Casey: The Positive Case for Intelligent Design

The endless clouds of hot, toxic gas emitted by the Discovery Institute can have a confusing effect, but every now and then they make an attempt to clear something up for us. Such is the case today, regarding their uncanny ability to detect intelligent design in nature. We’ve written about it before: The Discoveroids and Their Magic Filter, but it’s far too complicated for your humble Curmudgeon.

There are Wikipedia articles on Irreducible complexity and Specified complexity; nevertheless, your Curmudgeon confesses that he has never been able to grasp the essence of either. But the Discoveroids use them as unfailing indicators that their intelligent designer — blessed be he! — is responsible for seemingly natural phenomena possessing those characteristics. See William Dembski’s Design Inference

In our uncomprehending way, all that we know is that it’s something about the presence of large amounts of both complexity and improbability, but somehow those factors are never quantified. Our lack of understanding isn’t the Discoveroids’ fault — they keep trying to explain it. Three years ago Casey Luskin, our favorite creationist, answered a correspondent’s question about how the Discoveroids can determine if a complex event is specified. We wrote about it here: Casey Defines “Complex and Specified Information” — but we didn’t understand it.

Today Casey is answering another question. He just wrote this for the Discoveroids’ creationist blog: Can We Detect Design Without Knowing the Identity of the Designer? He says, with bold font added by us:

Recently an atheist student emailed me to ask how it’s reasonable to claim that an “unobserved designer” is responsible for complex features of nature, like high CSI (complex specified information) and irreducibly complex structures.

It must be exhilarating for Casey to live at such an exalted intellectual level that people are constantly emailing him in the hope of receiving a few words of wisdom. He tells us:

I explained that first we must ask the question “What does it mean to ‘observe’ or ‘detect’ something?”


So let’s say now that we’re taking a morning stroll and come upon a circle of blackened stones, charred wood, ash, and soot. There’s a little smoke rising from the center, and it’s slightly warm. We didn’t see a fire directly with our eyes. But our senses tell us that there is evidence that a fire was there. In this case, the most reasonable inference to make is that there was a campfire, even though we can’t directly observe it.

We understand that! Perhaps there’s hope after all. Let’s read on:

Thus, just because something is “unobservable” by our eyes at this exact moment, doesn’t mean we can’t find compelling evidence that it exists, or that it was present. We must not toss out the word “unobservable” as if it somehow blocks the design inference. We regularly make inferences to unobserved objects and events (like a campfire) by using our senses to detect evidence that reliably indicates that a particular object or event was present (like finding a circle of blackened stones, charred wood, soot, and smoke).

We appreciate Casey’s willingness to provide such a patient explanation. He continues:

We can use exactly the same method of reasoning to detect design at the heart of biology. In all of our experience, high CSI and irreducible complexity ONLY come from intelligent agents. Thus, based upon our experience of the cause-and-effect structure of the world we observe around us, we are justified in inferring that a mind was at work.

Aaaargh!! That’s where we get lost. We tried to figure it out when we wrote Rethinking Paley’s Watchmaker Analogy, but in our materialist simplicity, we asked:

When we stumble upon a genuinely designed artifact, like Paley’s watch, we see the unmistakable indications of human workmanship in the wheels, the screws, and the springs. We know that people make such things, so it’s reasonable to assume that someone made the watch. Fair enough, but how do we get from that to various biological phenomena?


Casey never discusses the purpose of the alleged designs. For Casey, and for all of the Discoveroids, merely detecting complexity — which can be seen everywhere — is sufficient for them to invoke their designer as the cause. But what was the designer attempting to accomplish with his supposed design? What’s the purpose of Saturn’s rings? Of the Andromeda galaxy? Of the termite? These things have no human purpose. To imagine that the designer has his own incomprehensible purposes — or that he does such things to express his artistic impulses — is a bit of a stretch.

We really struggled to understand. We said:

But let’s be fair here. We don’t have to limit our thinking to only human purposes. If we found something like a mechanical watch on Mars, and it was constructed to keep time according to the motion of that planet, we could reasonably infer that it was designed by someone — Martian or otherwise — to serve a useful purpose on Mars. We could conclude from such a device that there was an alien designer. But again — that’s because the design would be seen to fulfill a purpose for its designer. Thus, the Antikythera mechanism was intelligently designed, even if the designer is unknown.

Now ask yourself: What kind of designer would construct a flagellum for a bacterium? For what purpose? Is the designer an intelligent and benevolent bacterium who wants to help his immobile brethren? No human would concoct such a contrivance. So what justifies the inference of an intelligent designer for the flagellum? It’s complexity only, but that’s woefully insufficient — especially when evolution is an alternative explanation.

That’s how confused we were. Therefore, we eagerly return to Casey’s new essay, because it promises to answer our questions. He tells us:

[W]hen we find high CSI entities like language-based digital codes or irreducibly complex molecular machines, we are justified in inferring that an intelligent agent was at work. Why? Because, in our experience, these things always trace back to a mind. We might not directly see that mind, but we can infer that a mind was present to create the known observed effects.

Aaaargh!! We still don’t get it. Casey concludes by saying:

This is the positive argument for intelligent design, quite independent of negative critiques of Darwinian evolution, and it is just like inferring that a campfire was present based on remaining physical evidence. One need not directly see the fire, or know who tended it, or why he or she or they did so, to draw a reasonable inference that a fire was present.

It seems that your Curmudgeon is destined to remain in spiritual darkness, because we’re still left with the skepticism with which we ended our post about the Watchmaker Analogy:

Inherent in Paley’s analogy is that the designed artifact is designed for the benefit of the designer. A biological system that benefits only that organism (who can’t be his own designer) therefore falls outside of Paley’s perspective. In other words, merely finding something that appears to be complicated is not sufficient to infer design. Thus we present the Curmudgeon’s dictum: A design must be useful to the designer.

But we’re not giving up. We shall continue to read the Discoveroids’ blog, in the hope that one day it will all become clear to us.

See also: Casey’s Positive Case for ID, #2.

Copyright © 2015. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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24 responses to “Casey: The Positive Case for Intelligent Design

  1. The case against intelligent design:

    Evidence of key ingredient during dawn of life
    First direct experimental evidence for the rapid synthesis of two classes of proteins necessary to create the first life on Earth

  2. If nothing else, our dear, dear Casey has at least made clear for everyone exactly what begging the question means:

    In all of our experience, high CSI and irreducible complexity ONLY come from intelligent agents. Thus, based upon our experience of the cause-and-effect structure of the world we observe around us, we are justified in inferring that a mind was at work.

    But what a bonus: Casey gives us even more fallacies beyond good ole petitio principii. His first sentence, above, is at least false, though arugably it’s actually meaningless given the ‘definitions’ of ‘high CSI and irreducible complexity.

    And on and on. Casey: the Git that Keeps on Misgiving…

  3. Charles Deetz ;)

    Wiggle words aplenty, a lack of specifics, and an inscrutable hypothesis. … an eighth grade english paper with a C grade.

  4. If someone isn’t aware of how a sheet of writing paper is manufactured, the sheet of paper is irreducibly complex to them. With a tiny bit of education the I.C. relative to the observer disappears. So at best I.C. is a state “I have no knowledge of how this item came into being.”. To maintain a state of I.C. you would require either a) continued lack of knowledge b) willful disregard of the knowledge or c) being told the wrong information concerning the items properties.

    This suggests that for Irreducible Complexity to remain consistent the observer must start out being as ignorant as possible, and the state of ignorance must be maintained indefinitely. While the ignorance can increase any decrease in ignorance would taint the observers data and the data would have to be discarded.

    Using CSI and IC as a framework for assessing reality should surely allow for almost infinite ignorance to be available at any given moment.

    This can be simplified in my opinion by prefacing any statement made by the D.I. with a Required Ignorance Factor. As an items complexity increases the easier it is to achieve ignorance of it’s parameters, one should also have more design elements to accept/disregard as needed.

    Therefore it is best to avoid using examples that are easily explained or understood as the R.I.F. required would be very high and difficult to maintain.

    Using examples that are based on complex specializations that may require considerable time and commitment to understand are inherently low R.I.F. in nature and contribute far more to sustained ignorance that the less irreducibly complex elements of nature.

    To summarize: Stay dumb it’s easier.

  5. Diogenes' Lamp

    There is nothing to say to Casey Luskin except “You’re lying about information theory again.”

    In all of our experience, high CSI and irreducible complexity ONLY come from intelligent agents.

    This is a lie. The Decepticons have never presented a single definition of “information” or “irreducible complexity” which simultaneously had two necessary properties:

    1. ONLY produced by “intelligent agents” (= humans, spooks or gods) and never by natural processes.

    2. Present in biological organisms

    Unless there is ONE definition satisfying both 1 and 2, there’s no reason to believe supernatural spooks made the malaria parasite like Behe says.

    The Decepticons point to how big the human genome is– 3 billion nucleotides!– and say, “That’s a lotta information!” But this definition of information fails criteria 1: it can be created by known natural processes, for one example, gene duplication creates new DNA sequences with duplicates of old genes, then we’ve observed the new duplicated genes mutating to evolve new functions. So we observe natural processes creating that kind of “information.”

    When we point this out, the Decepticons equivocate and switch to a totally different defintion of “information”; now it becomes “meaning” or human intent, and the Decepticons stop talking about genes and DNA and start burbling stupidly about Shakespearean sonnets and Mt. Rushmore. So they’ve switched to a different definition of “meaning” that satisfies 1 but fails criterion 2 since it’s not present in biological organisms. Yeah, Shakespearean sonnets do have meaning (basically “lay with me”) and natural processes don’t create sonnets and poems, so criterion 1 is satisfied for this kind of “information”, but there are no Shakespearean sonnets in any genome of any species anywhere, so criterion 2 fails.

    All that’s left for the ID proponents is lying and equivocation, switching stroboscopically between different definitions of words.

  6. When a naive stranger asks a local about the sculptures of presidents on Mount Rushmore, the local explains that they are the product of intelligent design. The stranger then asks about the plants and animals on Mount Rushmore, and the local says that they are also the product of intelligent design. The stranger then observes that then those sculptures might have come about naturally, just like the worms and grasses and bacteria, saying, “So, where did those images come from?”

    Likewise, the Antikythera Mechanism, with regard to its specified complexity, is indistinguishable from the barnacles on the shipwreck. (Or the other way around!)

    With regard to the supposed Law of Conservation of Information, as far as I can tell, the genesis of the law is unique among the postulation of laws of nature. Rather than offering experimental evidence for the law, when it was first introduced it was immediately confronted with exceptions:
    It is violated when humans are involved. (Nobody has mentioned how, let’s say, F=ma, E=mc^2, A=pi r^2, do not apply when humans are involved.) It is violated (supposedly) by living things. (And, by the way, it is violated, spontaneously, with no interesting consequences, by the diminution of information.) It is the only law of nature which is of any interest only because it is not a law.

  7. docbill1351

    The Attack Gerbil wrote:

    Recently an atheist student emailed me …

    At which point I stopped reading because that’s a lie, lie, lie! Pants on fire, Luskin you [edited out] [edited out] [edited out]!

    “Hi, I’m an atheist student and I’m writing to ask …”

    Nonsense! It’s all fiction, but, then again, we already knew that.

  8. In all of our experience, high CSI and irreducible complexity ONLY come from intelligent agents. Thus, based upon our experience of the cause-and-effect structure of the world we observe around us, we are justified in inferring that a mind was at work.

    If one ever doubts the power that thinking styles have on one’s tether to reality, look no further than here. Casey is obviously using the unstated premise that: raw intuition is a reliable guide to reality. Humans evolved in social groups and have strong intuitions biasing us to often think of agents first in causal roles since such a large part of our world is inhabited by agents and intentional actions. The problem, demonstrated here nicely by Casey, is when this intuition is applied outside the human social domain. It seems to Casey that since his intuition of the design of campfire is right, he is also justified in “inferring” the design (by an agent) in a flagellum.

    Several studies have shown that there is a measurable difference in thinking styles between those that believe in God or gods and those who don’t necessary. Those that tend to favor supernatural explanations tend to rely on intuition. They aren’t necessarily stupid. For instance, I don’t believe Casey is stupid in the low IQ sense of the word even though his reliance on faulty thinking certainly makes him write stupid things. Here’s one of the studies:

  9. Let me add couple of truisms:

    1) Just as “wishes do not make it so”, so too “designing does not make it so”.
    It takes work to make the design to result in a product. Leonardo Da Vinci designed helicopters and such, but he didn’t make any.

    2) “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
    For an intelligent designer to resort to design, the designer must be confronted with a problem. For omnipotent, omniscient agents, nothing is a problem, and therefore they do not resort to design. When God created things, Genesis does not say that God designed them: God said let it be.

  10. michaelfugate

    In all of our experience, high CSI and irreducible complexity ONLY come from intelligent agents. Thus, based upon our experience of the cause-and-effect structure of the world we observe around us, we are justified in inferring that a mind was at work.

    Given evolution is true, doesn’t this mean that high CSI and irreducible complexity don’t exist in anything except for what humans have produced – and not even most of that?

  11. docbill1351 explains why he was unable to get to the end of Luskin’s latest Smörgåsbord of Absurdity, which included a claim that an “atheist student emailed me.”:

    I stopped reading because that’s a lie, lie, lie!

    Technically, docbill is correct–but I think a tad harsh on the Gerb. One must make allowances for the semantic Humpty-Dumptyism of the Discoveroids, in whose lexicon “atheist” means little more than “an individual who does not subscribe to the dogmas preached by the DI”. This definition includes, for example, all of the ordained signers of The Clergy Letter Project. If pressed, the DI would likely consider the Pope an atheist as well.

    In the wild n’ wacky world of the Disco’tute (a dystopian mash-up somewhere between Caroll’s Alice and Orwell’s 1984) it is impossible even to imagine undertaking an empirical investigation of anything without first declaring, a priori, a political agenda, just as the Discoveroids do. They ‘honestly’ believe that the only reason anyone could disagrees with them is because such a critic must be an atheist.

  12. Thus, just because something is “unobservable” by our eyes at this exact moment, doesn’t mean we can’t find compelling evidence that it exists, or that it was present.

    Casey must not have gotten the memo from Ken Ham that “if you didn’t see it, it didn’t happen”.

    I wonder if Casey could give us an example of “Low CSI”. Even better would be to rank say four things from lower to higher CSI; and explain how it was done. Or, which has greater CSI: Mt Rushmore or a leaf and how do we know?

    It’s funny, when Casey addresses these issues he refers to an unnamed person in an un-seen email. Hey Casey, address a question from here with a link back to these comments so we know what you are up to.

  13. docbill1351

    Our lovable, little Luskin-kins is neither stupid nor deranged. Nor does he believe the tripe that spews out of his pie hole. Nope, the Attack Gerb is a simple (minded) propagandist who is paid to do what he does. Do you think quote mining is easy? Try it sometime. First, check your ethics at the door where you left your morals and conscience, then read ever so carefully for just the right spot to insert the ellipsis. Yeah, not as easy as it looks, is it?

    Long ago I abandoned all notions of the Gerb’s mental capacity and condition (although he is a sloppy little rodent; apparently he doesn’t proofread his stuff) and settled on deliberate misdirection as his M.O. You gotta remember that the Gerb is not held accountable for what he wrote yesterday which is why trying to compare what Gerbie wrote over time will simply make your brains run out of your ears. The Gerb has an almost Zen-like quality of being “in the moment” with his misrepresentation. It’s a watch, no, it’s a mousetrap, no, look, a shiny object over there!

  14. I call BS on the dimwit!!
    “blackened stones, charred wood, ash, and soot.”
    means a lightning strike on a small tree.

  15. In all of our experience, high CSI and irreducible complexity ONLY come from intelligent agents.

    Perhaps they need more “experience”. I can write trivially simple evolutionary algorithms which produced amazing solutions to problems. Yet, I don’t think anyone would claim that I’ve endowed “intelligence” on the software. (Or would they?)

    Here is the example of an evolutionary algorithm which I encourage my inquirers to try:

    I wonder how the Discoveroids would rate the specific complexity and IC of its designs.

    For whatever it’s worth, here’s part of my standard reply to evolution-deniers writing the Bible.and.Science.Forum:

    As I’ve often mentioned, I didn’t have a full grasp of the failure of “the presence of complexity requires the involvement of intelligence” argument until I started writing evolutionary algorithms. My sense of intuition, that inner voice of what does and doesn’t make sense, didn’t really grasp that simplicity really can produce complexity until I saw that I could write a program using very simple rules to solve problems where the solution was something very complex which I never anticipated when I wrote the program.

    Of course, Young Earth Creationist deniers of evolution would tell me “You wrote intelligence into the program. After all, a program can only do what the programmer instructed it to do.” They refuse to understand that I did not write a lot of intelligence into my programs. I didn’t even think very much about possible solutions at all. I simply told the program how to apply the simple rules–and then sat back and watched what solutions my program produced. I found that my program could quickly solve problems that I couldn’t have solved in a lifetime. Only after I had used such programs for a while did I realize that simplicity can indeed produce complexity without requiring lots of intelligence. Now evolution feels right to me in ways it didn’t previously.

    So I have some modicum of sympathy for those who think complexity in and of itself demands that an intelligent agent directly implemented a solution to a problem. I can’t expect them to write their own evolutionary algorithms but they can get some of the “feel” for them with an on-line animation like this one. It shows how just a few simple rules from physics can “evolve” efficient car designs:

    Many such program exists on-line and I think it is one of the best ways to help a person grasp how something as “blind” [not necessarily] and “random” [but not really] as natural processes can produce amazing solutions to the problem of survival.

  16. It strikes me that a common flaw in the Discoveroids examples of implied design is that they use objects that do not reproduce, thus they have no selection pressure and DID come from a designer. They also ignore that all this complexity they yak about is ACCUMULATED over billions of years of mutations to the DNA sequence. They seem to think it all came together in one fell swoop and…Oogity Boogity…a bacterium. Never mind the hundreds of millions of years of PROTO-bacteria.

  17. Of course the Gerb also doesn’t answer the question how his Intelligent Designer (blessed be Him/Her/It!) did do it – which means He/She/It used and which procedures were followed.
    In the case of Paley’s Watch and the Antikythera mechanism we have some pretty good answers.
    The Gerb remains invited of course.

  18. Irreducible Complexity is something I get.

    Remove one part and it doesn’t work anymore.
    Clever. eh?
    It’s one of the actual testable predictions of IDiocy and hence failed.

  19. Wouldn’t God – er, I mean the Unspecified Creator – also be irreducibly complex? Dare we ask how this entity came into existence?

  20. Thus, just because something is “unobservable” by our eyes at this exact moment, doesn’t mean we can’t find compelling evidence that it exists, or that it was present. We must not toss out the word “unobservable” as if it somehow blocks the design inference. We regularly make inferences to unobserved objects and events (like a campfire) by using our senses to detect evidence that reliably indicates that a particular object or event was present (like finding a circle of blackened stones, charred wood, soot, and smoke).

    I wonder if Casey Luskin realizes hat exactly the same argument can be made for evolution? Creationists, however, want to see “a monkey turning into a man.” (Actually, they don’t, but that’s a whole other issue.) In other words, they demand a softer standard for the “evidence” they present than for what Darwinists offer in support of evolution.

  21. To me the funniest thing about Irreducible Complexity is that it is just a dressed up Argument from Incredulity Fallacy. That is why IC got killed in the Dover trial in cross-ex: the attorneys knew what Behe did not. They had read the papers.

    So, IC is just another gaps argument.

  22. @Professor Tertius
    The interesting thing about IC, which is seldom remarked on (even by its opponents), is that it is an old argument. The Wikipedia article points to several references in the 18th century, particularly in support of preformationism. In the case of preformationism, though, it was not just a “gaps” argument.

  23. michaelfugate

    As others have pointed out, the letter has to be fake; only an IDer would use CSI and IC in a sentence.

  24. In all of our experience, high CSI and irreducible complexity ONLY come from intelligent agents.

    Assuming I understand what Casey means by “CSI” (the measure that seems to be completely without any units of measurement) he is just flat wrong. In “all of our experience”, we observe “CSI” in nature, just as we observe it in artifacts made by humans.

    Who is to say that one of those two processes that produce “CSI” is somehow the only one that matters, and must be behind the other, obviously natural one? It makes as much sense, logically, as claiming that in all of our experience we only see CSI formed in nature, therefore airplanes are formed by natural processes.

    The DI also purportedly believe in an old earth. I would like one of them, someday, to explain why the design they observe in nature took well over 3 billion years of develop, and why, for most of that time, the designer was content with creating single-celled microscopic beings. One would think that any competent designer could produce an animal, say, or plant, without two to three billions of years of practice. How do the Discoveroids square their acceptance of the old earth and the progression of life with their personal beliefs that God is the designer behind it all – do they think God is restricted in his abilities in some way?

    Perhaps an “atheist” could write Casey and ask him that question.