Joined: Jan. 2003
William Dembski apparently believes that beavers intelligently design their dams.
However, beavers have some sort of dam-building instinct that consists of placing sticks and mud wherever they hear rushing water, such as at an underwater speaker playing that sound. This document on beaver control warns about that, and understanding that has enabled the design of a Beaver Deceiver fence around a culvert inlet.
I find it curious that both supporters and critics of Intelligent Design theory have said so little about the question of intelligent design by species other than Homo sapiens, because there is an abundance of seeming evidence of such design, like beaver dams, spiderwebs, and so forth. And if much of that is true intelligent design, then we have an abundance of nonhuman intelligent design right under our noses, in a sometimes very literal sense!
Animal-intelligent-design capability is part of a lot of folklore, and many pet owners seem to think that their pets have that capability. And the reputable biologist George Romanes had offered numerous seeming examples of that capability in the late 19th cy. Only to be repeatedly ridiculed later as an example of how not to do animal-behavior research.
Much animal behavior has been found to be a combination of instinct and simple forms of learning, though the instincts involved may be very complicated, and though instinct and learning are often closely intertwined. For example, web-building spiders know how to build their webs without being taught, and the webs they build have a stereotyped, species-specific architecture, despite their complexity. There has been some simulated-spider research that implements web building with a combination of algorithms with the form of "if you feel this configuration of nearby strands, go here".
And much animal learning would be hard to call intelligent design on the animal's part; this includes mechanisms like
Imprinting (Konrad Lorenz became the "mother" of some geese)
Habituation (not responding to "meaningless" stimuli)
Latent learning (wandering around and picking up detail)
There is an exception:
Insight learning (pausing and then implementing a solution)
This may be called a form of intelligent designing. But it has been seen in only a few species, most notably chimpanzees. So one reasonably concludes that the intelligent-design ability is rare in the animal kingdom. And the closeness to our species of the main counterexample is consistent with what one would expect from evolutionary biology -- in fact, Wolfgang Koehler had used evolutionary biology to decide on an experimental subject for his pioneering experiments.
And what, precisely, might Koehler's chimps have been doing? An analogy with human problem-solving suggests that they were manipulating a mental model of their solution before implementing that model. Thus, a chimp who sees a lot of crates and an out-of-reach banana may imagine crates stacked on other crates to reach that banana before actually trying to stack those crates.
So performing intelligent design may simply be manipulating a mental model of something before building it. Thus, if I wish to build a dam across a creek, I don't get seized with an uncontrollable urge to collect mud and sticks and place it where I hear rushing water. Instead, I picture in my mind that dam and imagine where best to place it and how I'd build it.
By contrast, intelligent-design advocates generally treat intelligent design as some sort of unanalyzable fundamental principle.
And from the occurrence of structures that appear to be produced by intelligent design, but that are not, one obtains a powerful counterargument to the "design inference".
One counterargument is that spiders, beavers, etc. were designed with their instincts, but that does not change how the appearance of design had been produced by a non-design mechanism. The ultimate origin of those instincts is an entirely separate question.