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Retirement ≠ Repudiation

William A. Dembski

Some critics of intelligent design seem to be taking my retirement to mean that I’ve repudiated, in whole or in part, my work on intelligent design. 

So, in the recent recent video conversation by Sean McDowell with Doug Axe and Joshua Swamidass, Swamidass claims (at the point 56:20) that I’ve “backed off” from the argument in my book The Design Inference (1998).

Here’s the dialogue:

Swamidass: “Dembski himself backed off from his book The Design Inference. He’s actually stated that he had it wrong in the explanatory filter. Are you aware of that?”

Axe: “He’s not backed off from the basic…”

Swamidass: “Yeah, I can show you the quotes later…. He’s even stated, I’ll give you the quote, that there was a gap in his argument. He doesn’t think the explanatory filter is the right way to make the ID case.”

In my book The Design Revolution, which appeared in 2004, six years after The Design Inference, I wrote:

Ultimately, what enables the filter to detect design is specified complexity. The Explanatory Filter provides a user-friendly way to establish specified complexity. For that reason, the only way to refute the Explanatory Filter is to show that specified complexity is an inadequate criterion for detecting design.

My position here hasn’t changed. I’ve beefed up specified complexity and developed it further over the years:

A Rational Reconstruction

As I said from the start, the Explanatory Filter was a “rational reconstruction” of how we infer design. But ultimately, the Explanatory Filter depends on specified complexity being a valid criterion for detecting design. And I continue to hold that specified complexity is a legitimate way of detecting design and that the Explanatory Filter is a legitimate way of identifying specified complexity.

In its characterization of specification, The Design Inference included a conditional independence condition that subsequently proved unnecessary (that became clear already in the book’s sequel, No Free Lunch, published in 2001). So the idea of specified complexity, inherent in The Design Inference as specified improbability, needed some refinement and a fuller theoretical development, which it got over time (these days, Conservation of Information in search does the work of specified complexity and with still greater theoretical power). 

As I noted in my updated 2019 interview, “I’m happy with the work I’ve done on intelligent design and repudiate none of it.”

Cross-posted with permission from Dr. Dembski’s blog, “Freedom, Technology, Education.”