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

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Thu Nov 12 2009 - 15:49:23 EST


I like your example of the travel-worn space probe. It is better than the
Martian sculptures, because it removes Iain Strachan's objection (that it is
unrealistic that there would be no other sign of a Martian civilization on
the surface of the planet). In the case of a space probe, the probe itself
would be the sole evidence for the existence of the aliens.

So let's analyze that example in terms of the usual objection to design
inferences here. The usual objection here to design inferences regarding
natural objects is as follows: Whereas in the case of artifacts, one has
(a) independent knowledge that a possible designer [human beings, beavers,
bees, etc.] in fact exists or existed, and (b) independent knowledge of the
nature, habits, inclinations, intentions, etc. of the possible designer, in
the case of natural things like cells or body plans, one has no independent
knowledge [by scientific means, that is] (a) that the possible designer,
i.e., God, exists, or (b) of the motivations, intentions, habits, methods,
etc. of the possible designer, i.e., God. Thus, the argument concludes,
design inferences regarding natural objects lack validity.

But the same objections apply in the case of the travel-worn space probe.
We have no independent knowledge -- knowledge other than the existence of
the probe itself -- that any other intelligent life exists in the universe,
so objection (a) above applies. And we have no independent knowledge --
knowledge other than what can be inferred from the probe itself -- of the
nature, habits, motivations, inclinations, etc. of the purported designers,
so objection (b) applies.

In the case of the space probe, our inferences, both of the existence and of
the character of the purported designers, depend *entirely* upon what we can
discover from the probe itself. We have no warrant for inferring anything
else about the designers. Our certainty that such designers exist, that
they have certain capacities, etc., springs from a *design inference* that
*rests entirely upon the very thing whose design status is being debated*.
So, when the question is asked: "Is this metallic object from outer space
designed, or only the product of chance and natural laws?", our design
inference is made in violation of objections (a) and (b) above. Yet we
would feel certain that our design inference was valid, and rightly so. Our
own practice would show that we do not consider the criteria used to reject
design inferences (given above) to be sufficient criteria for such

It follows that the TEs on this list should abandon the above-described
*general* argument which rules out design inferences from natural objects to
a designer of natural objects. There remain available to TEs, of course,
*particular* objections that *particular* inferences from nature to a
designer of nature are invalid, or are made on evidence that is too skimpy,
and so on. I carry no brief against such *particular* objections. It is
the general objection that I reject. In practice, the real-life behaviour
of everyone on this list negates the objection, which shows that it is not a
principled objection, but an intellectual *deus ex machina* called up to rid
TEs of the hard work of having to deal with particular design inferences,
one by one.


----- Original Message -----
From: "David Campbell" <>
To: "asa" <>
Sent: Thursday, November 12, 2009 1:31 PM
Subject: Re: Of Martian Sculptures (was: Re: [asa] on science and

> The problem with the Martian statue example, or Jn 3:16 on the moon,
> etc. is that they do reflect some knowledge of the designer in
> question. To take real examples, we identify human design in
> archaeological samples based on reasonable supposition about what
> ancient humans would do, along with knowledge of what natural
> processes can do. Multiple rocks of a particular kind chipped in the
> same manner, making them into useful tools for hunting or processing
> food, are plausibly artifacts. A somewhat pointy bit of gravel does
> not constitute an arrowhead. One specific example of this in action
> is that an early reason for being skeptical about Piltdown man was
> that one associated artifact looked more like a cricket bat made from
> a mammoth bone than like something plausibly useful to prehistoric
> humans. (Gear for American football or rugby might be considered more
> plausibly associated with cavemen.)
> A statue is something that a designer like humans would plausibly
> make. A much more plausible alien scenario would be encountering a
> considerably travel-worn space probe, not of human manufacture. But
> again, that is what aliens would most likely encounter as their first
> (and maybe only) evidence of us, unless they can receive and decipher
> our electromagnetic signals.
> To look for evidence of a designer in the course of evolution or the
> creation of the universe or the like, we must either have information
> constraining how a designer would and would not do things, or else a
> set of known designed and undesigned examples to compare our unknown
> with.
> This is equally a problem for ID and for purportedly scientific
> atheism. To prove that there are no fairies in the garden, Dawkins
> actually does need to check with a fairyologist, not to defer to him
> but to determine exactly what the fairyologist claims. If they are
> supposed to be invisible, then not seeing any fails as a
> counterargument. Of course, if they are supposed to be indetectable,
> one may ask why bother positing them, but scientifically indetectable
> and indetectable are not the same.
> --
> Dr. David Campbell
> 425 Scientific Collections
> University of Alabama
> "I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
> To unsubscribe, send a message to with
> "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Thu Nov 12 15:50:30 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Thu Nov 12 2009 - 15:50:30 EST