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Gull wing stability prompts talk of “design” in nature

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Seagull in flight by Jiyang Chen.jpg
Ring-billed Gull/Jiyang Chen (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Pos-darwinista, the big Portuguese-language ID blog, draws our attention to this paper about the way gulls stabilize their flight and—just for fun—flags the design language in the Introduction:

Abstract: A gliding bird’s ability to stabilize its flight path is as critical as its ability to produce sufficient lift. In flight, birds often morph the shape of their wings, but the consequences of avian wing morphing on flight stability are not well understood. Here, we investigate how morphing the gull elbow joint in gliding flight affects their static pitch stability. First, we combined observations of freely gliding gulls and measurements from gull wing cadavers to identify the wing configurations used during gliding flight. These measurements revealed that, as wind speed and gusts increased, gulls flexed their elbows to adopt wing shapes characterized by increased spanwise camber. To determine the static pitch stability characteristics of these wing shapes, we prepared gull wings over the anatomical elbow range and measured the developed pitching moments in a wind tunnel. Wings prepared with extended elbow angles had low spanwise camber and high passive stability, meaning that mild perturbations could be negated without active control. Wings with flexed elbow angles had increased spanwise camber and reduced static pitch stability. Collectively, these results demonstrate that gliding gulls can transition across a broad range of static pitch stability characteristics using the motion of a single joint angle. (open access) – Wing morphing allows gulls to modulate static pitch stability during gliding C. Harvey , V. B. Baliga , P. Lavoie and D. L. Altshuler Published:02 January 2019https://doi.org/10.1098/rsif.2018.0641


1. Introduction
The Wright brothers were not the first to design an aircraft that produced sufficient lift to fly, but they were the first to successfully control and stabilize a powered aircraft [1]. Similarly, it is not enough for birds to simply produce sufficient lift and thrust; birds must also control and stabilize their flight paths to be able to successfully forage and migrate [2,3]. Flight stability can be maintained passively due to the morphology of a flyer, actively by adjusting control inputs or by a combination of both passive and active stability [2]. It has been proposed that birds have lost their passive stability through evolution in favour of unstable morphologies that require active control [3]. However, recent theoretical and anatomical work has suggested that, like most modern aircraft, birds use a combination of passive and active stability [2]. Yet, unlike modern aircraft, birds do not have discrete control surfaces such as ailerons and flaps. Instead, birds actively change the shape of their wings, known as wing morphing (figure 1a). To date, there are relatively few data on avian flight stability, and there is no empirical evidence demonstrating how wing morphing affects avian stability characteristics. Understanding if, and how, avian wing morphing stabilizes their flight provides both a broader understanding of how birds fly and inspiration for novel controls for unmanned aerial vehicles.
https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rsif.2018.0641

One wonders how the proper authorities are coming with Darwinizing our language, so as to take out all suggestion of design or agency in nature and in humans. Not far, it seems. Maybe, instead of following Dawkins and insisting that design in nature is an illusion, researchers should just be agnostic about it for discussion purposes, given that that is how they routinely talk about it anyway.

See also: Researchers: An Anti-Cancer Kill Code Is Embedded In Every Cell

Cell behavior can show “purposeful inefficiency”? What next?

and

Do cells use passwords?

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23 Replies to “Gull wing stability prompts talk of “design” in nature

  1. 1
    Mung says:

    One wonders how the proper authorities are coming with Darwinizing our language, so as to take out all suggestion of design or agency in nature and in humans.

    Unless it’s bad design.

  2. 2
    Pater Kimbridge says:

    The Wright brothers were making small incremental changes (change and test) to previous attempts by people who came before them. That’s how “design” really works. Sounds a lot like “mutate and select”, doesn’t it ?.

  3. 3
    ET says:

    Pater K- Nature does not select. Natural selection is really a process pf elimination.

    Intelligent Design evolution, on the other hand, is OK with directed mutations and actual selection.

  4. 4
    asauber says:

    The Wright brothers were making small incremental changes (change and test) to previous attempts by people who came before them.

    You forgot the part about the preconceived ideas required to make meaningful changes.

    Andrew

  5. 5
    martin_r says:

    Pater Kimbridge …

    listen…

    in 21st century, you basically believe, that SELF-NAVIGATING AUTONOMOUS flying drones self-designed….

    and not only once, but several times independently – bats, insects, birds, and some dinosaurs …

    what is wrong with people like you? Is there some worldwide outbreak of mental illness?

  6. 6
    martin_r says:

    Pater Kimbridge …

    and one more thing…

    i heard that the evolution creates by error and trial process…
    i am an engineer… can someone show me where are the errors?

    at this moment, there are like 10,000,000 kinds of spieces on Earth…. lets say that each species is made out of 1000 parts that work in concert….

    so in nature, there are roughly 10,000,000 x 1000 = 10,000,000,000 working parts

    again,

    10,000,000,000 working parts…. probably much more….

    how many design flaws (errors) out of 10,000,000,000 have you geniuses found? 5 or 10 ?

    error trial and selection….

    so where are all the errors ?

    can someone show me?

  7. 7
    PaV says:

    Pater Kimbridge

    The Wright brothers were making small incremental changes (change and test) to previous attempts by people who came before them. That’s how “design” really works. Sounds a lot like “mutate and select”, doesn’t it ?.

    Are you saying that the Wright Brothers made changes to their prototype randomly?

  8. 8
    PeterA says:

    Martin_r,

    “so where are all the errors ?”

    In the interpretation of the data.

    The data clearly points to purposeful design, but some folks interpret it wrong because the design option is phylosophicaly unacceptable to them.

  9. 9
    kairosfocus says:

    Folks, the Wrights used wing warping as a means of control. The elegance of gulls speaks of marvels of design, and that extends to the wider system of wings (with flight feathers) and linked instinctual controls. Flying and flying effectively and safely are very hard things to do. KF

  10. 10
    Pater Kimbridge says:

    @Martin_r #6
    “so where are all the errors?”

    Search on the term “extinct species”

  11. 11
    ET says:

    Pater K-

    Your position cannot explain the existence of those “extinct species”.

  12. 12
    Pater Kimbridge says:

    @ET #11

    You yourself just said that it was a process of elimination.

  13. 13
    ET says:

    Non-sequitur. Natural selection cannot account for the species that went extinct.

    You have to be given starting populations of prokaryotes. And even then you still don’t have a mechanism capable of producing eukaryotes

  14. 14
    bornagain77 says:

    Search for the term “Berra’s Blunder”

    Here let me google that for you:

    http://lmgtfy.com/?q=Berra%27s+Blunder

  15. 15
    Pater Kimbridge says:

    @BA77 #14 on “Berra’s Blunder”

    An excerpt from Robert T. Pennock’s review of “Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds” 1997 full review here: https://ncse.com/library-resource/review-defeating-darwinism-by-opening-minds

    “…
    In Evolution and the Myth of Creationism (1990), zoologist Tim Berra illustrated a point about the nature of an evolutionary sequence using a series of photographs that show the development of the Corvette over several decades. Johnson says Berra has blundered here because “[t]he Corvette sequence.. .does not illustrate naturalistic evolution at all. It illustrates how intelligent designers will typically achieve their purposes by adding variations to a basic design plan” (p 63). But it is Johnson who is being misleadingly ambiguous here, for Berra never claims that this is an example of natural selection but says explicitly that this is an illustration of a kind of descent with modification. He uses the example to illustrate how small changes, where the relatedness of intermediate forms is easily recognizable, can add up to differences such that the endpoint is nearly unrecognizably distinct from the starting point. For this purpose the Corvette example, using artificial rather than natural selection, works perfectly well.

    Furthermore, it is an important, basic point to make with a familiar example, since many creationists continue to cling to the immutability of species and insist that cumulative selection of small variations in a species (microeveolution) can’t add up to form new species from old (macroevolution). Johnson misleadingly defines microevolution as “cyclical variation within the type” [p 57] so that it looks like it fits with the creationist idea of fixity of kinds. Johnson claims that these small changes can’t add up to form new species from old (macroevolution). It is an important, basic point to make with a familiar example. It is thus Johnson, not Berra, who has blundered. Moreover, are we really supposed to take seriously his implicit suggestion about discovering the divine Designer’s purposes on analogy with that of automotive designers? If so, what should we conclude about God’s purposes for human beings, chimps, gorillas and the various extinct fossil hominids given that we are all but a minor variation on the primate “design plan?” It looks like Homo sapiens is just the latest of a line of mostly failed production models.
    …”

  16. 16
    martin_r says:

    Pater Kimbridge

    “so where are all the errors?”
    “Search on the term “extinct species””

    What are you talking about?

    How and why the extinct species gone extinct ?

    How do you know it was because of design flaws / errors?

    I don’t get you…

    moreover, you totally misunderstood…

    show me e.g. in fossil records, where are all these errors… all what i can see, are fully developed species… over and over again … NO ERRORS, NO DESIGN FLAWS….

    so once again, give me a number, how many design errors did you find out of 10,000,000,000 today existing parts?

    GIVE ME A NUMBER, DON’T REFER ME TO EXTINCT SPECIES OR SOME ARTICLE….

    JUST GIVE ME A SIMPLE NUMBER…. HOW MANY DESIGN ERRORS DID YOU GENIUSES FIND ?

  17. 17
    ET says:

    Patwer mindlessly quotes:

    many creationists continue to cling to the immutability of species

    That is a LIE

    And yes, small variations, ie the color of hair, eyes etc, will NEVER add up to produce new body plans

  18. 18
    Axel says:

    ‘so once again, give me a number, how many design errors did you find out of 10,000,000,000 today existing parts?

    GIVE ME A NUMBER, (PK), DON’T REFER ME TO EXTINCT SPECIES OR SOME ARTICLE….

    JUST GIVE ME A SIMPLE NUMBER…. HOW MANY DESIGN ERRORS DID YOU GENIUSES FIND ?’
    —————-
    Silence came the stern reply…

  19. 19
    Pater Kimbridge says:

    The inability to survive is the biggest design error of all.

  20. 20
    ET says:

    Oh yeah cuz if everything survives then the planet will never get overpopulated and its resources won’t be stretched thin.

  21. 21
    Pater Kimbridge says:

    I would never have guessed you were a hippie, ET.

  22. 22
    ET says:

    Me neither! And I know a lot about me. 😎

  23. 23
    john_a_designer says:

    Otto Lilienthal pioneered human powered flight by scientifically studying birds. As a matter of fact he pubished the results of his research in a book titled, Birdflight as The Basis of Aviation.

    After a comprehensive scientific study of how birds fly, Lilienthal recognized the superiority of curved wing surfaces. He then developed a theory of flight and designed and built a series of gliders. From 1891 to 1896 he made over 2,000 glides—bridging the gap between those who dreamed of flying and those who flew. Learning of Lilienthal’s fatal gliding accident in 1896, the Wright Brothers became inspired to investigate “the problem of human flight.” Lilienthal had a tremendous influence on the Wrights, who considered him their hero. They carefully studied his work, developed their own theories and designs, and invented the airplane.

    https://www.sae.org/publications/books/content/b-900/

    In other words, man learned to fly by first studying then co-opting the design that was already there in nature. So how is the design we see in nature not real design?

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