As usual, philosophy has some fancy terms to describe simple concepts. Things are caused by agents or events. The 10th domino falls because of the event preceding it (the 9th domino falling), but the first domino fell because an agent pushed it over.
Ignoring agent causation is a problem for Darwinists. We use the inference of agent causation — or design — all day, every day. The classic “watch on the beach” illustration is just one of countless examples one could use. If you find a watch on a beach you infer that someone dropped it, not that it came into being by an infinitely long series of random events. Crime investigations assume agent causation. And on and on.
Greg Koukl makes this distinction in his essay on Oreos & Origins:
Now to give you an illustration about how the game is fixed by the courts and by the educational system and by the scientific community, I have suggested what I have called the Oreo Experiment. You go to your chemistry teacher and ask if he is able to look at a solution and describe, based on his scientific testing, what is in the solution and how the solution, the precipitate, came to be. The precipitate is the heavy stuff that falls out, precipitates in the solution. In a beaker, for example. It seems that someone who is well-versed in the area of chemistry and well-versed in the area of physics can look and measure and test and describe what happened in a simple kind of thing.
Your chemist teacher takes the challenge and you say, “Okay, I’m going to put out a beaker full of stuff. There you see it, and now I’m covering it. Tomorrow we’ll uncover it and you’ll see something that has precipitated. Then it is your job to figure out how that happened.” Sure. Fair enough. I know science. I know the laws of chemistry. We’ll do it.
However, just before the chemist comes into the room the next morning to begin his experiments to look and observe the precipitate and begin to measure it to solve the problem, you lift the cover on the beaker and drop in an Oreo cookie. He walks in, you remove the cover to the beaker, and there is this discolored solution, but clearly visible is this rapidly decaying Oreo cookie. Very obvious. You can still see the word “Oreo” on it. And you say, “Okay, now using the laws of physics and chemistry, explain to me how that Oreo cookie got there.” And he says, “Wait a minute, it’s obvious that someone put it there because Oreo cookies don’t just manufacture themselves out of nowhere in the middle of a beaker. You are playing a trick on me. Someone dropped it in there.” And then you say, “Foul. You’ve broken the rules. You’ve inferred an outside agent here. You’re not being scientific. It’s your job to be a scientist. This is a chemistry lab. Let’s stick with science. You are obliged to come up with some kind of explanation limited to the laws of chemistry and physics and time plus chance to explain how that Oreo cookie got there in the last twelve hours.” Now, he would be hard pressed to do so. Why? Because it was put there. You know it was. The evidence indicates it was. There was an agent that caused that, but the rules have restricted him from concluding what it obvious in the circumstances.
As Koukl points out, Intelligent Design isn’t a “God of the gaps” argument where we fill in the unknown with God. Many times agent causation is the most likely and obvious answer, but scientists use a “science of the gaps” fallacy. Their blind faith in science leads them to assume that “science” will explain it later.
But in this case, agent causation is a perfectly reasonable explanation for the “gap” of how the Oreo got there. The materialists — who ignore agent causation when it is convenient — have a gap, but we don’t. In the same way, when you examine the complexity and fine-tuning of the universe, DNA, etc., along with the simple logic of the “first cause” argument, it is perfectly reasonable to infer a designer.
I saw this with a conservation I observed years ago. One friend was making a case for Intelligent Design and the flaws of Darwinism to another friend, who is an atheist. The atheist couldn’t refute a single point, but merely reiterated his faith that science would figure it out later.