I can’t help it. I really can’t. I just can’t help deconstructing poor or fallacious arguments. And Dembski’s blog is chock full of them. Yesterday, BarryA, in Identify the Indian or Shut Up, re-tools one of the old saws in the creationist tool bag – the argument that archaeologists determine design in items they find, just like IDists do in nature. I covered this before in SETI, archeology and other sciences – actually a rebuttal to an argument made by Casey Luskin. Barry is making the same argument, although this time it’s about finding sharp stones that look like arrowheads.
The other day I got into an argument with one of my friends who insisted that the literally hundreds of pieces of flint in my grandfather’s collection, each showing an almost identical chip pattern, could not possibly be accounted for by blind unguided natural forces like erosion. I have to admit he made a fairly impressive mathematical case and I was beginning to waver. But then my friends at Panda’s Thumb came to my rescue. They argue that a design inference is illegitimate unless the person asserting the inference can also identify the designer.
I don’t know about the PT guys, but that’s not how I would put it. I would say that archaeologists can infer design because they know something about the putative designer. For one – they know they are human. That means we know something about their habits (they eat meat), limitations (they have no claws, etc) and strengths (they compensate by being smart enough to design weapons). Also, if an artifact is found within an obvious human encampment, the object is likely to be of human origin. So although we cannot know the identity of the designer (a rather silly straw man), we do know something about the designer, and can draw inferences from that knowledge. Barry continues:
I pointed to one of the stones in the frame my grandfather gave me (It continues to hang on my wall for sentimental reasons, not because there is anything special about the stones themselves). I said, “OK, Mr. Smarty Pants. If the pattern on that stone is designed, tell me who the designer was.” He was, of course, stumped, so I declared myself the victor in the argument. Yet another triumph for materialist reasoning!
Of course, archaeologists don't have to "identify" the Indian - just knowing it was an Indian is enough. (Although ironically, Barry's grandfather might not have actually known enough to be able to do that in most cases. No matter.) The problem with ID is not that they can’t identify the designer. The problem is that they know nothing about the supposed designer, and so have no way of inferring design in the complex patterns we find in nature. Still – I think I’ll borrow Barry’s headline and modify it so it represents the true archaeologists’ argument, and play it back at him. IDists – tell us something about the designer (eg how he designs / why he designs / how he manufactures his designs / what strengths and limitations does he have) – something that would allow us to infer design in nature - or Shut Up.