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“If an alien found human engineering on Mars…”

“… Would they be able to detect products of intelligence and deduce that these objects had not evolved from the surrounding materials by chance?”

Look here.

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30 Responses to “If an alien found human engineering on Mars…”

  1. I’m going through the thought exercise right now.

    If aliens found the mars rover thousands of years from now, they’d be correct in determining that it was put together by an intelligence. They would instantly realize that it didn’t “evolve” from the surroundings because:
    a. there’s no population of these rovers
    b. the rover doesn’t reproduce, therefore it has no way to “evolve”

    This will quickly lead them to detect design. By looking at the rover they will look at the metals used and realize that the metals weren’t of martian origin. Upon looking closely at the pieces, they will see cut marks (from diamond saws, sand paper, etc) showing that tools were used to shape it. Perhaps some of the pieces will have inscriptions on them. (circuit labels, wire gauge labels, etc)
    Perhaps the aliens will then scout out the nearby planets and find that earth has the same compounds used for this rover. They will find other artifacts on earth (assuming we’re extinct) showing the same trademarks found on the rover. By studying the designs of everything they found, they conclude that it has something to do with an extinct intelligence. Let’s assume they’ve never seen a human and all traces of the biological human has vanished from earth, but looking at the designs, they can conclude that we were bipedal, has clasping hands, ranged in height from 3-7 feet. By looking at the range of colors used by humans, they can determine that we only saw a limited spectrum of lightwaves. By looking at our musical instruments, they can determine what our hearing range was, etc.

    All fields of study that detect design (archaeology, SETI, criminal investigators, etc) always use that detection to learn about the motives, tools, processes, origins,of the designs. The study of design and the designers seems to be interconnected in every case I can think of.

    What are your thoughts?

  2. And what could IDers tell about the Intelligent Designer they suspect (hypothetize) being behind say, the bacterial flagellum to keep it simple?

    We can tell that the designer did not have to violate any laws of nature to effect the design. Other than that, pretty much nothing. -ds

  3. Fross,

    I’m not sure what point you are making in your last paragraph. Are you saying that design detection is inseparable from the question of the nature of the designer? That is not the case.

    Dave T.

  4. Fross,

    Interesting thought experiment & it certainly makes sense. But there are a few ideas I would add.

    First, there is no prerequisite that an object be self-replicating in order to apply the Design Inference. I don’t believe self-replication is even a part of the DI or ID discussion. The point is that the ability to self-replicate (and thus evolve) is irrelevent to showing that the object was the result of an intelligent cause.

    See here and here for starters.

    Second, ID & it’s theoretical underpinnings do not try to describe the characteristics of the intelligent designer or even who the designer was. Though I agree once an item is determined to be the result therof it would be interesting to try to learn something about him (her, it, the intillegent cause). As humans our propensity would be to continue to investigate after the design inference has been made – after all, we were designed with a profound curiosity and in general will stop at nothing to learn everthing.


  5. Hey DM,
    The question was:

    “Would they be able to detect products of intelligence and deduce that these objects had not evolved from the surrounding materials by chance?””

    So yes to the intelligence, and yes that they didn’t evolve from the surrounding materials. (because the rover can’t reproduce.) So I was saying that it can’t be from “evolution” because it can’t replicate. I agree that replication or lack thereof makes no statement on design. However, it does with evolution and that was my point.

    I know I.D. currently is only trying to answer and support the question of “was it designed”. Usually in archaeology and other fields, this is determined rather quickly, and the scientific process moves on to the further scientific questions like (when, where and how). Like you said, we are curious creatures, and stopping at the “was it designed” and not going further is like showing a kid his Christmas presents but not letting him open them. heh

  6. dougmoran wrote:
    “First, there is no prerequisite that an object be self-replicating in order to apply the Design Inference.”

    Fross isn’t saying that an object must be self-replicating in order to be ascribed to design. He’s making the opposite point: it is easier to make the design inference if an object is *not* self-replicating (as in the case of the Mars rover), because a complicated non-self-replicating object can’t have evolved or been formed by chance.

  7. what if the alien finds a dead human (not reproducing) or a brain damaged human (who can’t communicate w/ the alien to tell him he’s a life form [as if it makes a difference])

  8. the question that always bothered me was, if you find a human with DNA that has been genetically engineered, is a Darwinian who doesn’t know it was done *still* forced to say that the detected changes in the DNA evolved, even when the designer (small d) knows he designed the DNA changes?

  9. valerie,

    I agree. But I interpreted the whole piece as an argument that (a) design detection is obvious unless applied to self-replicating machines because evolution is not an option in the former and (b) that design detection is inseparable from designer identification. Both of these are typical arguments against ID theory, so I felt inclined to respond the way I did. But I may have misinterpreted the intent of Fross’s post… Either way I think what I said was true. At least I hope so, otherwise I’m going to feel really stupid in a few minutes. :)


  10. I feel I can confidently state on the basis of probability considerations alone, that life exists and has existed only on this planet. Considering the enormity of the cosmos, if life existed elswhere we would long ago have been informed of its existence.

    I also have little regard for what is called the “design inference” because it suggests that it is not self evident which as far as I am concerned is exactly what it is. Is pregnancy an inference? Is it not self evident? I know this is not going to win me many friends, but at my age and general condition that means very little anyway. The fact is that it was an error to present Intelligent Design as a subject for debate. That presents to the atheist materialists a lack of confidence in what is so transparently obvious to any objective observer of the natural world. Everything around us was designed from the very beginning. Once that is accepted as the only conceivable criterion upon which to proceed, everything will fall in place. Chance will disappear from the evolutionary lexicon never to rear its infantile, atheist inspired head again.

    Leo Berg,in my mind the greatest student of evolution of all time, referring to ontogeny and phylogeny, put it exactly as I see it and have seen it now for some time.

    “Neither in the one nor in the other is there room for chance.”
    Nomogenesis, page 134

  11. I think Ross is simply conflating basic design detection with the possibility that as one studies an artifact, one may or may not be able to also deduce certain things about the designer.

    Of course the only reason we have any question at all that biological systems were designed is because they are nonstatic, live and reproduce.

  12. I’m not even saying that it’s easier to make a design inference if something doesn’t replicate. The only inference you can make is that if the Rover doesn’t replicate, it doesn’t evolve. This was just my response to the original question.

    I’m also not saying that design detection is inseperable from designer identification in regards to the I.D. debate. The question “is this designed?” can stand on it’s own and doesn’t depend on anything else. I was just stating that in all areas of research that use design detection, the question “is this designed?” is usually the gateway question that leads where the rest of the research flows. I’m certain that once I.D. researchers are satisfied that they have ample evidence and a clear cut case of design, they will no longer want to spin their wheels on that initial design question, and instead they will want of explore the broader field that I.D. had opened. (the whens, wheres and hows)

    I know it’s pre-mature for those questions right now, but surely no one is suggesting that those questions are off limits scientifically.

    Fross: thanks for clarifying. By the way, no questions are off limits scientifically or otherwise (imo) -dm

  13. Dr. Davison,

    It sounds like you might appreciate two of my favorite quotes from Aristotle:

    “There is nothing difficult about deducing a whole string of absurdities once a single absurdity has been conceded.” (Physics, Book I, Ch.2)

    “To rely on the non-obvious to establish the obvious is a sign of being incapable of distinguishing between what is and what is not intelligible in itself.” (Physics, Book II, Ch. 1)

    Dave T.

  14. “If an alien found human engineering on Mars…”

    I’m afraid it would depend on the worldview of the alien.

    If the alien holds to the view developed by leading (but alas dead) alien scientist, Xhar-li-3 2aR-&ichn, whose “narrative” proved that all intelligence in the universe unfolded from a sticky wet viscous substance on planet htare, then he/she/it would reject design. Even though the inoperable Rover LOOKS designed, the alien will know that the design is only apparent: such a thing cannot be actually designed since it would invalidate Xhar-li-3 2aR-&ichn’s theory. He/she/it would most likely develop a refinement for the theory that includes things that look like Mars Rovers.

    On the other hand, if the alien were trained in logical thinking as well as mathematics and was routinely skeptical of pervasive dogma, he/she/it might readily conclude that the design was real. The probability would seem to be beyond the Universal Probability Bound. He/she/it might not want to say exactly how and where the thing came from, only that it was no accident.

  15. John Davison,

    In your opinion, is there any benefit to the debate?

    I agree with you but I think some people just need a little thought provoking poke to help open their eyes to the obvious truth. For some it might be an eye-opening look at the probability calculations, for others it might be the birth of their first child. For those who are open to change can this debate be beneficial?

    Anyone else?

    Would any readers care to comment on how this debate has effected you, if at all? I’m interested in hearing from both sides.

  16. I don’t understand this argument. Should a craft crash on Earth we would certainly assume that it was made by an alien intelligence. We would assume this because we are not aware of any other likely explanation. Likewise it would be unreasonable for an alien intelligence to assume that a mars rover was a product of nature on Mars because there are no known natural forces that could construct an inorganic machine. How that all parrallels the IDEVO debate I do not see. Clearly nature produces extremely comlex systems all the time. An ecosystem is a sort of machine capable of producing astounding amounts of complexity. The Earth itself is in many ways an amazingly intricate and robust complexity builder. The only question is did nature produce life on its own or not. How this argument fits into that question I just don’t know.

    The point of the argument is about probalistic resources in design detection. If you find complex information in a pattern that can be independently given and cannot reasonably find any means it could have come about through serendipity then you’ve detected design. The alien spacecraft is a grossly simplified case that exhibits all these things in an incontrovertable manner:

    1) complex arrangement of matter – obvious
    2) independently given pattern – transportation device
    3) no accidental means means of assembly – obvious
    4) bingo – positive design detection

    Now apply to flagellum

    1) complex arrangement of matter – obvious (now)
    2) independently given patter – propulsion device
    3) no accidental means of assembly – controversial but none demonstrated
    4) tentative design detection

    This is the same way that murders and told apart from accidents in criminal investigations, hidden messages are told apart from noise in cryptanalysis, intellegence told apart from natural radio signals in SETI, and designed artifacts are told apart from accidents of nature in archeology. -ds

  17. John Davison said: Considering the enormity of the cosmos, if life existed elswhere we would long ago have been informed of its existence.

    Actually, it is the enormity of the cosmos that would prevent us from finding life elsewhere. The fact of the matter is this, we wouldn’t be able to detect our own planet if we were a few lightyears away. Our E+M radiation falls off as R^2, and despite what was in Contact, we really don’t broadcast very strong signals into space to begin with.

    SETI’s only hope is that another intelligent lifeform has the foresight to send an extremely powerful signal (much more powerful than what we’re sending now) and point it directly at our planet.

  18. es58 says: “what if the alien finds a dead human (not reproducing) or a brain damaged human (who can’t communicate w/ the alien to tell him he’s a life form [as if it makes a difference])”

    Sooo, you’re saying Darwinians are brain damaged?

    OK, before someone flames away, I was just joking. I wasn’t trying to be inflamatory. Didn’t mean to offend any beleivers in Darwinian dogma or those who are brain dammaged. Gotta have a sense of humor folks! :)

  19. John Davison

    Why would one assume that we would have been made aware of life elsewhere in the universe. There are perhaps trillions of planets. To assume that none of those have life is a bit of a probability stretch in my opinion. Many stars are tens of thousands of light years away (or much farther still). We have only been able to detect radio signals from outerspace for a few decades and have covered a significantly miniscule number of systems. Furthermore we were an intelligent species for a hundreds of thousands of years before we produced radio waves capable of making our presence known past the confines of Earth. Given the frequency of planetary discoveries in other solar systems it seems highly unlikely that life took root only here. If we are all there is what a waste of space (pardon me for getting a bit corny).

  20. What if the aliens were not able to detect any intelligence? What if Aliens didn’t know about evolving things, cause maybe in their world nothing evolves but just is. What is meant by alien? Some wormlike creature that was “found” in the rock ALH84001 which is supposedly attributed to Marsian rock on which some panspermia theory is based upon? In that case I doubt that these Aliens could detect design in some Marsrover, if they existed. What is the point of the debate? Actually do you think the Alien could have been designed? Could the Alien detect design in itself?

    If a human being found a flagellum, would they be able to detect products of intelligence and deduce that these objects had not evolved from the surrounding materials by chance?

    The answer is YES, why the science fiction?

  21. The probability stretch is to imagine that life exists or ever existed anywhere but here. To make such a suggestion is to assume it was an accident which it most certainly was not. Ernst Mach the physicist once postulated that the entire cosmos was there simply to make this earth and all it inhabitants possible. I like that very much as it makes the earth the center of the universe after all, just as Hugh Ross and others have always assumed. However, you don’t have to be a religious fanatic to reach the same conclusion.

    How do you inbred uneducated Darwimpian illiterates like that interpretation by one of the greatest minds of the past. I hope it gives you the runs. Don’t just squat there on your slimy, stinking, stool stained bar stools, blowing knee jerk Dawkinsian drivel out of both your major openings. Say something, do something, publish something. Prove to the world that you really exist. Esley Welsberry’s inner sanctum is rapidly becoming the laughing stock of the internet and I am delighted to be instrumental in making that, with all the invaluable assistance offered by the denizens there, so very obvious.

    I love it so.

    Who is next?

  22. John Davison,

    Keep ‘em “running”!


  23. And no John if life exists elsewhere that does not necessarily mean that it was an accident. From the scant information we have about our universe it appears as though it were engineered to create comkplexity. While most physicists denegrate that as the Anthropic Principle I still find it to be the most likely case.

  24. Thank you dm, I’m doing my senile best. I’m a pale shadow of my former self.

  25. Fermi’s paradox

    From The Omni Space Almanac by Neil McAleer:

    “Enrico Fermi, Nobel Prize-winning physicist, surprised his luncheon companions at Los Alamos in 1950 by asking them, “Where are they?” Fermi’s calculations suggested that evidence of an advanced galactic civilization should be everywhere around us, given the age of the galaxy, and that ET’s should have visited us long ago. But since there is no such scientific evidence, perhaps they do not exist…

    “Why is the question valid when put up against the fact of the immense distances of our home galaxy? Aren’t the cosmic distances just too much for even an advanced spacefaring civilization to navigate across? Many experts would answer no. Fermi’s question is valid because of time — the ages of the universe and the Milky Way galaxy. In other words, given enough time, any interstellar space, no matter how vast, can be crossed.

    “The galaxy is believed to be ten to twelve billion years old. Assume that the galaxy evolved without life forms for half this time; this still leaves five or six billion years for life to evolve and for advanced galactic civilizations to master interstellar flight and colonize the entire galaxy, which could easily be done, some experst tell us, in two to three million years. Eric Jones, a scientist at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, wrote several papers in the late 1970s that strongly make the case that stellar civilization would sweep across the galaxy, leaving unmistakable signs everywhere, in less than one hundred million years.” ["unmistakable signs." Hmm, I wonder what they could be.]

  26. ftrp11: “If we are all there is what a waste of space (pardon me for getting a bit corny).”

    Alternate take: “All this, just for us?!”

  27. Fantasize to your precious heart’s content folks. Life exists here and all else is philosophy and we all know what that means.

    “Upon reading books on philosophy, I learned that I stood there like a blind man in front of a painting. I can grasp only the inductve method…the works of SPECULATIVE philosophy are beyond my reach.”
    Albert Einstein, (my emphasis).

  28. Professor Davison,
    Dawkins is a very bright man who, while a very large portion of the world’s population think they perceive design in living matter, insists the perception of design is merely “apparent”. Here you agree the bright guy’s take is absurd.

    Einstein was a very bright man who, while a very large portion of the world’s population perceive that they have free choice, insists that the perception of free choice is merely “apparent”. Here, instead of saying it’s absurd, you line up with the bright guy.

    I’m sure any similarity between Einstein’s perceptions and Dawkin’s in purely coincidental, but in each case, I see a genius who has a prior personal commitment/desire coloring his views.

    In your opinion, is Einstein’s view based on inescapable logic, scientific evidence, just a belief, or something else?

  29. “Would any readers care to comment on how this debate has effected you, if at all?”

    I’ve got two bottles of gin riding on it, and I’m running out of time.

    Five years ago I bet my husband, whom I hardly knew, that within 5 years the Darwinian paradigm would come down. Perhaps not entirely, but in some significant way. I didn’t really like having to pick 5 years, and if we had had a more solid relationship, I would have preferred more time. I just knew it was coming more than being able to guess how long it would take. I had not heard of intelligent design of course, but was already interested in finding out, from a noncreationist point of view, what the good arguments were against NDE.

    To the best of my recollection, this was done in the spring, so I have until about April, May if I push it. I was really expecting to concede but I’m confused because just in the last year, things have truly picked up momentum, and this latest Chinese cambrian fish discovery is a nice little chunk out of the wall.

    Any opinions?

  30. So lets say that aliens found human engineering on mars. Wouldn’t there be some characteristics of that human engineering that would tell the aliens that it was created by limited beings rather than unlimited beings? Certainly, they could conclude design, but you don’t think that they would automatically conclude that a supernatural being created the artifacts, wouldn’t they be compelled to search for evidence of the designers, such as on the nearby (presumably dead) planet Earth?

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