Atheism Cosmology

At Evolution News and Science Today: Can you measure intelligent design?

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Well yes, if you are willing to tolerate a positive answer:

The theory of intelligent design employs scientific methods commonly used by other historical sciences to conclude that certain features of the universe and living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection. Intelligent agency is a cause “now in operation” which can be studied in the world around us. Thus, as a historical science, ID employs the principle of uniformitarianism. It begins with present-day observations of how intelligent agents operate, and then converts those observations into positive predictions of what scientists should expect to find if a natural object arose by intelligent design.

For example, mathematician and philosopher William Dembski observes that “[t]he principal characteristic of intelligent agency is directed contingency, or what we call choice.” According to Dembski, when an intelligent agent acts, “it chooses from a range of competing possibilities” to create some complex and specified event. Thus, the type of information that reliably indicates intelligent design is called “specified complexity” or “complex and specified information,” “CSI” for short.

In brief, something is complex if it’s unlikely, and specified if it matches an independently derived pattern. In using CSI to detect design, Dembski calls ID “a theory of information” where “information becomes a reliable indicator of design as well as a proper object for scientific investigation.” ID theorists positively infer design by studying natural objects to determine if they bear the type of information that in our experience arises from an intelligent cause.

Casey Luskin, “Answering an Objection: “You Can’t Measure Intelligent Design”” at Evolution News and Science Today (July 16, 2021)

If you are not willing to tolerate a positive answer, well … your quarrel is not with us, really.

16 Replies to “At Evolution News and Science Today: Can you measure intelligent design?

  1. 1
    Bob O'H says:

    Well yes, if you are willing to tolerate a positive answer:

    Or not, if you’re Casey Luskin. He lays out nicely the argument for why not, and why IDers don’t think this is a problem.

  2. 2
    jerry says:

    Is there a way of measuring CSI for anything in the universe that is not life. For example, a bunch of rocks, clouds, mountains, oceans, Mars, the Moon, suns, galaxies etc. All are complex.

    Just what is the CSI of each? How would they differ from CSI calculations of a life entity or system? For example, natural selection works for simple things and is the basis of modern genetics which is about life changes over time or micro evolution. Is there a CSI for the changes seen here? ID does not dispute micro evolution.

    I understand the DNA to protein process (sort of) and know there is something similar to a computer program there. But how about some simple CSI calculations for life examples?

    Or are they all extremely hard and based on probability.

    Final question: is Dembski developing a theory that is really not part of ID but just another tool in the tool box for science? By calling ID a theory of information, is he clouding the issue of just what ID actually is?

    I maintain that ID is a conclusion made based on observations of research findings. Dembski’s theory would just be another tool to help come to that conclusion.

  3. 3
    polistra says:

    This is sort of unsatisfying.

    Formulas are accepted when they consistently help us to do things. Ohm and Newton and Carnot help us to build radios and bridges and engines.

    Seeing a natural design unquestionably helps us to build our own designs….. Sometimes.

    The exceptions are more interesting than the agreements. Birds didn’t help us to fly. Instead they distracted us from the correct technology of flying. Most natural uses of electromagnetism control the static side of the wave, but most tech uses of waves control the magnetic side of the wave.

    This is where I’d start in forming a measurement of ‘design helpfulness’. Put the disagreements at one end of the graph and the agreements at the other, and then try to construct the vector continuum between the two ends.

  4. 4
    Bob O'H says:

    Jerry @ 2 –

    Is there a way of measuring CSI for anything in the universe that is not life.

    As far as I understand, yes you can. You need to calculate the probability/information, which is more difficult for a cloud (as compared to a DNA sequence). You also need to define the specification, i.e. the state space that you calculate the CSI for. I suspect this is also difficult, but there may be some trick to make it easy or even trivial.

  5. 5
    buffalo says:

    Jerry @2
    The rocks, etc may be background CSI. Huge spikes emerge from the background, those magnitudes of difference can are relative and measurable.

  6. 6
    anthropic says:

    Jerry @ 2: Well, if we arrive on Mars and come across raised rocks that spell out, “Welcome, Earthlings! What took you so long?” we’d have complex specified information that would warrant an inference to a designing intelligence of some kind.

  7. 7
    Querius says:

    Responding to the OP directly, I would say that it’s extremely difficult to measure design.

    For example, one researcher claims that a rock found in Death Valley with “desert varnish” on it had been worked on by a human ancestor. How can the amount of (presumed) intelligent design be measured?

    Two computer programs are compared. How can you tell which one contains more intelligent design and by how much?


  8. 8
    kllrDogThermo says:

    If we examine the rock we could look at all the possible ways that the rock with varnish on it could be natural given the known laws of physics. We would then need to determine the probability that the rock with varnish on it came about naturally. We may have to look at the probability that our “varnish” came about naturally including the probability that this rock either fell into this “varnish” or had the varnish fall on the rock. CSI triggers could be the chemical composition of the “varnish”, the patterns associated with the varnish on the surface, the geometric patterns on the rock, the chemical composition of the rock, and the relationship with the surrounding rocks (e.g. forming a star formation mimicking the night sky). The lower the probability of natural processes causing the artifact, then the higher confidence you have that it is designed.

    For the computer code, how about the number of lines of code?

  9. 9
    Bob O'H says:

    For the computer code, how about the number of lines of code?

    Only if you think bad code has more information. 🙂

  10. 10
    ET says:

    It would be the number of lines of the minimalist code to accomplish the task at hand.

  11. 11
    ET says:

    You can measure Intelligent Design by the number of components in an IC core. You can measure ID by the number of bits in the sequence being investigated. And you can falsify ID by showing that nature can do it- produce IC and CSI.

  12. 12
    jerry says:

    if we arrive on Mars and come across raised rocks that spell out, “Welcome, Earthlings! What took you so long?

    Only if it is in English is it ID. (Sentence with 7 two letter words beginning with “I”)

    CSI is defined here.

    Not on this page but in links provided. Search for CSI.

    The rocks, clouds etc are not CSI because they don’t specify anything even if they are extremely complex.

    For the computer code, how about the number of lines of code?

    It’s not the number of lines of code but what it specifies that is important.

  13. 13
    Thomas2 says:

    Might not one possible way of potentially measuring ID be the use of probability via the following expression:
    P(D|E=S) = 1 – P(~D).P(E=S|~D)/P(E=S)
    P() = probability
    D = identifiable Design
    E = the observed evidence
    S = a relevant, physically independent Specification (or, Dembski’s tractable, conditionally independent Specification)
    | = conditional upon, given, &
    ~ = not.

  14. 14
    Querius says:

    KllrDogThermo @8,
    You might want to look up desert varnish. The real problem is determining whether the rock was worked into a useful shape or whether the shape was due to chance.

    As Bob O’H stated in @9, the number of lines of code alone doesn’t tell you much.

    For those of you familiar with programming, consider several types of sort routines. Some are shorter and some longer, which can be addressed using Shannon Information. But, regardless of the number of lines of code, some sort routines are much faster than others and one can measure that with a stopwatch. Another factor might be the total number of items to be sorted. Or another one might be re-sorting after new items are added or removed. Can the amount of information be determined by how long the design process takes? But then smarter people won’t take as long, so that’s not the solution either.

    I’ve read somewhere that a product that has more design effort put into it is instinctively recognized as having more “charm.” But again, I don’t know how intelligent design can be measured directly.

    Thomas2 @13, uses probability, perhaps deviation from randomness, as a sign of design, but does that measure the amount of design? Think about the bad code Bob O’H referred to.

    Thinking of manufactured products, a better approach might be to consider breadth and depth of utility (related to “specification”), cost and availability of materials, reliability over time, reliability in extreme conditions, manufacturability, time and labor to produce, maintenance costs, and repairability to name a few aspects touched by human design.


  15. 15
    Thomas2 says:

    Q @14

    The probability expression I suggested @13 could provide a limiting measure of our confidence that something under consideration has been designed.

    It could not provide an absolute measure because it would only work for design (the action of a designer) where we have identified an appropriate specification.

    Nor would it work effectively to measure design quality (ie, how good or bad a design is): the trouble here is that the goodness or badness of a design/specification is determined by the designer’s purpose, and that could turn the matter into a potentially subjective question of metaphysics.

    The strength of a probabalistic expression such as I suggested above is that it could potentially provide a measure of whether design is actually present in the first place (in those cases where a relevant physically independent Specification can be identified), before attempting to measure its quality.

  16. 16
    Querius says:

    Thomas2 @15,

    Good points all. Additionally, design specifications and the associated engineering are inevitably compromises intended to optimize specified priorities. As you pointed out, these priorities might not be obvious.


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