Two Books in One

Since I am going to start over, and it has been a year since the publication of The Design Matrix, I thought it a good idea to reflect on the book.

If you have read the book, and look closely, you might notice that The Design Matrix is actually two books in one. One book essentially revolves around Chapters 2, 6, 7, and part of 9. These together would amount to an introduction to the hypothesis of front-loading evolution. The other book revolves around Chapters 1, 3, 4, 5, 8, and 9. These together amount to effort to devise a methodology to assess a design inference. The two books are then synthesized in Chapter 10, where the method is outlined (and even calibrated) while considering front-loading at the same time.

During the year since the book has been published, new scientific evidence has come in that has actually strengthened the front-loading theme of the book. This is been very encouraging. I’ll be uploading some of those postings from the old blog and will continue to add more. But let me say something about the methodology aspect of the book.

The design matrix approach is not a method to prove or even detect design. You’ll notice that I said it was a method to assess a design inference. To assess is to evaluate. Since design arguments are thousands of years old and are deeply embedded in our Western culture, it is quite common to find people who will argue that X is designed and others who will argue that X is not designed. The design matrix allows you to survey those arguments and evaluate them in an open-ended and holistic manner. The main complaint about the method is that it is too subjective. But that complaint completely misses the point. So in the next blog, we ‘ll start to explore why this is.


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4 responses to “Two Books in One

  1. Before deciding whether x is evidence for design agreement as to how design is assessed is needed. I see design where others do not. That’s a big part of the frustration involved in exchanges over this topic.

    For readers who are not well versed on the topic of intelligent design (and for those willing to set aside their views while reading the book) Mike’s book offers a balanced approach, free of the culture war side shows that so often short circuit productive exchanges.

  2. Mike wrote: “The design matrix approach is not a method to prove or even detect design. You’ll notice that I said it was a method to assess a design inference.”

    Well, I think this eventually boils down to the same thing. If we assess a design inference, and conclude that it is strong, then haven’t we strengthened our belief that we have detected a designed phenomenon?

  3. Hi Bilbo,

    That’s an interesting question. If we had high inter-rater reliability and the score was between 4 and 5, it would seem that we could move beyond assessment to detection. This would be especially true if measurements are involved in the scores. But it raises the basic philosophical question of moving from subjectivity to objectivity. The verb “detect” has an objective connotation and we typically associated it with the output of an instrument, while “assess” is subjective. Just because everyone might agree something is designed and have good reasons to support the conclusion (good enough to generate widespread consensus), is this really objective knowledge? No, for example, at one time most scientists thought proteins were the genetic material and had their good reasons for thinking so.

    Again, I go back to the example of mental health raised by Lutepisc. A set of mental health experts can assess a person and perhaps all agree the person is mentally ill based on the various criteria used for making a diagnosis. But have they truly detected mental illness? After all, it wasn’t long ago that experts would diagnose people as being “feeble-minded.”

  4. As far as i understand it, all (!) inferences are assessments of formulated hypothesis. The big problem with ID is, that it doesn’t want to identify the designer, his methods etc. So there is no “theory”, no specification of predictons. We should call ID “AD”, because it’s “anonym design”. The “intelligent” is a sufficient decription of the designer – you can’t tell anything about his person apart from this statement, that he/she/is is able to act teleologically.
    What you do with frontloading is not ID, but SD (“specific design”). SD-models (like frontloading, YEC etc.) are the (methodologically, not neccesserelly empirically!) counterparts to ateleologic theories, like Neodarwinism, or Evo-Devo etc.
    When you “infer” (conclude/accept…) design, you evaluate these theories, you compare them (an abductive inference to the best explanation). I want to stress, that this is not possible on the level of AD, because of the lack of concrecte statements and predictions, which – if true – support the SD-Model. Of course, this IBE (inference to the best explanation) is not transsubjecive (completly apart from the subject), but it’s intersubjective (mening, that it is not bound to a specific subject, but to speciic subjective ideas, that can be shared by a group of people, with the same metaphysial ideas, but are not proven, for emple, the existence of God).
    In archeology the IBE is nearly transsubjective, in Paleys case of the watch it really is: We can tak it fo granted, that every person believes in a potential designer in these cases. Human beings (today) are empirically proven! That’s not the case with potential designers of first life or even the universe!

    So, what should we make of all this:

    (1) AD (the “ID” of Dembski et al.) doesn’t work.
    (2) We have no fully-developped SD-Models.
    (3) The IBE does work on the level of SD-Models/designer-theories. That’s why frontloading is such a nice thing.
    (4) So it’s all about comparing, evaluating and assessing.
    (5) This process is not transsubjective in many cases, but at leas intersubjective.
    (6) This is the case for design-recognition but also for design-negation.
    (7) A pluralistic view on science does not forbid the conlusion of “design” based on (not completly objectiv) IBEs.

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