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How Do We Know These Artifacts Are Designed if We Don’t Know the Designer?

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We don’t know who made them. We don’t know how they were made. We don’t know what purpose they served. But we know they were intentionally made by mindful individuals. At least, Live Science never questions the design inference about strange stone structures in Middle Eastern deserts that are shaped like wheels, triangles, and long lines (see the photo gallery). Why is design the obvious inference?

There are hundreds of these structures. They extend over much of the Middle East: Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.

The “works of the old men” include wheels, which often have spokes radiating out from the center, kites (stone structures used for funnelling and killing animals), pendants (lines of stone cairns) and meandering walls, which are mysterious structures that meander across the landscape for up to several hundred feet.

The works “demonstrate specific geometric patterns and extend from a few tens of meters up to several kilometers, evoking parallels to the well-known system of geometric lines of Nazca, Peru,” wrote an archaeological team in a paper published recently in the Journal of Archaeological Science. (Peru’s Nazca Lines date to between 200 B.C. and A.D. 500.). [Emphasis added.]

World War I pilots readily inferred they were man-made. Bedouins call them the “works of the old men,” but apparently do not know who the “old men” were. It’s not clear what they were used for. The wheels might have been for forecasting seasons, since they tend to be aligned northwest to southeast to match sunrise at the winter solstice. But why the triangles? And the hundreds of “gates” with their long parallel lines? Who would make large structures that can’t be seen readily from ground level?

Why people in prehistoric times would build wheel-shaped structures that can’t be seen well from the ground remains a mystery. No balloon or glider technologies existed at that time. Additionally, researchers say that climbing to a higher elevation to view them was probably not possible, at least not in most cases.

New research using optically stimulated luminescence on the stones has produced dates of about 8,500 years for a couple of the structures. That makes them older than the Nazca lines. Were they burial structures? Signals to their gods? Animal traps?

Other points of interest aside, the mystery serves to illustrate the logic of the design inference. These structures demonstrate that it’s not necessary to know (1) the identity of the designer, (2) the motivation or purpose of the designer, or (3) the function of the design. It’s also not necessary to know when they were made, or how.

To make the design inference robust, however, it’s important not to jump to conclusions. There are similar shapes in nature that are not considered designed. In fact, there are vast areas of circular shapes in the Namibian desert that have defied explanation for years (see Science Daily).

Desert fairy circles are considered one of nature’s greatest mysteries because no one knows how they form. Different from mushroom rings, these fairy circles are large barren patches of earth ringed by short grass dotting the desert like craters on the moon or big freckles. Several groups are racing to figure out this bizarre phenomenon.

Geometric structures made by animals — like circular shells of diatoms, bird nests, or honeycombs — we do not attribute to the work of sentient beings. These are built instinctively for reproduction, feeding, or other life necessities. Intelligent agents like humans can organize natural materials for necessities, too, but have the free will to make things for other purposes — “gratuitous” purposes like art, conceptual communication or ritual. Crows and chimps can make crude tools, but humans can make tools to make other tools. Animals make tools to eat. Humans make tools to explore outer space and email currency across the globe.

Admittedly those are extreme examples. The line can get fuzzy in the middle. So how do we infer design for the geoglyphs in Jordan, but not the fairy circles in Namibia or the intricate circles in diatom shells? Here is where the Design Filter comes in:

  1. Can the geoglyphs be explained by chance? No; stones do not randomly collect into triangles, wheels with spokes, and parallel lines due to unguided causes like storms or earthquakes. Circular craters can emerge by chance, due to meteor impacts or volcanic eruptions, but they do not look like these, and there is no evidence of shocked minerals or lava present.

  2. Can they be explained by natural law? Natural forces can produce spirals like galaxies and hurricanes. They do not typically produce spoked wheels or triangles (see this earlier article at Evolution News). A bent-over blade of grass could trace out a circle as the wind shifts direction, like a compass. Snowflakes can produce a semblance of spoked wheels, but we know about the atomic forces that cause water to crystallize in hexagonal shapes. Nothing like that works on the scale of kilometers to arrange stones that way, especially aligning them with sunrise at winter solstice.

  3. Is there a specification? Yes; we see an independent specification of the solstice that could guide a sentient being to choose to arrange stones with that preferred orientation. We also understand the human mind’s attraction for geometry and mathematics.

To be sure, the design inference for these structures is more intuitive than robust. It’s conceivable that scientists may find a combination of natural laws and chance that generates these structures in that part of the world; unlikely, but possible. And since we don’t know of any clear purpose for the structures, our third test (specification) is weaker than one might like. Despite these caveats, the design inference is pretty sound. Nobody from the Bedouins to the pilots is questioning it. Compare this case to earlier archaeological mysteries that are more dubious.

Evolutionists try to explain the human mind as the product chance and natural law, claiming it is the product of natural selection. The human mind is like animal design, they will say, simply more of the same. What’s the answer to that? Just turn it around. Such a position implies that the scientist’s propensity to speculate about evolution is also a product of natural selection. So if the evolutionists’ position is the result of blind, unguided processes, and if mental activity is an illusion, then reason evaporates; they have no way of knowing anything is true. John West’s book The Magician’s Twin sheds further light on this “argument from reason.”

Meanwhile, design advocates think that animals and their designs pass the design filter, too. Their bodies, behaviors, and instincts are the products of genetic instructions, making them act in a programmed way. We reasonably infer that their origins are the result of an intelligent cause.

Image credit: Guy Baroz [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.