"Design" defined

Wesley R. Elsberry (welsberr@inia.cls.org)
Mon, 5 Apr 1999 11:34:26 -0500 (CDT)

R. Dehaan wrote:


RD>IDers use the word design as a _noun_. IMO the best
RD>noun-definition of design is given by IDer, Mike Behe:
RD>design is "a purposeful arrangement of parts." In this
RD>sense, Bill Dembski is right: as a_noun_, design "has a
RD>perfectly well understood common usage." The simplest way
RD>to define design as a noun is to _point_ to examples of
RD>it. Point to the marvelously intricate eye of the trilobite
RD>and you will clearly understand what design as a noun is.
RD>Ask how the trilobite eye was designed (as a _verb_) and as
RD>Bill said, "we don't have any account of the mode of


Bill Dembski does point out that "design" has a perfectly
well-understood common usage. I want to point out that the
well-understood common usage is *not* the usage that "design"
obtains in Bill's book, "The Design Inference".


Whenever explaining an event, we must choose from three
competing modes of explanation. These are regularity,
chance, and design. To attribute an event to a regularity is
to say that the event will (almost) always happen. To
attribute an event to chance is to say that probabilities
characterize the occurrence of the event, but are also
compatible with some other event happening. To attribute an
event to design is to say that it cannot reasonably be
referred to either regularity or chance. Defining design as
the set-theoretic complement of the disjunction
regularity-or-chance guarantees that the three modes of
explanation are mutually exclusive and exhaustive. It remains
to show that design is significant in its own right.
The principal advantage of characterizing design as
the complement of regularity and chance is that it avoids
committing itself to a doctrine of intelligent agency. In
practice, when we eliminate regularity and chance, we
typically do end up with an intelligent agent. Thus, in
practice, to infer design is typically to end up with a
"designer" in the classical sense. Nevertheless, it is useful
to separate design from theories of intelligence and
intelligent agency. An intelligence may, after all, act to
mimic regularity or chance, and thereby render its actions
indistinguishable from regularity or chance (cf. the
discussion of cryptography and randomness in Sections 1.6 and
1.7). Anything might have an intelligent cause. Not everything
can be known to have an intelligent cause. Defining design as
the negation of regularity and chance avoids prejudicing the
causal stories we associate with design inferences.

[End Quote - WA Dembski, The Design Inference, p. 36]

The ID group is expected to take their theoretical basis from
Dembski's "The Design Inference", and not from Behe's "DBB".
Thus, what "design" means to those advancing ID really is just
the same thing as what "design" means within TDI. "Design"
there is a logical category, cast in terms of set theory.
Events are found to have membership in the set "design"
through use of a deductive argument based on the exclusion of
the alternatives. The argument identifies that such events
have an attribute variously called "complexity-specification",
"specified complexity", or "complex specified information".

Notice that Dembski doesn't use the phrase "intelligent design"
in the quoted passage. The preferred phrase is "intelligent
agency". This phrase is far less ambiguous than "intelligent
design". I don't expect the "ID" group to become the "IA"
group, though.