A Reason To Doubt Design In Nature

I’ve never found the ID arguments for the design of biological organisms all that compelling for a number of reasons. The dubious math, the fallacious arguments, the disingenuous bait and switch to Christian apologetics, and so forth. But even beyond that, there was something about objects in nature – organisms themselves – that just don’t seem designed to me. There is something different about them compared to man-made objects, but for the longest time I just could not put my finger on what I felt the difference was. And then it hit me last night: replaceable parts.

All man-made objects – every single one – is either designed specifically to be discarded or has components that are designed specifically to be replaced. Why? Because tool users learn really quick that tools and/or certain parts of tools wear out. So as designers, we <i>anticipate the need for maintenance</i>.

No such anticipation or planning for maintenance can be found in nature. None. If something breaks in an organism, either that organism learns to live without it or it dies. Or, in the case of humans, that part gets replaced by human designed or human configured replacements (as in my case). But even in the later case, humans have to create a work-around, because biological parts actual <i>resist</i> being replaced. You can’t just replace human parts with other human parts willy-nilly. In most cases, the new parts just won’t work, or worse, they’ll be rejected by the body’s immune system. But of particular note, there’s no surplus of replacement parts anywhere; no storage unit somewhere with a bunch of eyes or hearts or toes or hair or kidneys or…anything. Not even bark or leaves or antennae or scales. Nothing. There’s replacement part supply or even creation in nature.

Of course, this makes perfect sense given evolution and other similar natural processes. It makes no sense if there were an actual biological designer behind it all.

138 thoughts on “A Reason To Doubt Design In Nature”

  1. Kantian NaturalistKantian Naturalist

    Mung: I try not to waste time trying to convince people of obvious facts. But in your case I’ll make an exception.

    In his Evidence and Evolution Sober dedicates an entire chapter to Intelligent Design. Given the purported irrelevance of design to evolutionary theory, why would he do so?

    Because intelligent design is purported to be an alternative explanation of the origins of biological functions.

    Let’s pretend that Darwin had never heard of Paley. That would be an interesting idea for an alternative history novel. What would The Origin have looked like in that world?

    Probably not much different, but that’s just a guess.

    And then there’s Dawkins’ famous statement about just what it takes to allow an atheist to become “intellectually fulfilled.”

    I can’t take Dawkins seriously enough to get into that. He’s quite badly wrong about that specific point, anyway.

    Evolutionary theory is the modern creation myth of materialists precisely because it “explains” organismal design.

    And here I thought you were on Team Theistic Evolution!

  2. Pedant

    Mung: I try not to waste time trying to convince people of obvious facts.

    From the oblivion of being on ignore:

    What’s ‘obvious’ to person A is not necessarily obvious to anybody within earshot or within the known universe.

    Wasting time is Mung’s career.

  3. Neil Rickert

    Mung: Evolutionary theory is the modern creation myth of materialists precisely because it “explains” organismal design.

    Ah, okay. So you are not talking about “evolutionary theory” as it is understood by biologists. Rather, you are talking about “evolutionary theory” as it is misunderstood by creationists. That is to say, you are talking about a strawman.

  4. newton

    Neil Rickert: Ah, okay.So you are not talking about “evolutionary theory” as it is understood by biologists.Rather, you are talking about “evolutionary theory” as it is misunderstood by creationists.That is to say, you are talking about a strawman.

    By design

  5. MungMung

    Kantian Naturalist: Because intelligent design is purported to be an alternative explanation of the origins of biological functions.

    On the contrary sir, Darwinism is purported to be an alternative explanation of the origins of biological functions. Design without a designer. Darwinism just is the attempt to assimilate design into a materialist philosophy.

    Kantian Naturalist: And here I thought you were on Team Theistic Evolution!

    The theistic evolutionists I’ve had the misfortune to come across are liars. So I try to avoid taking on that label to describe my own beliefs.

  6. CharlieMCharlieM

    GlenDavidson: The real point is that one or more “designer(s) of life” never manages to make life intelligently.

    What exactly do you mean by that?

    When you see humans building machines that can walk, that can fly, that can communicate with each other and can perform a multitude of other functions, would you deny that intelligence was involved?

  7. Kantian NaturalistKantian Naturalist

    Mung: On the contrary sir, Darwinism is purported to be an alternative explanation of the origins of biological functions. Design without a designer. Darwinism just is the attempt to assimilate design into a materialist philosophy.

    No, it’s the attempt to explain functions without positing any design. It’s a way of severing the conceptual linkage between order and design. The whole idea of ID is to present a design inference as an alternative to evolutionary theory, which explains biological function without design at all.

    And needless to say I think it is wholly false to conflate evolutionary theory and materialist philosophy. False and intellectually dishonest.

    The theistic evolutionists I’ve had the misfortune to come across are liars. So I try to avoid taking on that label to describe my own beliefs.

    That seems like a bad reason to avoid taking on that label.

    But ok, if that’s your reason for disavowing it, then that’s your reason. Is there a label you prefer to use instead?

  8. CharlieMCharlieM

    Mung: Back then they weren’t woodpeckers, of they were, they didn’t rest on trees, or even fly. The molting came first, obviously, and was later put to use for something else. What luck!

    I picture small feathered theropods running and leaping as they chase insects through the forest. They occasionally run head-first into tree trunks, and for some it is fatal but a few survive the collisions. And not only do some survive the experience, they even begin to enjoy it. And from the descendants of the survivors we get, voila, woodpeckers. 🙂

  9. GlenDavidson

    CharlieM: What exactly do you mean by that?

    When you see humans building machines that can walk, that can fly, that can communicate with each other and can perform a multitude of other functions, would you deny that intelligence was involved?

    Why don’t you deal with the fact that intelligence thinks across hereditary lines, and that whatever produced life doesn’t?

    Of course when I see humans doing smart things that don’t include the idiocy that also attends evolutionary processes, I’ll conclude that intelligence is involved. I would conclude the same of life if intelligence had actually transcended the limitations of evolution, only it hasn’t.

    I know that you prefer to blither on about the exquisite aspects of life–which is why we now use EAs–in order to ignore the unintelligence involved, but that only shows how little you really care about the actual issues.

    Glen Davidson

  10. colewd

    Kantian Naturalist,

    No, it’s the attempt to explain functions without positing any design. It’s a way of severing the conceptual linkage between order and design. The whole idea of ID is to present a design inference as an alternative to evolutionary theory, which explains biological function without design at all.

    Evolutionary theory attempts to explain life’s diversity and how that can be explained based on reproduction variation drift and selection. It does not explain the origin of matter and the origin of life both of which may be attributed to design.

  11. Kantian NaturalistKantian Naturalist

    colewd: Evolutionary theory attempts to explain life’s diversity and how that can be explained based on reproduction variation drift and selection. It does not explain the origin of matter and the origin of life both of which may be attributed to design.

    That’s true. So what?

  12. Pedant

    Kantian Naturalist:
    That seems like a bad reason to avoid taking on that label.

    But ok, if that’s your reason for disavowing it, then that’s your reason. Is there a label you prefer to use instead?

    Theistic evolution: BAD
    Theistic evolution by any other name: GOOD

  13. MungMung

    What you said:

    Kantian Naturalist: And needless to say I think it is wholly false to conflate evolutionary theory and materialist philosophy. False and intellectually dishonest.

    What I said:

    Mung: Darwinism is purported to be an alternative explanation of the origins of biological functions. Design without a designer. Darwinism just is the attempt to assimilate design into a materialist philosophy.

    And intelligent design most certainly predates Darwin.

  14. colewd

    Kantian Naturalist,

    That’s true. So what?

    Then this is false.

    which explains biological function without design at all.

    Atoms molecules and cells are key parts of biological function.

  15. Kantian NaturalistKantian Naturalist

    colewd,

    A moment ago you’d said that “the origin of matter and the origin of life both of which may be attributed to design”. Yes, they may. But should they be?

    To rehearse a long-standing line of thought (but apparently TSZ folks have the memories of goldfish), my view is that posits — posited entities — that participate in causal relations are justified only if those posits are part of an empirically confirmed model of the phenomena we’re trying to explain. (We don’t need empirical confirmation of posits that don’t have causal relations, e.g. numbers.)

    We don’t have an empirically confirmed model of the origins of life that requires us to posit any intelligent designers, and we don’t have an empirically confirmed model of the origins of the universe that requires us to posit any intelligent designers, either. (Nor do I see how we could have one, in the case of the universe.)

    In order to conclude that evolutionary theory must presuppose design just because it takes for granted that there are materials and organisms, one would need an empirically confirmed model of the universe, or of life, that posits a designer. And there simply aren’t any such models. “Design theory” is a house of cards.

  16. MungMung

    Kantian Naturalist: We don’t have an empirically confirmed model of the origins of life that requires us to posit any intelligent designers…

    This may be true, but many models we do have most certainly do posit intelligent designers. It just remains to be seen whether their efforts will actually lead to living organisms. And when it does ID will be vindicated. Hah.

  17. MungMung

    ID Prediction: An ID model of the origin of life will be empirically verified before any “it just happened, that’s all” model of the origin of life has been empirically verified.

  18. colewd

    Kantian Naturalist,

    In order to conclude that evolutionary theory must presuppose design just because it takes for granted that there are materials and organisms, one would need an empirically confirmed model of the universe, or of life, that posits a designer. And there simply aren’t any such models. “Design theory” is a house of cards.

    It certainly does not need to presuppose design. We agree here. The only issue I have is that it does not rule out design because it does not claim knowledge of the origin of its key components.

    On the other hand if you look at coded information in DNA, and the transcription translation mechanism inside the cell not to think about design as a possible origin (when speculating on origins) seems silly. My same sentiment includes some of the quantum properties of atoms.

  19. dazzdazz

    Mung:
    ID Prediction: An ID model of the origin of life will be empirically verified before any “it just happened, that’s all” model of the origin of life has been empirically verified.

    What a great summary of what’s wrong with IDiot “thinking”. Oh well

  20. OMagain

    dazz: What a great summary of what’s wrong with IDiot “thinking”. Oh well

    I started a thread regarding “it just happened” and Mung was unable to specify who is claiming that with regard to anything.

    Presumably he is thinking of colewd’s version of events. it just happened because the designer wanted it to just happen. Which is literally what he has said is the case.

  21. GlenDavidson

    OMagain: I started a thread regarding “it just happened” and Mung was unable to specify who is claiming that with regard to anything.

    Presumably he is thinking of colewd’s version of events. it just happened because the designer wanted it to just happen. Which is literally what he has said is the case.

    Quite seriously, they typically see the “other side” as mirroring their own vapid beliefs. Hence they think evolution’s about miracles that “just happened,” only without their great god of happenstance.

    They’re very good at not learning, as well.

    Glen Davidson

  22. CharlieMCharlieM

    Kantian Naturalist: The fact that we can take up “the design stance” (as Dennett calls it) to understand functions doesn’t mean that those functions are the same as, or best explained by, purposeful design.

    Well I’m quite happy to say that a primary flight feather is designed to perform a specific function rather than it shows purposeful design. In fact I now see that this is a better way of stating it. When we talk about function instead of purpose we have no need to worry about where the design came from.

    We can look at the design of these feathers in the same way that we can look at the design of a propeller, a windmill blade or a sail of a yacht. What are its functional needs? What constraints are imposed on it? How is this achieved in practice. If we don’t just gloss over how the feather is formed and functions but really examine an actual feather and research into its growth, development and its context within the wing and the bird, we begin to see the wisdom involved in its design.

  23. John HarshmanJohn Harshman

    CharlieM: we begin to see the wisdom involved in its design

    When you say “design”, are you claiming that a person, i.e. an intelligent entity, thought it up in a way analogous to the way humans design propellers and such? Who do you think designed feathers? What evidence do you have?

  24. MungMung

    John Harshman: Who do you think designed feathers? What evidence do you have?

    John jumps off a cliff and yells, what evidence do you have for gravity you IDiot! You don’t need evidence for something that’s blatantly obvious John.

  25. MungMung

    OMagain: I started a thread regarding “it just happened” and Mung was unable to specify who is claiming that with regard to anything.

    Snore. Was it a thread on origin of life models?

  26. CharlieMCharlieM

    GlenDavidson: I know that you prefer to blither on about the exquisite aspects of life–which is why we now use EAs–in order to ignore the unintelligence involved, but that only shows how little you really care about the actual issues.

    Can you give us some examples of the unintelligence you are talking about?

  27. newton

    Mung: John jumps off a cliff and yells, what evidence do you have for gravity you IDiot! You don’t need evidence for something that’s blatantly obvious John.

    Right, angels are pulling you down by design.

  28. John HarshmanJohn Harshman

    CharlieM: Can you give us some examples of the unintelligence you are talking about?

    They aren’t rare and you probably know some of them. Despite claims otherwise, the vertebrate eye is one such example. The recurrent laryngeal nerve of the giraffe. The tendency of RUBISCO to run backwards. Anything in which the current state of a structure depends more on the limitations of its prior evolution than on optimal novel design.

  29. newton

    OMagain: Presumably he is thinking of colewd’s version of events. it just happened because the designer wanted it to just happen. Which is literally what he has said is the case.

    That would seem to eliminate the possibility of unexpected consequences from design. Staphylococcus was designed because the designer wanted it to happen.

  30. CharlieMCharlieM

    John Harshman: When you say “design”, are you claiming that a person, i.e. an intelligent entity, thought it up in a way analogous to the way humans design propellers and such? Who do you think designed feathers? What evidence do you have?

    What follows is my opinion.

    I am saying that feathers are designed by self conscious beings. Natural structures found on living organisms are not designed in the same, trial and error way that humans design objects. Individual birds do not have a consciousness that is capable of such design but they are an integral part of the self conscious being which does have the required capability, in the same way that your body is composed of cells and organs which combined constitute you as a self-conscious human. Only the self-conscious entity that individual animals are a part of is on a much higher level than any individual self-conscious human.

    Hence the wisdom that I believe is apparent in bee hives, termite mounds, flight feathers or the detailed structure of eyes.

  31. CharlieMCharlieM

    John Harshman: They aren’t rare and you probably know some of them. Despite claims otherwise, the vertebrate eye is one such example. The recurrent laryngeal nerve of the giraffe. The tendency of RUBISCO to run backwards. Anything in which the current state of a structure depends more on the limitations of its prior evolution than on optimal novel design.

    Which vertebrate eye do you assume is poorly designed, the eye of an eagle that can detect a rabbit from over 3 km away, the eye of an archer fish that can helps it to bring down prey metres above the surface of the water, the human eye which can distinguish millions of colours? Any eye studied must be viewed in the context of the animal that it belongs to. Eagles need to have excellent vision, moles do not. Each according to their needs. But eagles demonstrate the potential that is available to the vertebrate eye.

    The recurrent laryngeal nerve does not just innervate the larynx, there are branches which innervate tissue along the route. Also it is part of the mammalian body plan which can be expressed in every creature from pygmy shrews to giraffes, from bats to blue whales. That a single archetype can be used to express such a variety of physical forms demonstrates to me a higher wisdom from which each is derived.

    I’m not familiar enough to comment on the example of RUBISCO. Maybe you could give me a more detaled explanation of why you think it lacks wisdom.

    You tell me examples aren’t rare but two of the examples you provide are the ones that I have seen most used in arguments like this. And I don’t see any unique problems they pose for the creatures that possess them.

  32. John HarshmanJohn Harshman

    CharlieM:
    I am saying that feathers are designed by self conscious beings. Natural structures found on living organisms are not designed in the same, trial and error way that humans design objects. Individual birds do not have a consciousness that is capable of such design but they are an integral part of the self conscious being which does have the required capability, in the same way that your body is composed of cells and organs which combined constitute you as a self-conscious human. Only the self-conscious entity that individual animals are a part of is on a much higher level than any individual self-conscious human.

    I don’t know why creationists are incapable of clearly expressing themselves, but it does seem to be a nearly universal characteristic. What is the entity that designs feathers? Is the entity that designed the first feathers the same one that designed the feathers of each bird species? Please try to say clearly what you are talking about.

  33. John HarshmanJohn Harshman

    CharlieM: Which vertebrate eye do you assume is poorly designed, the eye of an eagle that can detect a rabbit from over 3 km away, the eye of an archer fish that can helps it to bring down prey metres above the surface of the water, the human eye which can distinguish millions of colours?

    Yes, vertebrate eyes of various sorts do some things quite well despite the design flaws they all share. Nevertheless, the placement of nerves in front of rather than behind the retina, with the consequent blind spot, requires a number of cumbersome workarounds to correct. The eagle’s acuity changes nothing in that.

    The recurrent laryngeal nerve does not just innervate the larynx, there are branches which innervate tissue along the route. Also it is part of the mammalian body plan which can be expressed in every creature from pygmy shrews to giraffes, from bats to blue whales. That a single archetype can be used to express such a variety of physical forms demonstrates to me a higher wisdom from which each is derived.

    You’re making a virtue out of necessity. The “archetype” is just inheritance, and it remains so in the giraffe because it isn’t easy for evolution to get rid of that sort of thing. The point is that in the giraffe, the nerve takes a needlessly circuitous route, not required by any need to “innervate tissue along the route”, which could easily be accomplished by taking a simpler route. Again, just inheritance of suboptimal features.

    I’m not familiar enough to comment on the example of RUBISCO. Maybe you could give me a more detaled explanation of why you think it lacks wisdom.

    Or you could just google “rubisco inefficient”.

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