Saturday, July 7, 2012

Must the designer be more complex than the design?

One of Dr. Richard Dawkins' favorite arguments against Intelligent Design's coherence is that ID does not explain complexity because the designer must be even more complex than the design.

Why does Dawkins say this?  For instance, he believes great complexity comes from very simple origins through the process of Darwinistic evolution.  But, for some reason introducing a designer implies greater preceding complexity.

While I am not sure why Dawkins makes this claim, I can address a reason why he may, and the problem with this reason.

First, he may be thinking of the designer as some complex physical entity, such as a factory.  In this case it is quite obvious that to generate even a seemingly simple object such as a pencil we need an enormously complicated number of processes and mechanisms.  So, it is quite easy for me to accept that if the designer were like a factory, then it in turn would require even more explanation than the pencil.  In which case, intelligent design theory would not be very helpful.

However, intelligent design theory does not say the designer is like a factory.  In fact, it precludes the designer from being like a factory.  To see this, we must examine the core concept of ID, which is complex, specified information.

Complex, specified information (CSI) is a mathematical quantification of an entity.  The two criteria for an entity to possess CSI is that it must be highly unlikely (complex) given the environment in which it came to exist, while also precisely and concisely described by a specification that is independent from its environment.

For a causal agent to be the intelligent designer responsible for the CSI in the entity, the entity must abide by the two criteria in the context of being generated by a particular agent.  Take the pencil factory as an example, since pencils are quite evidently designed, are relatively complex and can be described quite simply as an erasing and writing instrument.  Can we say the pencil factory is the designer of the pencil?

Well, let's look at the criteria for CSI.  Would we consider it highly unlikely for a pencil factory to generate pencils?  Probably not, unless it is a particularly bad pencil factory.  Next, do we consider the pencil's description to be independent from the factory?  In other words, does the pencil factory produce something that is better described as totally unlike a pencil?  Again, probably not, unless it is a particularly bad pencil factory.  As such, the pencil factory cannot be said to be the designer of the pencil.

In this way we see that if the supposed intelligent designer is to a designed entity like a pencil factory is to a pencil, then ID states the supposed intelligent designer is not the real designer.  Rather than disagreeing with Dawkins, ID actually agrees and says the designer cannot be like a pencil factory in relation to its design, ever growing in complexity.

Instead, the designer must be quite independent from its design.  This means that a design implies nothing about the complexity of the designer.  While it may well be the case that the designer is more complex, this is not necessitated by ID and the designer may be much, much simpler than the design.

In fact, the foregoing argument logically entails that there is more to intelligent design than just complex specified information:


  1. In evolutionary theory the interaction between the environment and the phenotype and the feedback to the genotype are more complex than the designs produced.

    So the premise for this piece seems to be in error.

  2. In my view, it is not a question of more or less complexity, but of ('irreducible') complexity that is the product of a conscious, intelligent agency versus (basically 'reducible') complexity that is simply the outcome of blind natural laws of physics. If we conclude there has to be a intelligent designer of a certain natural phenomenon, it does not matter whether the designer is more complex or simpler than the designed object. In a way, a designing agency in the sense of mental agent is always simpler than a designed object in that it must be an irreducible ontological substance (one thing) rather than a composite of particles (many things). In other respects, a designer is more complex than the product designed, because the designer's mind is never limited to this design, it always encompasses more designs than the one realised in the designed object. It is always more irreducibly complex than any of its designs. However, being irreducibly complex, if indeed it was created, it must have been created by another designer (ex nihilo - which is what happens with human souls [designers in their own right] according to several Christian thinkers), not by blind natural laws. Avoiding infinite regress, if we encounter strong evidence of intelligent design, this implies there must be at least one uncreated designer (as in monotheism), or maybe multiple designers (as in polytheism).

  3. (The ex nihilo part in my comment refers to designers being substances in the neo-Cartesian sense, not to their being irreducibly complex. Substances in the substance-dualist sense are not composed of other elements, they aren't composites, and thus they could only be created out of nothing, if indeed they are created at all.)

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  5. Ah, complexity, if not Dawkins' favorite argument, it's one most often cited, which he expounded at a 2002 TED talk. He stated, in part:

    "Living creatures are too complex to have come about by chance, therefore they must have had a designer. This argument, of course, shoots itself in the foot- any designer capable of designing something really complex has to be even more complex himself."

    "Complexity is the problem that any theory of biology has to solve. And you can’t solve it by postulating an agent that is even more complex thereby simply compounding the problem."

    Dawkins alludes to Occam's Razor philosophy, but with nothing to substantiate it. Couldn't be a more subjective and sophmoric conclusion.

    The complexity of an intervening agency has nothing to do with outcomes, and in particular over the time periods involved. His later reference to the term parsiminous with regard to Darwinian theory is further evidence of this. Rather than goddidit, he alludes to mutantdidit.

    A Universe ex nihilo perhaps, but there would be no 'complexity' corollary, since a supernatural event such as that, if it occurred, would not conform to extant known physical laws. It would of necessity, conform to be supernaturality.

    But in the case of biological evolution, which is the only area ID can deductively address, directed input by intelligent sources cannot be ruled out, let alone cast aside by elective arbitary conjecture.

    I've commented regarding Dawkins' remarks here and there ...