Intelligent Design - Science and Design

Last updated Fri Oct 25 10:25:28 EDT 2002

Aristotles Four Causes

Aristotle identified four questions that needed to be answered when explaining an object. After the Enlightenment enthroned Human Reason as the final arbiter of truth, metaphysics became a matter of speculation. Anyone could say anything about worlds beyond our world - and no one could prove them wrong. These fanciful superstitions impeded the sciences in their pursuit of knowledge. In response, Roger Bacon and others banned formal and final causes from Science as metaphysical and unverifiable in nature. There was now a clean division of labor. Scientists would investigate material and efficient causes, Philosophers would investigate formal and final causes.

By the 20th century, Philosophy had its own Revolt Against Metaphysics. Logical Positivists were fed up with endless speculation about untestable theories. Logical Positivism asserts that a theory or philosophy has meaning only to the extent that it can be verified. This did not save Human Reason's position as Fount of Truth, because the gaping hole in Logical Positivism should be immediately apparent: the statement that only verifiable statements have meaning, is not verifiable, and is therefore meaningless.

Science and Materialism

In any case, the Sciences are properly restricted to verifiable statements, and avoid the problems of Logical Positivism by not claiming to address all questions. However, 20th century information science has brought the 3rd of Aristotles four causes into the fold of verifiablity. The formal cause, or information structure of any object can be objectively measured and verified. And while the final cause, of purpose, of an object can only be verified by communicating with its designer, its purpose can be intelligently discussed by comparison with the objects structure - as is routine in archaeology.

Scientific inquiry is stymied when it refuses to deal with this new knowledge, especially in biology. Biological systems that are verifiably designed, are dismissed as being only "apparently designed", and there is no inquiry into their structure and purpose. Many have suffered at the hands of this self inflicted ignorance. Tonsils were considered "vestigial organs", and it was thought that everyone would be better ought to have them out. The appendix was give a similar treatment. The coccyx was also considered vestigial, but removal was unpopular because its absence results in incontinence among other problems.

The irony is that detecting design is essential to many applied sciences and to peer review. Did the scientist intentionally falsify his data, or was it a mistake? Did two scientists happen to make the same discovery at nearly the same time, or was it plagiarism?

Specified Complexity

The criteria for detecting design can be summed up in three properties: Specification requires some elaboration. The specification, or formal pattern or structure, must be independent of the object or event in question. This is most easily and objectively accomplished by specifying it before making any observations. But such patterns can be detected after the fact by carefully avoiding any use of information from the event or object itself in their specification. A failure to keep the pattern independent results in the statistical fallacy of fabrication or "Cherry Picking". The Bible Codes are a good example of this.

False Negatives

The Design Criterion can easily fail to detect design when it is hidden. The purpose of cryptography and steganography is to hide messages from prying eyes. The death of Ahab [1 Kings 22] provides an interesting example. In verse 34, "a certain man drew a bow at a venture, and smote the king of Israel between the joints of the harness." This is an unlikely event, but taken by itself would not denote design. However, in verse 20 the specification is given before hand. "The LORD said, who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?"

False Positives

False positives are also possible. However, the probability of a false positive can be made arbitrarily small by increasing the required complexity level needed to trigger the design hypothesis. Dembski that any possibility with a probability of less than 10-150 ought to be considered "impossible" for all practical purposes.