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Review: The Design Matrix: A Consilience of Clues

September 13, 2011

I’ve mentioned Mike Gene previously, and he really does offer an insightful angle to the discussion over biological origins. So I decided to read his book, The Design Matrix: A Consilience of Clues. Staunch Darwinians and creationists alike will probably not be all that fond of this book, but I think that it is a very well-written, objective book.

Mike Gene begins with a discussion on detecting intelligent design, arguing that if a higher-resolution image of the Face on Mars revealed that it truly was a face – with detailed eyes, nose, mouth, etc. – that this would convince many astronomers that the Face on Mars was the product of intelligent beings. Of interest is the fact that, in this hypothetical example, we would not need to have any specific knowledge about the designer. We would almost certainly conclude that this hypothetical Face on Mars indicated intelligence without knowing the answers to the questions “who, how, why?” This is an important point to realize, because many critics of the hypothesis of biological intelligent design say that one must have knowledge of the designer before concluding that an artifact actually was intelligently designed.

Mike Gene goes on to point out that, at the macroscopic level, life does indeed have the appearance of design. And if we observe life at the molecular level – at “higher resolution” – this appearance of design does not vanish. In fact, it increases. This is a hint (not in any way is it proof) that teleology may have been involved in the origin of certain features of life. In fact, life does indeed appear to be carbon-based technology. Mike Gene notes that protein-based machines of the cell have been described as “engines, clocks, and microprocessors.” The analogy between molecular machines of the cell and machines built by human intelligence runs very deeply. Darwinian evolution is supposedly able to generate such cellular machinery, but keep in mind that we are not articulating anything that would amount to proof of a teleological explanation for features of life. We are merely pointing to clues, hints, and suspicions that indicate that features of life could have been designed. Mike Gene refutes the idea that intelligent design and evolution are at odds. They are not. In fact, if parts of life were designed, then maybe the designer used evolution as a mechanism of design. Mike Gene calls this idea “front-loading,” and proceeds to provide tentative evidence for this hypothesis. He also dwells on the subject of irreducible complexity (IC), and does a very nice job at that, but the topic of IC will be reserved for another article.

Finally, he comes to the crux of his book: the design matrix. The “design matrix” is a scoring method he has devised to allow us to calibrate our suspicion that a certain object was intelligently designed. Simply put, there are four criteria that allow us to make this calibration: analogy, discontinuity, rationality, and foresight. The stronger the analogy of feature X with something known to be the product of intelligence, and the greater the discontinuity with feature X with features that are produced by non-teleological mechanisms, and the more rational the design and foresight of feature X, then the more likely it is that feature X actually was intelligently designed. If we assign a 5 to the criterion of analogy, then feature X is very, very analogous to something known to be intelligently designed. But if the score for analogy is 1, then it shares a very weak analogy with something known to be intelligently designed. This is, in brief, how the scoring is done. Mike Gene admits that, while scoring the Design Matrix is subjective, “it is not whimsical.” It is not an objective method for detecting design, but it is not entirely subjective either. This gives the Design Matrix a nice degree of validity, and hopefully it will be used to lead research in particular directions.

This is just a brief review of his excellent book, and it just scratches the surface of the content in The Design Matrix. I will be expanding on the themes discussed in The Design Matrix in future articles.

In conclusion, I am giving this book a rating of 9 stars. It’s definitely an excellent book, and you simply must read it.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Monsters From The ID permalink
    November 26, 2011 9:42 am

    That’s very interesting! The face on Mars, at a great distance, looks more than a little, as if there might be some design there, but a closer inspection reveals otherwise. Yet, as Gene points out, if the face had turned out to be a genuinely high resolution detailed sculpture of a human face, then no one I could think of would be arguing that such a sculpture was the result of natural processes.

    And what is VERY interesting, is the way in which biological life (if looked at through a strongly naturalistic mindset) might “at a distance” be explainable as the result of natural processes (eg. Darwin’s stance at that time), it turns out that the more we look at life up close, in detail, at high resolution, the “appearance of design” has grown very much more apparent.

    We see various “little falsifications” of evolution taking place, as we learn more. For instance the great evolutionary scientist Haldane once remarked that we wouldn’t expect to see “wheels” in nature. Yet we now have wheels, propellors, motors, etc. in molecular machines. Even the whole concept of a molecular machine would have been alien and unsettling to those who first advocated for Darwin’s theory.

    One cannot be free of the thought that if we had first known what we know now about biology, Darwin himself would never have come up with his life’s landmark idea. His theory made it through a narrow window of incomplete knowledge, which enabled it to become entrenched in the sciences to this day, despite the lack of explanatory power it offers on the topic.

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