What is "intelligent design"?

Wesley R. Elsberry (welsberr@inia.cls.org)
Fri, 2 Apr 1999 10:11:37 -0600 (CST)

Moorad Alexanian wrote:

MA>I know there is a need to define terms so that we know what
MA>we are talking about. How do we do that? Do we use the
MA>practice of the mathematician? Or, better, that of the
MA>symbolic logician? I suggest the following. If we can
MA>call ourselves "intelligent" beings, then it is clear that
MA>the more intelligent amongst us are the one that create the
MA>theories to explain nature. More and more the theories are
MA>becoming mathematically intractable for the ordinary
MA>citizen---even to some of us who are scientists. It is
MA>clear that we are learning things that require an unusual
MA>amount of intelligence to discover and describe. I claim
MA>that that proves that the universe was intelligently


That's a *huge* non sequitur.

Beyond that, the whole post seemed to be an extended argument
as to why no answer to Howard's clearly put questions need be
given. For myself, I find the argument that no such answer is
necessary to be entirely specious.

If the ID folks want scientists to adopt their paradigm, they
will need to explain what they mean clearly and candidly, just
as Howard has indicated. Fortunately, William Dembski has
been attempting to do just that.


HvT>Precisely what does it mean "to be (or have been)
HvT>intelligently designed"?


We can make a pretty good guess as to how William Dembski
would answer this question. From what I've read, that would
go something like the following: To be intelligently designed,
an "event" displays the attribute of directed contingency or
choice, especially as given by the phrase
"complexity-specification". Non-complex events need not be
attributed to a designer. Unspecified events need not be
attributed to a designer. Events which are both complex (of
low probability) and which conform to a specification (an
independently stated pattern) must be explained in terms of

Of course, this still leaves the definition of "design" up in
the air, but for Dembski, design is the set-theoretic
complement of "regularity or chance", where "regularity",
"chance", and "design" are all categories of explanation for
events. What "design" really means depends upon how one
eliminates "regularity" and "chance" as possible explanatory
categories for an event. According to Dembski's "Explanatory
Filter" discussion in "The Design Inference", "regularity"
is the category for events of "high probability". "Chance"
is the category for events of "intermediate probability" or
for events of "small probability" but which conform to no
specification. Whatever events are leftover after that
are classified as being due to "design".