About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Four types of design, intelligent or not

In reponse to a request posted on this blog, I'm posting a link to an old lecture of mine about intelligent design vs. evolution. The second part of the lecture discusses the fact that there really are four kinds of "design" that could be logically distinguished:

1- Non intelligent, natural: this is the result of natural selection and other natural mechanisms that produced the biological world on earth as we know it;

2- Intelligent, natural: such as artifacts produced by human beings, or by possible extra-terrestrial civilizations;

3- Intelligent, supernatural, sloppy: such as could be the result of the action of a "minor" god (like Plato's famous Demiurge, who did the best he could for the universe with the materials available);

4- Intelligent, supernatural, perfect: as in what Christian and similar mythologies tell us the universe is.

My point in the lecture was that we have evidence only of the first two kinds, which are readily explainable. The third kind couldn't be distinguished from type 2 (as pointed out years ago by Arthur C. Clarke, the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey -- the products of a sufficiently advanced civilization cannot be distinguished from magic). As for n. 4, I don't see any evidence of "perfection" in the world, whatever that means...


  1. Strictly speaking, the first kind of "design" is better referred to merely as "order" rather than "design."

    Antony Flew, before he went deist, pointed out that the so-called argument from design really is an argument that incorrectly infers that nature is designed from the fact that nature exhibits certain kinds of order. While design, by its very nature, requires a designer, order does not necessarily require an orderer.

  2. No, that's not necessarily true.

  3. Here's the deal:

    If the universe is finite and closed, then Laplace's Demon is valid and this is all that we can really say from direct observation. So anything beyond that is going to be theorectical physics speculation that isn't justified in origins science, unless it's being used against something that's equally specultative, because this isn't popularized cutting-edge theoretical physics speculation 101, it's origins science.

    Empiricism must supercede.

    In which case, "design" is a necessary part of the thermodynamic structuing of the universe, per Einstein's determistic model of the universe, via his General Theory of Relativity in an expanding, yet finite and closed universe.

    That's the most conservative mainstream approach.

  4. This is the reason that I asked Massimo to repost his criterion:

    The problem is that evolutionary biologists *typically* see design in nature as 'proof of god'... so they deny its existence altogether. They get this mentality from proponents of intelligent design, like, Behe and Dembski, who push design in nature as evidence for intelligent design. It isn't, but it leads to willful ignorance of purposeful structuring in nature, so how else will this come out, if not for the ill-informed and motivated that are pushing ID?

    You can't say that scientists are on the side of science when this is the case, which makes ID necessary in order to force the issue. Everybody's too hung-up on the "design" aspect to even realize that design in nature doesn't and can't prove that there is an intelligent agent behind it, since design in nature can only prove that there is some methodical structuring to nature.

    They wouldn'a liked Einstein much... says a lot, and they rely on cutting-edge theoretical speculation that has no business in origins science, except maybe as an equally speculative rebuttal to the incredible implausibility of intelligent intervention.

    The hardest proof for design in nature is just that, nothing more, nor less, because you can't prove "intelligent" design unless you can produce a very old alien space-ship with the plans for human costruction hanging from their drawing board.

    That's the bottom line and that's where the argument needs to be concentrated, because it's much easier to prove the science unworthy of comparison to Darwin's genius if you don't accept that design in nature is proof of god by denying the existence of the patterns in nature that all valid mathematical physics projects.

  5. Typically, a design is the result of designers. Take a watch for example. It is the product of an evolution of a whole series of watch designs. And many of the parts were desinged seperatly. It should be called the theory of intelegent designers. Pantheism lives.

  6. I don't know about pantheism, but if design necessarily implied a (conscious) designer (which it doesn't -- natural selection can "design" biological structures), then we wouldn't need to talk about "intelligent design" -- intelligent as opposed to what?

  7. You might say "natural response" rather than "natural design". Design implies some sort of planning, or perhaps anticipation of needed accomodations, while response is simply a reaction to current needs. I don't think we are "designed" at all. A designer would have made provisions for replacement parts (regeneration?)

  8. I agree 110% with Paula.

    Using the "design" metaphor when talking about adaptation does more harm than good, IMHO.

    If you're "preaching to the choir", that's fine. But seems to me like the general public will only get more confused with the use of design without a designer.

    I always have the same uneasy feeling about the highly consecrated term "selection" itself, actually. If there is selection, somebody might always think there must be a selector.

    But that's just me being paranoid, methinks...


  9. Why can't it be all four concepts working together in harmony with a headmasters governing all of the principles? Or is that to simple and mundane? On the surface it would appear to be intelligent design if not in all things,then most. So in a democratic society such as we live in the intelligent design theory should be acknowledged as having "the majority of correctness or correlations" on it's side,therefore it should be adhered to as the victor.SOLVED

  10. I know this post was ages ago but what about...

    By building computers and connecting them through the internet we have created another universe (one every bit as realistic as ours), we have already simulated the big bang. There are rules in this universe, underlying code that all future life can be built upon. Not by one maker but by many contributors, making incremental code changes. Humanity's ability to create a universe with different kinds of systems, entities and purposes is an analogy well worth exploring. While it may not be the way our universe was formed, it is a way that a universe was formed.


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