Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

A Reply to Mark Frank


Carlos, Mark Frank, and I were discussing design detection over at Alan Fox’s blog, Languedoc Diary, last week when a mountain of work I had allowed to pile up forced me to take a short blogging sabbatical. Well, I’m back (for the moment at least), and I thought I’d post my response to Mark’s last comment here at UD.

Mark wrote the following:

To say that a human action is understood to be intelligent simply by virtue of the fact that it is known to be caused by a human seems nonsensical to me.

I understand that Crandaddy will be unable to respond for a bit but I thought this was rather an interesting point. Of course, it is true. An action is not intelligent simply because a human caused it. However, it is also not intelligent simply because of some inherent property of the action. Life is full of examples where we ask “did you mean to do that or were you just lucky?” e.g. a soccer player centres the ball and it goes over the goalkeeper’s head and into the goal. Did he mean to do that or did he mishit it and get lucky? You won’t find the answer by watching the video of the flight of the ball. You will find it by talking to the player, examining his expression, looking at his level of skill, how often has he done this before, etc. What we are talking about here is detecting intention. It is a long-standing philosophical problem, but however we detect intention it is not just through observing the chances of it happening unintentionally (although that is part of the evidence). We have to weigh all the different types of evidence for intention (agent, motive, ability, plans etc) against the evidence for purely unintentional causes (which may or may not be caused by people).

You appear to be quite correct that an action is not intelligent because of an inherent property of that action. In fact, the point I’m trying to make is that there is nothing inherent, or intrinsic, to any externally observable cause, action, or effect which would warrant a justified belief that something is designed.

If you observe a soccer player repeatedly kick a ball right into the dead center of the goal net with every attempt, how do you know that he does so deliberately? Any knowledge of causal agents and processes crucial to design detection must be physical knowledge since physical phenomena are all that we are capable of directly observing in the external world. So what physical knowledge do we have of the player and the effects he produces? We may have physiological knowledge of the player as a biological organism. We might have knowledge of muscles and nerves and how nerve impulses work to stimulate muscular contractions, and we might know how these contractions could be coordinated into running motions, kicking motions, etc. We may also have knowledge of the physical dynamics which cause the ball to move into the center of the goal net. We can analyze these processes as closely and extensively as we want, but as long as identifiable physical cause precedes physical effect, we have no reason to believe intelligence was involved.

I know that I intelligently design things because I directly perceive my conscious experiences and the volitive directions which proceed from them and see that they terminate in physical forms which correspond with the original conscious states, but I cannot directly perceive consciousness and volition outside of myself. So how could we know that the soccer player kicking the ball into the goal is acting intelligently? We can’t tell by listening to what he says or observing his reactions because then it could just be asked how we know those actions are intelligent. I know that my actions are intelligent because, as far as I can tell, they are caused by my conscious volitive direction and not by any identifiable antecedent physical conditions. Furthermore, I can repeat the results I produce. I visualize a straight line in my mind, and I direct my limbs to produce a representation of my mental image in the sand. Then I do it again, and again, and again…… What we see with the soccer player is repetition of a consciously identified form, and when we see repetition in nature (regardless of the physical conditions), we can place it into one or more of three categories: physical regularity (The event is the necessary outcome of antecedent physical conditions.), contingency, or intelligent agency.

As you watch the soccer player do his thing, you can identify no necessary antecedent physical condition which could be seen as a cause to his action. If it were the case that he kicks the ball into the goal every time he’s thumped on the head, then it would be reasonable to say that his action is not intelligently produced (at least not by him). Now it may be the case that there is a regular physical condition which causes his action, but if you can’t identify it, you can’t invoke it as an explanation. Of course, he could just be lucky, but how many times does he have to do it before we say that more than just luck is involved. This is where probability comes into play. The more times he kicks the ball into the goal, the less probable it is that mere chance is at play, and the more probable it is that his action is genuinely intelligent.

Ben - the problems with using UD, if you are not an ID supporter, are rather deeper than that. I don't believe I have called anyone an idiot or made any kind of personal remark on this blog (or any other to my recollection). The core problem is that it is almost impossible to know when your post will appear or if it will appear at all. Sometimes these things happen without explanation; sometimes for reasons that seem inconsistent and arbitrary; sometimes for good reason. My post 1 above took 8 hours to appear. Others have taken 24 or even 48 hours. Many have disappeared into the ether. Mark Frank
I, for one, don't regard Cardova as an idiot. His postings here indicate that he's rather intelligent. I used to find it very puzzling that creationists were intelligent people, but I've met enough creationists to know that some of them are. For example, I've gone several times to the Museum of Creation Research in Santee, CA. I was often impressed with the erudition of the tour guides and the other visitors. Carlos
Heh, like not being able to say that Sal Cardova is an "idiot". That surely limits the scope of rational inquiry. Ben Z
That's fine, Mark. I only posted it here because I thought you'd be more likely to notice it. crandaddy
I concur. Carlos
Crandaddy Could we not continue this discussion on Alan's blog? Conditions here on UD make it very difficult to debate for reasons described in the thread on Alan's blog. Mark Mark Frank

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