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Specified Complexity Is All Around Us

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BY:  Sarah Chaffee

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If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. That’s something a CPA told me the other night.

Achievement is not random. It requires intelligent design. A key idea in the theory of ID is specification, or matching a pattern. Specified, complex information is a hallmark of intelligent activity. Humans can envision an end goal. Chance and determinism fail to produce specified complexity, but the mind can create it. ID theorists including William Dembski have given mathematical rigor to this idea. But it’s all around us in everyday life.

I find the power of intention hard to overstate. Bear with me as I examine a few illustrations.

Intention in Finances 

Have you heard of Dave Ramsey? He is the get-out-of-debt guru, with seven “baby steps” to fix your debt situation, from creating an emergency fund to putting away retirement savings. People across the country follow his methods and credit him with getting them onto solid financial ground. There’s a plan, and there’s execution. 

Some counselors offer advice that goes more heavily into the details. The FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) movement began recently but is growing. One group, ChooseFI, lists its own “Pillars of FI,” from low-cost index fund investing to tax optimization and hacking student debt. Randomness and determinism are the enemies when it comes to financial success — planning and information are one’s greatest assets. 

Intention in Health

Here are a few facts for you. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week, just to keep your heart working well. From various studies, it seems that the Mediterranean diet (yay for wild caught fish!) may be one of the best ways to eat. Clearly, intelligent design, which means planning and execution, not going with the flow, is key to health and fitness. 

How about athletics? Running, in general, seems hard at first, but people can work up to a half marathon in a few weeks by starting quite small and working consistently according to a plan. I love programs like Recovery Beyond Paradigm or Team Mission here in the Puget Sound — RBP helps those dealing with addiction to get and stay clean through hiking and mountaineering (spoiler: they climb Rainier or Adams), and Team Mission does the same — with running. 

Intention in Learning

During college, my foreign language was Mandarin Chinese. I enjoyed spending two summers in China, practicing and improving my language skills and volunteering with an NGO. But there are people who go much further. For them, language learning becomes a passion. Polyglots learn multiple languages. I heard an interview with one polyglot who learns a new language every two years. Polyglots are very intentional in their process, not relying on the guidance of a teacher, but fine-tuning their methods for learning grammar, pronunciation, and more. 

How about the music? The other day I found myself at a concert where a junior in college played four stunning pieces on the harp, all from memory. Afterward, his teacher mentioned to me that it was easy to teach him because he could learn almost any piece of music she put in front of him. The intricacies of learning the music and then memorizing it are just baffling. It doesn’t come by following the flow where it leads you. Again — musicians and language learners eschew chance in favor of discipline and specific goals. 

Planning and follow-through bring excitement and hope. Some part of us knows that mind must triumph over matter and circumstance if complex order is to prevail. Neo-Darwinian evolution, which depends on chance and determinism, does not fit with this perspective, nor with our experiences. 

Photo credit: Tomasz Woźniak via Unsplash.