“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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* 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.