Intelligent Design. What Does It Mean?


Some time ago, I made a post “Created or Evolved?” arguing that technology which is thought to be created, in fact, does not have a specific creator and rather evolves.

In my previous post, “Intelligence is in the Eye of the Beholder“, I pointed out that the term intelligence refers to the level of complexity.  The term intelligent is usually reserved for systems complex enough that we don’t quite understand their behavior.  Once we fully understand the system behavior, the illusion of intelligence disappears.  This is why, although we have very complex devices today doing very sophisticated things, it is still believed that “artificial intelligence” (AI, for short) is still in the future.  I think, it will always be.

Another necessary feature of intelligence is a perceived purpose.  If we don’t see a purpose in system’s behavior, we don’t call the system intelligent.

Now, let’s put the pieces together and answer the question, was the world intelligently designed by a creator or has it evolved?  Since even things created by humans do not have a single creator and rely on fusion of ideas to evolve from simple to complex, the world has, certainly, evolved.  However, when a system appears to have a purpose and we do not fully understand how it works, we tend to consider it intelligent or designed by an intelligent agent. And the world does seem to fit this description.

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16 thoughts on “Intelligent Design. What Does It Mean?

    • Purpose is also in the eye of the beholder. Perhaps, not the world in general, but certain things definitely seem to be particularly fit for something: sun for warming the earth, earth for life, living creatures for survival, water for drinking or washing, etc.

      • I would be interested in seeing you expand on this further. In the post, you gave two criteria – purpose and lack of understanding. You identify purpose as subjective, but didn’t address the lack of understanding. What are the subjectively purposeful yet not understood features of the world?

        • Take living creatures. They seem to have a purpose to survive. Not only that, in an ecosystem, each species seem to be useful to other species in some way. Yet humans do not fully understand life and were not able to create even a simplest living thing from non-living matter. I think, this is why life is often thought to be created.

  1. I agree with your previous post/comment. Similar considerations regarding consciousness – another notoriously slippery critter – have lead people to conclude that, if consciousness is a property of anything, it must be a property of everything. But I don’t see how you square this with design n nature. Purpose is a priori. Assigning it after the fact is not really possible.
    If God shows up tomorrow and says, “Oh, I meant to do that,” why should we believe it?

    • Purpose is not necessarily a priori, if at all exists. If you read the book of Genesis, God saw that his creation was good only after he created it. This seems in line with the findings of modern neuroscience which detects the brain activity in the area responsible for willful decisions moments after the person moves his finger. Even here, “I intend to do this” appears in the conscious brain when the decision is already made.

      • You seem to be using the notion of purpose in the sense that philosophers use intent – orientation, directedness, ‘aboutness’. If so, then it’s everywhere you look, if only because you are looking. The other kind of purpose – action on an imagined end – is a very limited thing. I think it’s only really seen in cases of replication rather than design or creation.
        I have always been puzzled by that passage in Genesis. Did God look at his creation and see that it had turned out just as planned, and was therefore good? Or, did God look at his creation and get a surprise? Did God find that creation was not just right, but good? Is the Lord a fan of Macke or Moore?

  2. On your question, I think that when we didn’t understand natural phenomena very well, the world seemed filled with spirits, intelligent powers that often seemed to act capriciously. It was reasonable that our early responses were to try and propitiate these powers.

    As we’ve learned more about how nature actually works, it’s become apparent that it operates according to underlying regularities, by rules or “laws”, which don’t seem to be modifiable by our attempts at propitiation. This makes natural phenomena seem more in the nature of a vast mechanism or system rather than the result of intelligent powers.

    Of course, the question remains: why these laws? Are there meta-laws? And if we find them, will we then just ask: why these meta-laws?

    • As I mentioned in my smartphone example, things seem intelligent when they are complex enough that we don’t understand them. There will always be things that we don’t understand, therefore, there will always be room to infer an intelligent designer. It is also understandable that the progress of our knowledge works against the idea of intelligent design because what when we understand how things work, they do not seem intelligent any more.

      • Oh, I agree. I think I was just describing it from a different angle.

        Interestingly, this seems to imply that when we don’t understand something, we instinctively feel it must be something like us, as in something like a conscious agent. Probably a survival instinct to ensure we detect predators or other threats.

        • “We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.” This is even reflected in the language. We describe things using words that originally applied to humans. “The car ‘goes'”, ” the smartphone ‘knows'”, etc.

    • It’s interesting if it’s possible to create “meta-algorithms” – algorithms to create algorithms, and program machines to program themselves or even create new programming languages. The question is – will we be able to understand those programs and languages.

      • Possibly not, at least not without the help of other algorithms. I could see us using algorithms (possibly written by other algorithms) to assess and report to us in terms a human can understand how a second or third generation algorithm works.

        From what I understand, we already use software to help design processors. And since the System 370 mainframes, there have been software systems of increasing complexity that no one human can understand by themselves. For whatever device you’re using to read this, there is no human being who understands every aspect of its current operations.

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