Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

God woun’t’a dun it dat way?


Bill Dembski asked me to post my comments in a recent discussion elsewhere, regarding intelligent design (ID) as we currently understand it.

Phil Johnson, the lawyer who put ID on the map, is currently seeking more input from the arts community (he calls it Wedge II).

I agree that the ID debate will develop along more useful lines when more people from the arts participate.

Artsies (those who are not crazy) understand some aspects of intelligent original design better than most people.

An original design must be evaluated under actual, not hypothetical conditions.

Fundamental fact: All actual features of any given design exclude all other possible features.

Choices must be made. There is no perfect design, only optimum design.

Thus any rubberneck can point to a feature and say that it doesn’t do everything conceivable. But “everything conceivable” is never the goal of a design.

That is why, years ago, while researching the issues around ID, I quickly blew off the “God woun’t’a dun it dat way” approach of the churchgoing scientists who wring their hands over the menace of ID.

Coming as I do from an English language and literature background, I am familiar with the idea of creating a “world” out of whole cloth.

One always works within constraints. Even Shakespeare, the greatest of English-language dramatists, worked within constraints.

For example, Hamlet has defects as a play – but it is easy to stage.

King Lear is a more sublime play than Hamlet – but it is difficult to stage.

Julius Caesar is great for high school drama classes because of the large number of small parts and easily detachable scenes, plus an emotional range that is not too embarrassing or incomprehensible for teenage boys.

Now watch for some egghead to come along and say “A REAL dramatist wouldn’t have made those errors.”

Errors? What errors?

Shakespeare made choices, working with available material. Even if he had been perfect (which no one maintains), his plays would have some features that rule out other features.

For example, because women did not appear on the stage in Shakespeare’s day, he famously wrote many comedies in which girls disguise themselves as boys. The young dunces in dresses who normally played women loved a chance to wear doublet and hose again. If you did not realize the constraint under which Shakespeare was working, you could make a variety of incorrect assumptions about his reasons for that frequent plot device.

I don’t think understanding of design will prosper until a greater effort is made to involve sane people who create original works.

If the universe is intelligently designed, we can assume that any designer, even an omnipotent one, must work within the constraints that are created by the very nature of the medium, just as an artist, musician, or playwright does.

So it is no good pointing to this or that feature that does not seem to be optimum and say, “There! That proves there is no design!”

You might just as well point to Shakespeare’s girls who often seem to dress like boys and say, “There! That proves that the guy who wrote this had no idea what he was doing!”

A perfect fuse will break when it's supposed to. tribune7
Commentors here have already touched on what I would say in regards to the Optimal Design Canard (ODC). Just some thoughts, in no particular order: - What does optimal design look like? What would the perfect standard look like which with which we would juxtapose \"bad\" or suboptimal design? - How would optimal design (whatever this looks like) affect predator/prey relationships and thus extinction due to overpowering prey, etc...? How would the overall ecosystem be affected? - Any Engineer will tell you that in complex systems there are always constraints implemented which allow other parts of the system to function better for the overall good of the entire system. There is no such thing as a system where every aspect is \"optimal\" by all standards. - How do we know things are now as they originally were? Are we correct in assuming that the decay and presumed suboptimality we observe is how things were designed from the start? For the sake of argument, if we assume for a moment that the designer is the Biblical God, then a theological criticism requires a theological response and the Bible makes provision for suboptimal design in the doctrine of \"The Fall\". A doctrine which states the entire creation fell into decay because of man\'s rebellion. Nothing was left untainted. A spiritual entropy which permeates all of creation. Scott
Which came first, the axiom or the actual physical property? An epistemological question if I ever heard one! Maybe it depends on who's asking. In the metaphor I see your point. In general, in the design of anything, desired characteristics of the outcome come first. But in the case of biologic life forms, I'm not so sure, since according to one point of view, life developed stepwise. If Henry Ford had lived (much) longer, there's a good chance that he'd be working in the auto industry today, in a high position, and possibly instrumental in what the current products are like. But since the technology developed stepwise, he would likely have significantly differing ideas of what to create (design + manufacture) today, as opposed to his earlier ideas. You know where I'm going with this analogy, and yes, old Henry is not omniscient or omnipotent. If he were, it could be argued that he knew all along what he wanted. But can we really use that analogy to understand the Creator (designer + maker)? It's purely conjectural and may be totally off base, or it may have some parallels. Today in manufacturing, we often enter parameters into a computer, and it does the designing. The microprocessor is a prime example. Although we set the parameters, the program determines the actual layout of the millions of transistors, inductors, resistors and multi layered tracings (equivalent to wiring). In like fashion, our creator could use evolutionary tools to aid in the process. Where today we have almost completely automated assembly lines (in some cases totally automated), the embryo handles assembly in a similar way (at least in principle). I don't feel that that viewpoint is heretical. Our creator may still be omnipotent, but also smart enough to use tools (same as we do), to streamline the process. As far as the universe, and all physical matter goes … Thus, the creator who created the medium would also be choosing his "axioms", again, wittingly or not … if a contradiction occurred in physical systems, it would cause for a complete breakdown of the system. Our creator may not have created the universe, but be a product of it. Either way, the cosmos and everything in it appears to be designed, and I'm happy to be a part of it. leebowman
tragicmishap: apologies. (got wires crossed from a different thread due to the imperfect design of my brain) sorry. we are talking about design here, not evil. I'll try to get my story straight in the future! tinabrewer
tragicmishap: In my opinion, "conflict" in the play of life isn't a good analogy to the problem of evil. Conflict naturally arises from the necessity to toil for our daily bread, and through this toil, through sculpting matter to meet our needs, both physical and spiritual, plenty of interesting, character developing conflict, can be expected. Evil is something different, and refers to the inclination of the will away from God, and the positive desire to increase harm and chaos at whatever level. This evil is quite distinct from the natural limitedness of material life, but directly affects it by tremendously amplifying it and creating ever new forms of suffering. tinabrewer
What kind of poet would write a play with no conflict? If the absence of conflict is what is meant by "perfect design", then I doubt God would be very interested in designing a "perfect" world. What point would there be in writing that kind of play? Who would go to see it? tragicmishap
leebowman, In response to your earlier comments and the one just posted, it does make a difference which type of creator we are envisioning (which I agree with you, is not really the aim of ID in its current state). However, there can still be no operations inside of a system if it's "axioms" are not earlier defined. The possibility that, as you said "The observed behavior dictates the axioms" may appear true on the surface, but isn't actually the case. Returning to mathematics for the metaphor, imagine you are standing at a perfectly flat blackboard and draw every conceivable form of triangle, and everytime you draw a new one you measure the angles and get a total sum of 180 degrees. Then you would be tempted to say that this implies that given any line and any point not on the line, then there is a unique line through the point which is parallel to the given line (which is the axiom which cause triangles to have angle sum of 180). However, the reason that you could not draw any conceivable triangle with angle sum not equal to 180 is because this axiom was already in place. If not for the axioms there would be no system. They are arbitrary choices that we make, even if we don't realize that we are making them. By choosing to draw triangles on a flat board we are choosing, wittingly or not, to use the set of axioms which define Euclidean geometry. Thus, the creator who created the medium would also be choosing his "axioms", again, wittingly or not. These are the things which consist of or lead to such properties as the laws of thermodynamics or Farraday's constant, &tc. The thing is, if these aren't set from some initial "axioms" then their could be contradiction in the system, which I would posit, if a contradiction occurred in physical systems, it would cause for a complete breakdown of the system. In the end, the big question is "Where did this story all begin?" This is where we have to look, but will likely never find (at least in this life). Because until we determine where the initial conditions came from, then we can have no clue as to how any subsequent systems developed. tburus
It is not the function of Intelligent Design to define the intelligence responsible for designed systems or components (a particular genome for example). If the design inference can be properly inferred in any instance, it refutes natural causation in that instance. RM+NS works at some level. Beyond that level, intervention is inferred in the formation of a new or functionally improved or altered genome. This action could be the result of a purposeful creative act, a 'let's see' approach, or possible other motives. Depending on that, it could be causation by an omnipotent designer, or by some other intervening agent. I'm afraid that leaves the question unanswered. leebowman
Does ID posit an "omnipotent" designer or merely a designer? russ
Thanks for all the interesting comments. The difficulty with asking why omnipotence could not have created a universe without given constraints is that any existing system must have constraints, relative to other possible systems. On a planet with gravity, water runs downhill. One might - I suppose - create a universe without gravity, BUT then other constraints must be addressed. Claims about limitations of the designer are irrelevant. By the very nature of the case, any actual design requires choosing for one option and against a variety of others. That means choosing to work within a given set of constraints in the chosen system. As a result, identifying the constraints of a system do not necessarily demonstrate either that it was not designed or that it was poorly designed. O'Leary
The real objection to the "God wouldn't have done it that way" argument is that it is fundamentally arrogant. Anyone making the argument is saying that a) he knows what was in the mind of God when God did a particular thing such as engaging in an act of special creation, and that b) had he been the one to do so he would have done the thing differently--and presumably better. It is tantamount to telling God how to do his job, and that is something which, if the scriptures are to be believed, makes God a tad unpleasant, such as when the Archangel Lucifer told everyone "I will be like the Most High" and subsequently got himself booted out of Heaven. terrylmirll
I think, using your Shakespeare's analogy (who is a genius, but I really don't enjoy reading his work, shame on me), when one writes constrained by the form of the sonnet, fine. But I think you're missing the greater picture, on the act of human creativity. I think the most insightful book on the process is Steven Pressfield's THE WAR OF ART, which is most moving. Let me quote this excerpt from the book's Introduction, by Robet McKee: # # # # # Book Three, "The Higher Realm," looks at Inspiration, that sublime result that blossoms in the furrows of the professional who straps on the harness and plows the fields of his or her art. In Pressfield's words: "When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us...we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete." On this, the effect of Inspiration, Steve and I absolutely agree. Indeed, stunning images and ideas arrive as if from nowhere. In fact, these seemingly spontaneous flashes are so amazing, it's hard to believe that our unworthy selves created them. From where, therefore, does our best stuff come? It's on this point, however, the cause of Inspiration, that we see things differently. In Book One Steve traces Resistance down its evolutionary roots to the genes. I agree. The cause is genetic. That negative force, that dark antagonism to creativity, is embedded deep in our humanity. But in Book Three he shifts gears and looks for the cause of Inspiration not in human nature, but on a "higher realm." Then with a poetic fire he lays out his belief in muses and angels. The ultimate source of creativity, he argues, is divine. Many, perhaps most readers, will find Book Three profoundly moving. # # # # # From Wikipedia on Artistic Inspiration: # # # # # In Greek thought, inspiration meant that the poet or artist would go into ecstacy or furor poeticus, the divine frenzy or poetic madness. He or she would be transported beyond his own mind and given the gods' own thoughts to embody. Plato, in Symposium 197a, Phaedrus 244, as well as Theocritus, Pindar, and Aristotle (in Poetics) argue that the poet breaks through to the world of divine truth or divine apprehension temporarily and is compelled by that vision to create. Therefore, the invocations of the muses and the various poetic gods (Apollo and Dionysus, in particular) are earnest prayers for inspiration, for the breath of the god. The only substantially different model for inspiration offered in the Classical world is in the Problemata (of unknown authorship, but from the peripatetic school), which suggests that imbalances in the four humours are the origin of inspiration. Otherwise, Virgil, Ovid, and especially Cicero insist, like the Greek theorists before them, that artistic inspiration is a bestowed gift of the gods. Cicero, in fact, was apparently dissatisfied with the figurativeness "inspiration" had taken and used the term afflatus instead. Inspiration is prior to consciousness and outside of skill (ingenium in Latin). Technique and performance are independent of inspiration, and therefore it is possible for the non-poet to be inspired and for a poet or painter's skill to be insufficient to the inspiration. # # # # # P. Phillips
tburus: why do you disagree that the creator must work within the constraints of the medium He created? You did a much better job than me of saying what I was trying to say. thank you. But I was hinting at the idea that this material world may not at all be the whole work of the creator, but merely a tiny, limited PART of that work, and that it might be an insight into the limits of this part of the work that we are able to identify "constraints" of design here, when we have an inward capacity to conceive of unconstrained, perfect design... tinabrewer
It's true that the optimality of a design cannot be judged without knowing the goals of the designer. Even if you know the designer's goals, there may be tradeoffs among them, so you need to know the relative importance placed on each by the designer. The problem is that if you don't specify the designer's goals, the designer becomes unfalsifiable: Lots of beetles in the world? The Designer must have an inordinate fondness for them (Haldane's famous quip). Only a few beetles? The Designer doesn't like them very much, or likes them only in small quantities. Evil in the world? The Designer must be evil, or he is good but not all-powerful, or the evil is not his fault, or there is a certain minimum amount of evil inherent in the world. Universe teeming with intelligent life? The Designer loves life and wants to fill the universe with it. Universe devoid of intelligent life, except on Earth? The Designer has set Earth apart as a special place, the crown of his creation. Any empirical observation can be reconciled with the existence of designer this way. The concept is unfalsifiable. When critics of ID cite examples of what they consider poor design in the world, they are simply pointing out that the kind of Designer that most theists believe in would not have done things that way -- not that there is no possible designer who would have done so. zapatero
"Choices must be made. There is no perfect design, only optimum design." True, at least in a noetic sense, since the term 'perfect' is like the logical term 'infinite'. In actuality, 'perfect' is a vacuous term, subjective and open to refutation, but optimum isn't much better, since it implies 'the best possible'. Denyse's examples from Shakespeare are excellent. But there are also examples from biology, like the esophagus being suboptimal 'cause you can choke, or the retina is wired backwards, or the sex organs should have been separate from the main eliminatory organs, etc, ad nauseum. My favorite response to skeptics is, "Hey, it works!", but deep down I feel much more strongly on the subject, and highly revere what I see in life forms. I live in Phoenix, and when I get into my car in the summer and turn on the A/C, it blows God awful hot air for several minutes until the evaporator coils coil sufficiently, and the air inputting the evaporator has cooled a little so that the exchange (air coming out) starts to feel cool. As an engineer, I know that a simple delay circuit on the blower would solve that problem. Other areas of objection have to do with the radio not adjusting its volume to ride properly over ambient noise (turn it up while cruising; turn it back down when idling), turn on the lights when the sky darkens (or going through a tunnel), and adjusting the seat and mirrors automatically for each driver. Or how about headlights that follow curves in the road? Well guess what! All of those tweaks, and more, have been done. Pay more and you'll get them on certain makes/models. But as to why our creator/designer has done things a certain way has more to do with the designers choice, and yes, physical and anatomical constraints. Why are their male nipples? There are also mammary glands in both sexes, but they only develop in females, so what's the problem? And yet, skeptics will bring that point up as well. My car has the features that its designer(s) and creator(s) intended it to have. It has a certain useful life that was designed in as well. Same for our creator(s), and yes, God woudda dun it dat way. Tina Brewer briefly confronts the question of whether God, "even an omnipotent one" had constraints, posits no opinion on that, but poses a further question regarding the material world vs. and 'ideal' world. My opinion is that this world is likely optimal for its intended purpose, but not intended to be utopian. Good and evil, righteousness and sinfulness, success and failure exist as polarities that must exist for the other to exist. Tsunamis, plagues, starvation and child rape are among the worst, but ultimately overcomeable in a way we may as yet fail to understand. Free will and ego have everything to do with man's actions and his sinful nature (and God well knew that prior to the 'apple' incident), but He's given us a pathway to redemtion. The world is the way it is by design, and that includes man's tendency to sin. Polarities exist. Tburus: i"… why would the omnipotent creator, who also created the medium, create it with these constraints. Or, to be more blunt, where did the laws of nature come from?"/i The design of matter must, of necessity, carry with it constraints (physical laws). i"Of course, as most any advanced mathematician or scientist knows, it is the axioms we choose which determine the behavior of the system."/i Or perhaps, the other way around. The observed behavior dictates the axioms. i"In the same way, the creator who created the medium must first have chosen the "axioms", or laws of nature, and then developed his body of work inside those constraints."/i Agreed, that this is a way in which the axioms could have come first, but it's also possible that physical characteristics followed an immutable pathway due to the way particles interact, and thus those characteristics weren't definable a priori. The choices of ways to put them together to form compounds (and biologic systems) is huge, offering a plethora of ways a designer could design life. Unless one believes that all of creation was done by hand waving and declaration ("Let there be…"), then the designer may have created life stepwise, and even by trial and error. Cancer, while some construe as a defect, is simply a breakdown of an extremely complex system, can be avoided in many cases by lifestyle choices, and occurs eventually regardless of what we do, as bodily systems deteriorate. Rather than an argument for naturalistic origins, it's simply due to normal constraints that exist in created life. "This differs from Shakespeare or any other artisan because they have to create within the constraints that have been set by others and thus are limited in what they can design." There is somewhat of an analogy, though, since life appears to have been over wrought over time, and does operate within certain limits. leebowman
I don't see how these comments fit together:
There is no perfect design, only optimum design.
and later
So it is no good pointing to this or that feature that does not seem to be optimum and say, “There! That proves there is no design!”
You seem to be saying that there isn't even optimum design, so what do you have left? Incidentally, optimisation under constraints (which is what you're writing about here) is a well known problem, and something engineers know a lot about. I would suggest that they're probably better able to appreciate the problems involved than are artists (whether sane or not). Bob Bob OH
I think we need to be careful before saying that the designer had to work within the constraints. In the same breath as tinabrewer's comments, only stronger, why would the omnipotent creator, who also created the medium, create it with these constraints. Or, to be more blunt, where did the laws of nature come from? It is similar to asking in mathematics, where do the axioms come from? Are axioms something that we must attribute to a certain system, or are we free to pick and choose as we please? Of course, as most any advanced mathematician or scientist knows, it is the axioms we choose which determine the behavior of the system. But, we are free to choose those axioms arbitrarily. In doing geometry, I can choose which version of parallel's, if any, I want to work with. It is once I have chosen these axioms that I am then burdened with their constraints, but I was still the one who chose the axioms. In the same way, the creator who created the medium must first have chosen the "axioms", or laws of nature, and then developed his body of work inside those constraints. This differs from Shakespeare or any other artisan because they have to create within the constraints that have been set by others and thus are limited in what they can design. I disagree, however, that this is the case with the creator, and thus I do not know how much understanding we could venture to gain from such an endeavor as the one proposed. tburus
"If the universe is intelligently designed, we can assume that any designer, even an omnipotent one, must work within the constraints that are created by the very nature of the medium, just as an artist, musician, or playwright does." Wouldn't the omnipotent designer create the medium? Further, wouldn't the omnipotent designer be the reason behind the fact that "There is no perfect design, only optimum design." Couldn't such a designer make a medium in which perfect design does exist? Maybe we can say that imperfection suggests non-omnipotent design? Tiax
"...we can assume that any designer, even an omnipotent one, must work within the constraints that are created by the very nature of the medium..." : Does the medium create the constraints? Then we might ask why the omnipotent creator, who also created the medium, would create a medium with such constraints. it just pushes the question back a jump, but I think its a legitimate question. However, a legitimate question doesn't necessitate the silly answer "God wouldn't have done it that way..." It could however, lead to a fruitful philosophical dialogue about the nature of the material vs. ideal worlds, etc. tinabrewer

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