Prof. Allen MacNeill has been arguing on his blog, that Intelligent Design Theorists (IDT) have fallen into the fallacy of inferring design to objects that in actuality, have no teleology at all. He hypothesizes the vertebrate mind is composed of modules. One of these modules is a highly effective intentionality detector.
In support of this argument, he uses an example from his student’s paper in the Cornell ID class. Allen writes,
As Broaddus points out, one of the side-effects of such an “agency detector” would be the detection of intentionality in entities that clearly had no such intentions. If, for example, one of the most important functions of such a detector in humans is to quickly “read” and assess the intentions betrayed in human facial expressions, then it would almost certainly detect human facial expressions in objects in the environment that clearly do not have such expressions, such as rocks, foliage, water stains, etc
Allen continues his argument with this example.
the faces of the presidents at Mount Rushmore are an example cited ad nauseam by ID theorists. However, I am much more interested in “faces” that humans detect in rocks and other environmental objects that are clearly not produced by human agency.
Allen also made the point that we evolved this “agency detector” because it confers an immense adaptive value. Not surprisingly, I would disagree with this also, but I like to save that for a later post. For now I would like to concentrate on his argument of cognitive modularity as the reason for IDT’s design inference.
Of course his argument is not new, the appearance of design argument has been bandied about ad nauseam, as Allen would say, by Darwinists for as long as IDT has been around. There seems to be no end to examples/analogies Darwinists can come up with to make their case, that what IDT claim to be designed are only appearance of design. For example, Dawkins’s designoids in his book Climbing Mount Improbable and Lawrence Krauss cites the buckminster fullerene. What is new is Allen’s attempt to create a physiological explanation for IDT’s condition.
Allen and Broaddus press their point that highly tuned intentional detector like ours are prone to give many false positives. This is actually an argument against the ID critics. As I have said, Darwinists have raised numerous examples of designoids to explain why certain biotic complexities are not designed but designoids. My question to Allen and Broaddus is that have we ever made a false positive identification of design, in any of the designoids cited by Darwinists? What about Allen’s example in the above picture? Are there any false positive in that picture? Has anyone falsely detected one of those faces as an actual human face, and not a cloud or a rock that resembles a face? Does anyone think that Stonehenge and crop circles are false positives, because we don’t know the designer, as I’ve challenged Wesley Elsberry? Frankly I don’t know of any case where we’ve made any false positives in any of the examples that Darwinists have come up with. So I think our agency/intentionality detector is pretty good.
The second problem with Allen’s argument is that if his intentionality module does exist. The opposite of what he claims could be true, that is, IDT’s detector is functioning normally and it is the Darwinists that have an impaired agency detector. Although the Darwinists detects biological design but their modules refuse to allow themselves to acknowledge that it is design. “Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.” — Francis Crick This would explain why so many Darwinists consider the examples of designoids are false positives, when in fact they have correctly differentiated them to be not designed. In the same vein, when they come across a designed object, Darwinists incorrectly conclude that it was not designed like all the other designoids they have seen. The Darwinists module has been conditioned to produce a certain result and they are unable to break out of that recursive loop.
The third problem with Allen’s argument, at least it is a problem for Darwinian evolution, is how his agency detector would affect Darwinian inference of universal common ancestry or common descent? The entire Darwinian theory of evolution is hinged on the fact that similarities are evidence of common descent. Whether it is morphological similarities or molecular similarities, it is this reductionistic inference that is at the heart of Darwinism. i.e. Species B shares common characteristics with species A and common characteristics with species C, therefore species B must be an intermediate. Or the cytochrome-C protein of a mouse is more similar to humans than the cyt-c of a bacterium, therefore the mouse is a closer relative. If Allen’s agency module does exists, it would argue against Darwinian evolution, because his agency module would attempt to make sense of disparate data and assign a pattern of connection where none exists.
I don’t know if Allen’s cognitive modules exist or not, but if it does, it would be as strong an argument against Darwinian evolution, as his claim it argues against ID.