Meet the Designer

By | October 5, 2005

In the latest newsletter of the Accelerating Studies Foundation, John Smart offers up not so much a defense of Intelligent Design as a critique of the reductionist approach that many strict evolutionists take to the argument. Smart writes:

While a significant fraction of ID is unfortunately driven by religious rather than scientific motives, painting all of these meta-Darwinian models as creationist just isn’t credible. ID contains a wide spectrum of perspectives, and the best of these elegantly expose the limitations of conventional Darwinism as a theory of all macroscopic biological change. The better theories can’t be mislabeled as arguments for an intelligent designer, but instead provide powerful evidence for developmental processes of change where evolution provides only the dominant mechanism, while the “genes” (starting conditions) of our universe, and the environment in which it is embedded, including its unique physical laws, also determine long range outcomes…

In the simplest and most biological of these cosmological models, our universe’s genes self-organized, through many successive cycles in the multiverse, to produce the life-friendly and intelligence-friendly universe we live in today. This theory of intelligent self-organized design proposes that, analogous to living ecosystems, our universe’s “genes, organisms, and environment” encode deep developmental intelligence on a macroscopic scale, while they use primarily evolutionary and chaotic mechanisms to unfold that intelligence on the scale that we normally observe it. Evo-devo, whether applied to biology or the universe, makes clear the shortcomings of evolution-only models of change and does so without the need to posit any self-aware, embodied designer that is distinct from the universe itself. Truth is often stranger than we imagine.”

Meanwhile, blogger Micah Glasser of the new and very interesting Event Horizon directs us towards this paper by William Dembski which offers up an argument for Intelligent Design based on information theory. Dembski describes something called “complex specified information” which he asserts can only be the result of intelligence. The arguments he offers that this must be the case strike me as being pretty weak (or maybe I’m not following them); to me it seems that Dembski presents nothing more than a rehash of the watchmaker analogy dressed up in information theory language.

But setting that objection aside, Dembski’s complex specified information might provide an interesting synthesis of information theory and the theory that Smart outlines above. From an evo-devo standpoint we could assert that complex specified information at one level must (may?) be a reflection of complex specified information at a higher level. So the CSI* inherent in biology is accounted for not by an intelligent creator but rather by the CSI found in the developmental pattern encoded at the level of the universe.

This leaves only one question: where is the developmental pattern that the universe is following encoded? Obviously, that CSI is encoded somewhere in Smart’s “multiverse,” which would then also be following a developmental pattern encoded at an even higher level.

So this obviously raises a problem. It may be turtles all the way down, but it looks like it’s CSI all the way up: an infinite progression of levels for the encoding of information. Failing that, at some point we will have to come face to face either with an intelligent designer requiring no pre-encoded developmental pattern (let’s call him “God” for short) or a developmental pattern which exists independently of any higher encoding level or that is somehow taking it’s cues from one of the lower levels.

Like the man said, truth is often stranger than we imagine. If the pattern of encoding that allows everything to exist somehow turns back on itself, that could potentially mean that even we — or our descendants — are the ultimate source of encoding the universe/multiverse/CSI-all-the-way-up-structure-of-reality.

To paraphrase Pogo: perhaps we have met the intelligent designer, and it is us.

* Sorry, I had to give in and start using Dembski’s abbreviation; if anybody from CBS is reading this, I have an idea for you — CSI: Cosmology. Maybe you could get, say, Jimmy Smits in a Carl Sagan kind of a role.

UPDATE FROM STEPHEN:

Tech Central Station has two new articles on ID this week:

  • Descent of Man in Dover

    Sallie Baliunas argues that either ID proponents are talking about space aliens (and there’s no evidence that aliens planted life on Earth) or, more likely, they are talking about a Supernatural Designer. If so, that by definition is beyond the bounds of science and has no place in the science classroom.

  • Why Intelligent Design Is Going to Win

    Douglas Kern reminds us that those who reproduce (fertile Red Staters) also get to say what ideas are passed on to the next generation. And if a spoon fulla’ ID helps the Darwin go down, who’s hurt?

  • Engineer-Poet

    A spoon-full of ID is like arsenic; it poisons the thinking against the sort of analysis required to actually do science.  You can argue that very few US students will become scientists, but in a nation that’s already short of them can we afford to lose any more?

    ID has been losing since Paley’s argument from design about 2 centuries ago (long before Darwin).  It ought to be losing especially badly in the Red States where they take religion seriously, because it is bad theology.  If you assume design by a single designer, you must conclude that the designer is deceptive (making things look as if they were made in a way they were not), incompetent (making things which work badly), and wantonly cruel.  And it’s a “science” without any way to do science on it.

    It’s been noted that the science program listed in the Wedge document is badly behind schedule; even if you include the articles which have been repudiated by the journals in which they appeared (due to corruption of the peer-review process) there is essentially no published research on “intelligent design”.  This would be a very poor showing for a single post-doc over the last 6 years; for an entire field of study, it’s pathetic.  The only progress ID proponents have made is in popular treatments, speaking and political action.

    Abe Lincoln is purported to have asked a political opponent, “If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?”  The correct answer is, of course, four; calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one.  Calling ID a science (instead of bad theology) doesn’t make it one either.