What is the best argument against Design?

As a companion to the “Bad Design Argument” topic…

What do people think are the best current arguments against Design? I’m using ‘Design’ as Joshua suggests: “Something that leaves a detectable signal of a Designer”. Now, one could say that providing a “step-by-step, validated model of abiogenesis via chemical mechanisms present on Earth a few billion years ago” would be a good argument against Design. But it’s not likely that we’ll know about that either way within our lifetimes. What I’d like to hear about are examples within range of current technology or likely advances in the next few years.

This is similar to asking someone like Mike Behe to describe the simplest IC system with the best historical record of a pre-IC, past state that he thinks couldn’t evolve via natural mechanisms. So, I guess I’d like to hear about Design proposals that have been challenged recently or ones that may reach resolution shortly.

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To specify this so it is clear, we mean:

  1. Detectable using the rules of modern science.
  2. The inference to design is within science, as a scientific conclusion, not an extrapolation with philosophy or religion, or personal instinct.
  3. And Design here is not Design of any sort, but of Divine Design.

If something meets only some of these criteria, it does not qualify and should be noted.

This does not disprove design. What makes you think it does?

The problematic part of ID is not the design part but the intelligence part. Common decent through natural selection is very good at designing complex biological organisms that are well adapted to their environment. Evolution may be slow, brutal with unfit designs, but it does design a whole array of organisms beautifully adapted to the environment. Of course, there seems to be no intelligence involved in the process. Evolution requires imperfections (random mutations) to work. If there were no mutations, life would stagnant and would be gone at the first major environmental change.

It’s largely a semantic argument. What is ‘design’? Which design? Whose design?

And what the Discovery Institute has done to ‘design’ eventually requires a public reckoning. It looks now as tragic mark upon evangelical Protestant Christians in some ways much worse than YECism. One could be a functional, practising theist who accepted most aspects of the evolutionary paradigm along with design thinking, and there was simply no need to “argue against design” until the folks at the Centre for (the Renewal of) Science and Culture came along. Yet now it is almost a Christian, Muslim & Jewish duty to ‘put the IDC in its proper place.’

What is the best argument against Design? Hypothetical: Imagine a situation in which human beings don’t exist. Thus, no design. Period. You can’t by any choice or hypothesis become non-human to answer the question. So, game over.

It’s a kind of category mistake that keeps on biting itself because it seems to taste good as it capitalises with good design, bad design, everywhere design, like an old MacDonald’s farm tune. ‘Design’ the way you are using it above just means ‘Divine Creation,’ does it not @Argon? Otherwise, please distinguish them as you see fit.

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First off, in evolutionary science we absolutely affirm that animal Inteligence is involved. Sexual selection, for example, involves minds, do does artificial selection.

Second, this does not at all demonstrate divine intelligence is not involved. Show me how this proves God is not involved?

Of course, I don’t think you can show God is involved either. That however is a separate point.

Sure, I agree that intelligence is an evolved emergent trait in animals. But intelligence emerges from the process not that the process itself was intelligent.

It only shows that God is unnecessary for the process to work as it does.

You have not shown that at all. How do you know he is unnecessary? What was the control experiment that was run to demonstrate this?

Okay how’s this:

As a retired engineer with an interest in the latest findings in all scientific endeavors, it seems to me that the theory of evolution explains quite well how biology works here on Earth and in astrobiology/physics. From an engineering prospective, it works quite well autonomously. It doesn’t seem to need input, tweaking, supervision or guidance from an outside agent. It is brutally effective and responds well to changes in the environment over the past 4 billion years.

No. I’d rewrite that to “Designer of any sort, divine or otherwise”. An ET or Sleestack would qualify. The aliens from 2001: A Space Odyssey would qualify with their lunar artifact and star gate near one of moons of our gas giants. I’ll stick to the generic, “unspecified identity” proposal that the DI says they hold to. Humans are classified as Designers under this proposal.

So design of what then?

Re: Argument against design - i.e. Plausible model for abiogenesis on old Earth.

Little ‘d’ design can never be disproved. However, with capital ‘D’ Design as described by ID, one can ask whether a Designer need be invoked. Consider Occam’s Razor and parsimony as guidelines for scientific understanding. For example, it’s possible (in the broadest sense), that car key gnomes hide car keys under seat cushions. However, we know many other less ‘unusual’ mechanisms by which keys are lost. Thus, we have no signal to suggest that car key gnomes provide a necessary explanation for lost keys. Few within ID would make the case that weather patterns are examples of Design, at least as far as proximate causes are concerned.

There are certainly many involved with ID who’ve suggested abiogenesis could be one example of Design. In fact, many argue that our current lack of understanding could be because it’s not naturally possible. The same with arguments related to the Cambrian Explosion. Based on those positions, it seems to me that providing models, theories and/or data which indicate that ‘natural’ mechanisms are up to the task would make for strong arguments against ‘Design’ in those instances.

Again, note the capital ‘D’ in “Design”.

There is no definitive arguments against Design here. But the arguments for Design here grandly overreach. It is bedevilingly ambiguous.

Pick an example. But given that neither you nor I are ID proponents, perhaps someone who is?

There are a number things I would find interesting in the discussion. For starters, to see if anyone is working out a Design example or hypothesis that might feasibly be tested with current technology. Also, what arguments might one accept as a valid against a particular instance of Design? What sort of scientific evidence might be required to convince someone that Design is not scientifically discernible for various stages or transitions at particular stages on the history of life, the planet or this universe? Basically, what assumptions and hypotheses are people bringing to this area as ID proponents and at what point would someone be willing to drop the idea?

A sense of asymmetry bothers me too, but that may not be real problem.

There is no definitive arguments against Design here.

True, and I wouldn’t expect to see a magic bullet that counters all Design. But there are probably examples that are ‘good enough’ as people have drifted away from ID and proposals about “Design”. Many knowledgeable proponents have largely moved away from the Irreducible Complexity arguments (the first version from Behe). Apparently, some arguments exist that people have found ‘good enough’.

Hi everyone,

I’d like to copy over a comment I made an another thread, as it relates to the topic at hand. Here goes:

I just came across the following comment by a reader named Rumraket over at The Skeptical Zone. I gather he’s a biologist. What do you think of his argument?

There actually is evidence for abiogenesis (not unassailable proof, but evidence nonetheless) of the hypothesis that life originated from non-living materials by a process of physics and chemistry. The evidence is that the inferred amino acid frequencies in the phylogenetically inferred ancestors of the oldest known proteins, increasingly correlate with the distribution of amino acids produced in abiotic chemical reactions, and predicted to result from them by thermodynamics, as we go further back in time. As one would expect if life originated by a blind, unguided physical and chemical process whereby the first proteins were synthesized by polymerization of the sorts of amino acids that existed and therefore were the only ones available in the prebiotic environment.

Brooks DJ, Fresco JR, Lesk AM, Singh M. Evolution of amino acid frequencies in proteins over deep time: inferred order of introduction of amino acids into the genetic code. Mol Biol Evol. 2002 Oct;19(10):1645-55. [PMID: 12270892]

Higgs PG, Pudritz RE. A thermodynamic basis for prebiotic amino acid synthesis and the nature of the first genetic code. Astrobiology. 2009 Jun;9(5):483-90. [DOI: 10.1089/ast.2008.0280]

Trifonov EN. Consensus temporal order of amino acids and evolution of the triplet code. Gene. 2000 Dec 30;261(1):139-51. [PMID: 11164045]

This is evidence for a physical/chemical origin of life from non-life, and evidence against intelligent design, because this is the kind of evidence you would rationally predict if life originated by a chemical and physical process from non-life. But if life originated by intelligent design, the designer could have made the first life to exist with basically any distribution of amino acids that the designer wanted . For example, the designer could have made the first life to exist with the exact same distribution of amino acids that we see in life that exists today on Earth in 2018. Yet that is not what we see. As we go further and further back in time, the proportion of amino acids used in proteins increasingly mirrors the kind of distribution of amino acids detected meteorites, space, and various non-biological chemical reactions. This distribution is also predicted by thermodynamics to result from non-biological, unguided chemistry.

I don’t think the evidence Rumraket puts forward necessarily discredits Intelligent Design, as one could always opt for a front-loading scenario. However, at the very least, it does seem to be strong prima facie evidence for abiogenesis. Thoughts?

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Interesting update on chemical abiogenesis.

So far, we’ve had threads on ‘bad arguments against design’ with ID proponents. I’m holding out the hope that we will see what proponents consider “good arguments against design”. The most common type I’ve seen are best classified into ‘good arguments for common descent and evolution’.

I keep coming back to the asymmetry, that the best arguments against design being good arguments for evolution. It’s largely an argument based on negatives. I think this arises
because we don’t yet have a solid, positive theory of Design to evaluate. Instead, we have a ‘gappy’ collection of disjointed ideas.


Kind of like a confusion of ends and neans. Good points.


Go ahead and start a thread and invite their response.


Isn’t this the thread?