Saturday, September 30, 2006


Paley V

Continuing my trawl through the first edition of William Paley's Natural Theology (1802) Having laid out his design detection criteria with reference to the watch example, and having discussed the limited nature of the conclusion supported by the design inference, Paley proceeds to the rebuttal of several objections to the design inference...

1b) Nor can I percieve that it varies at all the inference, whether the question arise concerning a human agent, or concerning an agent of a different speicies, or an agent possessing, in some respects, a different nature.

That is, one can detect design quite aside from questions about the nature of the infered designer besides the obvious fact that the infered designer must have been capable of causing the marks of design one has observed. Beyond this point, the design inference cannot take us, and beyond this point other discussion is strictly besides the point as far as the design inference is concerned. Intelligence is intelligence, and capable of producing the hallmarks of intelligence - be that 'irreducible complexity' or 'added beauty' (Paley's design detection criteria) or 'specified complexity' (the over-arching design detection criteria of the contemporary ID argument) - whatever other characteristics it may have, including whether or not the designer is embodied like ourselves. In particular, one cannot argue that since God is immaterial and in other ways so different from or beyond human or even alien designers then it is in principle impossible for us to detect design caused by God. The matter must be approached in what physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne calls a 'bottom up' manner. First we detect intelligent design, then we ponder the question of who the best desgner candidate is in this particular case. The answer to this question may or may not turn out to be theological or even metaphysical. Whatever the answer, it does not affect the fact that we have good evidence for intelligent design by some entity capable of producing the hallmarks of intelligent design in hand.


Paley IV

Continuing my trawl through the first edition of William Paley's Natural Theology (1802)...

Having laid out his design detection criteria with reference to the watch example, and having discussed the limited nature of the conclusion supported by the design inference, Paley proceeds
to the rebuttal of several objections to the design inference:

1a) Nor would it, I apprehend, weaken the conclusion, that we had never seen a watch made; that we had never known an artist capable of making one; that we were altogether incapable of executing such a piece of workmanship ourselves, or of understanding in what manner it was performed: all this being no more than what is true of some exquisite remains of ancient art, of some lost arts, and, to the generality of mankind, of the more curious productions of modern manufacture.

That is, the inference to design from the application of design detection criteria such as irreducible complexity to some object or event such as a watch would not be weakened by the fact that we had never seen a watch made, did not know how the design was implimented, and/or could not duplicate the design ourselves. The hallmarks of design would still justify the design inference. Likewise, a design inference from the bacterial flagellum or from RNA is not weakened if we cannot reproduce the design ourselves (our nano-technology isn't advanced enough yet), didn't know how the design was implimented and had never seen such designs before or seen them implimented before. Once one has a rational design detection criteria, and once one has an object or event that passes that criteria, one has a sound syllogistic argument for the conclusion of design and our ignorance elsewise is neither here nor there.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


I'm Visiting Crete - so here's some anime music?!

I'm looking forward to a week's break visiting the island of Crete with a friend, and will pick up blogging when I get back - probably some time in early Ootober I'll pick up with Paley where I left off.

In the mean time, allow me to encourage you to surf the links section of this blog and offer you a link to a 'You Tube' anime excerpt of a rather funky song called 'God Knows' but with lyrics that include 'God Bless'! Enjoy, and God Bless! PSW

Sunday, September 10, 2006


Paley III

Continuing my trawl through the first edition of William Paley's Natural Theology (1802)...

What conclusion does Paley reason that we are justified in reaching concerning the watch, having obsered its irreducible complexity and added beauty (cf. previous two posts)?

'that there must have existed, at some time and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer, who comprehended its construction, and designed its use.' (p. 8.)

This conclusion, it will be noticed, is extremely limited. And this is just as it should be.

The inference to intelligent design:

a) does not justify the belief that the source of design currently exists (of course, it does not rule this out either),
b) does not tell us anything about the location of the designer/s - it does not even necesitate the conclusion that the designer/s had or have a spatial location,
c) it does not necessitate the conclusion that there was only one designer (although Occam's razor would favour this conclusion in the absence of evidence for multiple designers),
d) entails that the designer or designers be (at least jointly) intelligent and knowledgable enough to comprehend (or to have once comprehended) the construction of the artifact in question - but not necessarily any more intellgient and knowledgable than that.

In other words, there is while the conclusion of 'intellgient design' is compatible with explanation in terms of a supernatural and even a theistic explanation - there is nothing in that inference which justifies such an explanation, considered in and of itself. Only by combining the inference to intelligent design with additional considerations might one possibly hope to justify the conclusion that the designer currently exists, has no spatial location, is singular, and is omniscient. Intelligent Design is not necessarily a supernatural explanation, let alone a theistic explanation, and certainly not a theistic explanation as required by any particular interpretation of any religious text. ID is NOT young earth creationism, NOT old earth creationism, NOT inherently theistic, NOT even inherently supernatural. ID IS logically compatible with all of these positions, and additional argumentation at a philosophical level may (indeed, I believe does) justify a more specific identification and characterization of the designer along theistic lines. Just how specific a theistic theory of design can get depends wholly upon one's interpretation of a wide range of evidence. Nevertheless, the take home point from Paley should be that design arguments may contribute to natural theology, but they can't do the job on their own. Unfortunately, Paley himself went on to push the boat out too far in his conclusion (as we will eventually see).

Saturday, September 09, 2006


Paley II

Continuing my trawl through the first edition of William Paley's Natural Theology (1802)...

In addition to noting the irreducible complexity of the watch (although he doesn't use this terminology), Paley notes that it exhibits what young earth creationist Dr. Stuart Burgess - reader in engineering design at the university of Bristol - calles 'added beauty.'

Paley writes that: 'the wheels are made of brass, in order to keep them from rust; the springs of steel, no other metal being so elastic; that over the face of the watch there is placed a glass...'

That is, the watch exhibits a design that more than 'scrapes by', which seems to exceed the natural design filter of 'doing the job well enough to be an advantage with the minimum expense' and which seems to include design aspects which have no utilitarian necesity to them (this means that the watch has an 'irreducibly complex' core). As Burgess explains:

'An object can have two types of beauty: inherent beauty and added beauty. Inherent beauty is a beauty that exists as a by-product of mechanical design. In contrast, added beauty is a type of beauty which has the sole purpose of providing a beautiful display. The two types of beauty can be seen in man-made products like buildings and bridges... A suspension bridge' has a curved cable structure because this is an efficient way of supporting a roadway. However, the end result can be a very elegant and beautiful design. An example of added beauty can be seen in the decoration of a classical column... There is no mechanical reason for a classical column to be any more than a plain cylinder... yet the designers embellish the column with elaborate patterns just for the sake of adding beauty... added beauty... represents very strong evidence for design because there is no mechanical reason for the beautiful appearance.' (Stuart Burgess, Hallmarks of Design, revised edition, Day One, 2002, p. 73-74.)

Discovering 'added beauty' in nature would likewise be evidence of intelligent (and aesthetically aware) design. Dr. Burgess argues that nature does indeed contain 'added beauty' and that this is indeed evidence for design (it is not, of course, evidence that supports Burgess' own young earth creationism over other design theories). You can read his fascinating paper on '
The beauty of the peacock tail and the problems with the theory of sexual selection'

An Islamic creationist article on the same topic is 'The physical basis of the beauty in Peacock feathers revealed'

My own papers on the link between aesthetics, intelligent design theory and the design argument in natural theology (the latter are, of course, not the same thing) can be found at the Apollos website here.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


William Paley's Natural Theology

I recently came accross a reprint of the first edition of William Paley's Natural Theology (1802) published by Oxford University Press in their World's Classics series (2006). I propose to make a series of posts quoting from Paley and passing a few hopefully interesting observations of my own. First, some general observations:

One point to note is that Paley wrote after David Hume's over-rated critique of the design argument but before Charles Darwin's version of the theory of evolution. He was, however, aware of the evolutionary thinking of Darwin's father. It seems to me that the only material effect of this historical placing upon Paley's thesis is that he is insufficiently careful about developing design detection criteria and differentiating between instances in nature to which these do and do not apply. In other words, Paley drifts from the careful design detection criteria laid out early on in his book and slips into thinking that anything complex in nature must be the result of design. He seems to be caught up in the same false dichotomy as plagued Darwin, namely, the idea that either everything is the result of design or else nothing is the result of design. Intelligent Design Theory breaks the false dichotomy, coming down neither on Paley's side nor Darwin's side but saying that some things are clearly designed and other things are not clearly designed and may well be the result of evolutionary forces - albeit the case that evolutionary forces per se are themselves the result of design tracing back to cosmic fine tuning.

Another surprise, having only ever read the common extract from Paley to be found in compendiums of philosophy of religion texts, is to find Paley advancing cosmological design arguments very similar in essense to contemporary anthropic discussions albeit framed in terms of now outdated scientific knowledge.

And now, to begin an examination of Paley's argument:

Paley (in green) begins:

In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there, I might possibly answer, that, for any thing I knew to the contrary, it had lain there for ever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to shew the absurdity of this answer.

To show the absurdity of the suggestion, made by Bertrand Russell about the universe, that it is 'just there', a brute fact, one would have to provide some sort of a cosmological argument, showing that the stone (or universe) is a contingent thing ultimately requiring a non-contingent ground or cause.

But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be enquired how the watch happened to be in that place, I should hardly think of the answer I had before given, that, for any thinkg I knew, the watch might have always been there. Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch, as well as for the stone?

The answer, of course, is that unlike the stone, the watch is obviously the product of intelligent design. Both the watch and the stone may provide the starting point for a cosmological argument, but the watch is clearly a much more prommising starting point for a design argument than a rock. Continuing this trajectory it should be clear that the most prommising - that is, metaphysuically rich, 'object' with which to begin natural theology would be with a human being, wherein are combined all of the considerations that the natural theologian may wish to advance for their case. Like rocks, humans are continent, like watches humans contain evidence of design, humans also contain evidence about moral value, free will, rationality, religious experience, desire for transcendence, etc.

Making the distinction between rock and watch, between the sense of the 'its just there' answer in the first instance, and the nonsense of the same answer in the latter instance, is simply a matter of common good sense - there is nothing esotetic in our detection of design; detecting design is a perfectly natural and every-day opperation of the human mind, and the detection of design does not even require that we carefully infer or deduce design by eemploying some rational argument for the conclusion of design - beliefs about objects being the product of design are typically properly basic beliefs. You see a watch, you form the beleif that it is the product of design. Such properly basic beliefs are, by the principle of credulity, to be accepted at face value until such time as we are given sufficient undermining counter-evidence. The failure of evolutionary explanations for such apparently designed facets of nature as DNA or the bacterial flagellum or the blood-clotting cascade is the failure to rebut the natural inference to design promoted by our observation of such systems. Design is the default position, innocent until proven guilty. This is one reason why the intelligent design argument is not an 'argument from ignorance'.

Nevertheless, like design theorists, Paley goes on to offer some criteria of design detection. Having such criteria is clearly very useful for engaging in rational argument about design. And the first design detection criteria proposed by Paley looks, with the bennefit of hindsight, for all the world like a nascient definition of Behe's 'irreducible complexity'. Talking about the watch, Paley observes that:

if the several parts had been differently shaped from what they are, or of different size from what they are, or placed after any other manner, or in any other order, than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have been carried on in the machine, or none which would have answered the use, that is now served by it.

In Darwin's Black Box Michael Behe defines an irreducibly complex system as follows:

'By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.' (p. 39.)

Clearly, both scholars are thinking in the same ball-park, even the same pitch, and are playing on the same team!

Monday, September 04, 2006


ID Pod-Cast

Do check out the ID The Future Pod-Cast from the discovery institute @

I've now added a link to the pod-cast homepage under audio links. There are some very interesting interviews and book reviews.

By the way, the visitor numbers for this blog have recently passed the 4,000 mark, so thanks for your patronage :-)

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