how exactly do people recognize that which is designed, and differentiate it from that which is just naturally occuring?
For those who believe that God is Maker of Heaven and Earth, I'm not sure there is a difference between "designed" and "naturally occurring". I certainly can't see one.
I agree, but "design in nature" is controversial in within scientific circles. I stumbled across this on the Darwin Correspondence Project.
The question of design in nature is highly controversial today, in part because of heated debates over the science curriculum in US schools. Darwin remains central to much of this debate. The theory of evolution by natural selection is often the main target of education reforms that seek to introduce alternative 'theories' in biology courses. His work also provides the opponents of creationism with a decisive naturalistic alternative to design. Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins, and other 'neo-Darwinians' have claimed to be following the principles of Darwin's theory in their insistence on the randomness of evolutionary change. Yet other evolutionary theorists, such as Simon Conway Morris, emphasise directionality or convergence in biological processes. Such directionality, they argue, may not be evidence of design, but it leaves the question of ultimate purposes open, and so allows room for religious belief.
Darwin discussed design at length in correspondence. His letters reveal that his views on design were subtle and changed significantly over time. The letters also show that many of Darwin's supporters, as well as some of his critics, continued to view evolution as purposeful, and as directed toward the improvement of species and individuals. The correspondence contains lively and long-running conversations on related issues, such as the meaning of 'natural selection', which some of Darwin's readers regarded as an intelligent agent.
Either way, whether by "intelligent design" or purely "natural selection", evolution is "purposeful", so I don't think that "purpose" can be used as a criterion for deciding what is "designed" and what is "naturally occurring". What I am saying is that for those who believe in God as Creator of the Cosmos, there is no distinction between "naturally occurring" and "designed" since everything which is naturally occurring is designed in the sense that everything which exists comes into being and continues to exist because God wills it so, and everything that happens happens because either God wills it or because He permits it. Earthquakes and devastating hurricanes occur naturally, but I believe that even these could not happen without God's permission and are therefore part of a design
rather than simply "randomly violent acts of God" or "natural"
. Now I know that some people will claim to know the full reason for these disasters (eg claiming they are retributions for sins etc), but this is simply stuff and nonsense. Here where I live in the Blue Mountains, there are some species of plants such as the Banksias
which cannot release their seeds unless the plant is burned in a bushfire. Clearly then, bushfires are a required event in the Australian landscape. We can say that the plant has adapted to a frequently occurring event in Australia (bushfires), but also, I can say that bushfires are a necessary part of the Australian environment (which indeed the Indigenous People's seemed to understand and therefore used deliberate burning for tens of thousands of years in order to manage the Australian bush). So there is a "design" behind a "natural disaster" here which is perhaps a bit more obvious. Now, whether this design is a result of natural selection (e.g. the plants adapting to the environment, the fires managing the bush by clearing undergrowth) or whether this design is the result of God's activity is a question of faith
, but either way, there is a "design".