From: Jon Tandy <>
Date: Tue Jun 05 2007 - 16:56:24 EDT

Some thoughts on George's and Keith's comments.
I understand the statement that a supernatural designer (with potentially
unknown abilities) and a natural designer are not equivalent. But I think
this recognition leads the argument in a little different direction. A
supernatural designer with unknown purposes or abilities could potentially
design, but to us it might be undetectable because we assume a knowledge of
only natural design capabilities, and wouldn't be able to detect things
outside that paradigm. But this would only apply to an argument that says,
"God is an intelligent designer, and he has designed the universe, but
science simply can't detect that a designer was behind it all because we
don't have the measurement or knowledge to detect it."
But the point ID makes is different. It says that evidence is clearly seen
which has all appearance of being detectable and evidencing design within
the realm of what we as humans can recognize. ID (at least in the formal
sense that I've heard discussed) doesn't claim to identify Who or who or
what the designer is, but simply points to facets which we can identify as
being designed. Thus the idea of the fingerprint is somewhat missing the
point, because ID isn't trying to take a fingerprint and figure out who the
Designer/designer is, but rather recognizing that a pattern has been
detected at the scene of the crime containing whorls and loops, that has all
appearance of a detectable fingerprint. Thus, since there is a fingerprint
there, we reason there must have been a person at the scene.
This is of course potentially false, but for a different reason. It could
be that the fingerprint patter was actually produced by random patterns of
material forces and material so that it looks like a fingerprint, but really
isn't. In other words, it's not a question of a supernatural being's design
being undetectable, but falsely detecting what only appears to be design.
However, if we literally find "fingerprints all over the place" at the scene
of a crime, what are the chances that all these patterns could have been
produced by purely natural causes, rather than the obvious conclusion that a
human has actually been there? This is where ID makes a plausible
philosophical conclusion, even if it may be arguably deficient as a
scientific theory.
However, going back to Keith's argument for a few more points: If there is
truly design in nature which we can detect naturally, what does this say
about the presumed designer? What does it say about ourselves? Since a
supernatural designer could have potentially designed in ways undetectable
to ourselves, but yet ID is arguing that the design IS detectable, does this
imply that the "designer" predicted by ID is more likely to be natural
rather than supernatural? This would certainly be an unwelcome conclusion.

Or does it say that God, whom we believe to be the Designer, has chosen to
create in ways which we would be able to detect? This would seem to go
along with the statement in Romans about His eternal nature being revealed
in creation. Or does it say about ourselves that we are different from the
rest of nature, because we (as sentient beings made in the image of God) are
built with the capability of detecting design in nature which can point us
to God, unlike other animals? At least I don't know that any animals are
capable of pondering the philosophical questions of whether things around
them are "designed" or "natural". Most other animals, even those higher
forms which display characteristics that we identify as altruistic or
social, don't necessarily think philosophically. (Or if they did, how would
we know?)
All of these last questions are more philosophical than scientific, as far
as I can see. But if we recognize that they are valid philosophical
questions, touching on the philosophy of science, are they without merit in
a scientific discussion? Should the ID movement back off of their
aggressive strategy to "prove" the designer scientifically, and instead
acknowledge that there are valid philosophical questions which justifiably
lead to theological questions touching on, but going beyond, scientific
questions? If they would take this approach, is it possible they have more
impact or legitimacy than trying to "prove too much with too little", as it
appears they are doing now? Perhaps they would be able to achieve a more
modest goal of achieving plausibility for theism (rather than the
"slam-dunk" argument for a Designer, that they appear to be aiming for), but
avoid discrediting the entire movement by falsely claiming that they are
talking purely science?
Jon Tandy

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of George Murphy
Sent: Tuesday, June 05, 2007 2:08 PM
To: Randy Isaac;

The point can perhaps be made in an even simpler way in response to
Johnson's claim about the creatow who supposedly "left his fingerprints all
over the evidence."
A fingerprint left at the scene of a crime of course identifies the criminal
only if you have an independent sample of someone's fingerprint with which
it can be matched. The ID argument assumes that we have some a priori
knowledge of the "fingerprint" of the Designer.


----- Original Message -----
From: Keith Miller <>
To: American Scientific Affiliation <>
Sent: Monday, June 04, 2007 11:15 PM

So why not start with what the ID folks point to: SETI, identifying
hominid/human fabricated tools, forensics that lead to a conviction
vs. those that don't, etc.? Are any of these "scientific"? Why or why
not? How, in principle, do they differ from the ID enterprise in
molecular biology? What about Sagan's fanciful example in Contact--
wasn't it something like the digits of pi communicating some message?

The critical comparison is between natural agents and supernatural agents.

It is central to any coherent understanding of design that the purposes and
capacities of the designer be known. However, ID advocates argue that
design can be recognized in the absence of any knowledge of the designer.
They further argue that human and divine designers are effectively
equivalent from a scientific perspective. Our ability to detect design by
humans is used as a demonstration that supernatural design can be similarly
recognized scientifically.

However, this claim is clearly false. We must have some conception of the
capabilities (and limitations) of potential causal agents before they can be
invoked. We do in fact know much about human designers as a class of
potential agents, even if we do not know the specific individuals. We
recognize human artifacts because we understand human capacities and
purposes. Similarly, we recognize the products of other natural volitional
agents such as non-human animals. We can search for the signals of ETs, but
only to the extent that we assume some specific capabilities and purposes on
their part (usually modeled after our own). Divine agents on the other hand
have no constraints, and their purposes and capabilities cannot be defined.
We do not know a priori how a divine agent might work in nature. An agent
that can do anything, does not provide any explanatory power to a scientific
hypothesis. It is effectively equivalent to current ignorance.


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Received on Tue Jun 5 16:56:37 2007

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