J. Warner Wallace’s eight attributes of design

Christian apologist (and former atheist) “Jim” Warner Wallace knows quite a lot about design, having earned a bachelor’s degree in design from California State University and a master’s degree in architecture from UCLA. Wallace also worked as a homicide detective for many years, in a job where he had to be able to distinguish deaths that were intentional from deaths that were not. Wallace writes well, and his Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels (David C. Cook, 2013) is an apologetic masterpiece. So naturally, when I came across a post over at Evolution News and Views, featuring his views on Intelligent Design, I was very interested to hear what he had to say.

In his interview with Center for Science & Culture research coordinator Brian Miller, “Jim” Warner Wallace listed what he referred to as eight attributes of design. Wallace emphasized that a strong case could be made for saying that an object was designed, even on the basis of its possessing only a few of these attributes, but that when taken together, they constitute a case for design which is certain beyond all reasonable doubt. The cumulative nature of the case is what makes it so strong.

Without further ado, here are Wallace’s eight attributes of design:

1. Could random processes (i.e. chance alone) produce this object?
2. Does it resemble something that you know is designed?
3. Does it have a level of sophistication & intricacy best explained by design?
4. Is it informationally dependent – that is, does it require information to get it done?
5. Is there evidence of goal-direction?
6. Can natural law get it done?
7. Is there any evidence of irreducible complexity?
8. Is there evidence of decision, or choices, that were made along the way, that can’t be explained by chemistry and physics?

I’d like to offer my own brief comments on Wallace’s eight attributes:

1. Could random processes (i.e. chance alone) produce this object?

By itself, this attribute doesn’t yield the inference that an object was designed. It needs to be combined with attribute 6, which rules out natural law as an explanation for the object. But even if 1 and 6 are both true, it still doesn’t follow that law and chance working together could not produce an intricate object which neither of them could generate alone.

2. Does it resemble something that you know is designed?

Resemblance to a designed object does not justify the inference to design. Wallace’s attribute trades on an unfortunate ambiguity here, confusing (a) a resemblance in structure between an object known to be designed and one which looks designed, with (b) a resemblance in causal history between the former object and the latter. The point of Darwin’s argument in his Origin of Species was that resemblances of type (a) do not warrant justified design inferences, in and of themselves, and that two objects with wildly different causal histories may end up looking alike. Darwin’s theory of natural selection was intended to provide a causal history that was capable of generating objects that look designed, but which have no designer.

3. Does it have a level of sophistication & intricacy best explained by design?

I have to confess that emotionally, my sympathies are very much with Wallace here. Back in the 1980s, the breathtaking level of sophistication that can be found in even the simplest living cell made a vivid impression on biochemist Michael Denton, who wrote:

Molecular biology has shown that even the simplest of all living systems on the earth today, bacterial cells, are exceedingly complex objects. Although the tiniest bacterial cells are incredibly small, weighing less than 10-12 gms, each is in effect a veritable micro-miniaturized factory containing thousands of exquisitely designed pieces of intricate molecular machinery, made up altogether of one hundred thousand million atoms, far more complicated than any machine built by man and absolutely without parallel in the nonliving world.(Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, Adler & Adler, 1986, p. 250.)

However, critics will object that the complexity of a city or a factory is not irreducible: cities, like factories, can be constructed one step at a time. That being the case, they say, there is no reason in principle why blind (or non-foresighted) processes are incapable of producing these complex structures.

Even so, I cannot help wondering whether the cell is in a special category of its own:

4. Is it informationally dependent – that is, does it require information to get it done?

The three tricky questions which leap to mind here are: (a) what kind of information; (b) how much information; and (c) how should the quantity of information be properly calculated, anyway?

5. Is there evidence of goal-direction?

Goal-direction, or teleology, is of two kinds: intrinsic (directed at the good of the entity itself) and extrinsic (designed purely for the benefit of some other entity). Teleology of the latter kind obviously implies design. However, in order to show that even intrinsic teleology indicates design, one needs to appeal to a philosophical argument rather than a scientific one. As philosopher Edward Feser has pointed out, Aristotle’s own view was that goal-directedness does not require a mind which consciously intends the goal. By contrast, the Scholastic philosophers argued, in the Middle Ages, that the very fact that unconscious things exist whose natures direct them towards certain goals can only be made sense of if there is a Divine Intelligence which orders the world. (Feser outlines the Scholastic argument in an essay titled, Teleology: A Shopper’s Guide, in Philosophia Christi, Vol. 12, No. 1, 2010. See also his blog article, Atheistic teleology?, July 5, 2012.)

At any rate, the point I wish to make here is that goal-direction, taken by itself, cannot be said to constitute scientific or forensic evidence for design, unless the goal is an external one.

6. Can natural law get it done?

See my remarks on attribute 1 above.

7. Is there any evidence of irreducible complexity?

It is worth noting that Professor Michael Behe has never said that irreducibly complex systems cannot evolve naturally; rather, his point is that their evolution by a roundabout route (exaptation), while theoretically possible, is practically impossible for any system containing a large number of parts.

In his interview, “Jim” Warner Wallace made much of Behe’s example of the bacterial flagellum. However, the following passage from an article in New Scientist magazine by Michael Le Page (16 April 2008) reveals the weakness of Wallace’s case:

The best studied flagellum, of the E. coli bacterium, contains around 40 different kinds of proteins. Only 23 of these proteins, however, are common to all the other bacterial flagella studied so far. Either a “designer” created thousands of variants on the flagellum or, contrary to creationist claims, it is possible to make considerable changes to the machinery without mucking it up.

What’s more, of these 23 proteins, it turns out that just two are unique to flagella. The others all closely resemble proteins that carry out other functions in the cell. This means that the vast majority of the components needed to make a flagellum might already have been present in bacteria before this structure appeared.

It has also been shown that some of the components that make up a typical flagellum – the motor, the machinery for extruding the “propeller” and a primitive directional control system – can perform other useful functions in the cell, such as exporting proteins.

…[W]hat has been discovered so far – that flagella vary greatly and that at least some of the components and proteins of which they are made can carry out other useful functions in the cells – show that they are not “irreducibly complex”. (Emphases mine – VJT.)

Nick Matzke’s 2006 article, Flagellum evolution in Nature Reviews Microbiology, over at Panda’s Thumb, is also well worth reading. Intelligent Design advocates have often claimed that the bacterial flagellum contains a large number of unique components. As Matzke convincingly shows, they’re wrong, period.

Of course, this is not the end of the story, and Professor Behe discusses what he views as further evidence for the design of the bacterial flagellum in his book, The Edge of Evolution (The Free Press, New York, 2007, pp. 87-101) – namely, the intricacies of intra-flagellar transport and the precisely co-ordinated timing required for the construction of a single bacterial flagellum. However, the point I want to make here is that the assertion that irreducible complexity, in and of itself, constitutes evidence for design is factually mistaken, as Dr. Douglas Theobald’s elegantly written article on the subject at Talk Origins illustrates so aptly.

8. Is there evidence of decision, or choices, that were made along the way, that can’t be explained by chemistry and physics?

If there were any positive evidence for choices being made in the four-billion-year history of life, then I would certainly regard it as evidence for design. However, in order to infer the existence of a choice, it is not enough to rule out physics and chemistry as explanations; one must also rule out chance. Why, for instance, is life left-handed instead of right-handed? Is this a choice made by life’s Creator, or an accident? Who knows?

Conclusion

I don’t mean to speak disrespectfully of “Jim” Warner Wallace, as I have enjoyed reading his writings. His recent book, A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe, which I have not read yet, appears to have been favorably reviewed and looks intriguing. However, I have to say that Wallace’s eight attributes of design need a lot more work, in order to refine them.

What do readers think? And how would readers modify Wallace’s criteria for design? Over to you.

290 thoughts on “J. Warner Wallace’s eight attributes of design

  1. OMagain: Support for people like phoodoo is evil

    So its malaria, and support for people like me that’s evil??? Oh wait, no, malaria is not evil. Only support for people like me.

    I think I should start a new OP. Omagain says the only thing that is evil in this world, is support for people like me!

    And he wants people to die of obesity.

  2. phoodoo: Omagain says the only thing that is evil in this world, is support for people like me!

    You can if you like, but you be obligated to quote me in support of that OP as I did you. And I quoted you but you won’t be able to quote me saying that because I never did. So start such an OP if you like. It’ll just highlight your hypocrisy.

    phoodoo: And he wants people to die of obesity.

    Again, feel free to quote me on that.

    And yes, people like you are the evil in the world. People who look at plague and famine and disease and think “it’s all part of god’s plan”. The world would be much improved without you.

  3. phoodoo: I guess you share the same philosophy of keiths and Omagain, you want a world where nothing can happen to anyone .

    I have yet to see an argument for why anyone would desire to live in a godless world.

  4. Mung: You must be losing the argument. A bachelor is unmarried by definition.

    Good, so you see that negatives can be demonstrated by definition and everybody will easily know what is being talked about. Which is why I find the failure to define design such a fundamental mistake for ID.

    The retort that evolutionists have not defined design is silly. They don’t have to define design. They have to define evolution. And they have. It’s another question how tenable the definition is. ID does not have even this much.

    From UD,

    The theory of intelligent design (ID) holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process such as natural selection.

    Let’s see if some of Wallace’s listed features are best explained by an intelligent cause. Oops. He is not listing any features. He is listing only questions that contain concepts that need to be unpacked separately.

    To get ID theory off the ground, somebody should lay out those “certain features” we have to be looking for. Concepts like “irreducible complexity” and “informationally dependent” sound like such features, if there were some reason to accept these concepts.

  5. Erik: if there were some reason to accept these concepts.

    Why aren’t there reasons to accept these concepts? Irreducible complexity is a reason concept to consider as a contradiction to Darwinian evolution. The Darwinists have never adequately addressed this, despite Kenneths Miller attempted brushing of it aside by saying mousetraps have parts that can be used for holding a tie.

    How well would an eyeball work without an eyelid?

  6. phoodoo,

    The mousetrap and the eye. There may be irreducibility about them in that take away one element and the whole thing falls apart, but why complexity, I have no idea. And what connection does either irreducibility or complexity or they both together have with intelligent causes? If you can explain, then the concepts could be palatable. But I have been asking this for many years now, so I entertain no hopes.

  7. Erik: And what connection does either irreducibility or complexity or they both together have with intelligent causes?

    Gee, I would think the answer to this is rather obvious. The only way an eyeball, or anything equally complex could come about step by step, is if there is a final goal intended, PRIOR, to beginning putting pieces together. This problem is a mystery to you? Thus it requires direction, a plan, a DESIGN!

    You don’t get the connection with intelligence? Really?

    I also find your complaint about the term irreducibly complex rather odd, or at least trivial. If one only used the word irreducible, that might mean that you can’t make it any smaller, or less. Or that you can not separate the parts, because there is no way to separate them. In this case its not that you CAN”T separate the parts, its that the whole is so complex, that without ALL of the parts working together, the whole becomes useless. Where’s the issue?

    A computer has many components that work together. Many people would refer to that as being complex (you deny that?). Furthermore, its usefulness is easily destroyed, by the removal of just a few small parts.

    I don’t get your objection frankly.

  8. Erik: Good, so you see that negatives can be demonstrated by definition and everybody will easily know what is being talked about. Which is why I find the failure to define design such a fundamental mistake for ID.

    I think it is a strategic choice, if one leaves the concept fuzzy it can encompass design as creating the laws of nature and no further intervention to a design process of creation ex nihilo. All the is required is at some point someone caused something to somehow exist. Completely unfalsifiable.

  9. phoodoo: Gee, I would think the answer to this is rather obvious. The only way an eyeball, or anything equally complex could come about step by step, is if there is a final goal intended, PRIOR, to beginning putting pieces together. This problem is a mystery to you? Thus it requires direction, a plan, a DESIGN!

    You don’t get the connection with intelligence? Really?

    No, I don’t get it.

    A direction, plan, or design implies no necessary intelligent cause. And intelligent causes are not particularly specific as causes to things with direction, plan or design.

    Snowflakes are full of design, but the material cause (water under certain conditions) exhaustively describes it. When you impute intelligent cause on it, it gets beyond what is exclusive and special to snowflakes.

    To me it’s obvious that intelligence and design are metaphysically perpendicular, not correlative or causally related. Intelligence can be used to create, it can equally be used to destroy.

    phoodoo: A computer has many components that work together. Many people would refer to that as being complex (you deny that?). Furthermore, its usefulness is easily destroyed, by the removal of just a few small parts.

    I don’t get your objection frankly.

    And I don’t get explanations that involve man-made things. How is this supposed to illustrate the notion of intelligent causes other than man-made things? Because intelligent causes other than man-made things is what the ID theory is all about. Man-made things are frankly irrelevant.

    Try again, please. And thanks for the effort.

  10. phoodoo: Furthermore, a rock used to break open a coconut is fairly irreducible, but not very complex.

    At the atomic level it is pretty complex

  11. newton: At the atomic level it is pretty complex

    Oh, I agree. But that still doesn’t seem to be enough to give Erik pause for thought.

  12. Erik: And I don’t get explanations that involve man-made things.

    Then you prefer a rock?

    What about a snowflake shows design?

    Erik: To me it’s obvious that intelligence and design are metaphysically perpendicular, not correlative or causally related. Intelligence can be used to create, it can equally be used to destroy.

    No idea what this means at all. So what if intelligence can be used to destroy? Are you talking about man-made things?

    Erik: A direction, plan, or design implies no necessary intelligent cause.

    This sounds suspiciously like KN and Neils “third way” without an explanation excuse.

    What things in our experience have a plan, without an intelligence behind that plan? I know of none. So you saying that there theoretically could be a plan, and that plan is materialized, but no intelligence was behind the plan, nor the implementation of the plan, makes zero sense to me.

  13. Break a rock in two, you’ve got two rocks. Break a mousetrap in two, you have a broken mousetrap. Can anyone spot the difference?

    phoodoo, have you actually read any Intelligent Design books?

  14. Erik: The retort that evolutionists have not defined design is silly. They don’t have to define design. They have to define evolution.

    I have a book on my shelf that carries the title Design by Evolution.

    There’s a thread on it here.

    Your assertion that evolutionists don’t need to define what they are talking about when they talk about design rings pretty hollow.

  15. OMagain: Break a rock in two, you’ve got two rocks. Break a mousetrap in two, you have a broken mousetrap. Can anyone spot the difference?

    Haha, gee Omagain, thanks for explaining WHY we use the words “irreducible complexity” instead of the words irreducible!

    Maybe Erik will get it now.

  16. phoodoo: And how could evolutionists claim that design doesn’t exist if they never define it?

    I think Erik’s never read The Blind Watchmaker.

    Subtitle: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design

  17. Mung,

    Are you saying, contra Dembski, that ID is the Paleyite analogy reiterated (because Dawkins’ book addresses only Paley’s sort of design)? It cannot be, because Paley says,

    Every indicator of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater and more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation.

    Whereas according to Dembski, design is perfectly computable and he’s doing it all the time.

    Besides, Dawkins’ Watchmaker is not an evolutionist textbook. It’s atheist apologetics and evangelism. As far as the concept of design is concerned in it, it’s defined as well as Paley’s design, so it’s cool.

  18. phoodoo: So what if intelligence can be used to destroy?

    You say (or you should be saying, if you wish to make sense) that intelligence has some necessary correlation or causal connection to design. Wilful destruction refutes that. Intelligence can create and it can destroy, but it has no necessary connection to either creation or destruction. In reality, both creation and destruction have multiple causes and it depends what sort we are talking about.

    phoodoo: What things in our experience have a plan, without an intelligence behind that plan? I know of none. So you saying that there theoretically could be a plan, and that plan is materialized, but no intelligence was behind the plan, nor the implementation of the plan, makes zero sense to me.

    I gave an example. Snowflake. You didn’t deny it has a plan or design or regular structure. Good luck computing the intelligent cause in it. If you refuse to compute the intelligent cause in it, then your talk is cheap.

  19. OMagain: Break a rock in two, you’ve got two rocks. Break a mousetrap in two, you have a broken mousetrap. Can anyone spot the difference?

    phoodoo: Haha, gee Omagain, thanks for explaining WHY we use the words “irreducible complexity” instead of the words irreducible!

    Actually, OMagain’s example, evidently borrowed from an ID-ist textbook, only illustrates reducible versus irreducible. It does not illustrate complexity.

  20. phoodoo:
    Mung,

    And how could evolutionists claim that design doesn’t exist if they never define it?

    Because evolutionists don’t claim design does not exist.

  21. Erik: Besides, Dawkins’ Watchmaker is not an evolutionist textbook. It’s atheist apologetics and evangelism. As far as the concept of design is concerned in it, it’s defined as well as Paley’s design, so it’s cool.

    Of course.

    Biology is the study of complicated things that have the appearance of having been designed with a purpose.

    Is that his definition of design?

    Or is it this one?

    “Natural selection is the blind watchmaker, blind because it does not see ahead, does not plan consequences, has no purpose in view. Yet the living results of natural selection overwhelmingly impress us with the illusion of design and planning.”

  22. Erik: Besides, Dawkins’ Watchmaker is not an evolutionist textbook.

    So? I gave another example that had nothing to do with Dawkins.

  23. Erik,

    How does that fact that intelligence can also destroy things, have anything whatsoever to do with the fact that you can not give one single example of something that has a plan, and the plan is implemented to completion, without intelligence?

    You sort of flew right past that.

    Try better.

    Intelligence can do lots of things. So?

  24. phoodoo: How does that fact that intelligence can also destroy things, have anything whatsoever to do with the fact that you can not give one single example of something that has a plan, and the plan is implemented to completion, without intelligence?

    Again, snowflake. If this does not count as an example for you, there’s nothing I can do.

    phoodoo: Intelligence can do lots of things. So?

    So intelligence does not count as a cause of one particular thing, particularly when that particular thing demonstrably has other more immediately relevant causes and a counterexample.

  25. Mung: Biology is the study of complicated things that have the appearance of having been designed with a purpose.

    Is that his definition of design?

    The Blind Watchmaker is arguing with Paley. Is ID theory the same as Paley? Right now you are strongly implying yes, which prompts the next question: Is Mung a more authoritative ID theorist than Dembski?

  26. Erik: Again, snowflake. If this does not count as an example for you, there’s nothing I can do.

    So intelligence does not count as a cause of one particular thing, particularly when that particular thing demonstrably has other more immediately relevant causes and a counterexample.

    Erik, you are all over the map, but you are way off.

    First off, I never said anything about a snowflake, because I don’t see what a snowflake has to do with design. If you feel it does, then explain why. because it looks pretty? Because it is mostly symmetrical? Is that your definition of design.

    But where you are really missing the mark, is in saying that since intelligence can do more than one thing, then it can not be a cause. That’s just bananas. Am I to use this logic for other matters? Man designs things besides cars, so he must not be the cause of the design of cars? I think you have flipped your lid.

    But the biggest point you missed is, and you refuse to answer, what other things do you know of that are planned and fulfilled without intelligence? I understand you can’t answer this, so I guess you just hope to obfuscate.

  27. If I understand Erik correctly it’s not that he’s saying intelligence can’t be a cause. Instead what I think he’s saying is that because intelligent beings can design so many different things, it becomes very difficult to attribute some particular object to an intelligent cause, as there is no single thing that is a unique hallmark of intelligent causes.

    This makes intelligent causation extremely difficult to test observationally, as there is not even in principle some object that we could not say has been intelligently designed.

  28. phoodoo: First off, I never said anything about a snowflake, because I don’t see what a snowflake has to do with design. If you feel it does, then explain why. because it looks pretty? Because it is mostly symmetrical? Is that your definition of design.

    It’s Paley’s. And it works in art and esthetics. Hopefully you see now how definition is important. If you see no design in snowflakes, you are going by some rather weird concept of design.

    phoodoo: But where you are really missing the mark, is in saying that since intelligence can do more than one thing, then it can not be a cause. That’s just bananas.

    This interpretation is bananas. Rumraket summarized me correctly.

    To have your point, intelligence should be somehow directly proportionate to designed things. But it’s not. Both best designs and worst chaoses can have “intelligent causes” as well as other causes so “intelligent causes” are not specific or peculiar to either design or chaos. This is why there’s no meaningful way to measure the impact of “intelligent causes” to design.

    I’m not saying there are no such causes. I’m saying you cannot meaningfully “detect” them, except for man-made things, which is trivial because it’s limited to human culture.

  29. Erik,

    What’s Paleys definition of design? When was I discussing Paley?

    Once again, just for laughs. WHAT things do you know of that can be both planned and the plan fulfilled, without intelligence?

    You can’t answer that can you? So why do you claim its possible?

  30. Erik: Both best designs and worst chaoses can have “intelligent causes” as well as other causes so “intelligent causes” are not specific or peculiar to either design or chaos.

    How do you know?

    And why do you keep repeating this same illogical point-that because intelligence can do something other than design, it is not specific to design. That doesn’t follow, and it makes me wonder where you studied logic.

    You are once again repeating, that because humans do things besides designing cars, they are not the only cause of car design.

    The point that intelligence can do many things is completely and utterly irrelevant.

  31. Erik: To have your point, intelligence should be somehow directly proportionate to designed things. But it’s not. Both best designs and worst chaoses can have “intelligent causes” as well as other causes so “intelligent causes” are not specific or peculiar to either design or chaos. This is why there’s no meaningful way to measure the impact of “intelligent causes” to design.

    Can certainly agree with that. Phoodoo, you should consider that the ID movement would benefit greatly from some idea of how to identify, at least, (though measure would be good) an “intelligent cause”.

    Though with Trump apparently intending to pay his debt to his religious right section of support and with Betsy de Vos as education secretary, I wonder why bother.

  32. Alan Fox: …you should consider that the ID movement would benefit greatly from some idea of how to identify, at least, (though measure would be good) an “intelligent cause”.

    You should consider how this site would benefit from more postings that have an intelligent cause.

  33. Erik: The Blind Watchmaker is arguing with Paley.

    So? I gave you another example that wasn’t written by Dawkins. And you still haven’t given a reason why evolutionists ought not have to define their terms.

  34. Mung: And you still haven’t given a reason why evolutionists ought not have to define their terms.

    Everybody has to define their terms. It’s just that when it comes to evolutionists, “design” is usually not their term. But when they use it, I have not seen them fail to define it. For example Dawkins borrows it from Paley and that defines it.

  35. phoodoo: The point that intelligence can do many things is completely and utterly irrelevant.

    Please define design and demonstrate how intelligence is related to it, so that the relationship is clear and indisputable. ID is your theory, so it’s your job. At least it would be nice to hear by what sort of logic you can say that snowflakes have nothing to do with design.

    As for me, I see plenty of counterexamples and objections that you are not addressing, so yes, this discussion is irrelevant.

Leave a Reply