Discoveroids: SETI Uses Intelligent Design Theory

We recently wrote What Are We Learning from SETI?, in which we reported about a new project in the UK relating to the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Even with our Curmudgeon senses, it never occurred to us that the Discoveroids — described in the Cast of Characters section of our Intro page — could do anything with it.

But we should have known better. Back in November of last year we posted Klinghoffer Opines on SETI, when Klinghoffer informed us:

Guillermo Gonzalez notes that “While these exoplanets are being discovered, astronomers are discovering additional constraints on the habitability of planetary systems.”

Yes, that Guillermo Gonzalez. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, see Ball State University Hires Guillermo Gonzalez. He’s a co-author of the classic creationist book, The Privileged Planet, a “fine tuning” argument applied to Earth. The claim is that we’re alone in the universe, because that’s how the designer — blessed be he! — wanted it to be.

Klinghoffer also said this about SETI:

In the total absence of evidence for actual life out there, the more common those conditions are, the more special — i.e., not readily evolved by natural means alone — life must be.

Okay, remembering that the Discoveroids think SETI is a waste of time, we turn to their blog and find this: Royal Support for ID: UK Funds SETI Project. They say, with bold font added by us:

The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is predicated on a notion familiar to theorists of intelligent design: that it is possible to distinguish intelligent causes from natural causes.


Ironically, though, most SETI supporters are ardent Darwinians. They just don’t get it. They call ID religion, but find its principles very useful for detecting intentional design from the intelligence of aliens.

The very real differences between SETI and the Discoveroids’ “theory” are explained here by Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute: SETI and Intelligent Design. He says:

In short, the champions of Intelligent Design make two mistakes when they claim that the SETI enterprise is logically similar to their own: First, they assume that we are looking for messages, and judging our discovery on the basis of message content, whether understood or not. In fact, we’re on the lookout for very simple signals. That’s mostly a technical misunderstanding. But their second assumption, derived from the first, that complexity would imply intelligence, is also wrong. We seek artificiality, which is an organized and optimized signal coming from an astronomical environment from which neither it nor anything like it is either expected or observed: Very modest complexity, found out of context. This is clearly nothing like looking at DNA’s chemical makeup and deducing the work of a supernatural biochemist.

Let’s get back to the Discoveroids’ article. It’s all balderdash, so we’ll jump right to their final paragraph:

Any alien detecting the effects of our civilization — say the Voyager spacecraft, now approaching interstellar space — would be justified in concluding it to be a product of intelligence. If it would be absurd for aliens to dream up a theory that the spacecraft “evolved” out of interplanetary dust, it would surely be just as absurd were SETI researchers to find an alien civilization and attribute it to natural causes. SETI researchers are ID advocates in spite of themselves.

So there you are. The Discoveroids claim that their nonsensical theory of intelligent design is great science because it’s endorsed by SETI researchers. Yes, and crop circle researchers can similarly claim that their bizarre beliefs are validated by geometry, just as ancient astronaut “theorists” are validated by archeology, and moon-landing denialists are validated by … whatever.

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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18 responses to “Discoveroids: SETI Uses Intelligent Design Theory

  1. I like how the Roids have already assumed what an alien “race” would or wouldn’t assume were they to come across Voyager for instance. They also assume what they would think about us here on Earth. Personally,I think an alien race assuming Voyager evolved is too stupid to be traveling in space,and if we had accepted bronze age myths all along,we would be too. Captain Picard (help my spelling Trekkies) would look at Voyager and call us infants in technology, and move along.

  2. docbill1351

    The Tooters are blasting away with shotguns trying to get attention. In desperation to keep the gravy train on the tracks they’re trying to get all the attention they can muster.

    Remember, the Tute has no product, they don’t return an investment to their “stockholders” because they don’t have any. They’re a “non-profit” organization which means that ever dime they collect goes to their salaries. Turn off the money and they’re broke and gone.

    So, they have to keep those donations flowing in and they can’t do that if they focus like a laser on a very narrow topic. Lately they have been claiming magical design for EVERYTHING: birds, butterflies, Cambrian critters, gaps in the fossil record, the Universe – and claiming that all engineering that engages in “bio-mimickery” is doing “intelligent design” research. Totally false, of course.

    Worst of all (really, can there be a “worst” when talking about the Tute?) they are being quite blatant about it. Metamorphosis is a mystery (no, it isn’t) therefore design! Birds are a mystery (no, they’re not) therefore design! SETI is a mystery (no, it isn’t) therefore design!

    If you look at their postings over the last year or so, they’re all over the place. They are very desperate as their donor base shrinks even more. They’re basically down to one billionaire (well, that ain’t too shabby!) because I believe the Gates Foundation got wise to them and pulled funding. (not sure about that)

  3. docbill1351

    Doc Bill speaks to the future.

    We will not send biology to the stars. It doesn’t make any sense whether long term hibernation can be perfected or not. We will send “humanity” into the universe as machines. In a few generations or less we’ll be able to “dump” consciousness into hardware and that will be it. Ironically, evolution of humanity will become intelligent design as we construct new designs for ourselves. Machines will go into space where they require little or no environment to operate. No fragile biology, no atmosphere, no biological food, none of the stuff we need to haul along to stay alive.

    Same for any “alien” cultures we ever meet. They, too, will be designed for space and not planets. Which is good. I mean, think of the contortions the Star Trek writers had to go through to explain why there were SO MANY bipeds in the Universe! They nearly got it right with the Borg if they had only stripped out the org.

  4. Thank you, SC, for ferreting out the blather from these mysterious hemorRhOIDal signals.

  5. @docbill; you may be right, but that wouldn’t be much fun. As an avid diver, i can tell you there’s nothing like being there. Photos, movies and droids can suffice for information, still, it’s just not the same.

  6. @docbill1351-
    Evolution beats design two ways: The lesser being that design accomplishes nothing on its own – it needs manufacture. More interesting is that evolution produces solutions to problems we didn’t know we had.

  7. You’re probably right, doc.

    With respect to the Discoveroids and their claim that the SETI researchers are some type of unwilling ID advocates, their lie is not so much about SETI as it is about intelligent design. The “design inference” is widely used by everyone from archeologists to SETI investigators, to the proverbial walker in the woods who finds a watch. The inference is an artificial object or signal implies a maker. (as Seth Shostak points out in the comment quoted above)

    Discoveroids like to claim that anyone who does this, anyone at all who looks at something and deduces that it is not a natural object, is an ID advocate. In contrast, however, ID as the Discoveroids promote it, applies the “design inference” to natural objects, not simply artificial ones. In this, they are alone, and have no fellow design advocates in scientific circles. When they claim affinity to some other group, it is because they are misrepresenting (lying) about ID.

    Further, the vague criteria used by ID apologists to claim design encompasses virtually everything they examine. In fact, by the argument of fine tuning, ID claims the entire universe is intelligently designed, so technically there is no object whatsoever that is not the product of the designer, directly or indirectly. And ID cannot explain how it differentiates between objects that are directly design and those which are only indirectly designed. For example, we each have on average around 60 mutations when compared to our parent’s DNA. I have never seen anything in the ID literature that would enable a determination to be made as to whether or not the designer poofed those 60 mutations into existence or whether they occured naturally. If there is no way to tell whether those 60 specific differences are natural or designed, how can one tell whether anything else in the genome is natural or designed?

  8. @Ed; easy peasy. You have to use BIWIT (because I want it to). That’s the secret tool for design detection.

  9. Back in 1993 William Dembski predicted there would be NO exoplanets; therefore Intelligent Design. Now Curmie quotes Klinghoffer in 2011 saying there are MANY exoplanets; therefore intelligent design.

    Creationist Argument #32-J: If planets are rare outside our solar system, a planet like ours must be so improbable that Earth was intelligently designed. If planets are common outside our solar system, life on Earth must be so improbable that it was intelligently designed.

    In the quote below, Dembski doesn’t just deny exoplanets exist. He also lies about the nebular hypothesis and says there’s no viable hypothesis for how a nebula coalesces into a star and planets. Even in 1993 this was bullocks– makes no sense in terms of physics, esp. conservation of angular momentum.

    Dembski, 1993: “Dawkins, to explain LIFE apart from a designer, not only gives himself all the time Darwin ever wanted, but also helps himself to all the conceivable planets there might be in the observable universe (note that these are planets he must posit, since no planets outside our solar system have been observed, nor is there currently any compelling theory of planetary formation which guarantees that the observable universe is populated with planets).” [William Dembski, 1993; given at the Symposium "Can There be a Scientific Theory of Intelligent Design?" held at the 48th Annual Meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation, Seattle, WA, August 9, 1993; see citation by Paul Nelson]

    So scientists ignore the IDiots and discover many hundreds of exoplanets anyway, including some in the Goldilocks zone for life.

    Klinghoffer, 2011: “If it were true that the conditions for life are common around the galaxy, yet no intelligent life has checked in with us so far, that would seem to suggest that life itself — as opposed to the conditions that might make it hypothetically sustainable somewhere — is very special indeed. In the total absence of evidence for actual life out there, the more common those conditions are, the more special — i.e., not readily evolved by natural means alone — life must be.”

  10. docbill1351

    @Paul and all

    Doc “Namu” Bill has his open water certification and while not avid has been there and I agree no amount of film can do justice to sitting on the bottom of the clear, clear Caribbean, 60 feet down with endless water and life in all directions. True, true.

    My thesis is that the hardware will be sentient. Not droids. iHumanity, if you will, with all the curiosity, dreams and poetry we possess but not fragile.

    Beer, lots of beer, makes this discussion more fun but if your mind was poured into a Binford iData 3000 what would be switched on? Assume you’re still alive. Then you’re looking at iYou and iYou is looking at you. iYou sees you and thinks, “What am I doing standing over there?” And you you think something similar, “What is iMe thinking?” Clearly the duplicate isn’t you even though it contains your consciousness. Now suppose it’s a one-way transfer and you expire at the end. iYou “wakes up” and it’s you looking out iYou’s eyes. The iYou believes it simply went to sleep and woke up in a robot body.

    In this world, I think evolution would be irrelevant because the iYou doesn’t have to coexist in its environment – it’s independent of the environment. The concept of natural selection might be replaced by obsolescence, upgrades and, Cogs forbid if MSFT dominates, endless Service Packs.

  11. So if they keep whining that the universe isn’t big enough for any other life, then how might they react if other forms of life are found? Or perhaps is their goal post now to find only human-like forms of life, preferably fundy christians?

  12. Yes, doc, it is interesting to note that if transhumanist assumptions hold, intelligent design WILL BE true in the future. Intelligent machine entities will deliberatly upgrade themselves, “evolving” enormously much faster than the rather tedious process of mutation + natural selection. But of course, this is no comfort to people who want some deity to have “designed” all life in the distant past. If anything, the expected transhuman developments would demonstrate that a smart “designer” should have created machine intelligences in the first place, instead of wasting billions of years on a protracted biological interlude before the real action starts.

  13. docbill1351

    Which means that if our little planet is discovered and IF the machines are interested in new biology, we’ll be “interesting” and no more.

    There was an Arthur Clark novel, I can’t remember, Childhood’s End?, about a race of aliens who find Earth and simply hover, never revealing themselves, well, until book 3 or so. Or was that another author? There’s one where the aliens don’t pay us any attention whatsoever and just go about their business as if we were invisible, much like us working among ant colonies. I think that was the point of the book. Brian Aldis, maybe?

  14. ///Back in 1993 William Dembski predicted there would be NO exoplanets; therefore Intelligent Design. Now Curmie quotes Klinghoffer in 2011 saying there are MANY exoplanets; therefore intelligent design.///

    If life is ever found outside of earth (which seems more likely by the day), IDiots will revive the fine tuning argument and say, “see, we already told you the universe was fine tuned for life”.

  15. The most likely discovery of extraterrestrial life in the relatively near future would be microorganisms on Mars. (We already know something is producing a little methane over there, a gas that would disappear from the atmosphere if it is not constantly replenished.) Creationists would probably respond to such a discovery by saying the bugs have simply arrived from earth, and this could well be true: We know the planets have “exchanged spittle” in the form of meteorites following major impact events thowing material into space. If we eventually discover multicellular organisms (medusa? fish?!) in the ocean under the ice on Jupiter’s moon Europa, it will be far more challenging from a creationist viewpoint. Larger animals could never have arrived from earth. Then creationists would have no choice but to claim that the “designer” has been active elsewhere as well — perhaps throughout the universe. Maybe the revised argument would be that humans are the only intelligent species to have been “designed” (in the Designer’s image, I guess) — even if the galaxies teem with strange animals.

  16. H.K. Fauskanger speculates how creationists will deal with the discovery of not merely life, but complex organisms on other worlds.

    The expected response has been seen before, so it’s very predictable. We’re the chosen species.

  17. docbill1351

    I think it was Dawkins who speculated that he thought the likelihood of DNA like ours evolving on another planet was remote, but that the mechanism for speciation would involve evolution. Thus, he thinks that mutation and natural selection might be an overarching biological law.

  18. Mark Joseph

    Childhood’s End is about a species that contacts earth, but does not reveal themselves in person for 50 years, although they do put a stop to war; their role is to guide the next step in human evolution.

    Also, I can’t remember where I read it–Dawkins is a good guess–but there was an intriguing article about selection as a universal principle. It applies in different contexts, with different selectors using different selection criteria, but it can be seen in natural selection, artificial selection (think pigeons), the “free” market, the transmission of memes in culture, even chemical evolution, etc. I find it a very useful piece of mental furniture.