postdoctoral fellowships.

The lecture:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Summary (snark is in italics)

What is evolution:

  • Is it enough for Christian students to just retain their faith in college?
  • Or should Christian students seek to transform their universities?
  • The word “evolution” refers to a unguided, purposeless, undirected process
  • Living organisms are not designed, they just appear to be designed
  • Therefore, it is an atheistic theory – there is NO ROOM for God
  • Random variations and natural selection can do the creating of life without God
  • Nothing about evolution suggest that God had anything to do with it

The appearance of design:

  • The cell is a nano-engineered information processing system.
  • The cell has engineering, e.g. – signal transduction, message passing, etc.
  • There are molecular machines similar to man-made machines, but less efficient
  • E.g. – the bacterial flagellum which has 40 parts
  • These molecular machines have minimal complexity – all the parts are needed
  • can’t build a molecular machine step-by-step – all the parts must be present and integrated

How does evolution try to explain molecular machines:

  • The standard naturalistic response is “co-option”
  • Each intermediate step has pieces that are used for other purposes
  • I.e. – Subsets of the parts can have different functions
  • For example, a subset of the bacterial flagellum can be used as a syringe
  • The subset, called the Type-3 secretory system, has only 13 parts
  • The problem is that evolutionists don’t show all the steps, and all the functions
  • For this to be a good response, you need a smooth path from 1 part up to 40
  • Each step of the path has to have a working system with a different function
  • But the atheists don’t have the path, or the intermediate functions
  • It’s like arguing that you can walk from Seattle to Tokyo via the Hawaiian islands

Is the bacterial flagellum a cherry-picked example?

  • There are no detailed molecular pathways for any biochemical systems in the cell
  • The atheistic response is to speculate that pathways will be found as science progresses
  • The pathways are unobservable entities, just like the multiverse and the Cambrian precursors

Where does the machinery to create proteins come from?

  • The molecular machines are composed of proteins
  • The proteins are manufactured by copying protein-building instructions from the DNA
  • The instructions are carried to the build site by messenger RNA
  • The build site is called a ribosome
  • The DNA requires proteins to build, so there is a chicken-and-egg problem
  • The problem is that protein transcription systems require everything in place
  • There is no materialistic theory about how to build this step-by-step

So what do the molecular machines tell us about how life began?

  • The problem of the origin of life is the problem of the origin of information
  • What needs to be explained are the functional sequences of parts
  • The sequences are identical to sequences of letters that make sense
  • The atheist has to say that material processes can create the information
  • The problem of finding sequences of amino acids or proteins is a search problem
  • A blind search of the space of possible sequences is not efficient
  • even with lots time, parts and trials, you can’t converge on functional proteins
  • information is required and the only known producer of information is a mind

Bill is one of my favorite people. He’s smarter than practically all of the atheists who dominate the universities. But because he is an outspoken Christian, he never gets the recognition he deserves. He just keeps plugging away on his research. He doesn’t make excuses.

What is intelligent design?

Related DVDs

Illustra also made two other great DVDs on intelligent design. The first two DVDs “Unlocking the Mystery of Life” and “The Privileged Planet” are must-buys, but you can watch them on youtube if you want, for free.

Here are the 2 playlists:

I also recommend Coldwater Media’s “Icons of Evolution”. All three of these are on sale from Amazon.com.

Related posts

William Dembski debates Lewis Wolpert about intelligent design

It’s the latest debate from Unbelievable, courtesy of Justin Brierley!

The MP3 file is here.


William (Bill) Dembski is an American mathematician, theologian and professor of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, TX. He debates the issue of ID with atheist Lewis Wolpert, Emeritus Professor of Biology at University College London.

For Bill Dembski see http://www.designinference.com/ or his blog http://www.uncommondescent.com/

For Lewis Wolpert’s Wikipedia profile see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_Wolpert


  • Bill Dembski’s religious background (Catholic-raised atheist/agnostic, later Protestant)
  • Dembski’s view of the interface between science and religion
  • Lewis Wolpert’s religious background (Jewish-raised atheist)
  • Wolpert’s view of whether God exists

First half:

  • Dembski explains the mathematical foundations for detecting design
  • Wolpert asks whether designs can emerge without intelligence
  • Dembski asks whether anything in biology could be like SETI signals
  • Wolpert says that it is impossible to recognize design in biology
  • Dembski asks whether the Darwinian hypothesis is falsifiable
  • Wolpert says that it is never warranted to rule out chance as an explanation
  • Dembski says that you can set limits on what chance can do within a certain time
  • Wolpert says that chance can do anything regardless of time, etc.
  • Dembski says, what about the work of Doug Axe published in the peer-reviewed JMB?
  • Wolpert says those calculations must be wrong!
  • Dembski says then you’re just a dogmatic reductionist
  • Wolpert agrees that he is a dogmatic reductionist

Second half:

  • Dembski explains why intelligent is not repackaged creationism
  • Dembski explains why intelligent design isn’t an argument from ignorance
  • Dembski talks about whether evolutionary mechanisms can create more information
  • Wolpert asks whether chemistry requires intelligent design too
  • Dembski says that there is a fine-tuning argument for cosmological constants too
  • Wolpert agrees that the origin of life is unexplained naturalistically
  • Wolpert asks if everything after the origin of life is explained
  • Dembski says that there are still problems like the Cambrian explosion
  • Wolpert asks Dembski if anything could falsify intelligent design
  • Dembski gives an example of something that could falsify intelligent design
  • Dembski asks whether naturalistic explanations of life are falsifiable
  • Wolpert asks whether intelligent design affects the way that people do science
  • Dembski asks whether it is possible that the resources of naturalism are adequate to explain life
  • Wolpert says that you can’t explain anything in nature as the result of intelligence
  • Dembski says that it happens all the time in other sciences like engineering
  • Wolpert says that he doesn’t want a Designer
  • Dembski says we should just follow the evidence and who cares what people on either side want

And then there are closing speeches.

I am not sure if I had anything to do with this, but I did send Justin Bill’s e-mail address recently. I’m pretty happy that Justin managed to get Bill and Lewis to debate on this topic. Justin says that Bill will be back next week! He’ll be discussing his new book “The End of Christianity” which is about the problem of evil.

Did you miss Lewis Wolpert’s last debate with the professor of nanotechnology?

UPDATE: Justin says that it was indeed my e-mail that helped him to contact Bill, and what’s more we should expect a show that features Stephen C. Meyer soon, too!