Paperclips and Design
by Luke Nix
Quite often intelligent design (ID) gets the accusation of being a "God-of-the-gaps" argument. The charge is that people cannot find a natural explanation for what they see in nature, so they immediately attribute it to God. Since nature may be able to explain a phenomenon, such quick conclusions are obviously intellectually lazy and should be recognized as such. A while back I wrote a post addressing the charge of being too quick to come to that conclusion. But this time, I want to focus on the idea that support for intelligent design comes primarily in the form of a process-of-elimination argument.
Even though such an argument does hold value, the conclusion is more reliable when another, more "positive", argument is presented. This argument takes the form of an analogy. It examines what we already accept as being designed by an intelligent agent (humans), and concludes that something of equal or more specified complexity is also designed by an intelligent agent. Allow me to provide an example.
Take The Simple Office Paperclip
Anytime that we look at something, even as simple as a paper clip, we can recognize that it was designed. How? We recognize that the probability of nature producing the paper clip we are looking at is extremely remote. Examine one with me. First you have the metal that provides a specific malleability (resistance to bending). Second, you have the specific shape- three specific curves and four straight sides that are positioned in such a way. Third, think of the precision of the movements and the precision of the strength required to obtain the specific shape. (If you can’t, unbend a paper clip until it is as straight as you can get it, then try to get it back to its same precise shape it was before you straighten it- compare it to a second one from the box if you think you were successful.) The only way that a person, who had never seen a paper clip before, could ascribe random processes to its design, is a complete ignorance of the natural laws and basic engineering. We would say that the person is not learned in the ways of science and cast that conclusion away as not accurately reflecting reality. If we are to believe that complex processes and systems are the product of natural processes and the absence of a mind, why can’t we say the same of a paperclip? If we did not already know that the paperclip was designed, then all reason would point us toward its not being designed…
Arguing From Assumption to Conclusion Using The Analogy
In order for an argument from analogy to take place, we must begin with an assumption and work our way toward our conclusion. I want to look at the assumptions of design and non-design starting with both the paperclip and nature…
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