View by:  Subject  Theme  Question  Term  Person  Event

The signs of design

How would we come to know that something was intelligently designed? It’s very straightforward, says Dembski.

There does in fact exist a rigorous criterion for discriminating intelligently caused from unintelligently caused objects. ... I call it the complexity-specification criterion. When intelligent agents act, they leave behind a characteristic trademark or signature - what I define as specified complexity. The complexity-specification criterion detects design by identifying this trademark of designed objects.NFL, p. 6.

Whenever we infer design we must establish three things: contingency, complexity, and specification.NFL, p. 8.

An object/event is said to be contingent if, while it is fully consistent with natural laws, it is not wholly determined by them and represents only one outcome among several possible outcomes of natural processes. Complexity is related inversely to probability. Highly complex objects have a low probability of being actualized naturally. Dembski looks for objects whose probability of actualization by natural means is less than what he calls the “universal probability bound,” which has the value 10 - 150. For some event/object to be specified it must exhibit a distinctive pattern that is detachable from the particular event/object itself. A detachable pattern might, for instance, correspond to some independently derivable sequence of numbers or letters that has no necessary connection to the object/event being subjected to the complexity-specification criterion. For example, if SETI researchers received a radio signal representing the first 100 prime numbers they would be justified in concluding that the signal exhibited a detachable pattern that had no necessary relationship to the electromagnetic waves that carried it.

In Dembski’s language, if some event/object is contingent (not the outcome of any deterministic natural law), and sufficiently complex (its probability of natural actualization is less than 10 - 150), and specified, then it exhibits specified complexity. The central argument of No Free Lunch is that objects/events that exhibit specified complexity cannot be actualized by natural processes alone and must, therefore, be the outcome of intelligent design, in the sense consistent with the way in which all of the key terms have been defined above.

Establishing the contingency of some event/object is ordinarily a rather simple matter. Establishing complexity and specification, however, is difficult (perhaps impossible), as our case study of the bacterial flagellum will illustrate.

 Email link | Printer-friendly | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Howard Van Till

Topic Sets Available

AAAS Report on Stem-Cells

AstroTheology: Religious Reflections on Extraterrestrial Life Forms

Agency: Human, Robotic and Divine
Becoming Human: Brain, Mind, Emergence
Big Bang Cosmology and Theology (GHC)
Cosmic Questions Interviews

Cosmos and Creator
Creativity, Spirituality and Computing Technologies
CTNS Content Home
Darwin: A Friend to Religion?
Demystifying Information Technology
Divine Action (GHC)
Dreams and Dreaming: Neuroscientific and Religious Visions'
E. Coli at the No Free Lunchroom
Engaging Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence: An Adventure in Astro-Ethics
Evangelical Atheism: a response to Richard Dawkins
Ecology and Christian Theology
Evolution: What Should We Teach Our Children in Our Schools?
Evolution and Providence
Evolution and Creation Survey
Evolution and Theology (GHC)
Evolution, Creation, and Semiotics

The Expelled Controversy
Faith and Reason: An Introduction
Faith in the Future: Religion, Aging, and Healthcare in the 21st Century

Francisco Ayala on Evolution

From Christian Passions to Scientific Emotions
Genetic Engineering and Food

Genetics and Ethics
Genetic Technologies - the Radical Revision of Human Existence and the Natural World

Genomics, Nanotechnology and Robotics
Getting Mind out of Meat
God and Creation: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on Big Bang Cosmology
God, Humanity and the Cosmos: A Textbook in Science and Religion
God the Spirit - and Natural Science
Historical Examples of the Science and Religion Debate (GHC)
History of Creationism
Intelligent Design Coming Clean

Issues for the Millennium: Cloning and Genetic Technologies
Jean Vanier of L'Arche
Nano-Technology and Nano-ethics
Natural Science and Christian Theology - A Select Bibliography
Neuroscience and the Soul
Outlines of the Science and Religion Debate (GHC)

Perspectives on Evolution

Physics and Theology
Quantum Mechanics and Theology (GHC)
Questions that Shape Our Future
Reductionism (GHC)
Reintroducing Teleology Into Science
Science and Suffering

Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action (CTNS/Vatican Series)

Space Exploration and Positive Stewardship

Stem-Cell Debate: Ethical Questions
Stem-Cell Ethics: A Theological Brief

Stem-Cell Questions
Theistic Evolution: A Christian Alternative to Atheism, Creationism, and Intelligent Design...
Theology and Science: Current Issues and Future Directions
Unscientific America: How science illiteracy threatens our future
Will ET End Religion?

Current Stats: topics: >2600, links: >300,000, video: 200 hours.