Copyright 2005 Rick Harrison
The Logical Shambles of Neo-Darwinian Evolution
The Design Inference:
Superstition or Scientific Tool?
Can chance or accident achieve complex design under any circumstances? Yes, and no. In trivial forms, such as a screen saver on your computer, a fractal software program, or a kaleidoscope shake-up can, yes, some superficial complexity can be achieved by random selection. But in these cases it takes an intelligently designed computer or art generation device to do it. So even there, the larger event is not really an accident.
Can accident go further to create precise, functional, moving dynamic machines many levels of interaction deep without aid of any intelligently designed starting points? All of our life experiences say no, not without some kind of impetus from intelligent design at the beginning.
An airplane, car, or truck engine, or even a bicycle, cannot be designed and assembled by accident. We have never seen it happen. Mechanics know darn well that it won’t happen by accident, and they have the bare knuckles and burned out brains to prove it. A design blueprint must be provided in advance; machine tools must be used by skilled craftsman to make the parts; and a precise set of nonrandom steps must be followed to get the darn thing together—period. Intelligent beings must conceive a plan, make the parts, and do the assembly.
If this is true, certainly more sophisticated living machines cannot be initially created then disassembled, modified, and reassembled by accident while they are alive and in motion. Can they? How? Contrary to incessant innuendo to the contrary, Darwinian biologists have no answer to this question. They don’t know.
Science has not shown the biomechanics of the evolutionary processes in the laboratory (or anywhere else). No one knows how nature moved from the physical components of one stage of life’s development to those of the next.
Man has bred new “species” of plants and domesticated animals on purpose, true. (Dogs have almost certainly done the same thing.) But the ability to make certain reproductive combinations is not at the heart of the debate between intelligent design and accidental evolution. Once the books (genes) and libraries (genomes) are complete, certainly it will be possible to move things around a bit. That’s the easy part. The evidential core of the debate is about achieving all the hard parts in the first instance. The fallacy lies in arguing from man’s being able to achieve only simple and very limited results by his best efforts of intelligent design to nature’s being able to do things trillions of times more complex by accident. One would think the illogic of this would be obvious.
Are highly educated intelligent design scientists and billions of religious people from all walks of life simply naïve? Do they all just happen to be mistaken in precisely the same way in believing an accident cannot make a sophisticated machine? Do neo-Darwinian biologists really sit around watching football and eating cheese balls on Christmas Eve while their kid’s bicycles spontaneously assemble themselves in the garage by accident? I don’t think so.
But our focus and concern here in this appendix is not so much how plausible accidental evolution is, but how one can tell an artifact of intelligent design from the product of an accident just by looking at it. Perhaps an example will help.
Imagine for a moment you are on a vast barren beach, stranded with an old sailor. You have nothing available but sand, driftwood, wind, and water. The stranded mariner makes a sundial that looks remarkably similar to an accident of nature: a pile of sand with some driftwood around it at intervals. She, the mariner, clearly hasn’t much choice in the matter of her materials. Both the limited materials and other features of the environment will constrain her greatly in the range of her work products. She will also have to build above the high tide mark or her construction will be washed away. She will have to repair and rebuild periodically to offset weather damage.
Accidental “construction” by nature is similarly constrained. Nature will also have to “build” at the extreme edge of tidal reach during a storm that extends that reach temporarily and then does not recur for a while; otherwise, nature’s creation will be immediately washed away by the storm. Interestingly, this is precisely how life is thought to have originated, in warm tidal mud flats.
However, if the mariner decides to do a particularly good job, a closer inspection of her sundial may reveal a level of precision and uniformity in design and construction that one would not expect to have occurred by accident of wind and water, even the luckiest one. The pieces of drift wood that mark each hour of the day may be set on end and forced into the ground a few inches for stability. This is something wind, weather and tide are not likely to achieve with precision. Only wood fragments of identical size and shape were be used. The dial is perfectly symmetrical, set in a perfect circle (i.e., one made with a string tied to a center pivot). An increasing number of notches may be cut on each piece of wood to designate the hours, etc.
At this point in the advancement of complexity and precision of construction, or one somewhat further on, a visitor arriving on the island would be compelled to conclude that someone had made the sun dial. They would run off in search of the castaway, whereas at a lesser level of precision and sophistication the sun dial would have been dismissed as an accident of the tidal flow.
Why? Why would humans draw those contrary conclusions for and against intelligent design, and when? What justifies the design inference? And how would an observer explain the reasons for his or her conclusion to someone who had not seen the sundial, or had seen it and drawn an opposite conclusion? At what exact point in the progression from simple to complex, imprecise to precise, did the inference become rationally warranted (or intuitively correct)?
I presume we would all agree that at some point the inference to intelligent design for a sophisticated machine, including sun dials, would be warranted. Otherwise how would one feel safe getting into an automobile or airplane? So, why aren’t evolutionists willing to draw the same conclusion for the vastly more sophisticated machines of the human body?
An irregular lump of sand with a few sticks of just any fashion is not enough to warrant a design inference, but the most complex and precise form of a sundial definitely is. We observe a perfect pyramid in the center, shellacked doweling rods (waterproofed) with precisely etched and paint marked surfaces, lettered directions, numbered values etc. Somewhere in between lies the threshold of a justifiable inference to intelligent design, though the threshold may tend to vary somewhat among individuals.
“I could just see that someone had made it,” one visitor to the island might say, given certain gradations in design complexity or precision of craftwork. Another visitor might remark, “It is too improbable that the ocean and wind could have done something like that?” When closely pressed for a complete explanation, most if not all observers would likely give the same full set of specific design features that led them to the design inference, and justifiably expect that the listener would draw the same conclusion for the same reasons.
Everyone knows that, at least in the dramatically obvious cases, drawing an inference that something was made by intelligent design is valid at an intuitive level. Yet the dilemma we have encountered in the evolutionary debate is how to explain in precise academic terms why intelligent design is a good conclusion to draw, even in such dramatically obvious cases? No adult outside of academia and political propaganda activities doubts that one should draw the conclusion of intelligent design in the obvious cases, but what do you say when a child or a neo-Darwinist stubbornly persists in saying, “Why?” Hence, the philosophical and scientific conundrum called the design inference. Why are we justified in believing in a designer when we see complex, precise or functional designs?
Watching a minnow navigate a length of shallow stream, struggling over and under hundreds of natural rock gardens, splattering across mudslides, peaking in and out of caves, and squeezing through tunnels, finally arriving at a peaceful deep pool does not evoke a design inference regarding the features of the stream bed. This is true despite the fact that the course is very complex. Why not? One reason is that the components were not closely matched to each other; there is nothing precise about them. Another is that they are not organized to achieve a definite goal; the “constructions” got in the way of the minnow’s goal as much as they facilitated it. That’s the situation of a natural watercourse.
But what if a fancy restaurant or an amusement park wants to entertain us with carp and goldfish in an elaborate decorative watercourse? What if they build their franchise next to the stream, dredge the bottom, fill it with sparkling rocks and sand, sculpt the shoreline, add Chinese lanterns, drill under blockages, install decorative tunnels and caves? What if they engineer a precise route around hundreds of obstacles to the stream flow for twenty miles! Then, of course, the situation is different. Suppose thousands of parts are employed for this, laid out in clearly functional ways: waterwheels, submerged colored lights, even simple “road signs” (a fish symbol with directional arrow)! Ultimately it all empties out over a waterfall into a deep peaceful pool with coral castles and mermaid fountains. An observer happening upon that stream would know the difference; it was intelligently designed.
In the two cases of the sun dial and the goldfish-viewing watercourse it is interesting to note that, in addition to precise workmanship and complexity of design, artificiality is one of the elements that can lead to the design inference. Waterproofing the dowel rods of the sundial with shellac is not something nature will do, although it is neither a complex nor particularly precise thing. The same is true of the simple roughly hand-painted directional arrow signs in the fishes’ watercourse: not complex, not precise, only artificial (something nature would not spontaneously do).
Even years later after the restaurant franchise was torn down, if the watercourse remained, even in a largely deteriorated state of disrepair, observers would know that someone had designed the system to entertain observers. A given isolated point in the sequence of steps along the way toward the complete construction will not suffice to convince different observers to the same extent, or any group of them, but somewhere between the beginning and the end of that construction sequence, albeit at different points for different people, everyone will ultimately be convinced of intelligent design.
Three things can be concluded at this point: 1) that the marvels and complexities of the human machine dwarf such a construction trillions upon trillions of times over; 2) despite what SETI scientists often seem to be saying to the contrary, artificiality is a valid element of the design inference; and 3) the design inference is valid function of the human intellect in general terms, despite the fact that different people employ somewhat different thresholds of evidential support in given circumstances when making the inference.
We fail to grant the same inference to intelligent design in biology that we would immediately allow everywhere else. Why? It can only be because of decades of atheistic propaganda that originated in Darwin’s time when science was unable to reach to the complexities of human biology at all. All science could see then was the equivalent of a single mudslide: the cell was thought to be filled with nothing more than a sort of nondescript goo called protoplasm. We knew it was a near miracle that the body did what it did, but since the complex internal designs of the cell and the genome were invisible to us, we said the only thing we could say: “That’s what the protoplasm does.” So, you have a bunch of happy fish at the end of a mudslide, so what? We know better than that now, and we can certainly do better. The design inference is not religion; it is common sense, and good science.
Could there really be intelligently designed creations in nature? If so, how do we know them when we see them? The answers to these questions that I propose for the reader’s discerned contemplation are “yes” and “the same way we know them anywhere else.” I say “propose for your discernment” as opposed to “demonstrate” or “prove” because the design inference, while fairly easy to validate when dealing with artificial machines, is philosophically more tricky when dealing with nature
Outside of nature the design inference becomes much easier, and it is not just because of decades of propaganda. There is a genuine intuitive difference between manmade machines and natural nonliving machines (there are precious few of these and they are quite simple) or biological machines, though one finds oneself at somewhat of a loss to explain it. Seeing even a horse wagon having perhaps hundreds less parts than the artificially modified stream, we have no doubt at all that it is intelligently designed. We know that wagon was intelligently designed. (We only know the automobile, which ruins our health with poisonous exhaust and destroys the ecosystem by global warming, was designed by an intelligence.)
In some design inferences complexity is clearly the main player and in others it is precision of workmanship or artificiality that leads us to conclude design. If we look at the dearth of nature’s spontaneous machine-like creations and how simple they are, the role of complexity becomes clear. Nature may make a rudimentary rope swing, bridge, or teeter-totter, but that’s about it. In random etchings in rock or fossilized materials we see quite a few two-dimensional depictions of a wheel, but we see far fewer three dimensional wheels, fewer wheels on imperfect axles, and maybe one or two working but badly flawed naturally made handcarts. Working bicycles? No. Automobiles, space shuttles? No. Nature doesn’t do things of that complexity with interactive precisely matched moving parts.
This is the flaw in Richard Dawkins’ argument in his book, Climbing Mount Improbable. He compares the trivial complexity in rock shape variations to the precise functionally interactive moving parts of living systems. It is untold trillions of times more improbable for an accident to throw together precisely formed interactive machines with moving parts than to just find points of equilibrium for a bunch of big rocks to sit on top of each other. Yes, one can find a lot of variation in the shape of rocks and call it complexity of form, but it is not precise interactive moving functional complexity, which is vastly more difficult and improbable to produce by accident than a rock mountain. Dawkins analogy fails miserably; it is mathematically invalid—in fact ridiculous. He is not comparing apples to oranges; he is comparing mud balls to oranges, and more than that, in the case of mammals, living oranges more complex than the space shuttle.
Function or purpose is another element of the design inference. Two of the features of the wagon that promote the design inference, in addition to moderate complexity, are the closely matched, precisely fashioned parts, and the fact that the overall result is to enhance the transport of objects more than to impede it. Its purpose/function is “visible,” and it successfully achieves that purpose better than accidents are seen to do.
Functional constructions with borderline complexity may or may not warrant a design inference: tin cans with string, a few boards in a tree, a plank over a rock or a stream that works as a bridge or an improvised teeter-totter on a playground, etc. Maybe they were put there for a purpose, maybe not. But cases much farther out on the complexity scale are intuitively quite clear to us: they were intelligently designed. And context is seen here as relevant, since the context informs us of likelihood of an intelligently assigned function, even where the construction itself is rough and simple.
The important point here is not that there are gray areas around the threshold of the design inference of which we cannot be certain. Gray fringes around the thresholds of decision making occur everywhere in life and science. Having gray areas is not generally a problem for either scientific or common sense decisions. It is too cold to walk the five miles to town; the water is too shallow to dive into; etc. People will vary somewhat in their opinions about where the decision threshold lies for such things. The important point is that, outside the grey areas, we are not merely coincidentally correct in drawing our conclusions of intelligent design; we are rationally justified in having drawn them. We have made a valid inference using a reliable mental process involving logic and evidence. This remains true despite the fact that the mental evaluation process used may have occurred partially or fully in the unconscious mind, and despite the fact that science has yet to lay down a set-in-stone set of threshold criteria for making such decisions about intelligent design.
No one disputes that we know intelligent design when we see it; it is a quick and often unconscious conclusion, practically a reflex. Everyone makes design inferences all day long every day without questioning them: cars, tools, electronics, etc.
We are not inferring design to account for a black box, but to account for an open box. A man from a primitive culture who sees an automobile might guess that it was powered by the wind or by an antelope hidden under the car, but when he opens up the hood and sees the engine he immediately realizes that it was designed. In the same way biochemistry has opened up the cell to examine what makes it run and we see that it, too, was designed.
The mental process involved in the design inference need be neither unanimously agreed to nor infallible, but merely reliable, to be valid. Neo-Darwinists make this unreasonable demand of the design inference, that it must be both unanimous and infallible, though such unrealistic standards are used nowhere else in life or science for any of the other kinds of inferences and decisions we make. We often approximate, disagree about, and make mistakes concerning weight and distance, for example. “That is too far for a human to jump.” “It would take six locomotives to pull that load.” “We don’t have time to get there before dark,” etc. Generally, such judgments are correct, though not always. This remains true despite the fact that people disagree at times on what the correct judgment is in a given circumstance. Judgments regarding weight and distance are neither fully precise, unanimously agreed to, nor infallible, but they are reliable and, at least at times, rationally justified. Sometimes we make the correct judgment for the right reasons and based upon accurate perception.
The same is true of drawing the conclusion of intelligent design. Just as with weight and distance we know that the basic mental process we use is valid. Clearly, we are doing something reliable and consistent when we conclude that something has been intelligently made, for we are almost never wrong.
In the case of judging weight and distance we know in general terms what the mental and perceptual processes involved are. But, in the case of the design inference, what is it precisely that we are doing? That is the core question that remains to be answered.
There may be more than one answer. Here are the leading candidates for what I think is probably going on when humans make a design inference: (1) We may have a special, and an especially complex mental faculty, that is employed when design inferences are made, the logic circuits of which may or may not ever be revealed to the conscious mind; or (2) We may be subconsciously speeding through steps that equate to very basic review of the empiric data of our life experience (an inventory of event types) of natural versus artificial constructions, an inductive logic applied to types that assumes the future will be like the past; or, (3) Our minds might be subconsciously doing the complexity and probability math, computing at lightning speed that an accident could not be expected to achieve the precision and control and luck required to create such a thing; or (4) we are seeing direct indicators of the activity of specifically human or sentient intelligence: intellectual thought, moral or aesthetic judgment, artistic merit, math, science formulae, linguistic content, axiomatic or Boolean logical systems. But whichever one or more of the four approaches is involved—and in theory, they could all be involved—we get a generally reliable a perception that the object or system in question has been intelligently designed, usually but not always sensing the purpose or function.
Precision and complexity may be enough at times without knowing an object’s purpose or function, but knowing the purpose basically serves to lower the threshold of how precise or how complex something must be before we confidently conclude it was the product of intelligent design. The following list shows some ways to combine these types of mental insights and perceptual observations that could generate high confidence in a design inference:
1. Precision + function/purpose
2. Precision + artificial (not in the inventory of the things nature does minus intelligent intervention)
3. Astronomically complex (this will usually generate an artificiality judgment as well)
4. Astronomically improbable (this may at times generate an artificiality judgment)
5. Extreme precision (will usually generate an artificiality judgment)
6. Artistic merit + artificial
7. Conceptual content (including mechanical concepts, scientific formulae, insights from the humanities symbolically portrayed)
8. Symbolic or linguistic communication
9. Mathematical content
10. Logical structure—indications of axiomatic, inferential, or Boolean systems
11. Computer or machine programming code structure
Although there is probably not much disagreement about these elements being the primary triggers of the design inference, no one that I am aware of outside of William Dembski has yet made an overt attempt to define the quantitative trigger thresholds for these criteria with precision.
A lack of definitude and precision in the formulation of criteria for and behavioral application of the design inference does not invalidate the legitimacy of the inference, however. Typically, we don’t feel obligated to attempt scientific precision in resolving everyday applications of weight and distance, but that does not invalidate the science and craft of making those inferences. Science can rigorously answer these questions about offhand estimates of weight and distance if called upon to do so, but there is seldom a practical necessity for it. The same is true of the design inference. Our offhand inferences about which objects are of intelligent design and which are not are very seldom wrong.
Perhaps the reason we typically just conclude at a glance or intuit that something is the product of intelligence when we could do a formal computation in questions of intelligent design is the same reason we don’t call in a surveyor to jump a mud puddle: demanding scientific rigor would be overkill in these cases. This doesn’t mean that surveying is not a proper application of science.
For reasons of intellectual efficiency and conservation of mental energy, the method we use to make an inference to intelligent design is generally casual and imprecise, even subliminal. This is not because intelligent design is a rationally indefensible conclusion to draw, but for the opposite reason: because it is one of the easiest conclusions to rationally draw.
Of the dozen or so indicators of an intelligently designed machine, the presence of only a few of them in the same artifact is sufficient to prove intelligent design. We breeze through a subliminal mental checklist probably in less than a second in most cases: precise work, complexity, interactive parts, visible purpose…OK, somebody made this.
In cases of simple objects such as an arrowhead where we know nature can and does approximate the same kind of item, we would want to examine the object closely for design features such as precise workmanship, whether the aerodynamic balance and sharpness of the edge is evidence of the items purpose, etc. The margin of error is higher with arrowheads; we will be wrong sometimes. Sometimes an apparent arrowhead is an accidental byproduct of natural processes. But the decision-making criteria remains valid; it’s just harder to apply with perfection.
In the case of the design inference, we can call upon science to formalize a rigorous model that validates and exposits the mental logic that underlies our everyday decisions, just as we can call a surveyor in to measure a (large) mud puddle. Nothing in principle forbids this being done. In fact, the modern evolutionary debate has produced the first real requirement to do this, and, in The Design Inference, mathematician and philosopher Professor William Dembski has proposed just such a rigorous computational model of the design inference.
So the design inference, the judgment that something was made by intelligent design, is not religion; it is a valid mental process that can be supported with scientific analysis. So, why the big debate about it? The debate is mostly about whether we should make biological machines the exception to the rules for applying design inference criteria. Many decades earlier the position biological machines were the exception to design inference criteria held a certain intuitive plausibility, after all we have never seen or made soft, gooey machines. No longer.
Scientists have done some preliminary research into machines made from biotic materials, computers for example. It is only reasonable to assume that a more advanced intelligence could do more than we have managed so far. In genetic engineering, we have also gained substantial experience in trying to modify living biological machines that already exist. In both of these endeavors we are rapidly discovering that making biotic machines, especially living ones, is theoretically possible, but practically not so easy. We still cannot make anything truly alive from nonliving chemicals. We cannot, not even with conscious intention, and with all our intelligence, and all the resources of science and technology combined, generate one radically different kind of creature from another.
Nonetheless, neo-Darwinists say that the dumb process of nature has somehow succeeded where we intelligent humans have failed. This, despite the fact that what we have encountered in the immense functional complexity in human biology is precisely the situation that Charles Darwin said would disprove his theory of evolution by accidental mutation directed by natural selection: an example of a living system that could not be constructed by a series of small accidental modifications.
Nature has had longer to work, of course, but as we have seen, not nearly long enough. Until the advent of modern intelligent design theory no one in science bothered to sit down and do the math: “Oh, four billion years is plenty of time for absolutely anything at all to happen.” Poppycock! Time is a poor substitute for intelligence in our experience with the assembly of highly complex machines. Could an imbecile put the space shuttle together properly in three or four billion years? (This imbecile couldn't!) He would only get so far before the design was broken and progress was reversed? Would you be able to build the space shuttle without a design blueprint in four billion years?
Now that the electron microscope has revealed the cell’s complex machinery, the intricate language of DNA, gene regulation networks, transpositional and developmental genomes, and proteins so complex that our computers can only model a fraction of their complexity, we have discovered that the human body is at least the equivalent of the space shuttle in complexity.
Many of us without a political axe to grind for materialism have no trouble going even further to say, “To heck with the space shuttle, you could have stopped with the tin cans and a string! Even there it is clear that one has a rudimentary phone or intercom. It couldn’t happen by chance. How could the string be poked through such a small hole and tied securely on the ends by accident?” And you are right; even something so absurdly simple as a couple of tin cans connected by an old piece of string is practically impossible to assemble by chance.
A single human body has been estimated to contain 10,000,000,000,000 cells. Each cell has hundreds of components interacting with each other in precise ways to accomplish over 2,000,000 actions per minute. Many of these components are quite complex in their own right. Thousands of proteins may be alternatively brought into play in a single cell at different times. Cellular components are formed into higher and higher level systems: cellular subsystems, then cells, then organs, tissues, body parts and finally an integrated life form. If a tin can phone will never fall together properly, how, then do you make a complete living system by chance?
In challenging the design inference outright, neo-Darwinists have accomplished a masterstroke of debating strategy: they have asked ID theorists to prove the obvious. Proving the obvious, however, is the most supremely difficult thing to do. How does one prove that 2 plus 2 equals 4? It is true. We know it is true. But how to you prove it to someone that is so obstinate as to deny that it is true?
Giving a proof of intelligent design in a given case is complicated by the fact that the “recipe” is never quite the same for any two types of design products. Take a hair comb and a desktop computer for example. Here complexity is clearly a key indication for the computer but not for the comb, whereas intention function will be perceived more quickly for the comb than for the computer by those who have never seen either used.
Perceivable function varies much more drastically in some cases, for example between a shovel and the Mona Lisa. The simplest designs, of course, give us the most trouble in analysis. In the case of a tin can phone it is clearly not the complexity level that makes us suspect design. In the right context we can perceive function, for example, if the tin can phone is stretched between two of the children’s play houses on the back lawn. In another context, lying around in the city dump, the function isn’t so clearly suggested.
On the other hand, seeing the children pretending to have star trek communicators that are actually small green tomatoes tells us that context alone is not enough to resolve the question of intelligent design (and to stand back out of range if they are in a playful mood). In some cases, though, closely matched parts may be enough, even if the thing hardly works. Precision of workmanship, difficulty level of accidental construction, and close matching of parts can be enough to establish intelligent design even minus contextual clues revealing a purpose or use.
On a common sense basis it is clear that the human organism and many others far exceed the intelligent design threshold. Nonetheless, as a technical matter, the puzzling questions remain: “Exactly where does the intelligent design threshold lie? Why does it lie there? And “How do we objectively describe that threshold such that science can apply it to new situations?”
William Dembski has devoted three good long books to these questions: The Design Inference, The Design Revolution, and No Free Lunch. According to Dembski, the threshold for the design inference is essentially a matter of the level of complexity and the high specificity of function, although he adds several other criteria as well in a well-developed analysis. These works won’t be the last word on the subject, but they have more than validated the concept of a scientifically tractable criterion for intelligent design.
Given all of this, and the fact that known biological systems qualify on all counts par excellence, I contend that the intelligent design inference is as fully validated as measurements of gravity, measurements of the nuclear or electromagnetic forces, or even measurements of the vast distances of space itself. We don’t throw out clearly correct yes or no greater-than or less-than judgments concerning physical forces or spatial distance because we can’t compute the result with perfect precision.
In the same way it is clear that, although we cannot say exactly where the intelligent design threshold is in terms of functional complexity and precisely fashioned parts, etc., that is, we can’t say where the smallest value of intelligent design resides for each of the separate indicators, we can confidently say where some of the larger values are.
Inferences to clear instances of intelligent design are not invalidated by the inability to fix the smallest possible objectively agreed upon combined indicator value sufficient to prove design. Nor are they invalidated by the fact that different people have adopted personally customized standards for intelligent design.
While there is no single criterion for intelligent design, by use of a set of multiple indicators employed in variable mixes we have a proper means to make the design inference. There is no one single way to conclude a surface is hard. We can poke it, press it, kick it, shoot it, stab it, even sleep on it. Any of these methods are satisfactory to reveal the hardness of a surface. Absolute precision is not required to make conceptual yes or no, sufficient or insufficient type judgments in many arenas of judgment, and the intelligent design arena is a situation where absolute precision is not required to say yes it is or no it isn’t of intelligent design.
And, in theory, a fully precise formulation of all the intelligent design indicators is within the future reach of science. All of the factors mentioned above, except beauty and elegance, are clearly describable in either empirical or mathematical terms, and it is not clear that math, at least as it relates to geometrical form and optimization of the ratio of simplicity to efficiency, may not be substantially involved even there. The atheistic physical reductionists (most neo-Darwinists are such) are stuck with admitting that even subjective qualities such as beauty and elegance can be reduced to a set of physical parameters.
The legitimacy of using multi-faceted criteria whose thresholds cannot (yet) be precisely laid out in quantitative terms is confirmed every day in criminal court. People’s lives are taken, their children are taken from them, they are assigned to life in prison or long-term psychiatric care, based upon a reasonably exact procedure that, nonetheless, no two jurors would explain to you precisely the same way. Motive, intent, opportunity, witness testimony, character evaluation, personal history, psychoanalysis reports, DNA samples, physical descriptions, vehicle identification, associations with known criminals, etc. All these factors and more are weighed, combined and cross-referenced before a decision is rendered, including factors unique to each individual case. Jurors may be first timers who have no experience in such a complex procedure at all. Yet we are so confidant in the reliability of the outcome of this informal, not fully extrapolated, and inconsistently applied juror adjudication process that we are willing to stake human lives on it.
In intelligent design inferences we don’t even have to go so far as to say “who done it,” we only have to say that an intelligent being was involved generally. That would seem a much easier task than identifying a murderer by name. Design inferences are explicitly used at the beginning of all legal inquiries where a death is involved, the coroner’s inquest, to determine if the death was accidental or on purpose (murder or suicide). This is precisely a design inference question: did an intelligent purposeful agent cause the event or did it result from an accident? If human beings had no means to distinguish the product of intelligent purposeful behavior from spontaneous acts of nature the crime of murder couldn’t exist at all!
If we can take lives based upon rudimentary design inference criteria employed by first-time jurors, why can’t we make a scientific judgment of the same type concerning enormously complex biological machines when nothing near the gravity of life and death hangs in the balance? We have to support our design inference in biology, mathematician William Dembski’s resource exhaustion argument, a literal mathematical proof that accident can be ruled out. More supporting logic, less hanging in the balance—what keeps science from making the design inference when courts do it every day?
It is both ironic and suspicious that a pattern of evidence so simple as a few rough holes occurring in certain locations in a gunshot victim’s body can absolutely convince an experienced criminal investigator that an intelligent being was the cause of the death when, observations of thousands upon thousands of finely tuned working components stacked nine levels deep within a biological machine (human being) are insufficient to convince even more highly trained evolutionary scientists that an intelligent being was the cause. I submit to you that if the design inference is valid where less evidence is involved and greater things hang in the balance, it is valid where more evidence is involved and things of lesser moment hang in the balance.
What could explain such an anomaly? You guessed it: political tomfoolery. For Marxists, materialists, and atheists, who have for decades dominated science, greater things do hang in the balance with the intelligent design question in biology. To admit intelligent design in biology is to open the door to the refutation of their pseudo-religion and compulsively affirmed materialistic worldview. For Marxists, admitting intelligent design means loss of the primary scientific support for their propaganda campaign for the hearts and minds of the public, loss of an opportunity to win the world struggle between competing social-political-philosophical systems. For atheists and materialists who are not Marxists, it means loss of personal guideposts in understanding and navigating the world they live in. It means they have to entirely reassess the meaning of their existence and the legitimacy of their values and beliefs. It is no wonder that Marxists who are consciously trying to avoid the loss of an enormous piece on the world political chessboard can manipulate atheistic materialist scientists who are subconsciously heavily prejudiced against anything that would throw them into such a traumatic existential limbo.
The design inference is therefore a valid conclusion to draw in most of the cases where it has been made, including the astronomical complexities of living machines. The only factors opposed are political and psychological, not evidential.
There will remain borderline cases regarding intelligent design just as there remain borderline cases in criminal investigations. But the most complex machine we have ever encountered, the human body, will always be acknowledged as falling within the legitimate and unquestioned domain of a valid design inference. Life is unquestionably a product of intelligence.
 Ridley, Evolution, 53; Davies, Miracle, chap. 5.
 “Programmable Cells: Engineer Turns Bacteria Into Living Computers,” Science Daily, posted April 28, 2005, published to the Internet at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/04/050427201634.htm; Stefan Lovgren, “ ‘Brain’ in Dish Flies Simulated Fighter Jet,” National Geographic News, November 19, 2004, published to the Internet at http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/11/1119_041119_brain_petri_dish.html.
 If you have young children, A Moment of Science recommends the tin can phone project. Go to http://amos.indiana.edu/library/scripts/phone.html.