No Free Lunch

Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased without IntelligenceWilliam A. Dembski

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. A Senior Discovery Institute Fellow, 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 inputted by their programmers.

Editorial Reviews

In No Free Lunch, William Dembski gives the most profound challenge to the Modern Synthetic Theory of Evolution since this theory was first formulated in the 1930s. I differ from Dembski on some points, mainly in ways which strengthen his conclusion.

Frank J. Tipler, professor of mathematical physics, Tulane University; coauthor of The Anthropic Cosmological Principle; and author of The Physic

In this book, William Dembski takes his statistical work on inferring design and translates it into an information-theoretic apparatus relevant to understanding biological fitness. In doing so, he has brought his argument for intelligent design into a domain that overlaps current work in evolutionary biology. As I see it, this is a landmark for intelligent design theory because, for the first time, it makes it possible to objectively evaluate the claims of evolutionary biology and intelligent design on common ground.

Martin Poenie, associate professor of biology, University of Texas at Austin

Dembski lays the foundations for a research project aimed at answering one of the most fundamental scientific questions of our time: What is the maximal specified complexity that can be reasonably expected to emerge (in a given time frame) with and without various design assumptions?

Moshe Koppel, professor of mathematics, Bar-llan University, Israel

This sequel to The Design Inference further enhances the credibility of Intelligent Design as a sound research program. Through solid historical and philosophical arguments, Dembski succeeds in showing how specified complexity reliably detects design. His critique of Darwinian and other naturalistic accounts of evolution is built on a set of powerful and lucid arguments; his formulation of an alternative to these accounts is simply compelling.

Muzaffar Iqbal, author of Islam and Science and founder-president of the Center for Islam and Science (CIS)

The valid philosophical arguments and historical examples make the study really agreeable to a large audience.


I disagree strongly with the position taken by William Dembski. But I do think that he argues strongly and that those of us who do not accept his conclusions should read his book and form our own opinions and counterarguments. He should not be ignored.

Michael Ruse, Florida State University

No Free Lunch is written for scholars and is filled with equations and careful technical definitions. Much of the text, however, is accessible for a broad audience and the book should prove useful to anyone wishing to explore the degree to which intelligent design can be formulated in a mathematically rigorous way.

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William A. Dembski

Founding and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture, Distinguished Fellow, Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence
A mathematician and philosopher, Bill Dembski is the author/editor of more than 25 books as well as the writer of peer-reviewed articles spanning mathematics, engineering, biology, philosophy, and theology. With doctorates in mathematics (University of Chicago) and philosophy (University of Illinois at Chicago), Bill is an active researcher in the field of intelligent design. But he is also a tech entrepreneur who builds educational software and websites, exploring how education can help to advance human freedom with the aid of technology.