Design Theory: Answering Some Questions (Part 2)
Designed or intended? Another gatekeeper objection to ID is that it proves too much. It proponent of ID are setting out to say that all things (especially biological systems) demonstrate some prior intentionality, then we can equally say that everything shows intentionality. This cell is here because it’s supposed to be here, etc. But an important distinction needs to be made here as well. “IDers” aren’t saying that everything is intended (though some may believe that), but rather than certain things are designed. That is to say, they draw a distinction between something being intended and something being designed. Here’s an example from William Dembski. Say I have a small stand-up mirror that I place on my desk. The face that I placed it on the desk means that it’s placement is intentional, I meant it to be put there. Now why I did so could be for a variety of reasons, I just needed to set it down; I had nowhere else to put it, etc. But, well the mirror’s placement is intended, it is not designed. On the other hand, had I placed the mirror on the table in just the right spot so as to deflect sunlight coming in to the room and blind the person behind me, that would be both intended (I meant to place it where I did), as well as designed.
To use another rough illustration, if you entered you house and found shattered glass on the inside of your living room, you could say that glass on the floor was intended (that burglar intended to get into your house, but didn’t care about how the glass would appear on the floor). On the other hand, if you entered your house and saw the same glass on the floor, with the pieces arranged to spell out “I’m coming for you…” clearer this was more than just intended, it was designed. Glass pieces just don’t fall in that arrangement.
This bring us to some important questions that were asked by one commenter:
What method did the designer use? How can we detect this?
If important to remember, that as the above statements imply, these are separate questions. But, when we make this distinction, an important criticism of Design Theory (made especially famous by zoologist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins), the “God of the gaps” objection, is shown to be wrong-headed. This objection especially says that the fatal flaw in Design Theory is that it’s anti-science, anti-empirical research. Why is this? Because, according to Dawkins, whenever a Design proponent cannot explain something in naturalistic terms, they “cop-out” and say “God made it.” Dawkins’s objection is that this leaves questions like “How?” unanswered, and the scientist unfulfilled.
But, as stated above, these are separate (though of course, related) questions. The question “how can we detect design?” we could call (following Dembski) the detectability question, whereas the second, “what method did the designer use?” is what we could called the modality question. To use an illustration, we could carefully observation the structure of Mount Rushmore and could firm that it bears the unmistakable marks of design (the hair, facial features, etc. all matching perfectly to actual human beings, and not just any human beings, but national leaders and no one else, and not just that but only American presidents, etc.). The designer nature of the monument is detectable, we can answer that question. But, knowing something is designed doesn’t necessarily tell us how it can designed, the modality question. Perhaps Rushmore was fashion through water drills, perhaps with picks, maybe it was crafted by lasers, or even a hammer and chisel (and lots of time!). These are all viable possibilities for someone who is aware of all the possible ways of carving into stone.
Not all proponents of Intelligent Design are agreed on the answer to the modality question (though they are united on the detectability question). But this shouldn’t surprised us, because not all Darwinists are agreed on the modality question as well. In the ID camp, Michael Behe says that he has no problem with the mechanism of natural selection being the way the diversity of life was brought about. I’m not so sure if he’s committed to the natural selection modality, but he’s open to it. On the flip side, ardent Darwinists such as Francis Crick believe that evolution by small, gradual changes over long period of time either 1) cannot explain the large (to put it mildly) gaps in the fossil record, or 2) cannot account for the complexity of biological systems. Crick is a darwinist, yet he disagrees with the reigning Darwinian answer to the modality question (“gradualism”).
Crick answered the modality question by suggesting “directed panspermia.” This theory of the development of life states that the complexity of life here on planet earth is perhaps the product of seeding from foreign life forms. He agrees that ordered structure of life on earth is too great to be the product of undirected, unpurposed forces. Instead he posits the possibility that, ahem, Aliens seeded, i.e planted in some form or other, the “seeds” of life in this planet.
The problems with this proposal should be clear. Crick apparently misses the point, because his solution to the modality question only pushes the “How?” question one step back, but doesn’t make it go away. If, given his naturalistic framework, those who planted the seeds of life on this planet are also, infinite, material entities, how did life begin for them? (Please note that this is not the same as asking, “Who made God?” Because God is defined as an infinite, immaterial being that exists “outside” the realm of the material universe. Only finite things have causes, and the universe-as Big Bang cosmology teaches, is indeed finite).
So, in short, one not need to have the modality question solved (though it would be great) in order to answer the detectability question. To affirm that design is detectable, is not a “God of the gaps” cop-out. The gaps, if they are there (though I’m not addressing that topic at the moment) are related to the modality question, not the question of detectability.
Next I’ll look a little closer to what’s been called the explanatory filter to detecting design, and the issue of falsifiability.