Essential Reading: No Free Lunch - Evolution News & Views

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Essential Reading: No Free Lunch

No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased without Intelligence
By William A. Dembski
Rowman & Littlefield, 2002, 404 pages
ISBN 0-7425-1297-5

No Free Lunch, the sequel to mathematician and philosopher William Dembski's Cambridge University Press book The Design Inference, explores key questions about the origin of specified complexity. Dembski explains that the Darwinian search mechanism of random mutation coupled with natural selection is incapable of generating novel complex, specified information (CSI).

This observation translates into "No Free Lunch" (NFL) theorems, which Dembski explains are inherent constraints upon natural systems. Natural Darwinian mechanisms can shuffle this information around, but only intelligence can generate novel CSI. In other words, when it comes to generating truly novel biological complexity, Darwin can have no free lunch.

Some critics have asserted that he has never applied his model for detecting design to any real biological systems. The latter half of this book debunks this fallacious objection, and provides a detailed calculation of the CSI found in the bacterial flagellum. Dembski assesses the complexity of the flagellum on various levels, including its protein parts and its assembly instructions, finding that the amount of CSI contained in the flagellum vastly outweigh the probabilistic resources available in the history of the universe to construct such a structure, absent intelligent design.

No Free Lunch demonstrates that design theory shows great promise of providing insight in the field of evolutionary computation. If Dembski is right, then the ability of genetic algorithms to solve complex problems is a function of the amount of intelligent design input by programmers.