Instructive Moments

Over at TT, Bilbo asks, “What would Positive Evidence for ID Look Like?,” and briefly outlines the four criteria of the Design Matrix. Three critics responded and their responses are actually quite instructive.

Let’s start by noting there is a consensus among the three critics – they all agree that data which cannot be explained by evolutionary theory is evidence for design:

If you could demonstrate an actual barrier, then you might have something (hence IC and CSI).


The example I always use is “bolts”. Bolts show up all the time in human designs because humans carry the technique from one design to another…I suppose this is a form of “Discontinuity”, but rather than a single break — something that evolution can explain — it would be a widely reused idea that seems to appear out of the blue over and over.


I think it’s fairly easy to identify examples that we would consider evidence of design. For example, the appearance of genes or group of genes essentially out of nowhere in multiple different groups of animals….It is essentially the ‘chimera’ argument. Show that something that is found in one organism shows up in a completely different organism without a direct connection via an evolutionary lineage.

In other words, these critics do indeed embrace the criterion of Discontinuity as having the ability to deliver up evidence for design. But there are a couple of instructive elements in this consensus.

1. The demand for independent evidence/knowledge of the designers and their methods is completely missing. If this demand was crucial, we might have expected the critics to proclaim, “Without independent evidence/knowledge of the designers and their methods, there can be no positive evidence for design.” But no such position was adopted.

2. The question is never truly answered. In what sense are data, which cannot be explained by evolutionary theory, positive evidence for design?

How is it that three critics so easily over-looked the commonplace demands of designer-centrism, while confusing evidence against evolutionary theory for positive evidence for design?

I think it is clear that when these people attempted to explain what would qualify as “positive evidence for intelligent design,” they do so from within the framework of the Traditional Template – find something evolution cannot explain in order to infer design.

This observation would explain why it is that the same three critics dismiss the other three criteria – Analogy, Rationality, and Foresight. Strip away these criteria, and make the debate solely about whether data exist that cannot possibly be accounted for by evolutionary theory, and what you are left with is nothing less than the Traditional Template. And if you think about it, in a remarkable twist of irony, by throwing out the other three criteria while embracing the criterion of Discontinuity, the critics are advocating the God-of-the-Gaps approach.

Yet as I have argued earlier, the Design Matrix represents an investigative approach that differs from the Traditional Template and its allegiance to looking for gaps in evolutionary theory. As such, the replies offered by the critics go astray in three important ways.

First, the responses from the critics show no evidence of inductive gradualism. For example, if we found chimeras or bolts, does this count as a Discontinuity score of +5 or +1? If +1, why not +5? If +5, why not +1?

Second, if we throw out the criteria of Analogy, Rationality, and Foresight, we are effectively assigning them a value of 0. So let’s say a ‘chimera’ is scored as a +5 on the Discontinuity scale. Those using the Design Matrix would have to average all scores into a +1.25, which would represent very modest evidence for design. In contrast, the reliance on the Traditional Template alone would force the critic in citing this anomaly as very strong evidence for design.

Third, I mentioned the importance of keeping the criteria as independent as possible. In contrast, the reliance on the Traditional Template caused one critic to continually use evolution to drown out any possible signal from the three criteria that were dismissed:

Analogy. In any case, analogous structures are consistent with evolutionary processes.

In other words, evidence from analogy must also be evidence against evolution.

Rationality. What sense they do make is consistent with evolutionary processes. But we often see signs that biological systems are seemingly thrown together bit-by-bit through necessity.

In other words, rational design must be evidence against evolution.

Foresight. If you could show that some complex structure developed only for some future purpose, then you might have something.

In other words, evidence for foresight must be evidence against evolution.

What all these answers show is a mindset that seeks to frame the issue as one of Evolution vs. Design. The possibility that evolution may have been designed, or influenced by design, is ruled out by the Traditional Template, as all evidence for design must come in the form of an insurmountable obstacle to evolutionary theory.

To summarize, in trying to answer the question – What would Positive Evidence for ID Look Like? – three independent critics a) ignore the demands of designer-centrism while b) embracing the God-of-Gaps approach, demanding some facts that cannot possibly be accounted for by evolutionary theory.

Nothing has changed, folks. Back in 2007, I wrote this in The Design Matrix:

Throughout the years I have asked skeptics about the type of data that would cause them to suspect Intelligent Design. What data would they count as evidence for Intelligent Design?…. It is interesting that the most common skeptical response revolved around the ability to find something that evolution cannot yet explain.

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