Intelligent Design

Georgia Tech’s Center for Biologically Inspired Design (CBID)

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Here’s how it works: we find some amazing system in the biological realm, determine how to reverse engineer it, and then design and build a parallel system to serve our needs. But of course, the original system evolved by blind trial-and-error tinkering (random variation and natural selection). To think that it was actually designed because we had to design its human counterpart is just plain stupid.

For the Georgia Center, go here: http://www.cbid.gatech.edu.

56 Replies to “Georgia Tech’s Center for Biologically Inspired Design (CBID)

  1. 1
    Mats says:

    Not only that, but it’s clearly a move by the Religious Right to inject religion in science labs. Yes, since the word “design” clearly means “creationism”, just like “critical analysis” mean “creationism”.

  2. 2
    IDEA_AASU says:

    What if they’re unable to design a human counterpart for some of these things (if our current level of technology would render it impossible that is)? Do you think they’d still feel the same way>?

  3. 3
    jacktone says:

    Of course the idea of looking at nature for design solutions is not new, but an institute of higher learning actually studying the design in nature sure smacks of heresy! Where’s P.Z. on this? He ought to be calling for all of their heads! Not to mention the denial of tenure of anyone who is up for it down there.

  4. 4
    Franz Bernstein says:

    In a search for truth one must follow the evidence wherever it leads. If, given the evidence from various areas of science and philosophical reasoning, the best possible explanation is design…then that is the explanation that should be accepted no matter how it makes anyone “feel”. Professionals who study this are the ones who are truly searching for truth. They consider all the possibilities and accept the best of all possible explanations, without ruling out possible explanations because of a materialistic or naturalistic bias.

  5. 5
    Lurker says:

    I think PZ Myers should find it assbackwards that the smartest, most evolved species on the planet has to look to lower, less evolved species in order to learn something about design.

    It’s kinda like a college professor asking a 1st grader how to design a car.

  6. 6
    Marc Weissburg says:

    I am involved in this center. Let me clear up some misconceptions. The word “design” focuses on the technological applications. The goal is to understand how organisms may solve a particular challenge in their environment and use these potential solutions to solve similar problems in human-built systems. Velcro is a classic case of biologically inspired design. We attribute no intent to animal designs beyond that required by natural selection; animals solve challenges in order to survive, not because there is an intellegent designer. In that respect, the catty description of our activities is accurate; animals come by their properties as a result of evolution, and this can result in potential solutions that can be reverse engineered in some sense into processes or products that are more efficient, sustainable or smarter than what we can currently achieve. Spider silk has greater tensile strength than almost all of our human-designed composite materials, it is water-proof and constructed at room temperature with organic components. Marine organisms secrete adhesives that have greater bonding strength than any glue we manufacure, and anneal at low temperatures in the presence of water. Plants have nanostructure that prevents water from sticking to their surface-they are self cleaning. Organisms propel themselves differently and more efficiently through the air and underwater than our vehicles, taking advantage of fluid dynamic forces in ways that we do not fully understand (and where our understanding has come primarily from analysis of these biological mechanisms). Plants harvest light with an efficiency at least 10x greater than solar cells. Animals create colored materials that do not fade and contain no toxic metals that are found in nearly all pigments we make. Such principles have been incorporated into the display you may be reading this on. The earth is a 3.8 billion year old laboratory where 99% of the “products” have been recalled in favor of more efficient solutions. This is evolution in action, and we would be foolish not to seek to understand these principles and incorporate them into human-built systems.

    So you’re basically reverse engineering things that weren’t engineered. Oooooooooooooooooookay. Whatever! 🙄 -ds

  7. 7
    Karen says:

    I just read PARASITE REX by Carl Zimmer, and found several examples of parasites so ingeniously designed that scientists have only just started to analyze their tricks. In some cases, we don’t understand them at all.

    For example, let’s take hookworms. Hookworms live in the intestines, and can travel there by being swallowed as larvae. They can also get in the gut the hard way, by penetrating the skin (e.g. bare feet). They will then burrow into a capillary, swimming through the veins to the heart and lungs. When the host coughs, the larvae are carried up into the throat, where they can then make their way into the digestive tract.

    The adult hookworm has a mouth with very ugly, sharp teeth, used to tear into the lining of the intestines to feed on either blood or the gut itself. After the intestines are torn up, the blood at the wound site starts to clot, but clotting would prevent the hook worm from feeding. So what does the hookworm do? To quote Carl Zimmer,

    “The parasite responds with a sophistication biotechnologists can only ape. It releases molecules of its own that are precisely shaped to combine with different factors in the clotting cascade. By neutralizing them, the hookworm keeps the platelets from clumping and allows the blood to keep flowing into its mouth. Once a hookworm finishes feeding at one place, the vessels can recover and clot while the parasite moves on to a fresh bit of intestines. If the hookworm were to use some crude blood-thinner that flooded the intestines, it would turn its hosts into hemophiliacs who would quickly bleed to death and take away the hookworm’s meal. A biotechnology company has isolated these molecules and is now trying to turn them into anti-clotting drugs.”

    We humans have our very own hookworm species. (I think that dog hookworm larvae can penetrate our skin but cannot find their way into our intestines.) Hookworm infestations cause terrible suffering and saps people of their strength, and can prevent children from developing normally. According to the CDC, about 1/5 of the world’s population is infected with hookworms!

    Another interesting example of sophisticated design is found in the tiny parasitic flatworms called blood flukes. Blood flukes have a rather complex life cycle, parasitizing snails and then humans, causing terrible diseases and suffering.

    To quote Carl Zimmer again,

    “Blood flukes can steal substances out of our own blood to camouflage themselves from the immune system, but no one has figured out how they do it.”

    He goes on to explain how the discovery might lead to the solving the problem of transplanted organ rejection.

    Now, both the blood clotting cascade and the immune system are considered by ID theorists to be products of design. So if tiny parasitic creatures are able to “crack” these systems in ways we can barely understand, does that mean there are multiple designers?

    For more info on parasites, please see http://www.cdc.gov, or read PARASITE REX by Carl Zimmer. It’s quite a disturbing book. Whenever I leave the house now, I gargle with clorox and put on a hazmat suit!

  8. 8
    Marc Weissburg says:

    of course. humans “engineer” things for a particular function based on what they consider to be the constraints of a system. natural selection and evolution result in animals with particular functions because they also are constrained by particular factors (limited energy, materials, certain environments etc). animals that do not perform these functions well will not survive. you use the words “engineer” and “design” to confuse functionality with intent . humans are “intellegent designers”-they have intent. evolution results in animal properties (a design) to fulfill specific functions without intent. because both processes result in a useful function, there is no contradiction in humans designing things based on principles derived from studying nature, while still believing that there is no “designer” in nature.

  9. 9
    jacktone says:

    Marc said “animals come by their properties as a result of evolution”.
    This statement has absolutely nothing to do with what your center undertaking to do. It is no more than a mantra that is more likely to get in the way than anything else. How many times has research stalled because of this kind of thing along with the idea that the extinctions are nothing more than defective product recalls? Your center is doomed if it’s members are intent on defending a bankrupt paradigm. I applaud you for recognizing the wonderful design solutions that are to be found in nature. Even if you can’t bring yourself to question the validity of Darwinian Dogma, certainly you could only benefit from approaching things from a design perspective. This can’t be how you really approach a research problem – “I see this amazing (system, feature, structure, etc.) that is the result of unguided processes”. Of course not. You really anthropomorphize (?!) “Natural Selection” as though it was an intelligent designer anyway.

  10. 10
    Marc Weissburg says:

    as long as our goal is to analyze function (how a certain set of properties in animals work to acheive a function) we can understand biological solutions and how they may provide insights into human problems without necessarily being concerned with how they got those properties. so you’re right– this activity of our center has nothing to do with whether we accept evolution (which we do). we approach a research problem by trying to identify biological processes with similar constraints as in human engineered systems and hope to learn from them, which is in fact a design approach. i responded initially to posts suggesting it was a contradiction to use biological solutions in human designs, and also to accept evolution and not ID. evolution does result in functionality–in this respect, the end product is the same as in those who believe in ID; organisms are amazing systems that solve certain problems brilliantly. as long as organisms that do things the best are those that survive, then this process can be both unguided and result in things that look as if someone has designed them. the real question to me is whether natural laws (evolution) can explain this process without the need to invoke a higher conciousness (a creator or designer). much scientific evidence, experiments etc. indicate it can, and no evidence from science suggests it can’t. nowhere would i suggest that this means there is no creator.

  11. 11
    Lurker says:

    According to Marc a mindless, non-telic, unguided process has more creative power than the human mind – it’s just a little slower.

  12. 12
    Marc Weissburg says:

    its certainly slow, that’s for sure. i don’t really see this as a contest, and i wonder why you are disturbed that nature can be creative too? are you suggesting that admiting we can learn something from another source, like nature, diminishes human creativity? doesn’t a clever and creative student learn from multiple sources? i always thought that we appreciated the genius of those taking their inspiration from new places; davinci comes to mind.

  13. 13
    Lurker says:

    Marc,
    Nature can not be creative because creativity is a product of the mind. Since my mind says there are things that look created (with intent/purpose) and things that don’t then I have two choices to consider:

    1) It’s all an illusion. Nothing in nature is done with intent/purpose including anything created by a human mind because humans are just molecules obeying the laws of chemistry and physics just like everything else in the physical world.

    2) Some things are created with intent/purpose (like this sentence) and thus nature has purpose ‘front loaded’ into it from the very beginning.

    I’ll take #2 for $500 please.

  14. 14
    Marc Weissburg says:

    the mind attributes in accordance with what exists-if you see a particular function in nature, then which agent is responsible-the forces that caused the thing to exist or the thing which interprets it? do you create it, or ascribe a name to its function? plants use light energy to turn sunlight into sugar-do you create photosynthesis by defining the chemical reaction? your two choices are the result of an overly reductionist mind set-because your brain must obey the laws of physics, which are natural, then you can have no purpose unless nature has one as well. yet, you fail to explain why this must be so. i choose neither 1 nor 2. i can have a purpose even if nature does not.

  15. 15
    Patrick says:

    A question for you, Mr. Weissburg: What specifically causes you to reject ID?

  16. 16
    Marc Weissburg says:

    ID seems to state that a deliberate, purposeful and intentional process determines properties of animals. this requires an intellegence to direct the course of evolution by specifying, in accordance with its particular desires, what animals will
    be like. all of our scientific inquiries indicate this is not necessary to produce animals with their properties as given. the evidence comes from genetics (identifying how genes determine properties), development & biochemistry &
    physiology (examining how changes in genes, that result in different proceses can alter creatures), evolution,
    taxonomy & comparative biology (which indicates how different organisms can come to have different properties as a result of natural selection on the processes above). known mechanisms exist that can account for the changes that we see over the history of life, and which are sufficient to explain animal traits as they exist today. countless experiments and observations have verified that these mechanisms exist. no experiment has indicated that they do not. in contrast, no experiment or observation can either prove or disprove that a creative intellegence exists. i do not suggest that it doesn’t, but only that natural laws are sufficient to account for what we see in the natural world. i therefore can’t believe that evolution is the product of design by an outside and purposeful force.

  17. 17
    Lurker says:

    “i choose neither 1 nor 2. i can have a purpose even if nature does not.”

    You can believe that if you want, but it goes counter to everything you know to be true. Give me an example of something with a purpose that hasn’t been created by intent.

    A rock serves no purpose until intent is thrust upon it and it becomes a paperweight or a landscape decoration. You are that rock. But where does your intent – your purpose – come from?

    Since you and your mind are one (unless you’re a dualist) your purpose in life comes from your parents or somebody else external to you. Just like the rock can’t assign a purpose to itself, neither can you assign your own purpose.

    I hope your parents left you instructions. Maybe they intended you to reject Darwinism and support ID or even religion??

  18. 18
    Marc Weissburg says:

    your original question was whether natural forces can be creative (fulfill a function)without requiring an intellegent designer. this lead to my argument that those animals that are better adapted (fulfill a function better) will survive without intervention from some higher power. nowehere do i suggest that purpose as you define it is sepatate from human intent-only that nature has no other intent; differential survival without further intent is sufficient to result in animals that appear designed conciously. in fact, you identify the fundamental problem-because you have intent and purpose, you assume that evolution (which creates the properties of animals) also has intent.

    do you really believe that your purpose is defined only by what others expect of you? i think that’s sad, and denies one of our most cherished properties-our ability to think and decide. my parents left me lots of instructions-among them that i should try and discover for myself what my purpose is, by learning from and listening to many different sources.

  19. 19
    Scott says:

    Marc,

    It is the position you take which would have has us believe that DaVinci designed things, but DaVinci himself was not designed. I think you need to do a bit more research about the [lack of] power of Darwinian mechanisms in generating beneficial change and biological novelty. NS + RM has no creative power. As has been stated before, it’s like answering the question “Why are the leaves on the tree?” with “Because the gardener forgot to prune the branches”. Rather than make hand-waving statements about numerous experiments confirming “evolution’s” power in producing design, let me encourage you to actually study the data in this regard. I think you’ll be quite shocked. Familiarize yourself with the deleterious nature of random mutations, CSI (Complex Specified Information) and the 4 Nucleotide digital code enscribed along the spine of the DNA molecule and Irreducible Complexity.

    I’d be particularly curious to hear how you explain phenomena like the flagellar motor assembly via Darwinian mechanisms. Not to mention all the other shuttle vehicles, turbines, pullies, clasps, rotary assemblies, digital code, transcription programs… I should probably stop there… that we find in the cell. Dizzying isn’t it? It would be good to hear your views regarding the fossil record and it’s discontinuity – the abrupt appearance of novel body plans… something which flies in the face of Darwinian gradualism.

  20. 20
    tinabrewer says:

    Lurker: Is there a problem with dualism? Are you entirely serious about one’s meaning being determined from externals?

  21. 21
    crandaddy says:

    Mr. Weissburg,

    In comment #15 you make the following statements.

    ID seems to state that a deliberate, purposeful and intentional process determines properties of animals. this requires an intellegence to direct the course of evolution by specifying, in accordance with its particular desires, what animals will
    be like.

    […] no experiment or observation can either prove or disprove that a creative intellegence exists.

    It is a common misconception among those unfamiliar with ID to think that it postulates a designing intelligence. ID theorists compare and contrast natural phenomena with effects produced by understood, defined intelligent agents and understood natural regularity sans intelligence and try to determine which offers the best causal account of whatever phenomenon is in question. There is a very fine line between saying “a designer did it” and saying “it is best explained as being the result of design”, but a line exists, nonetheless.

  22. 22
    Lurker says:

    Lurker: Is there a problem with dualism? Are you entirely serious about one’s meaning being determined from externals?

    I have no problem with dualism, however the materialists/naturalists do.

    I am serious about purpose coming from an external source. Can a tree decide it’s goal in life is to become a baseball bat and then set out to do just that? I don’t think so. If the laws of physics and chemistry are all we have in this universe then there is no difference between you, me and that tree. How can there be any difference?

    It seems pretty clear to me that the Darwinists believe that life in general did not come about via intent. If the first life form had no purpose, then so did the next, and the next, and the next, etc. Sure, you and I can create (make up) our own individual purpose, but ultimately there is no purpose for life existing in the first place. Your life is the product of a purposeless process. In other words you’re an accident.

    Of course I’m not a Darwinist so I believe the first life form existed because someone or something wanted it to. You and I are not an accident which means we have a genuine purpose, not a made up purpose.

  23. 23
    Mark Frank says:

    “There is a very fine line between saying “a designer did it” and saying “it is best explained as being the result of design”, but a line exists, nonetheless.”

    This is indeed a very fine distinction. The only difference I can see is that the second statement is a little less certain about its conclusion. Similar to the distinction between “a virus caused the disease” and “the disease is best explained as the result of viral activity”.

    Is there more to it than that?

  24. 24
    j says:

    Marc Weissburg (comment #9): “the real question to me is whether natural laws (evolution) can explain this process without the need to invoke a higher conciousness (a creator or designer). much scientific evidence, experiments etc. indicate it can, and no evidence from science suggests it can’t.”

    Please provide an example of a known, non-teleological process that can create functional complexity. (Anyone else, feel free, too.)

  25. 25
    Scott says:

    Don’t hold your breath, j.

  26. 26
    Farshad says:

    According to the Darwinism as long as a complex structure/nano-machine/system resides in a life form, the only explanation is the unguided process of the evolution. No matter how complex or improbable the system may look, the only option is to try to explain it with an evolutionary pathway. Brains of evolutionary biologists are hard-coded in this way of reasoning.

    William Dembski demonstrates an excellent example for this here: http://www.arn.org/docs/dembsk.....stable.htm

    Dembski: “Suppose I were a super-genius molecular biologist, and I invented some hitherto unknown molecular machine, far more complicated and marvelous than the bacterial flagellum. Suppose further I inserted this machine into a bacterium, set this genetically modified organism free, allowed it to reproduce in the wild,…

    …Now let’s ask the question, If a Darwinist came upon this bacterium with the novel molecular machine in the wild, would that machine be attributed to design or to natural selection?”

  27. 27
    tinabrewer says:

    Oh, thanks Lurker, for the clarification. I also sometimes get the impression that the very religious have a problem with dualism, too. Although I could never understand why!

  28. 28
    DaveScot says:

    Marc,

    Is there any particular reason you eschew capitalization? I’d ask if the shift key on your keyboard is broken but your first comment here was capitalized aptly.

  29. 29
    DaveScot says:

    Marc,

    You mention there’s much scientific evidence that random mutation plus natural selection can create the complex structures we find in living things.

    Since RM+NS works far too slowly for us to actually observe the formation of a novel cell type, tissue type, organ, or body plan I must ask you to cite exactly what scientific evidence you believe confirms RM+NS ability to do these things?

    I don’t believe you can present anything more than an argument from ignorance to support your assertion about RM+NS i.e. you don’t know of any other possible explanation that doesn’t violate your a priori worldview that intelligent design cannot be considered.

    Prove me wrong. Show me the scientific evidence that RM+NS can create novel cell types, tissue types, organs, and body plans.

  30. 30
    Marc Weissburg says:

    i will try to respond to some of the other posts later, but
    #19-I have been studying evolution for over 20 years-please don’t use standard appeals to authority to credential your arguments (I note that this is explicitly forbidden by our moderator). I cannot explain the exact sequence of steps in the evolution of the flagellar motor, but perhaps other can. I do know that other cases od apparent irreducible complexity have been shown to be, in fact, accounted for by standard mechanisms of RM + NS. The eye is a good example, with a clear sequence of steps within a particular group of related organisms. the structues proceede from simple sheets of photoreceptors to the complicated structure of many insects. Genes are known that can cause the reorganizations for these particular reorganizations. the fact that we can explain many of these types of traits using NS+RM means that the mechanism is sufficient, and indicates that arguments about ID must be based on more than our present inability to account for one particular trait or another. please show me positive experimental evidence for ID, rather than simply pointing out that we cannot right now explain the precise evolutionary trajectory for all traits. that proves nothing.

    #21-I think this is a very interesting observation. if the point of ID is to suggest that evolutionary mechanisms can yeild traits that fulfill particular functions (are designed) than i agree, as long as there is no requirement that we invoke a designer (a force or agent with concious intent). i completely agree that organisms are in fact designed to have particular functions, but believe that this arises with no intent beyond the need for organisms to survive. the issue has always seemed to me that a belief in ID requires a “designer”.

    #24-evolution. our entire debate here is that a non-goal-directed process can create functional complexity. my claim is that all of the evidence we have to date suggests that can be true. on a purely physical sphere, the growth of crystals creates highly ordered shapes with considerable complex functions in terms of resistance to stress, tensile strenth, as well as the ability to conduct light differentially as functions of wavelength and direction.

  31. 31
    DaveScot says:

    Marc, “the growth of crystals creates highly ordered shapes with considerable complex functions in terms of resistance to stress, tensile strenth, as well as the ability to conduct light differentially as functions of wavelength and direction”

    Is that the best you can do? Crystals are not self-replicating machines with digitally coded instructions for building the parts required to replicate themselves. Surely you of all people must realize how very lame your comparison was.

  32. 32
    Scott says:

    Marc, may I respectfully recommend some initial steps for you to take in regard to this issue…

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/produ.....8;n=283155
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/produ.....8;n=283155
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/produ.....8;n=283155

    And spend some time reading the articles here: http://www.designinference.com

    What you have essentially done in your posts here is regurgitate the tired old Darwinian narratives about how biological structures with CSI could have come about via undirected trial and error processes. These just-so stories do not stand up under scrutiny, I’m afraid.

  33. 33
    Karen says:

    No one has responded to my post about parasites (#7)– I assume nobody noticed it. I thought I raised some interesting issues, and I’d be grateful for some comments.

  34. 34
    Marc Weissburg says:

    why is this lame? are you looking for me to explain life by analogy? i responded to the query to give a non-teleological proces that results in complexity-i gave two, one organic and one not. i think its amazing that so much complexity comes from simple self order chrystalline building blocks, so much so that humans rely on these substances to conduct all kinds of radiaton and still cannot manufacture materials that can do similar jobs-all we do is direct this self assembling process and harvest the resuts. it is rather difficult to actually predict what such structures can do using all of our current mathematical and computational tools. they are by no means simple even if i can describe their general properties (light bending) easily. i can turn the question around and ask how much more is possible with the more complicated basic organic structures

    The complexity of a crystal is nothing like the complexity of life. I adequately explained why. If you don’t agree the comparison is lame you’re either dishonest or stupid. And I don’t think you’re stupid. The plain fact of the matter is that there is nothing in the universe we know of that’s analogous to living things except man-made machinery. You know this and I know this. You’re desperate to avoid admitting you know it because man-made machinery is the result of intelligent agency. -ds

  35. 35
    Marc Weissburg says:

    well scott-i’m afraid well just have to agree to disagree. might i suggest you read the following:
    genetics, paleontology and macro evolution-j levinton
    evolution – d futyama
    evolutionary analysis – freeman

    i’ll ignore the works of mayr and wright and goldschmitt till you get through this. basically, all the arguments i’ve heard reduce to a single point- life is complex and therefore needs to be designed. such is an ideology and not science. all analysis of irreducible complexity depend on either two main arguments. the first is mathematical analysis of complexity, which proves nothing given the fact that these tools and assumptions in no way permit a thorough understanding of nature else we could simulate life in silico, which we can’t (in fact, even the binding of a single molecule to another is close to our computational limit). the other line of evidence is that we cannot provide a sequence of steps for some complex traits. i’ve got to that above. until some one presents some verifiable experimental evidence on the level of genetics, development or biochemistry, that things must be designed, then i will continue to accept the 1000’s of other experiments that prove otherwise.

  36. 36
    Lurker says:

    until some one presents some verifiable experimental evidence on the level of genetics, development or biochemistry, that things must be designed, then i will continue to accept the 1000’s of other experiments that prove otherwise.

    This logic always irks me because it’s bogus. If you can’t detect design then how can you detect non-design? Is it like pornography – you know it when you see it? If you can prove non-design then certainly you can prove design.

    Tell us how scientists prove non-design, Marc.

    Cue sound of crickets chirping. 😉 -ds

  37. 37
    Patrick says:

    Instead of talking generalities–“1000’s of other experiments”–just name one in particular that you think is a strong case.

  38. 38
    Lurker says:

    Cue sound of crickets chirping. -ds

    Exactly.

  39. 39
    crandaddy says:

    In comment #23, Mark Frank responded to what I said in the following statement…

    There is a very fine line between saying “a designer did it” and saying “it is best explained as being the result of design”, but a line exists, nonetheless

    …with this.

    This is indeed a very fine distinction. The only difference I can see is that the second statement is a little less certain about its conclusion. Similar to the distinction between “a virus caused the disease” and “the disease is best explained as the result of viral activity”.

    Is there more to it than that?

    Look at it this way, Mark. It is possible that, given our current knowledge of the way nature operates, some part of nature may be best explained as resulting from intelligent causation but that in actuality, it was caused by yet unknown unintelligent mechanisms. So it is possible for a person to believe that intelligent design offers the best current explanation but that unintelligent mechanisms are ultimately the true cause.

  40. 40
    crandaddy says:

    I appreciate that you’re willingness to chat with us here, Dr. Weissburg. It can be a bit overwhelming, I’m sure, to be bombarded with so many questions, but if you could offer a response to this one, I would be most grateful. I promise to not pursue a lengthy debate.

    The purpose of CBID appears to be to analyze biological processes and try to determine if and how biological solutions to problems can be utilized by humans. This would require investigation into how each of the processes being studied works. According to modern evolutionary synthesis, all biological process can be reduced to numerous successive slight modifications resulting from unintelligent mechanisms with each step having a selective advantage. So it seems to me that in order to claim from a strictly empirical perspective that unintelligent evolutionary mechanisms constructed a biological process, one must be able to provide an account of all the steps leading up to its construction and show how each step would be selectively advantageous. So here’s my question (Actually it’s two questions; I hope you don’t mind.): If you already know how each step in the evolutionary pathway leading up to a biological process could have happened and what the corresponding selective advantage of each would be, then why is it necessary to study the process to see how it works? If you don’t know the evolutionary history of the process as I described in the previous sentence, then how do you know that the mechanisms of modern evolutionary theory are able to account for it, and how is the ability of said mechanisms to produce complex biological processes testable?

  41. 41
    j says:

    Marc Weissburg: “the growth of crystals creates highly ordered shapes with considerable complex functions in terms of resistance to stress, tensile strenth, as well as the ability to conduct light differentially as functions of wavelength and direction…i can turn the question around and ask how much more is possible with the more complicated basic organic structures”

    Crystal growth. The fact that crystals are nonisotropic materials means they’re “functionally complex”? Wow. What naturally occurring phenomenon wouldn’t qualify as functionally complex in your opinion?

    Crystals can form; life is explained. Awesome.

    Honestly, I was looking for something more of an answer than pretty patterns. We all know that there are natural processes that produce limited amounts of greatly constrained low entropy — crystals, vortices, plumes, waves, dunes, orbits, etc. (All of which can be crudely modelled in silico, by the way, unlike life.) Extrapolating from this to the perpetual, ever-increasing, open-ended generation of functional complexity — that is, life — is frankly ridiculous.

  42. 42
    Mark Frank says:

    Re #39. I have read this three or four times and as far as I can see all you are saying is “we think a designer exists but we might be wrong”. But surely this is just postulating a design intelligence but recognising you might be wrong? Where is the misconception?

    Just in case Marc is still monitoring this discussion I want to congratulate him for his patience and clarity.

    Rgds

  43. 43
    Mark Frank says:

    Re #41 and similar. It occurs to me that any process that has the kind of functional complexity you are demanding would be life – by definition. It appears to be a fact of chemistry that DNA and RNA are the only chemicals around that can provide the required replication in the environment of the earth. But should there be an alternative basis for providing the same complexity, here on another planet, then I think we would call it life.

  44. 44
    Karen says:

    I’m still hoping that someone will have a chance to read my post (#7) and respond. I thought it was very relevant to the current discussion. In a nutshell, the claim seems to be that if we find some sophisticated, intricate biological system, reverse engineer it, and then design our own version of the same, the original, natural system was probably designed.

    Also, we are often reminded on this board here that in a search for truth one must follow the evidence wherever it leads.

    So I offered several examples involving parasites, and had some questions. Actually, I even had an example of a system that scientists are still struggling to understand, because they want to create something with the same functionality.

    I would really appreciate some answers from anyone who would care to reply. And now I’m off to wash my hands– I seem to be doing that a lot ever since reading PARASITE REX! Fascinating book– but don’t read it while you are eating.

  45. 45
    crandaddy says:

    Re #42. What I’m trying to say is that one may believe that intelligent design offers an empirically valid and constructive way of viewing nature and also believe that actual designing agents of nature do not exist. In philosophy of science, I believe this is consistent with the anti-realist view of constructive empiricism.

  46. 46
    crandaddy says:

    Karen,

    To determine whether or not a parasite’s ability to override an SC or IC biological process is best explained as resulting from intelligent agency would depend on whether or not the overriding ability is, itself, SC or IC. Whether or not this shows evidence of multiple designers is a secondary (albeit interesting) question. Two designers who don’t like each other, perhaps? I dunno. It’s food for thought, anyway.

  47. 47
    Mark Frank says:

    Re #45. Interesting thanks, but rather more than can be covered on this blog. I wonder how many of your ID colleagues agree with your position?

  48. 48
    crandaddy says:

    Oh, that isn’t my position. I’m just saying that it’s possible for a person to have that position. This is the reason why all the finger pointing at a supernatural designer by ID opponents is a red herring. Whether or not there actually is a designer at all is a logically separate issue from whether or not a phenomenon is best explained as being the result of intelligent causation. If there actually is a designer of nature (which I believe there is), I think that running into the conclusion that it is supernatural (i.e. existing to some extent outside the boundaries of space and time) is very hard to avoid and may be unavoidable altogether. Of course, ID opponents just love to take this point and misapply it. In fact, to further illustrate my point that intelligent design and belief in the existence of an intelligent designer are logically separate, consider that it is possible to believe in a designer who opperates in stealth–that it operates in a manner that is empirically undetectable to humans. If I understand Ken Miller correctly, this is his stance concerning evolution. As to how many IDists embrace a constructive empiricist view of ID, I really don’t know. Most probably believe that one or more designers actually exist.

  49. 49
    nightlight says:

    Re: #26 by Farshad: The cited paper of Dembski:

    http://www.arn.org/docs/dembsk.....stable.htm

    surrenders much too easily to neo-Darwinists on the question of microevolution:

    “From the design theorist’s perspective, the positive evidence for Darwinism is confined to small-scale evolutionary changes like insects developing insecticide resistance. … Evidence like that for insecticide resistance confirms the Darwinian selection mechanism for small-scale changes…”

    Has it ever been shown that the mutations which confer such resistance are “random”? That is, have neo-Darwinists ever shown that the combinatorial space of all possible modifications of insects’ DNA can be explored by the given number of individuals for given length of time and given rates of mutations or recombinations? What if this space of DNA variants has, say, 10^1000 configurations? How can 10^15 or 10^20 individuals have any chance of even stumbling anywhere close to a resistant variant? Have neo-Darwinists estimated how many such resistant configurations are there and compared it to the number of possible DNA configurations obtainable via random mutations?

    If they wish to claim that purely “random” mutations “explain” the emergence of such resistance they need to compare these two combinatorial spaces and demonstrate that the resistant configurations form sufficiently large proportion of all possible configurations to predict, or at least be consistent with, the empirically established frequencies of occurrence of the resistance.

    The existence of directed mutations (e.g. in bacteria) suggest that some kind of intelligent agency (accelerating the search by astronomical factors) is active even in the case of ‘simple’ microevolution.

    An most obvious explicit example of an “intelligent agency” performing this kind of greatly accelerated search are the molecular biologists. While that is a very round about way for ‘selfish genes’ to accelerate the search, it is a perfectly natural intelligent process (or in Dawkins imagery, the molecular biologists and the biotechnology are vehicles that ‘selfish genes’ use to find the best way to survive). Two questions arise from this observation:

    a) How do neo-Darwinists know that molecular biologists + biotechnology is the sole (let alone the shortest) natural ‘intelligent agency’ capable of guiding these mutations?

    b) Can the present natural science (the laws of matter-energy transformation) explain, at least in principle, even this one ‘natural’ intelligent agency (the molecular biologists)?

    There is nothing in the presently known laws of matter-energy transformations that gives even a hint of existence, let alone quantitative mathematical model, of the “mind stuff”, the creative thoughts of the molecular biologist which guide his design process. Note that one cannot scientifically dismiss the “mind stuff” as an epiphenomenon with no causal powers over the “matter-energy”. Namely, the fundamental natural law is presently the Quantum Field Theory (QFT) which is characterized by a non-deterministic physical evolution i.e. for the precisely fixed initial (quantum) state of the biologist’s brain the QFT cannot say (not even in principle) what the brain will decide. QFT can only predict, at least in principle, the probabilities of different decisions but not which one will be made. It is unknown whether it is the “mind stuff” (as assumed by von Neumann’s and Wigner’s interpretations of Quantum Theory) or the state of some “hidden variables” (which would turn QFT into a deterministic theory, as sought by Einstein and Schrodinger) that makes the actual choice.

    Hence, even the non-controversially existent natural ‘intelligent agency’ performing the ‘intelligent designs’ of new organisms (the molecular biologists) is not explicable by the current “natural science” (the current laws of matter-energy). Yet it exists and it does perform intelligent design. How do neo-Darwinist know that this unexplained core aspect of the ‘intelligent agency’ is not also acting at the level of DNA (or anywhere between elementary particles and ecosystems) in other ways e.g. more directly? There is no basis in the present natural science of matter-energy to even recognize the bare existence of such intelligent agency (the mind-stuff), much less to declare that the mind-stuff directing the intelligent design of new organisms can _only exist_ and act (or interface to the matter-energy) through the configurations of particles and fields as realized in a biologist’s brain. The recent developments in Complexity Science show that the intelligent networks with adaptable links, capable of computation, intelligent & purposeful actions, are ubiquitous at all scales and all forms of matter-energy (and even in the abstract realms, such as languages, religions,… etc), not just at the scale of human brain.

    Even within purely materialistic perspective (which denies the existence, or at least a causal role, of the mind-stuff), we can note that our present physics has empirical support only down to distances of 10^-16 cm, while the Planck scale (at which point our space-time model breaks down) is of the order 10^-33 cm. There are thus as many orders of magnitude between our current “elementary” particles and the human organism level as there are between the Planckian scale objects, whatever they may be, and the “elementary particles”. Hence our present “elementary” particles can in principle have as much of underlying complexity, structure and functionality, in terms of the Planckian scale objects as humans have in terms of our “elementary” particles i.e. the neo-Darwinian “random” mutations may be vastly complex technological processes carried out via our “elementary particles” and their “indeterministic” (according to QFT) choices.

    Therefore, ID theorists should not gratuitously concede even the explanation of the microevolution to the neo-Darwinists. Only the quantitative comparison of the relevant combinatorial spaces can decide which hypothesis is correct: the “random” or the “intelligent” mutations, be it for microevolution or the macroevolution. The sudden change and the irreducible complexity are qualitative and weak criteria to decisively discern between the two theories. After all, “intelligent” changes are a subset of “random” changes (i.e. any “intelligent” design can also be achieved by a “random” change). To discriminate between the two conjectures one needs to estimate the sizes of the relevant combinatorial spaces and the number of tries available for the search and compare the result with the empirically observed frequencies. Only if the “random” search can reproduce the observed frequencies, then the Occam’s razor implies neo-Darwinism as the “best” explanation. Otherwise it either remains an open question (e.g. if the combinatorial spaces cannot be estimated well enough) or the “random” search is falsified as a mechanism of micro/macro-evolution (to some degree of certainty). Conceding neo-Darwinists microevolution lets them handwave the same way the macroevolution. That “little” concession gives away for nothing the key scientific criterium for deciding between the two competing theories. Even if it turns out that they can show eventually that some instances of microevolution can be modeled by “random” mutations, the same precise criterium remains to be explored for the macroevolution and throughout the process the ‘intelligent’ vs ‘random’ process remain equally legitimate scientific theories.

    The issues “gradual” vs “punctuated”, “reducible” vs “irreducible” complexity are neo-Darwinian red herrings. With the present balance of forces, the editorial control of journals and funding, debating those “soft” questions is a dead end for ID theorists.

    I’ve begun to doubt RM+NS for microevolution in at least some of the cases such as insect and bacteria acquired resistence to toxins and generating novel enzymes for new food sources. These don’t appear to be lucky bugs with serendipitous mutations. They’re making their own luck as it were. Most other microevolutionary changes are matters of scale or cosmetics. The variation in dogs is the best example of what scale and cosmetic changes can accomplish. And even so, dog variations are not a result of natural selection but rather artificial selection. -ds

  50. 50
    Mark Frank says:

    It is possible for someone to have almost any crazy position but surely it is reasonable to characterise ID proponents as believing there is a designer – even if it just a matter of fact rather than logic.

    As a rule but there are exceptions. Me for instance. I suspect there’s intelligent agency at work that doesn’t really qualify as a designer. Intelligent but not conscious as we know it. Something like a neural network at the quantum scale. Incredible computing tasks can be accomplished, in principle, with very little “hardware” in quantum computing. IBM managed to make some quantum storage elements and, interestingly, they implemented them using the spin states of carbon atoms in amino acids. My experience has been that most human engineering has been anticipated in living things long before we invented it. Quantum computing in every living cell? Could be! -ds

  51. 51
    nightlight says:

    Karen #7: “So if tiny parasitic creatures are able to “crack” these systems in ways we can barely understand, does that mean there are multiple designers?”

    Not necessarily. Consider, for example, your motoric actions while moving mouse to scroll through this text. Throughout that operation your various muscles on the two sides of your hand and arm bones are “fighting”, pulling in opposite directions to produce a more accurate movement. That doesn’t imply that there are multiple “you” competing against each other via competing muscles. If some “robot” (mechanical or human) were to look through a pinhole allowing it see only the muscles and nerves on one of the bones at a time, the robot might jump to an incorrect conclusion that various muscle & nerve groups are “fighting” or “competing” with each other for control over the movement of your fingers. A specialist studying those hookworms is analogous to this robot. The combined actions of hookworms and human organism may well be a dance to some other melody imperceptible to the hookworm specialist.

    After all, the cells themselves may have at one point appeared as battlegrounds of competing bacteria out to destroy each other, but which in retrospect can be seen as the precursors of the cell organelles seeking a symbiotic solution. Or on a much shorter time scale, the male competition rituals and courting dance may appear as competition or battle when looked through a sufficiently narrow space-time pinhole.

  52. 52
    PaV says:

    Karen wrote: “I’m still hoping that someone will have a chance to read my post (#7) and respond. I thought it was very relevant to the current discussion. In a nutshell, the claim seems to be that if we find some sophisticated, intricate biological system, reverse engineer it, and then design our own version of the same, the original, natural system was probably designed.”

    I thought the post was quite apt. I wonder if Marc Weissburg has thought about this: when he ‘reverse engineers’ what nature ‘hath wrought’, the production process intended to replicate nature’s products is, I’m sure, a very preciese one. In fact, I’m sure that it involves a number of critical steps and stages. I would ask the good scientist if it is his belief that if something were to go amiss somewhere along this precise production process that all they simply would need to do is to simply keep running the process over and over again (the equivalent of reproduction in the Darwinian paradigm)in order to fix the problem? Or, if it were allowed to ‘evolve’, would this added ability bring about the fix? Or, does he believe instead that some intelligent agent would need to come along and ‘fix’ the problem.

    Let me add, if he ‘believes’ that one of the first two proposed scenarios would, indeed, work, is he prepared to implement either one the next time something goes wrong?

  53. 53
    Farshad says:

    nightlight wrote: “Therefore, ID theorists should not gratuitously concede even the explanation of the microevolution to the neo-Darwinists”

    I totally agree. The more we investigate and understand the complex molecular machines in micro-organisms it becomes apparent that in some cases mutations are initiated and directed by the organism itself under certain conditions:

    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_.....051805.php

    This shows a recent study which demonstrates the ability of E.Coli to turn-on a built-in mutation machinery when other self-repair mechanisms fail.

    Below you can find MikeGene’s teleological implications for this research:
    http://www.idthink.net/biot/lexA/index.html

    Later publishers of the paper rejected the teleological impacts of their research. They became upset by those teleological implications and in the April 2006 issue of Scientific American they renewed their faith to the Blind Watchmaker:

    “An unexpected aside to the Scripps lab’s paper emerged when the INTELLIGENT DESIGN COMMUNITY embraced the results for its own purposes…
    …It does speak to how successful and creative evolution can be. But there’s nothing magic about it. It’s totally mechanistic.”

    ( discussed here in more details: http://telicthoughts.com/?p=635 )

    This study reveals that the ordinary RMs which occur during cell division is not an adequate mechanism to gain antibiotic resistance and a case where mutations are not totally random. i.e. they are generated, directed and controlled by the bactrium itself. No doubt that darwinists will try to explain it by darwinian mechanisms. Mechanisms that explain everything (or nothing).

    Don’t forget that bacteria also exchange genes so when one of them “discovers” something useful it isn’t just that bug’s descendents who are the lucky inheritors. RM+NS is a lame duck. The only question is what is the real mechanism behind descent with modification. It may very well be a non-sentient mechanism IMO but it must exhibit the qualities of intelligent agency – forward thinking and problem solving. Intelligence and sentience are not mutually inclusuve.

  54. 54
    nightlight says:

    > Below you can find MikeGene’s teleological implications
    > for this research:
    > http://www.idthink.net/biot/lexA/index.html
    >
    > “Living things are not passive participants of the interplay
    > between stochastic events and environmental pressures, where
    > mutations that just happened to exist are favored in an
    > environment that just happened to exist.

    It is already obvious from mating rituals (male competition,
    traits of attractivness) that organisms apply foresight in
    picking what kind of recombinations they wish to create.
    In Dawkins’ imagery, when you are selecting which girl
    to marry your “selfish genes” are using your eyes, ears,…
    and brain, which after all they designed and built, to
    evaluate and estimate kind of genes they wish to combine
    with. While this is a very long and round about way
    of doing the look-ahead in selecting genetic combinations,
    it is not obvious at all that this is the only, much less
    the shortest, such path.

    For example, we also know that societies through customs, folklore,
    religions, arts, laws… etc also apply foresight regarding
    the future genetic combinations it wishes to create. E.g. consider
    the stigma (and all its manifestations) of criminal past — society
    does not wish to propagate the genes of a criminal. Even the mere
    act of locking up someone for several years performs the similar
    genetic look-ahead function (it reduces mating chances of prisoners).
    The content of our prisons shows which kind of genetic material
    the society wishes to eliminate.

    Hence we know that such look-ahead regarding the future genetic
    content certainly exists at the level of individuals and
    the level of society. There is no reason or an argument why these
    two levels are all there is. I think similar genetic look-ahead
    occurs at all levels, above and below, and in a multitude of ways.

    > Later publishers of the paper rejected the teleological impacts
    > of their research. They became upset by those teleological
    > implications and in the April 2006 issue of Scientific American
    > they renewed their faith to the Blind Watchmaker:
    >
    > “It does speak to how successful and creative evolution can
    > be. But there’s nothing magic about it. It’s totally mechanistic.”

    Well these micro-biologists should learn some 20th century physics
    before making fools of themselves by declaring that the changes are
    “totally mechanistic”. Any physics undergrad can ‘splain to them
    that the mechanistic evolution of physical systems (a special case
    of which are biological organisms and their subsystems) has been
    passe since 1920s. Even when the initial & boundary state of a
    system is fixed with the theoretically maximum precision, its
    future is still not unique. What makes the choice is unknown at
    present (there are various interpretations of Quantum Theory,
    e.g. some claim it is the mind-stuff that performs the selection
    i.e. the state collapse/reduction to a particular choice).

    As noted in my previous post #49, even within a purely mechanistic
    perspective (the “hidden variable” interpretation of QT), there
    are enough orders of magnitude below our current “elementary”
    particles to accomodate as much complexity (built upon some
    Planckian scale objects of 10^-33 cm) as there are between our
    current elementary particles and ourselves. For all we know, the
    “random” choices predicted by the present Quantum Theory may be
    purposeful choices and solutions from some vast technological
    civilization running 10^16 times faster than our own and
    living at the scales between 10^-16 cm and 10^-33 cm (this
    region is considered an ’empty desert’ by the present physics).
    For such sub-micro beings our atoms might be their advanced
    galactic scale technology.

    The neo-Darwinists are increasingly resembling ancient Egyptian
    priesthoods, who after figuring out how seasons and calendar work,
    stretched their few little tricks into a pretense of omniscence
    (so they can manipulate the pharaos). You can see the same kind
    of hyper-sensitive, overly defensive, zero-tolerance totalitarian
    mindset. Lysenkoism was a crude amateur act compared to our own
    neo-Darwinism.

    Awesome! -ds

  55. 55
    Karen says:

    Nightlight said,
    “Throughout that operation your various muscles on the two sides of your hand and arm bones are “fighting”, pulling in opposite directions to produce a more accurate movement.”

    Nightlight,

    It’t a bit of a stretch to compare our muscles working together to achieve a task to worms literally eating us and our pets alive, don’t you think?

    Please take a look at this video of a colonoscopy of a man infected with pinworms:

    http://blog.sciam.com/index.ph.....=1#more166

    (Warning: do not watch it while you are eating)

    Do you believe that hookworms, pinworms and other parasites were designed by an intelligent designer? What heartless monster would do this? Natural pain and suffering are bad enough, but it’s hard to imagine that anyone, except for a terrorist designer, would deliberately inflict this scourge on us. Especially since poor people have to bear the brunt of this cruelty.

  56. 56
    nightlight says:

    > It’t a bit of a stretch to compare our muscles working together to
    > achieve a task to worms literally eating us and our pets alive,
    > don’t you think?

    Well, in practice yes. Our emotions and instincts are difficult to override with purely rational considerations. Note first that varieties of such conflicting processes, show these confilicts in different phases (stages) of harmonization. Even human body, having normally well harmonized subsystems, goes through motorically clumsy and intellectually inept stage of early childhood, selfdestructive contratrian teen stage, painful and disease ridden old age.

    Given enough time for warms and humans, either one or both will go extinct or they will find some symbiotic form of existence. After all leaches sucking your blood appear quite gross, yet they may save your limb from gangrene. Mosquitos might be the original vaccination agents (not quite perfected as yet, but our own scientific vaccines have downsides as well).

    There is a bit of ‘lively’ discussion on talk.origins where I continued the ideas experessed here. That set off somehow quite an avalanche of long and vicious responses. Must be something I said.

    The thread is:
    ID and the Difference Between Spheres and Cubes
    http://groups.google.com/group.....b6e86a28c8

    Posts:

    http://groups.google.com/group.....n&
    http://groups.google.com/group.....n&
    http://groups.google.com/group.....n&
    http://groups.google.com/group.....n&
    http://groups.google.com/group.....n&

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