Stephen E. Jones

My Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Design: Design & designer: Separate questions

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Q. How does Intelligent Design (ID) theory justify separating the questions 1. Is there design? and 2. Who (or what) is the designer?

Each scientific discipline has had to deliberately limit itself to a domain within boundaries appropriate to its subject matter.

ID's subject matter is detecting design in biological nature. If some other field like theology or philosophy wants to speculate on who (or what) the designer is, even before ID actually detects design, they are welcome to do so.

To be sure ID requires that there is a designer with the minimum requisite intelligence and ability to account for the design in question.

I point to the examples of the sciences of archaeology and SETI. Recently there was news about the Golan Venus figurine which is on the borderline between an artefact and a geofact. Archaeologists have now apparently determined that it was an artefact, by eliminating unintelligent natural causes. They don't need to know (and may never know) who was the designer or even what species it was.

Similarly with SETI. If they ever receive a message they will know it was designed, by eliminating unintelligent natural causes, even if they never know who sent it. They will, from the message, be able to deduce the minimum level of intelligence required to account for it. But they could not tell the maximum level of intelligence of the sender. That is because a higher intelligence can send a lower intelligence message but a low intelligence cannot send a higher intelligence message.

If the message is a complex series of prime numbers, then SETI researchers will know the designer had at least a knowledge of the mathematics required to produce the message. OTOH the message might be an intercept of a stray routine communication, which might not tell them much about the level of intelligence and power of the sender. In both cases the senders could be members of a million-year old civilisation of highly advanced intelligence and technology but that would not be able to be deduced from the message. All that can be safely deduced from a designed artefact is the minimum level of intelligence and power to design and make it.

So it is with ID. ID requires only that there be a designer of a minimum level of intelligence and power to cause the effect in question. ID does not need to speculate on who the designer is or what level of intelligence and power the designer has beyond that required to produce the design in question.

Of course if design is empirically detected by ID, this will be interpreted by Christians as more evidence for the Christian God. But there is no way that Christians can prove, from the level of evidence that ID can provide, that the designer was the Christian God. The empirical detection of design by ID would be equally supportive of all religions and philosophies which maintained that there was a designer or design.

If ID did empirically detect design in biology, it could even be accommodated within atheism, by atheists claiming that the designer was an alien or time-traveller.

The discovery of real design would of course be a problem for Darwinism which claims there is no real design in biology, only apparent design. But as Dawkins1 points out, there were atheist before Darwin, just not intellectually fulfilled ones!


1Dawkins R., "The Blind Watchmaker," [1986], Penguin: London, 1991, reprint, p.6.

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