My central premise here is that you know design when you see it. You know design when in fact something is designed. But how do you know design when you see it? There are usually three criteria that assist you or that seem to apply here. The first is variety (both within the class of objects as well as within the object itself). If something non-living comes in a kind of a Heinz 57-variety selection, then perhaps design is at work. In addition, if any individual object is composed of a wide variety of components, then it stands a good chance it was designed. The second is symmetry. Objects that have symmetry seem to be more likely designed as not designed. The third is complexity. The greater the complexity the more likely there was a designer behind the complexity. Something that has variety, complexity and symmetry is highly likely to be designed*. For example:
Ant Hills / Nests; Aztec / Mayan / Egyptian Pyramids; Bicycles (and related vehicles); Birds Nest; Furniture (i.e. – chairs, tables); DVDs / CDs; Electronic Goods and Equipment; Jewellery (i.e. – earrings, rings, bracelets); Easter Island Statues; Radio Telescopes; Rosetta Stone (and other inscribed tablets); Roundabouts; Rubik’s Cube; Rules / Laws; Skyscrapers (i.e. – Empire State Building); Swimming Pools; Sydney Harbour Bridge (and related structures); Television Sets; Units of Measurement; Watches / Clocks; and so on.
Clouds; Coastlines; Flames; Galaxies; Lakes / Ponds; Lightning Bolts; Mountains; Rivers / Streams; Salt Crystals (and related mineralogy**); and so on.
You probably wouldn’t consider any fundamental particle to be designed since, for example, an electron doesn’t come in a wide variety of types, nor is an electron in itself complex – an electron being absolutely elementary or fundamental, and an electron in and of itself doesn’t have symmetry with respect to its electric charge or ‘spin’. An atom of gold is an atom of gold is an atom of gold. You see one atom of gold, you’ve seen them all.
On the other hand, you could argue that there is a wide variety of different kinds of elementary particles with many symmetries between them and complex interactions between the lot, some of which result in atomic structures of which there are a wide variety of types (92 natural ones) and symmetries and complex interactions which result in molecules, and so on.
So what other non-living, non-human designed object do you think both has variety, symmetry and complexity? Well, what about planets and stars?
There’s quite a variety in the fine gradient from one (planets) through to another (stars). There’s no longer a fine sharp distinction between planets and stars. Gas giants (like Jupiter) morph into brown dwarfs which morph into low mass stars. Jupiter has often been called a “failed star” having not quite achieved enough mass to ignite stellar fusion. Still Jupiter ‘shines’ in the infra-red since it emits more energy than it actually receives from the Sun. Even Earth ‘shines’ in the infra-red due to the radiation of its internal heat.
In the stellar category itself we have lots of variety from quasars to black holes to neutron stars (pulsars) to variable stars to red giants, brown dwarfs, red dwarfs, white dwarfs, etc. Then too are all those distinctions and subdivisions made in the main sequence of stars which all astronomy students memorize as the pneumonic OBAFGKMRN (oh be a fine girl kiss me right now).
There’s lots and lots of planetary variety too, especially true when including the many moons that abound in orbit around them. You have planets with and without moons and with moons of all sizes some rivalling planets in size and complexity. Within those moons surrounding the Jovian planets, you have oceans of varying chemistries both with and without global icecaps.
Each and every planet (major and minor) is unique. You have your rocky terrestrial worlds with and without atmospheres and atmospheres both thick and thin and in-between. You’ve got in our solar system four gas giants and nobody, even laypersons even somewhat familiar with planetary astronomy has any trouble telling them apart. In fact a strong argument could be made that Jupiter and Saturn are the two most picturesque of the planets – the jewels of the solar system.
Now add in all of the variety discovered to date in extra-solar planets, like ‘hot Jupiters’.
In addition, each star and planet in and of itself exhibits much internal variety from boundary to core as any cross-section illustrated in textbooks makes clear.
There is lots of types of symmetry in stars and planets. There would be north-south symmetry at least with respect to planetary atmospheres – terrestrial and Jovian (the gas giants) as well as stellar atmospheres. There are layered symmetries as in – using Earth as an example – atmosphere (itself divided into layers), crust, mantle, outer core, and inner core.
Our own solar system can rival in complexity and symmetries anything that humans have designed.
In both stars and planets you have the full complement, repertoire, operation of physics (micro and macro) and chemistry (with the exception for my purposes here of biochemistry as I’m assuming a lifeless Universe) with all associated forces and fields in play.
Both planets and stars are multi-layered with complex interactions generating for example magnetic fields, auroras, and climatic systems.
In general there would be complex inter land / sea / air interactions as well as complex intra interactions within the land (lithosphere), sea (hydrosphere) and air (atmosphere).
Even without life, Planet Earth would exhibit complex recycling systems. There would still be a water cycle. There would still be rock recycling via plate tectonics. There would still be a carbon cycle, or rather a carbon dioxide cycle.
The carbon dioxide cycle would be such that terrestrial volcanoes and the weathering of rocks would release carbon dioxide and carbon dioxide would be incorporated by dissolving into the chemistry of the oceans ultimately precipitated or incorporated into marine sediments which ultimately get converted into rock.
If it wasn’t for the fact that we’ve seen them, would we humans been able to mentally alone conceive of comets? Even having mastered all of physics and chemistry, could the human mind have conceived of a Jupiter or Saturn, Titan or Venus, had they not already presented themselves to us?
As we’ve explored the solar system the unexpected has come to be the expected. Volcanoes on Io (a moon of Jupiter) and an ocean (under the ice) on Europa (another moon of Jupiter) and hydrocarbon lakes and methane rain on Titan (a satellite of Saturn) are examples in point.
Then there’s that odd coincidence (?) that only the Earth-Moon-Sun configuration produces solar eclipses in our Solar System. The Moon might be 400 times smaller than the Sun but the Sun is 400 times farther away and so the face of the Moon can just block out the face of the Sun producing solar eclipses for our ‘enjoyment’ as well as for astronomers to conduct astronomical research into solar physics and special relativity as well.
Now I’m well aware that astronomers, both stellar and planetary can explain nearly all of the above by naturalistic means – albeit that doesn’t mean that unexplained (to date) anomalies don’t still exist. Still, stars and planets collectively have all of the ingredients of a master painting on a cosmic canvas.
*That’s not to say that some non-designed things can have lots of variety (like clouds), or symmetry (like volcanoes), or complexity (climate), it’s just that non-designed objects don’t tend to exhibit all three criteria. Clouds aren’t overly symmetrical or complex. Volcanoes don’t have a great deal of variety and aren’t overly complex. Climate may exhibit some variety (albeit not really that much) but doesn’t have much symmetry accorded to it.
Further, non-designed elements can be incorporated into something designed, like natural rocks can be incorporated into a wall, or a rock garden or even a house. Or, non-designed elements might emerge naturally from what has been designed. Taking planets and stars for example, the Great Red Spot (of Jupiter) or terrestrial clouds or solar flares might emerge naturally and un-designed from the design itself. Expect the unexpected!
**Snowflakes might seem an exception having great symmetry and great variety, but they aren’t all that complex being composed on only one type of molecule.