Saturday, June 25, 2005

Answering ID : Who Designed the Designer?

Intelligent Design (ID) is the idea that living organisms show evidence of having been designed. The only reason to discuss this idea is that proponents of ID want this idea taught in the science classroom as a alternative to the theory of evolution.

Jay Richards is puzzled about how the question of "Who designed the Designer?" provides a refutation of ID arguments.

Thinking out aloud:

0. "Who designed the designer?" is not a refutation of ID, it has no logical force against ID. It is a changing of the subject, a non-sequitur.

A. Who designed Mount Rushmore? Some human. Who designed humans? Humans were not designed, their origins are described by the Theory of Evolution. At this point Jay Richards is permitted to change his mind about this being a non-sequitur {grin}.

1. Is the question "Who designed the designer?" a refutation of design arguments?

A. No. It is only a rhetorical device that reminds one of why design arguments for the origin of species are not scientific. One could assert that the world was created as described by the Bible. Such an assertion, who knows, may even be true. But it is not scientific. The design argument for the origin of species is similarly not scientific.

2. Does the fact of design stand independent of our knowledge of the designer?

A. The answer has to be No, in general. Suppose we assert that "X is best explained by design" but subsequently we are able to show that a designer for X could not possibly exist. Then the status of design being the best explanation melts away. We might be able to effect a rescue, but only by entering the metaphysical realms that Jay Richards wants to avoid, to be able to assert "X is designed" and "the designer of X does not exist" simultaneously.

If it is inconceivable to Jay Richards that evolution could ever explain the origin of the bacterial flagellum, and that opens the door for him, to Intelligent Design, then if it is inconceivable to me that we could possibly identify the Designer, then that opens the door to evolution and natural processes.

I don't think that Jay Richards will make the mistake of saying that the fact that "X is designed" is proof of the designer. It is not, any more than the fact that "light propagates as waves" proves that the existence of the lumniferous aether, the substance though which light waves propagate. "X is designed by Y" merely names Y, it does not provide an explanation or demonstration of the existence of Y. "XBlah is what causes apples to fall off apple trees" merely names XBlah, we could equally well say "XBlah in conjunction with YBlah is what causes apples to fall". Does XBlah or XBlah and YBlah exist? Apples do fall, don't they? That is not proof of XBlah or YBlah. It is when we provide more properties, e.g, XBlah is also what keeps the moon in its orbit, XBlah follows an inverse square law, etc., that we move XBlah from being just a name to being a theory of gravity.

3. How about possible Extra Terrestrial Intelligence? Suppose we receive a radio signal from outer space that appears to be of non-natural origin, are we simply creating a name "ETI" to explain the radio signal, or have we found a new entity? What is the point of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI)?

A. We would have only provisionally found a new entity. If we cannot infer from the content of the radio signal anything about the nature of ETI and we cannot find any other evidence, e.g, by looking towards the origin of the radio signal in other bands of the electromagnetic spectrum, then ETI remains an adhoc explanation. It may be worth remembering why scientists are conducting searches for ETI, however. It is because they think that the laws of physics, chemistry and biology that underlie the origin of the earth and life on earth are equally well in operation elsewhere in the vast expanse of the universe. In our current stage of understanding, however, SETI is like buying a lottery ticket, we are hoping to get lucky. You will find scientists who believe SETI is a waste of money.

4. Isn't "who designed the designer?" an overreach of Ockham's Razor?

A. Pace Richards, the "simplistic and truncated form of Ockham's Razor" does not outlaw all design inferences.

We have independent confirmation of the existence of humans who can do design activity and the examples that Jay Richards could give all day of rational design inferences without knowledge of the identity or intentions of the designer will all be, I bet, implicitly be human acts of design. Certainly, in postulating that the English text we observe in reading his essay is the product of a human, we are not multiplying entities beyond need, we are not creating any new entity as an explanation at all, and there is no invocation of Ockham's Razor at all. Yes, in general, we do not know the specific identity ( the person's name, fingerprints, DNA signature) of the designer, nor do we know the designer's intent. That is why, for instance, there are scholarly debates about who actually wrote Shakespeare's plays.

If we take stretch the meaning of "design" and include bees, ants or birds in the set of known entities that can design (as in beehives, ant hills and nests) we are still not creating any entity that is not otherwise known.

5. Yes, but couldn't the regress be real, and ID still be justified?

A. The reality of the Designer is suspect until we can say something more about the Designer than just "The Designer designed X". The regress could be real, and ID could be justified, but we are not going to learn so merely by making assertions. We have to say something more about the Designer or the process of design to address the reality of ID. "Who designed the designer?" is a rhetorical device to remind us of this fact.

6. ID is merely a proximate explanation, not an ultimate explanation It is merely addressing the modest question "Is specified complexity in X a reliable marker of intelligent design?" It is not interested in the regress implied by "who designed the designer".

A. We again hit our head against the brick wall, that there is no reliable marker of intelligent design unless we can show that the designer exists. "I cannot conceive of a non-design explanation for X" is not binding on anyone except he who utters it. The proximate explanation for where the gas in the car came from, the BP station on Bellevue Way stands up only because we know already that there is an ultimate explanation involving Alaska, refineries and humans.

In the case of the woman found dead in her kitchen with a knife in her back, the detective's proximate conclusion that it was murder and not an accident stands because he is saying, it was done by another human, and not e.g, a poltergeist. If the detective had to postulate some previously unknown entity to explain the murder, then the detective's assistant would be rightfully skeptical. It would be meaningful for the detective's assistant to ask - where did the poltergeist come from? what are its origins? what are its characteristics? and this would not be some kind of unjustified delving into ultimate causes or the higher reaches of metaphysical thought.

7. "All that said, I don’t see any reason to concede the premise that leads to the regress in the first place." My watch is designed, but my watchmaker doesn't have gears.

A. The property in question is not about specific features such as gears, or specified complexity or fine-tuning. The property in question is that of existence and of origin.


Can the Designer be elevated from being anything but XBlah? Can anything be said about the Designer that is not religious in nature?



Paul (probably - maybe Liz) said...

At point '0' you started going wrong. Jay Richards says that the question "Who designed Mount Rushmore" is irrelevant to our detection of design in Mount ERushmore.

This ties in with your later statement "there is no reliable marker of intelligent design unless we can show that the designer exists". That is not so. We can look at archaeological artefacts and know that they are designed, even though we don't know when they were designed, what their function was, or who their designer was. Alternatively, evidence of design is evidence that a designer exists - a circular argument, until you can quantify evidence for design, which is what Dembski, Behe and Gonzalez and Richards have been seeking to establish.

Arun said...

The point is that we do not have to postulate some new kind of entity to explain archaeological artifacts, humans suffice, even though we may not know the details of those humans or why they did what they did.

Here is another example. Certain atomic nuclear reactions (beta decays) seemed to be violating the conservation of energy, and in 1930, Wolfgang Pauli postulated a new particle, the neutrino, that carried the missing energy. Well, the fact of missing energy was not taken to be proof of the neutrino hypothesis, it had to be established by yet other experiments (Reines and Cowans did so conclusively in the 1950s).

Similarly, Dembski and company may show that something is exceeding improbable to arise naturally, and so postulate a designer. But if they cannot show the existence of the designer in some other way, or tell us what kind of entity the designer is, then no matter how improbable, it still must be a natural process. I don't think Dembski et al even aspire to an impossibility proof.

pennathur said...

Who designed Mt.Rushmore? is relevant to the discussion of design exactly because we know who did it. The entire design argument (calling it that is still to dignify a peice of quackery but at least I am not calling ID a theory) is based on analogy and worse it is all backwards. We infer the nature of archaeological artefacts because we have seen people making such things. We infer animal agency in a homicide because we have seen it happen. That other irrelevant argument about what we would do if we had not seen a murder or a manslaughter ever is pointless because such deeds have been witnessed by human beings in the past and have been explained to us generation after generation.

Arun please email me. You will find my ID in my posts on