Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Good Question

A great question from "Michelle" at michellespagefornonni:

I’ve been studying the logic of the atheistic scientists who scoff at Intelligent Design. If they are right, and you can’t infer a designer simply because something seems to have a design, then how can we so easily accept that Stonehenge was formed by some ancient civilization? There’s certainly nothing to point to that. There is no history, no evidence of the civilization, and it seems that to infer it was formed by humans is all based on the fact that it aligns with the sun at the solstice. Isn’t that an argument based on design? Why not just be strictly scientific and theorize natural causes such as movement by glaciers during the Ice Age, or that specific types of rocks arose in certain places during earth upheavals? Why go to the extreme of theorizing about how men moved the rocks, etc, and were knowledgeable about astronomy? Isn’t that delving into irrational belief, based on the evidence we have?


Anonymous said...

Actually, it's a really lousy question, based on amazing -- and possibly deliberate -- ignorance of what we actually know about Stonehenge.

For starters, no one is proposing any sort of supernatural agency to explain Stonehenge; it's all about people (who we know existed back then), the technology used (which is easily comprehensible and has in fact been duplicated on TV), and easily-understood HUMAN motives that would lead people to do what was done.

This is a far cry from creationism, which proposes supernatural agency (which is then ruled out of bounds for further inquiry), refuses to describe an exact mechanism of creation, and makes no testable hypotheses.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Martin will answer these questions for us -- What is the mechanism for Intelligent Design? How does this differ from the mechanism for supernatural creationism?

Martin Cothran said...


What they are proposing is that Stonehenge is the product of intelligent design. That no one has proposed supernatural agency is completely beside the point.

And what do we know about Stonehenge?

Martin Cothran said...


What does the mechanism for intelligent design have to do with the point of the post?

Anonymous said...

Good Gods, Martin, you're sinking to a new level of deliberate obtuseness. Read your own post again, and you'll find that your commentator is the one who tried to compare our theories about Stonehenge to ID; and we're debunking the comparison.

As for what "we" know about Stonehenge, why don't you use a few Google searches and look it up yourself? Or, if you're really feeling energetic, try a library.

Anonymous said...

So, motheral, if we discovered a Stonehenge-like edifice on Mars and were fairly certain that no humans had ever lived on Mars, could we still infer design, not having any knowledge of Martian designers?

Anonymous said...

I don't think Michelle really gets the point of the logic of critics of ID. Stonehenge, imagined faces on Mars, that's all putting the cart before the horse. The fact of the matter is that there is nothing about living things that, upon critical and objective examination, even comes close to being analogous to Stonehenge. ID proponents have proclaimed as much without an iota of evidence, even without a proper measure that can be applied in a scientific manner. They're wrong. It's that simple.

(I know, I know, CSI blah blah. Problem is, direct experimental measurement shows that living things have no CSI, as defined by Dembski.)

Anonymous said...

Sure, Russ, we could infer "design" by PHYSICAL CREATURES, bound by physical laws, to achieve physical objectives; and then do all kinds of study, sampling, experiments, etc. to draw conclusions about the nature of the creators of such an artifact, and also draw conclusions about the exact physical mechanisms by which they might have built such a monument.

But as I said before, none of this has anything to do with creationism.

Anonymous said...

What does the mechanism for intelligent design have to do with the point of the post?

Both are equally nonexistent?

Martin Cothran said...


I think that what Michelle is asking is, On what basis do you infer that Stonehenge is the product of an intelligent designer (or designers)? And once you have come up with those criteria, you ask why those same criteria do not apply to something on a bigger scale.

I think Stonehenge is a good example here because not much is known about it outside the stones themselves. I think the SETI program is still the best example, since it purports to be scientific.

I don't think ID critics have done enough to address this aspect of the argument. They want to spend time in ad hominem attacks and asking whether ID is science or not. The latter is an interesting question, but I still don't understand their response to the question, What is wrong with inferring design in "natural" things using the criteria we use to infer design all the time--or in these others instances like SETI or Stonehenge?

I think David Hume addresses this in Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, which I am about to reread, but I don't see ID critics addressing it. Oh, and Dawkins does address it in The Blind Watchmaker, but I find that, in the end, he is not very convincing on account of his limitations as a philosopher.

In other words, I still think there is some validity to Paley's watch on the heath. And, other than possibly Hume (whose arguments I am still mulling over), I really don't think anyone has come up with a great answer.

Anonymous said...

I think Stonehenge is a good example here because not much is known about it outside the stones themselves.

That's not what I hear from the people who actually study the stones. Do you have even ONE reference for your claims of universal ignorance?

More to the point, is there any evidence to indicate that it CANNOT have been built by humans? Detailed theories have been presented describing exactly how humans could have moved the stones from Wales and set them all up as they were found. Do you have a problem with these conclusions? Do you have an alternative theory that you think better explains what we see?

Actually, Martin, the SETI aspect of the argument has been addressed at great length; and you show either deliberate ignorance or knowing dishonesty when you pretend otherwise. IDers keep on trying to compare their "design inferences" to the valid (if sparse and immature) science of SETI; and their analogy always fails due to the fact that ID proposes supernatural agency, while SETI sticks to dealing with hypothetical physical beings, acting under known physical laws.

Also, the ID folks try to use complexity, or information, or "complex specified information" of an unspecified sort, as proof of "design," while the SETI folks take simple consistencies, like pulsar signals, as evidence of intelligence. This is especially true in the case of communication signals: the wave-pattern that carries BBC radio news is a lot simpler -- not more complex -- than the random noise of cosmic background radiation. (Pulsars were indeed believed to be alien signals at first, until a mechanism was proposed to explain how such repetitive energy-bursts could occur naturally.)

Anonymous said...


If you look at the discussion on Michelle's blog, you see the following statement from her:

"What about arctic stone circles? But that isn’t the point. The point is we can’t prove Stonehenge, but are inclined to look for a designer. Why don’t we look for a designer for a single cell, which is infinitely more complex than Stonehenge?"

The wrangling about Stonehenge is almost beside the point, as the premise in the blog entry is not an accurate representation of the logic of ID critics, and the "example" (Stonehenge) is a poorly-constructed attempt to lead to the above quote.

Stonehenge is archeaology. If someone wants to call archaeology ID, so be it. But it isn't biology, it doesn't tell us anything about biology, and it doesn't connect any dots when it comes to ID and biology.

All of which renders Michelle's ultimate argument moot.

Anonymous said...

I guess we can consider "what is the mechanism for Intelligent Design?" and "how does this differ from supernatural creationism?" as often asked but never answered questions. We have some idea as to the mechanism (non-supernatural hard work and planning by humans) for the construction of Stonehenge, so these are very relevant questions. I guess you are afraid to admit that ID is just another term for magic.

Anonymous said...

MC:"In other words, I still think there is some validity to Paley's watch on the heath."

I've never quite understood this. Perhaps someone could explain. Paley takes an object which is known in advance to be designed and then demonstrates that by examining it we can conclude that it is designed. But this presumes that we already know characteristics of designed and non-designed objects. Where is such data for the universe or life?

Martin Cothran said...


As you say, when you find the watch, you know it is the product of design--but only because you have seen other, similar mechanisms (called watches) that were designed by men. You conclude, therefore, that it was designed by men.

In other words, you conclude the watch was designed by men because it displays the characteristics that other things have that are designed by men. You didn't see the watch you found designed by men, you saw in it the same characteristics that are displayed by other things you have seen designed by men.

The question is: what are those characteristics? And, in regard to an issue like Intelligent Design, are those features generalizable to non-human agents?

I think that is an accurate characterization of the force of the argument.

Anonymous said...

The question is: what are those characteristics? And, in regard to an issue like Intelligent Design, are those features generalizable to non-human agents?

They are generalizable to non-human agents acting within the bounds of known physical laws, making physical objects by physical processes to achieve physical results.

There's a novel called "Inherit the Stars," by James P. Hogan, which very neatly describes how this would work in the real world. Short synopsis: lunar colonists find a human skeleton in a spacesuit on the Moon. At first they think it's someone from Earth who hasn't been identified yet, but then they do some testing and find he's been dead for about 10,000 years, which means he couldn't possibly have come from Earth. Then the race is on to find where he DID come from, and what he was doing on our Moon.

One of the artifacts the scientists find on him is a pocket calendar/appointment book, which has a table of unknown symbols that looks a lot like a calendar, but clearly isn't a calendar of Earth years or months. So they try to find what planet in our Solar System actually has a month-and-year cycle like that found in this calendar. Using all the physical artifacts they found on the dead guy, including the alphanumeric characters in his paperwork, they manage to draw solid conslusions about who he was, why he was on the Moon, where he came from, what he had last eaten, etc. etc.

There's a lot more detective work in this vein, but the point should be clear: in the real world of scientific detective work, the process of separating natural from artificial objects is a lot more complicated, and rigorous, than just saying "It looks designed, therefore it must be designed, QED." In fact, it's a lot more rigorous than ANYTHING yet produced by the "ID" crowd.

Anonymous said...

MC:And, in regard to an issue like Intelligent Design, are those features generalizable to non-human agents?


[First of all I don't have to see anything; the word watch itself tells me it was designed by man.]

I see the difference between human technology and natural process. I know that metal alloys have not been found naturally occurring in such shapes and conjunctions. Glass/sapphire does not naturally occur in such shapes and proximity to metals in such oxidation states. I have both manmade materials and a basic understanding of natural processes to base my opinion on. Consider a stone scraping tool found at a prehistoric site. It was designed for a purpose. Such tools often cannot be reliably distinguished from naturally occurring rock fragments, even though design is present.
With the world/universe/life, we have no examples of created products and non-created environment to compare. So we cannot say there are design elements present in life etc.