The second contribution to the concept of intelligent design is that of William Dembski. He has written a number of books including “The Design Inference” and “No Free Lunch.” His books are prominently displayed at his website.
In very brief summary, he attempts to show a mathematical basis to support Michael Behe’s concept of Irreducible Complexity discussed in part 1, below.
According to Dembski, design can be detected even if we don’t know anything about the designer(s) including motive or purpose.
Dembski has created an Explanatory Filter to analyze whether a particular event is “designed.” First he acknowledges the obvious: An event that occurs frequently is the result of a natural law or “regularity” to use Dembski’s phrase. Presumably, (my own example, not his) planets are observed to orbit the sun in precisely controlled paths of very high predictability. This “appears” to be designed, but the frequency indicates that planetary motion might be controlled by a law or regularity. A little research shows that to be the case.
Second, if the event does not occur so frequently, it is not governed by a law or regularity, it may be governed by chance. A bug hitting a windshield is a matter of chance, for example. Bad luck for the bug in question, but most bugs will fly around without running into windshields. (again, blame bad examples on me, not Dembski.)
Finally, however, some matters are so rare, that something other than chance may be operating. Here Dembski introduces three concepts: “complex” “information” and “specified.” Dembski need to introduce the concept of specified information because it is a truism that very rare events occur and these events are clearly not the result of design. For example, the odds of pulling a dollar bill from your wallet with the ID number of 25602466 would be fantastically small, yet I just did it, while writing this article. Before I inspected the dollar bill and obtained the number, however, the serial number was not “specified” according to Dembski’s use of that term. Therefore, even though the event was very rare, even unique, design cannot be inferred because the event was not specified. However, if the event was specified in advance, by identifying the serial number before inspecting the dollar bill, then some intelligent involvement could be inferred.
Dembski demonstrates specified complexity by a dreadful example. He challenges Dawkins’ phrase, in turn taken from Shakespeare, “METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL.” According to Dawkins, in The Blind Watchmaker, this is an example of an evolutionary target, and he demonstrates how easy it is to hit an evolutionary target which appears to be difficult by chance alone. Dembski, in turn calculates improbable odds in an attempt to show that if we were to come across this phrase by chance, we would instantly recognize it was intelligently designed because it is “specified” like the dollar bill serial number and it contains information, there is a recognized pattern. He concludes, therefore, that whenever there is complex information there is design. The problem for Dembski is that he begs the question. Of course, “METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL” is specified. We know that because we can read English. But unfortunately for Dembski, the following string is also just as highly specified as “METHINKS:”
And I can generate a string of any length that Dembski would conclude is not specified and does not contain information—and he would be woefully wrong. If you don’t read English both are equally gibberish. I don't think Dembski can explain whether the second string is complex and specified or not.
There is no way to distinguish “specification” except by “common sense.” Dembski calls this “side information,” defined as “independent knowledge about how things work.” Duh. That’s actually how we conclude design in all cases, the use of independent knowledge about how things work. Our analysis of design in the real world is based on such “side information.” Nobody uses Dembski’s unwieldy and inaccurate Explanatory Filter.
So, is a grasshopper complex specified information? Dembski's explanatory filter fails to answer the question. Evolutionary side information suggests, "No."