On Design

Well, since Michael Egnor has sort of answered my questions, it’s time for me to try to answer his. I’ll try to be less evasive than he was.

One thing I’d like to point out is that Egnor seems to be under the misapprehension that the information theory that mathematicians and computer scientists actually study has something to do with inferring design. This is simply not the case. Open up, for example, the book on Kolmogorov complexity by my colleague Ming Li, and you won’t find a word about inferring design. (It’s ID advocate Bill Dembski, of course, who is largely responsible for this confusion.) So, contrary to what Egnor thinks, as a mathematician and computer scientist I have no particular expertise on the general topic of “inferring design”. It’s just not something we do; maybe he should ask a SETI researcher, or a forensic investigator. But then again, Egnor has nor particular expertise on the topic, either.

First, some general remarks about “design”. I’ll start by saying that I don’t know exactly what he means by “designed”. One of the favorite games of ID advocates is equivocation, so it’s important to pin them down on a precise meaning. ID advocates rarely say plainly what they mean by “design”. Do they mean simply that something has a pattern to it (as in “the design of a snowflake”), or do they mean something that has a “function”, or must there necessarily be some teleology involved? I think it’s incumbent on ID advocates to make clear what they mean. But I’ll look at all three possibilities.

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