By Scott Uminsky
To some degree it’s understandable why Dr. Mark Perakh, in his book Unintelligent Design, uses words like “arrogant”, ”ignoramus”, “rude” and “ludicrous” to describe the statements of those he opposes. There are for example, any number of places that one can hear legalists, pundits and others speaking in absolute terms about things that they can’t possibly know absolutely. It should come as no surprise therefore if books like Unintelligent Design find a wider than normal audience.
Global View: Namecalling and Guilt by Association Tactics
Beginning with the most global view, the first thing to notice about this book is the table of contents. There, one can find 14 chapters only 2 of which actually deal with the scientific proponents of ‘Intelligent Design’ i.e. chapters 1 & 2. Chapter 3 argues against a nonscientist who is nonetheless an ID proponent. Chapter 5 argues against an astrophysicist who’s been a biblical creationist and a scientific creationist of sorts for a long time. This of course puts him outside of the ID camp. The rest of the chapters (except 12 & 13) attack Bible related proponents not ID proponents. Thus, only 3 out of 14 chapters deal with ID proponents and only 2 chapters deal with the science of ID. This tends to raise questions. For example, why would Mark Perakh put several chapters on such things as Biblical inerrancy and the highly questionable "Bible code" along with chapters on the ‘Explanatory Filter’ and ‘Irreducible Complexity’? Clearly they have nothing to do with each other. Unfortunately, it would seem that using guilt by association and shock value is more important than fair-minded scholarship. Moreover, since this book contains only 2 chapters on ID Theory it should not have been titled "Unintelligent Design”.
As far as the overall tone of this book, it varies. In part 1, Mark Perakh takes aim and fires at William Dembski and Michael Behe where the tone seems much more subdued and rational. However, when it comes to Philip Johnson the tone escalates and is fairly harsh in places. Mark Perakh calls Johnson a “militant dilettante” just about every chance he gets and makes other sneering and ad hoministic remarks as well. Alternatively, he does seem to pose some legitimate challenges that one should consider taking seriously whether or not the tone is hostile. Nevertheless, part 2 appears to start the process over again beginning with a more subdued and rational tone for Hugh Ross and then escalates thereafter.
Dembski and the Explanatory Filter
It should be pointed out that this book isn’t only about name-calling and smug remarks. As a matter of fact it actually appears to contain some substantive challenges. For example, on page 32 Mark Perakh criticizes William Dembski for essentially creating a false dichotomy between law and chance. This criticism appears to have traction that is, if we can trust Mark Perakh’s representation of the matter. Unfortunately, it turns out that we can’t trust Mark Perakh’s representation after all. On pages 14 -15 and 149 - 150 of No Free Lunch William Dembski answers this objection and even says “…necessity chance, or a combination of the two” in his description of the issue. Again, this tends to raise questions. For example, is Mark Perakh deliberately misrepresenting William Dembski or did he even bother to see what William Dembski said about this?
At any rate, on page 35 Mark Perakh goes on to try to deny the meaningfulness of supernatural design by way of a somewhat elliptical argument summarized as follows:
As one commentator noted “the distinction emphasized by ID is not natural causes versus supernatural causes, but rather intelligent causes versus undirected causes.” (Stephen L. Marshall, Note, When May a State Require Teaching Alternatives to the Theory of Evolution? Intelligent Design as a Test Case, 90 KY. L.J. 743, pg. 773 (2001/2002)) Dembski notes that it does not matter if the designer was natural (“embodied”) or supernatural (“disembodied”) because “embodiment is irrelevant … we always attribute intelligent design on the basis of an inference from empirical data and never on the basis of a direct encounter with a designer’s mental processes.” (Dembski, The Design Revolution, pg. 192) In other words, we can detect the past action of a designer in the natural world because of our understanding of how intelligent agents work. As long as the agent was acting with intelligence to influence the natural world, it’s action could be detectable regardless of whether or not the agent was acting from the natural or some “supernatural realm.”
The extent to which ID proponents have responded to this objection again tends to raise questions about Mark Perakh’s motives and or knowledge regarding this subject.
Dembski, Information, and Complexity
In the following pages however, Mark Perakh does seem to make some rational challenges. For example, he criticizes William Dembski’s for using mathematical embellishments that essentially add confusion instead of value to his thesis. This can for example be seen on pages 128 – 129 of the book No Free Lunch. Note that examples such as these will be kept brief since the point of this review is to highlight Mark Perakh’s work and not the work of others.
On page 64 Mark Perakh also makes some correct statements about information theory. For example, in the fifth paragraph he says that “information is a measure of a systems randomness”. This is correct, loosely speaking (x ref. “Information Theory Demystified” at http://www.ideacenter.org/contentmgr/showdetails.php/id/1236). However on page 95, he uses an ad hoc example of first-order Shannon entropy to sound like he’s refuted the notion of Complex Specified Information on page 96. Mark Perakh provides no justification for using first-order Shannon entropy as proof against CSI. It’s just there, pasted in, leaving the reader to conclude (by innuendo), that he’s somehow dismantled CSI.
There’s also a discussion on page 124 and 125 that can be summarized as follows: Because a design can be improved and made less complex it follows that the definition of complexity proposed by Michael Behe and William Dembski is out of touch with reality. Mark Perakh has once again misrepresented the views of his opponents. In this case he suggests that the position of William Dembki and Michael Behe equates lower complexity with no complexity and then in classic straw-man fashion, dismisses their view as out of touch with reality.
On pages 125 and 126 Mark Perakh uses a carefully crafted example (as a setup) to conclude that the more complex a system is “be it mechanical or biochemical”, the more that points to an unintelligent origin and the simpler the system is, the more that points to an intelligent origin. There are several things wrong with this.
Lastly, throughout the book Mark Perakh associates creationism with ‘Intelligent Design’. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether this is a malicious smear tactic or some form of ignorance. In this case however, Mark Perakh has done exactly the same thing as he accuses Philip Johnson of doing on page 141. That is, “surreptitiously squeezing into his sentence a ready made conclusion”. If Mark Perakh is going to write a book like this, then at the very least he should know that intelligent design **is not creationism. In fact, ID doesn’t rely upon religious texts or propose a supernatural designer at all. If Perakh can’t get even this most basic point right, then what’s the reader supposed to think when he accuses his opponents of engaging in a “crusade of ignorance” or of being a “militant dilettante”? Moreover, on page 142 he also criticizes Philip Johnson (through a quote by biologist Brian Spitzer ) by saying that Johnson’s thesis “is characterized by a consistent use of quotations out of context, frequent ad hominem attacks, …., crude distortions of the views and arguments of his opponents“. Even though Mark Perakh appears to make some good challenges to Philip Johnson, is the reader just supposed to ignore the fact that he (Perakh) so blatantly does the same thing?
** See note 1 below
Overall Unintelligent Design lives down to a very low standard. It’s an intemperate 459 page encyclopedia filled with contempt, logical errors, misrepresentations and a lot of shock value material. If this book was healthy, it would only be 200+ pages and well balanced. More specifically, Mark Perakh fails to make important distinctions and misleads the reader by lumping together a small number of actual ID proponents with a large number of fringe Bible commentators. The willingness to use a technique such as this would tend to reflect a strong bias and malicious intent. Mark Perakh also doesn’t appear to have made any effort to contact his opponents - at all. This results in free-floating and unjustified comparisons such as those described above. Moreover, the tone of this book while sometimes calm and rational is also hostile, belligerent and obnoxious.
Nevertheless, all this doesn’t mean that Mark Perakh wrong about everything. He does appear to make some substantive challenges that need to be taken seriously. We should welcome these challenges, and honestly use them to improve. If we can do that, then perhaps charges of arrogance and others would be moot. Moreover, if Perakh removed the non-ID related chapters and overall vitriol, as well as clean up the ID-related arguments, then he could probably have a fine piece of critical work worthy of the title “Unintelligent Design.”
** Note 1: Creationist groups like AIG and ICR clearly understand that intelligent design is not the same thing as creationism. See: