ARCHIVE - The Science Behind Intelligent Design Theory-by Casey Luskin

Prisca

Pain Killer
(http://www.ideacenter.org)

Intelligent design is a scientific theory which has its roots in information theory and observations about intelligent action. Intelligent design theory makes inferences based upon observations about the types of complexity that can be produced by the action of intelligent agents vs. the types of information that can be produced through purely natural processes to infer that life was designed by an intelligence. It makes no statements about the identity of the intelligent designer, but merely says that intelligent action was involved at some points with the origins of various aspects of biological life.

Intelligent design begins with observations about the types of information that we can observe produced by intelligent agents in the real world. Even the atheist zoologist Richard Dawkins says that intuitively, "iology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose."1 Dawkins would say that natural selection is what actually did the "designing," however intelligent design theorist Stephen C. Meyer rightly notes that, "ndeed, in all cases where we know the causal origin of 'high information content,' experience has shown that intelligent design played a causal role."3 Thus, like any true scientific theory, intelligent design theory begins with empirical observations from the natural world.

Critics of intelligent design have argued that although we may observe through experience that various structures are always made by intelligence, we can still argue that they were constructed by natural processes. A typical example given is the "arch" where in our experience humans make arches, but arches, such as the one found in Arches National Park, can be explained naturally. The problem here is that we have experience that some arches can be made by humans, and experience that some arches can be made through natural processes--exactly as witnessed by this one made in Arches National Park. A quick experiment with sand and water at the beach can vaguely reproduce what happened at Arches National Park, empirically verifying that natural processes can create arches. But this is no surprise. Natural arches themselves contain small amounts of information. In our experience we have no instances of specified complex information created through natural processes alone. Thus, as seen in Figure 1, intelligent design theory makes a testable prediction from observations from the natural world: that specified complex information will be found.

Figure 1. Diagram showing different processes which can produce entities: natural processes (chance-law based processes), intelligent design, or unknown natural laws. Only within intelligent design theory is specified complexity, and a special case of specified complexity--irreducible complexity--found. Thus, at this point, intelligent design theory exclusively predicts that specified complex information will be found.
As seen in Figure 2, intelligent action can potentially produce just about any level of information content. However, as Dembski argues in his "No Free Lunch" and "The Design Inference", there is an upper limit to the sorts of information content which can be produced by natural processes (represented by Curve C). Where we see high [Dembski would add "specified"] information content, we know that natural processes were not involved, and that intelligent design alone can be responsible. Thus, we can infer design. When low information content is involved, it could have been designed, but the from our understanding of what natural processes can do, probability shifts towards the information having been produced by natural processes.

Figure 2. Point A represents something probably made by natural processes. Point B represents something made by intelligent design. Curve C represents the upper limit to what natural processes can produce. Inferences made from both points A and B are based upon probabilities.
As Dembski says describing the processes by which we explain things, "the [explanatory] filter asks three questions in the following order: (1) Does a law explain it? (2) Does chance explain it? (3) Does design explain it?"5. If law or chance can explain low complexity, then perhaps we might accept a chance-law based explanation might be most appropriate for the origins of low information content. However, if only design can explain high information content, then we are justified in inferring design (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Design detection might be rudimentarily seen as a spectrum, as a function of information content. Structures with low information content are best described as having been produced by evolution, while those with high information content are best explained through design.
Information is a very real entity which may or may not be created by a conscious intelligent being. Design theorist William Dembski says,
"No one disputes that there is such a thing as information. As Keith Devlin (1991, p. 1) remarks, "Our very lives depend upon it, upon its gathering, storage, manipulation, transmission, security, and so on. Huge amounts of money change hands in exchange for information. People talk about it all the time. Lives are lost in its pursuit. Vast commercial empires are created in order to manufacture equipment to handle it."2
Dembski borrows accepted definitions from information theory to define information as the actualization of a possible event / scenario while excluding other events / scenarios. In other words, information is the narrowing down of what you're talking about. He quotes from Fred Dretske saying:
"Information theory identifies the amount of information associated with, or generated by, the occurrence of an event (or the realization of a state of affairs) with the reduction in uncertainty, the elimination of possibilities, represented by that event or state of affairs."2
Another definition Dembski gives is from Robert Stalnaker:
"Content requires contingency. To learn something, to acquire information, is to rule out possibilities. To understand the information conveyed in a communication is to know what possibilities would be excluded by its truth"2
Complexities of information are given by assigning probabilities to the excluded scenarios. When our observed scenario has a low probability and excluded scenarios have a high probability, we have information of high complexity. Through a mathematical transformation involving logarithms, probabilities of scenarios can be converted into units of information, measured in bits. DNA as a genetic molecule contains information because it tells you what to produce--to produce one entity rather than to produce other entities. This means it has information. (Now perhaps a DNA molecule on its own without the machinery to produce the proteins wouldn't have nearly as much information. So when I speak of DNA, in this context I mean the entire machinery for using the genetic code to create biological structures.)

Functions are biological features which do things for the organism. The purpose of intelligent design theory is to look at various functions and ask if they bear the marks of something which has been designed by an intelligence.

So, in other words, when we see in the biological structure-producing DNA machinery the ability to create some structures, and not others, which perform some specific action and not some other specific action, we can legitimately say that we have complex genetic information. When we specify this information as necessary for some function given a pre-existing pattern, then we can say it was designed. This is called "complex specified information" or "CSI".

However, because the intelligent design took place in the past, intelligent design theorists can only detect the design in the biological realm after it has happened. They cannot know the specification, or desired target before the design occurs. However, Dembski does note that, "a pattern corresponding to a possibility, though formulated after the possibility has been actualized, can constitute a specification."2 In other words, by observing things in the present, we can deduce the specified target of the designer in the past.

Dembski gives an analogy of six children who give their parents individual anniversary gifts, which, when put together, make a complete set of chinaware. We didn't know this complete set was possible or expected before the gifts were given, but we can still deduce and detect a pattern. But what sort of a pattern is there to which we can retroactively see that life corresponds?

Dembski argues that functionality is the pre-existing pattern to which life must always correspond. Dembski discussing functionality by saying the following:
"Arno Wouters (1995) cashes it out globally in terms of viability of whole organisms. Michael Behe (1996) cashes it out in terms of the irreducible complexity and minimal function of biochemical systems. Even the staunch Darwinist Richard Dawkins will admit that life is specified functionally, cashing out the functionality of organisms in terms of reproduction of genes. Thus Dawkins (1987, p. 9) will write: 'Complicated things have some quality, specifiable in advance, that is highly unlikely to have been acquired by random chance alone. In the case of living things, the quality that is specified in advance is . . . the ability to propagate genes in reproduction.'"2
If a function vital to survival of an organism of a given structure (the pre-existing specified pattern) could occur only if a given set of parts (the complex information) were present, and this complex set of parts were to come into being, then we could justifiably infer it was designed. Because we can observe intelligence being able to manipulate parts in an innovative manner to create novel CSI, the presence of CSI indicates design at some level, and removes the possibility that a chance-law mechanism such as the mutation-selection mechanism was responsible for it. Novel CSI itself cannot be generated by a chance-law based process, but rather can only be shuffled around4. As Stephen Meyer says, "Because we know intelligent agents can (and do) produce complex and functionally specified sequences of symbols and arrangements of matter (i.e., information content), intelligent agency qualifies as a sufficient causal explanation for the origin of this effect."3

Where the pattern is easily distinguished retroactively is when we know that a specific part is necessary for functionality. A useful way to do this is to consider the alleged evolutionary origin of a given function, and consider the specifications involved along the way:

For example, let us say that a primitive organism uses a hemoglobin-like molecule to dispose of unwanted oxygen. We observe that there are other organisms which use oxygen for respiration. We understand that their usage of oxygen involves a base number of different interacting enzymes and organ parts, not present in the organism which doesn't use oxygen. Thus, for an organism to use oxygen for respiration, we can see some pre-specified level of a target complexity necessary over the complexity found in organisms which don't use oxygen for respiration. Through "reverse engineering" of biological systems, we can come up with a target complexity retroactively. Irreducibly complex systems are useful in detecting design because they clearly show that some target level of specified complexity was necessary for some base level of functionality to be present. Looking at the steps necessary in the hypothetical construction of irreducibly complex systems may reveal many places where specifications must have existed in the past, and thus complex specified information exists in the present.

In all of this, there have been no mentions of God, religion, or adherence to any religious text but rather we use observations about how intelligent design works in the present to look at aspects of the natural world to see if they are designed. Intelligent design theory is based solely upon applying observations about intelligent action and principles of information theory to the construction of biological systems, and nothing more. There is nothing mystical, supernatural, religious, or non-scientific about intelligent design theory. In its current form, intelligent design theory also can say nothing about the designer other than that the designer was intelligent. Whether you agree with the methodology of intelligent design theory or not, you have to agree with one thing: it has a scientific basis.

References Cited:
1. Dawkins, Richard [zoologist and Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, Oxford University], "The Blind Watchmaker," [1986], Penguin: London, 1991, reprint, p.1
2. Intelligent Design as a Theory of Information by William Dembski as found at http://www.arn.org/docs/dembski/wd_idtheory.htm.
3. DNA and Other Designs by Stephen C. Meyer as found at http://www.arn.org/docs/meyer/sm_dnaotherdesigns.htm.
4. No Free Lunch by William Dembski (2001).
5. The Explanatory Filter: A three-part filter for understanding how to separate and identify cause from intelligent design by William Dembski.
_____________________________________
The above article has been reprinted with permission from the author.

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Lion

King of the jungle
Great post

Great post

Very interresting stuff. I really liked the Michael Behe mouse trap analogy.
 

JGaltJr.

BANNED
Becky,

In what way is ID a scientific theory?

Lion,

It's understandable that to a lay person the analogy would seem to make sense but what Behe leaves out is that although a mouse trap can not work as a mouse a trap with even one missing part, it can work as something else, a paper weight for instance. This is true of so called irreducbly complex organisms as well.
 

Prisca

Pain Killer
JGaltJr., you said, “In what way is ID a scientific theory?”
First of all, let me say that I ‘m not a scientist and I ‘m certainly not an expert on ID theory. I do find it intriguing and that is why I asked Casey Luskin for permission to reprint the above article. I invited Casey to participate in any discussion the article might generate, but he/she had to decline due to other obligations (I apologize for not knowing whether Casey Luskin is a male or female).

So, is the ID theory scientific? In other words, does it follow the scientific method?

Scientific Method

1.Observe some aspect of the universe.
2.Invent a tentative description, called a hypothesis, that is consistent with what you have observed.
3.Use the hypothesis, to make predictions.
4.Test those predictions by experiments or further observations.
5.Modify the theory in the light of your results.

Let’s see if we can apply these steps to ID based on information from the above article:

1. Observe some aspect of the universe..
Observations are made about the types of information that we can observe produced by intelligent agents in the real world.

2. Invent a tentative description, called a hypothesis, that is consistent with what you have observed.
Make inference based upon observations about the types of complexity that can be produced by the action of intelligent agents vs. the types of information that can be produced through purely natural processes.

3. Use the hypothesis, to make predictions.
Complexities of information are given by assigning probabilities to the excluded scenarios. When an observed scenario has a low probability and excluded scenarios have a high probability, we have information of high complexity. Through a mathematical transformation involving logarithms, probabilities of scenarios can be converted into units of information, measured in bits.

4. Test those predictions by experiments or further observations. .
Where we see high information content, we know that natural processes were not involved, and that intelligent design alone can be responsible. Thus, we can infer design. When low information content is involved, it could have been designed, but from our understanding of what natural processes can do, probability shifts towards the information having been produced by natural processes.

5.. Modify the theory in the light of your results.
If law or chance can explain low complexity, then perhaps we might accept a chance-law based explanation might be most appropriate for the origins of low information content. However, if only design can explain high information content, then we are justified in inferring design.
 

JGaltJr.

BANNED
Thank you for you attempt Becky. Number four creates a problem for the ID camp though, in that we are not able to test the prediction because no one can create a universe. Your statement that "Where we see high information content, we know that natural processes were not involved, and that intelligent design alone can be responsible. Thus, we can infer design, " is simply false. We can not draw any such conclusion lest we engage in question begging. So I think you've demonstrated quite clearly that this in fact is not a theory in the scientific sense.
 

Prisca

Pain Killer
When is a theory not a theory?

When is a theory not a theory?

JGaltJr., you said, “Thank you for you attempt Becky. Number four creates a problem for the ID camp though, in that we are not able to test the prediction because no one can create a universe.”
We can test things in our environment, things that we already know were created by natural process or by intelligent design, to see if they conform to the theory using the mechanisms described in number 3. I did not say anything about the universe itself.

However, if number four creates a problem for the ID camp in regard to the creation of the universe, then it creates the same problem for the macro-evolutionist camp. We can at least test the ID theory on existing objects in our environment. Number four states:
4. Test those predictions by experiments or further observations.
When has macroevolution ever been witnessed through experimentation or observation? Yet it has still been elevated to the rank of accepted theory in the mind of the average person. The following quote is a fairly accurate description, I think, of the true state of the macroevolution “theory”:


The inability of science to test macroevolution, places evolution in a precarious position. All that can be said with any degree of certainty is that Darwin's last tenet probably should read something like this: ... through numerous, successive, slight modifications, driven by natural selection, the descendants of animals continually adapt. Through these adaptions life is optimized. These adaptions maximize variation and can bring about significant change. Nevertheless, since scientific experiments cannot test macroevolution, there is no direct evidence to suggest that the processes behind microevolution are responsible for macroevolution. In fact, since observable processes only create diversity, they should not be extended to explain the origin of complexity.
http://www.theory-of-evolution.org/default.htm
 

JGaltJr.

BANNED
I notice you're doing what a lot of creationists do which is to switch the argument from a support of their own hypothesis to an attack on something they don't understand. Instead of going off on a tangent, let's stick to this topic. ID states that the god of the Bible created the universe. There are no IDers who believe in any other God. So I ask again, how is this a scientific theory. What observabe data is there to show such a thing?

Incidentally, ID is not in competition with evolution. ID is an hypothesis about the origins of life. Evolution explains origins of species, once life has already began.
 

Stratnerd

New member
Not sure if I can add anything to this but here's my two bits...

Scientific theories are inductive formulations to explain general natural phenomena. They cannot exist unless they have evidence and they get replaced when something with better explanatory power comes along.

I'm not sure if ID falls under the category of "natural" however the biggest problem I have with ID is that there's no known threshold for a probability to be considered "un-natural". When dealing with the origin of organisms this is especially problematic because of the confounding factor of historical contingencies (and all organisms have a history whether it be thousands or billions of years).

The skinny is... we can make all the predictions we want but we have no way of testing those predictions since we don't have a set of standards.
 

Prisca

Pain Killer
JGaltJr.

JGaltJr.

You said, “I notice you're doing what a lot of creationists do which is to switch the argument from a support of their own hypothesis to an attack on something they don't understand.”
No, I was trying to make a comparison between the promotion of one hypothesis (macroevolution) to the status of accepted theory and the rejection of ID as a theory even though it can be tested to a certain degree.

Because it is a theory, ID can only make predictions about certain aspects of our universe, but it makes those predictions based on data that can be successfully tested through step number 3 of the scientific method. This is not proof that life or the universe itself was created through intelligent design.
You said, “ID states that the god of the Bible created the universe. There are no IDers who believe in any other God.”
As far as I can tell, ID says nothing about the source of the intelligence. Just because there happen to be Christians who are investigating the ID theory does not mean that it is exclusive to Christianity.
You said, “Incidentally, ID is not in competition with evolution. ID is an hypothesis about the origins of life. Evolution explains origins of species, once life has already began.
Again, I was making a comparison between a “theory” and “hypothesis” not a comparison between the ideas themselves.
 

JGaltJr.

BANNED
I think perhaps you don't understand the difference between a hypothesis and a theory. A hypothesis is an idea. A theory, in the scientific sense, has been tested and found to be accurate. When has this been done for ID?

And IDers are all Christians. It is 100% a Christian movement.
 

Prisca

Pain Killer
Stratnerd

Stratnerd

You said, “…the biggest problem I have with ID is that there's no known threshold for a probability to be considered "un-natural".”

This is a sensible statement and it deserves investigation. I am only remotely familiar with ID theory at this time and what you said deserves consideration.

It does seem to me, however, that most of us intuitively employ the use of ID theory in our everyday lives. For example, if I were to walk into my kitchen, I would intuitively know that the splash of spaghetti sauce on the floor happened “somewhat” naturally in that it took no intelligence to produce it. On the other hand, if I noticed that the spaghetti sauce had a tic-tac-toe pattern scratched through it, I would assume that some form of intelligence had been at work.

You said, “The skinny is... we can make all the predictions we want but we have no way of testing those predictions since we don't have a set of standards.

According to Michael Behe, “The conclusion of intelligent design flows naturally from the data itself—not from sacred books or sectarian beliefs. Inferring that biochemical systems were designed by an intelligent agent is a humdrum process that requires no new principles of logic or science. It comes simply from the hard work that biochemistry has done over the past forty years, combined with consideration of the way in which we reach conclusions of design every day.”
Darwin’s Black Box, The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, (1996) Simon & Schuster, p. 193.
 

JGaltJr.

BANNED
"On the other hand, if I noticed that the spaghetti sauce had a tic-tac-toe pattern scratched through it, I would assume that some form of intelligence had been at work. "

I've never understood why creationists think this kind of analogy is accurate to biology. Has someone discovered a tic toe game carved inside a biological creature?
 
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Pilgrimagain

Guest
ID and Scientific Deism are not exclusively Christian. If you are going to make that claim back it up.

As you can see from Behe's quote above, the idea flows fromt he data not the Bible.

Pilgrim.

PS. for the record I have read the book in toto and found it interesting but am not sure it's the end all be all. But Behe definately did his homework. He's a respected scientist with the proper credetials so I don't think one can just dismiss him.
 

JGaltJr.

BANNED
Can you name a single IDer who is not Christian? The idea comes from a desire to believe in a god and then assuming that certain organisms require one. It doesn't come from any legitimate data.

Phillip Johnson, a lawyer who is one of the main proponents of ID, recently acknowledged openly that he and most other IDers believed the god of the Bible is the ID author. The Bible of IDism, Behe's ...Black Box, was written by a devout Christian.

But back to the original point, what makes ID a true scientific theory?
 
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Pilgrimagain

Guest
well maybe most, but not all. The idea of scientific deism is nothing new.
 

JGaltJr.

BANNED
Deism and ID are two completely different camps. Deism began as a philosophical movement. It never pretended to be a scientific concept.
 
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Pilgrimagain

Guest
Oh, I must be mistaken, for some reason I thought there had been an initial link and simularity between the two...I apologise.

Peace,
Pilgrim
 
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