On Saturday, Orac wrote The Discovery Institute [DI] drops a bomb of an argument. Apparently the DI’s Casey Luskin thinks the seismologists working to determine if North Korea really did set off a nuclear device are making a design inference just like IDists do:
But difficulties in detecting intelligent causation in seismic energy don't prevent scientists from trying to detect, or reject design. When they do verify a nuclear explosion, they have made a design inference.
It’s the same tired old argument that ID proponents have applied to archeology, SETI and other sciences. For example, archeologists routinely find artifacts that they pronounce as being designed – arrowheads and other tools, for example. Likewise, SETI scientists are scanning the skies for signals that they hope to determine come from extra-terrestrial intelligence. The argument goes that if archeology, SETI etc are science, then ID must also be science, because they’re all doing the same thing – identifying design.
Superficially this may seem compelling, but when you examine what these scientists are doing compared with what IDists do, you realize the DI is wrong – the way scientists go about things is entirely different. Below I identify three basic differences.
Human, or not
The first obvious difference is that the seismologists checking on North Korea know something about the designers - they know they are human. Consequently they also know the designers' motive was to create a nuclear device. Knowing what the designers were trying to do means the seismologists knew what to look for.
The same argument applies to archeologists - they are looking for evidence of human design. When they find remains of an ancient human encampment, knowing something about how humans behave they can determine that a flint is most likely a tool. They use their knowledge of the designers, and the context of where they found the articles, to determine what the objects are.
IDists don't have an equivalent knowledge about their designer or its motives to be able to make a similar determination. The ID process is actually the exact reverse of the scientific one – IDists first claim to determine design, and from this supposed determination they infer something about the designer. As William Dembski writes (all quotes with my bold):
…intelligent design does not presume to identify the purposes of a designer. Intelligent design focuses not on the designer’s purposes (the thing signified) but on the artifacts resulting from a designer’s purposes (the sign). What a designer intends or purposes is, to be sure, an interesting question, and one may be able to infer something about a designer’s purposes from the designed objects that a designer produces. Nevertheless, the purposes of a designer lie outside the scope of intelligent design. As a scientific research program, intelligent design investigates the effects of intelligence and not intelligence as such.
Archeologists and the seismologists referred to above are looking for evidence of human design, based on their knowledge of what those humans would be trying to do. IDists claim to identify unspecified non-human design where they see something they just think is designed. The difference between science and ID couldn’t be clearer.
Complex v Artificial
Of course, that explanation doesn’t apply to SETI – they are not looking for humans. But even so, it’s not so different – SETI are still looking for intelligence that lives in the same universe and obeys the same laws of physics that we do. That means we do know something about the putative ET and can make assumptions and predictions about how they would try to communicate with us. For example, we know that:
… the microwave band contains a naturally-produced emission line, a narrow-band "broadcast", at 1,420 MHz due to interstellar hydrogen. Every radio astronomer (including extraterrestrial ones) will know about this hydrogen emission. It may serve as a universal "marker" on the radio dial. Consequently, it makes sense to use nearby frequencies for interstellar "hailing" signals.
SETI use these assumptions to predict where to look for ET signals. IDists have no such assumption to guide their search.
Secondly, unlike ID which looks for complexity, SETI is looking for artificiality:
In fact, the signals actually sought by today’s SETI searches are not complex, as the ID advocates assume. [,,,] A SETI radio signal of the type we could actually find would be a persistent, narrow-band whistle. Such a simple phenomenon appears to lack just about any degree of structure, although if it originates on a planet, we should see periodic Doppler effects as the world bearing the transmitter rotates and orbits.
… the credibility of the evidence is not predicated on its complexity. If SETI were to announce that we’re not alone because it had detected a signal, it would be on the basis of artificiality. An endless, sinusoidal signal – adead simple tone – is not complex; it’s artificial. Such a tone just doesn’t seem to be generated by natural astrophysical processes. In addition, and unlike other radio emissions produced by the cosmos, such a signal is devoid of the appendages and inefficiencies nature always seems to add – for example, DNA’s junk and redundancy.
IDists are looking for complexity, because they think complexity must have been designed. SETI are looking for an artificial signal – a simple tone that does not appear in nature – because they know what an artificial signal looks like.
The beginning or the end?
The ultimate reason why ID is not science, is what they do with the information. With ID, determining design is the whole purpose of the endeavor. Intelligent Design is inferred. Check. Done. Finished. Determining design is the be-all and end-all of the operation. Of course, if the (nudge nudge wink wink) “designer” is supernatural, then there’s nothing further you could learn anyway, right?
With science, determining design is the beginning of the process. If SETI do make contact, all efforts would immediately be diverted to learning something about the intelligence, finding where it came from, learning something about the source planet, translating the message, ultimately making contact if possible.
When archeologists find tools left by early man, that is the start of the study. The purpose is then to learn more about early humans – where they lived, how they fed themselves, what tools they used, how long they lived etc.
And with the seismologists checking out North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, a test positive for radiation resulted in specific actions – sanctions. And, no doubt, more monitoring.
With all these real sciences, determining intelligent design is the start of the process – it’s the confirmation there is more to study. The difference between this and ID, where determination of design is the end of the process, couldn’t be starker. The totally empty, vacuous and useless nature of ID, compared with the endeavors of science, is what is most striking about this comparison with science that the IDists want to make