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Bill Dembski Reflects on the Origins of a Classic

Photo: William Dembski, via Discovery Institute.

Hailed as “sparklingly original” and an “important contribution,” mathematician William Dembski’s 1998 book The Design Inference gave the modern design hypothesis a firm empirical footing and quickly inspired demonization and dismissal from disgruntled Darwinists. Twenty-five years later, Dembski’s arguments stand firm, and a second edition with fresh analysis and insight is now available to a new generation of truth seekers. On a new episode of ID the Futurephysicist Brian Miller invites Dr. Dembski to take us back to the 1980s to tell us the story of how The Design Inference came to life. 

What is the nature of randomness? It was a question very much in vogue in academic circles in the late Eighties. Dembski was just finishing a dissertation in mathematics and was intrigued by the relationship between order and disorder, randomness and design. “Randomness is fundamentally a question of design,” he wrote in his 1991 essay “Randomness by Design”. Dembski continued to develop these ideas, and not even a second PhD in philosophy could pull him away from the question of design. Here, Dembski tells the story of how his ideas eventually became a book and how the book got published by one of the most respected publishing houses in academia. 

Dembski also discusses the influence on his work of another man who was weighing up the design hypothesis in the 1980s: evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. His 1986 book, The Blind Watchmaker, argued against Paley’s design argument in favor of an evolutionary story of life on earth. The book inspired Dembski to pursue design. “What I was doing in The Design Inference was in dialectical conversation with Darwin and Dawkins,” recalls Dembski. “Whereas Darwin and Dawkins needed that every aspect of biology be un-designed, it was enough for me to say, is there a method for reliably detecting design, and if that method is applied to some biological systems, could it reliably tell us that we’re dealing with an effective intelligence?”

Download the podcast or listen to it here. This is Part 1 of a two-part conversation. Look for Part 2 next!

Dig Deeper

  • Order your copy of the new second edition of The Design Inference.
  • Learn more about Dr. Dembski’s work on freedom, technology, and education at BillDembski.com.