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May 17, 2016


The universe is designed.

A snowflake is designed.

Why again, doesn't a snowflake require a designer?

I suppose the argument is that well-known natural laws guarantee that snowflakes will take the sorts of shape they take without the intervention of a designer?

No one can assert that a snowflake is undesigned. It's design allows it to hit the earth and stack and attach with other snowflakes. Why isn't it hail, or sleet, or some other form of frozen water? Why does it's melting at certain times of the year replenish fresh water reserves, perpetuating a cycle that sustains plant and animal life the way it does on Earth? Why is it 6 sided, (the number of man)? Christians hold that all things are held together in Christ, which could certainly even apply to the very atoms in our universe. I would not make a claim that the design of a snowflake is that fundamentally different from any of God's other designs, although the designs found in lifeforms, (ex DNA), are even more bolsterous of our claims. A snowflakes beauty gives God glory; it attests of the wonder of the order of the laws of physics that frozen water could align in such a way. All of this points to intelligent design or else you have to claim that chance enabled these billions of examples, over "millions of years".

A snowflake is a complex pattern. Imagine after a storm, you find leaves in a pile arranged in a circular shape. You can deduce that physical forces, perhaps a vortex acted and created the pattern.

Now imagine instead that the leaves were arranged in small piles, say according to the fibonnaci sequence. Furthermore, you realize there is a network of leaves that are arranged such that almost like machines, they are able to replicate these arrangements. And then further down you realize leaves are arranged to encode the logic of the entire operation and correct for errors. Now you are not talking snowflakes but intelligence. That is the difference between snowflakes and DNA.

This is a strawman argument against specified complexity. A snowflake contains complex information, but it's basically a repeating pattern of ice crystals that are easily explained by the laws of physics. The sequence of your DNA is not the same as a snow flake. The formation of.a single base pair may be explained by physics, but no law of physics can explain the sequence of base pairs in your DNA. Here is a simple illistration. Let's take all of the ice crystals of a snowflake, and randomize them into a new order. What do you get? Another snowflake. The order that the ice crystals form in make no difference when it comes to the development or function of a snowflake. Randomize the 0's & 1's in the code of a computer program, and the computer program will quickly become useless. Specified complexity is more than just complex, it has a specific order that if compromised destroys the information, or function that it had before. DNA is very similar to computer code that if you randomize the base pairs of dna in an organism, you get a dead organism. So the DNA of an organism is complex yes, but it's also specified, it carries information critical to the life and development of that organism. Unlike a snowflake, DNA, and computer codes contain specified and complex information. The only known source of specified and complex information is intelligence.

If the universe doesn't require Intelligent Design, show me one Moron that can make a grain of sand....

All joking aside, absolute predestination requires each flake will form as is in the Bible.

The difference is not that the snow flake is complex, or even orderly. The difference is information that is both complex and specified (CSI). Francis Crick was a dedicated atheist, yet he was forced to infer design when he began to really examine the complex specified nature of the information-carrying DNA molecule he discovered. Crick had an "a priori" commitment to his naturalism, but he was honest enough to admit that the DNA molecule presented an enormous problem for the standard Darwinian narrative.

You could indeed infer order and design to natural structures such as crystals and snowflakes, but the positive case for design (ID) can be applied to Francis Crick's proposal of "Directed Panspermea" just as it can be applied via invoking a supernatural type of designer.

And, just as Francis Crick could not identify the names or types of his "little green men," ID is not required to identify who the designer is, in order to propose that design happened.


The challenge is about the snowflake. Not the climate system in general. So the questions about why not hail...about the role of snow in the water-cycle and so on don't squarely hit the target.

The bit about why it's always six-sided is more to the point.

It is utterly true that given the laws of nature that prevail there is no possibility of a snowflake with anything but six sides.

The question I have is whether that's the reason the challenger thinks the snowflake's complexity does not require reference to a designer.

I kind of suspect that no thoughtful proponent of intelligent design thinks that that isn't also true of the things that they claim require a designer. The prevailing laws of nature require that they be configured as they are.

And insofar as one structure develops from another, the prevailing laws of nature necessitate that development of the earlier state form the later state.

The evidence of design, I suspect comes in for the ID people, in the form of the laws of nature themselves and the balance of the initial conditions that enabled it to develop into the complex structures observed in the world.

My thought is that this argument sort of begs the question. The person assumes that the snowflake does not require an intelligent designer and yet, that's the very thing being debated - whether the universe and nature were designed.

If an Intelligent Designer exists, then who is to say the snowflake wasn't designed on purpose. The fact that snowflakes are all unique points to the creativeness of an intellectual Being.

Ultimately, the question goes back to the Laws of Nature, i.e., the properties and dynamics of spacetime and particles and fields, so General Relativity and Quantum Field Theory, and of course, all of the hierarchical, scale-dependent approximations that follow from these: Non-Relativistic Quantum Theory, Classical Electromagnetism, Classical (Newtonian) Dynamics, etc.

All of Modern Physics has its basis in just a few principles:
0. Symmetry
1. The Action Principle (from Hamilton's Principle of Least Action) and Noether's Theorem. Newton's 3 Laws of motion are contained in the Action Principle, with a suitable Lagrangian, of course.
2. Special Relativity and Lorentz Covariance.
3. The fundamental postulates of Quantum Mechanics; first and second quantization.
4. of course, it goes without saying, the underlying mathematical frameworks that support these principles.

#1 couples symmetry and dynamical conservation laws together.
Classical Electromagnetism can be 'derived' from #1 and #2; so too, with General Relativity, although that takes a bit more work than Electromagnetism (tongue-in-cheek here).

Even Quantum Gravity and String Theory start with the Action Principle, so even a Multiverse Model needs these principles to get off the ground.

How did Nature come to understand these principles (allow me the anthropomorphism)? How did they get 'built into her fabric'?
Those principles have to be postulated; as yet, we don't have anything more fundamental from which these principles can be derived. If there is something more fundamental (it would be cool if there is), then where did that come from?

This is where the question of design starts.

I think that's just it Victoria.

Also, since the principles themselves don't imply anything for them to operate on. Another aspect of design is the stuff to which the laws apply.

And the amount of stuff is not immaterial either. That had to be set by intelligence also.

And of course, there are the fundamental constants that each of these physical theories define and use. The ones that can only be empirically determined.

Ok-moving onto variables - why aren't snowflakes the size of our hands? Why don't they vaporize on contact? I'm being facetious but think of the sheer number of atoms and molecules in a snowflake. Yet it fits perfectly along with all of these other elements in our systems. I suppose our world could possibly adjust to a different type of nature (a hypothetical world), but I think the underlying thing is that a snowflake is mysterious. It crystalizes out of the air under certain conditions and is vital to our planet..It is as much a part of life as the plants and animals? Some say the raindrop is perfectly shaped you know..I think the whole should be taken as a sign of intelligent design..

Here you go: reference 1

reference 2

It still comes down to the fundamental laws of physics that govern the formation of snowflakes: the quantum mechanical properties and dynamics of the H2O molecule, the stochastic processes that grow the crystal, thermodynamics, etc. Knowing all of this, however, does not remove that element of wonder and marvel, at least not for me, as a Christian physicist. I see this as one of those pointers to God's Glory and His creative intelligence.

This is a cool (pun intended) reference as well.

Thanks Doc

The Non-Theist is in trouble:


Because he means to assert that some things are designed and some things are not.

He is forced, then, to posit this:

Un-designed designers (brains) void of inherent intentionality (as opposed to as-if intentionality) design and when they design they, on point of fact, produce non-designed design (non-designed input, non-designed brain, non-designed output and no inherent intentionality in any of it).

They are forced to posit gibberish.

That's the short version.

It's an ontological statement about irreducible intentionality, not a statement about useful fictions and as-if intentionality.

"“Hence to write many paragraphs about the scientific banishment of teleology from everywhere else in nature while insisting that teleology is real in the case of human beings, and then casually to insinuate that the history of that banishment gives hope that someday a scientific explanation of the teleology of human consciousness will also be possible… to do that is something of a conjuring trick, a bit of sleight of hand.” (E. Feser)

It's not avoidable.

Our Non-Theist friends appeal to their paradigm's ontology of intention-less-design, of non-designed-design, to make demands upon the ontology of the irreducibly designed streaming from the psychology of God.

Our Non-Theist friends, on their terms, live in a universe void of inherent, irreducible intentionality, and therefore in a universe void of any inherent, irreducible design, from top to bottom. Their word “design” describes, in *all* uses, a fiction.

There are no sodium pumps anywhere, at all, in which we can trace the Non-Theist’s explanatory trail to the peculiar terminus of irreducible / intrinsic intentionality and the Non-Theist is there again, in all possible worlds, forced to appeal to the absurdity of his own paradigm's ontology of non-designed-design and of un-designed-designers (...yeah...) as he makes (unjustifiable) demands on the word "design" upon the Christian paradigm's irreducible "Final Causes" in this or that "possible world".

In fact whenever the Non-Theist points to this or that X in this or any possible world (etc.) and asserts, "This X here is designed and that X there is not designed" he is asserting what can only break down to, unpack to, a fiction. Whether the Non-Theist points to laptops, rocks, cars, trees, DNA, computer codes, or snowflakes changes nothing about the pains he is forced to embrace within his own duo of epistemology/ontology.

To borrow from another: The concept of "the conservation of X", or of “the conservation of non-design...from bottom to top..." is "captured in physics" and is at the end of all explanatory trails the only scientific option. Else God.

Should (actual) intrinsic intentionality – and therein intrinsic design / final causes – appear *anywhere* inside of a universe such as ours, we shall have stumbled upon the contents of that which a universe such as ours cannot contain.

Given physics and given intention and given the non-intentionality of quantum indeterminism and given the ontology of design, when it comes to a universe such as ours:

[1] It is a universe void of inherent intentionality (as per E. Feser’s discussions of As-If intentionality), it is a universe void of inherent design.

[2] It is a universe constituted of, soaked through with, Final Causes.

If we know that the simplest of things we interact with on a daily basis require a designer (i.e. a rudimentary wooden table, a night light, a water pitcher, a tissue box), is it unreasonable to intuit that those things which are far more complex also require one?

The wording and structure is philosophically clumsy, but there is a legitimate question buried in there. I could rephrase it as:

Snowflakes are generated in multivariate forms by a simple physical process. Why is it unreasonable to assume the same about life?

Addressing only that question, it's a distinction between output and process. I can take a spirograph, use a "random" algorithm to choose parts and pens, and mechanically apply that to produce a complex-looking output. Snowflakes are analogous to this. But in both cases the output, while complex, doesn't do anything, nor does it have an inherent purpose.

And there's no "irreducible complexity". There's no such thing as a non-functional snowflake. There's certainly non-functional organisms. My understanding of irreducible complexity is the set of changes that would need to occur to move from "working" to "working differently" without going through "broken". Snowflakes can be formed in arbitrary patterns without becoming non-functional snowflakes. Arbitrarily rearranging the cogs in a watch results in a non-functional watch, and the same for an eyeball.

What’s the difference between the kind of complexity in a snowflake and the kind ID proponents cite in their arguments?
The difference is that the kind of complexity ID proponents cite, is wholly subjective and incalculable without pulling numbers that are supposed to quantify "specification" out of your rectum.

Andrew W,

Snowflakes are analogous to this. But in both cases the output, while complex, doesn't do anything, nor does it have an inherent purpose.

I’m sorry, but how in the world do you know there is no purpose?

Andrew W,

Snowflakes are generated in multivariate forms by a simple physical process. Why is it unreasonable to assume the same about life?

Because despite your mommy telling you that you're a precious little snowflake she didn't mean it literally and there is no reason to think the origins of life is like the simple repeating pattern of ice crystals.

"But in both cases the output, while complex, doesn't do anything, nor does it have an inherent purpose."

Can we be sure of that?

I'd guess that if snowflakes weren't six-sided, in the abstract, that there would be all sorts of difficulties.

I'd also guess that if there weren't a wide variety of concrete snowflake shapes, that there would, again, be all sorts of difficulties.

Just so that it's not all criticism...

My understanding of irreducible complexity is the set of changes that would need to occur to move from "working" to "working differently" without going through "broken".
This bit is nice, Andrew.

I'm not sure that this is the full meaning of "irreducible complexity", but it's certainly true that if only a large set of simultaneous changes will get you from "working" to "working differently" (without an intermediate "broken" stage) that you probably have an instance of something that had to be designed.

BTW, I think that goes even if a natural mechanism is found that makes all those simultaneous changes. The fact that that mechanism makes the simultaneous changes is the evidence of design of the mechanism. The fact that the mechanism is natural is just evidence that natural law itself is designed.

The Non-Theist is still in trouble:

Picking up where we left off, we find, once again, that the Non-Theist's desire to assert that some things really are designed and some things really are not designed amounts to tying his own shoelaces together as he attempts the 100 yard dash. One wants to watch it as its just so entertaining, but one cannot help but look away from time to time and wince as the pity bubbles up.

The following are all equivalent in the Non-Theist's under-funded accounting:

[1] Physics behind snowflakes
[2] Physics outside of neurons
[3] Physics inside of neurons
[5] Physics from neuron to hand to laptop
[6] Physics in laptops

Laptops are not, and cannot be, designed, on Non-Theism, as per the earlier comment. That is to say, if the Non-Theist means to apply his own working rock-bottom causal substrate as "that which constitutes design" then he only has two "rational" (whatever that means in Non-Theistism's causal paradigm) options:

[A] Call the whole show non-designed, every bit of it, from bottom to top, as he has only *one* account of causation from which to pull funds.

[B] Call the whole show designed, every bit of it, from bottom to top, as he has only *one* account of causation from which to pull funds.

Naturally (no pun intended) the painful non-intentionality of quantum indeterminism faintly clinks as it falls into the Non-Theist's (very tiny) piggybank.

Whereas, the Christian paradigm enjoys the luxury of the rational differentiation amid varying forms of causations, plural (efficient, formal, final, etc.). Indeed, inherent intentionality funds yet another entirely separate account of the causally closed banking system from which to pull funds. As it turns out, that system's board of trustees is quite strict when it comes to equitable collateral and hence the Non-Theist has been advised that his insolvency is simply unacceptable and no borrowing can be permitted.

"But in both cases the output, while complex, doesn't do anything, nor does it have an inherent purpose."

Can we be sure of that?

Not necessarily. But arguments for irreducible complexity require that we can discern a system that takes some form of input and produce some form of "useful" output. They are based on the "useful" output forming a local maxima that is highly unlikely to be reached by weighting "random" changes for utility.

The mere presence or absence of some form of complexity doesn't characterise the irreducible complexity argument. "Y is complex too" isn't a defeater for "X is too complex to be undesigned", unless you're proposing Y as a mechanism by which X could have occurred, or analogy thereof.

It's entirely possible that someone might use a snowflake in an ID argument. But to do so, they'd have to show how snowflakes contribute to a system that is not "inevitable" given suitable starting conditions (or run the ID argument on the laws of physics themselves, which is a quite different argument given the absence of observable counterfactuals).

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