Rock Mounds Are Designed, Therefore …

There are two ways you can react to the latest from the Discovery Institute. What are those two ways? That depends on you, dear reader.

If you have a functional, rational mind, you will throw up — or at least you’ll feel a powerful urge to do so. If you don’t have that type of mind (or if you have no mind at all) then you’ll be thrilled to read what has just been posted at the Discoveroids’ creationist blog. This is what we’re talking about: Design Inference in a Pile of Rocks.

We’ve written about their so-called design inference before. For example, see: William Dembski’s Design Inference. Also, over at Panda’s Thumb they’ve got a thread on the subject with some very interesting comments — see Does CSI enable us to detect Design? A reply to William Dembski.

But before you can appreciate what the Discoveroids have just posted, you need a bit of background to know what triggered their latest eruption. Here’s the story from the website of Fox News: Mysterious stone structure discovered beneath Sea of Galilee. It says:

A giant “monumental” stone structure discovered beneath the waters of the Sea of Galilee in Israel has archaeologists puzzled as to its purpose and even how long ago it was built. The mysterious structure is cone shaped, made of “unhewn basalt cobbles and boulders,” and weighs an estimated 60,000 tons the researchers said. … It appears to be a giant cairn, rocks piled on top of each other. Structures like this are known from elsewhere in the world and are sometimes used to mark burials.


They say it is definitely human-made and probably was built on land, only later to be covered by the Sea of Galilee as the water level rose. “The shape and composition of the submerged structure does not resemble any natural feature. We therefore conclude that it is man-made and might be termed a cairn,” the researchers write.

You already know how the Discoveroids are likely to react, don’t you? Sure you do. Well, here are some excerpts from the Discoveroids’ article, with bold font added by us:

Archaeologists have discovered a pile of rocks under the Sea of Galilee that they are sure was put there by humans of the Megalithic Age. To a casual observer, the pile seems shapeless. How can they be sure? This is a test case for the design inference.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Yes, if this mound can be determined by archaeologists to be the product of human activity, then … then the Discoveroids know how to determine if your pancreas is the product of the intelligent designer — blessed be he! — and they also have the intellectual tools to determine if the whole universe was designed! We told you that this would be thrilling — to a certain kind of intellect. Let’s read on:

How do archaeologists know this was an intentional structure? They don’t know the builders. … All they know is that it was designed. But how?

Oh, if only there were some way to know! The Discoveroids continue:

At first glance, it doesn’t look designed. It’s made of “unhewn basalt cobbles and boulders” piled 32 feet high and 230 feet across in a circular pattern, twice as big across as Stonehenge, but without the latter’s orderly arrangement of hewn stones.

Then they quote from a news story, and the bold font in this seems to have been supplied by the Discoveroids. It’s a form of quote-mining:

It appears to be a giant cairn, rocks piled on top of each other. Structures like this are known from elsewhere in the world and are sometimes used to mark burials. Researchers do not know if the newly discovered structure was used for this purpose.

Those are important phrases. This is creationist research at it’s finest! Here’s more from the Discoveroids:

So far, we’ve only heard about a resemblance to a burial mound, but the purpose (if there was one) is unknown. Any other clues it was intelligently designed?

They quote some more from the news, about what a primitive thing the mound is, and then they say:

The design inference seems weak, yet the article goes on to conclude it was designed:

See there? The inference seems weak, yet the design conclusion is made anyway. The Discoveroids quote a news story some more, and again they add their own bold font to certain key phrases:

They say it is definitely human-made and probably was built on land, only later to be covered by the Sea of Galilee as the water level rose. “The shape and composition of the submerged structure does not resemble any natural feature. We therefore conclude that it is man-made and might be termed a cairn,” the researchers write.

Impressed? Archeologists can determine that a mound of rocks is man-made. And if they can do that, well then … it’s just so obvious that the Discoveroids can figure out all kinds of things. They tell us:

In a very real sense, these researchers applied the Design Filter. They considered chance and natural law and ruled them out. Moreover, they compared this structure with other structures in the area: … [skipping a news quote].

From this admittedly weak inference to design, the archaeologists went on to describe the kind of designer required to build such a structure. A city a mile south named Bet Yerah, known from the megalithic period, had “paved streets and towering defenses” indicating a high degree of intelligence and social organization. But it is not known if the people of that city built the structure.

Wow — there was a city a mile away from the rock pile. And cities have intelligent human designers. Therefore the pile of rocks was likely to be a typical burial mound of that era. This isn’t too big a leap for archeology, but it’s a giant leap for the Discoveroids because it confirms their methodology for determining design!

This is getting tedious, so we’ll give you only one more excerpt. It contains the purpose of the whole article:

Some may look at the photos and not be convinced it is manmade. It doesn’t seem to have specification or complexity. So we will argue from the lesser to the greater: how much stronger is the design inference when looking at the genetic code, with its elaborate translation, transcription, proofreading and duplication mechanisms? If these archaeologists can find design in a pile of rocks, why should biologists not find design in structures that clearly have specified complexity arranged for purposeful function?

Oh, wait — we have to give you their final sentence:

They ruled out chance and natural law first. That leaves design.

Uh huh. That works for man-made burial mounds. But when we’re talking about the universe and the origin and evolution of living things, it’s not quite the same. We know about humans and their works, and we have loads of examples that can be used for comparisons. But we don’t have examples of designed universes or designed ecosystems to which we can refer. Nevertheless, we’ll keep an open mind. As soon as the Discoveroids can convincingly rule out chance and natural law, maybe they’ll have something to contribute.

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

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19 responses to “Rock Mounds Are Designed, Therefore …

  1. Let me get this straight–the Discoveroids respect an argument that something is designed because there is nothing else like it in nature and then insist that pancreases are designed … because there is nothing lese like them in nature? WTF? The whole point of evolution is we can find these long pathways by which modern forms in nature were created from past forms in nature.

  2. DickVanstone

    3rd paragraph, 1st word: We’re?

    Delete this comment at your leisure, and thank you for your endeavors.

  3. …originally built on land, or possibly the rocks were dropped from boats/ships to create an artificial reef, say. It would serve to attract fish. Far-fetched, but possible — unless the rocks are too big.

    They could find the same spot to drop their rocks simply by using triangulation.

  4. More likely, though, it was built on land. Possibly an early version of the pyramids?

  5. DickVanstone says: “3rd paragraph, 1st word: We’re?”

    Fixed. Thanks.

  6. No comment on the Discoveroids take. Why bother? They like to make things up.

  7. retiredsciguy says: “They like to make things up.”

    Are you blind? Open your eyes, man! Your neighborhood is full of designed houses. Therefore your torso is full of designed organs. It’s so obvious!

  8. That was a painful read. How can they be so foolish?
    The archaeologists were looking specifically for artificiality, much like SETI sleuths. On the contrary living things are naturally occurring objects. DI is organizing conferences to lure young blood to ID. Is this what they’re gonna teach them?

  9. @stephenpruis – Perhaps this recent argument would interest you.

    AC Grayling made the point that the individual human being has
    a long ancestry, and that it is extremely improbable that that
    history would have occurred and produced that individual. And,
    of course, every individual is unique. For example, A.C. Grayling
    is unique.

    The response is, in part:

    “Every person in the world is unique — so possessing this quality 
does not single out A.C. Grayling. Had his parents or grandparents 
married other people than they in fact did and gone on to produce 
other children, those children would be no less unique than 
    British Atheist Philosopher A.C. Grayling is Confused About Intelligent Design by Jonathan M. at

  10. Charles Deetz ;)

    Recently I was investigating DI position on crystals, which are structured enough to appear ‘designed’. Turns out DI says that crystals are missing one ingredient: “complex” of the CSI. So, in this case I’m reading the article trying to understand more about complexity as a marker (as rock formation isn’t too different than crystals), but not getting it.

    I now realize that to them that doesn’t matter, only what the scientists did, which is make an assumption for design.

  11. Longstreet63

    Actually, I think it’s even funnier, because Young Earthers not only believe that life was designed, they believe the rocks themselves were designed. So how would one, in such a case, infer design when every possible example has been designed?

  12. @Longstreet63 –
    It is a standard Christian belief that God created all things. If we equate creation with design, then it isn’t only YECs who believe in the creation/design of rocks – and, of course, of individuals. Whether a ‘kind” is a thing (rather than, for example, just a concept), in the sense of Christian theology, I don’t know.

  13. In the race to play gotcha with actual science studies these creationist “research” outfits completely miss something very important–context. As a thought experiment consider if the rocks pile was on Mars. The context of that situation requires a completely different analysis. For one thing you would know it wasn’t humans and you’d be hard pressed to make the extraordinary claim that it was some sort of Martian life.

  14. That’s right, Charles, the Tooters don’t give a rat’s ass about science or even their own non-science. They’re just disruptors.

    The whole idea of CSI was to put rigor to design detection and make it objective. However, all they’ve done in 20 years is add rigor mortis to the ID (bowel) movement making themselves more and more objectionable. You’ll notice the Tooters have never applied Dumbski’s Nixplanatory filter to anything, biological or otherwise. Never been applied, never been calculated. Everything they do is subjective. Déjà Paley vu all over again.

  15. They ruled out chance and natural law first. That leaves design.

    How does one rule out either chance or natural law? A more accurate way to describe what the archaeologists did would be to state that they determined the odds of the stones arriving in this particular symmetrical structure by chance were very low, compared to the odds of the stones being stacked by humans living in the area who were already known to create similar structures. That’s not ruling out chance, it’s just stating that it’s much more likely to be the result of a known activity by humans. They had two possible explanations, and picked the one more likely.

    That’s the main issue with the DI’s design inference. When they use it in an argument, they construct it in such a way as to conclude that the “design” explanation is always more likely than natural causes. The Designer is, of course, God.

    There are (in my view) three issues with their logic – (1) chance will always be some finite, non-zero number, and can never be completely “ruled out,” (2) we do not know all natural causes, so we can never rule them out completely, nor can anyone rule out known natural causes operating in an as-yet-unknown way or through an as-yet-unknown series of events, and (3) one cannot default to a cause for which there is no evidence. If design is indeed the answer, then one must look to the natural world for the designer – until there is evidence of a supernatural world, the natural world is the only one that exists as far as science is concerned. The odds of “God” will always be less than any explanation, no matter how improbable, involving processes in the natural world.

  16. The Discovery Institute – Dumber than a pile of rocks.

    Charles Deetz writes: “Turns out DI says that crystals are missing one ingredient: “complex” of the CSI.”

    In the comments to the Panda’s Thumb post, it is pointed out that CSI cannot be determined unless you are also told how the object was created (how a sequence was generated).

    I’m just going to pause for a minute and let everyone appreciate the sheer magnitude of how stupid that is.

    If I tell you how something is designed, you can use CSI to determine that it was designed! In terms on the PT discussion of information theory, if you assume something is designed, it’s Designed!

  17. Charles,
    Turns out DI says that crystals are missing one ingredient: “complex” of the CSI.

    I don’t think that’s true. The creationist definition of complexity boils down to “lots of parts.” Actually they compute the probability of a structure being assembled by random rearrangement, so if you have K kinds of parts (= 4 for DNA sequences), and a sequence of length L, then the “tornado probability” as I call it is 1/K^L. Then creationists take -log base 2 of that, which gives L*log_2[K].

    Note this is proportional to L, which is lengths of sequence, so creationist complexity is a just a count of parts.

    At that Panda’s Thumb thread that Curm linked to, we are trying to hash out the math of CSI. My main point is that Dembski has about 6 different methods of computing CSI.

    This allows Dembski to flip-flop between different methods– he can use one of his 3 “guaranteed failure” methods to say that crystals, or observed examples of evolution of new enzymes or proteins, or computer simulations of evolution, all have CSI = 0. Thus he can eliminate all David Hume-style counter-examples of natural processes creating complexity.

    But, with biological structures, he can use one of his 3 “guaranteed success” methods to assign a huge CSI to biology.

    In my comments at Panda’s Thumb I described Dembski’s 3 “guaranteed success” methods but I haven’t gotten around to his “guaranteed failure” methods. Those are the ones they use to reject genetic algorithms that simulate evolution, also observed gene duplication etc.

    At PT, I did some calculations that showed that a grain of salt has a HUGE CSI by some of Dembski’s “guaranteed success” methods. By some (not all) of Dembski’s definitions, you could say a rock has huge CSI. So you can check out the math there.

  18. @Diogenes: The problem with tearing apart Dembski’s math is it gives a free pass on the deeper problem: The assumptions.

    In a statistical inference test there is a null and alternate hypothesis Can you state Dembski’s null and alternative hypotheses?

    No? Neither can I, at least not without looking at Dembski’s conclusion and eliminating all other possibilities*. Recall that ID doesn’t attempt to define the Designer, and here is the key flaw: ID cannot form a valid hypotheses without stating a definition of the Designer. By all means tear the math apart and show how it leads to ridiculous conclusions, but … (summoning my best FrankJ impression) … but never fail to mention that ID has no hypothesis to test. That is why Irreducible Complexity, CSI, and the entirely of ID arguments are just so much nonsense.

    * which is an assumption of Design, with probability equal 1.0.

  19. Yeah, when will DI ever twig onto irony of identifying design because “nothing like this ever happens in nature” as a way of identifying design in nature? Sort of defeats the purpose of the project.