Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Book Review: "No Free Lunch"



No Free Lunch
By William Dembski

Over the past several years I have been exposed to the theory of Intelligent Design (ID). William Dembski is one of the biggest proponents of this theory. One of the terms that he and other scientists use when discussing ID is "specified complexity". I had in mind an idea of what they meant by this term, but I was not completely certain. I decided to do some digging into the term and found that this book would best describe the term.


Dembski separated the book into six chapters. The first three chapters were designed to build a case for what exactly "specified complexity" is, what it is not, examples of it, and detection of it. He spent the first chapter reiterating what ID is and its claims. He also laid a basic foundation of what he means by "specified" and "complexity". In the second chapter he discusses "design" specifically and shows how he believes that it can be detected. In the third chapter he covers information theory and how it ties into "specified complexity".

Chapters four through six were used to dive more into the theory of Intelligent Design. In chapter four Dembski discusses proposed algorithms for natural processes to generate specified complexity. Chapter five covers irreducible complexity and why its a stumbling block to natural processes. Finally, in chapter six Dembski discusses the merits of ID as a scientific endeavor.

I have to say that this book is one of the hardest reads I have attempted so far. The book is nearly 400 pages, but that's not why it was difficult. Dembski put a ton of mathematics (he's a mathematician) throughout the book. I actually skipped a few pages, here and there, because the math was way beyond what I could comprehend. It would have been nice if Dembski would have considered that some of his audience would be mathematically-challenged and define some of the terms and characters he used.

Dembski did have a few parts that really frustrated me. He included a critique of a portion of his last book and responded to it. However, Dembski did it in a way that took some of the quotes of the other person out of context (I looked up the critique on the internet just to make sure Dembski was including the whole thing). I also noticed that the two did not agree on the definition of a few key terms, so they ended up really just talking past each other. Both had very good points, but each of them affirmed one thing then denied it later. If you read my blog often, you know that I am highly concerned with consistency, so that really hit a nerve.

Despite the aggravation I think that Dembski did a good job at putting his case forth. I feel that I now understand what exactly is meant by "specified complexity" (I'll post about it later, but without the math). I will have to explore a few other things that I don't think quite match up with current evidence (I'll post on them too, later).

Overall, I think that the book was a good book. I can't recommend it if you want a light read about ID- it will put you to sleep or frustrate you. If you want to dig fairly deeply into the subject, though, I highly recommend it. Having given my recommendation, I must include this: many times throughout each chapter, I had to stop and think about what I just read (WHAT!?). Several times, I had to reread to make sure I read what I thought I read (Wait a minute!).

I haven't decided if I will read another book by Dembski. I'm hoping to find other authors who can communicate Dembski's thoughts in terms more comprehensible to my mind...we'll see...