Dembski on Design

  Recently, in Sarasota, Florida, a man named Paul Colicci was found dead in his garage. Detectives first thought Colicci's death was a suicide. But then they discovered he had multiple injuries—a pattern extremely unlikely in any suicide. So the case is now being investigated as murder. How do detectives determine whether a death occurred by natural causes or by deliberate intent? Well, if you like detective stories, as I do, you know they look for clues and a pattern. And of course, just as in Sarasota, they first ruled out natural causes. Well, it's not much different than investigating anything. Say that in science a puzzle requires that you first rule out natural causes. Looking at the universe, the scientist does the same thing they do in a detective story. We first have to see if life evolved by natural causes. A new book by a young mathematician and philosopher named William Dembski, called The Design Inference, explains simply what we have to do when we want to find out whether something results from natural causes or from the action of an intelligent being. Suppose you go to a movie. When you return to your car, you find that the driver's window is broken and that the CD player is missing. But the maps, the coffee mug, and other bits and scraps, are still there. What do you conclude? Dembski observes that we, in common-sense reasoning, submit events like this to a three-step filter of possible causes. First, could this be the result of natural causes? Events caused by natural forces, according to a natural law, tend to have a high probability. For example, if you drop a stone, it has a very high probability of falling, because it is subject to the law of gravity. But there is no natural law explaining the damage to your car. Any natural force—let's say a tornado—would break other windows as well, and it would take your maps and coffee cup, not just your CD player. So the event passes to the second step in the filter, namely, did it happen by chance? Odd things do happen by chance. A truck, for instance, might accidentally have bounced a rock through your car window. But while that would explain the broken window, a bouncing rock would not remove valuable items from your car. The third possibility is that the damage is the work of an intelligent being. First, the event is highly improbable and no natural law or chance process explains it. Second, the event is also specified: We know that thieves do take valuable things like CD players, and that knowledge precisely matches, or specifies, the improbable pattern in the car. This doesn't sound controversial at all, but it is—because Dembski also argues that living things display the same kind of features. If we apply the same logic to living things that we do everywhere else, we would conclude that they cannot be the product of either nature or chance. So like the detective, we rule out natural causes and conclude that living things must be the work of a designer. It might not help you become a detective who solves mysteries, but it will help you make the case that God created life. That indeed is an airtight case.


Chuck Colson


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