Mike Gene has written about four criteria that can be used to assess a design inference – Analogy, Discontinuity, Rationality, and Foresight. At his blog The Design Matrix Mike posted an entry titled Detecting Design – Mind and Hands. In it he quotes Howard Van Til:
We speak often today of things that have been designed. Cars are designed; clothing is designed; buildings are designed. Suppose, then, we were to walk into the headquarters of a major automobile manufacturer and ask to observe the process of cars being designed. What kind of activity would we be shown? Would we be taken to the assembly line to see cars being put together by human hands and mechanical robots? No, we would be taken to the “design center” where we would see people working with their minds (augmented, of course, by computers and various means of modeling what their minds conceive) to conceptualize new cars of various styles to achieve the intentions of the manufacturer in the marketplace. In other words, to say that a car was designed is to say that a car was thoughtfully conceptualized to accomplish some well-defined purpose. In contemporary parlance, the action of design is performed by a mind, intentionally conceptualizing something for the accomplishment of a purpose.
This mind-like action of designing is clearly distinguishable from the hand-like action of actualizing (assembling, arranging, constructing) what had first been designed. On a tour of an automobile manufacturing facility, for instance, we would have no difficulty in distinguishing the mental work done at the design center from the manual work done on the assembly line.
Mike then goes on to comment:
The distinction between the mind-like action of designing and the hand-like action of actualizing is key. Conceptualization precedes actualization. Thus, detecting design is much more like detecting another mind than detecting busy hands. In fact, if you did not perceive the mind, the hands would not be detected as designing – they’d be detected as doing. Without making any serious and honest effort to detect the mind-like action of designing, a focus on the hand-like action of actualization will not signal design.
This is a useful and accurate observation. Conceptualization of design preceeds its implementation. Evidence for design frequently is viewed as restricted to an implementing physical process. In fact, evidence could include conceptualization. Data for that would be tangible.