Similarities Between SETI and the Design Matrix

When it comes to inferring design, there are actually several points of significant similarity between SETI and the approach that I advocate in The Design Matrix

1. Neither SETI nor TDM expend much effort on precisely and rigorously defining “intelligence” before proceeding with the investigation. Instead, both extrapolate from our experience with the only known example of intelligent agency – us. This is because we have a wealth of information, both subjective and objective, about human designers.

2. Both SETI and TDM attempt to infer design without the luxury of having an independent base of knowledge about the proposed designers.

3. Both SETI and TDM eschew the purely negative approach, but can incorporate a negative approach as part of a larger investigative analysis without becoming a “gaps” argument. For example, when Seth Shostak argues, “Such a tone just doesn’t seem to be generated by natural astrophysical processes” and Steven Novella says, “finding an anomaly that cannot be explained by known natural processes,” they are appealing to discontinuities. But they are not claiming we should infer an intelligent cause based solely on this discontinuity/negative argument.

4. Both SETI and TDM bundle negative claims into an overall approach that includes a positive claim. For example, Novella writes, “The second, however, is positive – finding that the signal has markers of technological intelligence, as best as we can infer from our solitary self-example.” The positive claims draw upon analogy and what we know about design and designers. In The Design Matrix, the positive approach is split into three points of emphasis – Analogy with what is known to be designed, signs of Rational design, and hallmarks of Foresight.

5. Both SETI and TDM use what I call ‘inductive gradualism.’ That is, clues are gathered as part of an open-ended investigation as we attempt to probe whether the possibility of design is plausible and the plausibility of design is probable. As such, both SETI and TDM would require patience, an open mind, intellectual honesty, and a sensitivity to the clues.

6. Neither SETI not TDM amount to science, while there are many proponents of SETI and ID, respectively, who would disagree with this.

All of this tells me that the approach I advocate in TDM is indeed reasonable.

Of course, there are significant differences between SETI and TDM. I’ll consider these in the next installment.


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