Re: Recognizing "Design"

Glenn Morton (
Mon, 20 Apr 1998 19:56:13 -0500

At 03:02 PM 4/20/98, Loren Haarsma wrote:

>We recognize "design" in objects, systems, or events when:
>1) they are otherwise improbable;
>2) they happen in a recognizable pattern;
>3) there is or was, or could conceivably be, an intelligent agent capable
> of producing it for whom it could serve some function.
>Stonehenge is an example. First, there is a small probability of any
>one rock of those approximate shapes naturally occurring where it is.
>Second, the rocks form a recognizable pattern. Third, we know that
>humans lived there who could have made it, and for whom it could have
>functioned as a primitive observatory. That clinches it. Another
>example like this is prehistoric stone tools.
>SETI is another. SETI looks for a radio signal with a recognizable
>pattern. (If a radio signal consists of densely coded information, it
>would probably appear random unless you knew the code. But if the
>information coding is not dense, the signal could form a recognizable
>pattern.) SETI would then try to establish that there is a very low
>probability of the signal being natural in origin. As for the third
>point, it's not too difficult to conceive of such an agent.

>Third, the argument has been made that design implies knowledge of
>intent, and we cannot fully know the creator's intentions. I do not
>think recognizing design requires knowledge of intent. Recognizing a
>pattern, along with a reasonable hypothesis of intent, is sufficient for
>design to be recognizable, and sufficient for it to be useful in guiding
>further research.

I would like to comment on the examples you cite of design. They are all
examples of HUMAN design. We really don't know what the signature of God's
design is. We recognize stone tools because they resemble tools made by
modern men. But when it comes to the earliest tools, the Oldowan assemblage
from 2.6-1.5 million years ago, there was a long and difficult argument in
the anthropological literature early in this century about whether they were
tools at all. They are, but it took a while to be comfortable with
recognizing them.

Secondly, we have had some extraterrestrial messages which have
characteristics of intentional communication, but we can't be sure that it
is real. I would cite Eric J. Chaison "Contact?" in George B. Field and
Eric J. Chaisson, "the Invisible Universe, (New York: Random House, 1985),
p. 73-75

Chaisson was examining a signal from the nebula W49 40,000 lightyears from
earth. Normally the spectrum was bell shaped but one night it took on a
different pattern, a complex peaked spectrum. When the peaks of the
individual spectral maxima were connected, it created a picture of a stick
man. Is this designed and an intentional signal? Chaisson thinks not, but
it is one way a distant civilization might try to communicate with us. So
design is tough to determine. There is also a WOW signal which I have
apparently failed to reference. Someone else recieved a signal that they
thought was intelligent and indeed might have been, but since it wasn't
repeated, no one can be sure.

>My own intuition is that empirical studies will show that self-
>organization of novelty and complexity in biology is, in fact, probable.
>This brings us back to recognizing "design" in self-organized objects or
>systems. God is certainly capable of creating and governing in this
>way. This pattern is suggested by what we know from cosmology and
>geology about the formation of creation's physical structures;
>therefore, I wouldn't be surprised to see this pattern continued in
>biological history. Present physical theory points to an extreme fine-
>tuning of the properties of physical laws ("component pieces") in order to
>make all of this possible. Although there is reason to be cautious in
>arguing from fine-tuning, it certainly is suggestive. To me, it
>provides ample reason to see design in all of nature, including the
>biological world --- provided the third criteria is not a stumbling
>block, provided you think the idea of a God who creates and governs in
>this way is credible. I should close by saying that I don't believe in
>God because of this argument for design. Rather, because I believe in
>God, I can recognize design in all these things.

I would agree with you that the fine tuning of the physical constants is
probably the very best evidence of design in the universe.


Adam, Apes, and Anthropology: Finding the Soul of Fossil Man


Foundation, Fall and Flood