EPS Article Library
The Design Inference from Specified Complexity Defended by Scholars Outside the Intelligent Design Movement - Page 5
Colin J. Humphreys: The "Guiding Hand" of Exodus
Colin Humphreys is the Goldsmiths' Professor of Materials Science at Cambridge University, and a vice president of Christians in Science. In The Miracles of Exodus: A Scientist's Discovery of the Extraordinary Natural Causes of the Biblical Stories, Humphreys argues that the Exodus account in the Bible is factually accurate "down to points of tiny detail" and that modern science can "explain every miracle in the Exodus story." However, Humphreys concludes by asking:
Is there any evidence of a "guiding hand" in the events of the Exodus? What I've found is that the Exodus story describes a series of natural events like earthquakes, volcanoes, hail, and strong winds occurring time after time at precisely the right moment for the deliverance of Moses and the Israelites. Any one of these events occurring at the right time could be ascribed to lucky chance. When a whole series of events happens at just the right moment, then it is either incredibly lucky chance or else there is a God who works in, with, and through natural events to guide the affairs and the destinies of individuals and of nations. Which belief is correct: Chance or God? I'm not going to answer that question for you; you must answer it yourself.
It is clear that Humphrey's himself would answer his question by saying that there is indeed evidence of a "guiding hand" in the events of the Exodus, because the specification of the Israelites being delivered from slavery in Egypt and into the "promised land" was exhibited by a series of events with a very high level of compound complexity.
Denis Alexander: The Anthropic Teleological Argument
Denis Alexander is head of the T Cell Laboratory, the Babraham Institute, Cambridge. He is also director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at St. Edmund's College, Cambridge, and editor of the journal Science and Christian Belief. Dr. Alexander is a theistic evolutionist vigorously opposed to ID.
In Rebuilding the Matrix, Alexander observes that the search for extraterrestrial intelligence "is based on the assumption that a single message from space will reveal the existence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe." He quotes Norman L. Geisler that "even if the object of pursuit is the reception of only one message, nevertheless, the basis of knowing that it was produced by intelligence is the regular conjunction of intelligent beings with this kind of complex information." Although Alexander does not make it explicit, the "kind of complex information" Geisler is talking about in this passage is complex specified information.
Alexander has earlier argued for design on the basis of the fine-tuning of cosmic constants:
we have argued that the universe has some very unusual properties that render conscious life possible-and that those properties are not unusual because we observe them but because the physical constants that make them unusual could, presumably, have been otherwise.
Alexander's anthropic-teleological argument is based upon the existence of "unusual properties," that is, an unlikely or complex set of physical properties, that are specified as the set of properties (or one of a small number of such sets) "that render conscious life possible." While Alexander does not use the terminology of CSI, his argument nevertheless uses CSI by appealing to the combination of complexity ("unusual properties") with a specification ("that render conscious life possible").
Alexander's reliance upon CSI is emphasized by the fact that he quotes design-theorist William Lane Craig in defence of the argument from fine-tuning: "we should be surprised that we do observe basic features of the universe which individually or collectively are excessively improbable [complexity] and are necessary conditions of our own existence [specification]."
Alexander paints two scenarios to push home the point that one cannot sidestep this argument by noting that we would not exist to be surprised by fine-tuning if that tuning were not as fine as it is. The first story involves a kidnapped accountant told that unless he wins the national lottery for ten consecutive weeks he will be killed, who is surprised to survive (at odds of around 1 in 1060), but who is told that "he should not be surprised that such an unlikely event happened for, had it not, he would not have been alive to observe it." Clearly, the accountant is right to be surprised and to suspect that there must be an explanation for his survival. The second story concerns a gambler who will be killed unless he gets ten coins flips in a row to show heads: "the fact of the gambler still being alive does not explain why he got ten heads in a row-the probability of this unlikely event remains at one in 1,024. What requires explanation is not that the gambler is alive and therefore observing something but rather that he is not dead." Indeed, what requires explanation, in both stories, is the occurrence of unlikely (that is, complex) events that are specified as the necessary conditions of our observers not being killed. Likewise, in the case of the anthropic-teleological argument, what requires explanation is that "our finely tuned universe is not just any old ?something,' but contains within it a planet full of people who postulate theories about cosmology and the meaning of the universe. . . ." That is, an explanation of fine tuning, indeed an explanation in terms of design, is required not simply because the fine-tuning represents an unlikely(complex) set of constants, but because the particular unlikely constants that exist are specified as necessary preconditions for the existence of complex life:
The data pointing to a series of remarkably finely tuned constants [complexity] which have promoted the emergence of conscious life [specification] sit more comfortably with the idea of a God with plans and purposes for the universe than they do with the atheistic presupposition that "it just happened."
Alexander implicitly deploys CSI as an argument for the conclusion that the data of cosmic fine-tuning does demand an explanation rather than an evasion. Alexander also implicitly uses CSI as a basis for inferring that the best explanation of cosmic fine-tuning is intelligent design; for the reason that the specified complexity of cosmic fine-tuning "sits more comfortably with the idea of a God with plans and purposes for the universe than they do with the atheistic presupposition that ?it just happened'" is surely "the regular conjunction of intelligent beings with this kind of complex information."
In a lecture presented by Christians in Science at Southampton University, Alexander made it clear that he has "no problem with the language of design so long as it's kept to the big picture design which makes science possible [and which is seen in] the anthropic structure of the universe." Just as Phillip E. Johnson has asked Darwinists, "What should we do if empirical evidence and materialist philosophy are going in different directions?" so I would ask Alexander what he would do if empirical evidence which triggers a design inference according to the same criteria that he applies to "the big picture" of anthropic fine-tuning were to be found within any of the smaller details of that picture? Which should we deny, the empirical evidence, the design-detection criteria which he applies to cosmic fine-tuning, or his objection to invoking the language of design at that level?
Alexander's objection to using "the language of design," except in the case of "the anthropic structure of the universe," either rests upon the confusion of intelligent design with supernatural design and the questionable assumption that the latter cannot enter into scientific theorizing; or else (if such a confusion is not made) it implies either the excommunication from science of numerous established scientific fields (for example, SETI, which Alexander himself references), or an apparent double standard which admits the scientific validity of intelligent design in some scientific fields (for example, cosmology) but not in others (for example, molecular-biology).1 2 3 4 5 6