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Design is detectable (Talk.Origins)

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Response Article
This article (Design is detectable (Talk.Origins)) is a response to a rebuttal of a creationist claim published by Talk.Origins Archive under the title Index to Creationist Claims.

Claim CI100 :

Life looks intelligently designed because of its complexity and arrangement. As a watch implies a watchmaker, so life requires a designer.

Source: Paley, William, 1802. Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity. London: J. Faulder. Davis, Percival and Dean H. Kenyon, 1989. Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins (2nd ed.). Dallas, TX: Haughton.


CreationWiki response: (Talk.Origins quotes in blue)

1. According to the definition of design, we must determine something about the design process in order to infer design.

From Wiktionary

design (plural: designs)

  1. A model or map.
  2. A pattern.
  3. Intention or plot.

So there is nothing in the definition of design that requires determining anything about the design process.

We do this by observing the design in process or by comparing with the results of known designs. The only example of known intelligent design we have is human design. Life does not look man-made.

Talk Origins is implying that unless humans design something, we can't infer design.

We wonder if Talk.Origins would apply this argument to invalidate the premise of the SETI projects. In any case, this project, which is supported by many evolutionists and atheists alike who consider it a valid scientific endeavor, shows that the objection to the Intelligent Design inference is not rooted in actual science, but in abstract metaphysical dogma.

2. Nobody argues that life is complicated. However, complexity is not the same as design. There are simple things that are designed and complex things that originate naturally.

First of all the claim uses more than just complexity to imply design, it uses arrangement (organization), as well. The claim deals with organized complexity.

Second, the phrase "life is complicated" is a vast oversimplification of its complexity in the first place.

Third, when we observe phenomena and patterns that run counter to the expectations that color known natural processes, in complex and organized patterns, science demands intelligent intervention as at least one possible solution.

Criminologists, for example, are morally and *scientifically obligated* to apply this idea to the real world, where they have to use science every single day in thousands of labs around the world to investigate whether something is a random event, or is a designed pattern.

Complexity does not imply design; in fact, simplicity is a design goal in most designs.

First of all, we are talking about organized complexity and not just, and organized complexity does imply design. Whether or not simplicity is a design goal depends on the nature and purpose of the design. The space shuttle has a complex design; its complexity is based on what it needs to do. Life by its nature requires a high degree of complexity because of what it is intended to do.

Second, in discussing "simplicity" in design people mean organization. When ID says "complex" it means more-or-less statistical unlikelihood. Most of the most simplistic designs are still unlikely from a statistical standpoint. However, there are numerous outcomes that are unlikely, so the requirement for inferring design is organization (which is what most people call "simplicity").

3. In most cases, the inference of design is made because people cannot envision an alternative. This is simply the argument from incredulity.

In some cases this may be correct, but this is not the case with intelligent design. In this case the inference of design is based on eliminating known physical laws, and chance.

The SETI example and the criminologist example, to which evolutionists cannot object, also show that they have no real problem with the principle, but cannot accept it in this case because of the real-world inferences too obvious to deny. This is a better example of arguing from "incredulity".


Historically, supernatural design has been attributed to lots of things that we now know form naturally, such as lightning, rainbows, and seasons.

While we now understand how lightning, rainbows, and seasons work, that does not mean that they were not intelligently designed. Talk Origins is assuming that intelligent design implies that we would not be able to understand how it works. A car is intelligently designed but how it works can be understood, so theirs is a flawed argument.


4. Life as a whole looks very undesigned by human standards, for several reasons:

  • In known design, innovations that occur in one product quickly get incorporated into other, often very different, products. In eukaryotic life, innovations generally stay confined in one lineage. When the same sort of innovation occurs in different lineages (such as webs of spiders, caterpillars, and web spinners), the details of their implementation differ in the different lineages. When one traces lineages, one sees a great difference between life and design.

This is a red herring. Talk.Origins is assuming that the fossil record reflects millenia of development and innovation by a designer with finite knowledge. Creationists hold that design was inherent from the beginning of creation, based upon God's omniscience, not inserted piecemeal through the ages, and that the fossil record reflects burial of billions of dead things during the Flood of Noah's day.


  • In design, form typically follows function. Some creationists expect this (Morris 1974). Yet life shows many examples of different forms with the same function (e.g., different structures making up the wings of birds, bats, insects, and pterodactyls; different organs for making webs in spiders, caterpillars, and web spinners; and at least eleven different types of insect ears),

Talk.Origins is ignoring the fact that these different wing types all have designs that reflect their purpose, which is to provide flight for animals, along with their radically different body shapes and sizes, as well as giving them different flight characteristics. They have differences because they are designed with all the appropriate particulars in mind.


the same basic form with different functions (e.g., the same pattern of bones in a human hand, whale flipper, dog paw, and bat wing)

All of the above examples, including the human hand, are used in moving the organism. In the case of whale flippers, dog paws, and bat wings, their primary function is motion, just in different environments. Two common uses of the human hand are in climbing and swimming so they are often used for motion. So all of these structures are used for motion, hence they do have similar functions. Talk Origins' examples are, in fact, spectacular examples of specific designs.


and some structures and even entire organisms without apparent function

The key is no apparent function. Just because a function has not been discovered yet does not mean that it does not exists; besides, such situations could mean a loss of function due to deterioration. There is a long list of structures once considered "vestigial organs" but for which functions have been discovered.


  • As noted above, life is complex. Design aims for simplicity.

The degree of the complexity of a design is dictated by the function of the design and life by its nature requires considerable complexity. Design implements its purposes first and foremost. A Boeing 747 airliner has more than a million discrete parts; any doctor, for example, could inform Talk Origins how much more complex the purposes of the human body are.

Furthermore "simplicity" means "organization" in design terms: life is very well-organized, with the different levels of design being very modular.


  • For almost all designed objects, the manufacture of the object is separate from any function of the object itself. All living objects reproduce themselves.

The possibility of building artificial self-replicating machines is a subject of theoretical discussion so this is actually a strong point in favor of life having been designed.


  • Life lacks plan. There are no specifications of living structures and processes. Genes do not fully describe the phenotype of an organism. Sometimes in the absence of genes, structure results anyway. Organisms, unlike designed systems, are self-constructing in an environmental context.

First of all life does have a plan called DNA. The rest of Talk Origins' claim is totally unsupported. At best it presumes upon the completeness of our knowledge of DNA. There is plenty of DNA that evolutionists assume to have no function despite the fact that they have already been wrong on this point repeatedly. At best this Talk Origins' claim is based entirely on evolutionary assumptions and as such is meaningless to any other theory.

Also, in the execution of real-world human plans such as for construction, the final product often is modified within those plans due to external circumstances.


  • Life is wasteful. Most organisms do not reproduce, and most fertilized zygotes die before growing much. A designed process would be expected to minimize this waste.

And how does Talk Origins know this level of waste is not minimum? Every manufacturer in the world who actually designs products for a living knows that one had better produce more than is ordered, because of the expectation of certain percentages of loss.

Also, the waste in true biology to real-world species is that without enough offspring to arrive at another reproductive generation, the species would disappear.

They are also assuming that any organism that does not reproduce is wasted. Some serve as food for other organisms, so Talk Origins is over-estimating the waste factor. This also ignores the effect of Mankind's Fall in the Garden of Eden.

  • Life includes many examples of systems that are jury-rigged out of parts that were used for another purpose. These are what we would expect from evolution, not from an intelligent designer. For example:

This statement is based only on evolutionary presuppositions. They are assuming evolutionary history for both organisms and organs, ignoring the possibility that God designed each part to do what it does, and used similar designs for different purposes by choice.


  • Vertebrate eyes have a blind spot because the retinal nerves are in front of the photoreceptors.

Actually this is evidence of good design since this arrangement (inverted retina) enables the photoreceptors to be regenerated by the rich blood supply of the choriocapillaris, which also acts as a heat sink to protect the photoreceptors from heat and damaging wavelengths. Also those animals with a verted retina are cephalopods, and the cephalopod eye is really "a compound eye with a single lens". They don't even see as well as we do, and note that we quite correctly say "eyes like a hawk/eagle" (which have the "inferior" inverted configuration), not "eyes of a squid" (which are verted). In fact those animals with the best vision have an inverted retina. A verted retina is only at its best in low light conditions, such as the bottom of the ocean.

Also, scientists have discovered that the inverted configuration is not only essential for the reasons above, but also doesn't hurt image quality. The Müller glial cells comprise a ‘fibre optic plate’ that allow ‘image transfer through the vertebrate retina with minimal distortion and low loss.’

  • On orchids that provide a platform for pollinating insects to land on, the stem of the flower has a half twist to move the platform to the lower side of the flower.

How is this jury-rigged? They would probably say that the platform should always be at the bottom, but if that were the case pollination could occur too soon. This design allows pollination to occur only when the orchid is ready.


  • Life is highly variable. In almost every species, there is a spread of values for anything you care to measure. The "information" that specifies life is of very low tolerance in engineering terms. There are few standards.

Low tolerance can sometimes be a good thing in engineering. A good example can be found when comparing two types of rifles. The M16 has a high tolerance, while the SKS has a lower tolerance. A M16 can jam when it gets dirty, but SKS does not. In the case of life the variability is a survival aid.


5. Life is nasty. If life is designed, then death, disease, and decay also must be designed since they are integral parts of life. This is a standard problem of apologetics. Of course, many designed things are also nasty (think of certain weapons), but if the designer is supposed to have moral standards, then it is added support against the design hypothesis.

It is true, of course, that one observes cruelty and destructive forces in nature; however, this in itself does not detract from the detection of design. At most, it raises questions for those who believe the designer to be benevolent and all-powerful.

Moreover, such questions are answered in the Bible, according to which death, disease, and decay were not part of the original design of life, but came about as result of mankind's Fall.


6. The process of evolution can be considered a design process, and the complexity and arrangement we see in life are much closer to what we would expect from evolution than from known examples of intelligent design.

This is a purely subjective statement; those who hold to intelligent design say the opposite.


Indeed, engineers now use essentially the same processes as evolution to find solutions to problems that would be intractably complex otherwise.

This completely ignores the fact that engineers still have a designed starting point. They don't start with a random assemblage of parts tossed into a bucket.

It may be a reference to so-called genetic algorithms. There are numerous differences between genetic algorithms and Evolution. Among other things genetic algorithms are aimed at a specific problem while the only "goal" of biological evolution is survival. Furthermore genetic algorithms need to be designed by a programmer.


7. Does evolution itself look designed? When you consider that some sort of adaptive mechanism would be necessary on the changing earth if life were to survive, then if life were designed, evolution or something like it would have to be designed into it.

There is equivocation. Good design often includes adaptability (which Talk.Origins calls evolution), but that's not the "evolution" Intelligent Design advocates are arguing against. There is a world of difference between an adaptive mechanism on the one hand, and a mechanism that can form life from non-life and then go spontaneously from one cell to the human being on the other.


8. Claiming to be able to recognize design in life implies that nonlife is different, that is, not designed. To claim that life is recognizably designed is to claim that an intelligent designer did not create the rest of the universe.

Wrong! It only means design can be recognized in life. It says nothing about the rest of the universe. Actually, if the same criteria of eliminating known natural laws and chance are applied to other parts of the universe, evidence for design show up there as well.


9. As it stands, the design claim makes no predictions, so it is unscientific and useless.

The same thing can be said for Evolution. It makes no predictions either , so it too is unscientific and useless.

Actually, General Intelligent Design predicts that evidence for design shows up in life and in the universe. Such evidence does exist.


It has generated no research at all.

The history of science shows this wrong. Creationism proved to be the foundation that science still builds on today. Isaac Newton, as an example, pointed to the expectation of a consistent and designed universe as the basis that drove his discovery of the solutions for which he is known.

Research takes money. In the current political environment, it is not easy to get a research grant for work related to any origins theory other than evolution.

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