The Ubiquity of the Design Inference

I have noticed that it is often the very things that surround us all the time that escape our notice.  Or at least we seem to easily miss the significance of that which is everywhere – the ubiquitous.   It is fish who are likely to fail to notice the water that they swim in – precisely because it is all around them, all the time.

The same is true of our Design Inference.  It is so innate to us that we can miss it even when it confronts us directly.  This realization snuck up on me last week when I was staying with a friend of mine.

This friend is wrestling deeply with questions pertaining to the Gospel.  Is there a God?  Has He revealed himself?  Or have people made him up?  If He has revealed himself, how should one separate his ‘fingerprints’ from those of people?  Is the historical Jesus accessible to us?  As we shared our thoughts, insights and doubts about these and other similar questions our friendship grew because it is often the sharing of these questions, rather than having similar answers that can spark fellowship.  As part of his search he was exploring naturalistic answers, and given that I believe the gospel assertion that we are made by a Creator, he invited me and another to view the NOVA series Becoming Human. It is a documentary on naturalistic human evolution.  We watched the third episode entitled Last Human Standing.

I predicted that the general trend would be that as more information is gathered one would see that the supposedly intermediate ‘ape-men’ would be either human or ape.  This was based on my experience in discovering in the literature that there is marked absence of transitional fossils across the fossil record (see Session 1b video for more on that).  The documentary did show, through DNA sequencing comparisons that Neanderthals were fully human.  Their DNA is the same as ours.  I showed my friend how other data presented in the documentary fit readily within a Biblical framework.  One needed just to look at the data slightly differently.

But it was the inferences and reasoning logic of the anthropologists interviewed in the documentary that made me take note.  They were excited because they had discovered rocks in Africa that had etchings scratched on them.  They had also discovered shells with patterned holes in them.  Their conclusion was that this was the first instance ever of information being stored outside a human brain.  And given the presence of these artefacts, hominids at this point must have evolved sufficiently to have minds capable of symbolic thought.  And it was then that the irony struck me.

Why did these anthropologists very naturally, and without hesitation, deduce that hominids at this ‘stage’ of evolution must have developed the capability of symbolic thought? Because we know from universal experience – it is ubiquitous – that information and design only comes from an intelligent agent.  These anthropologists did not stop to wonder if the holes in the shells and the etchings on the rocks were produced by time, chance and natural processes.  They used the design inference to deduce that they were made by hominids and that these hominids must therefore have been ‘intelligent’.  And we the viewers did not even question their reasoning.  Without batting an eye we accepted it as self-evidently logical and reasonable.  The inference to an intelligent agent when confronted by design is ubiquitous.

Yet in the same interview these same anthropologists surmised that these etchings and shell holes were the first instance ever of information stored outside the brain.  Really?  The information stored universally in the biological world in DNA, from which kidneys, wings, lungs, feathers – and yes even brains – are built is astronomically more complex and functional than any etchings on rocks or holes in shells.

Is it really a stretch to deduce an Intelligent Designer when we are confronted with information in DNA that is far more complex than anything man has ever developed when we at the same time so naturally deduce ‘Intelligent Hominids’ when confronted by information that is far less impressive?  That is the question we take up in Session 1 – The Case for God: Considering Design.  The videos in this session are high definition and they are partitioned into chapters so you can stop and then re-start viewing in marked spots.

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