Why Intelligent Design Fails: Chapter 8 "The explanatory filter, archaeology, and Forensics" Gary Hurd

Gary Hurd takes on the claims by Dembski that the ‘explanatory filter’ is how in archaeology or criminology ‘intelligent design’ is detected to show that these claims are incorrect.

Anyone familiar with the lastest crime shows on TV, especially about crime scene investigations, knows that criminology works with concepts like means, motives and opportunity. None of these factors plays any role in an ‘explanatory filter’. Hurd makes a compelling case that the methods used by archaeologist and criminologists does not mimick the ‘explanatory filter’ . In fact, he shows why the ‘explanatory filter’ would be largely useless.

It is understandable that ID wants to avoid dealing with means or motives at all cost, hence the (erroneous) suggestion that design can be reliably inferred without any knowledge or assumptions about the designer.

Gary Hurd applies his knowledge and familiarity with archaeology and criminology to show how scientists reach conclusions of intelligent design and why the explanatory filter would be useless. A good question would be, why does Hurd look at criminology or archaeology? The answer is simple: ID proponents have argued that the explanatory filter mimicks how in criminology and archaeology design is inferred. As Hurd shows, such a claim is erroneous.

Criminology example

An example cited by Hurd is a patient who dies of a snake bite. There are a variety of possibilities: accident, murder, suicide. Without more information about motive, means, opportunities it is hard to rule out any of these scenarios.

Lets add some side information:

The patient belonged to a religious group which believed that true Christians could handle snakes without any danger to their own lives. Snake handlers base their practice on the interpretation of Mark 16:17-18: “And these signs shall follow them that believe: in my name they shall cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.”

Is that sufficient? Sounds like an accident.


What if we hear that for example there are a multitude of snake bites and there is some evidence that the arm was held in place by force. Starts to sound like murder or perhaps

attempted murder

What if the coroner, failing to understand the religious nature of the diseased rules the death a suicide?

No explanatory filter is going to be helpful in establishing what happened here. Motives, means and opportunities all come into play.

The need for motives, means and opportunity

On ISCID a poster named Gedanken has shown in great detail why the explanatory filter is unreliable unless we add additional knowledge that constrains the designer. In simple terms, even if the probability of a particular event happening under the chance/regularity hypothesis are small, there is no logical reason to presume that the probability of this event under the ID hypothesis is higher. Without additional data, there is no way to determine if the ID hypothesis (which typically remains unstated and lacking in any detail) is the more probable one.

Gary S Hurd

Saddleback College. Ph.D. from the University of California at Irvine in 1976, and is a Certified Archaeologist for Orange County and the City of Oceanside. Dr. Hurd graduated in 1976 with a Social Science Ph. D. degree from the University of California, Irvine. Following a ten year stint as a medical researcher in Psychiatry, he returned full time to archaeology. Currently, Dr. Hurd teaches anthropology courses at Saddleback College, and is Curator of Anthropology at the Orange County Natural History Association. He has been active in taphonomic research since 1989, and has also consulted with the Orange County Sheriff / Coroner’s Office on bone modification, and evidence recovery related to suspected homicides.