Intelligent Design's Sherlock Holmes

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Intelligent Design's Sherlock Holmes

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As a teen, I loved to read Sherlock Holmes detective stories. I marveled at his ability to figure out the most difficult cases with his incredible deductive and inductive powers. "Elementary," he would say as he solved another puzzling crime. I was so fascinated with these tales that I bought The Complete Sherlock Holmes at a used bookstore. This work contained the entire Sherlock Holmes collection of 56 short stories and four novels written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I relished every adventure.

Little did I know I would eventually run across another type of Sherlock Holmes while studying the intelligent design movement—a revolt of prominent scientists and professors against Darwinian evolution. This time, the Sherlock Holmes would turn out to be William Dembski, a professor of mathematics and philosophy. He used his mathematical skills to solve what seemed an impossible task—determining if something in nature is purposely designed or just formed as a result of physical processes.

This issue has always caused a heated debate among evolutionists and creationists. Creationists insist living organisms show such complexity, purpose, completeness and, in many cases, symbiosis that they had to be intelligently designed. Not so, say evolutionists. They allege all these creatures show only "apparent" design and were formed by random mutation and natural selection over eons of time.

The trouble is that since no one has ever seen any living creature arise from scratch, be it bacteria or man, its origin has to be deduced from what already exists—whether it is a living organism or the fossilized remains of one. So far, there are only two conceivable explanations for the existence of living things on earth—either they were created by an intelligent source or they are the result of unguided natural laws or chance.

Enter Dr. Dembski. He designed a scientific test to determine whether something is intelligently designed or not.

The three-filter test

Imagine three filters, like nets with ever-narrowing holes, each on top of the other. He established the parameters for each filter based on the laws of probability. Every object or event in nature can be tested by these three filters, and only if something is intelligently designed will it end up going through the final filter. He calls this testing method the "Explanatory Filter."

"Roughly speaking," Bill Dembski writes, "the filter asks three questions in the following order: 1.) Does a law explain it? 2.) Does chance explain it? 3.) Does design explain it?"

He calls the first filter the "Contingency Filter." This catches any phenomenon that is simply the result of natural law or of high probability of occurring by chance. For instance, a ball repeatedly dropped has a 100 percent chance of falling to the floor and is explained by natural law—gravity in this case. This action is caught by the first filter.

The second filter is named the "Complexity Filter." This catches any occurrence with a higher probability than one chance in 10150. This figure is derived by multiplying the number of elementary particles in the universe (1080) by the maximum age of the universe (1025 seconds) by the maximum rate of particle transactions per second (1045). This is the maximum of physical possibilities in the history of the universe.

The third filter he identifies as the "Specification Filter." This is the one that is extremely hard to go through—the probability of the circumstance occurring by chance is less than one in 10150.

If someone gets a royal flush of hearts in poker, for example, it is an extremely rare event. It is so improbable that mathematicians calculate it only happens once every two and a half million games (actually 2,598,960 games) or approximately once per year in the United States.

What if someone is dealt two royal flushes in a row? This is nearly an impossible event—if it happened to you in the days of the Wild West, you had a good chance of being shot as a cheater. Yet this consecutive event would still be caught by the second filter—it would just be a very improbable occurrence, but still within the bounds of nature.

Dr. Dembski has been so conservative in his calculations that an object or an event can only pass through the third filter if it has the probability of occurring with the frequency of 25 royal flushes in a row! Anything that would happen more frequently would be caught by the first or second filter and would not be classified as necessarily intelligently designed. He wants to be absolutely certain that what goes through the third filter is not caused by natural laws or chance and can only be explained by an intelligent source.

Results of the test

When Dr. Dembski tests the bacterial flagellum (the means by which a bacteria can move) with the probability filters, it easily passes the threshold for design! Here is something not only highly improbable, but that has specific complexity. He calculates the probability of the flagellum's 40 proteins coming together by chance is the equivalent of being dealt 190 consecutive royal flushes! So it easily passes his barrier of 25 repeated royal flushes. Clearly something more than chance occurrence is involved here.

Dr. Dembski points out this method of determining whether something is intelligently designed or not has never produced false results. You can read more details and examples of these results in his book No Free Lunch (2002).

This test meets the rigorous scientific standards of probability. It is also objective, since it doesn't determine what intelligent source designed the end product that passed through the third filter and is based on empirical verification. The evolutionist critics, although vocal, have not been able to find a legitimate weakness in the method. DNA, RNA, proteins, plant and animal organs, for instance, all pass through the three filters and are classified as being-intelligently designed.

This is therefore a powerful mechanism in the arsenal of the intelligent design movement. After Michael Behe's concept of irreducible complexity, Dr. Dembski's explanatory filter is a second major tool of the intelligent design movement against Darwinian evolution.

So when subjecting something to this exam of the three filters, if it passes the third one, even the famous Sherlock Holmes would conclude, "Elementary! It is intelligently designed." VT

Side Bar:

Intelligent Design vs Evolution

In recent years intelligent design (ID) has been proposed by several prominent scientists as a better explanation for life than Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. While it would take multiple pages to fully document the ID position and the counterarguments of evolutionists, here is a brief summary.

An important point to keep in mind is that vertical thinkers don't exclude biblical evidence from their decision—making process. The Bible reveals that only fools would try to reason without this critical information (Psalm 14:1; Romans 1:20-22).—Sean Yarbrough


ID Argument Evolutionist Response Evolutionist Weaknesses
Three successive questions are used to detect design in living matter:
Does natural law explain it?
Does chance explain it?
Does design explain it?
The process of elimination cannot be used to draw definitive scientific conclusions.
It is necessary to have prior knowledge of design to detect its presence.
There is no direct evidence for design.
No additional categories other than that of design have been proposed to explain what natural law or chance cannot. Of these, design is the only logical inference.
There is no direct evidence for evolution.
Some biological structures could not have evolved from a simpler state. They are “irreducibly complex” and could not function without all parts fully assembled and operational. Partial, nonfunctioning structures would be disadvantageous and would not be passed on by natural selection. Structures or parts of structures could have been dormant or used for other functions before being selected for their current role over long periods of time. While components of some structures are arranged sequentially so that the successive removal of components never leads to the complete loss of function, components of irreducibly complex structures cannot be
removed without such loss.
The large amount of information found in structures such as DNA forms a complex language and is a product of intelligence. Inherent properties in the molecules of these structures appear to direct their own function. Researchers are unable to identify these supposed properties.
Nature cannot create new information. It can only work with information already present. This does not apply to biological systems.
Simple life-forms can evolve into complex ones.
There is no evidence that one species has ever evolved into another.