Home » Intelligent Design » A Mere Stack of Stones

A Mere Stack of Stones

Someone I correspond with sent me this. It’s a good example of how the design inference has been employed for practical matters.

On the subject of stacked stones in the wilderness, here is a little story that may be interesting. In my legal practice my most prominent pro bono case was to seek the first-ever posthumous Presidential pardon, for the first-ever black graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point — Lt. Henry Ossian Flipper, class of 1877. He was court-martialled in a racially-motivated prosecution in 1881 and dismissed from the Army. (Pres. Clinton issued the pardon in 1999).

After leaving the Army Lt. Flipper became a special agent for the U.S. Department of Justice, as part of a special court established to resolve land title disputes arising from the U.S. takeover of territory that had been Mexican and before that Spanish. The Mexican and Spanish governments had issued land titles to individuals for much of the land that transferred to US sovereignty, and the treaties said the US would honor these titles. Conflicts arose, however, between people claiming ownership via an old Spanish or Mexican title document, and people claiming part of the same land via a US title document. The special court was set up just to resolve these disputes. Lt. Flipper’s Army field training made him an excellent person to do the field work, and his facility with languages (he was fluent in French and Spanish) meant he could read the Mexican documents.

One of Lt. Flipper’s jobs was to take the Mexican title documents and go out into the wild to see if the boundary markers described in the documents were there. There were various characteristic stone stacking patterns used, but weathering could cause these to deteriorate. Thus he became an expert in interpreting piles of stones in the wilderness. He had to judge whether a pile was natural or man-made, and if man-made, whether it was really a boundary-marker or was piled up for some other reason. He testified under oath in some 240 cases, including several that went to the U.S. Supreme Court. These court records can still be found — I’ve read some of his testimony in the files of the Supreme Court.

Thus we have documented instances where the government of the United States has taken expert testimony concerning whether a design inference should be drawn based on a pile of stones; and ownership of land valued in large sums of money depended on those judgments.

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14 Responses to A Mere Stack of Stones

  1. The argument that design cannot be detected is such a pathetic lie that it I am amazed at how brazenly it is made by the opponents of ID.

    I suppose SETI should just be abandoned since we will never know if a signal from space is really a signal or just random noise forming a pattern with a purpose?

  2. Disregarding the question of detection of purpose/intent/intelligence, one could always argue that for practical and logical … and scientific … reasons that SETI ought to be abandoned, since the probability of detecting an actual signal (as opposed to the random noise which is continuously detected) is so astronomically remote as to be meaningless.

  3. I have some beautiful photos I took on a beach in New Zealand with stones people had arranged. You are welcome to use them if you like.

  4. Ilion,

    The argument from SETI scientists attempting to distancte themselves from a design inference is hilarious.

    We seek artificiality, which is an organized and optimized signal coming from an astronomical environment from which neither it nor anything like it is either expected or observed: Very modest complexity, found out of context. This is clearly nothing like looking at DNA’s chemical makeup and deducing the work of a supernatural biochemist.

    You see SETI is not ID because DNA is not an organized and opitmized signal. Got it?

  5. illion

    SETI ought to be abandoned, since the probability of detecting an actual signal (as opposed to the random noise which is continuously detected) is so astronomically remote as to be meaningless.

    I’d be quite surprised if you could show me the evidence and numbers you used to arrive at the astronomically remote probability.

    Why can’t people admit that some things are simply unknown and incalculable at present? No one knows what the odds are of SETI discovering intelligence on another world.

  6. Ilíon:… one could always argue that for practical and logical … and scientific … reasons that SETI ought to be abandoned, since the probability of detecting an actual signal (as opposed to the random noise which is continuously detected) is so astronomically remote as to be meaningless.

    Jehu:The argument from SETI scientists attempting to distancte themselves from a design inference is hilarious.

    Oh, I quite agree.

    But, my point wasn’t about that particular foolishness. And my point wasn’t about any assertion that *should* we intercept an actual signal (as opposed to random noice), we’d be unable to differentiate it from random noise and thus we’d be unable to infer the existence of an intelligence at the point of origin.

    Rather, my point was that the odds are so against us ever detecting an actual signal in the first place that for all practical purposes we might as well say: “We will never detect radio signals of unknown provenance that are not random noise.”

    DaveScott:I’d be quite surprised if you could show me the evidence and numbers you used to arrive at the astronomically remote probability.

    You know, this sort of response isn’t amusing when ‘Darwinists’ (or ‘scientistes‘ in general) do it; it’s much less so when an ‘a-Darwinist’ does it. We *ought* to know better than to make “arguments” like this, if for no other reason than that we are so often on the receiving end of such “argumentation” coming straight out of ‘scientism.’

    I will explain to you *why* the scientists and others engaged in the SETI project are literally wasting our collective resources and their own personal lives; whether you are willing to let this reasoning into your mind is, of course, up to you:

    1) There are two general approaches to transmitting radio waves:

    1a) broadcast, in which the location of sender and receiver relative to one another are indeterminate. The signal originator transmits the signal over a relatively large spacial volume — anything from a cone to a complete sphere — knowing full well that in all but a miniscule portion of that spacial volume there is no one listening for his signal.

    1b) “narrowcast,” in which the location of both sender and receiver — and often just as critically, the time of the transmission — are known to one another. As the locations are known beforehand, the signal originator can narrowly focus or target the signal and the signal receptor can ignore radio waves from all other directions.

    2) The above doesn’t even take into account the frequency of the radio waves.

    3) It costs energy to generate a radio signal. A broadcast requires far more energy than a “narrowcast” to maintain signal coherence over the same distance.

    4) Every *possible* extra-terrestrial civilization is sited right next to a broadcast “facility” which pumps out a fully-spherical and multi-frequency signal of far more energy than those hypothetical civilizations could ever hope to do. Their intentional signals are all effectively jammed over the interstellar scale.

    5) If some hypothetical extra-terrestrial civilization knew we were at this location and knew we were listening, they *might* theoretically be able to communicate with us (though, there is still the time-factor due to the distances involved). But, they don’t know where we are any more that we know where they are. We all, after all, unknown to one another, that being the point of SETI.

    6) It would be irrational — even aside from being physically next to impossible — for a hypothetical extra-terrestrial civilization to wastefully expend the energy required to attempt to broadcast a radio signal — hoping it to be intercepted by unknown and fully hypothetical alien civilizations — powerful enough to overcome the natural “jamming” of their own sun.

    7) Therefore, SETI is a total waste of time, money, resources, and human talent.

    DaveScott:Why can’t people admit that some things are simply unknown and incalculable at present? No one knows what the odds are of SETI discovering intelligence on another world.

    Of course no one knows the odds … they are so astronomically small (and depend upon so many things which cannot be known) that they are incalculable. Presently and at all times in the future.

  7. illion

    You’ll have to do better than uncorroborated handwaving. A megawatt transmitter, which is not really a whole lot of power, can send a signal detectable by an Arecibo-like receiver at distances of hundreds of thousands of light years covering a swath of millions of stars. It’s described here: Arecibo Broadcast.

    Presumably an advanced civilization with robotic space-based manufacturing could easily build transmitters such as those by the thousands and power them with free solar energy. All the raw materials needed are plentiful in the asteroid belt so it’s just a matter of having self-replicating robotic factories located there cranking out just about any kind of product you want. This capability is not far off for the human race. I highly suggest you read the book Engines of Creation, the seminal tome on nanotechnology which explores the limits of the possible when nanotechnology combined with the raw materials and energy available in the solar system are fully exploited. I read it 20 years ago when it was hot off the press. It’s as relevant today as it was then and many of its predictions -milestones- on the path to nanotechnology have already been realized in those intervening decades. You can read it online in hypertext format (hypertext and the world wide web were in fact two of its predictions) here (updated free ebook) or the original at Drexler’s website here.

  8. It all comes down to counterflow.

    “Counterflow refers to things running contrary to what, in the relevant sense, would (or might) have resulted or occurred had nature operated freely.”

    As far as SETI goes- seemingly impossible tasks should only be abandoned if they cause harm, because ya never know what you will/ may discover along the way

  9. To Ilion-

    “The Privileged Planet” has given us enough data to know where to look for other intelligent civilizations in our galaxy. This should extend to other galaxies as well as the same laws that apply here would also apply there.

  10. Joseph:As far as SETI goes- seemingly impossible tasks should only be abandoned if they cause harm, because ya never know what you will/ may discover along the way

    Ah, but you see, you’re not thinking about the total picture; you’re looking at only one side (and probably not even the full side) of the ledger. You’re apparently overlooking the fact that the material resources — and especially the human talent — being expended on SETI is thereby not available to be expended on other wishes or needs.

    You’re thinking something like this: “Well, the SETI Project isn’t actually doing any obvious or direct harm, so it’s harmless and we might as well do it.” But, you’re overlooking the fact that the missed opportunity to do other things which stand a much higher chance of generating actual human good *IS* a harm.

    What’s that famous saying? Ah, yes: “There is no free lunch!

  11. irony i-ro-ny [ahy-ruh-nee]
    1. The theory of Intelligent Design may provide the best empirical tools for detecting extraterrestrial intelligence; which, if determined to exist, would bolster the materialist supposition that the universe is teeming with life.

  12. Ilion:
    Ah, but you see, you’re not thinking about the total picture

    Ah, but YOU see, I am thinking about the total picture.

    Who is to say what “wishes and needs” take priority?

    As for resources- seeing that 5% (or less) of the world’s population controls 95% (or more) of the wealth, don’t blame SETI for any “drain”.

    Take the money wasted on entertainment- professional athletes and actors for example- and use that for your pet projects. I would say the money wasted on that industry by far exceeds what SETI spends.

    With what “The Privileged Planet” gives us we know that any ET civilization will most likely have very similar resources as we do. We know that civilization will be subject to the same physical laws as we are. Therefore there is hope they also stumbled across the same communication frequencies that we have.

  13. 13

    Cairn-Smith in his “Seven clues to the origin of life : a scientific detective story” makes a just-so argument using a pile of stones analogy. He argues that an arch could be viewed as irreducibly complex, yet it could also be the product of a heap that had some stones removed. The removal of the stones then is analogous to structures that have gone missing, in an evolutionary sense.

    The main trouble I have with his reasoning, is that arches usually require an intelligent agent to create, (exception being sandstone eroded land bridges, in which natural physical causes are sufficient to explain.)

  14. Regarding a stack of stones, the following might (or might not) be helpful:

    http://www.arn.org/ubbthreads/.....Post258803

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