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March 05, 2009


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I find the IDist interest in design interesting. Assuming for a moment that they're almost all basically creationists, then they don't believe in the special status of design any more than you or I do. A pebble shows no signs of design, yet they believe that it was. A horse shows signs of being designed, yet I believe that it wasn't.

OK, so the horse doesn't actually show signs of being designed, but that doesn't change my argument :)

It's one of those "do submarines swim" questions, isn't it? Dennett makes a case in Darwin's Dangerous Idea for using "design" to refer to features of living things as well as things that we design, and I found it pretty convincing. Whatever way we choose, we should make an argument based on cleaving Nature at the joins, not on what will be best in a war of publicity with creationists.

I commend you for making it through the first paragraph. For a moment there it seemed like he was just going around in squares.

Language is the thing that will keep tripping us up since it's human nature to use language we are familiar with - especially when putting things in layman's terms so people like me understand it.

So we talk of a car "running", a plane "flying" or even money "walking" out the door. For this reason, there's a tendency to talk about how the universe was "created" or life "designed", and we've immediately given the opposition an easy slam dunk based solely on semantics, not science.

Intelligent - or educated - people can deal with the semantics but it does make it easier to hoodwink the less educated (that sounds harsh but it's unintended).

Curious. First he baits us with an accurate description of religion in the first two paragraphs, and then he suddenly switches to "Darwinism", but he criticizes it for faults that actually belong to the ID movement!

Much like Charles Babbage, I cannot rightly apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that would prompt such a rant.

I also thought the first two paragraphs applied better to theology and creationism than they did evolution.

I agree that the word evolved is better suited than designed since many people will infer intent from the word designed.

However, it's a shame we have to get bogged down in word selection when it's clear to any objective person what the intention of the message is, no matter how much you try to derive unintended meaning form the words selected, such as using the word designed (when no concept of intent is intended) rather than evolved.

It fascinating how often we (humans) become obsessed at the minutia of language and wording of things rather than the underlying concept; we let the phraseology drive our understanding rather than letting the concepts drive the phraseology.

Take, for instance, the various alt-medicine people who derive some very deep and significant meaning from the fact that the word disease can be broken down into dis-ease. Wow, that's a very witty word play, but hardly any support for an argument.

Paul is right with his first observation. Using design for evolved features is applying the intentional stance to nature, as with his example with submarines. It is just a misfiring of our Hyperactive Agency Detection Device a.k.a. our brain.

In Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon Dennett argues that religions might be partially evolved and partially designed. This view is based on the idea of evolving ideas, (i.e. memes) [Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, 1976, Chapter 8.]

Consider this quote from Dennett: "Richard Dawkins has proposed to call designs-without-designers "designoid" [Climbing Mount Improbable, 1996, p4]. The coinage is useful for marking the error people make in supposing that anything that appears designed must have been produced by a deliberate conscious mind, but it shouldn't be taken to mark a bright line in nature. Are the short legs of dachshunds deisn or designoid? Human breeders set out to achieve the effect, and they had reasons for it. Are genetically engineered design or designoid? (...) The work of exploring the grand unity of Design Space is distributed between the slow ratcheting of natural selection of genes, and the swift trail-and-error explorations of individual brains (and their numerous artifactual exploration vehicles), so I will continue to use the umbrella term "design" to cover it all." [Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, 2006, note 12 on page 395]

I think there are things that have both evolved and are designed (and that religion is one of those things). The distinction between design and designoid seems artificial. Why not just consider that design does not have to be intentional. Cheese was an accident, so was penicillin. Would you call those evolved or designed? I would say that the process of making cheese has both evolved and is designed, but in everyday life I would just talk about the design of cheese.

Skeptico, many thanks for blogging. It was the reason I recognized I was a skeptic a few years ago (without knowing the term).

Correct me if I'm wrong (and I am greatly heartened by the fact that someone probably will, which is interesting in itself, but I digress) but doesn't Dawkins refer to design only in his argument that to see design in nature is a mistake, but one we are essentially programmed or prone to make? I seem to remember reading that he states (to paraphrase) "Yes we can see design, but that is our mistake not a property of nature."

Now, with reference to my newly adopted (but certainly not new) strategy of taking on woos on their own terms I would approach these IDiots with the following:

Ok, suppose for a second that nature, and life, is designed and not evolved.

Take the human reproductive system. It is incredibly flawed and fragile (my wife works in obstetrics - it's frightening). For instance, 1 in 5 pregnancies ends in a miscarriage (this figure is from 2002 so may be out of date now). If you had an engineer who designed bridges, but 1 in 5 of them always collapsed, what would you think of that engineer? Would they be omnipotent? Perfect? Could you even consider them competent? Would they be deserving of awe? Worship?

Miscarriage is just one of the many things that can go wrong with the human reproductive system - cervical cancer, testicular cancer, stillbirth, sterility - the list goes on.

So, if the human reproductive system is designed, what does it say about the designer? Please explain what a system that was designed but fails repeatedly and regularly says about its designer.

And we all know of many, many more examples but I've used this one with some success in the past.

IDiots have, unfortunately, been good at seeming to undermine evolution to those who don't know much about it by picking at percieved flaws, I say it's our turn to repay the favour.

Good post. One point I like to emphasize, and probably should more often, is that IDiots don't even know what they're looking for, and yet they want to get into schools.

There is a big problem with ID - which we must not forget stands for 'Intelligent Design'. There are a number of examples where intelligent design was clearly not involved.

Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes compared with the great apes which have 24 pairs. Since loss of a chromosome is very likely to be lethal, the theory was that it was most likely that two chromosomes have fused. Which was indeed what was discovered.

See Ken Miller on Intelligent Design
From 35.00.

If an 'intelligent designer' designed this, he/she wasn't particularly smart!

The problem with using the word "evolved" is that the response will be "it's only a theory", so the word games start again.

The problem with inventing new words to avoid confusion is that the creationists already accuse scientists of elitism and using language so confusing no normal person can understand it. Apparently, simplicity is more convincing - but simplicity involves the use of common terminology which brings us back to circle one.

I wonder how much brain power is needed to turn the upside-down image on my back-to-front retinas in my myopic and presbyopic eyeballs the right way up...

Can I sue this designer bloke? He ought to be fired!

Not just fired, he should be sued for gross negligence and incompetence. Possibly even manslaughter or some version of this. I mentioned to my better half that I'd posted the 1 in 5 figure, and she replied that it is almost certainly worse than this, since this is reported pregnancies/miscarriages - many more miscarriages would be put down to heavy menstrual bleeding and not even recognised as a miscarried pregnancy.

This designer would be nothing short of an incompetent moron culpable in the deaths of hundreds of millions thoughout history. And that's just through his designs, nevermind the chronically stupid who kill in his name.

Good posts all. Did anyone care to answer the last question of rbullock's essay? Just curious.

rbullock: The answer is no. Neither are you, and not your pet dog/cat/hamster/ferret/anything else you have, and not even a tree.

rbullock, here is an answer to your profoundly ignorant and stupid question "Tell me, Darwinist: Are you intelligently designed?".

I am not intelligently designed and neither are you. If you think you are then I have several thousand questions for you. We'll have to go one question at a time, so here is the first one.

My (and your) recurrent laryngeal nerve connects the brain and the larynx. Why, if it was designed, does it run down into the chest, curl around the aorta, then run back up to its destination? Your "intelligent designer" had an intelligent purpose for that, and you claim to know it, so lets hear it. And it better be good.

Evolutionary theory has no difficulty at all with that question, and futher explains why this characteristic also appears in other mamals and vertebrates. You can explain that too, while you're at it.

Remember not just why you think it was designed, but why you think it was intelligently designed. Feel free to go into minute detail.

To make that a bit clearer, this circuitous path unnecessarily leaves the nerve exposed to damage that would be avoided if it had have been "intelligently designed" to run directly to the larynx. It points of course to shared ancestry among those animals who have it. Or, maybe not - rbullock is about to explain why God decided it was an intelligent feature to employ throughout the animal kingdom, even including giraffes.

Thank you King of Ferrets and Yakaru.

Is that it? Only two skeptics sure that THEY are not intelligently designed? I want to see how many of you "skeptics" are willing to state on the record that you are sure (no doubt or skepticism) that YOU are not intelligently designed. So far only two.

Still curious (and skeptical).

rbullock, you're barking up the wrong tree. Lack of interest in your question does not mean that no one can answer it.

Let me place this on the record: no skeptic has any reason at all to believe he was designed, and if he understands evolution even at the most basic level, he will have no problem making the statement clearly on the record that he does not believe he was designed "intelligently". Further, any skeptic who is familiar with ID has every reason to believe it is categorically wrong.

You seem to think evolution is some kind of ideology that can be rhetorically dismissed. You don't know even the first thing about the subject. You are wrong, confused and arguing very deceitfully.

I am waiting for an answer to my question above. You don't have an answer to it because ID doesn't have an answer for it, and not for 100 million other questions.

rbullock, your question has been answered - the answer is, "no, we are not intelligently designed".

Now stop trolling.


you may have missed the election, but I was elected to represent all people who think creationist stories are silly works of fiction and who would rather use evidence to shape our worldview. You like to call us darwinists, but we are also newtonians, einsteinians, galileans, copernicans, dawkinians and sagans among other titles. It is a vast network of billions of people, and yes, I represent all of them.

We are not intelligently designed.

There, you now have your answer from billions of the brightest and best minds on the planet.

Do you have more dumb questions or was that it?

Apparently English isn't your first language rbullock, that or you are very new to the ID movement and haven't had much, if any, contact with skeptics until now.

I am not intelligently designed, neither are you. There is ample evidence for this.

So, both Yakaru and I have answered your questions (both directly and indirectly), how about you answer ours? You're not avoiding them, are you?

Answer our questions.

I am not designed, intelligently or otherwise, neither are you or any other living thing on this planet.

It is rather naive of you to assume that because only a few people had bothered to respond that somehow "you win". If that was your thinking?.

I'm curious, did you expect every sceptic on this planet to "state on the record that they are sure (no doubt or skepticism) that they are not intelligently designed." Not sure if Skeptico's blog could handle a few billion comments. Even if they did, would you then accept they were right?

Wow. Touchy tough guys hiding behind fake names. You all need to lighten up. Do you think I'm some kind of threat? I just asked a simple question, and even the great Skeptico herself has to jump in all serious sounding.

TechSkeptic, I appreciate your humor. Really, I do. But I don't think it was a dumb question.

Jimmy Blue, your'e no skeptic. I deal with skeptics everyday. And I can tell, you are posing, but you have real doubts.

It's not about winning or losing, Mr. OzAtheist. I was just curious if a true skeptic would be truly skeptical about something like design. Apparently not. So you are not really skeptics, are you?

So long. I'm sure in real life we would be friends, so if any of you want to have a civil conversation about real life, send me an email at [email protected] I will always be civil and polite and will not blow your cover.

You're not very good at this are you? Although, you did hit a couple of points from The Woo Handbook.

Lets see:

Definitely a number 2, a number 10, and a number 20 most certainly.

Wow. Touchy tough guys hiding behind fake names.

Shock horror, name calling and implied cowardice. Notch another one for originality.

You all need to lighten up.

Hell yeah, it's not like science education and resisting the drive to teach one groups unverifiable beliefs as concrete evidence based science are important or something. Why are we so angry?

Do you think I'm some kind of threat?

You individually? No. You and others like you? Most definitely. To science education, to freedom of or from religious belief. Just minor unimportant things like that.

I just asked a simple question, and even the great Skeptico herself has to jump in all serious sounding.

"Herself"? Lame. The operative word here is of course 'simple'.

Jimmy Blue, your'e no skeptic.

Really? And what grounds do you have to assert that? Apparently you have a different definition of skeptic to everyone else, so please let us in on it.

I deal with skeptics everyday.

Really? And you still had to ask your simple question as if no skeptic had ever answered it?

And I can tell, you are posing, but you have real doubts.

Such a shame you have gone, I won't be able to ask how you could see through me. Of course, I have many real doubts about many things. It's part of being a skeptic.

I was just curious if a true skeptic would be truly skeptical about something like design.

Ah the old 'true skeptic' gambit. Just exactly what definition of skeptic are you using? How does one become a 'true skeptic'?

Apparently not. So you are not really skeptics, are you?

Yeabuhwha? We. Are. Skeptical. Of. Intelligent. Design. Where exactly did you get that we aren't? You seem confused about quite a few things here.

But of course, you're trying to be clever and argue that we should be skeptical of the idea that we are not intelligently designed as well. If we aren't skeptical of everything, we can't be skeptics. Right? So we must be skeptical of ID and evolution to be 'true skeptics'. Right?


So long. I'm sure in real life we would be friends, so if any of you want to have a civil conversation about real life,

Yes that's right, take your ball and go home. Don't forget to hope that no-one noticed you didn't answer any of the questions put to you.

Of course, the thing that really stands out in your last post is the projection.

You use veiled insults and say we aren't civil. You say I have doubts about my beliefs but won't defend yours. You run away claiming you'll carry on talking elsewhere if anyone wants to, implying it is us who won't talk.

You run away without once defending ID. Without answering the simple questions about ID that were put to you. After complaining no-one would or had answered rbullock's question.

Who is the one with the doubts really, rbullock? Why wouldn't you answer the questions rbullock?

Tough guys who hide behind fake names? A) How the hell are we acting like tough guys, and B) I don't try to hide my real name. You can find it on my blog's sidebar, for fuck's sake.

Skepticism is most likely absurdly different from whatever you define it as. To be skeptical of design is just to be skeptical of the idea that we're designed; we don't have to be skeptical of the idea of evolution too. Being skeptical of something is essentially doubting it. Being a skeptic means being skeptical of new ideas, and accepting them 'till new evidence arises against it. We don't have to doubt evolution unless some extremely compelling evidence against it arises. We already did a skeptical evaluation of it, and it passed the test to be accepted until something shows up against it. Then we redo our evaluation, and if the evidence is strong enough we accept a new explanation. The cases for intelligent design and creationism combined can't even come close to having strong enough evidence.

Dear Mr/Mrs/Ms rbullock,

I posed a question to you above, as did Jimmy. Evolutionary theory answers them both, but ID "theory" is incapable of even acknowledging the existence of the question, as are you.

There's no point making great claims for your "theory" if you don't have anything to back them up with.

Skepticism is most likely absurdly different from whatever you define it as.

...A very safe bet, Mr Ferrets.

Yeah, the pigeon just crapped all over the board again ....

Let me see if I got this little scuffle down right:

Rather than address any criticisms Skeptico presented, rbullock felt compelled to ask whether or not we were intelligently designed and some people correctly said "no." But because there wasn't a flood of people saying so within an arbitrary time frame, rbullock then goes on to change the subject to stuff like pseudonyms, as if epistemology was relative to the identity of the people presenting the arguments, and the fact that some of us fear for our jobs and livelihoods if our real names were attached to politically unpopular opinions somehow invalidates the very concept of science.

And he also goes on to argue that we aren't skeptics because we accept one of the most well-tested and successful theories out there instead of his incoherent idea of a magic man randomly popping in from nowhere and, on a random, unfathomable whim, decides to make the universe so that it just happens to look like science works.

Does that about cover it?

To get an idea of the meaning of 'design' all they have to do is provide examples of things that have been design and things that have not been designed. Surely, there must be a way creationists are able to distinguish between the two.

rbullock's entire argument is ad ignorantiam. As with most other IDers, his premise is that he cannot imagine how something as complex as (insert any life form here) can NOT be designed. Mr. Bullock, this is a failure of your imagination, not a failure of the theory of Evolution.

Speaking of imagination, gr8..., you and other Skeptico-gals might want to check out my next post; should be posted sometime tomorrow, 3/31. Your little club gets a mention, with class, I might add. I only operate with style. Send me your thoughts at [email protected]. I won't be back here for awhile to see them. As always, all email will be answered politely and confidentially. True skeptics welcome.

I won't be back here for awhile to see them.

I'm not surprised, all those horrible atheists asking questions and not being polite when you use their site to advertise your propaganda.

...And screwing up blockquotes. dammit.

True skeptics welcome? Wow, I guess you're not welcome at your own place!

Yakaru: Mr. Ferrets? C'mon, that sounds stupid.

Speaking of imagination, gr8..., you and other Skeptico-gals might want to check out my next post;

Oh I think it's safe to say you are the last person who should be speaking about imagination. "Skeptico-gals"? Seriously? Learn that one at playtime did we?

What an awe inspiring command of language and wit you demonstrate. Truly we must await your latest magnum opus with barely contained dread at the sure certainty of the soon to be vanquished.

Or, on the other hand, it could be that we expect more of the usual rubbish from yet another creationist who thinks he has a devastating argument.

"See, they don't doubt evolution, so they aren't true skeptics."

Good grief.

Yes, it was a twisted joke in reference to bullock's complaint about people not using their legal name. Don't worry, I won't keep on using it!

Yakaru: Mr. Ferrets? C'mon, that sounds stupid.
Hmm... if you're the King of Ferrets, who's your queen?

If you don't have one, I nominate Ferretina, the Weasel Queen.

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