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Ep. 319 A Summary of the Intelligent Design (ID) Landscape

Bob gives an overview of the Intelligent Design landscape, focusing on three of its leading members: Michael Behe, William Dembski, and Stephen Meyer. He explains what ID is, some of its major concepts, and tackles some common objections.

Mentioned in the Episode and Other Links of Interest:

About the author, Robert

Christian and economist, Chief Economist at infineo, and Senior Fellow with the Mises Institute.

34 Comments

  1. Fabrizio Ferrari on 05/06/2024 at 6:29 PM

    I’m only about halfway through, but still, awesome stuff as always, Bob!

    Just one ‘actually’ remark though: at around 01:03:30, you mentioned ‘rolling a dice 10 times, any given series of outcomes is equally probable,’ which isn’t accurate if the dice is fair. With a fair six-sided dice, getting 60 ones in a row is much less likely than getting 10 ones, 10 twos, and so on. This concept aligns with the foundations of Bayesian statistics, where prior knowledge influences posterior conclusions.

    The main point with ID is that 1) certain outcomes are less likely due to prior knowledge, so 2) it’s reasonable to question whether outcomes are orchestrated. Just as we wouldn’t assume a six-sided dice would land on 3 a hundred times in a row, we wouldn’t assume the flagellum bacterium appeared randomly. Does that make sense?

    Thank you!
    Fabrizio

    • Robert Murphy on 05/07/2024 at 5:16 PM

      With a fair six-sided dice, getting 60 ones in a row is much less likely than getting 10 ones, 10 twos, and so on.

      Hang on, I disagree. I’m saying the order is important. You still stand by your claim?

      • Fabrizio Ferrari on 05/09/2024 at 8:14 PM

        Mmm sorry, I might actually have misconstrued your statement, because I thought you were not taking the order into consideration. Anyway, I think I got what you were saying… please forget about my comment!

        • Robert Murphy on 05/10/2024 at 3:50 PM

          Right, I’m saying any particular sequence, where the order matters. The probability is (1/6)^10, regardless of the particular outcomes you assign to each die in the sequence. (If we’re talking one die, and just adjust the calc for two dice per roll.)

  2. Tuppenceworth on 05/06/2024 at 7:04 PM

    For comparison, worth watching a (young) Dawkins on design:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGyh1Qsw-Ak

    Also interesting to watch physicist Sabine Hossenfelder’s video on defining complexity:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPUZiWMNe-g

  3. Dave H on 05/06/2024 at 9:46 PM

    Two questions.

    1. Bob says that more and more scientists will be moving towards ID as time goes on. ID has been around for more than 30 years. Where is this movement? Where are the results of ID? It has literally never explained a single thing. I would like to bet Bob (or anybody else) any amount of money up to $10,000 that in 20 years, ID will be in the exact same state that it is now.

    2. If ID is just a scientific paradigm and not a Trojan Horse, why was the initial strategy of ID to whine about public schools not including it in the curriculum? Science is not “first we teach the kids, then we get the results.” Science gets results and those results and the way we achieved them are so important that they are required learning for kids to be able to function when they grow up.

    The rest of the podcast is just stuff that has all been addressed decades ago. Again, if ID were science, Bob would have something new to tell us. Not the same old junk from the 1990s that produced nothing then and produces nothing now.

    My challenge for anyone who thinks ID is real to identify ID within a text string among random junk still stands. Why will nobody take it?

    • Robert Murphy on 05/07/2024 at 5:21 PM

      My challenge for anyone who thinks ID is real to identify ID within a text string among random junk still stands. Why will nobody take it?

      I specifically addressed this in the episode. If you camouflage to make something look random, then it might not jump out (though it could, with techniques of detection).

      But yeah if you’re trying to decrypt a message there’s no ambiguity if you got it.

      • Dave H on 05/08/2024 at 9:35 PM

        I haven’t made it through the whole episode yet (it’s a long one!), but the fact that it’s possible for me to slip design by you through encryption means that this whole system is not rigorous like you want us to believe it is.

        If it were rigorous, it would be able to tell the difference between design and randomness *when you don’t already know the answer.* But for some reason, ID can only get the right answer when they know it ahead of time.

        This is my whole point – ID advances nothing. It has never been used to detect plagiarism. It was not used to analyze COVID. It does literally nothing for us. It is not science.

      • Dave H on 05/08/2024 at 9:40 PM

        I mean for goodness sake, they can’t even give a step by step process that will tell me whether something is designed or not!

        The great thing about science is that it is reproducible. So give me a way to reproduce this stuff, not just examples.

        Take the RONPAUL08 example. Take me through the actual rigorous steps that indicate design. Not just “cmon Dave we know who Ron Paul is.” List the steps that an alien who had no knowledge of English, or even human writing systems, could take to know that this is a vanity plate.

        • Robert Murphy on 05/10/2024 at 3:54 PM

          Take the RONPAUL08 example. Take me through the actual rigorous steps that indicate design. Not just “cmon Dave we know who Ron Paul is.” List the steps that an alien who had no knowledge of English, or even human writing systems, could take to know that this is a vanity plate

          You obviously don’t WANT to understand the simple points being made, so this will be my last answer to you. There can be messages “hidden” in apparent noise. If someone encrypts a message, the casual outsider doesn’t see “design” in the garbled letters. But if someone else stumbles upon the decryption key, then yes, it suddenly becomes obvious that the original string of letters wasn’t generated by a random process.

          Take your own example at face value. I agree, aliens who don’t speak English might not differentiate between “2SUT3…” and “RONPAUL08.” And so they couldn’t rule out “random assignment” for that license plate. But for those of us who do understand English, we see that plate and know “This was designed.”

          You can see evidence that something was designed. You are allowed to realize this well after you first encountered it. So the fact that some observers might not immediately detect design, doesn’t somehow prove it wasn’t designed. What is critical is that if you DO see tell-tale signs of design, then you know it was probably designed because you can rule out blind, mechanistic processes.

          • Robert Murphy on 05/10/2024 at 4:01 PM

            One more because I can’t help myself: According to your logic, Dave H, when Jodie Foster’s character in “Contact” tells her colleagues at SETI, “Hey, these pulses are listing out the prime numbers in order, this has to be intelligent aliens sending a message,” they would say, “Uh, I tried playing the same output to my housecat, and it doesn’t know about prime numbers. So you are wrong, there is no evidence of intelligent design here.”

            You’re crushing it, Dave.



          • Dave H on 05/11/2024 at 10:57 PM

            I’m not asking you to tell me what the message is. I’m asking you to tell me which text string was designed. This is the entire point of ID, is it not? If you can only say something was designed given that you already know it was through other means, then ID is useless.

            You shouldn’t need to know the key to tell me whether design is present or not. Just run it through the Specified Complexity calculation.

            It’s not that I don’t want to understand what’s going on here. It’s that I DO understand what’s going on here. These guys are not serious scientists and don’t care about advancing human knowledge or making predictive models. And that’s exactly why their first target was high school children.

            What if I write a novel where a scientist detects prime number beats from a distant star, and then immediately declares that it was designed, but oops it was actually an unknown natural process? Does that prove anything? No, it does not. Fictional stories are not science.

            What would be science is if somebody creates a bunch of random things, mixes a designed thing in, and then somebody uses ID to tell which one was designed. But they can’t do this.

            Let’s take a different example. Let’s say I tell you that there is a magical telekinetic force that I have called “magnetism.” This magical force makes certain metals attract each other. You don’t believe me. How could I convince you that this force is real?

            Now just do the same with ID.



          • Robert Murphy on 05/12/2024 at 11:37 AM

            I’m not asking you to tell me what the message is. I’m asking you to tell me which text string was designed.

            In practice, we probably COULD tell which one you created off the top of your head, and which ones were generated by, say, a computer’s random number generator. But they would have to be long strings of numbers/letters, because the signature would be the fact that the designed string wouldn’t actually be random. So you’d need it to be long to be fairly sure that the unequal representation of certain elements wasn’t just statistical noise from a genuinenly random process.

            But I’m not going down this path further, because you could just tweak your approach to camouflage against it. Specified complexity is (a) improbable and (b) corresponds to an antecedent pattern. You keep pointing out, “Oh so the person has to first know the pattern.” Yes. That is how you recognize design in every other context. You can go tell homicide detectives and archeologists they’re being unscientific frauds. You would just be wrong, but I can’t stop you.



        • Will on 05/17/2024 at 12:53 AM

          >I’m not asking you to tell me what the message is. I’m asking you to tell me which text string was designed.

          The answer is both are designed. The seemingly random assortment aren’t actually random. They’re both the products of millennia of human intellectual design producing letters and numbers. Just as wooden blocks don’t become random just because you switch around the way they’re laid out, the blocks are still the product of intentional design themselves, the same is even more true of letters and numbers.

          And just because that isn’t evident to the ignorant, whether human or alien, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

          I do however agree with you about ID not being accepted. Not because it is illogical, but because people are indoctrinated into a specific view of science from the start that then colors the entire way they interpret any information they obtain.

          • Dave H on 05/18/2024 at 10:26 PM

            Sorry but this is ridiculous. Random data can be represented in an infinite number of ways. The fact that ASCII itself is designed has nothing to do with the challenge. If this is the game you want to play, then you no longer get to tell me that the RONPAUL08 license plate is designed but the XYJ583 license plate is not designed.

            This evasion tactic is extremely dishonest. Why do you guys do it? Somebody who had a new way of discovering things would be happy to prove it by applying it to any challenge that came forward. But all you do is make excuses as to why you can’t.

            Smacks of psychics who made silly excuses when they couldn’t take James Randi’s $1million.



      • Dave H on 05/09/2024 at 9:44 PM

        Ok just finished up.. and I do not hear anything about why ID can only make predictions when it only knows the answer ahead of time.

        I do find it bizarre though to claim that Christianity is somehow responsible for science. Christianity is 2000 years old. If science somehow owes its existence to Christianity, why did it take 1500 years for anybody to figure it out? Maybe early scientists tried to come up with Christian-sounding justifications because they knew that the maniacs in charge would burn them at the stake if they were thought to be committing heresy.

        And why were there inklings of science in pre-Christian societies? Aristotle had most of the basics well before Christianity ever existed. If anyone is trying to ride coattails unjustifiably, it’s you guys.

        • David on 05/11/2024 at 9:54 PM

          You need to read Tom Woods’ How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization; everything you wrote is wrong.

          • Dave H on 05/14/2024 at 9:33 PM

            Or you could just type why it took 1500 years instead of happened right away.



          • Tyler on 05/15/2024 at 11:00 AM

            He also has this video series, full of cool information:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5siHd1P5zk&list=PL57857981F3CC5D78



          • Dave H on 05/18/2024 at 10:27 PM

            For the second time, Tyler, you could just type why it took 1500 years instead of happened right away.



    • Name on 05/07/2024 at 9:45 PM

      Suppose two people with no knowledge of American history come across Mount Rushmore. One claims that it must have formed randomly from wind/water erosion or etc. The other claims that it was clearly designed by purposeful people/beings.

      1. Forget the details of the arguments. Just from an abstract high level, do you think the second guy’s claim is necessarily unjustifiable/pseudo-science/etc?

      2. If you acknowledge that the second guy’s claim is not necessarily unjustifiable, then what is the difference between arguing for design in Mount Rushmore versus arguing for design in biological cells / organisms?

      If you think the claim that Rushmore is designed is necessarily unjustifiable, can you explain why? If any of us, including you, were to come across something like Mount Rushmore, we would immediately and obviously conclude it was designed by purposeful beings. So to then claim that such obvious intuition/judgement is rationally/logically unjustifiable is a very counterintuitive claim.

      • Dave H on 05/11/2024 at 11:03 PM

        Those two people DO have knowledge of history, even if it seems utterly trivial to you.

        They know that humans exist. They know that humans have existed for a long time. They know that humans like to make art. They know that humans like to make art featuring other humans.

        A better example would be, two astronauts land on a distant planet, and come across a mountain that is oddly shaped. How can they determine whether this mountain was formed naturally or is a piece of artwork carved by aliens given that they have no idea what any aliens might look like, what kinds of motivations they have, etc?

        • Name on 05/14/2024 at 1:15 AM

          Ok, I get your point and I now better understand what Bob was telling you.

          You are saying that in order to argue something was designed, we need to know or assume stuff about the designer (purpose, motivation, anatomy, etc). Therefore, when ID’ers claim God designed biological life, ID’ers are begging the question by assuming God’s purpose.

          Here is a contrived example to illustrate the problem: Suppose the astronauts find regular, naturally formed rocks. But suppose they start “finding” design where no design exists by supposing silly things/motivations about the alleged designer. E.g. “These rocks were designed by someone who wanted to create rocks that look naturally formed”. This is clearly circular / bad reasoning, at least without any external knowledge/evidence that such a bizzare designer existed on that planet.

          However, I think Bob’s point is that, *for certain things*, we don’t need to rely on such dubious assumptions about the designer. There are somethings where we can argue design by relying merely on sound (maybe even apodictic) assumptions about the designer.

          If the astronauts instead found humanoid rock sculptures with heads that look like the Grey Alien, then they could hypothesize it was designed by only assuming common sense things about the designer/aliens. If you then consider the basically zero chance that such a sculpture would form naturally (given the intricate symmetry of the limbs, eyes, body, etc), it then becomes pretty obvious that the sculpture was designed.

          • Robert Murphy on 05/14/2024 at 12:48 PM

            In the movie “2001” the humans find a monolith buried (?) in the Moon. They analyze that thing and are quite certain an intelligence designed it, even though they have no idea what purpose it serves or how it was built.

            Unscientific Bible thumpers?



          • Dave H on 05/14/2024 at 9:36 PM

            I understand that this is what IDers keep saying.

            What I’m waiting for is for them to PROVE it by correctly determining, with a high level of accuracy, things where they don’t already know the answer but somebody else does.

            Again, if you insist that there is some magical telekinetic force called “magnetism” or “radio waves,” it is trivial to prove these things to a skeptic.

            Why can’t IDers do it?



  4. Ian Deters on 05/11/2024 at 12:14 AM

    1. Thank you for the survey.
    2. I have only recently observed that mathematical challenges to Darwin go back to at least the 60s: https://searchworks.stanford.edu/view/686875 .
    3. I think the largest problem I have with Intelligent Design, is that one can never prove intention since it is veiled in the cloak of the mystery of personality. We act as though a person has some intention, but we can never prove it.

  5. Adam Haman on 05/12/2024 at 8:24 PM

    Fun episode. I took so many notes!

    Bob, I very much appreciate you making an episode summarizing a lot of stuff you’ve presented over the last several months (years?).

    I think the ID folks are on their most solid footing when they point out unsubstantiated claims of certainty by their evolution-oriented rivals. But then they make wildly unsubstantiated claims of their own, so…

    I have no problem accepting that there are situations where we can intuit design. I am unconvinced that the ID folk have demonstrated that human origin is one such case. I almost want to go through Bob’s whole presentation in real time (plus supporting materials) and point out each moment where I believe he/they have vastly overstepped or made a basic epistemological error.

    I like long podcasts, but that’s too long even for me: https://www.youtube.com/@HamanNature

    But I’m so tempted…

  6. Tyler on 05/14/2024 at 9:35 PM

    The Intelligent Design interests me.

    But it confuses me a bit when you introduce it into a theistic mode. It’s not a problem if we’re positing that aliens seeded life on Earth. We can compare the things we think were designed by the aliens to inorganic materials or natural patterns that it’s unlikely the aliens had a hand in. But if you’re positing that god created the universe, then literally everything is designed – either by man or by god, so how do you recognize evidence of design vs. its absence? At that point it seems like the more vexing question is what does something that WASN’T designed even look like?

    Is ID more about distinguishing different regimes of design? Like, when I make houses in Minecraft, a lot of times I’ll finish by sprinkling grass and trees and trying to make my design blend with the “natural” environment. And in Minecraft, there’s a whole art to making your design look “natural.” But of course, there IS no natural environment in Minecraft – it’s all designed. What we’re really talking about is different regimes of design that we can normally distinguish between.

  7. Dave H on 05/14/2024 at 9:42 PM

    > In practice, we probably COULD tell which one you created off the top of your head, and which ones were generated by, say, a computer’s random number generator. But they would have to be long strings of numbers/letters, because the signature would be the fact that the designed string wouldn’t actually be random. So you’d need it to be long to be fairly sure that the unequal representation of certain elements wasn’t just statistical noise from a genuinenly random process.

    > But I’m not going down this path further, because you could just tweak your approach to camouflage against it. Specified complexity is (a) improbable and (b) corresponds to an antecedent pattern. You keep pointing out, “Oh so the person has to first know the pattern.” Yes. That is how you recognize design in every other context. You can go tell homicide detectives and archeologists they’re being unscientific frauds. You would just be wrong, but I can’t stop you.

    Neither homicide detectives nor archaeologists are using ID. Literally nobody uses it. It’s a dead end. Not one single person has ever found an object at a crime scene or dig site and said “ok let me run this through a standard specified complexity calculation and see if it is designed or not.” It simply does not happen.

    And when I offer to challenge you to do so in a field where 1) I know what I’m talking about (computing), 2) IDers have degrees and so presumably can work in it extremely easily, 3) can be done in less than a day, you don’t want to do it.

    You can’t simultaneously say that homicide detectives and archaeologists use ID to detect design in objects where they don’t already know the answer but then also say it’s unfair for me to ask you to do the same.

    The challenge is simple. I know which string is designed. You do not. Use your scientific methods to tell me which one it is. This is the essence of what you say ID enables you to do. Why won’t you just do it? Saying I can conceal it and foil these amazing scientific tools is like a fake martial artist saying his dim-mak didn’t work because I stuck my tongue to the roof of my mouth or some silly nonsense (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTMnJcRgFrI).

  8. Name on 05/15/2024 at 1:09 AM

    Suppose you set up your random string test: You get a bunch of randomly generated strings, and then you throw in one string that you designed yourself.

    You said if ID’ers require apriori knowledge of the pattern/key, then ID is useless. You told Bob that to argue a string was designed, you need an algorithm that can identify that string among random strings *without knowing the algorithm/pattern of how the string was constructed*.

    According to you, no such algorithm exists. So therefore, by your own logic, you yourself cannot claim the string you designed was designed. If you want to bite this bullet then fine, but you should acknowledge that this is what your reasoning implies.

    • Dave H on 05/18/2024 at 10:30 PM

      I can prove my string was designed after the challenge has ended, by revealing how I designed it. Or showing you a timestamped video of me designing it. Or any other number of ways. You know, all those things you *lack* but say is irrelevant because you just do a Specified Complexity analysis on the string itself to reveal the answers to you.

      • Name on 05/20/2024 at 11:08 PM

        > by revealing how I designed it.

        Exactly. The way you prove that the string you designed was indeed designed is by revealing the algorithm that constructs the string.

        Of course, you will say “just knowing the algorithm is not sufficient” because otherwise your argument against ID collapses. You will say that one needs additional evidence, such as a video of the person creating the string or talking directly with them or etc.

        So let me get your logic straight. Suppose you put “Hi my name is Dave” through sha256 and place it next to some random strings. Suppose I figured out that one of the strings can be constructed by putting “Hi my name is Dave” through sha256.

        Given my knowledge of how that string can be constructed, can I justify/argue that that string is the one that is designed? Yes or no. Give me a direct answer.

  9. Tel on 05/19/2024 at 5:02 AM

    There’s been a fair bit of work into statistical methods to detect cheating … in many situations. For example, people playing chess online want to know that it’s a fair game against another human, rather than a chess computer. Even in live tournaments, there is a chance that hidden radio receivers might be involved and the player could get a hint now and then from a remote accomplice using a computer. Other examples include detection of inside information in the stock market, or whether bidders might be colluding in an auction, etc.

    This is a similar situation to measuring the statistics of purely random evolution vs selective breeding guided by some external hidden force. However, it’s not the same from an analysis point of view. In the case of chess games there are millions of human games to use as a base sample, and we have some well-known chess programs available for comparison … in quite a lot of cases, the human and the computer make the same move, or at least they choose from a small set of plausible looking moves. The statistics need to discover some kinds of moves that are intrinsically characteristic to humans, vs moves that only computers are likely to make.

    In the case of evolution of life on Earth, we only have limited examples to look at, and since nobody knows which ones were genuinely random, and which might have been guided by external forces, we can’t even reliably use the samples we do have to classify one vs the other.

    By the way, the problem of cheating in chess is far from solved and there’s no reliable way to examine a specific game and decide whether cheating happened in that game. What they do instead, is examine the player’s history of games, and compare their performance against the approximate level of performance their ranking would indicate. This is of course a circular argument, in as much as the ranking system is presumed to be correct, and anytime you get an upset, there’s suspicion of cheating … but the way cheating is measured is merely that it didn’t follow the expectation of the ranking.

    There is ongoing research into new and better ways to detect cheating, which is quite interesting … however, the cheats also have access to such research and therefore can change strategies should one approach become too easy to detect.

    If we presume, for arguments sake, that God exists and is both intelligent and a highly powerful being … then presumably God has a reason to prefer very subtle influence in the world, instead of a blatant and unequivocal appearance, throwing thunderbolts and what not. This suggests that if humans ever do discover statistical methods to demonstrate an external force is at work … then this mysterious force will take evasive action and work in increasingly indirect ways, remaining forever at the edge of perception.

    • Dave H on 05/19/2024 at 5:11 PM

      The people who try to discover chess cheaters should abandon their imprecise approach and just read Dembski instead.

      But how come they don’t?

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