I have previously raised four criteia that can be used, as a whole, to assess a design inference – Analogy, Discontinuity, Rationality, and Foresight. Over the years, I have placed most emphasis on Foresight, gradually fleshing out the hypothesis of front-loaded evolution. And while I remain quite encouraged by the increasing plausibility of front-loading, the criterion of Rationality has lately begun to attract more of my attention.
Several years ago, Howard Van Till reviewed Dembski’s book, No Free Lunch. Van Till hit on something that I mentioned in my book:
We speak often today of things that have been designed. Cars are designed; clothing is designed; buildings are designed. Suppose, then, we were to walk into the headquarters of a major automobile manufacturer and ask to observe the process of cars being designed. What kind of activity would we be shown? Would we be taken to the assembly line to see cars being put together by human hands and mechanical robots? No, we would be taken to the “design center” where we would see people working with their minds (augmented, of course, by computers and various means of modeling what their minds conceive) to conceptualize new cars of various styles to achieve the intentions of the manufacturer in the marketplace. In other words, to say that a car was designed is to say that a car was thoughtfully conceptualized to accomplish some well-defined purpose. In contemporary parlance, the action of design is performed by a mind, intentionally conceptualizing something for the accomplishment of a purpose.
This mind-like action of designing is clearly distinguishable from the hand-like action of actualizing (assembling, arranging, constructing) what had first been designed. On a tour of an automobile manufacturing facility, for instance, we would have no difficulty in distinguishing the mental work done at the design center from the manual work done on the assembly line.
The distinction between the mind-like action of designing and the hand-like action of actualizing is key. Conceptualization precedes actualization. Thus, detecting design is much more like detecting another mind than detecting busy hands. In fact, if you did not perceive the mind, the hands would not be detected as designing – they’d be detected as doing. Without making any serious and honest effort to detect the mind-like action of designing, a focus on the hand-like action of actualization will not signal design.