The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

My Challenge to the Discovery Institute’s “Design Inference” Model

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 7, 2010

In an earlier blog post, I gave a detailed rebuttal to a lecture by the Discovery Institute’s Casey Luskin titled “Intelligent Design: Dead Science or the Future of Biology?” – however, it wasn’t until recently that I came up with what I consider to be the real killer criticism of a basic intelligent design argument: their so-called “design inference” model. During his talk, Casey Luskin showed a picture of Mount Rushmore, which he stated the design inference model shows is clearly a product of ID, not the result of natural processes.  The implication is, of course, that much of evolutionary science is false because ID’s design inference model can prove that ID is a better explanation; but there’s a fatal flaw here.

The basic argument is simply a variation of the classic watchmaker argument, which is essentially an argument from ignorance. Not to mention, Luskin has stacked the deck in favor of the ID design inference model because every time an ID-advocate trots out their model it is in the context of a post-hoc analysis: they already know ahead of time that the object/situation they’re analyzing is the product of intelligent (human) processes.  Hell, of course Mount Rushmore is the result of (human) ID, because we have records & photos of humans chipping away at the damn rock!  So they can’t lose – in this sense, the ID folks are proposing a non-falsifiable model, which makes it NON-science.

After thinking more deeply about Luskin’s claims, which seem to be fundamental to the entire ID argument, I came up with this rebuttal: the Face on Mars. Below I have two pictures of the infamous Face on Mars – the top picture was one of the originals from the Viking mission in 1976, while the bottom picture came from the Mars Global Surveyor in 1998…

If an ID advocate applied their design inference model to the picture on the top, in 1976, they would have undoubtedly concluded (like many others) that this feature was the result of (human, alien, angelic, Godly?) ID.  However, upon further analysis, the image on the bottom reveals that this illusion of intelligent design was simply the result of natural processes & chance (much as evolution explains the illusion of ID in biology).  Once the feature is seen under different lighting conditions, it is revealed for what it actually is: a big mountainous pile of Martian rocks.  It just so happened that – yes by blind, dumb luck – when the Viking probe flew over this section of Mars in 1976 it took a snapshot where the lighting conditions and manner in which shadows were projected gave the appearance of a face, when in fact no such face existed.

I have since come to think that basically any form of pareidolia (of which the Face on Mars is a classic example) or similar optical illusions would be a wonderful way in which to test out the ID design inference model in a predictive manner.  If there really is anything to it, then one would expect that the model would perform much better than chance.  You would also expect that in their desire to see ID treated as a valid science (and not merely the latest rehashed version of creationism, which it is), the ID-proponents like Luskin & his fellows at the Discovery Institute would be falling all over themselves to run such experiments.

But, to my knowledge, they haven’t run these experiments.  Of course, this begs an obvious question: why haven’t the ID-proponents themselves, who have been pushing ID as “real science” for over 20 years now, ever thought about proposing these kinds of tests?  Hmmm… interesting.

5 Responses to “My Challenge to the Discovery Institute’s “Design Inference” Model”

  1. humanape said

    “I gave a detailed rebuttal to a lecture by the Discovery Institute’s Casey Luskin”

    I’m just wondering, why would you do that? Luskin is a drooling moron. Is it really necessary to give a rebuttal to a subhuman who believes a magic fairy made people out of nothing? Would you give a detailed rebuttal to a flat-earther?

    For some people it’s only necessary to call them an idiot. They don’t deserve any more attention than that because they’re more stupid than dogs.

    • limey said

      Because some people get misled and genuinly don’t know any better. Expose them to a detailed rebuttal and you educate them.

      Call them an idiot and they’ll think the same of you and no one is any wiser.

  2. DataJack said

    I think you did a great job at this, Matt. And I think these things need to be done, because people like Luskin are creative, persuasive liars, and someone has to expose them.

    Keep up the great work.

  3. […] I also wrote a follow-up post specifically criticizing Luskin’s claims of the supposed scientific nature of ID’s so-called… It is pretty telling that Luskin never addresses any of these points in his response, but more on […]

  4. […] spirit of throwing Luskin and his colleagues at the Discovery Institute a bone, I even came up with an experimental method for testing a key aspect of ID, but – ironically – they have yet to take up that (or any other) challenge and actually […]

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