Intelligent Design

PLANET EARTH and the Design Hypothesis

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Dr David Seargent from NSW Australia has just published

PLANET EARTH and the Design Hypothesis

In many respects, our planet is a cosmic anomaly. Moreover, it is anomalous in such a way as to provide an excellent environment for complex life in what appears to be a largely hostile universe. Is this simply a fortunate coincidence, or does it speak of something more fundamental, even an underlying intelligent design in nature? To answer this question, we must isolate the characteristics of design and determine whether these are apparent in the natural world. The ensuing discussion will take us beyond the important contributions of mathematician and philosopher W. Dembski and biologist M. Behe to the concept of “Transitive Complexity” (TC). It is argued that where TC is present, intelligent design is the only logical, valid inference.

This work presents evidence of TC in nature using the complexities of biology as its base. Planet Earth and the Design Hypothesis challenges the naturalistic assumptions of much scientific research without denigrating science. Rather, this book argues that the thirst for knowledge that drives scientific research is a basic—and in a very real sense “spiritual”—appetite constituting an essential part of our humanity.

About the Author
David A.J. Seargent is a contributing editor to Australia’s Sky and Telescope magazine, an active amateur astronomer, and former lecturer in Philosophy with the University of Newcastle’s adult education department. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and is the author of several books on a variety of subjects including: Comets: Vagabonds of Space (1983) and Plurality and Continuity: An Essay in G.F. Stout’s Theory of Universals (1985).…

19 Replies to “PLANET EARTH and the Design Hypothesis

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    Kindly supply a definition and description of Transitive Complexity.

  2. 2
    JT75 says:

    I can’t see how a book like this is going to make any unique contribution to the current literature. Unless the summary does not represent the content this phrase “It is argued that where TC is present, intelligent design is the only logical, valid inference,” seems clearly mistaken. I don’t think such a strong stance can be successfully argued because: (1) The position that design is only apparent is a broad logical possibility (although ID makes it implausible, perhaps highly so), and (2) Since I think (1) is true then it follows that it can be the result of valid inferences (although the point would not be “are the inferences valid” but “are the premises true,” which is a different argument altogether). The point is that the “apparent design” position, although logically possible and inferentially valid, is much less plausible than the Design inference and most likely false. The TC argument, at least as it is stated in the summary, seems to misunderstand both the nature of logical possibility and inferential validity.

    But since I have only read the summary statement I could be wrong.

  3. 3

    JT75 is no longer with us. There are other forums where his views will receive a much warmer embrace.

  4. 4
    Borne says:

    JT claimed that the “apparent design” stance is logical and possible.

    This needs a ton of clarification and evidence. As it is it’s just a bare assertion. The problematic is far more complex than he seems to understand.

    1. Define “apparent design”
    – looks designed but isn’t
    2. Ok so describe how one detects it objectively & with certainty?
    3. Abductive reasoning leads us to conclude that where design is “apparent” (fits a design pattern) – it is most likely design in fact.
    “Looks like” subjectivity is insufficient. Again, structured information content is the key.

    IOW, things usually look designed when they are designed.

    Dr. Dembski, have you ever taken an opposite approach in your design detection research? i.e. Detecting no design in order to more accurately determine the methods of detection design.

    Design Patterns have become a huge part of informatics these last few years. See here for some basic info.

    The whole field can be said to have developed out of design recognition in computer coding techniques and practices. Algorithmic coding techniques that re-occur from one solution to another.

    There is a clear similarity between design patterns in nature and those we use in informatics.

    Information systems designers need to look at these patterns in DNA for the conception of new computer technologies – not based on mere binary code, as per the present, but something more akin to how the genetic code works. It isn’t binary based.

    Organic computer systems have been in the works for years but still have light years to go before getting any where near DNA.

    Central aspects of Organic Computing systems have been and will be inspired by an analysis of information processing in biological systems.

    from Organic_computing

  5. 5
    Phinehas says:

    Too bad JT is gone. I would have been interested in having him answer the following:

    How is the concept of “apparent design” any more valid than the concept of “apparent age” that some creationists favor?

    It just looks [old | designed], but really it isn’t. How do we know? Our religious beliefs tell us so.

  6. 6
    bornagain77 says:

    This is a good site from Dr. Hugh Ross that deals with the math of some of these issues:

    (What evidence is found for the earths ability to support life?) we consider many “life-enabling characteristics” for the galaxy, sun, moon and earth that establish the earth as “extremely unique” for hosting life in this universe. The presumption of naturalistic blind chance being the only reasonable cause must be dealt with. As opposed to the Anthropic Hypothesis, which starts off by presuming the earth is unique in this universe, naturalism (materialism) begins by presuming planets that are able to support life are fairly common in this universe. In fact, astronomer Frank Drake (1930-present) proposed, in 1961, advanced life should be very common in the universe. He developed a rather crude equation called the “Drake equation”. He plugged in some rather optimistic numbers and reasoned that ten worlds with advanced life should be in our Milky Way galaxy alone. That worked out to roughly one trillion worlds with advanced life throughout the entire universe. Much to the disappointment of Star Trek fans, the avalanche of scientific information that has been coming in recently has found that the probability of finding a planet with the ability to host advanced life in this universe is not nearly as likely as astronomer Frank Drake had originally predicted. There are many independent characteristics required to be fulfilled for any planet to host advanced carbon-based life. Two popular books have recently been written, “The Privileged Planet” by Guillermo Gonzalez and “Rare Earth” by Donald Brownlee, that reveal some of the knowledge that has recently come to light, establishing the earth as extremely unique in its ability to host advanced life in this universe. There is also a well researched statistical analysis of the many independent “life-enabling characteristics” that mathematically proves the earth is extremely unique in its ability to support life. The statistical analysis, which is actually a refinement of the Drake equation, is dealt with by astro-physicist Dr. Hugh Ross PhD. (1945-present) in his paper “Probability for Life on Earth”. A few of the items in his “life-enabling characteristics” list are; Planet location in a proper galaxy’s “life support zone”; Parent star size; Surface gravity of planet; Rotation period of planet; Correct chemical composition of planet; Correct size for moon; Correct and stable orbit of planet; Thickness of planets’ crust; Presence of magnetic field; Correct and stable axis tilt; Oxygen to nitrogen ratio in atmosphere; Proper water content of planet; Atmospheric electric discharge rate; Proper seismic activity of planet; Ratio of carbon dioxide and water vapor in the atmosphere; Many interrelated and complex feedback cycles necessary for a stable temperature history of planet; Translucent atmosphere; Various complex cycles for various elements etc.. etc.. I could go a lot further for there are a total of 322 known parameters which have to be met for complex life to be possible on Earth, or on a planet like Earth. Individually, these limits are not that impressive but when we realize ALL these limits have to be met at the same time and not one of them can be “out of limits” for any extended period of time, then the probability for a world which can host life in this universe becomes very extraordinary indeed. Here is the final summary of Dr. Hugh Ross’s “conservative” estimate for the probability of another life-hosting world in this universe.

    Probability for occurrence of all 322 parameters =10
    Dependency factors estimate =10
    Longevity requirements estimate =1014
    Probability for occurrence of all 322 parameters = 10
    Maximum possible number of life support bodies in universe =1022
    Thus, less than 1 chance in 10282 (million trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion) exists that even one such life-support body would occur anywhere in the universe without invoking divine miracles.
    Proverbs 3:19
    “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth: by understanding He established the heavens;”

    The hard evidence clearly establishes the earth is extremely unique in this universe in its ability to support life as we understand it. These facts are rigorously investigated and cannot be dismissed out of hand as some sort of glitch in accurate information. Here naturalism can offer no competing theory of blind chance which can offset the overwhelming evidence for the earth’s apparent intelligent design that enables her to host life. Naturalists can only assert that we are extremely “lucky”. This is some kind of fantastic luck naturalists believe. The odds of a life-supporting earth “just happening” in this universe are not even remotely as good as the odds a blind man would have in finding one pre-selected grain of sand, which has been hidden in the vast expanses of the Sahara desert, with only one try. Indeed, the size of the Sahara desert, the blind man would actually be aimlessly wandering through, would actually be vastly larger than the size of the known universe. These fantastic odds against a life-supporting world “just happening” in this universe have not even been refined to their final upper limits yet! The odds get far worse for the naturalists. I find it strange that the SETI (search for extra-terrestrial intelligence) organization spends millions of dollars vainly searching for signs of extra-terrestrial life in this universe, when all anyone has to do to make solid contact with an “extra-terrestrial intelligence” is to pray with a sincere heart. God certainly does not hide from those who sincerely seek Him. Actually communicating with the Creator of the universe is certainly a lot more exciting than not communicating with some little green men that do not even exist, unless of course, God created them!

    Isaiah 45:18-19
    For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens, who is God, who formed the earth and made it, who established it, who did not create it in vain, who formed it to be inhabited: “ I am the Lord, and there is no other. I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth; I did not say to the seed of Jacob, ‘seek me in vain’; I, the Lord speak righteousness, I declare things that are right.”

  7. 7

    JT75 emailed me, and I gave him the option to reregister. Perhaps I was hasty.

  8. 8
    mike1962 says:

    bornagain77, “There is also a well researched statistical analysis of the many independent “life-enabling characteristics” that mathematically proves the earth is extremely unique in its ability to support life.”

    Of course, if Earth’s properties have been designed, then there could be vast numbers of inhabited planets. I know, I’m just stating the obvious.

  9. 9
    bornagain77 says:

    Mike 1962, That is why I wrote in the article that There are no little green men UNLESS God created them.

    The following is a humurous story that happened as I was researching this topic of the earth being extremely unique.


    With that question, a cell phone company sells its wireless service. Yet, this question is probably what God is asking us everyday.
    This vital point of contention was clearly illustrated one recent night on the Public Broadcasting Systems show “Origins”. It was the first part of a four part series in which the show takes a look at such questions as “Where did life start? “Are we alone in the cosmos?” The show is a superficial treatment of the many problems in science explaining how life started and the question of whether we are alone in this universe. The treatment of scientific inquiry is thoroughly shoddy when they wave their magic wand to proclaim life has the ability to just magically appear. They garner even more groans from me as they wave the magical wand proclaiming time and time again that evolution has the magical ability to account for the amazing interconnected complexity of life on this earth. Yet, I endured the show so that I might garner a valid point or two for the Anthropic Hypothesis and Intelligent Design. I was rewarded with a rather humorous event in which the spiritual deafness of humans was humorously pointed out.
    The narrators of the show were doing an interview with the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) people. I was impressed. The SETI organization has branches in several states with radio telescopes and high-end computers in each state, vainly listening for that extra-terrestrial voice from the sky. They are indeed a well equipped and well endowed organization. They were reviewing the fact that though there have been some false alarms that has caused some major excitement, there has never actually been any received transmission from an extra-terrestrial intelligence, within the 40 years that SETI has operated. The interviewer was questioning a “scientist” at his computer bank when the “scientist” said. “We got the equipment to listen. If they ever call we will be listening. We are just waiting for them to call”. And with that being said, in the next instance the telephone rang right behind the “scientist”. Though he made a joke and said that it was probably the extra-terrestrial intelligence calling, He failed to see the humor that God poured into that situation. Whoever was actually on the Phone is besides the point. It could have been a telemarketer for that matter. The main point that he had missed is that the phone rang exactly when he had said “if an extra terrestrial intelligence ever calls we will be listening”, on national T.V. no less. I have news for that scientist, God was calling and in His sovereignty made that phone ring at that particular instance and indeed the “scientist” was not really listening for “some strange signal from the sky” though he was proclaiming that he was “listening” for some strange signal from the sky. I had to laugh at the whole situation for I have seen God speak many, many times using such remarkable “supernatural coincidences” to get His point across.

    Psalms 115:6
    They have ears, but they do not hear;

    Can You Hear Me Now?

  10. 10
    bFast says:

    I’m with Kairosfocus — could someone please provide a formal definition of Transitive Complexity.

  11. 11 says:

    Transitory Complexity is the propensity for a designed state of affairs to point beyond itself.

    those states of affairs which most clearly manifest design point beyond themselves to a broarder picture in which their existence is explained. p39

    Examples are a parking arrow, a system of canals, a series of prime numbers, or a sentence.

    There is a relationship with specification and with irreducibility because these both point beyond the objects themselves.

    The greater the complexity of the transitory complex system, the lower the probability that chance is causing the illusion of design.

  12. 12
    kairos says:

    Please could you provide a basic morre formal definition. Thanks.

  13. 13
    kairosfocus says:


    Transitive or transitory complexity?

    I find the concept that such a system points beyond itself, i.e takes its structure (hence complexity) from a purpose that lies beyond it, harks back to the classical understanding of cause.

    Using somewhat more familiar terms than the classical thinkers usually did:

    1] Material Cause: it is a necessary condition of an object or phenomenon that it has the materials and forces that enable it to exist and work as advertised.

    2] Actuating cause: something has to directly trigger the relevant patterns of structure and behaviour.

    3] Purpose: Such entities point to a goal, i.e they exist and operate for a reason.

    4] Agent: thus, there is an agent who exerts reasoned intelligence to actuate the object or process, taking advantage of relevant forces and materials etc, to achieve his or her goal.

    The real debate is over whether the materials and forces acting without such direction, can achieve the sort of functionally specified, often irreducibly complex structures and processes that are of interest. DESIGNED vs DESIGNOID.

    –> It is highly relevant to observe that in EVERY case where we directly know the cause, complex specified information-exhibiting systems are designed. [And, given remarks by Bob in the July 6 thread on explanatory adequacy, being open to the possibility of agency alongside natural regularities and chance as possible causal forces is not to presuppose an agent, begging the question.]

    –> Next, on the important cases in view, those who reject design are forced to exert selectively hyper-skeptical criteria, i.e if their worldviews and agendas were not on the line in these particular cases, they would never dream of suggesting that anything other than an agent were at work.

    –> On this, we can look at the prevalence of considering the alternatives: blind forces and/or chance vs agent action in a lot of statistical inference testing.

    –> Similarly, when we see long strings of digital information that make sense, we do not seriously accept the concept that absent absolute proof to the contrary, such “must” be viewed as the product of lucky noise. [Cf my always linked.]

    In short, the balance of the case on the merits is not hard to see, and transit-ive/-ory complexity makes sense as a reference to that overarching issue that complex, functionally specified entities normally reflect design and point beyond themselves to a purpose they target.

    Food for thought.

    GEM of TKI

    PS: Digital strings is broader than binary digital strings. Let’s not forget Babbage’s “computer” was a 10-state element machine.

  14. 14
    kairosfocus says:

    BA 77:

    Solid point.

    Are we REALLY, REALLY listening?

    GEM of TKI

    PS: Seems I hit on one of those filter words by accident just now . . .

  15. 15 says:

    Sorry, transitive complexity. I am still reading the book.

  16. 16
    JT75 says:

    Borne: “JT claimed that the “apparent design” stance is logical and possible”

    Actually, what I claimed is that the position is possible in the broad logical sense. I merely making a fine logical point about the structure of the summary statement. Broad logical possibility is simply any proposition that does not entail a logical contradiction. An example of a logically impossible proposition is that “square-circles exist.” With this in mind we can see that “the so-called Design of the universe is only apparent design” is a logically possible proposition in the broad sense. The point that Dembski and others have made is that, although broadly possible, as an actual explanation of the empirics it is woefully inadequate and an accounting of the actual probabilities involved strongly suggest (or reveal) Design. (A position I agree with)

    The summary statment says it will prove that Design is the only “logical, valid inference.” What I think the author means is that Design is the only ‘reasonable inference or only reasonable explanation.’ Logic is an actual science of inferences, I hate it when atheists/materialists use the word to dub whatever they are saying as ‘the only logical position’ and I want ID advocates to avoid the same habit.

    I can see the abiguity with the way I worded my post. When I say “I believe (1) is true,” I mean that I think the ‘apparent design’ position avoids internal contradictions (unlike ‘square-circle’). Certainly the concept is coherent, just as the atheist proposition “God does not exist” is coherent, but is it true? I think ID has shown that to believe in philosophical naturalism, dispite the mathematically rigorous evidence to the contrary, is a retreat into irrationality.

    Finally, forgive the long post but I want to be perfectly clear, there are different ways that one can falsify something: (1) show that the concepts are internally inconsistent (i.e. entail contradiction(s)), or (2) although the premises are true, the conclusion does not follow from them, or (3) one or more of the premises are false (usually because one can marshal contrary evidence). I think ID falsifies naturalism quite nicely with (3) and one need not make the more difficult claim that there is an internal contradiction in the concept of naturalism (which the summary statement implied, although I realize the point of the book is to support ID against naturalism with mode #3).

  17. 17
    JT75 says:
    “Transitory Complexity is the propensity for a designed state of affairs to point beyond itself.”

    What does it mean for a state of affairs to have propensity? Is this dependent on the agent observing the state of affairs or is it more like the “effects will tell us something about the cause” reasoning, the latter being a more objective satement about causality, the former more subjective?

  18. 18
    Borne says:

    JT75: Thanks for the clarification.

    My post was merely to explain why the apparent design hypothesis doesn’t work in the real world.

    Again, how do you detect no-design?

    My suggestion to Dr. Dembski to look at it from the negative side (if he hasn’t already done so) is always pertinent in cases like this where a negative can be used to demonstrate a positive.

    The rest of my post’s topics are still exciting and pertinent fields of study that I believe will eventually help wipe out the standard materialist stance altogether through logical implications.

    Indeed, logic itself presupposes absolute truth; But materialism cannot account for the existence of logical absolutes. However as soon as the existence of an absolute Mind (call it God) is admitted logical absolutes suddenly become understandable & explainable.

  19. 19
    kairosfocus says:

    Hi JT:

    While I see your point of being generous in accepting that :

    we can see that “the so-called Design of the universe is only apparent design” is a logically possible proposition in the broad sense.

    . . . I am not so sure that the “we can see that” is well-warranted.

    [Had you in effect said that you grant that, for the sake of the current argument, and to address the empirical issue that bears on the matter as well, that would be a different question.)

    For, the inference to a designoid — as opposed to designed — universe plainly and logically entails that all its phenomena are in the end reducible to chance and/or blind but regular natural forces: Plato’s [The Laws, Bk 10, cf my always linked App 2, and the July 6 thread on explanatory adequacy] and latterly Monod’s Chance + Necessity.

    This must therefore include our own “apparent mind” and “apparent reasoning,” however long the blind cause-effect chains at work. In short, we are right back at the classic problem that we here are undermining the basic credibility of our own minds. [Whether the conditioning behind the “apparent reasoning and communicating mind,” is bio-physical [cf here Johnson on Crick on how it all boils down to neural network noise!], socio-cultural, political/ideological, psychological/ behavioural or economic has but little relevance, apart from providing a menu of various ways of taking the deliverances of the “apparent mind” out of the realm of that which is credibly logical or truth-anchored.)

    But of course evolutionary materialism advocates hotly deny this when the knife cuts their way, even though they can often be seen trying to discredit others for being deluded or ignorant or stupid or worse. [E.g. consider the common idea that ID thought “must” be religiously or politically motivated rather than being a serious logical-factual issue.]

    When we turn to the world of fact, we see further that all cases of complex, funcitonally specified information and/or irreducibly complex structures that we directly know the causal story of, are the product of design.

    We have no good reason to beg the question by dropping agents from the triad chance, necessity and agency at the point of cosmo-genesis. So, when we see the level of finely tuned, complex and tightly integrated systems structures and underlying laws, we have very good reason indeed to infer that the design is not just apparent but deceptive in fact, but that it is most likely apparent because it is real.

    That is a revisable opinion, but it is not one without warrant as the best current explanation of the cosmos we see.

    [An excellent test of just how well one has thought through the matter, consider oneself before God at the end of history, and having to explain to God why on the evidence that was before you in the cosmos without and the mind and conscience within, you had good warrant for the proposition that he was not real, and was not the Architect of the cosmos. If your current case could not stand up to that scenario — imaginary though it may well be — then, are you simply being selectively hyper-skeptical because the possible implications of the universe reflecting the handiwork of an Architect is repellent to you, for whatever reason? If you doubt me on the force of this point, reflect on the classic account of the exchange on Mars Hill in Athens circa 50 AD, and its consequences over the following centuries in the Hellenistic-Roman world.]

    GEM of TKI

    PS: ID Net, do you feel able to give us a bit more of a definition yet?

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