In recent days, the UD “Engineer says . . . ” thread has become an extended discussion on the design inference and its justification. It has already led to another ID Foundations post, on the significance of Mignea’s simplest self-replicator model for the design inference from FSCO/I in life. Today, it is worth excerpting and adapting a recent summary post in the thread on the significance of inferring on signs that design is the best causal explanation for certain phenomena in the natural world.
To set context, it is useful to first pause and remind ourselves from the online New World Encyclopedia, what design theory, at core, is about:
Intelligent design (ID) is the view that it is possible to infer from empirical evidence that “certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection”  Intelligent design cannot be inferred from complexity alone, since complex patterns often happen by chance. ID focuses on just those sorts of complex patterns that in human experience are produced by a mind that conceives and executes a plan. According to adherents, intelligent design can be detected in the natural laws and structure of the cosmos; it also can be detected in at least some features of living things. . . . .
ID makes no claims about biblical chronology, and technically a person does not have to believe in God to infer intelligent design in nature. As a theory, ID also does not specify the identity or nature of the designer, so it is not the same as natural theology, which reasons from nature to the existence and attributes of God. ID does not claim that all speciesof living things were created in their present forms, and it does not claim to provide a complete account of the history of the universe or of living things.
ID also is not considered by its theorists to be an “argument from ignorance”; that is, intelligent design is not to be inferred simply on the basis that the cause of something is unknown (any more than a person accused of willful intent can be convicted without evidence). According to various adherents, ID does not claim that design must be optimal; something may be intelligently designed even if it is flawed (as are many objects made by humans).
ID may be considered to consist only of the minimal assertion that it is possible to infer from empirical evidence that some features of the natural world are best explained by an intelligent agent. It conflicts with views claiming that there is no real design in the cosmos (e.g., materialistic philosophy) or in living things (e.g., Darwinian evolution) or that design, though real, is undetectable (e.g., some forms of theistic evolution). Because of such conflicts, ID has generated considerable controversy.
Despite all the loaded talking points about “creationism in a cheap tuxedo” — often made by materialists dressed up in the holy lab coat — and the like, this summary is quite correct.
But, is it something that we can take as a basis for sound convictions about the origin of those crucial features of the world of life or of the cosmos?
That brings us full circle to where the ID Foundations series began, inference on signs.
So, let us pick up, using and modifying the summary post.
For, we have a common pattern that causal forces and factors commonly stamp what they act on with characteristic signs.
A deer, walking down a forest trail, will leave characteristic tracks and often droppings. From tracks, we
may properly infer deer as best explanation, even if not directly observed. That, even in the teeth of possibilities of trickery. The responsible interpretation in absence of additional signs of manipulation, or of another animal that somehow leaves the same sort of tracks, is: deer.
As Huntingnet observes:
Tracks are the most overlooked of all deer sign. But, they carry lots of valuable information. For example, they tell us which way the deer was walking, approximately the time of the day it passed (tracks pointed toward bedding areas were likely made in the morning, tracks pointing toward feeding areas were likely made in the afternoon) and something about the deer’s size. Tracks can teach us many things about the deer we are hunting. They tell us the direction it was walking, approximately what time it passed and something about the size of the deer that made them . . .
Provisional, but well warranted and credibly true.
(BTW, this is the same general degree of warrant that obtains in scientific contexts, and on the same basic logic.)
Just so, and as one of the background posts to the ID foundation series argues:
Signs: I observe one or more signs [in a pattern], and infer the signified object, on a warrant:
I: [si] –> O, on W
a –> Here, as I will use “sign” [as opposed to “symbol”], the connexion is a more or less causal or natural one; e.g. a pattern of deer tracks on the ground is an index, pointing to a deer.
(NB, 02:28: Sign can be used more broadly in technical semiotics to embrace “symbol” and other complexities, but this is not needed for our purposes. I am using “sign” much as it is used in medicine, at least since Hippocrates of Cos in C5 BC, i.e. to point to a disease on an objective, warranted indicator.)
b –> If the sign is not a sufficient condition of the signified, the inference is not certain and is defeatable; though it may be inductively strong. (E.g. someone may imitate deer tracks.)
c –> The warrant for an inference may in key cases require considerable background knowledge or cues from the context.
d –> The act of inference may also be implicit or even intuitive, and I may not be able to articulate but may still be quite well-warranted to trust the inference. Especially, if it traces to senses I have good reason to accept are working well, and are acting in situations that I have no reason to believe will materially distort the inference . . .
This pattern of reasoning on signs is well-known and indeed is ancient, as the deer track example highlights. An interesting discussion appears in Aristotle’s The Rhetoric, Bk I Ch 2:
[1357b] Of Signs, one kind bears the same relation to the statement it supports as the particular bears to the universal, the other the same as the universal bears to the particular. The infallible kind is a “complete proof” (tekmerhiou); the fallible kind has no specific name. By infallible signs I mean those on which syllogisms proper may be based: and this shows us why this kind of Sign is called “complete proof”: when people think that what they have said cannot be refuted, they then think that they are bringing forward a “complete proof,” meaning that the matter has now been demonstrated and completed . . .
In short, Ari here distinguishes signs that convey moral certainty per a strong pattern in our experience, from those that convey lesser warrant but are “good enough for government work.”
It turns out that in scientific (and a lot of ordinary, day to day) investigations:
1: we see natural, more or less fixed regularities that point to laws of mechanical necessity at work, such as the tendency of heavy objects near the Earth’s surface to fall at about 9.8 N/kg.
2: In other cases, outcomes under similar initial circumstances are highly consistent but show a stable pattern in accord with some model or other that gives a probability distribution. This is a sign of chance at work, constrained by the driving parameters of the distribution. For instance a dropped fair die tumbles and settles to read 1 to 6 in a flat distribution, and wind speeds often follow Weibull distributions.
3: In other highly contingent situations, outcomes reflect characteristic signs of purposeful intelligence at work, by design. For instance, we often see functionally specific, complex organisation and associated information [FSCO/I] the operationally relevant form of the CSI discussed since Orgel and Wicken, then taken up by Thaxton et al and latterly Dembski et al. In every case where we can directly and independently observe and assess the cause of FSCO/I, it is design. And this is backed up by the general nature of chance sampling, which will tend to reflect the bulk of a distribution when samples are too small to reasonably expect to catch needles in the haystack.
In short, we here see the rationale of the design inference filter, which can be summarised in a flowchart diagram (it is in effect an algorithm of inductive logic inference),
. . . or expressed in an equation; here, in a simple form at solar system atomic and temporal resources level:
Chi_500 = I*S – 500, bits beyond the solar system threshold for inferring design as best explanation for FSCO/I
In effect, where we see I bits of functional and specific info (S being a dummy binary variable of objective warrant for specificity: if so, S = 1, and it is 0 otherwise), and I*S exceeds 500 bits, we are warranted to infer design as best explanation on the gamut of the solar system. For the observed cosmos as a whole the threshold would move to 1,000 bits, for similar needle in the haystack reasons.
DNA-based, cellular life forms, by that criterion, are chock-full of signs of design. That is controversial, but only because of the dominance of evolutionary materialism. There is no empirical observation based warrant for the evo mat claims of chance and necessity creating such FSCO/I, starting with the origin of the very self-replicating facility integrated in a metabolic, encapsulated automaton that defines the living cell. (Notice, the studious absence of objectors in that thread.)
Going to cosmological level, perhaps the pivotal observation is that the observed cosmos seems fine-tuned for C-chemistry, aqueous-medium, cell based life. For just one instance, Astrophysicist Sir Fred Hoyle famously noted:
From 1953 onward, Willy Fowler and I have always been intrigued by the remarkable relation of the 7.65 MeV energy level in the nucleus of 12 C to the 7.12 MeV level in 16 O. If you wanted to produce carbon and oxygen in roughly equal quantities by stellar nucleosynthesis, these are the two levels you would have to fix, and your fixing would have to be just where these levels are actually found to be. Another put-up job? . . . I am inclined to think so. A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super intellect has “monkeyed” with the physics as well as the chemistry and biology, and there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. [F. Hoyle, Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics, 20 (1982): 16. Emphasis added.]
He went on to say:
I do not believe that any physicist who examined the evidence could fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed with regard to the consequences they produce within stars. [[“The Universe: Past and Present Reflections.” Engineering and Science, November, 1981. pp. 8–12]
Canadian astrophysicist (and Old Earth Creationist) Hugh Ross aptly explains:
As you tune your radio, there are certain frequencies where the circuit has just the right resonance and you lock onto a station. The internal structure of an atomic nucleus is something like that, with specific energy or resonance levels. If two nuclear fragments collide with a resulting energy that just matches a resonance level, they will tend to stick and form a stable nucleus. Behold! Cosmic alchemy will occur! In the carbon atom, the resonance just happens to match the combined energy of the beryllium atom and a colliding helium nucleus. Without it, there would be relatively few carbon atoms. Similarly, the internal details of the oxygen nucleus play a critical role. Oxygen can be formed by combining helium and carbon nuclei, but the corresponding resonance level in the oxygen nucleus is half a percent too low for the combination to stay together easily. Had the resonance level in the carbon been 4 percent lower, there would be essentially no carbon. Had that level in the oxygen been only half a percent higher, virtually all the carbon would have been converted to oxygen. Without that carbon abundance, neither you nor I would be here. [[Beyond the Cosmos (Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress Publishing Group, 1996), pg. 32. HT: IDEA.]
In short, we are looking at how our observed cosmos turns out to be “suspiciously” set up for Carbon-Chemistry, aqueous medium, cell based life.
Indeed, as we saw, it turns out that the first four most abundant elements in the cosmos are linked through a key set of properties and interactions at nuclear level — I here speak of a resonance responsible for the abundance of C and O — and get us to H: stars, He: build-up of other elements from the “ash” of H fusion, C & O: water and organic chemistry. Add another common element, N, and we are at proteins. look at the delicate and unique properties of water, and the impression of purpose, given the evident fine tuning, is overwhelming.
At least to those open to consider it.
In short, through inference on warranted signs, there is a serious case for design of life and of the cosmos that accommodates it.
But, if you were to listen to the evo mat establishment and take them at their word on their line of talking points, you would never see that.
A sign — a sadly revealing one — of our times. END