Browse Search Feedback Other Links Home Home
The Talk.Origins Archive

Proposal for a Theistic Design Detector

Post of the Month: Sept 2008


Subject:    | Proposal for a Theistic Design Detector
Date:       | 24 Sep 2008
Message-ID: |

1 Introduction

Intelligent Design asserts that design is detectable. One of the detection methods proposed is Dr Dembski's Explanatory Filter [1]. In this piece I propose a way to construct a device to detect theistic design by using the concept of Complex Specified Information [2] developed by Dr Dembski. By theistic design, I mean design by an omniscient atemporal entity. My proposed device cannot reliably recognise design by non-theistic entities, such as humans or space aliens, that are not both omniscient and atemporal.

2 Complex Specified Information

Both the Explanatory Filter and my proposed device use Complex Specified Information to recognise the presence of design. Complexity is to be above the Universal Probability Bound [3] of 10 ^ -150 while at the same time a pre-existing specification is also present. Unlikely events may happen by chance; the presence of a specification is neccessary to indicate design. A designed object is both complex and specified.

2.1 Complexity

The radius of the visible universe is about 45 x 10^9 light years, or 4.5 x 10^22 kilometres. This gives it a volume of 3.8 x 10^65 cubic kilometres or 3.8 x 10^74 cubic metres. The chances of a given atom being in a given cubic metre is therefore 1 in 3.8 x 10^74. The chances of two atoms being in the same cubic metre is the square of this or 1 in 1.4 x 10^149. The chances of three atoms being in the same cubic metre is 1 in 5.5 x 10^223. This number exceeds the Universal Probability Bound. Hence any assemblage of three or more atoms in the same cubic metre of the visible universe can be considered complex. Uranium atoms weigh 238 AMU, with 1 AMU being 1.67 x 10 ^ -24 gram. Hence 100 atoms of Uranium weigh 3.9 x 10 ^ -20 gram. Given that 100 atoms is more that three, and that Uranium is one of the heaviest elements we can be sure that any mass greater than, say 4 x 10 ^ -20 gram, has enough complexity to exceed the Universal Probability Bound.

Of course mere complexity is not enough to determine the presence of design, we also need a prior specification.

2.2 Specification

An omniscient entity knows everything, by definition. In particular an omniscienct entity knows the past and present position of every atom in the universe; we cannot assume that it knows all future positions due to quantum uncertainty. An atemporal omniscient entity not only knows the past and present, it also knows future. Being atemporal it spans all of time: past, present and future. Being omniscienct it knows the position of every atom in the universe: past, present and future. Hence at some time in the past, say 100 years ago, the omniscient atemporal entity already knew the exact position of every atom in the universe today. That knowledge, present in the mind of that entity, constitutes a prior specification of the state of the universe today. In particular, that knowledge constitutes a prior specification of the assemblage of atoms weighing at least 4 x 10 ^ -20 gram that we examined in section 2.1.

3 The Design Detector

3.1 Construction

The design detector comprises a cubical box, one metre to a side. It has a single button, marked "Test", and two lights, one red and one green. The base of the box is attached to a sensitive electronic scales set up to weigh any object placed in the box. A small microprocessor receives input from the Test button and the scales and sends output to the two lights.

3.2 Operation

The object to be tested for design is placed in the box, resting on the base. When the Test button is pressed the microprocessor examines the output from the scales and compares it to the preset mass of 4 x 10 ^ -20 gram. If the mass in the box exceeds this value then the green light is illuminated. If the mass in the box does not exceed this value then the red light is illuminated. Illumination of the green light indicates that design is detected. Illumination of the red light indicates that design is not detected.

3.3 Rationale

Any mass greater than 4 x 10 ^ -20 gram must contain more than three atoms, probably a lot more. Hence any such mass must be complex by 2.1 above. Any such mass is also specified because the mind of the omniscient atemporal entity has contained a prior specification of exactly this many atoms in exactly these positions at exactly this moment since the beginning of time. Hence we have determined that the object in the box is both complex and specified. Any object that is both complex and specified must be designed, in this case designed by the omniscient atemporal entity.

4 Limitations

A non-omniscient entity cannot be assumed to have the knowledge of the positions of each atom in the box, hence this device cannot reliably detect design by a non-omniscient entity because any specification in the mind of that entity could be incomplete. Similarly a non-atemporal entity will not neccessarily have a prior specification, so again this device cannot reliably detect design by a non-atemporal entity. An incomplete or post hoc specification is not sufficient to indicate design. These restrictions mean that human design and design by most proposed forms of space alien are not reliably detected by this device.

The device is physically limited to testing objects that can fit into a one metre cube. With suitable adjustments larger versions could be built in order to detect design in larger objects.

5 References

[1] William A. Dembski, Ph.D., The Explanatory Filter (

[2] William A. Dembski, Ph.D., Intelligent Design as a Theory of Information (

[3] ISCID Encyclopedia: Universal Probability Bound (

[Return to the 2008 Posts of the Month]

Home Page | Browse | Search | Feedback | Links
The FAQ | Must-Read Files | Index | Creationism | Evolution | Age of the Earth | Flood Geology | Catastrophism | Debates