In my last two entries, I have argued that science cannot detect design because the ability to detect design depends on a judgment that is ultimately subjective. We subjectively know how humans think, what humans value, along with how and why we design. We ARE designers and, as such, we necessarily rely on this knowledge to recognize the works of other designers the way we recognize other minds through communication.
Yet there are a couple of fields of science which would seem to contradict my point – archeology and forensics.
The dictionary defines archeology as “The systematic study of past human life and culture by the recovery and examination of remaining material evidence, such as graves, buildings, tools, and pottery.” It also defines forensics as “pertaining to, connected with, or used in courts of law or public discussion and debate.” Both of these soft sciences are clearly focused on humans – what they make and what they do.
Because of this focus on human behavior, scientists have access to a vast amount of experience and data that pertain to humans. These data exist as the result of measurements and exist as objective knowledge. We know what the human body can and cannot do. We know how various chemicals and tools can affect the human body and how they can be used by the body. We know the history of human invention and intervention. And it is this objective knowledge that allows scientists to study archeology and forensics as scientists.
To appreciate the significance of these data, consider the example of finding an arrowhead.
Science can attribute this to design because we have plenty of independent evidence about humans as arrowhead makers. But what if we found a rock that looked like this arrowhead embedded in Precambrian rocks? Would any scientist really conclude this is an arrowhead? No, as we know that arrowheads are made by humans and humans would not exist for hundreds of millions of years. Science would instead deny this was a real arrowhead or would look for explanations for how this arrowhead became misplaced.
So while we can say that science is capable of detecting design, it would not be a true statement in a general sense. The truth of that claim would depend on a crucial qualification – having vast and previous independent knowledge about the designers. Without access to this type of information, science would appear helpless.
Yet there is one field of inquiry that may help us find the way – SETI (Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence). We possess no independent knowledge about the alien message-senders. So let’s consider SETI.