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Design Inference in a Pile of Rocks

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Archaeologists have discovered a pile of rocks under the Sea of Galilee that they are sure was put there by humans of the Megalithic Age. To a casual observer, the pile seems shapeless. How can they be sure? This is a test case for the design inference. Live Science posted the story of a “Mysterious Structure Discovered Beneath [the] Sea of Galilee,” accompanied by an image gallery of the monumental artifact.
How do archaeologists know this was an intentional structure? They don’t know the builders. Reporter Owen Jarus says that it “has archaeologists puzzled as to its purpose and even how long ago it was built” (Emphasis added.) All they know is that it was designed. But how?
At first glance, it doesn’t look designed. It’s made of “unhewn basalt cobbles and boulders” piled 32 feet high and 230 feet across in a circular pattern, twice as big across as Stonehenge, but without the latter’s orderly arrangement of hewn stones.

It appears to be a giant cairn, rocks piled on top of each other. Structures like this are known from elsewhere in the world and are sometimes used to mark burials. Researchers do not know if the newly discovered structure was used for this purpose.

So far, we’ve only heard about a resemblance to a burial mound, but the purpose (if there was one) is unknown. Any other clues it was intelligently designed?

“Close inspection by scuba diving revealed that the structure is made of basalt boulders up to 1 m (3.2 feet) long with no apparent construction pattern,” the researchers write in their journal article. “The boulders have natural faces with no signs of cutting or chiselling. Similarly, we did not find any sign of arrangement or walls that delineate this structure.”

The design inference seems weak, yet the article goes on to conclude it was designed:

They say it is definitely human-made and probably was built on land, only later to be covered by the Sea of Galilee as the water level rose. “The shape and composition of the submerged structure does not resemble any natural feature. We therefore conclude that it is man-made and might be termed a cairn,” the researchers write.

In a very real sense, these researchers applied the Design Filter. They considered chance and natural law and ruled them out. Moreover, they compared this structure with other structures in the area:

Researcher Yitzhak Paz, of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Ben-Gurion University, believes it could date back more than 4,000 years. “The more logical possibility is that it belongs to the third millennium B.C., because there are other megalithic phenomena [from that time] that are found close by,” Paz told LiveScience in an interview, noting that those sites are associated with fortified settlements.

From this admittedly weak inference to design, the archaeologists went on to describe the kind of designer required to build such a structure. A city a mile south named Bet Yerah, known from the megalithic period, had “paved streets and towering defenses” indicating a high degree of intelligence and social organization. But it is not known if the people of that city built the structure.

The research team says that, like the leaders of Bet Yerah, whoever built the newly discovered Sea of Galilee structure needed sophisticated organization and planning skills to construct it. The “effort invested in such an enterprise is indicative of a complex, well-organized society, with planning skills and economic ability,” they write in their journal paper.
Paz added that “in order to build such a structure a lot of working hours were required” in an organized community effort.

Some may look at the photos and not be convinced it is manmade. It doesn’t seem to have specification or complexity. So we will argue from the lesser to the greater: how much stronger is the design inference when looking at the genetic code, with its elaborate translation, transcription, proofreading and duplication mechanisms? If these archaeologists can find design in a pile of rocks, why should biologists not find design in structures that clearly have specified complexity arranged for purposeful function?
One can discern, from the empirical evidence, some attributes of the designer. The archaeologists could tell, just by looking at the structure, the amount of work that would be required to put those rocks into position. They deduced that it was “indicative of a complex, well-organized society, with planning skills and economic ability.”
Yet notice that the researchers can’t say who the designer(s) were. That’s OK; the design inference does not require knowledge of the identity of the designer. Figuring out who designed it (if it is designed) may be an interesting question for others to pursue. The design inference is applicable without that knowledge. They ruled out chance and natural law first. That leaves design.

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