My friends in the ID movement have doctorates from Cambridge, The University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, CalTech, etc. They’ve done post-docs at Columbia, Harvard, and other major institutions. So let us re-imagine the narrative for a minute, wipe away the horizion, you and me.The second paragraph suggests that proper attribution is the issue the art historian is trying to solve. So let's take that question first. Gage would argue that while we might look at many things like materials of the paint and canvas, it is, in the end, the job of an expert to make a best guess based on his previous experience. This is true in the art world even if the work is signed--most forgeries are 'signed' of course. [I highly recommend the book I Was Vermeer for an entertaining look into the issue of forgery and fraud.]
Let us see the ID theorist the way we see an art historian at the Smithsonian who has just received a heretofore lost and unsigned Renaissance masterpiece. She must do some detective work. Are there not systematic and scientific ways for the art historian to learn about the cause(s) of this painting?I propose that this is the way we should view the ID theorist. Returning to nature, in this view we see the ID theorist looking for positive signs of intelligent design and running tests to see if mere material causes are adequate to explain the artifact. In the case of the painting, material causes will never be adequate. Perhaps nature is like this, too.
Of course, the art expert intuits that the painting of unknown origin is Vermeer by comparing it to other Vermeers of known origin. An expert might compare the unique brushwork of artists, something now considered non-scientific [a la Blink]--but it doesn't seem crazy to think that computers would one day be able to analyze the thousands of brush strokes, too.
At what point does this fit as an analogy of an Intelligent Design scientist? Does he want us to accept the idea that the ID perspective is more of an intuition, a 'feeling' we get after spending many years as intelligent creatures (making us experts at spotting intelligence)? The art historian has to compare the unknown to something known. And in the case of ID we would have to compare our universe to universes that we know for sure are designed by God. If we only have one Van Gogh painting in existence and we are trying to find out if it's painted by Van Gogh we really have nothing at all to 'gogh' on, not even our gut.
Unless you think a painting popped into existence out of nothing there's no reason to think that 'material causes are inadequate' for describing its origin. I recommend watching Antiques Roadshow [see below]. What else is there to go on but materiality and the material history (known or unknown) of the object itself?
Furthermore, I feel there is a false distinction being made here in the argument. It says, 'maybe nature is like this painting... that is in nature.' I think that Gage's above argument is trying to be halfway an argument of finding a watch on the shore. The argument usually runs on the assumption that humans are very good at distingushing between what is designed and what not designed. Sand: not designed. Pocketwatch: designed. Forest: not designed. Garden: designed. The ID movement rests on this assumption: Humans are pretty good at differentiating between what is designed and not designed.
But this assumption is based on our experience of the natural world. In other terms, Humans are pretty good at differentiating between design (human-made) and not designed (the natural world)! You can't first assume that we can pick out the garden from the forest and then use that to argue that we know the forest is designed. Even if you argue that we couldn't know the natural world was designed until we developed science and technology to study it, it still leaves us with the conclusion that humans really aren't very good at differentiating between design and not-design. We are only good at defining human-made from not-human-made--but we simply don't have any intution when it comes to comparing our universe to other universes.
To return to the analogy, if you lived inside a painting, why do you think you would be good at differentiating between painting and non-painting? If all of nature is designed, why do you think we would ever be able to describe it that way? Can you spot the white polka-dots on a white background?
If an ID proponent thinks that the entire universe is designed, then the White Polka Dot question is raised. Alternatively, once the ID thinker differentiates between designed life and the rest of the universe, ID is dead in the water:
"Well, life is designed," says the ID thinker. "But a rock isn't designed."
"So life was created by God but not a rock?"
"No, the rock was created by God."
"But isn't designed."
"So why can't humans be created by God and not designed?"
"Because they actually look designed."
"But they don't have to be designed to be created by God?"
"So God can create undesigned things."
"He could've made a totally undesigned universe full of rocks."
"So if we discovered that life wasn't designed that wouldn't really rule out the idea that God didn't make it?"