Discoveroids: SETI and Intelligent Design

In their ongoing effort to show that their “theory” can detect the existence of a transcendent designer of the universe by using William Dembski’s Design Inference, the Discovery Institute has posted a sad series of articles claiming that other sciences are already using their brilliant methods, so their “theory” is actually confirmed and widely accepted. A few of their attempts are: Chapman: Computers Are Designed, Therefore …?, and also Rock Mounds Are Designed, Therefore …, and also Mt. Rushmore Is Designed, Therefore …, and also Discoveroids: SETI Uses Intelligent Design Theory, and also Intelligent Design Is Science: Cryptology Uses It. That’s enough. You get the idea.

Their latest involves SETI (the Search for extraterrestrial intelligence), a topic they despise because they fear that one day it will be their undoing, but which they nevertheless claim is using their methods. You can read all about it at their creationist blog: Intelligent Design in Action: We Could Detect an Alien Civilization by Their Pollution, Astrobiologists Say.

Oooooooooh! What a title — intelligent design in action! In truth, ID “in action” is nothing more than the Discoveroids flinging poo at science, but let’s be open-minded long enough to see what they have to say. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

Methane is produced naturally in a number of ways. For years, astrobiologists have thought that spectra indicating methane on alien planets might provide a biosignature of microbial life. According to NASA’s Astrobiology Magazine, however, SETI researchers might be able to use methane as a sign of intelligent life, by differentiating between natural and fabricated methane signatures on distant planets: [quote omitted].

Okay, that seems reasonable. What has the Discoveroids all excited? They say:

What does “fabricating” imply? Intelligent design, clearly.

Ooooooooooh! Intelligent design! Wowie! Anything else? Yeah, there is:

It takes machinery to produce certain atmospheric signatures, and machines are fabricated by minds for a purpose. Natural causes cannot burn methane to make smog. Nor do they generate the CFCs that damage our ozone layer. So here’s an indirect way to make a design inference, without having to scan the stellar radio dial for intentional broadcast messages.

Ooooooooooh! A design inference! The Discoveroids were right all along! What are CFCs? They sloppily didn’t bother defining those initials, but they refer to chlorofluorocarbons. Let’s read on:

Unless [the] astrobiologists contend that our civilization is the result of unguided natural processes sans intelligence, they are implying that intelligent causes can be inferred from, of all things, pollution! It’s actually very instructive for ID theory. Who would have thought a blonde’s hairspray is a sign of intelligence?

Ooooooooooh! Hey, we’re getting the hang of it. If we see: (a) a rotting tree lying on the ground in the forest; and (b) a log cabin, we can actually imply an intelligent cause for the cabin. Yes — it’s all starting to make sense! Those Discoveroids really do have a valuable scientific tool we can use. We’ll overlook their remark about blondes — a rare lapse in their customary good taste. They continue:

If we could detect these particular CFCs someday, the point is, an inference to intelligent life would be inescapable. Intelligent-design theory never claims that phenomena worthy of a design inference are wise! They just need to go beyond the capabilities of chance and natural law.

Quite so. No one disagrees. But the problem the Discoveroids have is in persuading anyone with a brain that life, the Earth, and the whole universe are also “beyond the capabilities of chance and natural law.” They may get around to that some day, but this obviously isn’t that day.

There’s more to the Discoveroids’ article, but we’ve already hit the fun parts — except for their last line. Here it comes:

What was that about intelligent-design theory being a cover for creationism?

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Yes, it’s a cover. A cheap, flimsy, totally transparent cover.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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22 responses to “Discoveroids: SETI and Intelligent Design

  1. At the risk of wandering down theological thoroughfares, why would the discovery of alien life be the Discoveroids’ undoing? Have they ever explained that? Perhaps these aliens are unfallen beings who lead sinless lives and believe one and all in a literal six day creation. Perhaps they are really wicked and would be useful to us as bad examples. I simply can’t see why a Christian’s faith would be undermined by the discovery that we are not alone in the universe.

  2. Dear Curmudgeon, would you please edit for me. It should have said …

    [*Voice from above*] All is as you wish, my child.

  3. First,I read a post on a WordPress blog. Second, someone comments on the very same WordPress blog. Thanks to design inference, I know that natural processes cannot make a comment on a WordPress blog. Thus, intelligent design is true.

    Lookie me! I’m using intelligent design to science!

  4. Whoa! WordPress changed my typing of “WordPress” to “WordPress.” Natural processes do not capitalize the letter P.

    I’m swimming in design inference data points.

  5. Jiminy Cricket! It capitalized another letter “P.”

    Eat it, Darwin.

  6. For the umpteenth time, here is a real SETI scientist, Seth Shostak, explaining why IDers are full of it when they say SETI uses Intelligent Design’s bogus methods.

    But the adherents of Intelligent Design… point to SETI and say, “upon receiving a complex radio signal from space, SETI researchers will claim it as proof that intelligent life resides in the neighborhood of a distant star. Thus, isn’t their search completely analogous to our own line of reasoning–a clear case of complexity implying intelligence and deliberate design?”…

    In fact, the signals actually sought by today’s SETI searches are not complex, as the ID advocates assume. We’re not looking for intricately coded messages, mathematical series, or even the aliens’ version of “I Love Lucy.” Our instruments are largely insensitive to the modulation–or message— that might be conveyed by an extraterrestrial broadcast. A SETI radio signal of the type we could actually find would be a persistent, narrow-band whistle. Such a simple phenomenon appears to lack just about any degree of structure

    Our sought-after signal is hardly complex, and yet we’re still going to say that we’ve found extraterrestrials. If we can get away with that, why can’t they?

    Well, it’s because the credibility of the evidence is not predicated on its complexity. [SETI and Intelligent Design. Seth Shostak, SETI Institute. December 01, 2005.]

  7. Burning methane doesn’t make smog; in complete combustion, it makes water vapour and carbon dioxide; in incomplete combustion carbon monoxide and water vapour. On Earth, methane is the product of the anaerobic decomposition of organic matter. How the discorrhoids get to intelligent causes from detecting methane is therefore a deep and abiding mystery.

    CFCs major use was as refrigerants, not propellants. In this function, they have been superseded by the ozone-friendlier HFCs.

  8. @DiscoveryCSC sez waste products are “Intelligent Designed”. Finally we’re agreed: Intelligent Design is crap

    [Tweeted from DiogenesLamp0]

  9. It’s abundently clear that we can detect the pollution generated by the dishonesty institute, and Dembksi’s math easily confirms that.

  10. One problem with arguments for “Intelligent Design” is, paradoxically, what they would show if they actually worked.

    We are told that natural objects like living things are the products of “intelligent Design”.

    If they now try to tell us that SETI shows that something is intelligently designed, what that means is that it might as well be a natural object, something which just grows, for example.

  11. I guess that means the answer to “life, the universe and everything” really is 42.

  12. What does “fabricating” imply? Intelligent design, clearly.

    Another meaning is “lying.” On that basis, we’ll have to concede that there is intelligent life behind EN&V … just not very honest intelligence. And given the quality of arguments at EN&V, the intelligence behind it is not high on any scale of measurement.

  13. “Fabricating” is different from “designing”.
    Design does not lead to a product. A centaur, a “Penrose triangle”, a perpetual motion machine can be designed. A Superconducting Supercollider was designed.
    Fabrication may be done with reference to a design. Or it can be done hit-or-miss. But fabrication does lead to a product.

  14. Interestingly, the atmosphere of Titan contains a fair amount of methane, with the methane being replenished by some as yet unknown mechanism. Although we cannot completely rule it out, I don’t think many astrobiologists argue that the methane in Titan’s atmosphere is an indicator of life. So mere detection of methane in the atmosphere of an exoplanet would not be enough to claim life – it would have to be considered in context of other factors, such as temperature and mass of the planet, other atmospheric elements, and so on.

    However, the article by the understandably anonymous DI writer completely misses the point of potential attempts to detect life and technology by the molecules in exoplanet’s atmospheres. Those are attempts to distinguish molecules we know to be created by living organisms, as apposed to other chemical reactions, and to distinguish molecules we know to be created by artificial means, as opposed to either biological or natural chemical processes. Our knowledge is incomplete in all three areas, but we have some pretty solid indicators that we can work with. Something like a CFC molecule would be a dead giveaway.

    On the other hand, what ID attempts to do, is to determine what might be natural or designed by whether it looks complicated. That is completely different than anything that astrobiologists are doing. Even SETI is simply looking for signals that are not produced by known natural processes in stars – rather than taking radio signals from pulsars and other sources and trying to analyze how complicated they are.

    Even if scientists wanted to use ID as a method for finding life in the universe, what would they do? What tools could they use? How would they analyze data, and how could that analysis be repeated and confirmed by unrelated researchers? If they were ID advocates, they would simply be reduced to engaging in probability arguments, ignoring data which did not fit their conclusions, and attacking those who disagreed with them.

  15. While it would be exciting to find evidence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe (if only to know it exists someowhere, for it sometimes seems uncertain that it does on Earth), it would prove nothing about whether life can arise naturally.

    The DI folks are much too enamored of the watchmaker fallacy: that because some complex things are created by conscious entities, every complex thing must be–including the universe itself. “Some A come from B, therefore all A come from B” is a logical absurdity whether applied to the origin of life or to anything else.

    And it can be shown to be so quite easily. Using the watchmaker argument, creationists insist that everything needs a creator. Ask them who created God and watch them freak out. But if God didn’t need a creator–if there can be an “uncaused cause”–what’s the proof that the universe needed to be created by God?

  16. I think that this is interesting:
    If the vertebrate eye is designed, where did the pre-eye vertebrate come from?

  17. The designer didn’t give those animals eyes, TomS, because he didn’t want them to see anything until his project was completely finished. Then – Viola! – eyes. Then vertebrates could truly enjoy the designers perfect design.

  18. Who did create God?

  19. I have read the argument phrased with “Everything which has a beginning has a creator”.

  20. You might be thinking of the first premiss of the classical version of the Kalām cosmological argument:

    “Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence.”

  21. I tried to red the Wiki article and that’s some mind bending stuff. Maybe a better ? would be What was there before the big bang? Forget all the math and physics, just give me the version for dummies.

  22. There are three essential errors of thinking that typically creep in without being noticed when contemplating the origin of (a, our) universe:

    (1) Non-existence of “stuff” is somehow a more “natural” state of affairs than its non-existence. That is, it is implicitly assumed that the question, “Why something rather than nothing?” presents us with a genuine mystery, when in fact it must first be convincingly demonstrated that “something” is a mystery while “nothing” isn’t. This aspect is subtle metaphysical question-begging: Assume there is a mystery, then offer a “solution” to prove that there is indeed a mystery that needs solving. This is purely a philosophical issue.

    (2) Our spatially and temporally limited experiences of causality can legitimately be extrapolated to hypothetical pre-universe conditions. We have no “outside” experience (nor can we hope to have such) of manufacturing universes. Ergo, we cannot demonstrate that our notions of causality (i.e., a temporally ordered linear sequence of events triggering subsequent events) have any validity whatsoever when it comes to the production of a universe. At best, we can merely assume so and ignore the profound difficulties attending induction as a path to knowledge, especially in the wholly unfamiliar area of generating a universe. This is mostly a philosophical issue that can conceivably be informed by scientific advances in cosmogony.

    (3) Space and time as we are accustomed to them may not exist at all “outside” of the confines of a universe, so that terms that relate to spatial locations and temporal sequences, such as “right here” and “over there” or “before” and “after”, are rendered essentially meaningless for want of any sense that we could make of them. I doubt anyone can properly imagine such circumstances but that doesn’t mean they cannot (eventually) be conceptualised in testable scientific terms. This is partly a philosophical issue that probably will be informed by scientific advances in cosmogony.

    Sorry, but there isn’t a version of ontology for dummies — at least none that I’m aware of.