Re: [asa] Rejoinder 4D from Timaeus – to Ted Davis: Martian Sculptures and Owen Gingerich

From: Steve Matheson <>
Date: Mon Oct 06 2008 - 23:45:03 EDT


The issue of design detection and its scientific-ness is interesting and worthy
of discussion. (Thanks, by the way, for the acknowledgement that reasonable
people may disagree on these matters.)

I accept your invitation to discuss your sculpture-on-Mars scenario. Here's
what you wrote:
“You would agree that the stone sculpture on Mt. Rushmore is designed, no? You
would agree with this even if you didn’t know the history of its construction,
wouldn’t you?
“Now, shift the scene to Mars. We travel to Mars, and on one of the mountains
there, we find what looks like a sculpture similar to that on Mt. Rushmore, but
showing whole bodies instead of heads. The figures in the sculpture are not
exactly human – they have webbed hands, and little antennae on top of the
heads, but they have obvious eyes, nostrils, mouths, and four limbs, with an
upright posture. Their outlines are clear and precise, not vague.
“Would you agree that the design inference here is a practical certainty? I.e.,
would you agree that wind, sun and water did not accidentally carve out these
figures over three billion years? Would you agree that we can “know” that this
is a stone sculpture carved by intelligent beings? And that we can know this
even if we know nothing about those intelligent beings (who may not be the
beings pictured in the sculpture, but beings of another race altogether)? And
that we can know this even if we can find no other trace of the existence of
any previous civilization on Mars, and therefore have no other proof that
anything ever lived there?
“Now, presuming that you agree, is this “knowledge” of design scientific
knowledge? If not, of what kind of knowledge is it?
“Now take something like the avian lung, or the human circulatory system,
either of which is orders of magnitude more complex than a simple carving of
four aliens on a mountain of Mars. Can we know (without the aid of revelation
or a system of philosophy) that this is the product of design? If not, why not?
And if so, is our knowledge scientific knowledge, or some other kind of
“And if the inference is scientific in the case of alien carvings, but not in
the biological cases, what makes the inference scientific in the one case, but
unscientific in the other? Why do you suggest that we are importing religion or
metaphysics or philosophy in the case of the biological examples, but not
equally in the Martian carving example? Why aren’t both inferences simply
examples of deductive reason based on facts established by science, and
therefore scientific inferences?”

This thought experiment is very similar to one proposed by my friend and
colleague Del Ratzsch, whose writings on this subject you should read at your
first convenience. (If you haven't seen them already.) His example is a
diesel bulldozer on Mars, or sometimes a stainless steel replica of Stonehenge.
 The point is the same: we recognize design, unambiguously and effortlessly in
those cases, despite complete ignorance (even utter bafflement) regarding the
origins of the artifacts. "Scientific" or not, our reasoning is completely
valid. Del goes on to identify the "marks" of design, focusing on the notion
of counterflow, which can be paraphrased as evidence of action counter to the
expected action of nature "operating freely."

I like his reasoning a lot. Yours, it seems to me, is different. Your key
move in the scenario is to set up avian lungs etc. as analogous to Martian
sculpture, due to "complexity." (Tellingly, you had not mentioned "complexity"
before that, and for good reason: "complexity" has nothing to do with the
design inference with respect to the sculptures.) This is a serious error. In
fact, you are assuming the very thing that you seek to establish -- namely,
that avian lungs etc. exhibit clear evidence of design, in the same way that
Martian sculptures would. I believe that you spoiled your good argument (about
the scientific-ness of design detecti("complexity") into the discussion. I think that was a significant mistake.

In my opinion, a focus on counterflow allows us to see that design can indeed
be detected and that the methods for detection can be reasonably considered
"scientific." As I've said before, on UD and elsewhere, I do not consider such
discussions of design to be in any way unscientific, and I am quite keen on
seeing design ideas continue to mature. On this important point, you and I are
in agreement, don't you think?

On the other hand, I am completely unconvinced that any of the biological
examples presented by you or Denton or anyone else display counterflow. Note
that I didn't say that they *don't* display counterflow. I'm just not
convinced, even a little bit, that they do. And the more arguments from
incredulity that I see (Nature's Destiny is chock full of them), the more I
suspect that there is little prospect of any serious attempt to demonstrate
counterflow in a meaningful way. This could change, and I'm watching
carefully. Behe started down a promising road in EoE, but failed to do any of
the real work that is required. Denton gives us a fine-tuning lesson, but on
biological subjects he fails to show counterflow -- he doesn't even come close.
 (I'll discuss Nature's Destiny at length in the next few days, separately.)
No ID thinker, so far, has done the hard work of actually showing that any
biological system of any kind exhibits counterflow. And this, in my opinion,
should be the most important ID project by far.

Steve Matheson

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Received on Mon Oct 6 23:46:10 2008

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