Science Design Inferences are Unlike ID

What would be an example of a scientific non-divine design inference? Perhaps this is more common in biology. I’ve certainly rarely heard “design” used as a term at all in physics classes.

1 Like

Detecting if crops are GMO or not is an example of a design inference. It relies on detecting artifacts of the GMO process in DNA. SETI is another example, which look for signs of intelligent life on other planets. Another example is sexual selection in evolution, where animal intelligence affects selection. Determining if rock fragments are intentionally shaped into tools or not is a design inference. I could go on, but detecting the influence of minds has never been forbidden in biology.

SETI is an interesting contrast to ID too. In striking contrast with ID, they have yet to put forward with any confidence a single positive signal. If they did find one, they would instantly work hard to rule it out (as they have in the past), and would also look for scientific evidence of the aliens. Having never cried wolf after existing for about twice as long as ID, SETI will be taken seriously if they eventually do put forward a detection event. ID, in contrast, has never retracted a single claim of detecting design, nor have they ever looked for the designer.

There is irony here too, because ID sometimes points to the WOW! signal (Wow! signal - Wikipedia) from SETI to legitimize their effort when they think they have a signal for design. Ironically, WOW! is rejected a real signal for ETI by SETI. They have never had a positive event, because they subject everything to ruthless (i.e. scientific) scrutiny and verification. Exact opposite with ID. Until they good at retracting all the bad arguments they have put forward, no one will trust them in science.


That’s fascinating! About SETI, that reminded me of claims from some time ago, when astronomers thought anomalies in the pattern of star lighting and dimming could be evidence of alien megastructures. The original idea for a Dyson sphere was to assume that sufficiently advanced aliens would construct such structures, affecting the radiation pattern for stars. That being said, I once asked about such arguments to a Harvard astrobiologist whose research detects chemical signatures of life on other planets, and she regarded them as too speculative, with too many assumptions about the sociology and culture of potential alien civilizations, to constitute viable science.


Yup! I remember that too.

Notice that they build a specific model, that made specific predictions, then look for things that fit that model. Then finding one possible candidate (if this is the case I am remembering right) they worked hard to find an alternate explanation. Succeeding in the finding an alternate explanation, they counted it as a success to get a negative result. Of course, they do not claim to rule out all ETI, just this specific type of event in detectable range. That is recognizably scientific process.

Once again, this is a process very little like we have seen in ID, even though SETI is regularly pointed to by ID as a precedent. If it was such a good precedent, they could try following that approach. If ID methods were so powerful, SETI would be using ID math too. Of course that is not what we see. This gets to a fundamental difference SETI insists on looking for independent and direct evidence of the designers, but in ID this is verboten., for no other reason than everyone knows the designer is God. There is just zero precedence for this in modern science.


Here is an example of what I mean. One of the peer-reviewed ID papers:

@evograd reviews this paper aptly:

There are a myriad of problems with this, the key one being that the analysis boils down to numerology. PZ Myers wrote a blog post on this paper shortly after it was published, which I would recommend everyone read. I’ll be paraphrasing him and some other commentators. Numerology is the practice of juggling arbitrary numbers around in an arbitrary fashion in order to find some of kind interesting patterns, which are then proclaimed to be somehow meaningful.
Reviewing the Intelligent Design Literature – Part 3: Look at the Trees! – EvoGrad

Lest we think they are “doing it wrong”, ENV clarifies for us that this is no different than Dembski’s work:

What’s most notable about this paper is the similarity in design reasoning between the authors and the more familiar advocates of intelligent design theory. No appeals to religion or religious texts; no identifying the designer; just logical reasoning from effect to sufficient cause. The authors even applied the “design filter” by considering chance and natural law, including natural selection, before inferring design.

The key point is that no one will take the scientific credibility of any movement seriously that does not quickly retract endorsement of claims like this. The “see what stick” and “no friendly fire” policy is fundamentally unlike what we expect of scientists.

I’ve argued against the bad arguments in my “camp.” At some point, ID has to start arguing against the bad arguments in their camp. (do you understand why @eddie?)


Archeaology is another area where design inferences and testing are frequently done, particularly is studies of early tool use and settlement dates. For example, finding pits filled with animal bones can suggest human work if we also find marks on the bones with scratches indicative of stone implements and layers of carbon from fire pits nearby, and at approximately the same layer.


2 posts were split to a new topic: Fermi Paradox and a Cartoon

Note that evograd also makes a point in his review that Denton’s notion of a universe fully and readily capable of generating life and that life fully capable of going through a process of evolution is very much at odds with other work promoted by the DI which specifically argues against a universe so configured to support abiogenesis or evolution (sorry, that’s a l-o-n-g sentence). Denton’s conception is a ‘fully gifted creation’ as Howard Van Till liked to say. Are there active debates or pro/con panel discussions about these very different conclusions?

1 Like