Intelligent Design

Eight attributes of design

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Over at his blog at coldcasechristianity.com, homicide detective, ex-atheist and Christian apologist Jim Warner Wallace has written an interesting post (July 30, 2015) in which he identifies no less than eight attributes of an object which point to its being a product of intelligent design:

I believe there are eight attributes of design we employ when reasonably inferring the existence of a Designer. To make them easier to remember, I’ve assembled them in an acronym (DESIGNED):

D- Dubious Probability (Given Chance)
Is random chance an insufficient explanation for the formation and assembly of the object we are examining?E -Echoes of Familiarity
Does the object resemble other structures we know (with certainty) were designed by intelligent designers?

S- Sophistication and Intricacy
Does the object display specificity, sophistication and intricacy consistent with the involvement of an intelligent agent?

I – Informational Dependency
Is there any evidence the object was directed and created by way of instructional information?

G – Goal Direction (and Intentionality)
Does the form and assembly process of the object process to be goal-directed?

N – Natural Inexplicability (Given Laws of Physics or Chemistry)
Are the laws of physics and chemistry insufficient to account for the form and function of the object?

E – Efficiency / Irreducible Complexity
Does the object display efficient, irreducible complexity reflecting the involvement of an intelligent designer?

D – Decision / Choice Reflection
Does the object display evidence of conscious choices indicative of an intelligent designer?

Readers will note that none of these attributes presupposes a mechanistic view of the design process – as if design consisted of nothing more than cobbling together parts in a very clever way. Consequently, the assertion that life on Earth is the product of Intelligent Design in no way commits one to a mechanistic view of life.

Wallace adds:

Like every cumulative case built on a collection of seemingly innocuous pieces of evidence, no single aspect of the case may appear all that compelling. But the cumulative collection of evidences, when they all point to the same reasonable inference, provide us with good reason to believe an intelligent agent has been involved in the design process.

Wallace’s undergraduate and graduate work was in the fields of Design and Architecture (CSULB and UCLA). For that reason alone, I think his list of design attributes warrants very serious consideration. I also like his acronym.

In his latest book, God’s Crime Scene, Jim Wallace argues that the bacterial flagellum (which he has blogged about previously) exhibits the characteristics of design. In his July 2015 post, he writes:

…[E]ven if we skeptically rejected the presence of some of these characteristics, the strength of the inference for design is still very strong, given the remaining pieces of the cumulative case. In God’s Crime Scene, I describe each of these design attributes in much greater detail as I navigate the structure of Bacterial flagella. I also examine the naturalistic explanations of those who deny the existence of an Intelligent Designer. Can natural laws, time, chance and natural selection account for the design characteristics we see in flagella? I hope my investigation in God’s Crime Scene can help you answer that question.

I’d now like to throw the discussion open to readers. What do you think of Jim Wallace’s list of attributes which justify a design inference? Can you think of any more? Alternatively, are there any which you would like to remove from the list, and if so, why?

To kick off the discussion: personally, I find Wallace’s second hallmark of design (E -Echoes of Familiarity) rather interesting. If we claim that life (or the cosmos, for that matter) is designed, are we thereby committed to saying that it resembles “other structures we know (with certainty) were designed by intelligent designers”? And is there anything which we’ve designed which is sufficiently similar to life (or alternatively, the cosmos) to satisfy Wallace’s second criterion for design? (I addressed this issue in my 2013 post, Four Metaphors for the Cosmos: A Story about a Watch, a Lute, a Recipe and a Symphony.) Finally, how similar is “sufficiently similar,” anyway?

The fourth attrubute of design (informational dependency) sounds interesting, too. Clearly, there’s plenty of evidence that life was directed and created by way of instructional information: one only has to consider the genetic code to see that. But what about the cosmos? Where could we find the Designer’s instructions for making the cosmos, assuming they existed? Should we expect to find traces of them in the initial conditions of the universe, or in the cosmic microwave background?

I’d also like to comment briefly on Wallace’s seventh attribute of design: Efficiency / Irreducible Complexity. It seems to me that an object can exhibit irreducible complexity, without being terribly efficient: see, for instance, the Rube Goldberg machine depicted above: an illustration of Professor Lucifer Butts’ self-operating napkin (1915, image courtesy of Wikipedia). Likewise, an object can be efficiently designed, without being irreducibly complex; an airplane, for instance, is designed so that it can fly safely to its destination if one engine fails.

Finally, is there a certain minimum level of efficiency that we should expect to find in an object, before inferring design? For instance, how would readers respond to the following argument put forward by Professor Larry Moran:

Natural systems look like they were designed by a tinkerer who cobbles together odds and ends that just happened to be in reach. They look like they evolved haphazardly. Any intelligent scientist could do better and, in some cases, they have done better by genetically modifying organisms to make them more efficient.

I think Larry Moran would be hard-pressed to improve on the design of ATP synthase, and I would also point out that biologist and engineer Dr. Stephen Larson (who is not an Intelligent Design advocate) has marveled at the workings of the bacterial cell, which, he says, looks as if it’s packed with “technology that’s built by an engineer a million times smarter than me” – a fact which he finds disquieting. However, I think Professor Moran has a valid point about designs having to meet a certain standard. Consider, for instance, Arthur C. Clarke’s lunar monolith. In that case, a design inference was clearly warranted because of the ratio of the lengths of the sides: 1:4:9. But what if the ratio had been 1:3.97:9.1? And what if the sides hadn’t been smooth and straight, but rough and jagged in places? Would we then conclude that the monolith was natural in origin, like the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland?

Perhaps one might respond that if the probability of the components having the alleged design traits is sufficiently small (say, below Dr. William Dembski’s universal probability bound), then a design inference would be warranted. But that solution would effectively dispense with the efficiency requirement altogether. Another solution would be to use human design as the minimum threshold: an intelligent designer worth his/her salt has to be at least as good as we are. That might strike some readers as an anthropomorphic design criterion, but I would ask readers to consider the following hypothetical: suppose that every feature of living cells could be designed much more efficiently by human biologists. How confident would you feel in arguing that the cell was intelligently designed, simply because the odds of its having originated by unguided natural processes seemed to fall well below Dembski’s universal probability bound?

So, what do readers think of Jim Wallace’s eight attributes of design? Over to you.

(Image of Taj Mahal courtesy of Deep750 and Wikipedia. The picture was taken on March 6, 2004.)

7 Replies to “Eight attributes of design

  1. 1
    Jim Smith says:

    There are three possible explanations for phenomena: chance, necessity, and design. If you rule out chance and necessity or some combination of the two as an explanation for a given phenomenon, then the best explanation is design.

    Therefore, D (chance) and N (necessity) are the most important points and are required to choose design as an explanation. Some of other points are needed to distinguish design from noise so some of them are necessary, but any of them might be explained by chance if they are within the possibility of known science and sufficient probabilistic resources are available.

    There might be new insights in the future but promising an explanation tomorrow is superstition not science.

  2. 2
    Seversky says:

    For what it’s worth, here are my comments:

    D- Dubious Probability (Given Chance)
    Is random chance an insufficient explanation for the formation and assembly of the object we are examining?

    Nobody is arguing that random chance alone is a sufficient explanation for complex phenomena, however you define “complex”. There must also be law-like regularities, without which there would only be chaos. The origins of these law-like regularities are profoundly mysterious. Can an interplay between chance and law account for at least some of the complex phenomena we observe? If no, then we are left with intelligent design. If yes, then do we have any need for such an hypothesis?

    E -Echoes of Familiarity
    Does the object resemble other structures we know (with certainty) were designed by intelligent designers?

    This is essentially the argument by analogy. It’s not a fallacy but the strength of such an argument depends on a proper weighing of both the similarities and differences. ID proponents have a tendency to focus on similarities and ignore difference. To be fair, they are far from alone in this. It’s a human failing, if you like, but something we need to consciously work to overcome.

    S- Sophistication and Intricacy
    Does the object display specificity, sophistication and intricacy consistent with the involvement of an intelligent agent?

    How do you measure abstract qualities like sophistication and intricacy? Does a flint arrowhead display sophistication and intricacy? Compared with an i7 quad-core processor, perhaps not. In the context of the technology of the time when it was made, perhaps yes.

    I – Informational Dependency
    Is there any evidence the object was directed and created by way of instructional information?

    Difficult to say since there is still no clear consensus on what is meant by information. Without that, what does “informational dependency” actually mean?

    G – Goal Direction (and Intentionality)
    Does the form and assembly process of the object process to be goal-directed?

    Are we talking teleology or teleonomy? Are purpose and function the same things?

    N – Natural Inexplicability (Given Laws of Physics or Chemistry)
    Are the laws of physics and chemistry insufficient to account for the form and function of the object

    This takes us back to the first point. Do we know enough about the laws of physics and chemistry and the interplay with random chance to be able to say with any degree of certainty that something could not have come about through such means?

    E – Efficiency / Irreducible Complexity
    Does the object display efficient, irreducible complexity reflecting the involvement of an intelligent designer?

    Is “ Irreducible Complexity” a warranted claim about the absence of any physical history for a given phenomenon or is it just a claim about our ignorance of any such history?

    D – Decision / Choice Reflection
    Does the object display evidence of conscious choices indicative of an intelligent designer?

    The only intelligent designer of which we have any knowledge is ourselves. We can argue that a given phenomenon is similar in some respects to objects we design and that the similarity is sufficient to warrant an inference of design. On the other hand, if you allow that line of argument then you must allow the converse, namely that human designers would not design something a certain way so no inference to design is warranted.

  3. 3
    Mung says:

    Nobody is arguing that random chance alone is a sufficient explanation for complex phenomena, however you define “complex”.

    I see you had nothing to say in this thread.

  4. 4
    Jack Jones says:

    Excellent post Mr Torley.

    What about magnetic compasses Mr Torley?

    I know magnetic compasses come about by design and not dumb chance.

    “Young salmon navigate with built-in magnetic compass”

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/technol.....-1.2525934

  5. 5
    tjguy says:

    Seversky@2

    For what it’s worth, here are my comments:

    Well, you said it not me, but I’ll agree with you. For what it’s worth…

    Doesn’t seem to be worth too much. You only have arguments to try and cast doubt on the seemingly obvious conclusions the data leads us to – unless we are Materialists.

    So, if Materialists want to remain skeptical in the face of the evidence, in spite of the fact that they really have no evidence that natural processes CAN do what they desperately hope they did, well, that’s up to you/them.

    Who but an atheist would look at the intricacies of the cell and chalk it up to luck. No natural selection when it comes to abiogenesis. Who but an atheist would look at the multiple interdependent codes – both genetic and epigenetic – codes that are self-correcting, some 3D, some read backwards AND forwards, etc. and conclude it happened by chance?

    I fail to see the rationality in that conclusion. I see BIAS!

    So, while proving that natural processes cannot produce what we see is not possible, it still remains the obvious conclusion, unless there is some kind of real evidence that it can happen. Such a seemingly irrational conclusion leading to faith in the luck of natural processes requires strong support. But skeptics are skeptical about everything except their own story of origins.

  6. 6
    jimmontg says:

    I like the acronym idea. Being an engineer myself (retired) life just simply has to be created and designed. Sorry to all the atheists, but a person without what tjguy@5 said about bias would have to conclude that life didn’t just happen by biochemical laws. Or maybe I should say that before there was any life there were no biochemical laws as laws describe actions and facets of the Universe that exist. I look at the “machine” that is a living cell and DESIGNED is all over the place. Just the existence of a kinesin should be sufficient to inform a person that this was put together by not just intelligence, but also Power or Energy if you will.

    I wasn’t raised in a religious home by no means, but I never thought that there was no God. I understand a lot more now than I did then and many things have happened to me including the death of a son when he was 24 on Jan. 16, 2011. I don’t like January.

    I know evil and I know God created this Universe knowing that evil would occur, but I’m not angry at God because of sin that kills us all.(universal effect, universal cause) He made a way to escape and we don’t even have to earn it or pay for it. We just have to believe in the Risen Savior, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ and the Son of God. To believe means to hope and trust in Him, but you do have to turn from this world to His, which is one of righteousness and contentment, something He has already given me some of here. One day I will see Him as He is and my son will be there waiting.

  7. 7

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