Do Humans Have a Design Intuition?

I’m currently refreshing myself on the modern design versus evolution debate. In so doing, I keep coming back to what Douglas Axe refers to as a design intuition. More or less, this is a human intuition that sees a functioning whole and assumes it was designed. The question is, is this intuition true or false?

My Dog Arlo and Coincidences

I have a new puppy, Arlo; he’s a miniature Australian Shepherd. Cute as he is, he loves to jump on my lap while I’m working on my laptop. Sometimes he steps on the keyboard. Let’s say, for example, Arlo steps on my keyboard and the letter “D” appears on my computer screen. I might say, “Hey, it’s a ‘D’ for dog!” The same might happen if he were to land on “P” for puppy, or “A” for Arlo. Arlo doesn’t know the English language, or how to use a keyboard, so I know this would just be a coincidence. Arlo 2

Now, let’s up the ante a little bit. Let’s say Arlo walks across the keyboard and the word “Dog” appears on the screen. I would be a little freaked-out. However, I can conceive that this might be within the realm of coincidence. Doubtful, but still not so wildly unlikely that I couldn’t conceive it to actually happen. However, if Arlo walked across the keyboard and the sentence, Hey human, I’m about to pee in your lap, so can you get your lazy butt up and take me outside? appeared on the keyboard, Arlo would have a new owner by the end of the day. More likely, I would jump up and leave the house and call a priest because my puppy is possessed.

Why is the last “coincidence” so far-fetched (pun intended)? Because something as intelligent as the human language – more specifically, English grammar – necessitates design. That Arlo might punch a single letter like “D” is conceivable, but that he would type a meaningful sentence in English? Impossible. Philosophically speaking, yes, it’s in the realm of possibility, but practically speaking, it’s impossible.

Too Good To Be True

My father always told me, “If it sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is.” I think he was right. Undoubtedly, coincidences happen. One time, while on vacation I ran into an old buddy of mine from High School. It was quite the coincidence that somebody I knew was vacationing at the same time and in the same place. But what if my graduating class was all there with him? I wouldn’t say, “Wow, what a coincidence.” I would say, “Who planned a surprise party?” Emphasis being on planned.

Somethings are too good to be true. When we see smaller, purposeful parts working together to form a whole that is accomplishing a task, we intuitively think design. Why is this? Because this intuition is a sort-of short cut. Since we were young, we have seen functional wholes performing tasks. And since we were young, we have known that these wholes were designed. Over the years we have “built” an intuition toward this thinking. We now immediately think design when we see, or hear of such things.

The universe we live in, and the life we observe, all appear to be designed. When we observe the fine-tuned constants of the universe we intuitively think that someone, or something did the tuning. When we observe the infinite chasm between life and non-life we immediately think there could be no intermediary. When we see the explosion of life in the geological record, we intuitively think there must have been an Exploder. When we observe the irreducible-complexity of life at the molecular level we intuitively think that only an intelligent source could account for the presence of information-rich “machines”.

Of course, the question still remains, “Does our intuition serve us well?” The naturalist would say that it doesn’t. They would posit explanations as to why although the universe and life itself appears to be designed, it actually isn’t. But even they must concede that it appears to be designed. The naturalist must believe that the universe and life itself arose accidentally. And yes, as much as you might hate it, natural selection of random mutations means accidental. Random mutations have no intent behind them, therefore they are accidental. The universe didn’t intend to be fine-tuned, it was accidental. As soon as you start speaking of intent, you are arguing for design. Yet, our intuition tells us that accidents of this magnitude cannot be accidents. They must be designed.

This isn’t a technical critique of evolution by natural selection of random mutations (although I am preparing to write one). This is a “common science” critique of ignoring our intuitions to maintain a naturalistic worldview. You can maintain a naturalistic worldview if you wish, but you must first climb over a mountain of intuition and common science. The universe and the living organisms we observe appear to be designed. Will we believe our eyes, or our theories? Are our intuitions correct, or must we ignore them? You tell me.

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25 Comments »

  1. It’s peculiar in the context of discoveries. It seems that most are revealed by accident, and that once the mind forms the pattern it reproduces the circumstances and a so called discovery is achieved. Very few discoveries are made initially because of predictions because predictions are based on known patterns, not new ones!

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  2. I cannot for the life of me understand how people can really look at this earth and the way all things work together, and even our human bodies and how they function, without acknowledging that their is some kind of design to them that could not happen by chance! Today, we call that Intelligent Design, but it sure doesn’t take a rocket scientists to figure out it didn’t just happen. How do intelligent people not see that?

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  3. Really good work here. I am currently locked in an ongoing debate with an atheist about these very things. I really like your evaluation that they have to climb over a mountain of evidence and intuition to hold on to their atheistic and evolutionary views. It seems to me that the only reason you wouldn’t see design in the universe is if you just didn’t WANT to see it. It really does come down to what the Bible tells us all along… it is a heart issue! Thanks for your work… I look forward to reading your other posts. M. A.

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  4. My cat once typed “ass,” but the rest of the evidence of his typing–coupled with an observation of the keyboard–quickly reveals that it was accidental! (Wish I could share the picture with you, but apparently I can’t copy & paste it here in the comments box.)
    Still, I wonder if this isn’t informative. Perhaps it’s just an analogy to your statement of having to climb over mountains “of intuition and common sense,” Or maybe it is a distinct but similar line of thought: they’re having to ignore other evidence that, when taken all together & viewed as a whole, won’t sustain their position.
    Good stuff here! Glad I found this blog! Blessings!

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    • Thank you for sharing, I actually lol’d. While it isn’t likely that your cat would type any intelligible 3 letter word, it isn’t too unlikely. It shows that unlikely things do happen by blind chance, but nothing of any significance. If your cat had typed an entire sentence, that would be significant! Thanks for sharing!

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  5. That the apparently fine line between “a coincidence” and “intent” is so clear should definitely say something to folks. How come we can all categorize “designed”/”not designed” so easily, correctly, and all agree on it in so many areas? I read a wonderful analogy recently that pointed out homicide investigators and archaeologists do this all the time. It’s literally their job to know whether a human made/did this or it was “natural processes.”

    Nice post, thanks for sharing.

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  6. What if scientists figure out how the incredible explosion of life happened? Will that change your belief? Why are you Christian? Why not Hindu/muslim? How do you know what you believe?

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    • I dont see why the first two would change my belief, im not positing a “god of the gaps”. I’m Christian as opposed to other religions because the best explanation of the historical evidence is that Jesus rose from the dead and I’ve experienced a transformation of life through Him. I know what i believe by way of empirical evidence, philosophical reasoning, and divine revelation (the Bible). Thanks for your interest!

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  7. I’m curious, have you looked into contradictory evidence? What evidence, reasoning? I struggled with this. Only through Jesus can one get saved. What about all the people who had no opportunity to know Christianity? What about children who die? It doesn’t make sense to me. What about muslims who live piously? Hell? doesn’t make sense to me.

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    • I try to stay up-to-date on “contradictory evidence”.

      The reasoning is as such:
      1. Jesus rose from the dead.
      2. Jesus claimed to be the only way to a right relationship with God (John 14:6).
      3. Jesus is the only way and all others ultimately fail.
      As you can see, it all hinges on the Resurrection.

      Being morally good won’t save you. How moral must you be? God is perfect, must we be perfect?

      The question of people who never hear of christianity is highly debated. I say if people die and go to hell because they never heard the gospel, its mine and other christians fault for not telling them, not God’s fault.

      The question of children is also highly debated, and to be honest I don’t have a definitive answer as to the “age of accountability”. I trust a good God will do what is just.

      Hope I answered your questions, thanks for your inquiry!

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      • When Jesus sent the apostles out there is no way the message could get to australia the americas. That would make God unrighteous. I just can’t reconcile this dilemma.

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      • As far as reconciling it intellectually, there’s a false assumption that such people are “innocent”. The Bible says that all people have sinned against God and deserve hell, not salvation. God isn’t in our debt to save us. We freely chose to sin against him. This may not be the answer we want, but i think it resolves the intellectual objection you proposed. Again, thanks for the inquiry.

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      • Let me humbly disagree. Their were upright men in the old testament, saved. Born into sin is a interpretation i reject. If God made us and punishes us for his faulty creation he or she is a hypocrite or a sadist, you pick. Does God see the future, an all powerful deity should, then why punish us ?

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      • The bible teaches that he made us good with free will. Men freely choose to sin against God and deserve the punishment. Yes, he is all knowing, but he allows us to choose freely knowing that we will sometimes choose wrong. Glad we can disagree humbly, better than the alternative! Thank you.

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  8. If God is all knowing he could and should have given us more resolve. It is not possible for you to say God is all knowing and made us, yet it is our fault we sin. This is incongruous with logic.

    If I build a teeter totter that has its fulcrum off center and it doesn’t work properly, eventually a child doesn’t push hard enough and it fails. Is it the child’s fault ?

    As an atheist/agnostic I do not condemn anyone. I judge based on actions if I judge at all. I am so frustrated with debaters who argue only to confirm their own arrogance.

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    • I already explained that he didn’t create us sinful. He created us with free will. We chose to sin. This is perfectly logical. Sorry if i failed to explain properly. “Debaters who argue only to confirm their own arrogance” could be said by anyone on either side of any argument, and is obviously unhelpful. Sorry you feel that way, wish you the best!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I apologize for my insult. Instead of explaining we were given free will, explain HOW it is free will?
        My points
        1 .God is all knowing and created us!
        2. God gave us our will, ability to abide by his will.
        3. God gave us desire, hunger.
        4. God knew we would fail and sin

        God designed us with free will but gave us hungers that would over power that freedom, How do you call that free will.? There is nothing free about it.

        Hunger, urges, instincts, are ingrained and we act upon them. Then you claim. ( at least most Christians claim)
        !. God is disappointed in us.
        2. God punishes us for being what He designed us to be.
        3. We are ejected from paradise and experience death and despair.

        If I’m wrong point it out and explain how HE designed us to fail and it is our fault we did. My guess, your response, if you have one, will not be responsive to my points.

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