The Explanatory Filter and the Special Sciences

Dembski characterizes his method of design inference as equivalent to procedures used by archaeologists (when they recognize an artifact) and forensic scientists (when they assess a death scene). He observes that detecting design is basic to many human enterprises, listing copyright and patent offices, as well as cryptographers and detectives. In a key paper influencing both Dembski and the larger ID movement, Walter L. Bradley and Charles Thaxton (1994, 198-201) include an extended discussion of the analogical method in scientific reasoning. Their thesis, based on that of Thaxton et al. (1984), is that the origin of life is too improbable to be accounted for by any scientific explanation, so there must have been a creator. They cite archaeology, foren-sics, and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) as ordinary scientific endeavors that detect (or search for) intelligent action, and they claim to apply the same reasoning to argue for a creator of life. Dembski has taken up this claim as a mantra:

Within biology, Intelligent Design is a theory of biological origins and development. Its fundamental claim is that intelligent causes are necessary to explain the complex, information-rich structures of biology, and that these causes are empirically detectable. To say intelligent causes are empirically detectable is to say there exist well-defined methods that, on the basis of observational features of the world, are capable of reliably distinguishing intelligent causes from undirected natural causes. Many special sciences have already developed such methods for drawing this distinction—notably forensic science, cryptography, archeology, and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (as in the movie Contact). (Dembski 1998c, 1617; see also Dembski 1998f, 2000, 2001a, 2002c)

Recently, he has progressed from the claim that intelligent-design cre-ationism is similar to archaeology, forensics, and SETI to the claim that ID actually subsumes them:

The fundamental idea that animates intelligent design is that events, objects, and structures in the world can exhibit features that reliably signal the effects of intelligence. Disciplines as diverse as animal learning and behavior, forensics, archeology, cryptography, and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence thus all fall within intelligent design. Intelligent design becomes controversial when methods developed in special sciences (like forensics and archeology) for sifting the effects of intelligence from natural causes get applied to natural systems where no reified, evolved, or embodied intelligence is likely to have been involved. (Dembski 2001a, n.p.).

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