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Intelligent design theory is scientific (Talk.Origins)

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Response Article
This article (Intelligent design theory is scientific (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 CI001:

Intelligent design theory is science.

Source: Dembski, William A., 1998. The Design Inference. Cambridge University Press.


CreationWiki response:

First of all there is a need to distinguish between General and Restricted Design Theory. Talk.Origins is talking only about Restricted Design Theory. Restricted Intelligent Design is still basically naturalistic and seems to be limited mainly to biology. The problems raised by Talk.Origins apply only to Restricted Design Theory. General Intelligent Design as developed by Robert Herrmann applies to the universe as a whole, and it represents a truly scientific approach to intelligent design including an interpretation of Quantum mechanics.

Reference: Science Declares Our Universe Is Intelligently Designed.

(Talk.Origins quotes in blue)

1. The terms used in design theory are not defined. "Design", in design theory, has nothing to do with "design" as it is normally understood. Design is defined in terms of an agent purposely arranging something, but such a concept appears nowhere in the process of distinguishing design in the sense of "intelligent design."

There is a difference between defining what design is and explaining how to distinguish it. Talk.Origins is confusing the two.

Dembski defined design in terms of what it is not (known regularity and chance), making intelligent design an argument from incredulity; he never said what design is.

Talk.Origins is over-simplifying the process of distinguishing design.

The fact is that there are certain known regularities in nature and there are some things that cannot normally happen. For example, on Earth, gravity will always move an object from a higher to a lower altitude, such that finding an object on the floor that had been on a table would not indicate the actions of another person, but if one finds an object on a table that had been on the floor, this would indicate intervention by a person.

Furthermore, the laws of probability show what can and can not happen by chance. If one sees 100 coins on a table, all heads up, it is a good indication that someone deliberately placed them there with all heads up. If, on the other hand, about 50 were heads up and the others were tails up, in random order, then it could be a result of chance. Mathematicians who work with probability speak of certain very small such probabilities as being equivalent to impossible.

It is not an argument from incredulity to say that someone picked a book up from the floor and put it on the table, when the known laws of nature tend to go in the opposite direction. Nether is it an argument from incredulity to conclude that someone laid 100 coins on a table all heads up, when the laws of probability indicate that it is very highly improbable that they all came to rest spontaneously with such specified order.

In the general case of distinguishing design, if the laws of nature say that some things do not happen by natural processes, and the laws of probability say it can't happen by chance, then it is probably the result of design. This is not an argument from incredulity, but a recognition that known laws of nature and chance say it can't happen on its own.

If someone insists that despite all odds (1.27 x1030 to 1 against), 100 coins came to rest on a table all heads up, they are free to so claim, but it is not an argument from incredulity to point out that a better explanation is that someone arranged them that way. Likewise, if known laws of nature and probability indicate that a given structure could not evolve, it is not an argument from incredulity to point that out.

Imagine if an alien artifact were found on the Moon or Mars. How would we know it was not a rock? The determination would be made based on the fact that the object could be the result of natural process or chance. According to Talk.Origins, that would be an argument from incredulity, but in reality it is just taking our knowledge of the way nature and chance work and concluding that neither nature nor chance could have produced it.

A solution to a problem must address the parameters of the problem, or it is just irrelevant hand waving. Any theory about design must somehow address the agent and purpose, or it is not really about design.

That is wrong because an object that is clearly designed may not give any clue to its discoverer as to its agent and purpose. He may simply not have enough knowledge to read the clues that are there and that knowledge may not be accessible. This fact does not make the claim that it is designed any less scientific.

Take the above hypothetical alien artifact. Even if the conclusion is made that it is artificial, it might never be possible to find out who made it and why, yet that would not change the scientific nature of the conclusion.

Historically in fact, scientists have always studied any number of phenomena before understanding anything at all about the causative explanations. Electricity is one example, where indeed the creationist scientist Michael Faraday and others provided great advances in understanding it. The Aurora Borealis is another. The SETI project that analyzes radio signals received from space must first establish that there is a signal that violates natural physical and probability laws, such as digitized patterns of prime numbers, before they can then try to describe the intelligent designers of said pattern.

No intelligent design theorist has ever included agent or purpose in any attempt at a scientific theory of design, and some explicitly say they cannot be included (Dembski 2002, 313).

A Restricted Design Theorist may never have included agent or purpose, but this is not true of General Intelligent Design.

The failure to do so on the part of Restricted Design theorists seems to result from an effort to keep religion out it, on the basis that any attempt to include religion would be dismissed outright on that basis. It seems like Talk.Origins is trying to box intelligent design theorists into a no-win situation:

  1. . Include religion and your theory is not scientific.
  2. . Don't include religion and your theory is not scientific.
Thus, even if intelligent design theory were able to prove design, it would mean practically nothing; it would certainly say nothing whatsoever about design in the usual sense.

Wrong! Proving design would eliminate the notion of a totally natural and material origin.

Irreducible complexity also fails as science because it, too, is an argument from incredulity that has nothing to do with design.

Wrong! Irreducible complexity is not an argument from incredulity. It simply notes that in biology, the phenomenon of compound systems of parts is ubiquitous, such that each system possessing this attribute requires X number of parts to work, so that all such parts need to appear together in place and simultaneously, because otherwise said system is completely non-functional.

From there, one looks at the known laws of nature and the laws of probability and sees that they agree that this condition can't be met naturally. Once again it is not an argument from incredulity, but a recognition that the laws of nature and the laws of probability say it can't happen naturally.

2. Intelligent design is subjective. Even in Dembski's mathematically intricate formulation, the specification of his specified complexity can be determined after the fact, making "specification" a subjective concept.

This can happen even in archaeology; there are sites one considers geology, and vice versa. The main problem in biology is the evolutionist mindset, where nothing in biology can be the result of intelligent design. This blurs the distinction in people's minds, making something that can be generally objective into seeming subjective.

That said, every explanation that evolutionists come up with in biology is clearly "determined after the fact", and with the attempt to disallow discussion on Intelligent Design concepts as somehow unscientific, they show this subjectivity.

Dembski now talks of "apparent specified complexity" versus "actual specified complexity," of which only the latter indicates design. However, it is impossible to distinguish between the two in principle.

Unfortunately most Restricted Design theorists, including Dembski, suffer from vestigial evolutionary thinking. This blurs their view of specified complexity.

3. Intelligent design implies results that are contrary to common sense. Spider webs apparently meet the standards of specified complexity, which implies that spiders are intelligent. One could instead claim that the complexity was designed into the spider and its abilities. But if that claim is made, one might just as well claim that the spider's designer was not intelligent but was intelligently designed, or maybe it was the spider's designer's designer that was intelligent. Thus, either spiders are intelligent, or intelligent design theory reduces to a weak Deism where all design might have entered into the universe only once at the beginning, or terms like "specified complexity" have no useful definition.

This a fallacy known as a False Dilemma. This false dilemma is easy to solve. Based on observation, it is clear that spiders are not intelligent, but there is no reason to extend this to the spider's designer. According to intelligent design theory, the spider's designer would be intelligent so Talk.Origins' dilemma is false.

Computers are an example of machines that can in fact be programmed to produce stunningly elaborate designs. Based on the above fallacious reasoning, these elaborately-designed pieces of metal and their elaborate designs would arise from random chemical processes.

4. The intelligent design movement is not intended to be about science. Phillip Johnson, who spearheaded and led the movement, said in so many words that it is about religion and philosophy, not science (Belz 1996).

Phillip Johnson is a lawyer, not a scientist. Furthermore, he was referring to the entire origins debate, not just the Intelligent Design movement. In a sense his statement is correct because when dealing with origins science, religion and philosophy intersect. As a result, one's stance on religion and philosophy influences interpretation of scientific data. Evolution at its core is philosophically naturalistic and religiously atheistic, and so religion and philosophy are what the debate is really about. That is what Phillip Johnson meant, and it has no bearing on the scientific nature of intelligent design.

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