Is SETI an Intelligent Design Research Program?


By Fazale Rana – July 24, 2019

I have always felt at home on college and university campuses. Perhaps this is one reason I enjoy speaking at university venues. I also love any chance I get to interact with college students. They have inquisitive minds and they won’t hesitate to challenge ideas.

Skeptical Challenge

A few years ago I was invited to present a case for a Creator, using evidence from biochemistry, at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. During the Q&A session, a skeptical student challenged my claims, insisting that intelligent design/creationism isn’t science. In leveling this charge, he was advocating scientism—the view that science is the only way to discover truth; in fact, science equates to truth. Thus, if something isn’t scientific, then it can’t be true. On this basis he rejected my claims.

You might be surprised by my response. I agreed with my questioner.

My case for a Creator based on the design of biochemical systems is not science. It is a philosophical and theological argument informed by scientific discovery. In other words, scientific discoveries have metaphysical implications. And, by identifying and articulating those implications, I built a case for God’s existence and role in the origin and design of life.

Having said this, I do think that design detection is legitimately part of the fabric of science. We can use scientific methodologies to detect the work of intelligent agency. That is, we can develop rigorous scientific evidence for intelligent design. I also think we can ascribe attributes to the intelligent designer from scientific evidence at hand.

In defense of this view, I (and others who are part of the Intelligent Design Movement, or IDM) have pointed out that there are branches of science that function as intelligent design programs, such as research in archaeology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). We stand to learn much from these disciplines about the science of design detection. (For a detailed discussion, see the Resources section.)

SETI and Intelligent Design

Recently, I raised this point in a conversation with another skeptic. He challenged me on that point, noting that Seth Shostak, an astronomer from the SETI Institute, wrote a piece for repudiating the connection between intelligent design (ID) and SETI, arguing that they don’t equate.


Figure: Seth Shostak. Image credit: Wikipedia

According to Shostak,

“They [intelligent design proponents] point to SETI and say, ‘upon receiving a complex radio signal from space, SETI researchers will claim it as proof that intelligent life resides in the neighborhood of a distant star. Thus, isn’t their search completely analogous to our own line of reasoning—a clear case of complexity implying intelligence and deliberate design?’ And SETI, they would note, enjoys widespread scientific acceptance.”1

Shostak goes on to say, “If we as SETI researchers admit this is so, it sounds as if we’re guilty of promoting a logical double standard. If the ID folks aren’t allowed to claim intelligent design when pointing to DNA, how can we hope to claim intelligent design on the basis of a complex radio signal?”2

In an attempt to distinguish the SETI Institute from the IDM, Shostak asserts that ID proponents make their case for intelligent design based on the complexity of biological and biochemical systems. But this is not what the SETI Institute does. According to Shostak, “The signals actually sought by today’s SETI searches are not complex, as the ID advocates assume. We’re not looking for intricately coded messages, mathematical series, or even the aliens’ version of ‘I Love Lucy.’”

Instead of employing complexity as an indicator of intelligent agency, SETI looks for signals that display the property of artificiality. What they mean by artificiality is that specifically, SETI is looking for a simple signal of narrow-band electromagnetic radiation that forms an endless sinusoidal pattern. According to SETI investigators, this type of signal does not occur naturally. Shostak also points out that the context of the signal is important. If the signal comes from a location in space that couldn’t conceivably harbor life, then SETI researchers would be less likely to conclude that it comes from an intelligent civilization. On the other hand, if the signal comes from a planetary system that appears life-friendly, this signal would be heralded as a successful detection event.

Artificiality and Intelligent Design

I agree with Shostak. Artificiality, not complexity, is the best indicator of intelligent design. And, it is also important to rule out natural process explanations. I can’t speak for all creationists and ID proponents, but the methodology I use to detect design in biological systems is precisely the same one the SETI Institute employs.

In my book The Cell’s Design, I propose the use of an ID pattern to detect design. Toward this end, I point out that objects, devices, and systems designed by human beings—intelligent designers—are characterized by certain properties that are distinct from objects and systems generated by natural processes. To put it in Shostak’s terms, human designs display artificiality. And we can use the ID pattern as a way to define what artificiality should look like.

Here are three ways I adopt this approach:

  1. In The Cell’s Design, I follow after natural theologian William Paley’s work. Paley described designs created by human beings as contrivances in which the concept of artificiality was embedded. I explain examples of such artificiality in biochemical systems.
  2. In Origins of Life (a work I coauthored with astronomer Hugh Ross) and Creating Life in the Lab, I point out that natural processes don’t seem to be able to account for the origin of life and, hence, the origin of biochemical systems.
  3. Finally, in Creating Life in the Lab, I show that attempts to create protocells starting with simple molecules and attempts to recapitulate the different stages in the origin-of-life pathway depend upon intelligent agency. This dependence further reinforces the artificiality displayed by biochemical systems.

Collectively, all three books present a comprehensive case for a Creator’s role in the origin and fundamental design of life, with each component of the overall case for design resting on the artificiality of biochemical systems. So, even though the SETI Institute may want to distance themselves from the IDM, SETI is an intelligent design program. And intelligent design is, indeed, part of the construct of science.

In other words, scientists from a creation model perspective can make a rigorous scientific case for the role of intelligent agency in the origin and design of biochemical systems, and even assign attributes to the designer. At that point, we can then draw metaphysical conclusions about who that designer might be.


  1. Seth Shostak, “SETI and Intelligent Design,” (December 1, 2005),
  2. Shostak, “SETI and Intelligent Design.”

Reprinted with permission by the author

Original article at:

If There’s No Time, There’s No God

If There’s No Time, There’s No God

Stephen Hawking

By Douglas Duncan October 24, 2020

I remember reading a science news article quite awhile back, wherein the late astrophysicist Stephen Hawking was giving some finalized theories regarding our universe and a creator in his farewell book, “Brief Answers to Big Questions.” I used to just take for granted that Hawking was on the same level of genius with Einstein, due mainly to his notoriety on the subject of black holes, quantum physics and theories on the nature of, and beginning of the universe, together with accolades and a seemingly endless list of awards, but I dropped that meteorite real fast when one of his last opines collided head on with an asteroid at 186,000 miles per second.

In his last days, one of the final issues he addressed was the existence of God. He stated in reference to our universe’s beginning, “We have finally found something that doesn’t have a cause, because there was no time for a cause to exist in. For me this means that there is no possibility of a creator, because there is no time for a creator to have existed in.”

You don’t even have to believe in God to perceive that there is something really wobbly with such a simplified, foregone conclusion. Even Einstein held to a pantheistic concept of an impersonal creative entity. Hawking was stating with all confidence, that God cannot exist because before the Big Bang there was no linear time in which anything could be the cause of anything, therefore, neither could there be a higher consciousness to choose to cause something. Whoa Nelly! What the hey kind of epiphany was that utterance? He certainly wasn’t giving any creed to all the possibilities when he dictated that one over his synthesizer.

He addressed the God issue with the near imbecilic assumption that linear time would have been necessary before the Big Bang in order for there to be any possibility of the existence of God, or perhaps more to the point, a ‘time out of time’. He completely excluded the plausibility that there may be a God residing in a higher non-physical, non-decaying and timeless dimension far outside the creation event, or that sudden spark of light and explosion of everything from nothing, commonly referred to as the Big Bang, or as I prefer to call it, the “Let there be light” event.

Why that makes about as much sense as saying, “I was just about to make you pancakes for breakfast this morning, but unfortunately I didn’t exist because I wasn’t able to be standing outside the factory just before they made the Bisquick box, so now there aren’t any pancakes. So why don’t you go back to bed, and then come back out here after awhile, and see if any pancakes have shown up. You never know, I might spontaneously exist inside the box, and then, there they’ll be… all nice and fluffy and golden brown, with butter and syrup already on them! Stranger things have happened I’m sure.”

The whole concept there Stephen, is that an extremely powerful Entity with a grand idea, chooses to create a dimension of both physical matter and continuously expanding movement of said matter, including those speedy little photons shooting out from the stars which is what we like to measure the speed thereof and refer to the results as time. The Entity itself is not a part of Its newly created dimension, anymore than you are a part of your scooter, which will probably now be enshrined in a prominent place at The Cambridge University.

Space-time is an inescapable part of our expanding universe and is not a requirement nor even a probability in the absence of white hot glowing matter, outside of it, regardless of what other non-physical dimensions lie beyond its edges. I cannot help but shake my head at Hawking’s final conclusion on the subject of God, because the one thing he came close to being right on, is that God really cannot be a part of time, which is solely an attribute of the cosmos that He Himself made. So what was someone evidently putting in his daily nourishment, that would have given him cause to believe that a Creator cannot exist just outside the boundary of the universe where there is no space-time occurring, when he made such a peculiar statement? As a theoretical physicist, it should have at least occurred to him that an all powerful Creator would have absolutely no need of the internal movement of star light or the passing of sand in the hourglass that we experience within this defined temporal realm. God does exist where there is no time. He conceived time. It’s His baby, just like His concept of the blood pumping through our veins or the water drawn through the capillaries of every leaf on every one of His trees. He thought it all up… He’s not part of it.

There was an earlier time when Hawking was a bit more open to the idea that there may in fact be a God. In his book ‘A Brief History of Time’ he wrote, “Is the unified theory so compelling that it brings about its own existence?” Sometime after that book was published, while spending time with mathematical physicist Neil Turok, both men came to an agreement that a Creator was quite compatible with an open universe. So what happened that would ultimately close the door on the idea of a purposed universe? Perhaps one reason for his eventual atheistic view could have been that he had become set against a perceived cruel God for a lifetime of imprisonment in a non-responsive body, which would be more than understandable. However, there being no apparent public record of him saying such, it’s purely speculation on my part. Actually, that’s not at true. My wife told me to include it here as a paragraph. There… Happy now?

At any rate, I would have thought that he would have been more of an outside the box thinker, but I guess his reasoning got too close to the event horizon and he got sucked into a black hole at the finale. Well, I must say, that was a pretty dismal belief system to wrap up one’s last days on Earth with, but as for myself, I believe I’ll adhere to a grander and much more outside the box hypothesis. All the way to the last breath.

So long Stephen. Maybe I’ll see you sometime… out of time… or not…

Does Development of Artificial Intelligence Undermine Human Exceptionalism?


In each case catalytic technologies, such as artificial wombs, the repair of brain injuries with prostheses and the enhancement of animal intelligence, will force us to choose between pre-modern human-racism and the cyborg citizenship implicit in the liberal democratic tradition.
—James Hughes, Citizen Cyborg

On one hand, it appeared to be nothing more than a harmless publicity stunt. On October 25, 2017, Saudi Arabia granted Sophia—a lifelike robot, powered by artificial intelligence software—citizenship. This took place at the FII conference, held in Riyahd, providing a prime opportunity for Hanson Robotics to showcase its most advanced robotics system to date. And, it also served as a chance for Saudi Arabia to establish itself as a world leader in AI technology.

But, on the other hand, granting Sophia citizenship establishes a dangerous precedent, acting as a harbinger to a dystopian future where machines (and animals with enhanced intelligence) are afforded the same rights as human beings. Elevating machines to the same status as human beings threatens to undermine human dignity and worth and, along with it, the biblical conception of humanity.

Still, the notion of granting citizenship to robots makes sense within a materialistic/naturalistic worldview. In this intellectual framework, human beings are largely regarded as biological machines and the human brain as an organic computer. If AI systems can be created with self-awareness and emotional capacity, what makes them any different from human beings? Is a silicon-based computer any different from one made up of organic matter?

For many people, sentience or self-awareness is the key determinant of personhood. And persons are guaranteed rights, whether they are human beings, AI machines, or super-intelligent animals created by genetic engineering or implanting human brain organoids (grown in a lab) into the brains of animals.

In other words, the way we regard AI technology has wide-ranging consequences for how we view and value human life. And while views of AI rooted in a materialistic/naturalistic worldview potentially threaten human dignity, a Christian worldview perspective of AI actually highlights human exceptionalism—in a way that aligns with the biblical concept of the image of God.

Will AI Systems Ever Be Self-Aware?

The linchpin for granting AI citizenship—and the same rights as human beings—is self-awareness.

But are AI systems self-aware? And will they ever be?

From my perspective, the answers to both questions are “no.” To be certain, AI systems are on a steep trajectory toward ever-increasing sophistication. But there is little prospect that they will ever truly be sentient. AI systems are becoming better and better at mimicking human cognitive abilities, emotions, and even self-awareness. But these systems do not inherently possess these capabilities—and I don’t think they ever will.

Researchers are able to create AI systems with the capacity to mimic human qualities through the combination of natural-language processing and machine-learning algorithms. In effect, natural-language processing is pattern matching, in which the AI system employs prewritten scripts that are combined, spliced, and recombined to make the AI systems’ comments and responses to questions seem natural. For example, Sophia performs really well responding to scripted questions. But, when questions posed to her are off-script, she often provides nonsensical answers or responds with non-sequiturs. These failings reflect limitations of the natural-language processing algorithms. Undoubtedly, Sophia’s responses will improve thanks to machine-learning protocols. These algorithms incorporate new information into the software inputs to generate improved outcomes. In fact, through machine-learning algorithms, Sophia is “learning” how to emote, by controlling mechanical hardware to produce appropriate facial expressions in response to the comments made by “her” conversation partner. But, these improvements will just be a little bit more of the same—differing in degree, not kind. They will never propel Sophia, or any AI system, to genuine self-awareness.

As the algorithms and hardware improve, Sophia (and other AI systems) are going to become better at mimicking human beings and, in doing so, seem to be more and more like us. But, even now, it is tempting to view Sophia as humanlike. But this tendency has little to do with AI technology. Instead, it has to do with our tendency to anthropomorphize animals and even inanimate objects. Often, we attribute human qualities to nonhuman, nonliving entities. And, undoubtedly, we will do the same for AI systems such as Sophia.

Our tendency to anthropomorphize arises from our theory-of-mind capacity—unique to human beings. As human beings, we recognize that other people have minds just like ours. As a consequence of this capacity, we anticipate what others are thinking and feeling. But we can’t turn off our theory-of-mind abilities. And as a consequence, we attribute human qualities to animals and machines. To put it another way, AI systems seem to be self-aware, because we have an innate tendency to view them as such, even if they are not.

Ironically, a quality unique to human beings—one that contributes to human exceptionalism and can be understood as a manifestation of the image of God—makes us susceptible to seeing AI systems as sentient “beings.” And because of this tendency, and because of our empathy (which relates to our theory of mind capacity), we want to grant AI systems the same rights afforded to us. But when we think carefully about our tendency to anthropomorphize, it should become evident that our proclivity to regard AI systems as humanlike stems from the fact that we are made in God’s image.

AI Systems and the Case for Human Exceptionalism

There is another way that research in AI systems evinces human exceptionalism. It is provocative to think that human beings are the only species that has ever existed that has the capability to create machines that are like us—at least, in some sense. Clearly, this achievement is beyond the capabilities of the great apes, and no evidence exists to think that Neanderthals could have ever pulled off a feat such as creating AI systems. Neanderthals—who first appear in the fossil record around 250,000 to 200,000 years ago and disappear around 40,000 years ago—existed on Earth longer than modern humans have. Yet, our technology has progressed exponentially, while Neanderthal technology remained largely static.

Our ability to create AI systems stems from the capacity for symbolism. As human beings, we effortlessly represent the world with discrete symbols. We denote abstract concepts with symbols. And our ability to represent the world symbolically has interesting consequences when coupled with our abilities to combine and recombine those symbols in a nearly infinite number of ways to create alternate possibilities.

Our capacity for symbolism manifests in the form of language, art, music, and even body ornamentation. And we desire to communicate the scenarios we construct in our minds with other human beings. In a sense, symbolism and our open-ended capacity to generate alternative hypotheses are scientific descriptors of the image of God. No other creature, including the great apes or Neanderthals, possesses these two qualities. In short, we can create AI systems because we uniquely bear God’s image.

AI Systems and the Case for Creation

Our ability to create AI systems also provides evidence that we are the product of a Creator’s handiwork. The creation of AI systems requires the work of highly trained scientists and engineers who rely on several hundred years of scientific and technological advances. Creating AI systems requires designing and building highly advanced computer systems, engineering complex robotics systems, and writing sophisticated computer code. In other words, AI systems are intelligently designed. Or to put it another way, work in AI provides empirical evidence that a mind is required to create a mind—or, at least, a facsimile of a mind. And this conclusion means that the human mind must come from a Mind, as well. In light of this conclusion, is it reasonable to think that the human mind arose through unguided, undirected, historically contingent processes?

Developments in AI will undoubtedly lead to important advances that will improve the quality of our lives. And while it is tempting to see AI systems in human terms, these devices are machines—and nothing more. No justification exists for AI systems to be granted the same rights as human beings. In fact, when we think carefully about the nature and origin of AI, these systems highlight our exceptional nature as human beings, evincing the biblical view of humanity.

Only human beings deserve the rights of citizenship because these rights—justifiably called inalienable—are due us because we bear God’s image.


Reprinted with permission by the author
Original article at: