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John Stuart Mill on Design

Here is an interesting essay on design by Darwin’s contemporary John Stuart Mill. Question: are the molecular machines that Michael Behe identified as decisive evidence for design merely analogous to human-built machines or do they fully instantiate the concept of machine? Another question: Why should knowing the mode of implementation of design be so important to detecting its presence? If, for instance, biological designs vastly exceed human designs in technological sophistication, so that our current technology is incapable of grasping their implementation, why should that undercut our ability nonetheless to recognize their design?

John Stuart Mill
The Argument from Marks of Design in Nature

http://philosophyofreligion.info/theism7.html

We now at last reach an argument of a really scientific character, which does not shrink from scientific tests, but claims to be judged by the established canons of Induction. The Design argument is wholly grounded on experience. Certain qualities, it is alleged, are found to be characteristic of such things as are made by an intelligent mind for a purpose. The order of nature of Nature, or some considerable parts of it, exhibit these qualities in a remarkable degree. We are entitled, from this great similarity in the effects, to infer similarity in the cause, and to believe that things which it is beyond the power of man to make, but which resemble the works of man in all but power, must also have been made by Intelligence, armed with a power greater than human.

I have stated this argument in its fullest strength, as it is stated by its most thoroughgoing assertors. A very little consideration, however, suffices to show that though it has some force, its force is very generally overrated. Paley’s illustration of a watch puts the case much too strongly. If I found a watch on an apparently desolate island, I should indeed infer that it had been left there by a human being; but the inference would not be from marks of design, but because I already knew by direct experience that watches are made by men. I should draw the inference no less confidently from a foot print, or from any relic however insignificant which experience has taught me to attribute to man: as geologists infer the past existence of animals from coprolites, though no one sees marks of design in a coprolite. The evidence of design in creation can never reach the height of direct induction; it amounts only to the inferior kind of inductive evidence called analogy. Analogy agrees with induction in this, that they both argue that a thing known to resemble another in certain circumstances (call those circumstances A and B) will resemble it in another circumstance (call it C). But the difference is that in induction, A and B are known, by a previous comparison of many instances, to be the very circumstances on which C depends, or with which it is in some way connected. When this has not been ascertained, the argument amounts only to this, that since it is not known with which of the circumstances existing in the known case C is connected, they may as well be A and B as any others; and therefore there is a greater probability of C in cases where we know that A and B exist, than in cases of which we know nothing at all. This argument is of a weight very difficult to estimate at all, and impossibly to estimate precisely. It may be very strong, when the known points of agreement, A and B &c. are numerous and the known points of difference few; or very weak, when the reverse is the case: but it can never be equal in validity to a real induction. The resemblances between some of the arrangements in nature and some of those made by man are considerable, and even as mere resemblances afford a certain presumption of similarity of cause: but how great that presumption is, it is hard to say. All that can be said with certainty is that these likenesses make creation by intelligence considerably more probably than if the likenesses had been less, or than if there had been no likenesses at all.

This mode, however, of stating the case does not do full justice to the evidence of Theism. The Design argument is not drawn from mere resemblances in Nature to the works of human intelligence, but from the special character of those resemblances. The circumstances in which it is alleged that the world resembles the works of man are not circumstances taken at random, but are particular instances of a circumstance which experience shows to have a real connection with an intelligent origin, the fact of conspiring to an end. The argument therefore is not one of mere analogy. As mere analogy it has its weight, but it is more than analogy. It surpasses analogy exactly as induction surpasses it. It is an inductive argument.

This, I think, is undeniable, and it remains to test the argument by the logical principles applicable to Induction. For this purpose it will be convenient to handle, not the argument as a whole, but some one of the most impressive cases of it, such as the structure of the eye, or of the ear. It is maintained that the structure of the eye proves a designing mind. To what class of inductive arguments does this belong? and what is its degree of force?

The species of inductive arguments are four in number, corresponding to the four Inductive Methods; the Methods of Agreement, of Difference, of Residues, and of Concomitant Variations. The argument under consideration falls within the first of these divisions, the Method of Agreement. This is, for reasons known to inductive logicians, the weakest of the four, but the particular argument is a strong one of the kind. It may be logically analysed as follows:

The parts of which the eye is composed, and the collocations which constitute the arrangement of those parts, resemble one another in this very remarkable property, that they all conduce to enabling the animal to see. These things being as they are, the animal sees: if any one of them were different from what it is, the animal, for the most part, would either not see, or would not see equally well. And this is the only marked resemblance that we can trace among the different parts of this structure, beyond the general likeness of composition and organization which exists among all other parts of the animal. Now the particular combination of organic elements called an eye had, in every instance, a beginning in time and must therefore have been brought together by a cause or causes. The number of instances is immeasurably greater than is, by the principles of inductive logic, required for the exclusion of a random concurrence of independent causes, or speaking technically, for the elimination of chance. We are therefore warranted by the canons of induction in concluding that what brought all these elements together was some cause common to them all; and inasmuch as the elements agree in the single circumstance of conspiring to produce sight, there must be some connection by way of causation between the cause which brought those elements together, and the fact of sight.

This I conceive to be a legitimate inductive inference, and the sum and substance of what Induction can do for Theism. The natural sequel of the argument would be this. Sight, being a fact not precedent but subsequent to the putting together of the organic structure of the eye, can only be connected with the production of that structure in the character of a final, not an efficient cause; that is, it is not Sight itself but an antecedent Idea of it, that must be the efficient cause. But this at once marks the origin as proceeding from an intelligent will.

I regret to say, however, that this latter half of the argument is not so inexpugnable as the former half. Creative forethought is not absolutely the only link by which the origin of the wonderful mechanism of the eye may be connected with the fact of sight. There is another connecting link on which attention has been greatly fixed by recent speculations, and the reality of which cannot be called in question, though its adequacy to account for such truly admirable combinations as some of those in Nature, is still and will probably long remain problematical. This is the principle of “the survival of the fittest.”

This principle does not pretend to account for the commencement of sensation or of animal or vegetable life. But assuming the existence of some one or more very low forms of organic life, in which there are no complex adaptations nor any marked appearances of contrivance, and supposing, as experience warrants us in doing, that many small variations from those simple types would be thrown out in all directions, which would be transmissable by inheritance, and of which some would be advantageous to the creature in its struggle for existence and others disadvantageous, the forms which are advantageous would always tend to survive and those which are disadvantageous to perish. And thus there would be a constant though slow general improvement of the type as it branched out into many different varieties, adapting it to different media and modes of existence, until it might possibly, in countless ages, attain to the most advanced examples which now exist.

It must be acknowledged that there is something very startling, and prima facie improbable in this hypothetical history of Nature. It would require us, for example, to suppose that the primaeval animal of whatever nature it may have been, could not see, and had at most such slight preparation for seeing as might be constituted by some chemical action of light upon its cellular structure. One of the accidental variations which are liable to take place in all organic beings would at some time or other produce a variety that could see, in some imperfect manner, and this peculiarity being transmitted by inheritance, while other variations continued to take place in other directions, a number of races would be produced who, by the power of even imperfect sight, would have a great advantage over all other creatures which could not see and would in time extirpate them from all places, except, perhaps, a few very peculiar situations underground. Fresh variations supervening would give rise to races with better and better seeing powers until we might at last reach as extraordinary a combination of structures and functions as are seen in the eye of man and of the more important animals. Of this theory when pushed to this extreme point, all that can now be said is that it is not so absurd as it looks, and that the analogies which have been discovered in experience, favourable to its possibility, far exceed what any one could have supposed beforehand. Whether it will ever be possible to say more than this, is at present uncertain. The theory if admitted would be in no way whatever inconsistent with Creation. But it must be acknowledge that it would greatly attenuate the evidence for it.

Leaving this remarkable speculation to whatever fate the progress of discovery may have in store for it, I think it must be allowed that, in the present state of our knowledge, the adaptations in Nature afford a large balance of probability in favour of creation by intelligence. It is equally certain that this is no more than a probability; and that the various other arguments of Natural Theology which we have considered, add nothing to its force. Whatever ground there is, revelation apart, to believe in an Author of Nature, is derived from the appearances in the universe. Their mere resemblance to the works of man, or to what man could do if he had the same power over the materials of organized bodies which he has over the materials of a watch, is of some value as an argument of analogy: but the argument is greatly strengthened by the properly inductive considerations which establish that there is some connection through causation between the origin of the arrangements of nature and the ends they fulfil; an argument which is in many cases slight, but in others, and chiefly in the nice and intricate combinations of vegetable and animal life, is of considerable strength.

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15 Responses to John Stuart Mill on Design

  1. But, as you pointed out, Dr. D – even the critics undermine their own claim on the instantiation issue precluding design detection.

    “To infer watchmaker from watch, you needn’t know exactly what the watchmaker had in mind; indeed, you don’t even have to know that the watch is a device for measuring time. Archaeologists sometimes unearth tools of unknown function, but still reasonably draw the inference that these things are, in fact, tools.” (Elliot Sober, “Testability,” 1999 presidential address to the American Philosophical Association.)

    We may assume Sober, for example, would agree that you also needn’t know exactly how the watch was instantiated.

  2. Three Reactions:

    First, the statement

    “that the mechanisms of life are far better machines then those devised by man should if anything be better indications of design not less”

    or something similar should be a basic selling point of ID. In fact a litany of similar selling points should be developed that are short and persuasive and which can be backed up by data if asked.

    Second, Relative to Mill’s essay – I always thought the eye was the best irreducibly complex organism to make the point for this concept because everyone understands what the eye is and few know what he bacterium flagellum is or understand the mechanism of clotting. They can relate to the eye very easily as an extremely complex, fine tuned instrument. Also the paper by Nilsson and Pelger which Dawkins is in love with is ripe for attack since none of their intermediary steps really exist or ever existed and they should if their computer model is to be used as an example of how an eye could evolve.

    Nilsson’s web site says that there 8 types of eyes and there has been little change since the Cambrian era.

    Third, Mills is someone 150 years ago making the ID arguments who was far from a religious person and who had no clue to the extent of the complexity. His argument becomes more compelling once you consider the actual complexity.

  3. “I think it must be allowed that, in the present state of our knowledge, the adaptations in Nature afford a large balance of probability in favour of creation by intelligence.”

    This was true 150 years ago and it is much more true today. The key phrase here is “balance of probability.” Everyone agrees that nature and living systems give the appearance of design, and the more we learn, the more powerful and sophisticated this appearance becomes.

    Now the question becomes, Which way does the balance of probability point, to purely unguided materialistic processes or actual design? As we have learned more about the sophisticated information processing and tightly integrated machinery found in living things, has the balance of probability moved us closer to the laws of chemistry, physics and probability as an explanation, or has it moved us closer to actual as opposed to apparent design?

    I believe the answer to this question is becoming increasingly self-evident, and that is why those who are totally invested in the thesis of the illusion of design are becoming so panicked and hostile.

  4. Comments:
    I was led to believe by Darwinist Defenders that ID is new, that it is only “repackaged creationism” to skirt the Supreme Court ruling against the Louisiana statute in 1987.

    This is astounding!!!!

    Here is one of premier architects of our nation’s government, John Stuart Mill. He sounds like a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute: “We are entitled, from this great similarity in the effects, to infer similarity in the cause, and to believe that things which it is beyond the power of man to make, but which resemble the works of man in all but power, must also have been made by Intelligence, armed with a power greater than human.”

    This IS the Intelligent Design theory, period.

    From the same group of thinkers that penned the words “We hold these truths to be self-evident….” comes this observation: “The Design argument is wholly grounded on experience.”

    And this sounds a lot like Dr. D’s Design Inference: “…there is a greater probability of C in cases where we know that A and B exist, than in cases of which we know nothing at all.” Where we KNOW something, a detached specification of a pattern, using our background knowledge to ascertain the pattern, the probability of design is increased: “…these likenesses make creation by intelligence considerably more probable than if the likenesses had been less, or than if there had been no likenesses at all.”

    Mill has gone FARTHER in some areas than even our modern design theorists: to my knowledge, no one today has tread into these waters: “The Design argument is not drawn from mere resemblances in Nature to the works of human intelligence, but from the special character of those resemblances.” Right now, we are working exhaustively just to make the point that there are resemblances in Nature to the works of human intelligence.

    Thank you for finding this Dr. D.

  5. The supporters of ID are always careful to separate evidence for a designer from any knowledge about the motives, capabilities, etc. of the designer. But it seems to me that if you want to make these distinctions, it should be admitted that the ONLY design that anyone has ever PROVABLY detected (Mt Rushmore is a famous example, a found watch is another) is HUMAN design. Hence, shouldn’t the careful supporters of ID state their thesis as “stuctures such as the human eye and the bacterial flagellum show evidence of HUMAN design” or perhaps “HUMAN-like design”. Who can say with any proof that they would recognize the “design” of a non-human intelligence, much less that of a supernatural designer? On the contrary, if the design is so familiar that it is human-like, then there seems sufficient basis to start theorizing about the nature of the designer.

  6. Who can say with any proof that they would recognize the “design” of a non-human intelligence, much less that of a supernatural designer? On the contrary, if the design is so familiar that it is human-like, then there seems sufficient basis to start theorizing about the nature of the designer.

    Of course, this is a leap into philosophy and theology — and a valid leap, I would say. Very good observation.

  7. The one comment of Mill’s that I most enjoyed is the following:

    “We are therefore warranted by the canons of induction in concluding that what brought all these elements together was some cause common to them all; and inasmuch as the elements agree in the single circumstance of conspiring to produce sight, there must be some connection by way of causation between the cause which brought those elements together, and the fact of sight.”

    Information seems to be an inherent property of the mind, and, as such, it has a way of connecting the efficient and final causes. Or, to put it another way, there can’t be information without an “end” in sight. Hence, if we run across “information” in biological systems, then that information is ordered to a particular end, AND, we know that we’re dealing with a Mind, an intelligence.

  8. Insouciant asked: “Who can say with any proof that they would recognize the “design” of a non-human intelligence”

    Design by a non-humuan intelligence can be detected if that intelligence is willing and able to create designs which humans can recogize, otherwise there is little hope that a human will detect it. ID theory does not claim to be able to recognize every design. William Dembski:

    “Masters of stealth intent on concealing their actions may successfully evade the explanatory filter. But masters of self-promotion intent on making sure their intellectual property gets properly attributed find in the explanatory filter a ready friend.”

    Your question is therefore not quite precise in asking, “Who can say with any proof that they would recognize the “design” of a non-human intelligence?” because it does not specify whether that detection happens, some of the time or all of the time. I pointed out the relevant condition to make this possible, and that is consistent with other ID literature.

  9. Wasps build nests which hit the design node of the explanatory filter; we do, therefore, have experience with non-human design.

  10. Scordova, Your answer to Insouciant is illustrative of a frustration I have with ID. I realize ID loathes evolutionists like Gould who tiptoe into theology to prove their shaky evolution theories. However, I must say, at least Gould and other popular evolution writers appeal to our common understanding of how God might go about (or not go about) creation. Why would God create a gazillion species of beetles? Was it a special fondness for these creatures? This is a valid question, at least in my mind. It seems a little bizarre the Creator would spend so much time designing so many varieties of beetles.

    CS Lewis in Mere Christianity characterizes God as a mind, much like our own. I’m guessing we should at least be able to come up with a plausible answer to the beetle question based on how a human mind might approach creating beetles. At least Dembski attempts to explain why we see so many mistakes in God’s creation. If I understand it correctly, your answer (via Dembski) to Insouciant is that the Creator may or may not want humans to detect design. Why would this be? It’s seems an awfully strange thing to hide. For what purpose?

    Phillip Johnson also avoids these questions by admonishing those who pose them. After all, he says. We should concern ourselves with what has actually happened, not why. But if we knew something about the whys of creation, or at least could make sense of them, it would give us a huge leg up on knowing what has actually happened. The insight into why would be a huge boost to design arguments, I would think.

    Like Edward T. Oakes, I have for some time wondered about how odd it is that ID concedes microevolution to materialist Darwinism but cordones off macroevolution to the direct hand of God who “presumably swooshed down from heaven 3.5 billion years ago to toggle some organic-soup chemicals into self-replicating molecules and thereafter, as occasion warranted, had to intervene to jump-start new species.”

    Am I the only one having trouble with this? Insouciant asks a good question. And the answer is, well, strange.

  11. [Dembski] Question: are the molecular machines that Michael Behe identified as decisive evidence for design merely analogous to human-built machines or do they fully instantiate the concept of machine?

    The definition of machine from wikipedia is fully instantiated. Explicitely since it cites organic devices. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machine

    [Wiki] A machine is any mechanical or organic device that transmits or modifies energy to perform or assist in the performance of tasks. It normally requires some energy source (“input”) and accomplishes some sort of work.

    [Dembski] Another question: Why should knowing the mode of implementation of design be so important to detecting its presence? If, for instance, biological designs vastly exceed human designs in technological sophistication, so that our current technology is incapable of grasping their implementation, why should that undercut our ability nonetheless to recognize their design?

    That’s a little tricky. If the biological designs are sufficiently advanced beyond our own they appear not as machines but as magic. It’s this I believe that causes some NDEists (ha – NeoDarwinian Evolutionists – NDEists – nice ring to it) to call us rubes with arguments from incredulity. As a person with a deep understanding of computers, process automation, and nanotechnology there’s not a bit of incredulity on my part and furthermore I think we’re on the cusp of understanding biological machinery right down to every last tiny detail. Reverse engineering of these machines is proceeding at a rapid and accelerating pace. I suppose for some without the understanding I have these machines may indeed still appear as magic and the NDEists will use their incredulity against them and try to sweep me into the group with the associative fallacy. Ironically, I consider the NDEist who refuses to see biological machinery for what it is as the rube.

  12. jaredl said “Wasps build nests which hit the design node of the explanatory filter; we do, therefore, have experience with non-human design.”.

    So, is the wasp intelligent or is intelligence not required for design or do we add “wasp design” to the list of designs that we know we can detect?

    In fact, insects, and some animals, perform tasks by means of a few simple rules that give results which appear “designed” although I doubt if many would attribute to them the forethought and planning and consciousness that one tends to associate with that term.

    I wonder how many here would agree that a wasp nest is a product of (the wasps’) design, as opposed to the wasps’ hard-wiring being the result of a Designer’s design?

    A wasp nest isn’t a machine but it’s a good example of a pattern in nature that cannot be explained by material causes. Are wasps intelligent? On some scale, of course they are. Their nests have complex information in an independly given pattern (shelters) with insufficient probablistic resources (material causes) to have come about except by intelligent agency. Wasps aren’t likely to be creating nanotechnology marvels like genetically engineered viruses that repair congenital diseases like humans can do so obviously their intelligence is lower on the scale but it’s still on the scale. -ds

  13. All those beetles are essential to the maintenance of the balance of nature. The destruction of any species is a serious mistake because none of them will ever be replaced. We are already seeing a disturbance in the balance of nature as the C02 levels keep climbing every year since they first started being recorded. Not a single new species can be documented to have appeared in recorded history while literally thousands have disappeared never to be replaced. One of these decades the fact that evolution is finished will finally be accepted. Robert Broom, Julian Huxley, Pierre Grasse and John A. Davison recognized that long ago. Some folks are just slow learners.
    Extinction of the species is the counterpart of the death of the individual. Neither is reversible.

  14. Hey -ds,
    why did you delete my comment slapping Red Reader around for his blatant ignorance?

    Probably because you were being an ass like you are right now. -ds

  15. Fab Four – Beatles, a much more fascinating creation – to me at least, although my stepson would disagree and readily spend hours at the museum looking at spiders and beetles. To each his own.

    Are there millions of species of beetles or millions of genetic varieties? Like dogs, cats, birds, etc. Having built in the optional genetic variations allowable to a species then the appearence, survivability, variation is unfolding based upon environmental stimuli.

    Are eagles and sparrows different species or the result of natural breeding patterns over time?

    If we are to assume an intelligence greater than us living outside our observable universe so far known and we assume the earth is a 4 billion years old. I would think that the Creator could create however many millions of creepy things one does on a billion Saturdays in the garage tinkering away. Or, the superintelligent being could just create nature makers who having a higher skill level could create new varieties.

    Afterall, in less than 50 years, McDonald’s created over a billion burgers. And China created over a billion Wal Mart items. Soon BurgerMart will create a billion burgers from China. Hmmmmmmm…. Somewhere I got sidetracked.

    Ohhh yes, how many Billions of transistors have been created in 50 years? With nano-tech convergence of embedded software in smaller and smaller units, how many billion robo-buggerrooskies will be let loose in future ahead of us and what will they look like as they progress?

    The only limit ahead of us is the tendency to self-destruction. Assuming we do away with war and concentrate on important areas of survival, there is no limit in our applications of discovery.

    Made in God’s image, man creates. Its amazing how funny the stuff is when you think about it. Go fishing sometime, we create just about anything and everything. The only difference is level of engineering applications.

    Does it still hold true today in scientific circles we only use 10% of our brains? Or was that largely myth?

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