Intelligent Design

ID Comments and Responses

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My initial posting prompted some excellent and thought-provoking comments and challenges, so I thought I would address some of them here in Q&A form since these topics should be of special interest to readers of this blog.

Comment: “If you could hypothetically adjust one of the cosmological constants to destroy all life then there’s no guarantee that you wouldn’t have a new form of life evolve…”

Response: As it turns out, when these constants are adjusted in either direction by the slightest amount, the process of the universe derails so catastrophically that life of any kind would be impossible. You end up with a universe full of nothing but hydrogen and therefore no chemistry, or no stars and therefore no heavy elements, or stars that burn too hot and too rapidly, or a universe that immediately collapses back upon itself (the list is huge). Cosmological fine-tuning (sometimes referred to as the anthropic coincidences) was first brought to the attention of the public by Brandon Carter in the 1970s. Since then a vast literature has appeared, and the “coincidences” continue to accumulate.

On this subject, Michael Denton has written an extremely interesting and compelling book, Nature’s Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe. In this tour de force masterpiece Denton explores how anthropic coincidences are now being discovered in biology (the unusual properties of water, carbon, visible light and much more, which must be precisely as they are for living things to exist and function).

Could all of this just be coincidence? Sure, but as the number of coincidences continues to grow in ever more areas, conspiracy certainly seems to become a more plausible explanation than coincidence. Of course, we wouldn’t be here if the universe were not compatible with life, but this requires hypothesizing about an infinitude of in-principle undetectable alternate universes, and alternate-universe-generating machinery. Design seems to be a more reasonable and rational conclusion to me. Human minds appear to be very well designed to detect design, so why not let this be the default position until compelling evidence tells us otherwise?

Comment: “I don’t believe that anyone knows (scientifically) or proposes to know the origin of the universe, or if ‘material did not exist prior to the origin of the universe? at which time neither matter, energy, space nor time existed.’ If you’re referring to the Big Bang then we still don’t know what came before, but assume (scientifically) that it was natural.”

Response: The origin of space, time, matter and energy at the birth of the universe is well established in theoretical physics, and there is a vast literature on this. (Of course, this could turn out to be wrong, just like blind-watchmaker evolutionary theory is turning out to be wrong, but the evidence seems to be compelling. I won’t invoke scientific consensus because science is not about consensus.) We could arbitrarily define whatever came “before” the physical universe, if anything, as “natural,” but this would completely redefine and render meaningless what is meant by a materialistic or naturalistic cause.

By the way, the reason for the quotation marks around the words “before” and “prior” is that it makes no sense to talk about a time prior to the origin of time. This point will be relevant to another response below.

In order for there to be a materialistic or naturalistic explanation for something, you need material and nature (matter, energy and their interaction). Therefore, there cannot, by definition, be a materialistic or naturalistic explanation for the origin of the physical universe. This leads to an interesting observation. What is a miracle? A dictionary definition is “an event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature” — that is, an event with no naturalistic explanation or cause. Since the laws of nature came into existence along with the universe, the origin of the universe is, again by definition, a miracle, and on the grandest scale imaginable.

Comment: “Abiogenesis wouldn’t be receiving any funding if this [origin-of-life research being in a state of complete paradigm meltdown] were the case.”

Response: The philosophy of scientific naturalism demands that there *must* be a purely materialistic explanation for the origin of life, therefore the funding, no matter how dismal the situation or the prospects of success. By the way, I think this research should be funded. A lot may be learned, and basic research can lead to unanticipated useful results in unexpected areas. However, I’m putting my money on perpetually frustrated efforts to find a purely materialistic explanation for the origin of life, for the simple reason that the explanatory categories in question (matter, energy, chemistry, physics, time, chance, etc.) lack the causative power to do what is being demanded of them. No one will ever invent a perpetual-motion machine, because the law of conservation of energy won’t permit it. If laws governing conservation of information operate as Bill Dembski has made a compelling case that they do, looking for a materialistic explanation for the origin of complex specified information in living systems will also be endlessly frustrated.

SETI (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence), has also received a lot of funding, even though there is not a shred of evidence that ETs exist. This research is predicated upon another naturalistic assumption and philosophy, a “Copernican principle” called the principle of mediocrity, which says that our planet, sun and galaxy are nothing special, so the universe must be teeming with life. As it turns out, the principle of mediocrity is rapidly being discredited. (By the way, Don Brownlee, coauthor of the seminal book, Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe, is also the principal investigator for the recent Stardust spacecraft mission. Our company just successfully performed the Stardust reentry retrieval mission.)

Comment: “Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of people claim that a designer would need to have a designer. I was wondering if you’ve ever considered the question.”

Response: Yes I have. It is perfectly possible to make a valid design inference with no knowledge of the origin or nature of the designer. We can reliably infer that Stonehenge was designed, with no knowledge of where those who designed it came from.

However, the case of the design of the universe (for which I believe there is overwhelming scientific evidence) prompts an interesting observation. Because time itself had a beginning at the birth of the universe, it is meaningless to ask about the origin of the designer, just as it is meaningless to talk about a time prior to the beginning of time.

31 Replies to “ID Comments and Responses

  1. 1
    Red Reader says:

    Thank you.

  2. 2
    StuartHarris says:

    Gil,

    Regarding this first comment you responded to:
    Comment: “If you could hypothetically adjust one of the cosmological constants to destroy all life then there’s no guarantee that you wouldn’t have a new form of life evolve…”

    I’ve often thought that the fine-tuning of the Universe is an example (on the grandest scale) of irreducible complexity. If one of the cosmological constants were changed in the slightest there would be no life at all — not just different life or “less successful” life. Expanding on this idea, could the physical Universe itself exist at all (with or without life) if any of the constants were other than what they are? In other words, is the Universe itself one grand irreducibly complex reality where the physical laws must be as they are for existence to be even possible let alone allow for the possibility of life?

    If we can infer intelligent design WITHIN the Universe by detecting irreducibly complex structures (in life and elsewhere), we should be able to infer the design OF the Universe by detecting that its laws and constants are irreducibly complex.

    To me, the fine-tuning arguement seems to imply this.

  3. 3
    Charlie says:

    Have you guys ever thought of starting a FAQ here?
    This excellent post would be a great start.
    (if there already is one and I have stupidly missed it, don’t rub it in too much 🙂 )

  4. 4
    Patrick says:

    As for the state of abiogenesis, last year at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory the first two lecturers in a JPL Origin of Life series called “Life Detection Seminar” contested each other’s claims. Here is a copy and paste job from an attendee there:

    –Another origin-of-life expert made a presentation to a filled auditorium at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Dec. 2. His scenario differed radically from last month’s. Instead of trying to get ribose (for RNA) to form in a desert, he put his speculative natural laboratory 4 to 10 km underwater at the bottom of the sea. Why? Because the surface of the Earth would have been a deadly place: under attack by UV radiation (“disastrous” on the early earth, he said), volcanoes, and meteorite impacts of world-wipeout class. For his model, he needed a safe haven “out of harm’s way,” and found one, he believes, near deep sea vents.

    –Dr. Michael Russell (geologist, U. of Glasgow) believes life began in an alkaline hydrothermal reactor. Russell has a simple view of life: “Life emerges because of a chemical disequilibrium,” he said, as a kind of natural feedback mechanism “to solve the problem” of the need for a catalyst between carbon dioxide (oxidizing) and hydrogen (reducing). “Don’t be vivocentric,” he cautioned the audience; a mineral-based catalytic cycle does the same thing as life, acting as a natural regulator between extreme conditions. He also emphasized that living systems rely on convection, and generate byproducts. “What does life do? It makes waste,” he began. (The waste in his model that might provide astrobiologists with clues on other planets is acetate or acetic acid, i.e., vinegar.) At another point, he dismissed life as simply “failed mineralogy.”

    –Building on his belief that life emerges in environments far from equilibrium, his scenario proposes an environment with strong gradients. His illustrations portrayed a battle between high temperature water, laden with alkaline substances and metals, rising up through cracks in the crust to face the cold, acidic ocean water, loaded with dissolved carbon dioxide. He explained that this sets up a temperature gradient, a redox (oxidation-reduction) gradient, and a kinetic barrier that produces a 500 millivolt energy source at just the right temperature, about 40° C (hot, but not too hot, “like California”), where life could start cooking. At the junction of all this turmoil, a “membranous froth” forms, providing a nest where organic chemicals like amino acids could form and evolve. He thought that 35,000 years or so (the presumed lifetime of the Lost City thermal vents), was plenty of time to get life started. Amino acids would link up, with help from mineral platforms, into chains up to six units long. These, in turn, through hydrogen bonding with nucleotides, could spontaneously induce a prototypical “coding” that would not have depended on one-handed (homochiral) peptide chains. Heterochiral polymers would have actually been preferable at first, he said, and might have been selected for homochirality later, the left-handed ones winning the luck of the draw over the right-handed.
    Another thing life requires is compartmentalization – a membrane. With apologies to the biochemists, who assume today’s lipid membranes would have been a requirement for life, he proposed that iron sulfide (FeS) might have been just the thing at that early stage. It might have formed sandwich layers where the polymers of life grew, spalled off, with more forming in their place, producing a steady supply of prebiotic ingredients on which natural selection could act. He did not discuss harmful cross-reactions or interfering products, but made the setup appear like a “self organizing proto-enzymatic system,” a forerunner of the complex acetyl-coenzyme A pathway employed by today’s living cells, which is assisted by proteins called ferrodoxins that act as electron-transfer agents. The “extremely steep gradients” at the seafloor, he felt, could allow FeS to handle the electron transfer work.

    –In short, he proposed a “peptide world” first instead of an RNA world, the popular choice among those in the origin-of-life research community. In fact, he felt it a big mistake for most researchers to promote the RNA World hypothesis, because to him it is highly unrealistic, given the assumed geological conditions on the early earth. “You’re not going to get RNA in the early earth; it is too unstable in water,” he emphasized (yet failed to mention how it appeared in the primitive “coding” with peptides he described earlier.) Moreover, he flatly admitted the Urey-Miller experiment was completely unrealistic, because everyone since Darwin knows that carbon dioxide (not hydrogen or methane) must have been the predominant atmospheric gas.

    –By contrast, he sold his model as meeting all the realistic early-earth geological requirements, and getting free fringe benefits as a bonus. For instance, he touted his model as providing a mechanism for proton motive force (pmf), in addition to electron transfer. Pmf is observed in all organisms to build ATP. Understanding how pmf arose in prebiotic conditions is, for most researchers, a difficult problem, but he claimed his model produced it as a “free lunch.” This represented the tone of his talk: getting life is quick and simple. In a somewhat overconfident manner, he described life as a natural consequence of disequilibrium conditions readily available deep under the sea, here on Earth or on any world undergoing convection and chemical disequilibrium. The audience gave him a hearty round of applause.
    Noting that the audience may have missed the fact that his scenario falsified the previous speaker’s (and vice versa), this reporter asked during the Q&A period about it. “Benner said that ribose was essential to life, yet is unstable in water, so he theorized it had to form in a desert with borate to stabilize it,” I said. “You are proposing that it formed in a deep sea environment. How do you reconcile your view with his?” “I don’t,” he responded without hesitation. “I’m a geologist – he’s a biochemist. To me, you must start with a realistic geological scenario for the early earth. There were no deserts! There was no borate, a rare mineral in cosmic terms. I consider that a highly unlikely scenario.” He had stated emphatically earlier in the lecture that organic molecules did not come from space, as some astrobiologists suppose. Regardless of what the cosmologists say, “There were no organic molecules on the early earth,” he said forcefully, “even from space.” He didn’t need special delivery anyway; all the ingredients cook up just fine in his frothy alkaline reactors. No primordial soup here; in fact, his first life has to invade the oceanic crust to survive, because the open ocean is the last place to put fragile early life forms. Like a desert, it would have provided nothing to eat.

    –When a listener asked him his opinion about when life originated, he speculated confidently it was about 4.4 billion years ago – in geological terms, almost immediately after the earth cooled enough for the oceans to form. He made it seem an almost automatic result of the circumstances. To someone not vivocentric, it appeared to be no big deal.

    –This reporter was given a chance to talk to the speaker in person after the conference. A series of questions were answered:

    –Like Benner, Russell admitted that 100% pure one-handedness is vital. He admitted during the talk that amino acids racemize immediately (i.e., they revert to mixed-handedness). His lecture had bluffed about heterochirality being acceptable at first, but he provided no means other than chance to achieve 100% homochirality later. He seemed to assume getting a six-unit peptide of one hand was plausible, and that was sufficient.

    –He confused chemical specificity with information when I charged him with pulling information out of a magic hat. “The small peptides you propose are no more informative than a child’s alphabet blocks bouncing around at random,” I said. When he tried to declare that a six-link peptide chain “has a lot of information, because it will only join with certain side chains and reject others,” I reminded him that such an arrangement provides no functional information (it doesn’t “do” anything useful). Information is not the same as natural law. I reminded him that sodium chloride (table salt) links up naturally, too, but provides no real information. How much information is necessary to provide function? As a real world example, he admitted that the simplest ferrodoxins are more than 53 amino acid units in length. But that is an exceedingly high degree of information for just one protein molecule, especially when each unit has to be one-handed. Getting something that size by chance is astronomically improbable.

    –I reminded him that Benner had warned against proposing too many genetic takeovers, because each one requires a radical overhaul of the conditions. Compounding ad hoc conditions raises charges of telling a just-so story. Yet his model invoked three takeovers: minerals, then peptides, then RNA. He responded that the first two were “co-evolving.” Does that really solve the problem? Is it not a personification fallacy?
    He admitted that there is a huge gap between his proposal and the operation of the simplest living thing, especially considering the highly complex translation process between DNA and proteins involving transfer-RNA. Yet he did not mention this gap during the talk when the audience was present.

    –If a layman can nail a PhD chemist, it doesn’t mean the layman is bright; it means the chemist’s story is weak and shatters easily. After I hammered away with these pointed questions, he asked me in mild exasperation, “Well, you’ve got to start somewhere. What is your model?” “You wouldn’t like it…. ” I replied, then thanked him for his time and bid him adieu.

    Full abstract of Russell’s presentation free from comments:

    It is suggested that life got started when hydrothermal hydrogen reacted with carbon dioxide dissolved in ocean waters in a hydrothermal mound (pH ~10, T =100° C) partly composed of metal sulfide. This mound was the hatchery of life and the vent fluids bore life’s waste products back to the ocean. Bacterial life is characterized by its wastes, e.g., acetate, methane, oxygen and hydrogen sulfide. The first waste product of life was probably acetate. So we may think of the hydrothermal mound as a natural hydrothermal flow reactor in which iron and nickel sulfides catalyzed the formation of minor concentrations of amino acids and their polymerization to short peptides – peptides that got caught in pore spaces while most of the acetate was eluted to the ocean. These peptides wrapped themselves around inorganic metal sulfide and phosphate molecules, and also coated the inside of the pores. The efficiency of the acetate generator was optimized by the emergence of the first organic living cells through the intervention of nucleic acids in the metabolizing system.
    The hydrothermal mound continued to support a community of cells through to the community’s evolution and differentiation to bacteria and archaea. The archaea added waste methane to the effluent. From the mound the only safe escape route was down, down into the ocean floor where nutrients and energy were still available. Any cells discharged to the ocean would have starved. Thus the ocean floor sediments and crust were colonized and the deep biosphere was born.

  5. 5
    GilDodgen says:

    Stu,

    I can’t believe I didn’t think of that! Michael Denton has commented that biological systems reveal “wheels of complexity within wheels of complexity.” The bacterial flagellum is clearly irreducibly complex, as are the assembly instructions (no function with incomplete assembly). It is becoming increasingly clear that IC operates all the way down to the molecular level, and all the way up to the cosmological level.

  6. 6
    GilDodgen says:

    Patrick,

    Without a plausible explanation for the origin of biological information, all of the stuff cited is just meaningless fluff and worthless speculation.

  7. 7
    Patrick says:

    Heck, at this point I’d just like to see a solution to the homochirality problem. As far as I know the latest attempt has been studying circularly polarised ultraviolet light in space and even that was only capable of producing an excess of 2.6% left-handed amino acids. Then there is “Spontaneous emergence of homochirality in noncatalytic systems” , November 2004, Proceedings of the National Acedemy of Sciences:

    http://www.pnas.org/cgi/conten.....1/48/16733

    Their theoretical model describes a dynamic system of amino acids joining and disjoining with a free flow of energy and ingredients. In the best-case scenario, provided that all the ingredients are present in the right conditions, this system might produce about 70% of one hand in a few centuries (a value that stabilizes and does not rise higher). Even this does not form polypeptide chains, only an excess of one-hand in the amino acids. They say that the formation of the first prebiotic peptides is not a trivial problem, as free amino acids are poorly reactive (peptide bonds tend not to form in water). To solve this part of the problem, they imagine alternate wetting and drying periods and the presence of N-carboxyanhydrides to activate the amino acids. The tests required fairly high concentrations of ingredients, and specific temperature and acidity. They couldn’t get any single-handed chains to result, but still feel their model is better than the usual direct autocatalytic reaction models, which they view as “dubious in a prebiotic environment.”

    Know of anything more recent?

    VERY, VERY FAR OFF TOPIC: This observation might be a bit…juvenile, but I’m sure Dave will appreciate it ( 😛 ) and add it to his arsenal of phrases (girly-men, etc). Did the NAS ever stop to consider how one might pronounce the acronym for the Proceedings of the National Acedemy of Sciences? PNAS…I mean, come on!

  8. 8
    John Davison says:

    Spontaneous generation (abiogenesis) was tested and found wanting in three centuries, first by Franceso Redi, next by Lazzaro Spallanzani and finally and most decisively by Louis Pasteur. No one tests it any more but countless “experts” insist it happened nevertheless. I am not one of them. Life was Created with a capital C an unknown number of times at an unknown number of places by an unknown number of Creators by unknown means that most certainly did not involve chance. I do not believe that life evolved. I believe it arrived full blown and subsequent radiation and innovation was due to a process which Leo Berg described as follows:

    “Evolution is in a great measure an unfolding of pre-existing rudiments.”
    Nomogenesis or Evolution According to Law, page 406.

    I would only add that he might better have used the past tense and substituted “entirely” for “in a great measure.”

    Referring to both ontogeny and phylogeny Berg also correctly observed:

    “Neither in the one nor in the other is there room for chance.”
    ibid, page 134

    To continue to postulate any role for chance is to lend support to the Darwinian fantasy, something this investigator found to be quite impossible long ago.

    “Everythin is determined by forces over which we have no control.”
    Albert Einstein

    Certainly that which IS determined must HAVE BEEN determined, in my opinion millions of years ago.

  9. 9
    John Davison says:

    There is no requirement to identify the source of biological information. That it existed is undeniable. How much remains is problematical. Does anyone get all exercied about the source of all of mathematics? Not to my knowledge. Does that in any way detract from the fact that it too must have had a source? Why, oh why, does everyone get all lathered up over a question that can never be answered anyway. Isn’t it sufficient just to accept the obvious? Everything had a source – everything. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here wasting one another’s time in endless, largely meaningless conjecture.

    How do you like them hardnecked garlic cloves pickeled in wine vinegar? Tasty aren’t they. I think I’ll go back to bed.

  10. 10
    MikeG says:

    Your analogy to Stonehenge being designed brings up a very important point. We can reasonably conclude that Stonehenge was designed because we know that people lived in the area at the time that it was constructed. We know from archaeological evidence that their technology at the time was capable of constructing it. We, in fact, know quite a bit about the designers and because of this knowledge we can conclude that Stonehenge was intelligently designed.

    Now, if we found a similar structure buried in the ice on the continent of Antarctica where there is no evidence that humans ever inhabited the locale, we would be very cautious about assigning its formation to that of an intelligent agent. We would first try to explain and understand the structure in terms of natural forces that we can observe in the natural world. Without some evidence for a designer, no hypothesis regarding it not being a natural phenomena would gain credibility. Only with the discovery of archaeological evidence of human presence corresponding to the time of construction would a hypothesis regarding a human origin be considered.

    Another example (although a weaker one) would be the great pyramids in Egypt. A couple decades ago some people argued that there was no way that the ancient Egyptians could have possibly constructed the pyramids so they hypothesised, with no evidence to support their conclusions, that an alien intelligence must have built the pyramids. That is similar to the stance ID has taken today. Through further archaeological research in Egypt, scientists have conclusively shown that the technology available to the ancient Egyptians was more than sufficient to the task. As scientific knowledge increases in the field of evolutionary biology, science will be able to ultimately address all of the criticisms made by ID proponents.

  11. 11
    taciturnus says:

    Mike,

    One of the interesting things about Stonehenge is that sunrise and sunset can rarely be seen from the center of the monument. But at the summer solstice, the sunrise appears directly over one of the main stones (the Heel Stone) and looks as though it is balancing on it. A similar thing happens at the winter solstice, but in the opposite direction. This is one of the reasons it is obvious it was designed, notwithstanding who designed it or how it was built.

    A Stonehenge discovered in Antarctica would presumably have similar astronomical properties. Are you saying we would seriously need to entertain the possibility that natural causes were responsible for lining up the stones with the summer and winter solstices?

    Cheers,
    Dave T.

  12. 12
    M J says:

    My two cents:

    1. I believe firmly in design. But it’s hard for me to call it “intelligent” design. Why? Because by saying that it was intelligent design, you are starting the same circular argument that plagues “survival of the fittest”. IE: We see design so an intelligence must have designed it. How do we know an intelligence designed it? Because we see design.

    2.False analogies don’t help design theory. When we see design in Stonehenge, the pyramids, Mt. Rushmore, we don’t see “intelligent” design (intelligence, using the dictionary term is a very subjective word) we see HUMAN design. There is a difference. When a detective goes to a scene and see’s a murder victim, he doesn’t think that an intelligence did it, he thinks a HUMAN did it. The analogies between human design and biological design should be avoided at all cost.

  13. 13
    taciturnus says:

    MJ,

    1. The qualifier “intelligent” is added to “design” because some people claim that there is such a thing as “design” without intelligence – Richard Dawkins, for example. In fact the whole point of Darwinism is to show that the apparently “intelligent” design in nature is really a product of non-intelligent natural laws.

    ID is not a tautology like “survival of the fittest.” That’s a tautology because the survivors are necessarily the fittest by definition. But ID does not simply define design to be intelligence. It characterizes “design” with objective measures (e.g. specified complexity) that have known origins only via intelligence. When organisms embody these features, ID theory infers design. That’s concluding causes from effects, not merely defining intelligence into existence.

    2. Analogies between human design and design by an unknown designer work because, whatever the designer, he must work on the same universe with the same natural laws that we do. Take the SETI program, for example. It looks for strings of prime numbers in radio signals. Now there are not “human” prime numbers and “alien” prime numbers. Prime numbers are what they are, whatever the intelligence, so they are common to all intelligences. The same holds for physics. Whatever or whoever designed the bacterial flagellum needed to make it work according to the same natural laws that we understand through science. Natural laws are the same for every intelligence, and any intelligence can, in principle, understand anything in nature that functions according to those laws. If we understand the design of the bacterial flagellum, it’s not because we are “reading into it” our own design but because any designing intelligence must use the common language of natural law.

    With Stonehenge, it doesn’t matter if the being who built it was ancient man, aliens, God or the Devil. The summer and winter solstices are what they are, they are the same for every intelligence, and we can conclude that an intelligence was behind its construction whatever it’s specific nature.

    cheers,
    Dave T.

  14. 14
    DaveScot says:

    Dave T.

    The appearance of design in nature is real. The appearance of randomness in nature is an illusion.

  15. 15
    Jerry says:

    MikeG,

    Few that accept the ID proposal that some things had to be designed, believe that science will not continue to find new answers to questions about the material universe. In fact the information is exploding as modern technology and large amounts of money are made available. Nor do the ID people believe that certain areas are out of bounds for scientific exploration.

    What ID people believe it that educators should not teach certain hypothesis as proven when there is little evidence for these hypothesis. Origin of Life, the formation of complex life forms and body parts, and macro evolution are all unproven and at best conjecture. So don’t present these issues in science classes as anything other than speculation and also don’t prevent students from learning alternative points of view when these speculations are presented as long as these alternatives use the tools of science.

    This is what the discussion is all about.

    Your comment that science will eventually find the answers is more of a faith based statement than the proposition that there is design behind some incredibly complex information full elements in the world (e.g ATP synthesis system, the cell and millions of others examples). The ID people say stick to what is known and keep the faith based hypotheses that you espouse out of the primary and high schools.

  16. 16
    DaveScot says:

    M J

    Intelligent design isn’t a tautology like survival of the survivors fittest. We recognize the intelligence because nothing else known can produce the almost unfathomably complex machines like we find in even the simplest cells. In every case where we can determine the source of design for a machine it is intelligent agency. Thus it should really be a law of nature until proven otherwise – machines come from intelligent agency.

  17. 17
    M J says:

    Dave,
    Which statement is more true:

    “In every case where we can determine the source of design for a machine it is intelligent agency.”

    “In every case where we can determine the source of design for a machine it is humans.”

    My problem with using the word intelligence is that it is a description of a designer. To me, it’s hard to say ” Intelligent Design doesn’t speak to the designer” because I did speak about the designer, I described the designer as being intelligent.
    Maybe I’m using the word “intelligence” in the wrong way? Or interpreting it incorrectly?
    As you said, “intelligent agency”. The word intelligence is used to describe the agency. That would make me think that intelligent design does speak about the designer.
    Correct me if my thoughts are astray.

    Thanks!

  18. 18
    twloftus says:

    I admire Mike G for at least a rational stance. We have come a long way in scientific research and I don’t think it would be inappropriate to theorize that at some point we will find the answers we seek. Mike’s position (like Darwin’s) will only be bourne out over time, so we’ll just have to wait and see if he is right. The fellow, Prof. Dee, who started all of this discussion does not merit the same admiration. Mr. Dee’s premise is that because he does not understand something then it cannot be true (i.e. since men’s nipples have no known usefulness as far as Prof. Dee is aware, then there could not have been intelligent design behind it). Weak, Mr. Dee. Are you saying that only things you understand can be true? A bold statement for someone born of a species “only 160,000 years old.” Further, your sources are questionable at best (see “Theologians have said…” – Which theologians? What exactly did they say? Something tells me your one sentence paraphrase did not do justice to the “theologians” to whom you are ascribing these “long-held” beliefs. I think it is best that you retired, Prof. Dee…and please, stick to Bingo in the future.

    Tom

  19. 19
    MikeG says:

    Jerry,
    My “faith” in the ability of science to explain natural phenomena is based on the track record of science in discovering natural explanations. How many times in history have phenomena that were at one time explained using supernatural forces and beings subsequently been completely explained through natural and scientifically studied processes? How many times have supernatural forces or beings become the proven explanation? ID relies a supernatural creator (one that science has no hope of identifying or understanding) in order to explain natural phenomena.

    taciturnus, you said:
    “One of the interesting things about Stonehenge is that sunrise and sunset can rarely be seen from the center of the monument. But at the summer solstice, the sunrise appears directly over one of the main stones (the Heel Stone) and looks as though it is balancing on it. A similar thing happens at the winter solstice, but in the opposite direction. This is one of the reasons it is obvious it was designed, notwithstanding who designed it or how it was built.”

    Unfortunately, sunrise and sunset on the solstices do not appear directly over any of the main stones. It’s close, but it’s not exact. They did line up at the time that Stonehenge was created, but not now. We need to have information about the designers (when they created the structure) in order to understand the alignment of the stones.

  20. 20
    physicist says:

    Gil

    “Could all of this just be coincidence? Sure, but as the number of coincidences continues to grow in ever more areas, conspiracy certainly seems to become a more plausible explanation than coincidence. Of course, we wouldn’t be here if the universe were not compatible with life”

    I agree with you that it seems unlikely that the particular values of various fundamental constants are arbitrary.

    “but this requires hypothesizing about an infinitude of in-principle undetectable alternate universes, and alternate-universe-generating machinery.”

    Well, remember that hypothesising is not a priori a fruitless activity…our progress in physics has come from hypothesising solutions to puzzles we find in nature, and then testing whether the hypotheses are correct.

    I would say at the moment that there are no well-defined theories of alternative universes in this sense, but it’s far from obvious to me that they would be “in principle undetectable”. Why are you certain of that, and what theories in particular are you referring to?

    “Design seems to be a more reasonable and rational conclusion to me.”

    Well, I guess this is what much of the ID debate comes down to—personal POVs. What `seems reasonable’ to one person is often unnecessary to another. At the moment I would say that (for me) there is no compelling evidence for the fundamental constants being fixed by a designer. What I feel sure of is that we don;t understand the putative underlying theories of nature nearly well enough.

    “Human minds appear to be very well designed to detect design, so why not let this be the default position until compelling evidence tells us otherwise?”

    I’m not convinced there is a need to have a default position, nor that it should be design if there is. We don’t understand the laws of nature well enough to deduce that the constants are designed, and my POV would be: why choose a default position when you don;t have to? If you’re interested, get on with doing the physics and see if you can work something out!

  21. 21
    M J says:

    Dave T. said:

    “Analogies between human design and design by an unknown designer work because, whatever the designer, he must work on the same universe with the same natural laws that we do.”

    I agree. As Davescot said, “In every case where we can determine the source of design for a machine it is intelligent agency.” But the statement “In every case where we can determine the source of design for a machine it is humans” is also true. Do you know of any intelligent agency that is not human?
    The intelligence of the agency is not what designed the machine. We attribute intelligence to the agency based on the fact that we as humans attribute intelligence to complexity. But intelligence is a description of the agency, it is not the agency.
    If intelligent design cannot speak to the agency, then it cannot also speak to descriptions of the agency, which would be calling it intelligent.

  22. 22
    Patrick says:

    In regards to the Stonehenge argument, I was watching a science program where Japanese/Indonesian scientists claimed to have found an ancient temple that is under the water along an island coastline. The problem was that this discovery conflicts with current historical narratives. If the various structures in the complex are artificial, there is no known Japanese civilization that could have created them. Orthodox prehistory claims the most advanced culture in Japan at the time was small groups of hunter-gatherers. The problem with all of this for western scientists is that it implies that an unknown eastern culture had developed a high degree of organization thousands of years before the earliest western civilizations.

    Though the structure contained large blocks with right angles, several other American scientists who investigated later thought the “temple” was the result of natural processes (geology, wave motion). The original scientists used a design argument and several pieces of evidence (small, internal rock cuts comprised of right angles and several objects which appeared to be figures) in their defense. The show didn’t mention any astronomical properties of the site, if there is any. Since their design arguments were weaker than Dembski’s methods the final result was pretty much inconclusive, with no clear “winner” as defined by the program. When the program ended I was left thinking that the temple would make an interesting test case for ID. Although, ID being fairly stringent, it might generate a false negative. I now wish I had written down the site’s name so I could look up more details.

  23. 23
    Patrick says:

    Mike:

    “ID relies on a supernatural creator (one that science has no hope of identifying or understanding) in order to explain natural phenomena.”

    Tread carefully…that’s one of those boring arguments. See this for more:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ock-in-it/

  24. 24
    GilDodgen says:

    When the black monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey was unearthed on the moon (oops, I guess it was “unmooned”) everyone immediately recognized that it was designed, even though no one had the faintest idea where it came from or who or what made it and put it there. One thing they knew for sure was that it was not designed by humans.

    The identity of the designer, human or otherwise, is completely irrelevant to our ability to detect design. Design inference comes from what we do know, not from what we don’t know.

  25. 25
    M J says:

    Gildodgen,
    I don’t think it’s good though to use science fiction as an analogy to why design detection works.

    That’s the same thing that Behe said on the stand, which Judge Jones criticized him for.

    “The identity of the designer, human or otherwise, is completely irrelevant to our ability to detect design. Design inference comes from what we do know, not from what we don’t know.”

    Then you agree that we shouldn’t call it Intelligent Design, because stating “intelligence” speaks to the designer? We are giving the designer the characteristic of intelligence which is outside of detecting design.

  26. 26
    Jerry says:

    MikeG,

    You seem to dodge the real issue. Nobody here doubts that science will explain a lot of things in the future, maybe even some which are now thought to be of design origin. Your cliché that science will solve everything in no way legitimizes the use of speculation without foundation in science education. Just because you may like the speculation or have faith in it, does not mean that it should be taught. As I said origins of life, the formation of complex life forms and body parts, and macro evolution are all unproven and at best conjecture using any of the scientific theories of today. Especially Neo-Darwinism.

    Do you have any examples of science disproving generally accepted design beliefs that are not a couple hundred years old. What design assumption generally held by scientists were eliminated by science in the last 200 years. I can not think of any but there may be some. The nearest I can come is some forms of micro-evolution. Maybe there are others. Be more specific. Certainly the design assumption of the origin of life has not been eliminated nor has any other the other areas I mentioned. You claim to be the believer in science, explain further your claims. Certainly the ideas expressed to start this post gives rise to a higher likelihood for design where few thought there was before and this has happened in the last 50 years.

    Talk specifics not generalities.

  27. 27
    Patrick says:

    M J, I suggest you read this:

    http://www.designinference.com.....d_Reid.pdf

    …it appears that whoever maintains that there is no force in the argument from final causes [design], denies the existence of any intelligent being but himself.” — Thomas Reid

  28. 28
    Mats says:

    Just one comment:
    “In every case where we can determine the source of design for a machine it is humans.”

    It depends on how you define “design”. I find spider webs as good design, but I don’t count spiders as human in any sence.
    I repeat, it depends on how you define “design” in this context.

  29. 29
    John Davison says:

    Not that anyone is going to pay any attention, but my presnt view is that the first organisms were examples of both functional plants and aninals. The subsequent or even immediate production of bacteria and fungi were due to the loss of the original full blown potentialities with which evolution began. The whole history of phylogeny involves the progressive loss of potential just as does ontogeny. Viewed in this way the bacterium is nothing but an escaped mitochondrion. In any event there is absolutely no evidence that any prokaryote ever evolved into a eukaryote, while the reverse is exceedingly easy to imagine and perhaps even test and possibly prove under controlled laboratory conditions.

    I suppose this might produce some kind of a reaction but I wouldn’t bet on it. Nothing else I say ever does. Who cares? Not me.

    How do like them heresies served up on a bed of wilted Darwimpian Boston left wing liberal pinko lettuce? I hope they give Darwinians everywhere the runs for a week or so.

    There now I feel much better. Thanks for the opportunity to vent a little.

    Progressive loss of potential. I’d never thought of that parallel. Obvious once it’s pointed out. Be careful how complex you make that common ancestor – you might end up in the garden with Adam. 😉 -ds

  30. 30
    j says:

    M J:
    “My problem with using the word intelligence is that it is a description of a designer. To me, it’s hard to say ” Intelligent Design doesn’t speak to the designer” because I did speak about the designer, I described the designer as being intelligent. Maybe I’m using the word “intelligence” in the wrong way? Or interpreting it incorrectly?” (post #17)

    and

    “Do you know of any intelligent agency that is not human? The intelligence of the agency is not what designed the machine. We attribute intelligence to the agency based on the fact that we as humans attribute intelligence to complexity. But intelligence is a description of the agency, it is not the agency.” (post #21)

    Does this help?:
    “The word intelligent… derives from two Latin words, the preposition inter, meaning “between,” and the Latin verb lego, meaning “to choose or select.” … According to its etymology, intelligence therefore consists in choosing between. [N]atural causes… lack the power to choose.”” — William A. Dembski, Intelligent Design, p. 228-229.

    Dr. Dembski’s last statement follows from nature being characterized as chance and necessity, neither of which can choose anything.

  31. 31
    John Davison says:

    I think I am losing my mind right here at Uncommon Descent. I may have to leave for a while to retrieve it.

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