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.


Posted on June 2, 2008, in Science. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Hi again,

    No IDists have proposed a modality model that makes any predictions and so is testable. Dembski’s maths was roundly criticised as wrong by mathematicians, several of whom were people of faith (Just before you get your worldwide atheist conspiracy hat on again).

    As regard to Gould. You have made an extremely important point. You have conclusively proved that you are either woefully ignorant of the subject matter or you are deliberately misrepresenting Gould’s view.

    He has never supported any such thing at all. Please support this outrageous falsehood or withdraw it.

    Who told you this? You need to ask them some searching questions.

    You appear guilty of very unchristian behaviour and I await you explanation with interest.

    In the meantime here are some actual quotes from Mr Gould . . . In my next comment . . .

  2. Here is an actual quote from Gould;

    The argument that the literal story of Genesis can qualify as science collapses on three major grounds:
    The creationists’ need to invoke miracles in order to compress the events of the earth’s history into the biblical span of a few thousand years;
    their unwillingness to abandon claims clearly disproved, including the assertion that all fossils are products of Noah’s flood; and
    their reliance upon distortion, misquote, half-quote, and citation out of context to characterize the ideas of their opponents.
    Stephen J. Gould. 1987/1988. The Verdict on Creationism. The Skeptical Inquirer Winter 87/88, pg. 186

    Here are some more comments;

    Gould often expressed frustration that creationist critics frequently cited his attempts to refine aspects of Darwin’s theory of natural selection as evidence that scientists seriously questioned the underlying “fact” of evolution, not just its mechanisms. He accused a “motley collection” of creationists of “willful misquotation” and wrote that they “debase religion even more than they misconstrue science.”

    The enemy, in Gould’s opinion, never has been rank-and-file fundamentalists, but rather fundamentalist leaders. After traveling to the scene of the Scopes trial in 1981, Gould wrote that science had “nothing to fear from the vast majority of fundamentalists who, like many citizens of Dayton, live by a doctrine that is legitimately indigenous to their area. Rather, we must combat the few yahoos who exploit the fruits of poor education for ready cash and larger political ends.”

    And what about this;

    Transitions are often found in the fossil record. Preserved transitions are not common — and should not be, according to our understanding of evolution (see next section) but they are not entirely wanting, as creationists often claim…. [Gould then discusses two particular examples, intermediate fossils between reptiles and mammals, and our own hominid ancestors.]

    Faced with these facts of evolution and the philosophical bankruptcy of their own position, creationists rely upon distortion and innuendo to buttress their rhetorical claim. If I sound sharp or bitter, indeed I am — for I have become a major target of these practices.

    I count myself among the evolutionists who argue for a jerky, or episodic, rather than a smoothly gradual, pace of change.
    In 1972 my colleague Niles Eldredge and I developed the theory of punctuated equilibrium. We argued that two outstanding facts of the fossil record — geologically “sudden” origin of new species and failure to change thereafter (stasis) — reflect the predictions of evolutionary theory, not the imperfections of the fossil record. In most theories, small
    isolated populations are the source of new species, and the process of speciation takes thousands or tens of thousands of years. This amount of time, so long when measured against our lives, is a geological microsecond….

    Since we proposed punctuated equilibria to explain trends, it is infuriating to be quoted again and again by creationists — whether through design or stupidity, I do not know — as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms. The punctuations occur at the level of species;
    directional trends (on the staircase model) are rife at the higher level of transitions within major groups. [Stephen Jay Gould, “Evolution as Fact and Theory,” Hens Teeth and Horse’s Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History, New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1983, pp. 258-260.]

    Or this;

    The anatomical transition from reptiles to mammals is particularly well documented in the key anatomical change of jaw articulation to hearing bones. Only one bone, called the dentary, builds the mammalian jaw, while reptiles retain several small bones in the rear portion of the jaw. We can trace, through a lovely sequence of intermediates, the reduction of these small reptilian bones, and their eventual disappearance or exclusion from the jaw, including the remarkable passage of the reptilian articulation bones into the mammalian middle ear (where they became our malleus and incus, or hammer and anvil). We have even found the transitional form that creationists often proclaim inconceivable in theory — for how can jawbones become ear bones if intermediaries must live with an unhinged jaw before the new joint forms? The transitional species maintains a double jaw joint, with both the old articulation of reptiles (quadrate to articular bones) and the new connection of mammals (squamosal to dentary) already in place! Thus, one joint could be lost, with passage of its bones into the ear, while the other articulation continued to guarantee a properly hinged jaw. Still, our creationist incubi, who would never let facts spoil a favorite argument, refuse to yield, and continue to assert the absence of all transitional forms by ignoring those that have been found, and continuing to taunt us with admittedly frequent examples of absence. [Stephen Jay Gould, “Hooking Leviathan by Its Past,” Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural History, New York: Crown Trade Paperbacks, 1997, pp. 360-361.]

    or this;


    Punctuated equilibrium, catastrophic theories of mass extinction, hopeful monsters, and a variety of hypotheses about rapid rates of change in continuous sequences, not about unintelligible abrupt appearances, are part of scientific debate and bear no relationship to the nonscientific notion of abrupt appearance, despite pernicious and willful attempts by many creationists to distort such claims by misquote and halfquote to their alien purposes. Punctuated equilibrium, in particular, is a claim that evolutionary trends have a geometry that resembles a climb up a staircase rather than a slide up an inclined plane. It is, in other words, an alternate theory about the nature of intermediate stages in evolutionary trends not, as creationists have claimed, a denial of these stages. As a term, `creation science’ is an oxymoron, a self-contradictory and meaningless phrase, a whitewash for a specific, particular, and minority religious view in America—Biblical literalism. [Stephen Jay Gould, “Creationism: Out of the Mainstream,” The Scientist, 1986, 1 (Nov. 17): 10.]

    or this;


    Well, evolution *is* a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts don’t go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein’s theory of gravitation replaced Newton’s in
    this century, but apples didn’t suspend themselves in midair, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from ape-like ancestors whether they did so by Darwin’s proposed mechanism or by some other yet to be discovered. [Stephen Jay Gould, Evolution as Fact and Theory Science and Creationism, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), p. 118.]

    So what do you say. Are you bearing flase witness deliberately or are you being misled by someone, if so who?

    Either way your credibility on this topic just left the room by the window.



  3. Neither of your claimed suggestions for modality amongst Darwinists (Biologists actually would be more honest) are actually a suggested modality amongst any Darwinists.

    Are you just making this stuff up as you go along?

    At least have a debate against the actual theory of evolution and the actual scientific thinking that is around.

    If you are just going to make up both sides of the argument than you may as well delete my comments again.

    Assuming you do delete them then I am assuming that you will at least get as far as this and will realise somewhere deep down that you are bearing false witness.



  4. PS

    The universe is “bounded” but it is infinite.

    Like the surface of a ball is clearly bounded by the shape of the ball but has no edges.

    You are welcome.


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