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My response to NCSE director Ann Reid’s article on Turtles

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The new director of the NCSE, Ann Reid, is a fellow alum from the same institution as I, and in addition to my obligation to show her collegial courtesy, I feel in such high profile blog as hers, I should comment with as much eloquence and grace as possible. I would hope any IDists posting to Ann’s blog will be more diplomatic than we usually are in our blog wars, and write as if we are seeking to reach the undecided middle rather than just venting our dislike of evolutionism. Angry responses against evolution on her blog I do not view as speaking well of ID and creation. UD is a better place to vent such feelings. 🙂

Please do not overwhelm her blog because I want the channels of communication to remain open. We want to be able to keep engaging the evolutionists, and I don’t want them to shut down the comment section of that blog. This is our chance to shine. I can’t say I achieved that goal myself on her blog, but below is my attempt at dialogue for the sake of the undecided middle.

She wrote this article which I highlight some excerpts The
Occasional Evolutionist

Evolution has resulted in so many exquisite adaptations that it is sometimes tempting to fall into an admiring swoon at its apparent efficiency and precision. But unlike human engineering, which aims for optimal efficiency, failsafe design, and continual progress, evolution has no point. “Whatever works!” might be considered its rallying cry. This leads to some stunning examples of apparently gross, and, from a human point of view, tragic waste. Indeed, if you prefer your nature fuzzy and endearing, you might want to go read another story.

To illustrate, I give you the turtles of Heron Island. These are the large (think coffee-table sized) and determined mama turtles, familiar from many a nature documentary, that return year after year to the beaches of their birth to lay hundreds of eggs. Graceful as dancers underwater, the turtles are ungainly on land, struggling up the sand like tanks powering through heavy mud. But up they come, and once they’ve found a soft spot past the high tide mark, they spend hours laboriously digging a pit into which they lay 60 to 100 eggs. It takes another 20-30 minutes to cover the eggs, after which they lumber back down to the water. This multi-hour workout is repeated approximately every two weeks throughout a laying season that lasts about three months. Each year an individual mother turtle may lay 400-600 eggs.

The 2013-2014 season was a bumper year for turtles on Heron Island. A walk around the island revealed the turtles’ characteristic tracks leading out of and back into the water every few yards. Because it was such a busy year, it took minimal dedication to spot the turtles; on our first morning walk, we were rewarded with the sight of two mother turtles returning to the water.

But it is at sundown that the real drama of the turtles plays out. The eggs hatch after about 60 days. Because the laying season began in December, many, many baby turtles were emerging during our visit in February. After hatching, the baby turtles remain under the sand until the falling temperatures and fading light of sunset provide the cues that it is time to dig their way out of their nests. Once on the surface, they head to the water, using light as their guide.

Unfortunately, the baby turtles are not the only ones to notice that the sun is going down. Sharks and seagulls notice too, and as far as they’re concerned, sunset means suppertime. Seagulls line the beach, and bare yards from the shoreline are dozens of reef sharks, giving concrete meaning to the phrase “teeming with sharks.” The baby turtles, powering over the pitted sand, face stupendous odds. If a seagull does not pick them off, they are snatched up by a shark. We watched dozens of baby turtles head into the water, but we didn’t see a single one make it past the sharks. Clearly some of them get through, because turtles have been around for upwards of 200 million years, but the odds for an individual baby are low. Research suggests that about one egg in 1000 reaches adulthood.

When you see all of those hard-working turtle mamas and doomed babies, it sure seems like a wasteful system. But of course evolution doesn’t “care” that the situation is wasteful; as long as enough mother turtles manage to lay enough eggs to keep the chain unbroken, there is no “reason” for the process to become more efficient from a human point of view.

I responded in the comment section:

Even though I’m a creationist, I salute a very nicely written observation about the drama in nature, but I have a different take. The wonders of human engineering are not restricted to utility. Incredible engineering is often involved in creating things for entertainment where extravagance rather than utility are the norm. The video game industry for example is now larger than the film industry.
Drama in the realm of video games is a central consideration where engineering and artistic license create designs of extreme extravagance. In such realms, huge armies of virtual creatures go at war and devour each other in complex rituals. The animal world seems to have the touches of a Creator that is like-minded to video game developers. There is almost a ritualistic extravagance in how living creatures live, mate, reproduce and even die.
I do not view the drama of the turtles as “whatever works”. The turtle drama, like so many things in nature, has an extravagance to it, as if to express a dramatic creativity from the Creator.
Animal life, and for that matter the Rube Goldberg machines of life, is an extravagance which nature did not need. The example of these turtles, like the peacock’s tail, highlight the extravagance familiar to engineers in the video game and movie industry, but also those who love the extravagance of great drama. Creation is a great drama, and the creation message is that the present troubles in the world are not the end of the divine drama.

If you're trying to breed a lot of turtles, all those non-survivals look awfully inefficient. That, of course, is your view if you can't think beyond the Darwinian concept of individiual survival. That said, turtles have apparently been happy to do it that way since the mesozoic. If you keep pet seagulls and sharks, it looks like quite a good way of keeping the whole system running efficiently. An "effient" God would be predicted to subordinate individual species to the harmonious balance of the whole biosphere over the life of the planet. An inefficient struggle for survival would be predicted to stand a very good chance of running into the ground at some early stage and the turtles, sharks and seagulls all to become extinct. Jon Garvey
Sal: Very well stated @10. Eric Anderson
Prior to Darwin, the design of nature was said to be made to make humans wonder at the genius of the creator. After Darwin, evolutionists have managed to re-label extravagance as waste and bad design, and restated the supposed goals of biology in terms of survival of the creature, not the glory of the designer. Mt. Rushmore has dubious utility, but there is no question of its design. 100 fair coins heads has dubious utility, but I've made such patterns to communicate design, not because I found it had some survival utility. The fountains of the Bellagio in Las Vegas are a waste of water and electricity and space, but using DarLogic, we'd conclude it wasn't designed because of its "wastefulness" Here is an example the Designer's extravagant design that made Darwin sick: http://www.activityvillage.co.uk/sites/default/files/images/peacock_tail.jpg And here are man's extravagant design that make the observers wonder at the design and the designers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p1wN2W6IiL0 Neither design has much survival utility, and the case could be made the designs compromise survivability, but they are still designs because maybe survival wasn't the designer's goal! scordova
Sal, you are a good ambassador, and you are quite right to keep the tone civil as you comment on her blog. Unfortunately, Ann's argument is just one more in the long line of silly "bad design" arguments. Never, not once, has a single evolutionist offered anything remotely resembling an engineering-quality analysis of how the allegedly poorly-designed system could be improved. Vague assertions and hand-waving -- and, in Ann's case, emotional tugs about all those poor baby turtles! -- are all we ever get. Then there are the two more fundamental points: (i) bad design does not mean no design; (ii) evolution needs to be able to explain not just bad stuff and broken stuff (everyone agrees random mutations and the vagaries of nature can make a mess of things), but all the exquisitely designed stuff as well. Yet the only "explanation" we get is that "things happen." Some work better than others. Sorry, but it is pretty hard to have any respect for Ann's heart-tugging, logic-challenged "explanation" of why the turtles are the way they are. Eric Anderson
How is it a wasteful system? Surely if all the turtle babies made it to the water, survived and then reproduced the ocean would be full of turtles. This way some animals get a meal. Joe
I would love to see Ann's model for unguided evolution producing turtles. Heck I woule to see model for unguided evolution getting beyond beyond the given starting point of prokaryotes. Joe
Now let's talk about a different biochemical system of blood clotting. Amusingly, the way in which the blood clotting system works is reminiscent of a Rube Goldberg machine. Rube Goldberg Contraption The name of Rube Goldberg; the great cartoonist who entertained America with his silly machines, lives on in our culture, but the man himself has pretty much faded from view. Here's a typical example of his humor. In this cartoon Goldberg imagined a system where water from a drain-pipe fills a flask, causing a cork with attached needle to rise and puncture a paper cup containing beer, which sprinkles on a bird. The intoxicated bird falls onto a spring, bounces up to a platform, and pulls a string thinking it's a worm. The string triggers a cannon which frightens a dog. The dog flips over, and his rapid breathing raises and lowers a scratcher over a mosquito bite, causing no embarrassment while talking to a lady. When you think about it for a moment you realize that the Rube Goldberg machine is irreducibly complex. It is a single system which is composed of several interacting parts, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to break down. If the dog is missing the machine doesn't work; if the needle hasn't been put on the cork, the whole system is useless. Blood clottingIt turns out that we all have Rube Goldberg in our blood. Here's a picture of a cell trapped in a clot. The meshwork is formed from a protein called fibrin. But what controls blood clotting? Why does blood clot when you cut yourself, but not at other times when a clot would cause a stroke or heart attack? Here's a diagram of what's called the blood clotting cascade. Let's go through just some of the reactions of clotting. Michael Behe http://www.vedicsciences.net/articles/intelligent-design.html
and Bill Dembski uses the notion of extravagance https://uncommondesc.wpengine.com/intelligent-design/the-extravagant-design-of-nature/
Have a look at the following image and consider what your gut is telling you: (1) that nature is full of extravagant design that we should not expect on materialistic principles; (2) that nature has programmed us through evolution (e.g., sexual selection) to appreciate beauty in nature so that we can be good little robots and spread our genes. Here’s the image.
and Darwin himself hated extravagance in nature:
How did the peacock get such a spectacular fan-like tail, complete with patterns that look like eyes? The difficulties of explaining this by evolution evidently weighed heavily upon Charles Darwin’s mind. In 1860, the year after his Origin of Species was published, Darwin wrote: ‘The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!’ http://creation.com/peacock-poppycock
Jehu, Yes. That was also the term Behe used for IC. It is a theme Bill Dembski seemed happy to promote: https://uncommondesc.wpengine.com/intelligent-design/the-ultimate-rube-goldberg-machine/ Sal scordova
I think these is a conventional misconception stemming from scientism, however I also belive that this approach is not scientific. The phrases like "wasteful system" or "efficiency" are based on the definition of 1) a system as an isolated region of nature, here the life cycle of turtles, and 2) the variables to be optimized are usually taken to be some measurable (but also arbitrary) quantitites limited to that system, here energy required to produce the high number of offsprings vs. small number of offsprings that live. Completely within a scientific frame, if one enlarges the concept of system to the whole nature and the optimized variables are taken to be the life cycles of all living organism (and ecosystem of the earth), I highly doubt that these same phrases can be used without a very detailed (an maybe impossible) computations. Furthermore, given that there may be an unmaterialistic realm (e.g. mind) accompanying the nature, concepts of system and efficiency should be even more extended, which, overall, makes Ann Reid's view even more invalid. CuriousCat
Do you really believe that organisms are "Rube Goldberg?" I mean, has anybody come up with a better design? Jehu
Oh I see, so efficiency and precision in organisms are just illusions. Right.
This statement contradicts itself. The concept of something working or not working cannot apply to something that has no point (or purpose). That is what 'whatever works' means, it means it successfully achieves the goal. Optimal efficiency can only be understood in larger context. When taking everything into account it becomes obvious why things are a certain way. The goal is clearly not to ensure that all cute little baby turtles survive. Being efficient is very different from being sentimental. Designs do not exist in a vacuum. They exist as part of a larger whole. The breeding strategy of turtles is not wasteful because it maintains a healthy population of turtles and it provides food that other creatures need. If nature never had the kinds of "waste" that Ann Reid talks about, then everything would be extinct.
Well done, Sal. Collin

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