I promised John Harshman for several months that I would start a discussion about common design vs. common descent, and I’d like to keep my word to him as best as possible.
Strictly the speaking common design and common descent aren’t mutually exclusive, but if one invokes the possibility of recent special creation of all life, the two being mutually exclusive would be inevitable.
If one believes in a young fossil record (YFR) and thus likely believes life is young and therefore recently created, then one is a Young Life Creationist (YLC). YEC (young earth creationists) are automatically YLCs but there are a few YLCs who believe the Earth is old. So evidence in favor of YFR is evidence in favor of common design over common descent.
One can assume for the sake of argument the mainstream geological timelines of billions of years on planet Earth. If that is the case, special creation would have to happen likely in a progressive manner. I believe Stephen Meyer and many of the original ID proponents like Walter Bradley were progressive creationists.
Since I think there is promising evidence for YFR, I don’t think too much about common design vs. common descent. If the Earth is old, but the fossil record is young, as far as I’m concerned the nested hierarchical patterns of similarity are due to common design.
That said, for the sake of this discussion I will assume the fossil record is old. But even under that assumption, I don’t see how phylogenetics solves the problem of orphan features found distributed in the nested hierarchical patterns of similarity. I should point out, there is an important distinction between taxonomic nested hierarchies and phylogenetic nested hierarchies. The nested hierarchies I refer to are taxonomic, not phylogenetic. Phylogeneticsits insist the phylogenetic trees are good explanations for the taxonomic “trees”, but it doesn’t look that way to me at all. I find it revolting to think giraffes, apes, birds and turtles are under the Sarcopterygii clade (which looks more like a coelacanth).
Phylogeny is a nice superficial explanation for the pattern of taxonomic nested hierarchy in sets of proteins, DNA, whatever so long as a feature is actually shared among the creatures. That all breaks down however when we have orphan features that are not shared by sets of creatures.
The orphan features most evident to me are those associated with Eukaryotes. Phylogeny doesn’t do a good job of accounting for those. In fact, to assume common ancestry in that case, “poof” or some unknown mechanism is indicated. If the mechanism is unknown, then why claim universal common ancestry is a fact? Wouldn’t “we don’t know for sure, but we believe” be a more accurate statement of the state of affairs rather than saying “universal common ancestry is fact.”
So whenever orphan features sort of poof into existence, that suggests to me the patterns of nested hierarchy are explained better by common design. In fact there are lots of orphan features that define major groups of creatures. Off the top of my head, eukaryotes are divided into unicellular and multicellular creatures. There are vetebrates and a variety of invertebrates. Mammals have the orphan feature of mammary glands. The list could go on and on for orphan features and the groups they define. Now I use the phrase “orphan features” because I’m not comfortable using formal terms like autapomorphy or whatever. I actually don’t know what would be a good phrase.
So whenever I see an orphan feature that isn’t readily evolvable (like say a nervous system), I presume God did it, and therefore the similarities among creatures that have different orphan features is a the result of miraculous common design not ordinary common descent.