Intelligent Design

Design principles in a gastropod mollusc

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The mollusc, known as the scaly-foot gastropod, has been known for about a decade. It was discovered living in the deep sea near the Kairei Indian hydrothermal vent field on the Central Indian Ridge. The natural environment for the animal is harsh. There are extremes of temperatures, high pressures and high acidity levels that can easily damage shells of calcium carbonate. Brachyuran crabs live in the vicinity and these “are known to compress gastropod mollusc shells between their chela” with loads of up to 60N.

“To understand how the valiant gastropod holds up to these trials, Christine Ortiz of MIT and her colleagues used nanoscale experiments and computer simulations to dig in to the shell’s structure. Many other species’ shells exhibit what Ortiz calls “mechanical property amplification,” in which the whole material is hundreds of times stronger than the sum of its parts.”

Most exoskeletal structures are technically known as multilayered composites. The parameters are the layer thicknesses, the nano- and microstructure of each layer, the number of layers, the sequence of layers, etc. Each species appears to have its own resultant profile.

“Design, inspired by nature, of engineering materials with robust and multifunctional mechanical properties [i.e., those which sustain a variety of loading conditions] is a topic of major technological interest in a variety of civilian and defense applications. Here, we identify the design principles of the shell of a gastropod mollusc from a deep-sea hydrothermal vent [order Neomphalina, family Peltospiridae, species Crysomallon squamiferum]. This system has a trilayered structure unlike any other known mollusc or any other known natural armor, with a relatively thick compliant organic layer embedded between two stiffer mineralized layers, an outer iron sulfide-based layer and an inner calcified shell.”

[. . .]

This structure has been studied empirically and modelled. Simulations were performed to understand how the shell responds to impacts and applied loads. There are too many details to document here.

“It is interesting to see how C. squamiferum has created these additional different protection mechanism compared to other gastropod molluscs by using materials plentiful and specific to the deep-sea hydrothermal vent environment, i.e., vent fluids rich in dissolved sulfides and metals.
The design principles of the trilayered shell of C. squamiferum exhibit many aspects that are different from the highly calcified shells of typical gastropod molluscs or any other natural armor. Each material layer serves distinct and multifunctional roles leading to many advantages.”

Design principles have emerged from this research. The authors have found new design features leading to enhanced functional performance. “Each material layer serves distinct and multifunctional roles leading to many advantages”. They point out that design principles are extremely important because there are so many variables: “The design space for synthetic multilayered structural composites for protective applications is enormous”. The great merit of biological systems is that they provide a chart to steer through this space. However, the authors attribute design in biological systems to an “evolutionary process”.

“Biological systems, such as the one described here, greatly reduce the engineering design space since efficient threat-protection design concepts have emerged through the lengthy evolutionary process that fulfill the necessary functions and constraints.”

The problem with this evolutionary framework is that it has no empirical validity. We have no warrant for explaining design principles via evolutionary processes. The authors explain that they do not know whether the observed design “represents an advanced functional adaptation as an antipredatory response or an exaptation (i.e., a trait that evolved to serve one function, but subsequently and simultaneously may serve other functions)”. This comment is, unfortunately, entirely typical of the culture prevailing in science produced by philosophical materialism. Evolutionists have supreme confidence in their theoretical framework, but do not seem to see the need to constrain theory by reference to empirical data. Observed adaptations do not demonstrate the emergence of design concepts. The only sources of design concepts that we know of are intelligent agents. Replacing the culture of materialism by one that integrates information inputs with physics and chemistry is long overdue.
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15 Replies to “Design principles in a gastropod mollusc

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    Very well written and well researched article.

  2. 2
    Mung says:

    “The design space for synthetic multilayered structural composites for protective applications is enormous”.

    But hey, the critter had to stumble across something, or it would not have survived, and this just happens to be how it got lucky.

  3. 3
    Nakashima says:

    Dr Tyler,

    Observed adaptations do not demonstrate the emergence of design concepts.

    I agree. We might read conceptualizaton into what we see, but the brute facts are only that it works to keep the snail alive.

    In cases of artificial evolution, such as antenna design, we can trace the sequence of variations and improvements because we have a record of every member of the population and their geneaology. But what we see emerging are not the concepts of good antenna design, only ‘what works’.

    Biomimetic design is not necessarily good design, just better design than we have starting from scratch. Its the assumption that biology working for a few billion years is closer to some local optimum than we can get designing from first principles.

  4. 4
    nullasalus says:

    David Tyler,

    I’m curious of something. You say…

    Evolutionists have supreme confidence in their theoretical framework, but do not seem to see the need to constrain theory by reference to empirical data. Observed adaptations do not demonstrate the emergence of design concepts. The only sources of design concepts that we know of are intelligent agents.

    Are you treating the claim that something evolved as necessarily distinct from the claim that something was designed?

    See, I agree with you that “the only sources of design concepts that we know of are intelligent agents”. I also note that, as has been pointed out re: artificial evolution, intelligent agents are entirely capable of using evolution to achieve certain ends.

    So it would seem that evolution and design are not necessarily in exclusive competition – and we should ultimately say that, regardless whether a given thing came about by evolution or other means, the most reasonable conclusion is that said thing was the result of a designer’s effort.

    Maybe we’re on the same page here though, but I wanted to be sure.

  5. 5
    hrun0815 says:

    regardless whether a given thing came about by evolution or other means, the most reasonable conclusion is that said thing was the result of a designer’s effort.

    In other words: If it evolved or not doesn’t matter, it is all design. I just wonder why all those scientists are so blind (yet so smart).

  6. 6
    nullasalus says:

    “In other words: If it evolved or not doesn’t matter, it is all design. I just wonder why all those scientists are so blind (yet so smart).”

    No, I said design was the most reasonable conclusion. Maybe it was all chance. Maybe magical purple orbs mindlessly fart out matter and information now and then. Believe in whatever magic you wish, so long as you know where science ends and philosophy / (a)theology / speculation begins.

    And funny, I thought design wasn’t a question science was properly suited to address one way or the other – that’s the front and center objection to ID, and one I accept as well. But it seems like that’s a standard ID critics alternately embrace or ditch depending on convenience.

  7. 7
    David Tyler says:

    Mung @ 2
    But hey, the critter had to stumble across something, or it would not have survived, and this just happens to be how it got lucky.
    Using Dembski’s design filter, yuo only have two options: the phenomenon is either explained by Law or by Chance. Law does not get us far, so you opt for Chance: “it got lucky”. But this is also unconvincing – because the phenomenon displays complex specified information. ID scholars do not restrict themselves to Law and Chance causation – they also consider the relevance of design and intelligent agency.

  8. 8
    David Tyler says:

    nakashima @ 3
    Biomimetic design is not necessarily good design, just better design than we have starting from scratch. Its the assumption that biology working for a few billion years is closer to some local optimum than we can get designing from first principles.
    There is a lot of question begging here. To start somewhere, there are not billions of years to play with: multicellular organisms go back to the Ediacaran only. Even then, not only body plans but also detailed structures appear abruptly – not over long timescales. Darwinian evolutionists think that they have time to achieve their incremental processes, but the short emergence times are actually a great argument against their theory.
    Biomimetics has only recently been appreciated as a good research area – before this, the tendency was to think that because evolution is a “tinkerer” with “cobbled together” solutions, it was not worth the time and energy of researchers. One of my interests in biomimetics is to draw attention to the exquisite design found in the natural world. It is not at all like the “tinkering” blind watchmaker! It is a sophisticated application of systems biology concepts. Researchers are out of their depth – not because of the difficulties of unravelling a cobbled together structure – but because a hierarchy of levels of analysis is needed to properly understand what is going on.
    Your comment appears to presuppose that biomimetic design can be described as a local optimum. It is as though there is a linear route from an ancestral form to the local optimum today. I would suggest that “design principles” do not emerge like this. You do not build a system in this way – although it can lead to cobbled together outcomes. But look at a cobbled together scenario and see if you can identify design principles that can be valued by scientists and engineers!

  9. 9
    hrun0815 says:

    Re #6: Okay, I will change the sentence: If it evolved, it doesn’t matter, design is still the most reasonable conclusion.

    Better?

  10. 10
    hrun0815 says:

    And funny, I thought design wasn’t a question science was properly suited to address one way or the other – that’s the front and center objection to ID, and one I accept as well. But it seems like that’s a standard ID critics alternately embrace or ditch depending on convenience.

    Really? I would have thought there were others that might be much more suitable objections. And really again! I don’t believe that any scientist ditched the idea of looking and evaluating design (google confirms that it is an extremely useful topic in science).

  11. 11
    nullasalus says:

    Better?

    Much!

    Really? I would have thought there were others that might be much more suitable objections.

    Oh, there’s plenty of objections. What a pity they’re extremely weak and/or fallacious, eh?

    I don’t believe that any scientist ditched the idea of looking and evaluating design (google confirms that it is an extremely useful topic in science).

    So long as you’re googling for pro-ID websites, sure. 😉

    Try reading the NCSE’s webpage. Try reading Eugenie Scott’s ‘explanation’ of the NABT’s actions. Hell, just read up on the delicately worded explanations of methodological naturalism sometime.

  12. 12
    hrun0815 says:

    Re #11: Yes, yes, weak and fallacious. I’m sure that eventually all those scientists will see the light (it might take another 150 years or so).

    And yes, yes, pro-ID websites, to see that design detection is done in science (unless of course you discount anthropology, archeology, crime scene investigations, …).

    And yes, yes, again on the NCSE webpage. If design is the best explanation no matter if it evolved or not, then everything is ID. You have won. All other scientists should just take their ball and go home.

  13. 13
    Nakashima says:

    Dr Tyler,

    To start somewhere, there are not billions of years to play with: multicellular organisms go back to the Ediacaran only.

    Well, that is when we start to have fossil evidence. Multicellularity could go much farther back in a variety of lineages. See this article on the molecular toolkit of multicellularity.

    Even then, not only body plans but also detailed structures appear abruptly – not over long timescales.

    A failure to fossilize or rapid radiation into new niches, which reason to choose? They’re both so tempting…

    Darwinian evolutionists think that they have time to achieve their incremental processes, but the short emergence times are actually a great argument against their theory.

    That actually skipping a step. The short times can be justified if the selection pressure is high enough. Or is it “lack of selection” pressure if the species is invading an open niche? Either way, you really have to argue that this selection pressure is unrealistic, or when replicated in the lab doesn’t lead to the same results. Darwinists have Nilsson’s eye calculations to use for their argument that “abruptly” could mean half a million years.

    Your comment appears to presuppose that biomimetic design can be described as a local optimum.

    I tihnk ‘local’ is suitably humble. There may be several such local optima – the wings of insects, birds, and bats are all different. ‘Optimum’ is arguable, if you look at the motivations mentioned in the article you are discussing in your OP, the researchers simply think that the evolutionary process has explored a reduced parameter space, which they can exploit. Feathers might be ‘optimal’ for birds, but not for supersonic jet aircraft.

    It is as though there is a linear route from an ancestral form to the local optimum today.

    That isn’t my assumption. The fitness landscape changes over time, since a large part of it is the other living species co-existing with the one we’re focused on. That makes the path to the current hilltop probably some undulating and contingent pathway.

    I would suggest that “design principles” do not emerge like this. You do not build a system in this way – although it can lead to cobbled together outcomes. But look at a cobbled together scenario and see if you can identify design principles that can be valued by scientists and engineers!

    Quite right. Humans value design principles such as separation of concerns, nature favors exaptation – yes, it’s a floor wax and a dessert topping! Feathers – flight surface, thermoregulator, sexual signal. So much for doing one thing well. Humans can go back to first principles when it suits, nature is burdened with history. We invent the wheel.

  14. 14
    nullasalus says:

    Re #11: Yes, yes, weak and fallacious. I’m sure that eventually all those scientists will see the light (it might take another 150 years or so).

    Who cares if they do? As I said, they can believe in magical purple orbs that fart out mindless matter and information if they choose. Just so long as they do their jobs well.

    And yes, yes, pro-ID websites, to see that design detection is done in science (unless of course you discount anthropology, archeology, crime scene investigations, …).

    If you want to consider cosmology and biology entirely under the domain of archeology, be my guest. Rather violates the supposed limitations of science, but then, who honors those anyway? 😉

    And yes, yes, again on the NCSE webpage. If design is the best explanation no matter if it evolved or not, then everything is ID. You have won. All other scientists should just take their ball and go home.

    You seem to not understand the limitations of science. Alas! But if this is all they have, then yes – go home. Leave the ball though. That’s ours!

  15. 15
    David Tyler says:

    Nakashima @ 13
    Well, that is when we start to have fossil evidence. Multicellularity could go much farther back in a variety of lineages.
    We do not start to have fossil evidence in the Ediacaran. We have earlier fossil evidence of single-celled life.

    The short times can be justified if the selection pressure is high enough. Or is it “lack of selection” pressure if the species is invading an open niche? Either way, you really have to argue that this selection pressure is unrealistic, or when replicated in the lab doesn’t lead to the same results. Darwinists have Nilsson’s eye calculations to use for their argument that “abruptly” could mean half a million years.
    It is curious that the theory demands gradualism, yet Darwinists can accommodate almost any timescale. The Nilsson and Pelger paper is unable to demonstrate anything apart from Darwinian dreaming. There is no serious engagement with the issues at all, as Berlinski has shown: “But in their paper there is no mention whatsoever of randomly occurring changes, and natural selection plays only a ceremonial role in their deliberations.” http://www.discovery.org/a/1408

    That isn’t my assumption. The fitness landscape changes over time, since a large part of it is the other living species co-existing with the one we’re focused on. That makes the path to the current hilltop probably some undulating and contingent pathway.
    Actually, the point I was making is still relevant. I am not suggesting the pathway is not undulating and contingent, but that there is no single pathway! There is no “linear route”! Complex structures cannot be built like this. Things have to happen in parallel – concurrently.

    Quite right. Humans value design principles such as separation of concerns, nature favors exaptation – yes, it’s a floor wax and a dessert topping! Feathers – flight surface, thermoregulator, sexual signal.
    Again, I think you have not realised the implications of comparing tinkering evolution with exquisite design. The test is – do we see tinkering? Maybe in a few cases we do. But the overwhelming evidence is for exquisite design. That rules out an unintelligent causal process. And as for feathers, I’ll post another blog on this soon.

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