In my quest to understand the true nature of reality, the ongoing dispute between theism and atheism is a regular subject of interest. Perhaps most noteworthy at present is the ‘battle’ over intelligent design. Is it a science or is it religion in disguise? Some deride it as a waste of time and a joke, others think it something to be addressed, but mistaken, and still others insist that it provides compelling evidence in favor of theism. I am of the persuasion that intelligent design is scientific in nature and worthy of consideration. As to the correctness of the endeavor, I’m skeptical, but willing to give it a fair hearing. This is what I would like to do in a series of blogs aimed at both understanding and critiquing intelligent design at a fundamental level. Since my background is in mathematics, I will primarily focus on this aspect of it as well as its philosophical underpinnings. My focus will be primarily on the work of Bill Dembski, a mathematician and philosopher championing the fundamental notions of intelligent design. Input from other disciplines, however, is most welcome.
To get things started, it will be important to have a commonly understood vocabulary. Since design is the backbone of intelligent design, understanding this term is a logical launching point. So, the question is: What is design? In their paper, Wesley Elsberry and Jeffrey Shallit (see here) criticize Dembski, in part, on the grounds that he gives no positive notion of what design is. In his book, The Design Inference, Dembski gives a negative definition of design as the complement of regularity and chance. In No Free Lunch, he gives a more process-oriented account of design:
(1) A designer conceives a purpose.
(2) To accomplish that purpose, the designer forms a plan.
(3) To execute the plan, the designer specifies building materials and assembly instructions.
(4) Finally, the designer or some surrogate applies the assembly instructions to the building materials.
Also, although I have not read Dembski’s book Intelligent Design, I cannot find (with the help of the index) any place where he explicitly defines design. So, this is task number one; namely, to supply an adequate definition for design. Anyone familiar with this topic is encouraged to contribute. For my part, here is something of a first draft:
Definition – Design: A system that is arranged by an intensional agent.
Let’s figure this out.