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Design inference: Laszlo Bencze finds one stone on another

Bill Vallicella

American philosopher Bill Vallicella responds to the claim that design in nature is a form of circular reasoning:

It would be circular to try to explain complexity in terms of complexity. But it is not circular to explain one form of complexity in terms of another. The complexity that needs to be explained is the complexity that seems to have been designed. To invoke a crude analogy, it is not the complexity of a pile of rocks that needs personal explanation, but the complexity of a cairn, a pile of rocks whose assembly shows that they mark the trail. Now I cannot account for a pile of rock’s being a cairn by invoking natural processes; I need to invoke an intelligent designer, a person such as a trail-blazer or trail-maintainer. Of course, this person is even more complex than his product. But there is no circularity since material complexity is not being explained by material complexity but by the thoughts, intentions and actions of a person. Material complexity is being explained by personal complexity. Hence there is no circularity in the explanation. More.

Note: Vallicella’s motto is Study everything, join nothing Having read this, Bencze writes to say,

Hikers will sometimes set up trail markers known as “cairns” which are simply a stack of flat stones. Since a cairn is built up of local stones it would seem possible that they might form naturally in rock slides. In fact, you might think that such stacks would be common. When I lived in Oregon and drove regularly east and west along I-84 along side the basalt cliffs, I kept an eye out for a stack of flat rocks that might have formed naturally. But amongst all the talus slopes I never found so much as a single flat stone atop another, not to speak of the seven or more that mark a human built cairn. Chance seems not to favor even such simple structures.

But I kept up the search and finally, on a country road near Ashland Oregon, I found this rock slide:

  I pulled over to the shoulder and examined more carefully. At last I encountered this:

“How unimpressive,” would be a normal response and I agree with it. But, my goodness, how difficult it was even to find this double stack. What are the odds of finding a triple stack? I’d say negligible. And a triple stack wouldn’t qualify as a cairn. It takes at least seven or more stones for that. Now let’s compare the odds of some stones sliding on top of each other with the odds of several hundred amino acids forming a functional protein in some primordial soup. Case closed.

Our philosopher friend clearly does not belong to a Skeptics group. Otherwise, he would just know it IS possible, possibly in another universe. 😉

Mahuna, I found your Celtic interpretation of the word "cairn" to be interesting, albeit antiquated. When new meanings attach themselves to words, the word comes to mean the new thing -- possibly also maintaining the original meaning as well. Last summer I hiked the Chilkoot trail. There are sections of the trail that consisted of nothing more than the leavings of rock slides. The trail was marked by park rangers with nothing more than piles of stones stacked one on another. Whatever you want to call these things, I did not get lost because I easily distinguished the intelligently designed piles from the natural rubble. I was pretty sure that nobody died at most of these piles. bFast
I would note that amongst us Celts, who originated the word "cairn", we NEVER use a cairn to mark a trail. A proper cairn is a MEMORIAL raised over the grave of a fallen hero. And any self-respecting man (or woman) who passes a cairn adds another stone to pile, even when no one can recall the name or heroics of the fallen hero beneath. Now I have read that the folks responsible for building motorways in Ireland have a devil of a time with local workmen who simply REFUSE to remove even a SINGLE stone from any pile of rocks that MIGHT be a cairn, regardless of where the surveyors think the roadway should go. And when a cairn is disturbed by a gang of foreign heathens, it's not uncommon to discover NOTHING beneath the pile o' rocks. That is, the original heap of rocks was at best accidental, and for the next thousand years well intentioned but mistaken folks each added a pebble atop the mistake until the cairn loomed so large that everyone insisted it MUST be a true cairn. So, yes, there is a conscious, unnatural process at work, but even amongst the Irish this doesn't make it "intelligent". mahuna

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