Re: Of Martian Sculptures (was: Re: [asa] on science and meta-science)

From: Dick Fischer <>
Date: Tue Nov 10 2009 - 15:47:14 EST
Creationism too explains everything in purely creationist terms.  Why so surprised that the theory of evolution has explanatary powers? 
I like how Christ responded when asked why he spoke in parables, and he answered to both reveal and conceal.  God has chosen to remain discrete, in the background, undiscoverable to his enemies.  If we could prove God by scientific means that would run counter to how he wishes to remain, in my humble estimation.
ID tries to catch God in action and he doesn't operate in a fashion that allows it.
On another subject, but still about the solar system.  Here's a test to ask of atheists and agnostics:
Derive a mathematical formula that will accomplish this:
Pick a time in early earth history when it was still a molten ball and the sun was only beginning to glow - something like 4 billion years ago.  The object is to place a moon in proximity that would provide relected sunlight to the earth.  The plan is to strike the primordial earth with a meteorite of exactly the right size, speed, and angle so that it will bounce off the surface of the earth and launch itself into orbit where it will remain perfectly for at least 4 billion years and more.  In addition it should be exactly 400 times smaller than the sun and 400 times closer to the earth so that during eclipses the two spheres will be perfectly superimposed.  Also put just enough spin on it so that it spins on its axis at the same rate in which it revolves such that only one surface faces the earth continually.
Piece of cake, right?  Oh, and do it with purely natural processes.  Just allow it to happen.  Doing it yourself would be cheating.
(When did we land on Mars?  How did Fox News miss it?)

~Dick Fischer

Nov 10, 2009 12:09:24 PM, wrote:

Two points on your reply:

1. Neo-Darwinism also can explain virtually anything. Any evolutionary
change, and its opposite, are equally explicable in neo-Darwinian terms.
The extinction of the ancient moa can be explained in neo-Darwinian terms,
and the survival of the modern ostrich can as well. The development of
flight in bats can be explained in neo-Darwinian terms, and the failure to
develop flight in other mammals can be explained in those terms as well.
And given the apparently arbitrary fact that only one set of land mammals
took to the air (the bats), whereas three groups of mammals (pinnipeds,
sirenians, cetaceans) took to the seas, the relative popularity of the sea
vs. the air can be explained in Darwinian terms. But had it been the
opposite, had there been three groups of flying mammals with different
ancestries, and only one group of aquatic mammals, that, too, would have a
perfectly valid Darwinian explanation. Again, I have seen television
specials on evolution where the scientific narration explains how vastly
superior the "dog design" is to the "cat design" for predation, but both
wild dogs and wild cats survive all over the world. Had cats been wiped out
by the competition from dogs, the neo-Darwinians could explain it in terms
of the arguments given on the television program; but doubtless they have an
explanation why "inferior" cats and "superior" dogs both survive and
flourish as well. The survival of the coelacanth in one small area of the
Indian Ocean can be explained in Darwinian terms, as can the wiping out of
the coelacanth everywhere else. In the human case, selfishness and
aggressiveness can be explained in neo-Darwinian terms, and so can
compassion and altruism. I could multiply such examples at will.

The explanatory terms of neo-Darwinism (mutation and natural selection) are
so malleable, so massageable, that if an inconvenient living form turns up
in an environment where one would not expect it, the theory can handle it.
Hypothetical changes in environmental pressures, hypothetical mutations,
hypothetical increases in the mutation rate, hypothetical genetic
bottlenecks, etc., can be invoked at will. Thus, no matter how many
difficulties pop up, neo-Darwinism never has to be abandoned. One merely
adjusts the hypothetical evolutionary pathways, without surrendering the
theory itself. Thus, neo-Darwinism explains everything and therefore
explains nothing. So if one wishes to attack design notions as being able
to explain anything, that's fine, but the same standard must be applied to
its competitor, i.e., neo-Darwinism.

2. Regarding needing to know something about the designer before being able
to safely infer design, I've used this example before, and it may not be
original with me, because I think I've seen it elsewhere, but here it is:

The first manned spacecraft lands on Mars. The astronauts disembark. They
trek across the reddish soils in search of signs of moisture or microscopic
organic life. Passing by a range of low mountains, they stop abruptly. An
expression of shock crosses their faces. To their left, on the face of a
mountain about a thousand feet in height, there is what appears to be a
sculpture. It is reminiscent of the sculpture on Mt. Rushmore. Five
well-articulated figures, somewhat humanoid in form but different in some
respects (antenna-like organs on the heads, and tentacle-like organs for
arms), stare mutely at them. They immediately draw a design inference.
They say to each other: "Some race of intelligent beings carved these
figures into the side of this mountain." Yet, as the exploration proceeds,
what do they find? They find no trace of the civilization which carved the
figures. No buildings. No tools or machinery for chipping or drilling
stone. No evidence that any intelligent species other than man has ever set
foot on the planet. Several later expeditions confirm these findings: if
there ever were intelligent beings living on Mars, they have long since
become extinct, leaving no trace, or have abandoned the planet, leaving no
trace. Who, then, could have carved these figures?

My question is: Do they need to know who carved the sculpture, to know that
it was the product of intelligent design? Either they can be certain that
it was the product of intelligent design, or they cannot. If they cannot be
certain, then they must contemplate an alternate explanation, one couched in
terms of blind natural forces, acting by law and chance, for the carving out
of the articulated figures from the mountainside. On the other hand, if
they can be certain of design, then they need not do this.

Now according to many of the scientists on this list, it is an explanation
from ignorance to assert intelligent design when we have no independent
knowledge of the existence and properties of the putative designer; it is
"god of the gaps" reasoning, which is dangerous, because a "naturalistic"
explanation may lurk just round the corner, and embarrass the design
theorist when it becomes available. And because we can never be sure when
this may happen, our ASA-list scientists tell us, we must always postulate
"unknown natural causes" in preference to "design" as the explanation. This
is the sacred requirement imposed by methodological naturalism. So our
Martian explorers, having no proof of the existence of an intelligent race
on Mars (or anywhere in the universe for that matter), are *scientifically
duty-bound* to concoct speculations about times when Mars had an
air-and-water environment capable of producing weathering effects on rock,
and explaining how such weathering effects could have carved out such
articulated forms without guidance. Or they must postulate that alternating
heat and cold on a virtually airless and waterless Mars caused the rock face
to crack in just such a manner as to leave articulate sculpture behind --
and then explain why no fallen rocks are found at the base of the structure.

But wait. Suppose that our ASA-list scientists are not so wooden and
mechanical as I have made out above. Suppose that they are wise enough to
rank common sense and basic intelligence above the mechanical application of
"methodological naturalism", and that they agree with the most uneducated
janitor or bus driver that the Martian figures were in fact intelligently
designed, and that trying to dream up explanations like weathering and so on
is a complete waste of anyone's time. What follows?

What follows is that design inferences can be reliable even in the complete
absence of: (1) knowledge of the motivations of the designer; (2) knowledge
of the nature or character of the designer (beyond obvious general
characteristics such as intelligence, a degree of power, and a degree of
skill); (3) independent proof -- outside of the phenomenon to be
explained -- that the designer even exists.

Does this sound familiar? ID claims that we can infer design in biological
systems without knowing: (1) What the designer [God if you will] intended
by making these systems; (2) What the designer [God if you will] is like,
other than that he [she, it] is intelligent, and possesses sufficient power
and skill to effect the design; (3) Whether the designer [God if you will]
even exists -- the only evidence being the phenomenon to be explained.

So if you *accept* that the design inference would be legitimate in the
Martian sculpture example, I find it hard to see how you can reject the
design inference in biological examples. No new principle of reasoning is
employed in the biological case. And if you *deny* that the design
inference would be legitimate in the Martian sculpture example, then you are
responsible for sending Martian scientists on a wild goose chase, looking
for chance-and-necessity explanations that will never reveal the true origin
of the sculpture. Which do you choose? Is it a practical certainty that
the Martian sculpture is designed, or not? And if so, why does the
application to biological examples not follow?


----- Original Message -----
From: "Iain Strachan" <>
To: "Keith Miller" <>
Cc: <>
Sent: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 8:19 AM
Subject: Re: [asa] on science and meta-science

> On Mon, Nov 9, 2009 at 10:40 PM, Keith Miller <>
> wrote (inter alia)
> Secondly, human
>> causal agents are NOT the same as divine agents. This is a very important
>> distinction. Humans are causal agents that we can directly observe and
>> study. Other organisms are also similar agents (we can study the
>> purposive
>> behavior of animals and identify their past actions). We cannot study God
>> through scientific methods.
> I think this is a very important point to make. When we infer design
> of, say a watch, or a piece of architecture, we already know
> independently that such designers exist - our inference is whether the
> object of interest was indeed designed by one of these designers that
> are known about. However, it seems to me that in ID, one is inferring
> the existence of the Designer as well as inferring Design, because the
> "evidence" of design is taken to be evidence of the existence of the
> designer. But we don't need that final step with a watchmaker, or an
> architect - we had independent evidence before. Keith mentions the
> "argument from ignorance", which often folks take exception to. But
> it goes like this: "I don't believe nature can do this unaided, so it
> must be designed". But in the case of a piece of architecture, one is
> not in a position of ignorance. I've seen something like this before,
> and I met the architect who designed it. So I think it's a fair bet
> that he or another architect designed this one.
> Furthermore, God is unconstrained and can
>> accomplish any logically possible end. As I have argued on other threads
>> in
>> this forum, to be meaningful as a causal agent in science, the
>> capabilites
>> of an agent must be constrained. Otherwise an appeal to such an agent is
>> identical to an appeal to ignorance.
> This and the point above succinctly summarise my own problems with
> Intelligent Design. If one just says "it must have been Designed"
> then there is no constraint on the capabilities of the Designer. To
> use an example from maths that I have used before. Suppose I have N
> observations X at N different times T. Then mathematically I can
> always construct a polynomial function that exactly predicts the value
> of X for each of the N times T. All I need to do is fit a degree N-1
> polynomial function (a0+a1.t + a2.t^2 + .... a(N-1)t^(N-1)). But to
> do this says absolutely nothing interesting about my data because it
> can be done for ANY set of N points. However, if I say that the set
> of N data points is accurately modelled by a quadratic (ie degree 2)
> polynomial, then I have said something of value, because not all
> datasets can be modelled in this way.
> Although, as Cameron has pointed out "design" and "miracle" are not
> the same thing, they nonetheless have one important feature in common.
> They can both be invoked to explain absolutely anything. Hence they
> explain nothing; just like my unspecified order polynomial explains
> nothing.
> Iain
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