Physics, Earth & Space Icon Physics, Earth & Space

How Materialists Rely on Intelligent Design

Photo: Orion Nebula, by NASA/JPL-Caltech STScI.

Intelligent design is the logical, demonstrable, intuitive, rigorous, defensible, quantifiable, undeniable scientific theory that evolutionists hate. Its principles are widely used in archaeologycryptologyinformaticsbiomimeticsengineeringforensicsoptimizationcosmology and philosophy, so it is not a religious theory. It is a scientific one accessible to anyone regardless of worldview. In fact, most people use it every day: Is that a stone or a bug? Was somebody in this room before I entered? Is that a mud crack or a piece of pottery? Is that an accidental pile of stones or a trail marker? Is there a hidden message in this string of letters? Intelligent design is the most natural response to explaining complex objects, and has been throughout history. Many have used the design inference carelessly, but ID scientists have made it as mathematically and philosophically rigorous as any theory in science. They have also distinguished it from natural theology by disconnecting it from religious conclusions. The proof is in its wide application.

So why do materialists hate it so much? Just read Evolution News and the Free Science for true stories of persecution of people whose only crime was to use or teach ID theory. Some have suffered for even expressing doubts about the adequacy of Darwinian evolution. The reasons for the animosity are many; they are discussed at length in these websites. A very odd thing happens, though, among these same people. They readily use ID theory when it suits their purposes, and nobody in the scientific community complains. Take a look.

Cosmological Design Inference

At Live Science, Rafi Letzter asks “Did the universe’s creator hide a message in the cosmos?” What a question for a science news site! Creation? Message? To be sure, he comes up with a negative answer (he concludes, “If so, scientists have yet to find it”). 

But lest it appear this is just another refutation of ID, the article implies that an inquiry into a possible message is valid. Letzter tells about Michael Lippke, a scientist working at an observatory in Germany. Lippke didn’t look at DNA or fine-tuned parameters of physics for his message; instead, he reasoned that it might be possible to detect an intelligent signal in the cosmic microwave background (CMB). He wrote about this in a preprint on the physics/cosmology site arXiv. It caught the attention of Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb. Did Loeb dismiss the question out of hand as quackery or pseudoscience? No; he thought the CMB would be a good place to look if a creator were in fact trying to send a “Hello world” signal to intelligent beings.

“There could be different media on which you’d encode the message,” Loeb said. The CMB is a good option because we’ve been able to detect it since the first good microwave study of the sky in 1964, as opposed to, say, gravitational waves, which require more technical equipment and we only detected in February 2016. “It all depends on what level of intelligence you want to approach. It’s almost like writing different sections of a newspaper for different audiences.” [Emphasis added.]

The point is not whether Lippke’s hypothesis had merit, but whether the design inference is a valid scientific way to eliminate chance or law in order to perceive a signal. Even the negative answer in this case did not defeat the validity of seeking design with scientific equipment and scientific methods to study a scientific question. 

Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

Many in the ID community have noted the irony of scientific materialists resisting intelligent design theory with one hand and using it in their own work with the other hand. Michael Garrett was glad to help spend some of the $100 million from Russian billionaire Yuri Milner on the latest SETI project, Breakthrough Listen. “SETI: new signal excites alien hunters,” Garrett’s headline reads at The Conversation: “here’s how we could find out if it’s real.” Yes, indeed; there is a method. It’s called the design filter.

The team became excited when an unexpected signal appeared in the direction of Proxima Centauri last year. They even gave it a name: BLC-1. 

The signal was “narrow-band”, meaning it only occupied a slim range of radio frequencies. And it drifted in frequency in a way that you would expect if it came from a moving planet. These characteristics are exactly the kind of attributes the SETI scientists have been looking for since the astronomer Frank Drake first began the pioneering initiative some 60 years ago.

To figure out if it came from a mind, not a natural cause, what would they have to do? Why, simply apply the design filter: rule out chance; rule out natural law; determine if there is a specified pattern. 

Search for Dead Civilizations

Last month Rafi Letzter also investigated an even more speculative question: whether we could detect past intelligences in space. This time at Live Science he mentioned three Caltech physicists who used design reasoning to figure out not only what space aliens would be thinking, but how their intelligent natures would probably lead to their extinction. How would anybody know? Get scientific evidence and then apply ID theory.

This new paper, authored by three Caltech physicists and one high school student, is much more practical. It says where and when life is most likely to occur in the Milky Way, and identifies the most important factor affecting its prevalence: intelligent creatures’ tendency toward self-annihilation.

Their ideas were published in arXiv last month with charts, graphs, and equations and all the scientific accoutrements, including probability estimations. It’s odd that readers of a science news site and a science preprint site would find this reasoning and approach perfectly appropriate, while their colleagues in academia are working so hard to eliminate ID from schools, textbooks and libraries. 

The authors looked at a range of factors presumed to influence the development of intelligent life, such as the prevalence of sunlike stars harboring Earth-like planets; the frequency of deadly, radiation-blasting supernovas; the probability of and time necessary for intelligent life to evolve if conditions are right; and the possible tendency of advanced civilizations to destroy themselves.

Possible Comeback Arguments

These scientists might argue that they are definitely not endorsing intelligent design theory. They might retort, “We believe our intelligence evolved naturally, so it is only proper to compare the circumstances that led to the evolution of human intelligence with the circumstances that may have led to extra-terrestrial intelligence. We’re not saying that God did it like you guys, so we have nothing to do with the ID community.” Is that a defeater for the argument that they are using intelligent design?

It’s a common mischaracterization of ID, of course; the design filter accepts any intelligent cause, not necessarily God. But initially, notice that they must agree that intelligence is a very different thing from biophysics. It is so different that it can be recognized clear across the universe. An intelligent signal is abiological; it is a message produced by thought. Messages can be transmitted from biological organisms through natural conduits, but they do not result from unguided processes such as natural selection. They have a purpose. 

Bird calls have a purpose, true; they signal mating calls or dangers, but those and other signals such as the songs of the humpback whale are considered instinctive, not intelligent in the sense of emanating from foresight and planning (though some might debate that point). Humans alone intentionally make messages for gratuitous purposes with devices they have constructed outside their bodies, whether megaphones or lasers. What animal builds radio telescopes to send messages across space for no biological reason other than mental curiosity? Natural selection couldn’t care less about that. SETI scientists anticipate something different in kind, beyond biology, from extra-terrestrial intelligences. They hope to communicate about the meaning of things. Such communications are about concepts, not instinctive signals concerned with mating and survival.

Begging the Question

For SETI scientists to deny complicity with intelligent design, they would have to argue that thoughts in the conceptual realm are biological things that evolved by natural selection. Evolutionists (including most in the SETI community) love to rhapsodize about human consciousness emerging from the conceptual fog as our brains got larger and we came down from the trees to build fire and hunt meat. To them, consciousness was just the next stage in evolution. If conscious, deliberate thoughts are no different in kind from fingernails, best wishes to them; such a conclusion drags their own thoughts into the black hole of meaninglessness behind them. What were their thoughts emerging into if not a pre-existing realm of conceptual truth? C. S. Lewis quipped,

The Naturalists have been engaged in thinking about Nature. They have not attended to the fact that they were thinking. The moment one attends to this it is obvious that one’s own thinking cannot be merely a natural event, and that therefore something other than Nature exists.

Thoughts are the very things at issue in the quest to discover signals and messages. Materialists are begging the question when they suppose that natural selection could ever give rise to conscious thought in the first place. Thoughts about concepts like intelligent design or evolution cannot emerge from the material brain without destroying the thoughts themselves. They can only supervene on the brain from a conceptual realm that is not evolving, because thoughts attempt to ascertain what is true. Human grasp of truth can increase, but truth itself cannot evolve without destroying itself. Otherwise, what is true today will be false tomorrow. Lewis explains,

A theory which explained everything else in the whole universe but which made it impossible to believe that our thinking was valid would be utterly out of court. For that theory would itself have been reached by thinking, and if thinking is not valid that theory would, of course, be demolished. It would have destroyed its own credentials. It would be an argument which proved that no argument was sound — a proof that there are no such things as proofs.

Unless scientists of a materialist stripe wish to see their thoughts implode, therefore, they need to affirm that ID theory is legitimate, because all human quest for truth and understanding is conditioned on the validity of non-evolving, logical, honest thought.