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

From: Jon Tandy <>
Date: Thu Nov 12 2009 - 19:02:13 EST


I think the space probe argument seems to me pretty good, on first reading.
I have no particular objections to identifying or claiming evidence of a
designer in nature, if such evidence is sound. In fact I would prefer it to
some of the standard TE arguments.

However, I'm trying to examine your argument from the other side to
understand what "particular" or general objections could and will be made
against it.

1. A space probe, made presumably of metal and wire etc., is made of
inanimate objects. We have a pretty good idea of the sorts of properties
that exist in inanimate objects, and what nature and natural forces can make
of them. We would consider it a vanishingly low probability that nature
would construct a thing of sheets of metal, buttons, electronics, etc., that
appears to have definite and specific purpose, such as a space probe would
have. Thus the overt design inference would be very strong.

2. Living matter, on the other hand, has certain characteristics that differ
significantly from inorganic matter. DNA replicates, *as far as we can tell
scientifically*, on its own, according to regular activity of enzymes,
proteins, and a lot of other things that I couldn't begin to describe
accurately. Transcription errors occur on their own, *as far as we can
detect scientifically*, causing mutations both good and bad. Good mutations
on a genetic level, and drift of population characteristics on a macro
level, occur and are observed in nature, *as far as we know* without a
divine hand tweaking every gene or finch beak. Would you agree that the
character of living things is significantly different from non-living?

3. If we were to postulate, in response to the previous paragraph, that it
is indeed God behind every lengthened finch beak, mutation, and the decay of
every radioactive atom, we could indeed postulate a God who acts on this
level. We may not comprehend how God does it, but the doctrine of
Providence could in general provide a justification for such belief.
However, that is a far cry from saying that we can actually prove or detect
*scientifically* that God is pulling the strings, as opposed to the "gene
fairy", or nature itself. It is a matter of faith that would postulate that
God acts in such ways, whether in extraordinary circumstances or in every
cause and effect reaction in the universe. We *might* be able to make such
proof, but I think the difficulty is postulating a set of conditions that
would absolutely prove God's existence, as opposed to natural forces acting
within their prescribed characteristics.

4. Such a response as in the previous paragraph definitely begs the question
of how life arose in the first place, why it has been so extraordinarily
successful, and how it came to have such robust properties. But these are
two different arguments. One argument is why does life exist and why does
it have such properties; the other is, looking at organic life at any stage
of its development, can we infer that this particular structure is the
result of "nature acting naturally" versus "nature acting under the hand of
a Designer". I think both arguments have merit to discuss (existence of
matter and fine-tuned properties of nature, vs. specific examples of
complexity in nature), but I'm not as sure of the sustainability of the
latter arguments in light of the success of scientific research.

5. The normal argument of "front-loading" should be applied to the space
probe: could God have designed the forces of nature so that they would
eventually produce a random space probe, which we here on earth would happen
to intercept, but which was merely the result of otherwise blind, natural
forces? I think even the most ardent front-loading advocates would have to
say that it could be possible, but of vanishingly small probability, knowing
what we know about inorganic matter. However, I would reiterate that the
argument against front-loading in this case does not necessarily apply in
the same way to organic life. It seems (based on what I know so far) that
God could have made the first life (in some way, not specified here), so
that it would perpetuate, grow, multiply, diverge into multiple branches;
and that this property is fundamentally different from the capabilities
inherent in inorganic matter.

At some times you are willing to accept a "front-loading God" postulate as
acceptable from TEs, but then you seem to want more of an acknowledgement
from them that God is more intimately involved with specific outcomes in

6. The space probe argument could be constructed slightly differently. It
is still a space probe, but we may not be certain about its particular
design (is it really a space probe, or a just highly organized collection of
rock and elements?), or its purpose (it's not certain what function it has
or once had; just like the face on Mars, upon closer examination it may turn
out to be a natural structure; if there was an original intent behind it,
it's not clear from observing it; etc.) What if we find more than one
space-probe-like structure in our investigation of the heavens, which
exhibit varying degrees of complexity, but we have less than conclusive
evidence that there was an intentional sequence of intermediate designs
leading up to the most complex?

7. I think the above modifications to the original space probe argument
weaken its otherwise clear conclusion. If we can't clearly identify an
intentional design or a clear-cut purpose in the structure, and if we *can*
identify certain natural forces that could have produced it, can we infer
that there was an intelligent designer at work? I'll leave it to you to
apply this to the case of organic structures - what if genetic transcription
errors don't seem to serve a particular purpose? What if we discover
certain amazing, ordered structures (such as the flagellum) of varying
degrees and levels of complexity across various proteins and species of
bacteria? Does that indicate the Designer was trying out new models, or
that the natural forces have been successful in diversifying *on their own,
as far as we can detect scientifically*?

I do agree with you that materialists get too much of a pass, in being
allowed to claim that "nature" can do everything they claim it can, without
having detailed knowledge of how it is/was done. They are relying on
science to "fill the gaps", instead of relying on a "God of the gaps"
argument. It's "science of the gaps". But isn't that the way science
proceeds? It identifies what is known, what is not known, and then seeks
evidence for how to close those gaps with empirical evidence. When science
shrinks the known gaps in knowledge, it is good for science. When a "God of
the gaps" gets squeezed into smaller and smaller gaps, it is a bad thing for

If more materialists, like Denton, would be more tentative about their
knowledge of nature and thus their atheistic interpretation of nature,
perhaps it would lead creationists (including ID) to be more tentative about
their interpretation of scripture and nature. But I suspect the opposite
would be true - more perceived weakness in scientists would be taken
advantageously to show that "scientists don't really have evidence to back
up what they claim, so therefore our arguments should be taken more

Jon Tandy

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of Cameron Wybrow
Sent: Thursday, November 12, 2009 2:49 PM
To: asa
Subject: Re: Of Martian Sculptures (was: Re: [asa] on science and


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.


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Received on Thu Nov 12 19:03:05 2009

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