Evolution Intelligent Design Naturalism

Why do naturalists grudgingly use the word “design”? Part I

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Product Details Lee Spetner, author of The Evolution Revolution, offers the following snippet from a recent book, The Plausibility of Life:

“Here and throughout this book we use the word design to mean a structure
as it is related to function, not necessarily implying either a human or a
divine designer; it is a commonly used term in biology.” Kirschner, M. W., & Gerhart, J. C. (2005). The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin’s Dilemma. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. [p. 2]

Well, actually, they go a bit further than that:

[From blurb:] In the 150 years since Darwin, the field of evolutionary biology has left a glaring gap in understanding how animals developed their astounding variety and complexity. The standard answer has been that small genetic mutations accumulate over time to produce wondrous innovations such as eyes and wings. Drawing on cutting-edge research across the spectrum of modern biology, Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart demonstrate how this stock answer is woefully inadequate. Rather they offer an original solution to the longstanding puzzle of how small random genetic change can be converted into complex, useful innovations.

In a new theory they call “facilitated variation,” Kirschner and Gerhart elevate the individual organism from a passive target of natural selection to a central player in the 3-billion-year history of evolution. In clear, accessible language, the authors invite every reader to contemplate daring new ideas about evolution. By closing the major gap in Darwin’s theory Kirschner and Gerhart also provide a timely scientific rebuttal to modern critics of evolution who champion “intelligent design.”

Okay, so Kirschner and Gerhart disagree with Richard Dawkins, who scolded Stephen Jay Gould for wondering “What good is five percent of an eye?” They acknowledge that the “standard answer” has been “woefully inadequate.”

They propose that the individual organism is a “central player in the 3-billion-year history of evolution,” which sounds like they are saying that it acts purposefully in order to evolve, whether or not it has a mind. Little wonder they are not happy with their conventional terminology. There doesn’t seem to be any way to say what they apparently wish to maintain: Massively complex designs come about by the effects of random mutations, and the central players are organisms without minds.

A friend writes,

The definition of “design” of my dictionary is:”Ideation in connection with a study related to the possibilities of fabrication or operation.”

Note that design is quite distinct from fabrication, operation—or creation. It is the underlying set of ideas that are actuated, which is why it is generally associated with a mind of some type. Not necessarily a human mind. Animals can design things individually, within limits.*

There must be something wrong with a thesis that cannot be maintained in natural language, unless of course one also believes that our brains were shaped for fitness, not for truth In that case, a theory needn’t make sense. It need only be imposed, and preferably rendered unfalsifiable.

See also: What can we hope to learn about animal minds?

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* File:A small cup of coffee.JPG The main limit is probably what the animal is interested in. I know of a cat who spent much of a summer slashing a hole in a screen door to serve as an exit for himself. One could call that a design that he had individually hit on. No general instinct seemed to be at work. Other cats observed what he was doing but neither helped in nor copied his efforts, even though all wanted the same thing. Note: His efforts did have some effect: the replacement of the conventional screen with a kennel grade fabric.

18 Replies to “Why do naturalists grudgingly use the word “design”? Part I

  1. 1
    jimmontg says:

    The longer I live the more harmful I see naturalism in action and in theory. Now they have to redefine what the word “design” means. I’m not a scientist, I’m a trained engineer, Mechanical engineer to be precise with extra study in metallurgy. I know what design means, it was my job to design and work out the parts of mainly aircraft to work and not fail. From the smallest part and the metal it was made from to the largest wing structures. I personally think that a person’s devotion (yes, devotion) to atheistic naturalism has actually gone and made them unreasonable as to make them think inanimate objects can design themselves and then go and build themselves. Adding a few billion years hardly makes it more reasonable.
    No “foot in the door” indeed.

  2. 2
    Axel says:

    “Here and throughout this book we use the word design to mean a structure as it is related to function, not necessarily implying either a human or a divine designer; it is a commonly used term in biology.”

    ‘Teleology is a reason or explanation for something in function of its end, purpose, or goal.’ – Wikipedia

    … a structure not necessarily related to a function?

    But like the term, ‘design’, the term, ‘function’ is teleologically ‘front-loaded :

    ‘It is a commonly-used term in biology’ (authors cited)

    Precisely. Philately posing as science. Isn’t that right, J J ? And most inappropriately by atheists, since science is not best served by an anecdotal way of formulating concepts.

  3. 3
    bb says:

    Denyse,

    We are biological beings. We exist because of self-replicating chemicals. We detect and act on information from our environment so that the self-replication will continue. As a byproduct, we have developed brains that, we fondly believe, are the most intricate things in the universe. We look down our noses at brute matter.

    Rocks, we are told, are full of chemical information, and in philosopher David Chalmers’s slogan, “Experience is information from the inside; physics is information from the outside.”

    On that view, it is simply impossible to demarcate anything between rocks and humans as a threshold of consciousness. That approach, if it lacks other merit, reveals the difficulty that consciousness creates for naturalism, the idea that nature is all that exists.

    This is interesting because it reminds me of what Paul wrote in Romans 1, among other reasons. I’ve met a number of Atheists [I capitalize because it is a religion.] that have called themselves neo-Pantheists. This bit Denyse wrote in a linked post makes me think of Animism.

    Paul writes in Romans 1:

    20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.

    With the rise of Materialism there is an apparent return to what have long been called primitive, and superstitious, religions.

    Civilizations come and go, and western civilization is on a very obvious decline. Once education dies, it is only a few generations until the supposed scientific reasoning behind these resurrected systems is forgotten and people blindly worship idols as Paul describes in his historical snapshot. Indeed, history repeats.

    Ecclesiastes 1:

    9 That which has been is what will be,
    That which is done is what will be done,
    And there is nothing new under the sun.
    10 Is there anything of which it may be said,
    “See, this is new”?
    It has already been in ancient times before us.
    11 There is no remembrance of former things,
    Nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come
    By those who will come after.

  4. 4
    Seversky says:

    jimmontg @ 1

    The longer I live the more harmful I see naturalism in action and in theory

    So what else do engineers use when they design and build something? Do aero engineers assume that the machines they build are going to be born aloft on the wings of angels?

    I personally think that a person’s devotion (yes, devotion) to atheistic naturalism has actually gone and made them unreasonable as to make them think inanimate objects can design themselves and then go and build themselves.

    So, according to you, every snowflake is hand-designed by God?

    Who designed the designer?

  5. 5
    Seversky says:

    bb @ 3

    I’ve met a number of Atheists [I capitalize because it is a religion.] that have called themselves neo-Pantheists

    I’ve met a lot of atheists who call themselves Christians. There’s a number here.

    But if Atheism is a religion, what do you call not having any religious belief?

    Civilizations come and go, and western civilization is on a very obvious decline.

    You all seem very enthusiastic about the alleged decline of western civilization. What do you think there is around that’s any better?

  6. 6
    kairosfocus says:

    Seversky, have you pondered the fall of the Western Roman empire? There does not have to be something better for decline, demoralisation, economic instability and more to open the door to barbarian invasions and collapse; likely in our time a slide into anarchy triggering a spring-back into tyranny whether by autocracy or by oligarchy as strong men emerge to stand against the threat of anarchy and madness. History is full of that. And, though I will go down fighting against it (I have few illusions on the odds), our civilisation is patently falling apart as we speak, living out the sort of chaos described live in Rom 1 by an eyewitness, Paul of Tarsus. Don;t forget, it almost went in the 200’s, was barely recovered, then just plain went across the 400’s. The desperation of the Romanised Britons calling in Saxons to save them is then almost amusing, if it were not so patently emblematic of the desperation. Civilisations, historically, have collapsed into dark ages of chaos, more than once. KF

  7. 7
    Axel says:

    @ Seversky #5

    Well, Seversky, I’ll bet a pound to a pinch of snuff the idea of Christianity that, like your fellow-atheists, you cherish, is the children’s version, confining itself to the ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild’, also turning the other cheek in the face of infantile jeering of the atheist fantasists.

    ‘You all seem very enthusiastic about the alleged decline of western civilization. What do you think there is around that’s any better?’

    Well, Sev, it’s like this, as G K Chesterton put it :

    ‘Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found hard and left untried.’

  8. 8
    Axel says:

    Nevertheless, deeply flawed as it was, those with ‘eyes to see and ears to hear’ and with a long enough memory to go back a few decades or so, can see how our societies in the West, formerly Christendom, have gone steeply downhill into ever deeper decadence, anomie and overall dystopia with the rise and now hegemony of atheism.

  9. 9
    jimmontg says:

    To Seversky @4;
    You know full well what I mean when I talk about philosophical naturalism being unreasonable. A snowflake is hardly a B-1 B bomber. Now as for using natural phenomenon to design a plane is different than assuming that Earth, Wind, Water and Fire are going to create a flying machine, which is all that an atheist can call a bird, even the most magnificent of Eagles. In your worldview it can be nothing else but a flying machine.

    As for who designed the Designer? Hmm, that question might have some validity in 1 dimension of time, which is where we exist, no not exist, where we Live. You see we are alive. A snowflake isn’t, it is formed by physical laws we understand. There is good physics that have math to show how it forms. Where is the law of living complexity? Surely it must be apparent, name it, give the mathematical formula for it, why not? We can for snowflakes. In two dimensions of time (there is evidence for it) The Designer can be “From Everlasting To Everlasting.” There is simple algebra that can show that a Being Who exists in several dimensions of time can be eternal. See the works of astrophysicist Hugh Ross for more on that. An extra dimension of time would explain some of the odd behavior of quantum particles as well.

    Indeed, consider that at the moment of the BIg Bang time and space were created. This Universe came into to being from outside of wherever here is! Inference to the best explanation. Hmmm, multiverses or God. I’ll take God as the Multiverse theories were mostly invented to defend atheism and not on a scientific basis, but a philosophical one. Besides multiple Universes hardly defeat the existence of God now then do they?

    Where are the so called laws that demonstrate how a hummingbird evolves over billions of years from inanimate matter? Where are they? Where is the math that demonstrates that it is even possible? Why does a child have to be taught that something comes from nothing? Why do children recognize that this place didn’t happen by some unknowable natural law, that it was made, created? Isn’t funny that children naturally understand these things, as a matter of fact I find it remarkable. I wasn’t raised in a religious home by no stretch of the imagination, but I never thought the world just happened by itself. I never have either, it just didn’t seem possible. “Ex nihilo nihil fit”

    I pity all who claim there is no God, because deep in their souls eternity has been written by the God they don’t believe in. I would have you read Romans chapters 1 and 2 and tell me did not Paul have a good understanding of the state of this world? Read chapter 10 if you want to believe and be saved. Jesus himself said,”The one who comes to me I will never turn away.” and the Apostle Paul wrote, “Whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” and finally John wrote “that he gave them the power to become the Children of God, even to those that believed on his name. Pascal’s wager is still applicable today.
    There is good evidence available and you do not know when you will be required to answer for your life,”Today is the accepted time.”

  10. 10

    @Seversky wrote: “Who designed the designer?”

    It simply means you don’t understand human design as well.

    To consider Mozart as a designer, choosing where to put the dots on the music sheet, then we are talking about the soul of Mozart as agency.

    The existence of the soul is a matter of faith, as is the existence of God.

    The concept of choosing does not function when agency is regarded as a factual issue. It is categorically a matter of opinion.

    You cannot put the creator in the creation category, to ask the question who created the creator. All what is in the creator category is a matter of opinion, and all what is in the creation category is a matter of fact.

  11. 11
    bb says:

    seversky

    I’ve met a lot of atheists who call themselves Christians. There’s a number here.

    But if Atheism is a religion, what do you call not having any religious belief?

    One can’t be a Christian and an Atheist. Unless you’re pointing to Christian culture, which is different from Christianity. Same ethical system, inspired by scripture, but a different animal. It allows one to claim to be Christian because his parents were or because he was born in the U.S. or Europe. Unlike Christianity which means you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, God come as a man, born of a virgin, crucified for the sins of mankind and resurrected.

    God isn’t required for Pantheism, or Animism.

    Atheism and agnosticism are fine as starting points, but they both define themselves by negatives, about a being that they deny or doubt. About what they do NOT believe in, or what they are NOT certain about.

    Scientific pantheism [the next “logical” step] defines itself by positives. We take Nature and the Universe as our start and finish point, not some preconceived idea of “God.” [Sounds like materialism to me.]

    Pantheism.net

    Not all religions are centered around the existence of a deity. Buddhism for one. Atheism claims there is no God, despite the obvious evidence all around us. But that’s a position on God. In other words, a theological position because God is the subject of debate. i.e. “If there is a God, why is there so much pain, suffering and death?” That’s a theological musing. Religion.

    Edit: I’m not eager for the end of western civilization and, like KF already said, a improved replacement doesn’t have to be at hand. My eschatology is different than some Christians here. Given my position, there is sufficient reason to believe Jesus’ return, after a time of war, natural disaster and tyranny never seen before since Noah’s flood. If that’s true, Christ’s millennial reign is the perfect replacement.

  12. 12
    Seversky says:

    kairosfocus @ 6

    Seversky, have you pondered the fall of the Western Roman empire?

    Taken as a whole, human society has always been a mess. What else would you expect? When we eventually became aware of our situation, we realized that we were in this life and on this planet without any kind of user’s guide or operating manual. We’ve had to work everything out for ourselves, basically by trial and error, and we’re still trying. Not surprisingly, there have been a lot of mistakes along the way

    We remember those ‘golden eras’ of relative peace and prosperity in certain cultures because they are exceptions rather than the rule. The surge of refugees from the Middle East and Africa should be a reminder that the relative peace and prosperity we enjoy in Europe and North America is looked upon with envy by much of the rest of the world.

    We also face unprecedented challenges, not least of which is the daunting problem of how to provide water, food, shelter, employment, security, etc for a population of over 7 billion and counting. It would be bad enough if we had a single world government but we don’t even have that. We probably won’t, either, in the foreseeable future, given the paranoia about the federal government here in the US, let alone conspiracy theories about Illuminati and New World Orders.

    But the reality is that, whether we like it or not, we are all in the same boat, stuck on this little planet with finite resources. Some of us are little better off than the rest at the moment so we don’t feel the same urgent need for change but we can’t go on as we are forever. My fear is that things will have to get really bad – maybe irreversibly so – before we finally realize that we sink or swim together.

  13. 13
    Seversky says:

    jimmontg @ 9

    To Seversky @4;
    You know full well what I mean when I talk about philosophical naturalism being unreasonable. A snowflake is hardly a B-1 B bomber. Now as for using natural phenomenon to design a plane is different than assuming that Earth, Wind, Water and Fire are going to create a flying machine, which is all that an atheist can call a bird, even the most magnificent of Eagles. In your worldview it can be nothing else but a flying machine.

    Don’t dismiss snowflakes so lightly. In their way they are just a wonderful as a B1 bomber.

    And let’s not forget that the B1 bomber was designed using purely naturalistic and materialistic models of physical reality. There is nothing spiritual about the chemical properties of the raw and refined materials used in its construction. There is nothing supernatural about the physics and the aerodynamic properties that enable such a huge machine to fly.

    And that knowledge wasn’t handed down to us inscribed on tablets of stone or vouchsafed to us in some other way by a god in ancient times. We had to work it all out for ourselves by trial and error. We got no help from any deity or extraterrestrial intelligence.

    No, we don’t know why there is something rather than nothing. No, we don’t have a good theory of how life emerged from inanimate matter. Yes, we’d all like to know how and why but, for some of us, just saying that “God did it” really doesn’t cut it.

    I get that for you and BA and other believers, God is a real and as certain as your own existence. I believed that once myself. I understand how essential such a belief is to you. I don’t believe there is anything I could do or say that would change it, nor would I try even if I could. But the fact remains that the only documentary evidence we have for God’s existence and nature is in the Bible and, if you look at it, that it inconsistent and even contradictory, to say the least. As it stands, it can’t be right.

  14. 14
    Jack Jones says:

    @13″And let’s not forget that the B1 bomber was designed”

    Yes it was designed, It didn’t come into existence by dumb luck.

    “using purely naturalistic and materialistic models of physical reality.”

    Nope, Your materialist model would be something like a tornado in a junkyard, The model that was used to create it was one of of intelligence and design, nothing to do with your model of reality.

    Using intelligence and design and then turning around and saying that the model does not utilize intelligence and design only shows stupidity and nothing else.

    In fact, Your materialistic model provides no grounds for even talking about the nature of reality. A model where everything including human reasoning was Unintended provides no grounds for doing so, You do so in spite of your faith and not because of it.

  15. 15
    bb says:

    I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

    -C.S. Lewis

    So thus, only in Christian-based western civilization: modern science, economics, human rights, modern medicine, charity….take root and grow. Imperfectly, but the greatest progress humanity has ever seen in history. Atheism/Materialism is the parasite that burrows into the host as it ages and speeds the organisms death. For a time, it enjoys the benefit of a living host, and even takes credit for some of its advances. But once the organism dies, it consumes what it can of the carcass then dies itself.

  16. 16
    bornagain says:

    OT:

    Ten Myths About Dover: #10
    Excerpt: What all this shows is that Michael Behe was correct when he said of Judge Jones’s decision:
    “It does not impact the realities of biology, which are not amenable to adjudication. On the day after the judge’s opinion, December 21, 2005, as before, the cell is run by amazingly complex, functional machinery that in any other context would immediately be recognized as designed. On December 21, 2005, as before, there are no non-design explanations for the molecular machinery of life, only wishful speculations and Just-So stories.”
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....01571.html

  17. 17
    George Edwards says:

    There have been a couple claims above that western civilization is in decline. But I couldn’t glean any of the evidence leading to this conclusion in the comments above. Maybe I am just a bad gleaner.

    Has there ever been a middle aged person who has not stated that things were better when they were young. Well, when I was young there were número use diseases that were either a death threat or debilitating. When I was young, medical bills could bankrupt you. When I was young, the day I lost my job was the day I had no income.

    The claims about the decline of western civilization remind me of this scene from The Life if Brian

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=9foi342LXQE

    There is only one certainty in life. Change is inevitable. You can either complain about it and try to resist it, or you can try to influence and direct the changes. Frankly, I prefer the latter. But I have always been a “glass half full” kind of guy.

  18. 18

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