Yesterday we wrote Casey: The Positive Case for Intelligent Design. We didn’t think there was anything left to say, but then Casey Luskin, our favorite creationist, posted a sequel: Must We Directly Observe the Intelligent Agent to Detect Design?
If you read our post from yesterday, you already know our answer, which is “No, not in some cases.” We wrote:
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.
But we went on to say why that, by itself, didn’t deal with the actual issue:
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.
Thus we concluded that merely finding something which appears to be complicated is not sufficient to infer design. A design must be useful to the designer.
That’s where we left things yesterday. Now we’ll dig into Casey’s latest post on the subject: He says, with bold font added by us:
Yesterday I discussed an email exchange with an atheist student who argued that we cannot detect design in nature unless we directly observe an intelligent designer. I explained the flaw in his objection through an analogy. [Yeah, yeah, the campfire.]
The student replied that there’s a difference between detecting a campfire and detecting design in biology. He explained that we operate on the knowledge that humans exist, and that allows us to detect design in the case of the campfire. But, he argued, we haven’t directly observed the intelligent designer behind life and the universe, so an inference to design there is unwarranted.
That’s not badly stated, but it doesn’t go far enough. We would put it like this: Why would the intelligent designer — blessed be he! — create life? Why does he need it? Going even further, why would he bother to create the universe? We’re told that he is transcendent — he gets along just fine without the universe. What purpose does the universe serve — for him?
This is how Casey deals with the problem the atheist student allegedly asked:
[L]et’s say that in the year 2150, humans for the first time finally get around to visiting an extrasolar planet orbiting another star. Furthermore, they find that the planet has an oxygen atmosphere. Let’s also say that in all our travels, we’ve never encountered any extraterrestrial alien beings.
The first exploration party to this extrasolar planet discovers a circle of stones with charred wood and ash inside it — the remains of a campfire! In fact, not only do we discover that evidence, but we also discover buildings and technology designed to transmit radio signals to outer space.
That scenario is no response at all. At best, it’s analogous to our example of a Martian timepiece. We’ve already acknowledged that if such a thing were found, we’d be justified in concluding that it was designed by someone for measuring time on Mars — because it’s the sort of thing that we ourselves would design. But that doesn’t answer our question — or the question put by Casey’s (possibly fictitious) atheist student.
We’ll put that question like this: Hey, Casey: What about your uvula? What purpose does such a thing serve that would benefit a transcendental designer? Other than making funny sounds with it, the uvula doesn’t even do anything for us. Assuming that the uvula is complex and improbable — therefore registering high on the Discoveroids’ imaginary specified complexity index, there is absolutely no rational justification for suspecting — much less concluding — that it was intelligently designed. The same question applies to DNA — a jerry-rigged kluge if ever there was one.
Casey doesn’t consider such a question — which is the only relevant question when considering the Discoveroids’ intelligent design “theory.” He stays with his safe and simple scenario of finding a city on another planet and says:
Are they justified in inferring design? Of course they are! In fact, even if they find no extraterrestrial beings on that extrasolar planet (maybe the alien civilization went extinct or abandoned the planet), our human explorers would still detect design.
With that feeble justification he declares:
Thus, we may not have direct “observable” evidence of the intelligent agents in the sense that we can see them physically before our very eyes, but we still have ample evidence that these structures were designed. And we can make this design inference despite the fact that we had no prior knowledge that these designers even existed. There is no logical flaw in this reasoning.
Actually, there is a logical flaw — Casey hasn’t considered the only question that really matters. Nevertheless, he continues:
Thus, in the final analysis, it’s not the case that there is no observable evidence for an intelligent agent. Irreducibly complex structures like bacterial flagella or CSI-rich entities like DNA or even the life-friendly architecture of the universe are evidence for an intelligent designer who was at work in designing life.
It’s difficult to imagine that anyone could be persuaded by that. But of course, there are the droolers who already believe, so they’ll unthinkingly accept Casey’s assurances.
Here’s Casey’s conclusion — which is nothing more than a restatement of his unevidenced premise:
To detect design, all we need is (a) to know the kinds of things that intelligent agents produce, and then (b) to find such things in nature. That is observable evidence of an intelligent designing agent, even if you don’t directly observe the agent with your eyes, or even if you didn’t have prior knowledge about whether the intelligent agent existed.
No, Casey, except in limited and obvious cases, it isn’t “observable evidence of an intelligent designing agent.” Nice try, however. And we thank you for putting forward the Discoveroids’ strongest case. Now that we know how weak it really is, we’ll continue to be amused at your ongoing antics.
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