Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Identify the Indian or Shut Up


Long time followers of this site will remember that my grandfather used to collect small stones he called “arrowheads.”  He had the misguided notion that these small pieces of flint had complex and specific chip patterns that he attributed to intelligent agency, i.e., Indians making tips for their arrows.  Later in life I learned that my grandfather was deluded.  Scientists assure us that unguided natural processes are perfectly competent to produce even the most extraordinarily complex phenomena, and the “design” some people insist on inferring from complexity is merely an illusion.  And my grandfather’s misguided resort to agency to explain these chip patterns is an example of the dreaded “Indian-of-the-Gaps” mode of thinking in action.  See my post here

The other day I got into an argument with one of my friends who insisted that the literally hundreds of pieces of flint in my grandfather’s collection, each showing an almost identical chip pattern, could not possibly be accounted for by blind unguided natural forces like erosion.  I have to admit he made a fairly impressive mathematical case and I was beginning to waver.  But then my friends at Panda’s Thumb came to my rescue.  They argue that a design inference is illegitimate unless the person asserting the inference can also identify the designer.  I pointed to one of the stones in the frame my grandfather gave me (It continues to hang on my wall for sentimental reasons, not because there is anything special about the stones themselves).  I said, “OK, Mr. Smarty Pants.  If the pattern on that stone is designed, tell me who the designer was.”  He was, of course, stumped, so I declared myself the victor in the argument.  Yet another triumph for materialist reasoning!

In response to (64): Contemporary archaeologists do not believe that European eoliths were made by 'intelligent agents.' According to Wikipedia, at any rate, it is now believed that eoliths were formed through glaciation. The really interesting part of the story here is this: the experiment referred to in (64) only shows that a specific kind of 'natural process' very likely did not produce eoliths. The experiment was based on, and so modeled, a certain understanding of a certain kind of 'natural process.' Therefore, all the experiment shows, and can show, is that geological processes of that kind, as understood in that way, cannot have produced eoliths. It leaves wide open the question as to whether other kinds of 'natural processes' could have produced them. More generally -- and here is why I am skeptical about ID arguments -- I don't think we can determine a priori what 'natural processes' there are, nor can we determine a priori what can and cannot be achieved by means of 'natural processes'. The best we can hope for is to determine the likelihood of something being achieved by some specific natural processes, and that does not license any inferences about what 'natural processes' as such can and cannot do. The heart of the problem, as I see it, is that we lack an a priori concept of 'nature' or 'natural process.' This makes it impossible to determine what the limits are to natural processes as such. Hence I do not think we can say, "this phenomenon could not have been produced by any conceivable natural process, ergo, it must have been designed.' Now, it may well be that ID is not committed to that strong claim but only to the much weaker claim, 'given what we presently know about some specific natural process, it is more probable that x was designed than not.' That's reasonable, and defeasible in light of further empirical discoveries. And I understand that the efforts of Behe and Dembski have been directed towards establishing the second (weaker) claim. But I worry that some ID supporters take the weaker claim to entail the stronger, and it clearly doesn't. Regards, Carl Carl Sachs
Hi Schala: Please read comment 30 above. All scientific knowledge of consequence is less than demonstrative and so is provisional. I note in particular that the design-detecting explanatory filter is not about finding all cases of design, just about cases where we already see a reliable sign of design at work:
a] functionally specified [i.e. the information is an integral part of the functioning of the relevant system; cf. a PC and even Mt Rushmore, where the proportions and precise shapes hold specifically functional values in a context] b] fine-tuned [i.e even moderate perturbations cause dysfunction], c] complex [i.e. highly contingent, beyond available probabilistic resources; such contingency BTW cannot be dominated by lawlike regularities of nature such as gravity, and can be reduced to a string of yes/no characterising questions, which is a metric of complexity in bits, i.e. information.] d] information.
Note, too, that we are not simply looking for "complexity" but for a special type of complexity -- specified, in ways as just described. (Such specifications can be simply stated, not by in effect giving a blow by blow description of the complexity. Cf Dembski's writings and a lot more besides on that.) In every case where we do see the causal process directly, such FSCI [I prefer this to Dembski's CSI formulation . . .] is a reliable marker of design - purposeful activity that modifies objects and processes in the world towards goals -- by intelligent agents. Thus, relative to what we can empirically support, we are well warranted to infer that FSCI is a reliable marker of such agency, period. [Subject, of course, as a scientific conclusion, to correction in light of empirical demonstration of an exception. Do you happen to have one in hand?] [You may in addition wish to look at this on the issues of warranting knowledge claims and world views, and this on the problem of avoiding selective, agenda-serving hyper-skepticism, especially in the form of Cliffordian evidentialism. Let's just say on that that all major scientific knowledge claims are provisional, as Popper etc point out.] Trust that helps. GEM of TKI kairosfocus
Regarding the question of Stonehenge being the product of Intelligent Design, that was also a real archaeological question as well. Although British scholars had definitely regarded Stonehenge as the result of conscious planning and construction, until the rise of antiquarianism and archaeology from the 17th century onwards there was little interest in the other, similar stone circles dotted up and down Britain as they were generally considered to be simply the products of nature, not humans. Nature in this sense was considered to have an amazing power of producing shapes and forms similar to those of living things and their artifacts. It was partly a rejection of this power on religious grounds that laid the foundations for scientific archaeology. For example, the pioneering British naturalist, John Ray, rejected the idea that fossils were just the result of nature mindlessly imitating living things as part of a project to establish that only God was capable of creating living things. If nature was considered to have the power of mindlessly producing imitations of living creatures, then clearly it could produce living creatures themselves without need of a Designer. However, fossils were definitely the remains of living creatures, and so unconscious, blind natural processes could be ruled out as a factor in their origins. Thus, the Intelligent Design of living things was established, and abiogenesis rejected. Beast Rabban
Actually, the question of the 'intelligent design' of stone tools was a genuine and pressing question in the early days of archaeology, and the parallels with contemporary ID are striking. While anthropologists were aware that well developed stone tools, like the flint arrowheads mentioned in the above post, were the products of intelligent, human agency, the origin of more primitive stone objects remained unclear. In France there was a heated debate over the nature of the eoliths which had been found amongst the gravels of some French rivers. It was a hotly debated question whether these were genuine, primitive stone tools formed by early humans or proto-humans, or merely the result of natural river erosion and action on rock. In the end, the question was settled by scientific experiment. One of the pioneering British archaeologists attempted to see if unguided processes could produce the same effects on the rock. So, he threw a selection of similar rocks and stones into a cement mixer, and turned it on. The result of this simple experiment demonstrated that unguided erosion and chipping could not produce the characteristic shape of the rocks, and so they had to be the products of a human, or pre-human, agency. Beast Rabban
Should we infer to design concerning the existence of Pi as an irrational-infinite decimal- number? In the decimals of pi, it is all left to chance as far as we know, yet we probably could find anything we want in there. The winning lottery numbers, the numbers of people claiming to be the elect in Jehovah, and probably somewhere in there all the prime numbers in order up to the thousands. I don't believe that complexity infers necessarily to design. The Grand Canyon is complex, was it designed? The Saint-Lawrence river is peculiar and joins with the Great Lakes, was it designed? There is no 'signature' from the designer, unless we think the signature is the whole thing - as such we could imply the Great Lakes were designed simply because they exist. I agree with Hawkeye, if we can't point to a designer, we can't be certain there is design. It doesn't mean the possibility doesn't exist, but positing it is unnecessary until evidence is found. Someone can engineer a murder to look like suicide or a natural death - someone with a twisted mind can engineer a suicide to look like a murder (possibly to frame someone or cause political upheaval). Our logic in understanding the causes of death is not flawless. I remember a movie where a professional assassin murders a man and his wife and it's later reported as "The wife murdered her husband and then killed herself." Only disproven much later and would have remained a 'perfect crime' without new evidence. We cannot disprove design, we can only infer that positing it is unnecessary. Like washing my feet before entering my house is unnecessary (unless I'm really filthy) and to impose such a ritual falls upon tradition (and is purposeless in the act itself). If they found out that there was a high risk of transmitting bacterias through outdoor-agents (such as those contained in the ground), then it might be warranted to wash my feet. Otherwise it is superstition. My analogy might seem farfetched, I just wanted to show how something unnecessary is not necessarily shown to be a bad thing or untrue, just not necessary. We might be designed, we might not be. We have no way to know for sure. Schala
I don't quite understand the title of this thread. The designers of the arrowheads have been identified-- Native Americans (Indians). Your grandfather probably had an idea of when the arrowheads were made, how they were made, and even which specific tribes made them. Perhaps he even knew the name given by anthropologists to their specific style (you indicated that they all followed pretty much the same style.) Did he explain to you why your bits of rock were not arrowheads, and what to look for to tell the difference? If so, did you develop a sharper eye from his instructions? By calling them arrowheads, you have already identified their purpose. When scientists find artifacts made by humans (or assumed to be made by humans) they are VERY interested in asking Who, Why, When, Where, For what purpose, etc. If possible, they will often try to fashion a similar object using the same manufacturing method the original maker used (or might have used)! Flint-knapping 101, anyone? Karen
What intelligent agents have been demonstrated capable of generating complex machinery?
Humans, they do it everyday. Atom
(in #56) In one of your constructs you refer to "human presence"; in the other you refer to "intelligent agents"? What intelligent agents have been demonstrated capable of generating complex machinery? congregate
Atom, I saw the same show I believe. If memory serves, they found Viking artifacts as far inland as Minnesota, and there is no written or other evidence that the Viking's came that far inland. BarryA
It’s not the presence of human bones near arrowheads that implies they where designed; after all, if we found a random assortment of stones near human remains we wouldn’t think anything of it. It’s the pattern those arrowheads contain, a pattern quite absent from those caused by natural mechanisms. Acquiesce
atom I have no argument with your comment 53. DaveScot
I think we’ve found enough skeletal remains to place humans at or near sites where artifacts are found to be confident humans really were there.
Skeletal remains = human presence? Yes, due to the fact that only human presence has been demonstrated capable of generating skeletal remains of that type. Complex machinery = intelligent agent presence? Yes, due to the fact that only intelligent agencts have been demonstrated capable of generating complex machinery of that type. Show me where there is a difference in the two constructs... Atom
DaveScot, "The bottom line remains that there is only one demonstrated origin of any abstract code where it isn’t merely an arbitrarily faithful copy of preexisting code." Correct. Moreover, the innards of a cell and DNA, appear as the product of an intelligent agency. Therefore, unless one has a commitment against intelligent agency, the default assumption should be that an apparently designed thing is designed. The anti-ID crowd seem to be stuck in the 19th century thinking of Darwins day that saw flesh made of blob of protoplasm. Now we know better. It's up to the anti-design crowd to show why an apparently designed thing, such as the cell/DNA system, is not. mike1962
DS re 52 I remember seeing a history channel special on some artifacts, which looked Viking, but were found unexpectedly. I'm pretty sure they didn't have records of at least that settlement, or else the artifacts wouldn't have been a mystery (they were treated as such in the show). In at least this case, the artifacts alone did establish the presence of the Vikings at that specific time and specific place. (I'm going by memory, this was a while ago.) But as you mentioned, there are numerous settlements/artifacts that are not accompanied by "written" records. But what are written records, if not simply a different type of artifact? Does it matter if we can "read" the records when we find them? And does DNA count as a written record? Atom
atom But DS, he is confident of this based on the existence of artifacts. I think we've found enough skeletal remains to place humans at or near sites where artifacts are found to be confident humans really were there. Either artifacts or skeletal remains are enough in and of themselves to make a reasonably airtight case. DaveScot
atom I believe there is oral and written history of where the Vikings travelled to back up the finding of direct artifactual evidence at the scene. Not that there aren't examples of artifacts alone establishing human presence in prehistoric times. There are scads of them. DaveScot
Back to the arrowheads. We look at the "chips and marks" and make a design inference. Then from there we use OTHER METHODS to attempt to identify the designer(s). Usually we can't identify a single individual, but just a group or a type. First off, let me be clear that if we're considering a particular assortment of arrowheads from a geographical area I believe the strongest explanation points to humans. But can we be 100% certain of ALL these arrowheads coming from humans? After all, we have observed chimps breaking off branches and using their incisors to sharpen the points and use them as spears. Not being an expert on arrowheads I'm assuming there may be limits to how a chimp might be capable of forming an arrowhead using its teeth. The location, other artifacts found in the vicinity, and whether chimps are known to have lived in the area also are factors. The only point I'm making is that while the strongest explanation is still that a group of humans made the arrowheads even knowing all we know about the designer "humans" we still can't say with 100% certainty--using methods/tools outside of the initial design inference--they're the only option for being the designer(s) of the arrowheads. In turn this shows how ID itself is only one step in the process. A valid step, but only one step. In regards to biology other designER detection methods outside the scope of ID itself are needed. Patrick
He has reasonably confident knowledge that intelligent agents with means, motive, and opportunity were at or near the site where the arrowheads were made in the past.
But DS, he is confident of this based on the existence of artifacts. That is the point everyone is getting at, I believe. We can compare both cases. First, let's say we find Native bones around the arrowheads. A Ha! Independent evidence of the designers! Not so fast. First, we found bones. They are usually (we can say exclusively, until demonstrated otherwise) associated with human bodies. Therefore, the bones serve as evidence for the presence of designers (in this case, humans). We can say the same for any artifact or glyph writing we find. In the exact same way, we find complex, symbolically coded, autonomous, rule-based machines (organisms). Such machines are usually (we can say exclusively, until demonstrated otherwise) associated with intelligent agents. Therefore, the machines serve as evidence for the presence of intelligent agents. It is the same. Hawkeye just doesn't want to admit Design is the best (and only current) explanation. Atom
Hawkeye is making a very reasonable point about arrowheads and a design inference. He has reasonably confident knowledge that intelligent agents with means, motive, and opportunity were at or near the site where the arrowheads were made in the past. Design characteristics then discriminate between rocks that resemble arrowheads and real arrowheads. Don't trivialize direct physical evidence of a designer with means, motive, and opportunity placed at the scene of the crime. It's the difference between reasonable doubt and the electric chair in capital crime trials. If we had such evidence of the designer(s) of life on earth Darwin would be convicted post- haste. The bottom line remains that there is only one demonstrated origin of any abstract code where it isn't merely an arbitrarily faithful copy of preexisting code. That origin is intelligent agency. To discount a demonstrated possibility (intelligent agency) to the point of legal censure in public schools and blackballing of university professors when any demonstration of alternative (non-intelligent) agency is quite lacking is not just unreasonable and unscientific it's downright despicable. DaveScot
We know computers are designed because we know who designed them. We know arrowheads were designed because we know who designed them. We might not know everything about who designed Stonehenge or the “Baghdad Battery,” but we at least know that there were humans around at the time, and humans are the only agents we know that are capable of that kind of design.
If an alien ship landed on earth, would you say that was designed? What if it was an "unmanned" ship, there might not be anything much to know about these aliens. Would you then say: "Since we don't know anything about the "designers", then we can't infer that the ship was designed"? PaV
Another example that comes to mind, the Anazazi settlements in the American Southwest. We know that Natives exist, but we didn't know they existed in that place at that time, until we found their settlements (to the best of my knowledge. The artifacts themselves served as evidence of their presence. We know intelligent agents exist. Now that we've found their artifacts (biological machines) we know they were around at the time. (Indeed, this is how they have historically been understood.) Again, when archeologists find Viking artifacts in the Western Hemisphere, they use those artifacts to establish the historical presence of the Viking people in North America. There is no "independent evidence" that the Vikings were there at that time, other than the artifacts. Again, the artifacts themselves are evidence for their presence. Atom
Hawkeye 1) There are tons of artifacts that we know were designed, but have no clue as to their designers. See a good chunk of artifacts in Mesoamerica (Nazca/Nasca lines come to mind.) We assume that there were people in Nazca at the time, DUE TO THE ARTIFACTS THEMSELVES. What other evidence could we have of their existence?
...but we at least know that there were humans around at the time, and humans are the only agents we know that are capable of that kind of design.
We know there were humans at the time DUE TO ARTIFACTS. This is the point you're missing. Historical records are artifacts. (Even they say humans were around AND that life was created by a class of powerful, intelligent entities, superior to man, which most ancient cultures called "gods".) What would constitute independent evidence in your eyes, if not 1) artifacts, and 2) written records? And again, your objection is totally crushed by what I mentioned in my previous post: [ID] is the strongest [explanation] we have, due to the empirical fact that intelligent agents HAVE been observed designing symbolically coded, autonomous, complex, rule-based machines. ...and... We have never observed any other cause capable of creating such machines. (This includes any unguided cause you choose, whether Darwinian or otherwise.) Therefore until you can demonstrate your proposed causal class capable of producing the observed effect, ID remains the only plausible explanation. The artifacts themselves are evidence of intelligent activity in the past (as the Nazca lines are), and I agree, as humans we should search out the designer(s). I have done so personally. Atom
Hawkeye, You are just repeating a tired cliché that is meant to trip up ID. We know it and you know it. Because of the silly arguments in the law courts anti IDers try to pin a religious origin on ID. And they know one way of doing it is to tie the designer to God and by decree this is verboten. So when someone persists on identifying the designer or the nature of the designer it is this silly game that is being played. Or insists we must know the designer or similar designers or else we have no right to use the analogy of design. It is a hack argument meant only to tease out an admission that the designer is God or maybe under the direction of God. And as such is inadmissible in the court of education. But in reality the designer could be someone like ourselves and you then rule that out by saying we are only reverse engineering it so we are really not designing it. Then you make the specious argument that the data points to natural origins. If you were honest, you would know that is absurd. How do you get to a Ribosome? or the total combination of RNA and DNA to make the system of a cell work. It is staggering and the are working on how such simple molecules swuch as pyruvate may have originated. An honest argument would admit that a design is an alternative but you beg the question by denying design by saying there could not be a designer and as such that eliminates design. An honest argument would also admit to the complexity of the origin of life problem and not just blow it off as there are plenty of good thoughts on how it started which is absolute nonsense. jerry
“Why, then, does such an investigation not accompany ID?” Because it’s not necessary for ID to ‘work’, so to speak. You know, I never really understood statements like this. I always seem to feel like Hawkeye. Once you identify design it is only logical to identify the Designer and how He works. There would be so much to learn and exalt. Maybe this is all too subtle for me, but sometimes I feel like we are Peter denying Jesus by stopping our scientific investigation after design has been proven. rrf
"Why, then, does such an investigation not accompany ID?" Because it's not necessary for ID to 'work', so to speak. Along the lines of how someone who intends to reverse-engineer a given object doesn't need to 'investigate the nature of the designer' - all the information they need to do the job they're doing is present in the object itself. That's not to say they can't, or shouldn't draw some conclusions about the designer - it's simply outside the scope of things. nullasalus
This discussion is beginning to get too broad, and so for now I will respectfully bow out. I only want to bring attention to my initial comment: BarryA wanted to say that you could tell something was designed without knowing who designed it or how it was designed/manufactured. However, to do so, he made an analogy to something for which we DO know about the designer. As of yet, no one has given me an example of something (other than life, as ID claims) that is generally accepted to have been designed, but for which we have absolutely no idea who designed it or how. We've seen a lot of hypotheticals (computers on Mars, messages from extraterrestrials), but I point out that each of those examples of suspected design would be accompanied by an investigation into the nature of the designer. Why, then, does such an investigation not accompany ID? Cheers, --Hawkeye-- Hawkeye
This is the most ridiculous argument against ID yet posted. In essence: we can only conclude design when we know it was designed – by a designer. If we don’t know the designer, we can’t conclude design – as we don’t know it was designed. SETI researchers might as well give up – even if they found an information rich signal, they couldn’t conclude design because they don’t know the designer. Acquiesce
"My question, then, is twofold: How can you have design without a design-capable agent? And, assuming you need a designer to have a design, why do BarryA and others insist that the designer is outside of their investigation, when evidence for a designer’s existence would lend such strength to the design inference?" Isn't it possible that there existed highly advanced aliens hundreds of millions of years ago to design DNA. Thats what Francis Crick thought. Maybe it's the result of human time travel. Thereare certaintly naturalistic possibilities to explain ancient design. benign
Hawkeye: The "first find/prove the designer" objection is designed to shift the burden of proof improperly, and in many cases to insinuate that since the God of theistic philosophy might be a candidate in certain cases, ID is a religious not a scientific movement. But in fact the root of the issue -- cf the July 6th explanatory sufficiency thread -- is that cause comes form chance and/or necessity and/or agency. To rule one out ahead of time is to beg the question. So, ID thinkers since that fundy from the hills, Plato, have been asserting that all that is needed in effect is to be OPEN to the possibility of a designer as an active agent. Then, empirical traces that we know from direct and exception-less experience, count as evidence that points to the agent as the likeliest explanation of CSI etc in say life at molecular level. BTW on that, a specific and relevant point of comparison between PCs and cells is that DNA is a digitally coded information-storing string of length such that informational states are so isolated in the configurational space that accessing them by random walk based searches is maximally improbable. Further to this, the cell is a MORE SOPHISTICATED machine, i.e it is self-assembling. Since Von Neumann in the 1940s, we have identified that such was a possible system, and that it would have to store the blueprint within itself. That is a pre-movement ID prediction, and in 1953, it was confirmed by the elucidation of the DNA and its function in the cell. GEM of TKI kairosfocus
Hawkeye, you're assuming that the arrowheads themselves are not evidence. Next on CSI: they find a guy with multiple stab wounds, but can't find the knife! They conclude that there never was a knife. Foxfier
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