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The Illusion of Design


The September 17th issue of the New Scientist features ten articles on “The World’s Ten Biggest Ideas.” These include the “Big Bang,” “Science,” and “Evolution.” Who did the article on evolution. You guessed it:

The path to complex life is one of the greatest human insights in history, says Richard Dawkins

The world is divided into things that look designed (like birds and airliners) and things that don’t (rocks and mountains). Things that look designed are divided into those that really are designed (submarines and tin openers) and those that aren’t (sharks and hedgehogs). The diagnostic of things that look (or are) designed is that their parts are assembled in ways that are statistically improbable in a functional direction. They do something well: for instance, fly.

Darwinian natural selection can produce an uncanny illusion of design. An engineer would be hard put to decide whether a bird or a plane was the more aerodynamically elegant.

So powerful is the illusion of design, it took humanity until the mid-19th century to realise that it is an illusion. In 1859, Charles Darwin announced one of the greatest ideas ever to occur to a human mind: cumulative evolution by natural selection. Living complexity is …

[…] “So powerful is the illusion of design, it took humanity until the mid-19th century to realize that it is an illusion.” ~ New Scientist Magazine (h/t, Uncommon Dissent) […] Philosophical Demarcations | Religio-Political Talk (RPT)
Arnhart: Einstein expressed the desire to know the "mind of God." Implicit in such a statement is the notion that "human" intelligence is on a continuum, at the very least, with "Divine" intelligence. Einstein wanted to know how God "designed" the universe. Hence, the radical empiricism of Hume apart, it is not self-evident to assume that the intelligence that "created" the world would use "design" methods that fall completely outside anything the human mind could grasp. Rather, if a bacterial flagellum looks like a motor attached to a long rotor, it would appear that human intelligence indeed CAN grasp the "mind of God." Your argument begins to look a bit like a "straw man" argument. PaV
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" -Arthur C. Clarke You may substitute "divine" for "magic" without changing the meaning. DaveScot
Actually we don't know enough about the nature of the universe to guage what kind of technology is required to create one. For gawd's sake we don't know the nature of 95% of the "stuff" that makes up the universe. The vast unknown is termed "dark matter" and "dark energy". The whole observed universe may be just a juvenile science project for a sufficiently advanced techology utilized by an intelligence that exists in the 95% of the universe we don't have a clue about. DaveScot
Arnhart: Can you prove humans with advanced technologies did not exist billions of years ago? Or is the best you can do an argument from ignorance (nobody has seen a trace of ancient humans ergo none existed)? HAHAAHAHAHAAHA!!!!! Care to accept a draw? DaveScot
Arnhart says
One of Isaak’s criticisms of the Dembski EF is that “the filter is useless in practice because the probabilities it asks for can never be known.”
This is an admission that the probability may be zero. In the case of zero probability, design is the only option. Be careful what you admit for if you admit this then the only logical thing to teach is that biological evolution could be design or could be accident or some combination thereof. It can never be known for sure. LOL! The best that arguments for unguided evolution can ever achieve is a stalemate. The worst case is that design will be proven. In my more magnanimous moments I offer a draw, but not very often, as the quality of mercy is not strained. DaveScot
Hume's objection to Divine causality has no force outside his extreme empiricism and denial of the intellect as a distinct power of the mind. If you follow him consistently, and Hume was not always consistent, then you must also deny causality in general, substance, both material and spiritual, space, time etc. Science would be rendered impossible and we would end in scepticism as he did. But we do possess an intellect capable of abstracting from experience and so we can understand those elements of design that belong to that concept and apply them to situations beyond our experience. MGD
"required for creating the universe and all irreducibly complex forms of life" Whoa, there - I'm with you on the universe, but why does it a take a "disembodied, omniscient, omnipotent intelligence" to create a irreducibly complex form of life? We humans create irreducibly complex things all the time. jimbo
Charlie, Are SETI researchers looking for divine intelligence--i.e., disembodied, omniscient, omnipotent intelligence--which would be required for creating the universe and all irreducibly complex forms of life? Arnhart
taciturnus, Yes. Arnhart
Arnhart, the design need not be divine. We don't know that. We need not know if the designer is human, divine, or alien. SETI is spending many man-hours in the search for alien intelligence, confident that they will be able to infer design with no prior knowledge of what form that alien has, or what might be its motivations. Charlie
Arnhart, I don't agree that we recognize design because of of experience in observing human design. I think we can recognize intelligent design. Do you really believe that if aliens existed, you wouldn't be able to determine if one of their tools was created by them or if it came about by natural processes? dodgingcars
Dr. Arnhart, Do you find that the Darwinian argument from bad design also involves an equivocation in moving from human to divine design? Cheers, Dave T. taciturnus
mtreat, Yes, we do "routinely" infer design in "forensics, archaeology, cryptography, etc," because here we are infering HUMAN intelligent design based on our common experience of HUMAN design. But we have no common experience of DIVINE design. The fundamental problem with IDT is its equivocation in moving from HUMAN design to DIVINE design without acknowledging the differences. For example, consider Behe's response to Hume on p. 219 of DARWIN'S BLACK BOX. Hume criticized the design argument as an inductive argument. We cannot infer divine design from our common experience of the natural world, Hume insisted, because we have not directly observed a divine designer at work. Behe responds: "Although Hume's objection to the inductive argument might have been valid in his day, it has been destroyed by the advance of science. Modern biochemistry routinely designs biochemical systems, which are now known to be the basis of life. Therefore, we DO have experience in observing the intelligent design of components of life." The equivocation in Behe's statement should be clear as soon as one realizes what he is saying. He is saying that since we now have experience in observing how HUMAN intelligence can design some biochemical systems, we now have experience in observing how DIVINE intelligence designs biochemical systems. Of course, this does not follow, because observing HUMAN intelligent design is not the same as observing DIVINE intelligent design. By using the term "intelligent design" without distinguishing human intelligence and divine intelligence, Behe and Dembski hide the fallacy in their move from human design to divine design. Dembski writes: "The point of the intelligent design program is to extend design from the realm of human artifacts to the natural sciences." This rhetorical strategy hides the fact that while detecting the design of HUMAN artifacts is a matter of common observation and logic, detecting the design of DIVINE artifacts is not. Arnhart
More apparent design at http://www.nature.com/news/2005/050912/full/050912-6.html "His eye was caught by unusual 'rectangular shadows' nearby. Curious, he analysed the image further, and concluded that the lines must represent a buried structure of human origin. Eventually, he traced out what looked like the inner courtyards of a villa." Silly rabbit. You can't discern design like that. You can't discern design at all. That must be a natural formation. EdH
Arnhart: I won't bore the others by pointing you to Dembski's responses to these types of questions. I'm sure you can find them. If he hasn't convinced you, I won't be so bold as to think that I can. I do think it's funny that we routinely allow a design inference in so many areas (forensics, archaeology, cryptography, etc.) but suddenly apply a whole new standard when it comes to making a design inference regarding life. Perhaps the stakes are just too high to be consistent? If you will re-read my comments you will see that I said: "Paradigms derived from deep indoctrination rarely change. Given that this applies to those on both sides, it makes for what can be extremely frustrating exchanges." "this applies to those on both sides" makes your reference to Jonathan Wells unnecessary. I won't even look up your reference to see if it's accurate because even if is true, it would only confirm the point I was making. These sharp exchanges between those of us that pretty well have our minds made up rarely produce much of a shift in the parties involved -- but it's good for those seekers that haven't made their minds up. Given the traction that ID currently has in biochemistry, molecular biology, cosmology, etc., macro-evolution is clearly an idea that is in decline. mtreat
mtreat, "Diatribes against straw men"? One of Isaak's criticisms of the Dembski EF is that "the filter is useless in practice because the probabilities it asks for can never be known." This seems to be a fair criticism given the vagueness with which Dembski formualtes the EF. Dembski speaks of "known natural laws." Does this mean that we would have to have absolute knowledge of all natural laws in order to work through the first step? In the second step, we must judge what is "reasonably probable." How exactly do we do that? Dembski speaks of "specifications that can reasonably be attributed to intelligence." How exactly do we do that? How can we be sure that our attributions are "reasonable"? When you speak of "deep indoctrination," are you referring to Jonathan Wells' story about how "Father" told him and other Moonies to commit their lives to destroying Darwinism? Arnhart
Arnhart: Had enough? Willing to admit that the anti-ID arguments are generally diatribes against straw men and the young-earth creationist bogeyman? Their problem is they can't get past their emotions (fear, disgust, hate, etc.) long enough to properly consider ID claims and develop honest, objective responses. After a recent reprisal of the evolution/ID debate with my anti-ID brother, it is becoming more and more obvious that the paradigms of ID and evolution are just too far apart. Unfortunately, we humans are never quite so sure of our current position as we are when we are defending it. Paradigms derived from deep indoctrination rarely change. Given that this applies to those on both sides, it makes for what can be extremely frustrating exchanges. I still think this is worth doing, because there are seekers that haven't yet adopted a deeply held position. Perhaps, we do this primarily for them. mtreat
Related to this discussion: http://www.trueorigin.org/to_deception.asp http://www.trueorigin.org/isakrbtl.asp :-) Bombadill
“Bird wins over any man-made aircraft by a country mile. […]” Excellent and appropriated, DaveScot. niwrad
Claim CI111.1 " Another false positive is canals on Mars. Percival Lowell saw that many Martian canals meet at each of several points. The odds of this happening by chance, he calculated, are less than 1 in 1.6 × 10260, proving that Mars must be inhabited (Lowell, 1907). We now know that the canals were optical illusions caused by the human mind connecting indistinct features." The error here was not the specification, but the fact that the canals were optical illusions. They were not real. What if they had been real and Lowell's calculation correct? In any case, how many biological structures can be dismissed as illusion? All of them, according to some. MGD
birddog says
I`m being assaulted by PZ Myers and his Panda`s Middle Finger minions at my website. It`s vicious, and I would appreciate any help anyone could give me.
Ask and ye shall receive. charlie said
I’m not so sure he would even think it a contest.
Nope, he wouldn't. Bird wins over any man-made aircraft by a country mile. Building a self-repairing aircraft that runs on sunflower seeds is the holy grail of aircraft engineering. Even holier is if the aircraft can make copies of itself using nothing but sunflower seeds for raw material. DaveScot
that should say: for which a step wise.... in 2nd sentence MGD
Here's another example of this faq's distortions. In claim cb200 an example of an irreducibly complex system for which a step wise explanation is given: " Evolutionary origins of some irreducibly complex systems have been described in some detail. For example, the evolution of the Krebs citric acid cycle has been well studied; irreducibility is no obstacle to its formation (Meléndez-Hevia et al. 1996)" But see what Behe has to say here: http://www.arn.org/docs/behe/mb_evolutionaryliterature.htm " Finally Miller discusses a paper which works out a scheme for how the organic-chemical components of the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle, a central metabolic pathway, may have arisen gradually. (Melendez-Hevia et al. 1996) There are several points to make about it. First, the paper deals with the chemical interconversion of organic molecules, not the enzymes of the pathway or their regulation. As an analogy, suppose someone described how petroleum is refined step by step, beginning with crude oil, passing through intermediate grades, and ending with, say, gasoline. He shows that the chemistry of the processes is smooth and continuous, yet says nothing about the actual machinery of the refinery or its regulation, nothing about valves or switches. Clearly that is inadequate to show refining of petroleum developed step by step. Analogously, someone who is seriously interested in showing that a metabolic pathway could evolve by Darwinian means has to deal with the enzymic machinery and its regulation. The second and more important point is that, while the paper is very interesting, it doesn't address irreducible complexity. Either Miller hasn't read what I said in my book about metabolic pathways, or he is deliberately ignoring it. I clearly stated in Darwin's Black Box metabolic pathways are not irreducibly complex (Behe 1996) (pp. 141-142; 150-151), because components can be gradually added to a previous pathway. Thus metabolic pathways simply aren't in the same category as the blood clotting cascade or the bacterial flagellum. Although Miller somehow misses the distinction, other scientists do not. In a recent paper Thornhill and Ussery write that something they call serial-direct-Darwinian-evolution "cannot generate irreducibly complex structures." But they think it may be able to generate a reducible structure, "such as the TCA cycle (Behe, 1996 a, b)." (Thornhill and Ussery 2000) In other words Thornhill and Ussery acknowledge the TCA cycle is not irreducibly complex, as I wrote in my book. Miller seems unable or unwilling to grasp that point." Note the last paragraph. Behe states that metabolic pathways are NOT irreducibly complex. This faq is misrepresenting Behe's position. MGD
Arnhart: For CI001.1 Response 1 is a possible _result_ of Intelligent Design. It lists what is at stake, rather than what is the assumption used. If philosophical naturalism is true, then indeed God is imaginary. If it is not true, then discussions of God are valid when discussing knowledge (not necessarily correct, but a valid topic), not just when discussing mythology. The philosophic underpinnings of Intelligent Design are right there in Dembski's explanatory filter. Intelligent Design includes intelligence as a causitive force (including human and possibly animal intelligence), while philosophic naturalism only includes law and chance. Dembski claims that not only is intelligence a causitive force, but it can in fact be detected. The _results_ of these two ideas have major results in the areas of theology, but they are not imparted from theology. However, they do have a philosophic underpinning, but so does philosophic naturalism. A good read on the subject are Johnson's books "Reason in the Balance" and "The Wedge of Truth". In the latter, Johnson makes a very clear distinction between the scientific areas of intelligent design, and the religious claims that he also makes. If Intelligent Design is true, then the subjects which Johnson wishes to discuss have a theoretical basis in reality, if it is false then they do not. Reason #2 and #3 are ad hominem, and neglect the fact that some of Dembski's work is published through Academic presses. The fact that ID has theological import should be as clear to everyone as the fact that Darwinism has theological import. Reason #4 ignores ID'ers such as Johnson's separation of religious and theological issues. What is really amusing here is that it is the ID'ers who separate scientific from theological argument, while Darwinists like Dawkins can apparently ceaselessly talk about the theological implications of Darwinism without anyone calling foul. Reason #5 is 1) mischaracterization of Johnson's arguments, 2) a logic error, and 3) is also factually incorrect. #1: Johnson speaks of the effective atheism of theistic evolution. This isn't meant to say "you are atheists" but rather, "you don't know where your argument leads". Pointing out to someone where their argument naturally leads isn't anti-religious. #2: There is nothing anti-religious about equating theistic evolution with atheism. Nor does this have anything to do with whether or not Johnson agrees or disagrees with theistic evolution. #3: Most Christians ARE NOT theistic evolutionists (in fact, neither are most Medical Doctors, for that matter -- most medical doctors disagree with purely naturalistic evolution). This may fools some people who don't know what theistic evolution is. Probably most would be termed Old-Earth creationists or Progressive creationists. In fact, the ID movement is probably more accepting of evolutionary theory than most of Christianity. As for CI111: Response #1 completely misses the fact that Dembski requires that the laws governing the equation be well-known. If they are not, the filter cannot be applied. Dembski has explicitly stated this. Obviously, you can't know all laws, and so something could, theoretically be amiss, but that is true of ALL scientific inquiry. That is why it is all subject to re-examination, and the results of the Explanatory Filter are no different. Response #2: "mutually exclusive and exhaustive" doesn't mean that they aren't happening at the same time as T.O implies. Likewise, it doesn't mean that an intelligence cannot use laws and chance. But the intelligence itself is not law, and the chance is not intelligence, and the law is not chance. These are independent factors, but yet work together to constrain each other. Response #3 forgets that copying is one of the major operations of an intelligence. Having something to copy, deciding to copy, and copying correctly all indicate intelligence. Likewise, they are confusing definition with means of detection. If chance, law, and intelligence are separate causitive entities, as well as all-encompassing, then eliminating chance and law WILL NECESSARILY lead you to intelligence, regardless as whether or not it is usually defined in precisely that manner. Likewise, the explanatory filter does not claim to detect all design. It just claims to be correct in the design that it does detect. #4 follows from #3 #5 is simply false. Dembski has done an excellent job explaining them. #6 is just a confused mess. But ultimately, Talk.Origins fails to mention what the ultimate question is -- IS INTELLIGENCE A CAUSAL AGENT SEPARATE FROM LAW AND CHANCE? If it is, then the reductionist enterprise is exposed as a house built on sand. If it is not, then even the notion of reason must be abandoned. Darwinists don't even want to approach this question. The last Darwinist who I am aware of to approach this honestly was Haldane. More recent ones just brush it to the side and don't deal with it. If Intelligence is a distinct causal entity, then it is likely to be detectable somehow. Even if Dembski is wrong, someone will replace him with a better method of detecting design. Note that T.O does not propose a better mechanism for detecting design. I imagine this is because, ultimately, admitting to non-material causes such as a willful intelligence even in humans undermines their whole operation. Anyway, I hope this short example shows how most of T.O's claims are spurious if not outright bogus or in some cases dishonest, and can be easily refuted by simply (a) knowing what the arguments actually are, and (b) applying a little bit of logic to the situation. johnnyb
Arnhart: "What’s wrong with the responses to Claim CI 001.1 ('Intelligent design (ID) is scientific, not religious') and Claim CI 111 ('Dembski’s filter can detect design')?" Response to question 1: Isaak resorts to a classic ad hominem here. A person's motives and affiliations have no bearing on the strength of his/her arguments or on that person's purposes. Response to question 2: Looks like a straw man to me. Here is the version of the Explanatory Filter that Dembski lays out in "The Design Revolution": 1. Is the phenomenon in question a necessary result of known natural laws. Some natural phenomena exhibit complex patterns because such paterns are the result of known natural laws (e.g. snowflakes and ice crystals). If yes, the phenomenon fails the test; if no, move to the next node. 2. Is the phenomenon reasonably probable given all known random, unguided natural processes? If yes, it fails; if no, move to the final node. 3. Does the phenomenon exhibit a form of specification that can reasonably be attributed to intelligence (e.g. It exhibits a sufficiently complex mathematical pattern or is obviously designed to accomplish a specific task.)? If no, it fails; if yes, the phenomenon passes the test and can reasonably be attributed to intelligence. This seems to be pretty water-tight to me, but understand that the EF is based on inductive reasoning and, as such, cannot logically PROVE absolutely that a phenomenon is designed. Even so, this does not render the EF any less potent in its design detection potential. (Disclaimer: Understand the answer I provided in response 2 is based on my limited understanding of the EF from my interpretation of Dr. Dembski's work. If I got something wrong, please correct me!) David crandaddy
true origins has, i think, replied to all of these in the list. they have a number of PhD's writing numerous essays and rebuttals for the site. jboze3131
What's wrong with the responses to Claim CI 001.1 ("Intelligent design (ID) is scientific, not religious") and Claim CI 111 ("Dembski's filter can detect design")? Arnhart
Arnhart: As far as "avoidance of the claims", you will often find that the responses completely avoid the claim altogether, either by misdirecting the reader, or rephrasing to claim so that it isn't what the author originally said. Some examples: CD015 - claims that the results were from contamination, despite the fact that this was clearly studied in the paper itself, and yet avoided mentioning anything about what the paper said about contamination. CD102 completely avoids the issue of the fact that there are many out-of-order layers where there is NO evidence of geologic shift _except_ the out-of-order layers. Most T.O complaints about arguments from the 2nd law of thermodynamics completely distort what the creationist claim actually is. In CB121 they completely distort the argument that ReMine was making. The most vicious one is this: "ReMine's computer simulation supposedly showing the negative influence of Haldane's dilemma assumed a population size of only six (Musgrave 1999)". All ReMine was doing was showing the effect of Haldane's dilemma on Dawkin's idiotic WEASEL program. Talk.Origins made it sound like this was the main thrust of his argument, but it was actually a completely irrelevant side-note. Likewise, it completely ignores all of the _more_ recent scholarship showing that Haldane's dilemma in fact is still a problem. The CI claims are almost entirely bogus in their presentation. Especially when they talk about "Complexity", T.O seemingly intentionally uses the wrong contextual definition (specificational versus probabilistic) for complexity in every case. In CI111.1 they confuse the tool with its use. I.e. design detection will be faulty if the practitioner does not follow the procedures. Somehow they use this as evidence against Intelligent Design, when actually it is just evidence against stupid people. Anyway, this is the kind of argumentation that T.O regularly uses, and somehow they get the idea that just because they have catalogued something, it is "refuted". johnnyb
Arnhart, I've read a great portion of the list, and although what I've read is very detailed and thorough, it's still not quite enough to convince me of the invalidity of ID. I think it just about covers all the bases concerning valid scientific rebuttals of ID, and if you want to pick something out for discussion, by all means, do so. But please be specific in what topic you address because that list is just way too long to tackle everything at once. David crandaddy

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