Casey’s Positive Case for ID, #2

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.

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

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18 responses to “Casey’s Positive Case for ID, #2

  1. Christine Janis

    Er —- have intelligent agents (i.e., humans) ever managed to produce an object that replicates itself with slight variations each generation?

  2. Why resort to contrivance, where power is omnipotent? Contrivance, by its very definition and nature, is the refuge of imperfection. To have recourse to expedients, implies difficulty, impediment, restraint, defect of power.

    From pages 38-40 of
    William Paley, Natural Theology; or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearance of Nature (12th edition)
    taken from the online “The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online”
    http://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?viewtype=text&itemID=A142&keywords=contrivance&pageseq=45

  3. “Must We Directly Observe the Intelligent Agent to Detect Design?”
    Well well, it’s almost like the Gerbil reads this nice blog and in this specific case even my comments.
    No, we don’t. But we must have some ideas which means the Unspecified Intelligent Agent (still my blessings) uses and which procedures He/She?it follows.
    Thanks for reminding me of the campfire analogy. Guess what? We have some pretty good ideas how the Unspecified Intelligent Agent who kindled the campfire worked as well.
    I have learned to love theological analogies. They almost always work against the believers who use them.

    “Casey hasn’t considered the only question that really matters.”
    I beg to disagree, dear SC. There are at least three questions that really matter. I have asked the other two.
    CJ seems to have asked a fourth one.

  4. …”even the life-friendly architecture of the universe are evidence for an intelligent designer

    Basically, nothing is natural if one believes the entire universe is designed. Therefore what is the point of inventing “CSI” or “Irreducible Complexity?” What is the point of anything dreamed up by ID’ists? They can serve no function whatsoever in distinguishing between something that is designed and something which is not – since nothing exists which is not designed.

    Casey can go home now. His work is done.

  5. 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.

    We’d assume that there were or are physical beings there who need warmth and shelter and have a curiosity about the universe. In other words, an intelligence like our own. We wouldn’t assume a transcendent being who just liked to make campfires for some unknown reason.

  6. I would guess most readers of this blog are very familiar with Thomas Metzinger’s famous anecdote about Ludwig Wittenstein :

    He [Wittgenstein] once asked me: ‘Why do people say it is more logical to think that the sun turns around the Earth than Earth rotating around its own axis?’ I answered: ‘I think because it seems as if the sun turns around the Earth.’ ‘Good,’ he said, ‘but how would it have been if it had seemed as if the Earth rotates around its own axis then?’

    And I would further guess that most readers of this blog find Paley’s Watchmaker analogy as baffling as Wittgenstein found historical Geocentrism: that is, why do folks persist in a model that can only ‘explain’ the most superficial observations but utterly collapses when confronted with even the simplest of additional data gleaned from even a modicum of further observation?

    As Luskin so simple-mindedly stated the foundation of Intelligent Design ‘theory’ in his previous piece:

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

    –which is just his jargony way of restating Paley’s ‘if it looks designed, by jingo it must have been designed.’ But it is the work of three minutes to list some flaming obvious flaws in this analogy of humanly designed artefacts and naturally evolved organisms, vis.

    [1] Designed artefacts are assembled from inert material or material, which is why—to use Luskin’s emphasis—they “ONLY” come into being via the activity of ‘intelligent agents.’ No living organism is assembled de novo from inert materials in such a fashion, there is nothing remotely analogous between biological growth and human engineering processes.

    [2] Implicit in ID’s ‘Design Inference’ is the assumption that the designing ‘intelligence’ that demonstrably does give rise to complicated artefacts must necessarily be more complex than the artefact itself: that is, the Watchmaker must be more complex than the watch he makes (although the DI would probably state this apparent truism in more beguiling terms, like, ‘”the Creator is capable of processing more complex information than the thing created.”

    But this underlying assumption doesn’t even hold when looking at the products of human intelligence. It isn’t just a tornado that cannot assemble a 747 in a junkyard, no single human engineer could, either—that is, even the brightest graduate of MIT or Caltech could not, de novo alone design (leave alone manufacture) all the components of an iPad, a Saturn rocket, a Cray computer, &c &c.; the more complex the designed technological artefact, the more diffuse the sources of that ‘design’ and the longer the evolved gestation of that design.

    [3] And of course, in nature the assumption of ‘high complexity’ = ‘high initiating intelligence’ falls over very quickly the minute you look at, say, an African termite mound, or a beehive. Where is the ‘intelligent agent’ in these instances? (Be careful, Creationists: this is a trick question!)

    [4] Actually, there’s an even more screamingly obvious illustration of the fallacy of ID ‘theory’ in the case of natural language, which—to use the jargon of the DI—is full of “high CSI and irreducible complexity” (whatever the DI means by those silly terms at the moment; the definitions are pretty elastic). Are we to suppose that, because we don’t know precisely how our languages evolved from simpler forms of simian communication, if must have been ‘designed’ by a higher intelligence? For it is certainly the case that no one single human being could hope to acquire perfect fluency in every single human language—but surely this is nothing more than another observation of high complexity arising—not from design by a more complicated ‘intelligent agent’, but from reiteration of simple elements over time giving rise to “high CSI”.

    Actually, there’s plenty more to say about natural language as an analogy for evolution and why ‘design’ is an illusion in natural systems—but I have waffled on too long here already and will mercifully stop here (and I tremble, even after checking, to think how many html tags I’ve screwed up; only thumping the ‘Post Comment’ button will reveal all!)

  7. docbill1351

    The Attack Gerbil squeaks a mighty squeak, but that curry he ate last night loosened his bowels, so out is nether end plopped out a pellet of CSI. That’s all CSI is: gerbil [edited out].

    What are the units of CSI? Nobody knows.
    How is CSI measured? Nobody knows.
    What is the threshold between low, medium and high CSI? Nobody knows.
    Why does SI have to be complex? Nobody knows.
    Why does CI have to be specified? Nobody knows.
    What about Functional CSI? Nobody knows.

    So, isn’t this all just a bunch of [edited out]? Yes, that everybody knows!

  8. Charles Deetz ;)

    @CJ asks: “have intelligent agents (i.e., humans) ever managed to produce an object that replicates itself with slight variations each generation?”

    Yes, as a group of humans we do this all the time. Dog breeding. language, automobile design, Yes, they aren’t self-replicating really, but the point is that the intelligence is applied by multiple agents in random sequences, but the generations vary and ultimately improve and gain information.

  9. Casey asks:

    I explained the flaw in his objection through an analogy.

    Why is it always an analogy? Why do we never, ever get a real object? Let me guess: Because every time they do that (e.g. the bacterium flagellum), they’re shown to be wrong. Better to stick with vague analogies that may be right than go with something concrete that will definitely be wrong.

  10. “bacterial flagella” Am I just remembering things? I Thought that they had moved on from that example after it was debunked in court.

  11. Mike Elzinga

    In the fifty some odd years I have been watching them, ID/creationists have never recognized that every example they use for design – including Paley’s watch, Boeing 747s, battleships, Shakespearean sonnets, 500 heads in a sequence of coin flips, bricks and stones. – don’t have the enormous forces among them that atoms and molecules do.

    They don’t have the quantum mechanical rules that atoms and molecules have. They aren’t sitting in comparable heat baths that allow atoms and molecules to explore all the configurations available to them.

    The tornado-in-a-junkyard argument – and all of its variations – relies on improbable arrangements of inert things being sampled from a uniform probability distribution.

    It takes only a high school level physics/chemistry calculation to demonstrate that if one were to scale up the charge-to-mass ratios of protons and electrons to kilogram-sized masses separated by distances on the order of a meter, the energies of interaction per pair of particles would be on the order of 10^26 joules, or about 10^10 megatons of TNT.

    What possible justification does that present for assuming a uniform sampling distribution for any molecular assembly? What would junkyard parts do if they had these energies of interaction and quantum mechanical rules for their assemblies? ID/creationists don’t even understand these questions.

    All ID/creationism fails because its practitioners have failed – deliberately I claim – to learn the basic science at even the high school level; and that includes their “PhDs.” They have been systematically bending and breaking scientific concepts to comport with sectarian beliefs ever since “Scientific” Creationism; and that makes their “arguments” nothing to do with reality.

    The primary reason ID/creationists haven’t figured out that their examples are irrelevant to the assemblies of atoms and molecules and evolution is that they don’t want to figure it out. They stubbornly ignore the properties of atoms and molecules that keep hitting them in the face every second of their existence.

  12. Without an uvula, we would not have crossword puzzles. QED

  13. Stephen Kennedy

    It is meaningless to propose the existence of an intelligent designer if we are unable to say anything about the characteristics of this supposed designer such as what are its capabilities and what are its limitations?

  14. Er —- have intelligent agents (i.e., humans) ever managed to produce an object that replicates itself with slight variations each generation?

    Isn’t there a project online where 3D printer users can download the data-sets for producing all of the parts for a 3D printer on their 3D printer? At present, humans have to assemble the parts produced in that way–but what if another group of data-sets could be used to produce all of the parts of a “3Dprinter assembler robot”, then perhaps the human role could be eliminated entirely. (??)

  15. “… have intelligent agents (i.e., humans) ever managed to produce an object that replicates itself with slight variations each generation?”

    Yes, otherwise none of us would be here. The technical term for this is procreation and the resulting objects are most commonly known as babies.

  16. @Stephen Kennedy
    Without capabilities and limitations, design is meaningless. Without limitations, all that there is a wish and it is so, contrivances are the tools of the limited. In Genesis 1, God speaks and there is creation. (In Genesis 2, God seems to need help.)

  17. 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.

    Er . . . except that exactly the same argument can be used in support of evolution, with only a few words changed (see below), yet creationists claim evolution can’t be true because “nobody has ever seen a monkey turning into a man.”

    “Thus, we may not have direct ‘observable’ evidence of large-scale evolution in the sense that we can see it physically before our very eyes, but we still have ample evidence that these structures were evolved. And we can make this evolutionary inference despite the fact that we had no prior knowledge that evolution even occurred. There is no logical flaw in this reasoning.”

  18. @Eric Lipps

    Yes, indeed.

    Of course, “evolutionists” do not make the argument that it is a fallacy to infer about events not directly observed. That is a straw man. It is the YECs who have been driven to that argument by the overwhelming weight of the evidence.

    That is a red herring designed to distract from the fact that the ID advocates have not given the least hint as to what they are talking about: What sort of events happen so that life has it variety (as distinguished from the infinity of other ways).