Pharyngula

Reclaiming design?

Ken Miller makes an interesting proposal to James Randerson: he thinks we ought to reclaim the word “design,” and apply it to evolution. Not in the sense that the Intelligent Designists use it, as a proxy to imply a divine being, but because he says “design” is an emergent property of evolution. It’s an interesting idea, but I have a couple of objections.

One is brought up by Randerson: doesn’t “design” imply a “designer”? It’s a problem that we might possibly overcome someday — I can say the word “thunder” now, without an audience immediately thinking of Thor — but language associations are a really tough nut to crack. Look at all the flailings about over the word “theory”; lay people will hear that word being used by scientists and conclude that the creationists must have been right all along long before they get around to remapping their mental connections to design.

Another problem is of even greater concern. The word “design” carries other implications: purpose, planning, calculation. These are not present in evolution! Miller isn’t even trying to propose purposefulness in evolution — design, he is saying, is a consequence of the natural mechanism.

I don’t think it can work. The creationists know PR and rhetoric, even if they are ignorant of biology, and they picked the word “design” by design — they know full well all the baggage the term hauls, and it’s exactly the freight they want it to carry. They even use the word in the name of their rebranded creationism. Miller may be an excellent rhetorician in his own right, but I don’t think he’s good enough to pull off this switcheroo, which I suspect would be immediately spun by the creationist noise machine as a capitulation.

Comments

  1. #1 wÒÓ†
    February 22, 2008
  2. #2 Richard Harris
    February 22, 2008

    I agree with you, PZ.

    I do design work, & it’s a purposeful process.

    My clients generally don’t seem to realize that what I do is to design something for them! They call it everything but design, usually ‘report’ or ‘calculations’. I don’t know what they think design is. Maybe they mostly think that design is coming up with a scheme or styling?

  3. #3 Glen Davidson
    February 22, 2008

    I see the word “design” used in papers discussing evolved structures and systems, so it’s not exactly without precedent. “Design” need not imply a “designer,” it may refer simply to a kind of layout or pattern. One may say “the design of snowflakes,” if one chooses, at least in the right context.

    On the whole, though, I’m against using the term “design” for what has evolved. That’s because we need to have a word for, say, the “designs” of genetically modified organisms. Sure, we can say they’re “engineered,” but that has different connotations than does “design,” and often we might prefer to say that the computer chip, or the modified organism, was “designed” in the sense that implies a “designer”.

    We have words other than “design” for what has evolved, words like “adapted,” “selected” (for a certain kind of evolution, for both of those words), “changed through time,” or “evolved.” Let’s use them, and cease with the ambiguity of words like “design” for non-engineered life.

    We should be able to speak of “designing life” as a kind of counterpart to “evolving life.” The two are manifestly not the same (and Dawkins does us a disservice in suggesting that life looks designed–it really doesn’t), there are indications of rationality in the narrower meaning of “design,” while evolution is something which is not rational (even if it can sometimes produce results similar to a rational process).

    So it’s not that “design” cannot apply to matters without “designers,” it’s that really the word “design” ought to be pushed toward the sense that “design implies a designer.” We need words which apply largely, if not exclusively, to rational processes, and which do not designate what evolution does on its own.

    Ken Miller is an excellent scientist and a good guy, but he really ought to be pushing for better distinctions and less ambiguity, not worse distinctions and more ambiguity.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  4. #4 DSK Samways
    February 22, 2008

    I have similar concerns. The same sort of semantics could be used to cloud the differentiation between a Deist and an atheist, because that differentiation depends on the meaning of the word “God”. If “God” is simply the process, or force, that brought the universe into existence (assuming we can even nail down a specific definition of “existence”), it would arguably make Deists of us all. Similarly, we can no doubt tweak the meaning of design to include processes directed by natural external forces, rather than an internal sentient will. But we don’t advance anywhere by farting around with language in this manner. If anything, this will spread confusions and doubt, which has been the central strategy of the Discovery Institute from the get-go. I fear that any sign of scientists vacillating over over semantics in this manner will only work to the DI’s benefit more than anybody else’s.

  5. #5 severalspeciesof
    February 22, 2008

    I agree with your objections, but if there is anyone who could pull it off, it just might be Miller and others of like mind (very religious) who just might be able to shield themselves from the IDists attacks because of their religious connection. And above all I think he’s right in that design IS an emergent property of evolution. And since evolution isn’t a designer to begin with, that’s why we’re poorly ‘designed’.

  6. #6 TheElkMechanic
    February 22, 2008

    Well, evolution IS a design process, as evidenced by the usefulness of genetic algorithms in industry and computer science, but there definitely is a semantic problem with using the term “design.” Evolution’s “designer” is a combination of environment and causality, and that’s going to be a hard sell to your typical fundamentalist.

  7. #7 Bob
    February 22, 2008

    The word “design” carries other implications: purpose, planning, calculation. These are not present in evolution!

    I always thought that Darwin avoided the word “evolution” because of worries connected to these. “Evolutio” means an unfolding of types (i.e., progress), whereas “descent with modification” avoids this.

  8. #8 Timcol
    February 22, 2008

    Denyse O’Leary, has already got wind of this and made a reference on one of her 3 zillion ID Blogs that Miller is starting to use the ‘design’ word (I should try and dig out the link but why give her more hits, it only goes to her head). I think we all know what she’s going to do with this…any nuance or subtlety in using the word will be predictably completely lost on her.

  9. #9 Owlmirror
    February 22, 2008

    Yet what’s the alternative?

    They say “eyes are designed to see”, what’s the response?

    Hm. In some ways, this reminds me of the argument over the theory of evolution being “flawed” vs “not incorrect, but incomplete”. Although there, the ambiguity is I think easier to resolve.

    We have words other than “design” for what has evolved, words like “adapted,” “selected” (for a certain kind of evolution, for both of those words), “changed through time,” or “evolved.” Let’s use them, and cease with the ambiguity of words like “design” for non-engineered life.

    While it’s correct, I think there’s still a problem, maybe: adaptation; selection; changed; evolution: these are all words that refer to the process. “Design” refers to the current function.

    Perhaps Miller is right, and we ought to combine the process with the current function, in direct opposition to “intelligent design”

    “Eyes are evolutionarily designed to see.”

    ?

  10. #10 SteveF
    February 22, 2008

    I forsee paroxysms of rage eminating from the direction of one L Moran!

  11. #11 Glen Davidson
    February 22, 2008

    Here’s an example of a paper which uses “design” as Miller would like us to do:

    Colloidal crystals: Plenty of room at the top
    Daan Frenkel

    SUMMARY: Binary mixtures of nanoparticles of different size and composition can self-assemble in a bewildering variety of lattices. This defies expectations and shows promise for the

    CONTEXT: …they consist of a small number of layers. One reason why we cannot yet compete with the three-dimensional design of living systems is that the latter assemble themselves. In contrast, electronic or mechanical devices have to be…

    Nature Materials 5, 85 – 86 (01 Feb 2006) News and Views

    [emphasis added]

    No, it’s not a biology paper (I took the first one I found), but it does indicate how the “order of living systems” is sometimes called the “design of living systems.” I looked at Nature‘s site because it’s not an American journal, for the British haven’t had as much reason to shy away from words like “design” that creationists/IDists will misconstrue for their own purposes.

    Anyway, as I said previously, I think it’s better to have more distinct words, rather than less distinct words, to avoid both accidental and deliberate confusion of what we mean.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  12. #12 Lilly de Lure
    February 22, 2008

    I think we all know what she’s going to do with this…any nuance or subtlety in using the word will be predictably completely lost on her.

    And indeed lost of most of the people who think that ID could be in any way plausible. Add that to the deliberate bad faith and chicanery of Dumbski and his Disco Institute and this project is a dead duck. It’s too easy to twist around and to no good purpose that I can see.

  13. #13 Jon Strong
    February 22, 2008

    An even tougher nut to crack is use of teleology in evolution. Do biological structures have purposes? Does the heart “function” to pump blood or is it merely the consequence of favorable adaptations that happens to pump blood?

  14. #14 Leart
    February 22, 2008

    Design means CONSCIOUS design. We can’t let these guys start labeling evolution this way, because it is not conscious. Design, implies planning. It implies intent to achieve a certain configuration. None of this is part of evolution.

    I suspect this is just another way the ID proponents are trying to get to evolution. It reminds me of the claims that atheism is a “religion”. Atheism is not a religion, and evolutions has nothing to do with design.

  15. #15 ShavenYak
    February 22, 2008

    I’ve often derailed an argument from design by agreeing that (insert feature, most commonly “the eye”) is designed, and then clarifying that “the designer” is the non-intentional duo of descent with modification and natural selection. This only works when dealing with the intellectually honest, though. Otherwise, they start bleating that design requires a designer, and only an intelligent entity can be a designer. It’s usually no good to ask them to provide arguments for those viewpoints, or to point to counterexamples like genetic programming.

  16. #16 Glen Davidson
    February 22, 2008

    While it’s correct, I think there’s still a problem, maybe: adaptation; selection; changed; evolution: these are all words that refer to the process. “Design” refers to the current function.

    Or at least to the current arrangement of parts. “Function” and “design” are not synonyms.

    But sure, you have a legitimate point. However, we also have words that can substitue for “design” as the “current arrangment” (does “arrangement” imply an “arranger”? By convention, not as much as “designer” tends to imply a “designer,” even though “design” need not do so, either), like layout, pattern, articulations, or, yes, “arrangement”.

    As I implied in my more recent post, Americans have tended to avoid “design” for living things more than the British, and they have not been stymied by a lack of usable words to get across their meaning. I myself would prefer for “design” to become more heavily, perhaps exclusively, used for that which was purposefully designed, so that when we don’t use that word we will be indicating that we’re not at all implying purpose or telic processes behind what we see today in non-engineered biology.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  17. #17 abu el banat
    February 22, 2008

    Ken Miller says that design is real and that it is an emergent property of evolution.

    I couldn’t agree more.

    Evolution is a process of change over time. In the course of this change. organization (not complexity!) emerges. Miller fails however to identify the mechanism by which this design emerges.
    The real quention is whether random processes, accidental events or fortuitous occurrences can generate the design he (and everyone else) can clearly see.

    Answer? They cannot. The only way that this “design” (which I call organization} can occur is with intelligent input.

    A mousetrap has a quality called organization, which is much different from complexity or order. Each part of the mousetrap, the platform, the holding bar, the spring, the hammer and the catch each have specific functions. And each of these functions are organized in such a way that they support the other functions and the overall function of the mousetrap, which is to catch mice. The function of the platform is to hold the parts, but it’s there ultimately to facilitate the process of mouse catching. The function of the spring is to exert a force on the hammer, but it’s ultimate goal is to enable the process of mouse catching. All of the parts have functions that not only support the other functions, but ultimately support the overall function of the device. This type of organization is not obtainable without insight, and insight always requires intelligence. There is no way that these parts could be assembled in such a manner without insight. A mousetrap is a simple machine, made up of several structures and processes and exists for a purpose. The construction of the mousetrap was initiated with intent, and fashioned for a purpose. Living organisms are similarly machines, with structures and processes that work together to create a function. In fact, all complex, highly organized machines in which means are adapted to ends are the product of intelligent design. The important point is that the adaptation of means to ends, the adaptation of structure and process to function requires insight. A mousetrap is unevolvable without intelligent input, not because you can’t take it apart without it losing it’s function, it’s unevolvable because you can’t put it together in the first place using only random, non-directed, accidental occurrences. The selection of the parts, the configuration in which they’re aligned, the assembly into one unit all require intelligent decisions at every step of the way. Similarly, living organisms show the same characteristics. It’s not that you can’t remove parts and lose total function, it’s that you can’t explain why these particular parts were selected, why they’re integrated together in just such a way and how they were assembled from raw materials without invoking an intelligent agent.

  18. #18 MarquisDeSade
    February 22, 2008

    What would be the pitfall in the term “Natural Design” as opposed to “Intelligent Design?”

    For one, if you set it up as the Battle of Designs — Natural vs. Intelligent — it makes it more palatable for the public to understand. Scientists, ND proponents, can say “here’s all the evidence that shows design is natural and not supernatural, certainly not intelligent” and the ID people would still be left to the same insurmountable task of having to show evidence for Intelligent Design. Fruit won’t work at that point, and ND wins by default.

    This of course changes nothing as evolution still has all the evidence and ID has none. But it would be harder for ID proponents to chip away at evolution with their petty attacks and vapid arguments if the “other” design was stacked up in a column right next to ID, with all the evidence tipping the scale. I think this would be more palatable for the general public.

    Ken Miller has a good idea. It could be a brilliant and effective riposte that could conceivably send the IDers further into the abyss of shame in which they’ve entrenched themselves..

  19. #19 Colin
    February 22, 2008

    With a qualifier the word design could work. Personally I really like the sound of Evolutionary Emergent Design or just Emergent Design. Emergent Design has another meaning in education reform theory, but it’s not uncommon for words to have dual meanings.

    I mean come on wouldn’t it be useful to say, “yes there is design but it is not intelligent design it is emergent design, ED not ID.”

  20. #20 CJO
    February 22, 2008

    I like it, for at least one reason. That would be, as soon as you say, ‘fine, it WAS designed –by natural selection, by a contingent, stochastic process,’ then you can contrast that with the IDer’s meaning, ‘rational design methods.’ And since it’s trivially easy to show that many living structures and systems were designed with anything but rational methods, the IDer absolutely has to start with some attempt at characterization of the designer’s methods or an obvious evasion of same.

    “Subtle is the Lord,” indeed, but what IDer wants to start there? I think it highlights that ID is just more apologetics.

    Better rhetorically, to me, than Dawkins’s circumlocution, ‘designoid.’ Taking that tack just encourages them. And assuming up front that creationists are better at rhetoric is BS. Go ahead, give ‘em some rope. The first thing they’ll do, every time, is tie a noose. After that, they need very little encouragement to try it on for size.

  21. #21 speedwell
    February 22, 2008

    Design, implies planning. It implies intent to achieve a certain configuration. None of this is part of evolution.

    Yes, it is. We evolved, and one of the things we evolved to do was to have the capacity to design things. I don’t think this is such a red herring.

  22. #22 PZ Myers
    February 22, 2008

    I agree with your objections, but if there is anyone who could pull it off, it just might be Miller and others of like mind (very religious) who just might be able to shield themselves from the IDists attacks because of their religious connection.

    No, I think it’s exactly the opposite. Miller is the worst person to try this because of his religious background — the atheists are going to see him as trying to sneak religion into evolution just like the IDists and will oppose it, while the theists are going to see it the same way and support it for the same reason many like ID. A Dawkins would be more credible on this plan, because no one would see him as trying to smuggle planning and purpose into evolution.

  23. #23 Philip T
    February 22, 2008

    I’ve always liked Richard Dawkin’s word: designoid (“Designoid objects – those which owe their good fit to functional constraints to causes other than conscious intention or selection.”) I think it acknowledges the designed-like features of living things without implying a designer (or a Designer, if you prefer…)

  24. #24 uncle noel
    February 22, 2008

    What is wrong with using the word “design” to indicate function? Eyes are obviously designed to provide vision, lungs oxygen, muscles motility, etc. Denying common word usage is not a good tactic in argument. But then again, “reclaiming” that word is not going to impress anyone, either.

  25. #25 Stanton
    February 22, 2008

    I’ve always liked Richard Dawkin’s word: designoid (“Designoid objects – those which owe their good fit to functional constraints to causes other than conscious intention or selection.”) I think it acknowledges the designed-like features of living things without implying a designer (or a Designer, if you prefer…)

    But if people see a designoid, they’re going to think of a designoider.

  26. #26 DSK Samways
    February 22, 2008

    “designo -are [to mark out , trace, plan]; in gen., [to point out, indicate, signify; to portray, delineate]; polit., [to nominate, elect]; partic. designatus -a -um, [elected, designated].”

    Etymology doesn’t really favour the use of this word with respect to evolution. I’m sure scientists have been tempted to use it in the past, but then scientists have also used the term “theory” in its weaker, mainstream sense before, and in doing so provided the anti-science crowd with no small amount of ammunition. We should be clearing up our semantic act, not rendering it even more fuzzy and open to liberal interpretation.

  27. #27 Glen Davidson
    February 22, 2008

    Has it never occurred to you people that the mousetrap is used as an “analogy” for life precisely because it could never evolve? It reveals absolutely none of the traits of evolved organisms, as it cannot reproduce, it has no genetic history with, say, tieclips, and it is precisely and rationally considered with a purpose in mind.

    The closest equivalents in biology are organisms like hawks and venus fly-traps (scale it up, and it might catch mice). These things are nothing like a designed mousetrap, they are almost completely different.

    They are not made out of metals, for biology is constrained by its past, and evolving to have a steel spring is well-nigh impossible. That’s why life lacks metal springs, because it evolved, it was not designed.

    Hawks and venus fly-traps also betray their evolutionary pasts in ways never seen in designed objects (design often does have antecedents, but never the kind of adherence to past structures that life has). For instance, why does the hawk have wings modified from dinosaur forelegs? What possible design principle could explain that? I’m waiting, tell me what design principle making wings out of dinosaur forelegs entails

    Why weren’t hawk wings made from pterodactyl wings? Or from pterodactyl legs, if your “designer” has some kind of mental problem that prevents adapting wings to make wings? Why are bat wings modified from mammalian legs. Why are bat wings modified from bird wings, from dinosaur legs, from pterodactyl wings, or from pterodactyl legs?

    We know why bat wings are modified mammallian forelimbs, which is that evolution had no other material to work with. That is to say, evolution predicts that bats won’t have for their flying function modified bird wings (so long as horizontal gene transfer between vertebrates is limited, as it is–and even if it weren’t, it’s not clear if such a transfer could actually take place) or modified pterodactyl wings, or modified forelimbs of any organism except for their ancestors.

    Design principles would suggest that bat wings, or hawk wings, would come either from first principles, or from using similar (and I mean similar in origin) forms for similar problems. You know what? We never, ever see either design from first principles or similar forms for similar problems in organisms which are limited in horizontal gene transfer, we always see only modifications of ancestral traits in such organisms. No design principles are ever found to have informed evolution.

    Find something in life that is like a mousetrap. That’s your duty. Find something that was conceived as a solution to a problem, rationally considered, and implemented with the best materials available for the purpose. You’ll never find that in non-engineered life, for life isn’t the least bit like a mousetrap.

    But thanks for bringing up the mousetrap, for it does reveal something, which is that an object which is designed is fundamentally different from one that has evolved, like a hawk or a venus fly-trap.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  28. #28 Dahan
    February 22, 2008

    As a designer myself, I can see both view points. Sure, traditionally, designing has meant creating a plan to build something, whether in one, two, or three dimensions. Obviously, this would be innapropriate when considering life forms. However, the Eamses definition of design, that it’s about problem solving, could perhaps be used.

    Still, I tend to agree with PZ and others here who have voiced concerns over how the use of this word would play out in society.

  29. #29 negentropyeater
    February 22, 2008

    I think it could be worth trying, but only if the word Design is properly qualified :

    Example
    - it appears as if elements of the natural world are designed, but this apparent design is not the result of a purposeful designer, but one that emerges from nature itself, via the process of evolution.

    I think it is important to comfront this important issue of apparent design in nature, at least for the more moderate and sufficiently educated folks. A lot of them think that many elements of nature look designed, and we should explain why there is this appearance of design.

    For the fundies, and the blatantly ignorant crowds, nothing will work anyway.

    One thing I like is that it does go straight against the IDists which keep playing the card that the “apparent design”, can only be the work of a highly intelligent designer. It will force them into having to define who is this designer (which they always refuse to do, as they obviously cannot).

    I think it needs work, but it is definitely worth thinking about.

  30. #30 Glen Davidson
    February 22, 2008

    My last post was in response to abu el banat. It was clear enough when I wrote it, but when I softened it (realizing that his was a more polite and reasonable post than those of most creationists we get), who I was responding to got taken out.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  31. #31 Mark S
    February 22, 2008

    Daniel Dennett has already taken some big steps in appropriating the word Design to account for design by blind algorythmical (sp?) processes in his book ‘Darwin’s Dangerous Idea’.

  32. #32 B. Dewhirst
    February 22, 2008

    I agree with the above critique, and the matter is made worse by the fact that Ken Miller, though a fine biologist and supporter of evolution, -does- believe in a designer. (He is, nominally, Catholic.)

    Interestingly enough (to me), I was compared to Dr. Miller by his daughter in high school, so I know he can’t be all bad. :-)

  33. #33 Eamon Knight
    February 22, 2008

    I forsee paroxysms of rage eminating from the direction of one L Moran!

    ….and soft-spoken, erudite and measured disagreement from the direction of Melbourne.

    I agree with the “anti” side: the word “design” carries way too much teleological baggage (and I find Dawkins “appearance of…” language to be a bit of an obfuscatory cop-out). For that matter, even “function” implies purpose, which suggests intent. It’s damned hard to navigate the semantic minefield.

  34. #34 Glen Davidson
    February 22, 2008

    it appears as if elements of the natural world are designed,

    And just how do they appear to be designed?

    Just because Dawkins says so doesn’t make it true. He lacks the training to deal precisely with linguistic distinctions.

    Additionally, while one could perhaps make a case for life “looking designed” prior to the development of the well-attested predictions from evolution, the fact is that life looks evolved in the light of evolution, with a huge number of clearly evident differences existing between our designs and the arrangements of life.

    You only have to “comfront this important issue of apparent design in nature” if it’s true. And those who say it’s true have the “burden of proof.” So give us this endlessly prattled “appearance of design” if you can, or act like scientists and simply deal with what is given sans prejudice and without an overlay of antiquated metaphysical BS.

    I get very tired of this nonsense, which I expect from creationists, but which are wholly unwarranted from anyone who claims to prefer science to old prejudices.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  35. #35 negentropyeater
    February 22, 2008

    Sorry, my last paragraph should have read :
    “One thing I like is that it does go straight against the IDists which keep playing the card that the Design, can only be the work of a highly intelligent designer. It will force them into having to define who is this designer (which they always refuse to do, as they obviously cannot). ”

    We need to point out that Design is only Apparant.
    It appears designed, but this apparance stems from well understood and already observed natural processes.

  36. #36 Laura
    February 22, 2008

    The very word design implies intelligence and yes, planning. I totally disagree with calling evolution “design”. As a designer, I hear the word misused enough as it is, people fling it around in reference to all kinds of things from random patterns to the work of highly skilled engineers. The word evolution is far more suited to the facts regarding living things and their makeup, which simply haven’t been planned by any intelligent being. I would tend to think chaos-type patterns, organic fractal information, is more of what is at work there.

  37. #37 DSK Samways
    February 22, 2008

    “- it appears as if elements of the natural world are designed, but this apparent design is not the result of a purposeful designer, but one that emerges from nature itself, via the process of evolution.”

    But we cannot say this. The best strategy has always been to simply state, “We cannot test the hypothesis that there is a God, it is purely an ontological issue” and leave it at that. After all, there could be a designer in the conventional sense (as all Catholics must believe, even Ken Miller), but we have no way of testing for it. There is already an “out”, as it were, for theists to believe in evolution and a creator (it’s a tenuous out, but it suffices on the basis of its inability to be proven one way or the other); I don’t think Kenneth Miller needs to build on that “out”.

    So not only is the appropriation of creationist language probably going to cause more harm than good, it isn’t even required anyway.

    Re the current definitions of “design” and the word’s etymology, in the vast majority of cases the word is used to describe a sentient action. Short of some spectacular redefinition of the word, and for that redefinition to be rapidly and expansively established among the laity, Ken Miller’s plan is sure to backfire, imho.

  38. #38 Inoculated Mind
    February 22, 2008

    Design isn’t a good word because it can be so easily misconstrued. Design has multiple meanings. I think it would be better to emphasize a different word, one that can be more easily shaped to mean what the biologists want it to mean, and one that doesn’t have so many possible meanings.

    For example, no one would say “Structure implies there’s a Structurer!” or “Form implies a former!“. Yet “Design implies a Designer” works.

  39. #39 negentropyeater
    February 22, 2008

    Glen,

    “And just how do they appear to be designed?”

    but I think that’s the idea, many folks believe that they were designed, well no, we tell them that this is just an appearance. That in fact, this appearance stems from purely natural processes.
    Same as the sun appears to be orbiting the earth, when we know it’s the other way round.

  40. #40 Forrest Prince
    February 22, 2008

    It’s the concept of emergenge and emergent properties in complex structures that needs to be stressed, studied, understood, and propagated. It’s not necessarily an easy concept to wrap one’s brain around, but neither is it unapproachable by the layperson. I understand it (however imperfectly) and I’m not a scientist. Once emergence becomes the paradigm around which we understand how ID arguments like irreducible complexity are refuted, then we can realize that “design” could simply become a synonymous term to emergenge, as long as the context is maintained intact.

    For those readers who are not up to speed on emergence, I strongly recommend a little reading up. My favorite is from Scientific Realism: Selected Essays by Mario Bunge, Edited by Martin Mahner, Prometheus Books 2001; specifically Chapter 4, Emergence and the Mind. Of course, there’s plenty of online material available too, and you’re invited to do your own searching.

    The concept of emergent properties is fascinating. For me, it finally explained how what we call “mind” is indeed only a function of brain activity, even though it seems that a human mind is much too complex a thing to be solely physically based. And yet, once you understand emergence, it becomes necessarily clear.

  41. #41 Edward Braun
    February 22, 2008

    Unfortunately, the term “designability” is used in structural biology already, and I’ve never liked it precisely because it sounds uncomfortably close to “intelligent design”. A highly designable fold in a protein is one that can be achieved with many different amino acid sequences, and it has even been correlated with evolutionary rates:

    Jesse D. Bloom , D. Allan Drummond , Frances H. Arnold , and Claus O. Wilke (2006) Structural Determinants of the Rate of Protein Evolution in Yeast. Mol Biol Evol 23: 1751-1761.

    Where the relevant portion of the abstract is:

    “Our basic hypothesis is that proteins with highly designable structures (structures that are encoded by many sequences) will evolve more rapidly. Recent theoretical advances argue that structures with a higher density of interresidue contacts are more designable, and we show that high contact density is correlated with an increased rate of sequence evolution in yeast.”

    Obviously, Bloom et al. (2006) aren’t saying anything positive about ID. But it seems to me that expanding the use of the term design even further in evolutionary biology is a bad idea.

  42. #42 Glen Davidson
    February 22, 2008

    but I think that’s the idea, many folks believe that they were designed, well no, we tell them that this is just an appearance. That in fact, this appearance stems from purely natural processes.
    Same as the sun appears to be orbiting the earth, when we know it’s the other way round.

    Many of the ancient myths of animal and human origin do not include purposeful “design” of any kind. Indeed, the tales are often enough about some kind of reproduction or transformation. Others do involve sculpture of some sort (as in Genesis), but this is simply a matter of reproducing what the god saw, that is, Yahweh models humans on himself. He does not “design” in the manner that humans design oxcarts, he’s an artist, mimicking what already exists.

    How could it be otherwise? What we make doesn’t happen to look like life, and humans have always known this to be the case. Already in Homer we see automata being made by Hephaistos. Why weren’t these robots called life, instead of techne (whether Homer uses the word “techne” I don’t recall, but that’s the mode of their portrayal, in any case)? It’s because the Greeks already differentiated between techne and physis. Techne was what humans did, physis was the “nature of life” so to speak, something that was quite different from (and generally thought better than) techne.

    The bare, horrible idea of “design” of life, that is, in the same sense as humans design things, comes in around the 18th and 19th centuries, with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Paley’s notions of “designed life” (he had predecessors for that claim, unsurprisingly). Previous to that, life was something divine, a soul, a spark. Yahweh was not “just an artist” in Genesis, he also breathed spirit into Adam. Life wasn’t analogous to what we made, life was not only quantitatively but qualitatively different. Indeed, vitalism afflicted even evolution for much of the 19th century and into the 20th century.

    In a sense, the IDists want both vitalism and Frankenstein. We’re supposed to look at life and notice that it’s just machines, after all, which they sometimes suggest could be made by aliens having a high technology. On the other hand, they insist on vitalism, that consciousness is something that “materialism” can never explain, and that the soul exists (after all, what’s going to survive death and reap the reward of religion?).

    Their “appearance of design” is always a kind of “design” which is unlike our own, and suspiciously close to what evolution predicts (ad hoc fitting is the reason, naturally). Ergo, life “appears designed,” but it’s really qualitatively different, at least in humans, and the design isn’t actually analogous with our own design.

    What could it possibly mean to say that life “looks designed” when it doesn’t look like known design, that is, our designs? What it really means is that life does not look designed, they just want to shove God in our faces and proclaim that life actually is a vitalistic miracle not only beyond our own power to engineer, but even beyond our comprehension (‘we’ll never understand consciousness’).

    If life “looks designed,” that implies that it looks like our designs, because in the more narrow and usual sense of “design,” it is known only through what we produce. Sure, there are some resemblances between our designs and living organisms, but the differences are so great that most of the ancients always saw life as being obviously qualititatively different from design.

    Don’t forget, the IDists aren’t so much claiming that life was designed, as that it was “miracled” into existence. They know that life doesn’t appear to be designed, they know that in the past, and in the present of too many people, life looks like a miracle. They couldn’t sell miracles by name to science, so they’re claiming that life is so well designed that it looks miraculous, and in fact it is miraculous in the case of human consciousness.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  43. #43 Efogoto
    February 22, 2008

    The very essence of framing, PZ. You noted all the baggage of the word “design” and don’t want to influence people to make all the associations to a designer, where the creationists do want those associations and so use the word. Ta da.

  44. #44 Glen Davidson
    February 22, 2008

    They couldn’t sell miracles by name to science, so they’re claiming that life is so well designed that it looks miraculous, and in fact it is miraculous in the case of human consciousness.

    I just want to fashion the above, the last sentence of my previous post, into a better design, to keep things clear:

    They couldn’t sell miracles by name as science, so they’re claiming that life is so well designed that it looks miraculous, and that in fact it is miraculous in the case of human consciousness.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  45. #45 Kyle W.
    February 22, 2008

    I’m entirely against it. The word “design” definitely implies a designer — there’s no two ways about it.

    I’m a graphic designer, so that may influence my thinking about the word. However, every popular dictionary I checked also consists of definitions that imply foresight, which we know works against what we would like the other side to understand. The root of their problem is a confusion over natural selection — if anything, that’s the phrase we should be refining if our ultimate purpose is a better understanding by the public.

    I think using “design” would backfire. As soon as a few serious scholars used it, the ID crowd, not having the burden of having something constructive to do, would work overtime to quote those uses and imply that those scientists were pointing to a designer. It doesn’t matter if they meant to, they would just quote it and use it and never bother to correct it — as usual.

  46. #46 Tony Jeremiah
    February 22, 2008

    Matthew 22:21

    Render unto Caeasar biologists what is Caesar’s biologists’, and to God creationists what is God’s creationists’.

  47. #47 John Pieret
    February 22, 2008

    The word “design” carries other implications: purpose, planning, calculation.

    Well, this is not a new problem. After all, Darwin faced it too in connection with “Natural Selection,” which implies a “selector.” Wallace told him:

    I wish, therefore, to suggest to you the possibility of entirely avoiding this source of misconception in your great work (if not now too late), and also in any future editions of the “Origin,” and I think it may be done without difficulty and very effectually by adopting Spencer’s term (which he generally uses in preference to Natural Selection), viz. “Survival of the Fittest.” This term is the plain expression of the fact; “Natural Selection” is a metaphorical expression of it, and to a certain degree indirect and incorrect, since, even personifying Nature, she does not so much select special variations as exterminate the most unfavourable ones. — Letter from A.R. Wallace to C. Darwin, July 2, 1866

    Of course, “survival of the fittest” brought its own set of problems, didn’t it?

  48. #48 severalspeciesof
    February 22, 2008

    I agree with your objections, but if there is anyone who could pull it off, it just might be Miller and others of like mind (very religious) who just might be able to shield themselves from the IDists attacks because of their religious connection.

    No, I think it’s exactly the opposite. Miller is the worst person to try this because of his religious background — the atheists are going to see him as trying to sneak religion into evolution just like the IDists and will oppose it, while the theists are going to see it the same way and support it for the same reason many like ID. A Dawkins would be more credible on this plan, because no one would see him as trying to smuggle planning and purpose into evolution.

    I was going to disagree with you until I realized (DUH!!) that one of the favorite tricks IDists use is the misuse of quotes.

  49. #49 T.J.
    February 22, 2008

    It’s not “design” everybody sees. It’s “pattern”, isn’t it?

  50. #50 cm
    February 22, 2008

    Merriam-Webster online gives 8 subsections for the noun form of design; all but 2 of them refer to conscious intention. I think the semantic deck is too stacked against Miller on this one. I mean, if the preponderance of meanings don’t matter, why not say that organisms were “masterminded” by evolutionary processes? No–preponderance of meanings does matter.

    For an interesting linguistic experiment, consider this. Would you say that a snowflake “has a design”? Now, would you say that a snowflake “is designed”? Notice how you are (I would guess) much more reluctant to admit the second phrase than the first. This is because the bare noun “design” is interpreted in the context of a snowflake as a pattern, whereas the past participle “designed” is almost always used in English in the context of some intelligent agent–a designer–behind it.

    I get the sense that it is functionality which makes all the difference. Snowflakes have no function. They are intricate, but they don’t do anything with that intricacy (other than appeal to the eye). When intricate structures do specific things we start to think of them as “designed”–but one has to wonder how much of that is a semantic borrowing from our common conception that intricate things which do something are made by people?

  51. #51 Andrew
    February 22, 2008

    I’m at work, so I don’t have time to add anything of substance, but I know /I/ always think of Thor when there’s thunder. (And rock and roll.)

  52. #52 Sven DiMIlo
    February 22, 2008

    J. Scott Turner, a physiologist at SUNY, and definitely not an ID creationist, has written much on this topic. Some of his stuff is available here; note especially this recent book.

    Just because Dawkins says so doesn’t make it true. He lacks the training to deal precisely with linguistic distinctions.

    Other than, you know, writing about a dozen excellent books. What are your latest accomplishments, Glen?

  53. #53 cm
    February 22, 2008

    negentropyeater said:

    Same as the sun appears to be orbiting the earth, when we know it’s the other way round.

    Does anyone know who it was (a philosopher, maybe Wittgenstein, or was it a scientist?) who supposedly had a dialogue with a friend about this very point and hushed his friend by saying something to the effect of, “Well, what would it appear like if the Earth rotated?” (the point being, that what we observe is completely consistent with that too, and there is a mistake to assume that it only looks like the sun appears to be orbiting the Earth).

    I rather enjoyed this point, but I can’t remember where I read it. Help, please.

  54. #54 Kyle W.
    February 22, 2008

    Don’t know how I missed the repeated references, but several are still claiming that the eye is “designed to see,” and then clarifying that statement by pointing out that the “designer” is blind and ignorant. The qualifying statement destroys the use of the word “design.” Design implies the intention to have a particular end result. There is no such thing as blind design unless you’re willing to completely redefine design.

    If you wanted to say that the eye does have a design, it would (maybe) only be applicable in the sense that our DNA contains the instructions for cells to build a certain mass of tissue with certain properties, connected to the brain in a certain way (which happens to allow us to see). This is “design” in the sense that there is a set of genetic blueprints which output a particular end result… but the resulting eyeball doesn’t see because it was designed to see, it is just reconstructing the DNA passed along to it. That DNA was passed along because of favorable traits, i.e. the sense of sight, that allowed the organism to survive and procreate. I don’t believe anyone here is having trouble understanding how that works. DNA does contain what could be termed designs, but they are not purposeful designs — they’re just mimicking the previous generation’s favorable traits (again, not because it finds them favorable, but because the process of living does). I have no problem with using “design” in describing individual aspects of organisms, but attempting to use it in the realm of evolution would be a disservice to science.

  55. #55 pedlar
    February 22, 2008

    Glen D:

    “And just how do they appear to be designed?”

    Superficially. That is, on the surface. And that is the problem. We’re dealing with people whose thought processes are themselves totally superficial (and usually dishonest but that’s another topic). They really cannot believe that something as exquisite as a snowdrop – or a snow flake – can come about by accident. ‘Accidental’ being their only alternative explanation.

    Incidentally, I passed by a discarded length of wire-fencing today. Just broken and tossed aside. It had trapped half a dozen plastic bags, flapping in the wind. Hm, a plasticbagtrap. Very efficient, too. How … intelligent. How … designed.

  56. #56 defectiverobot
    February 22, 2008

    Stupid question: I accept that evolution doesn’t reflect planning or calculation, but isn’t there purpose? Isn’t evolutionary change motivated by a particular environmental or biological need? If so, wouldn’t that essentially define it as a purposeful action/reaction to stimulus?

    Sorry, just being a semantic stickler.

  57. #57 negentropyeater
    February 22, 2008

    Glen,

    “What it really means is that life does not look designed…”

    I was there just a few years back. I had a vague recollection from my biology classes many years ago, and when hearing someone saying “there is design in Nature”, I’d think, hmmm, actually , Nature does look as if it were designed.

    Then I decided, at age 40, to start studying Biology again, to really try to better understand. I had received a scientific education (French “Grande Ecole”), and I was really interested to find out what was the truth, and quite quickly, I realised why this appearance of Design was just a useless preconception. That it looked designed, but that it wasn’t. That it is a purely natural, unguided, process, that of evolution, that leads to a given result. That this result may look designed, a priori, but that it is just not the case. Just an appearance, something which emerges from the process. But in order to understand that, one has first to understand the process well enough. And for many, many people, that’s not easy.

    That’s why, you cannot ignore these preconceptions. You have to explain why they are wrong.

  58. #58 Glen Davidson
    February 22, 2008

    Another way of looking that the design-miracle connection that the IDists rely upon, while trying to hide it in some cases, is that IDists like Dembksi simply think of “design” as being something outside of nature. Whether it’s humans or gods, creativity and design are doing what nature and its “lawful processes” are unable to do.

    That’s why things “look designed” to them. They really don’t go around pointing to similarities between our machines and life–except sometimes when prosetylizing–instead they’re “pointing out” that natural processes can’t make life. They say that things “look designed,” because design is magic, and magic is design, hence the miracles and creativity that God used to make life is “design” to them.

    That’s also why “inferring design” is the default position whenever something can’t be precisely explained. The point isn’t that a “process of design” explains why a bird is as it is, the point indeed is that nothing explains it, which means to them that a miraculous process like human consciousness and thought did it. The fact that a bird isn’t like our designs isn’t important to them, because they don’t think in terms of design being “natural” or “predictable,” rather they see design as miraculous and unpredictable.

    The situation is that their vitalistic notions regarding the human mind are what make conversing with them useless. They were never talking about observed design when they said that “life looks designed,” they were saying that “life looks magical and unexplainable except through the magic of godlike or god-given minds.” They weren’t trying to explain the unknown through the known, because to them, by definition, the human mind and its processes are unknowns. They were trying to explain the unknown (to them) by the unknown (to them), explaining the mystery of life through the mystery of life.

    The whole project is hideously circular, then. The mind is supernatural and unpredictable, and only something supernatural and unpredictable could give rise to the mind. Hence God, who is also supernatural and unpredictable mind, gave rise to mind.

    The only flaw in that circularity is that life is predictable in many of its aspects via evolutionary theory. That is why evolutionary theory must go. Were they going to try to show that evolutionary theory doesn’t work in science, either as an organizer or as a useful idea? Of course not, their entire reason for hating evolution is that it explains life, and they need life to be necessarily dependent for its origins upon God.

    Therefore they have to “prove” that life can’t be explained by MET, and we’re quite familiar with their usual bumbling, misapprehension, and ideology-driven prevarication in their attempts to do so. Evolution destroys their miraculous mind which has to come from another miraculous mind, which means that evolution must be destroyed.

    To their minds, saying that “life looks designed” makes perfect sense in their desire to overthrow evolution, because they’re operating on the assumption that “it doesn’t look like it appeared naturally” is exactly the same thing as “look designed” to them. Dembski’s EF depends on that notion–he doesn’t care about showing that life looks or is designed by comparing design with design, he’s implicitly counting on the equation “not natural=designed.” All that the EF is even supposed to do is to show that life is “not natural.” That would mean nothing at all with respect to design if Dembski didn’t presuppose that “not natural=designed.”

    So not even the IDists think that life “looks designed” in the ordinary sense, they really mean that life “doesn’t look natural,” which to their minds means that it was produced by the supernatural, IOW, a mind.

    I have no idea why Dawkins thinks that life “appears designed,” except that he was acculturated to believe that it does. The IDists don’t even mean the same thing as he does when they say that life “appears designed,” because the IDists think that “looks miraculous=looks designed.”

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  59. #59 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    February 22, 2008

    I find Dawkins “appearance of…” language to be a bit of an obfuscatory cop-out

    I don’t get that at all, I would think he was trying to nail down the confusion (and in some cases, obfuscation) with people mistaking emergent “designs” for designed artifacts.

    “Designoids” is more of a side step IMHO. I would prefer to abstract it instead, as “functional structures” would work. Or at least I imagine so, as I understand that evolution results in functions, and here we are discussing structures performing said functions.

    Besides, as a physicist reminds us – structures, patterns, boundary conditions, and a method of interpretation is all we need. Not Miller’s superfluous “designer”.

    (Indeed, it feels like the usual bait-and-switch scam, as Miller will immediately replace the natural process “designer” with his theistic evolution designer when he wants to.)

  60. #60 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    February 22, 2008

    I find Dawkins “appearance of…” language to be a bit of an obfuscatory cop-out

    I don’t get that at all, I would think he was trying to nail down the confusion (and in some cases, obfuscation) with people mistaking emergent “designs” for designed artifacts.

    “Designoids” is more of a side step IMHO. I would prefer to abstract it instead, as “functional structures” would work. Or at least I imagine so, as I understand that evolution results in functions, and here we are discussing structures performing said functions.

    Besides, as a physicist reminds us – structures, patterns, boundary conditions, and a method of interpretation is all we need. Not Miller’s superfluous “designer”.

    (Indeed, it feels like the usual bait-and-switch scam, as Miller will immediately replace the natural process “designer” with his theistic evolution designer when he wants to.)

  61. #61 uncle noel
    February 22, 2008

    If I ask whether external ears are designed more for increased sensitivity or telling direction, no one is going to think I’m promoting religion. Wouldn’t it be obtuse to object to the word “design” in that context?
    The relevant point here is whether it’s a good idea to claim that natural selection really designs things, to which I would have to say “no”: things that just happen naturally aren’t designed.

  62. #62 Rick
    February 22, 2008

    It’s similar to the problem of the word “creature” implying “creator.”

    also – the designs of evolution require no designers, only design appreciators (us).

  63. #63 Kyle W.
    February 22, 2008

    defectiverobot said:

    I accept that evolution doesn’t reflect planning or calculation, but isn’t there purpose? Isn’t evolutionary change motivated by a particular environmental or biological need? If so, wouldn’t that essentially define it as a purposeful action/reaction to stimulus?

    I have to answer no to the first two, and therefore also to the third.

    Is there purpose? No. The changes that are beneficial are random and aren’t a matter of the organism willfully changing itself to better suit its environment.

    Is evolutionary change motivated by a particular environmental or biological need? Again I say no. Evolutionary change is started by random mutation, not as a response to “environmental or biological needs.” An animal doesn’t look to nature, realize it would be beneficial if it had armored skin, and set the process of developing thick skin in motion. The randomness of the changes precludes our use of words like design, plan, purpose, etc.

  64. #64 Mark (Monty) Montague
    February 22, 2008

    Y’know, sometimes I read this blog and think that the Pharyngula crowd is so provincial and intellectually inbred it’s horrifying.

    I am a self-proclaimed “ignorant computer scientist,” but I have some ivory-tower biology (and scientific/engineering dilettante ) background and I’m working on getting more. I know a lot of biology researchers. I read a lot of biology books and papers.

    I know a lot of you are all up-in-arms about the “intelligent design” (bowel) movement, but frankly, a whole lot of world-class biology researchers use “design” commonly in describing entirely valid things that support evolution all the time.

    There is a legitimate argument that teleology sometimes leads to misconceptions (although I think there is a similar argument that denial of all teleology also leads to misconceptions) but all this bullshit about “design” being a four-letter word rejects all sorts of mainstream biologists. I’m sitting in on a class taught by Eric Davidson on cis-regulatory networks and their evo-devo implications and I’ve noticed that he uses the word “design” occasionally to describe things like how gene batteries lead to embryogenesis and such, not because he thinks that there’s an intelligent designer or any such crap (which never comes up at all, of course) but because it’s a terse way of describing the systems.

    It can be a metaphor, which is always good to keep in mind when doing technical stuff, but it’s a useful shorthand for some people to think about some aspects of biology, just like I can tell my mechanic “when I hit the brakes, the car wants to go to the left” — my mechanic and I both know damn well that the car doesn’t “want” anything, but it’s still a valid way to describe the failure mode in my wheel alignment in a terse way. Similarly, confusing selection pressure or evolutionary opportunism with intent can lead to mistakes, so it shouldn’t be taken as a given, but it can also lead to insights if one thinks of it as “there is a big selective advantage to anything that stumbles on a better way to do X or to move to niche/environment Y” in the shorthand of “the bacteria want to find a way to survive in the presence of penicillin”– the bacteria don’t “want” anything, but it doesn’t matter if you think of it that way if you’re looking for the mechanism rather than the underlying philosophy.

    Many authors I respect quite a bit, who aren’t by any means associated with “Intelligent Design” pinheads and for all I know could be frothing-at-the-mouth atheists, have been using the word design for longer than the “intelligent design” movement has existed, or at least long before I ever heard of it. According to Wikipedia (dubious, of course) the ID “movement” started in response to a 1987 court ruling. Steven Vogel published Life’s Devices in 1988, so I doubt ID existed when he was writing it. I’ve been astounded that J. Scott Turner gripes on his website that knee-jerk anti-creationists have attacked his lectures for use of “design,” e.g. in his book The Tinkerer’s Accomplice, which, if the attackers bothered to read, is a pro-evolution that explicitly makes the point that physiological mechanisms that maintain homeostasis can take an active role in guiding the development and stability of how many biological systems work that is actively teleological in that these mechanisms, either presently or in their evolutionary past, were under selection pressure to create or maintain an optimized system. Whether you call that “intention” or “design” is a semantic question, but it’s at least a valid way to contemplate biological systems and emergent properties. It’s valid for the same reason that studying neurophysiology can’t be “reduced” by reductionists to studying one neuron in a dish the way that thermodynamics can be (sometimes) reduced to statistical mechanics: brains have complex organization, context dependence, multiple cell types, glial cells, specific patterns of connectivity, and so forth, and are not just a homogenize goo of neurons that somehow have “emergent brain-ness.” Anyone who claims they have more than a very partial understanding of how we go from a blastula to a brain is BSing. We know that there’s some sort of system that produces this organization through some sort of genomic regulatory system combined with environmental and developmental systems, which we know evolved, but can be examined in a light of “why do these neurons want to connect to the hippocampus” or “the retina is designed to be a slightly irregular hexagonal grid to avoid aliasing problems” or whatever without implying “goddidit,” or “ghost in the machine.” Making up some 1984-esque linguistic rule that using those words means the “ID terrorists have won” just alienates people because of their preferred vocabularies.

    Don’t get me wrong, I hate the BS in the ID movement as much as the next guy, but I also am a very big supporter of evaluating biological systems using engineering tools, and applying cross-disciplinary techniques for better understanding, and using analogies to reach new, valid conclusions. One can marvel at the way evolution has led to optimization of biological systems in the perspective of “nature has designed a bird’s wing more elegantly than the engineers at Boeing” without bringing god into it at all, and taking that out of the aesthetic realm into reverse-engineering things that weren’t “engineered” by a literal “designer” is a valuable, productive, and fundamentally good thing to do as part of the scientific endeavor, and I consider prohibitions against using “design” in discussions of evolved terms just as pointless as prohibitions against worship of graven images.

    Sorry for the rant, but this touches on something that, as much as I love reading the explications and cephalopod stuff here, seems like a toxic, exclusionary, and counterproductive element of the “scientific atheist” community that tends to make me, and many other “would normally be sympathetic” members of the scientific community I hang out with, concerned that there is a divisive, radicalized, narrow-minded group of atheist scientists that’s arisen as some sort of Hegelian antithesis to the creationist nutjobs. I actually have a lot of people say “why do you waste time reading that PZ Myers guy, he’s rabid” or similar, and none of them are creationists, and many of them are agnostics or atheists or kooky wiccans with advanced degrees in technical and scientific fields. I’m not trying to be a troll, but I think the fact that “take back the word ‘design’” is being presented as a new or a questionable idea shows that people who are fighting the good fight are in danger of the “battle not with monsters lest you become one” problem.

    Bah, I don’t even know if I should bother posting this, since it’s sort of ranty, and it’s certainly contrarian relative to the predominant views of the community here. I don’t mean to disrespect anyone here, so my main purpose is to raise a red flag that there seems to be a lot of the dogmatism, despite the genuine desire to support open-minded inquiry which I believe (nearly) everyone here has and most creationists lack utterly.

  65. #65 Kyle W.
    February 22, 2008

    Mark:

    I’m not against the use of the word design in biology. I’m against attempting to have some sort of social movement involving the adoption of the word “design” as a description of the evolutionary processes.

    But this whole debate does, sort of, remind me of the whole Dawkins/Hitchens “brights” debacle.

  66. #66 negentropyeater
    February 22, 2008

    Torbjörn,

    (Indeed, it feels like the usual bait-and-switch scam, as Miller will immediately replace the natural process “designer” with his theistic evolution designer when he wants to.)

    That kind of “Proces d’intentions” (I’m sorry I don’t know the English expression, someone help me), I will not play !

    And if he does so, if he does it with scientific or metaphysical claims, you’ll be right to attack him back. And that will generate more debate between moderates and non believers, and this kind of discussion leads people to try and think for themselves. Which is what we want.

  67. #67 Colugo
    February 22, 2008

    Evolution as design? Let’s turn this discussion on its head: Perhaps “intentional,” “purposeful” design in the strict sense is really like the randomness and non-telic algorithms of biological evolution. That is, design involves iterative selective sorting of variants with copying errors (“mutation”) and stochastic frequency variation (“drift”), at multiple levels. This nested hierarchy (from neurons to market) of selection, mutation, and drift creates the illusion of an intentional “designer.”

    With the application of genetic algorithms
    “design” – of technology, artifacts, art – is even more clearly an evolutionary process.

    Consider:

    - Selective processes within the brain-mind, including neural connection reinforcement and schema selection
    - Laboratory, field, and virtual testing of variants
    - Competition between teams
    - Market selection of products

    Nassim Taleb, Edge.org, ‘What Are You Optimistic About?, 2007: “(W)hen those who accept the evolutionary argument look at a computer, at a laser beam, at a successful drug, at a surgical technique, at the spread of a language, at the growth of a city, or at an commercial enterprise, they tend to fall for the belief that its discovery or establishment partook of some grand design. … I hold that not only discoveries are also largely the result of a random process, but that their randomness is even less tractable than, and not as simple as, biological evolution.”

    Gary Cziko, Without Miracles, 1995: “Although some important differences exist in the evolution of tradition, technology, and science with respect to the selection process, in another respect they are very much alike in that the new memes that are tested arise by the blind variation of previously existing memes.”

    If “design” is always evolutionary, there can be no objection to its use to describe biological entities.

  68. #68 James Taylor
    February 22, 2008

    The process of design is an evolutionary process also known as trial and error. A designer is only successful with knowledge, experience and experimentation. The problem with coopting the term is that the opposition draws the line for development at the skin and cannot rationalize that the process of thought is an evolutionary algorithm which gives us the ability to predict future events by experience and thought experiments. The claim that design requires a designer is absolutely wrong as design only requires success. We just equate design with our internal rationalizations, but overlook the fact that the design is simply the product of the same phenomenon practiced by evolution. I am continually surprised that the scientific community hasn’t effectively countered the ID argument with this argument and so I am thrilled that the conversation has at least started in the scientific community over the nature of design.

  69. #69 negentropyeater
    February 22, 2008

    Glen,

    IDists don’t say that life “looks designed”.
    They, of course play on this impression that so many people have, there seems to be a lot of things in nature that look designed, or look to have some design in them.

    So they make the claim, not only that it is designed, but also that they have evidence for this claim and that they have found a new great scientific way to find more evidences. Without having to say anything about who the designer is, nor how he did it.

    Now we all know it’s bullocks, but I do think it is important to explain to people (especially the religious moderates & educated folks), where this “apparence of design” comes from.

    I think this hepls solidify the acceptance of Evolution amongst the more educated religious moderates.

    Now, it won’t convert automatically someone to Atheism, which is another issue. But that will be an important step towards accepting reality.

  70. #70 Kyle W.
    February 22, 2008

    James Taylor said:

    The claim that design requires a designer is absolutely wrong as design only requires success.

    That is only true if one is willing to overlook the most common notion of what “design” is. Most people don’t think of philosophical definitions of design — their definition implies a designer. The definition that comes to 99% of people is that of conscious planning to achieve a useful or aesthetically pleasing result. That does not describe evolution.

  71. #71 Glen Davidson
    February 22, 2008

    Good lord, Montague, I wrote in comment #3 that “design” is sometimes written of evolved structures, and gave an example in #11. Much later comes your blanket rant.

    Besides that, Miller is addressing an actual fact, that in America at least, using the term “design” for evolved and otherwise “naturally ordered” structures is generally discouraged.

    The only real issue is whether or not Miller has a good point in “taking back design.” Well I doubt that we even can “take it back,” and furthermore, I don’t think it would facilitate our own need to facilely designate engineered vs. non-engineered organisms.

    I especially don’t think that mucking around with the term “design” is wise before or during the time when Expelled is bringing up the whole issue. Labeling life as “designed” at this time would simply play into the hands of the IDists, who’d triumphally proclaim that we agree that life “looks designed” while we’re supposedly unwilling to discuss a “designer” simply because we’re evil atheists (actually, we don’t discuss the “designer” in science because no one comes up with any evidence that life is designed).

    At the very least, this is an inopportune time to be discussing the “take-back of design.” I think that adding ambiguity to the meaning of “design” is inopportune at any time, in fact, but at the very least we should defer any such attempts until after the Expelled people have done their best to take advantage of any ambiguities that they can.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  72. #72 poke
    February 22, 2008

    I think this idea has already failed. I first read about it in a write up whose headline loudly proclaimed, “There Is ‘Design’ In Nature, Biologist Argues.” It wasn’t until the final paragraph that I realized it wasn’t talking about Intelligent Design. I think he’s just confusing matters.

  73. #73 John Huey
    February 22, 2008

    Generally speaking, it is easier to deflect than it is to oppose and as such it should be easier to ‘deflect’ the concept of ‘supernatural design’ toward the idea of a natural evolutionary design process than to completely oppose the idea of design. Our human brains just have the innate tendency to ascribe agency to natural processes, so using a qualified term like ‘natural design’ or ‘emergent design’ might be really effective.

    What we should do is set up an experiment to test the idea. Perhaps some focus groups? Or, trying the term out at some Creationist discussion group and see what type of response is generated.

  74. #74 poke
    February 22, 2008

    Mark (Monty) Montague,

    Hegelian antithesis to the creationist nutjobs.

    Can I put that on my business card?

  75. #75 Ichthyic
    February 22, 2008

    but I have a couple of objections.

    I only have one, actually:

    he didn’t put the word “perceived” before the word “design”.

    I’ve actually grown quite weary of people promoting Collins and Miller to be spokespeople for evolutionary biology.

    I understand the strategic value, but I know the reality, too.

    it doesn’t happen here, but it sure happens a lot elsewhere.

  76. #76 Colin
    February 22, 2008

    Design has become the dirty word that scientists must shy away from. By being afraid to use the word Design, we are reinforcing the meaning that ID proponents want it to mean. We are empowering it for them not us.

    Ken Miller is right. Anyone who looks at nature can plainly see pattern and design. By allowing the ID camp a monopoly on the word Design we are allowing all perceived design to be a win for the creationists. By instead reclaiming Design as Emergent Design we are reclaiming it and empowering it for ourselves.

    …I wrote a more thorough version of this argument on my blog here:
    http://catcubed.com/2008/02/22/semantic-reclamation-emergent-design-vs-intelligent-design/

  77. #77 DSK Samways
    February 22, 2008

    “Y’know, sometimes I read this blog and think that the Pharyngula crowd is so provincial and intellectually inbred it’s horrifying.”

    Well, if you’re trying raise the level of discussion, that probably wasn’t the most appropriate introduction, was it?

  78. #78 DiscoveredJoys
    February 22, 2008

    I once got halfway through drafting an email to Richard Dawkins about the use of English (or most other Western languages) to describe evolution. In the end I deleted the draft as I had not thought my points through thoroughly (I’m still struggling).

    Essentially what I was trying to say was that English is constructed reflecting a simple cause and effect model of reality. However, evolution is a process made up of many unpredictable causes which have many unpredictable effects, and results in a ‘statistical’ outcome like appearance of teleological design.

    The simple cause and effect language lets us say ‘the eye is designed’ where the verb ‘is’ can establish a one to one identity relationship or mean something like ‘the eye appears to me like it has been designed by an engineer, although I do not specify the processes that make this appearance so’.

    One approach I toyed with was adopting ‘E-prime’, which according to Wikipedia: “In linguistics, E-Prime is a modified English syntax and vocabulary lacking all forms of the verb to be: be, is, am, are, was, were, been and being, and also their contractions. Sentences composed in E-Prime are therefore less likely to contain the passive voice, and can force the writer or speaker to think differently, possibly making their written text easier to read. By eliminating most uses of the passive mode, E-Prime requires the writer to explicitly acknowledge the agent of a sentence.”

    Trouble is that although E-prime strips away some of the confusion in English, it is still based on an agent’s view of reality.

    Even with E-prime we still need to find a way remove the false implication of agency (where it exists in error) – and that is why I never posted my email to Richard Dawkins.

    English is wonderfully flexible and context sensitive, but it does mean that people can infer completely different meanings from the same words. Perhaps we need a standard phrase like ‘The form of the eye appears appropriately fitted to its current function as a result of repeated non-predictable variation and selection’. Wordy, but it avoids the ambiguity of ‘design’.

  79. #79 Ichthyic
    February 22, 2008

    Ken Miller is right. Anyone (read: human) who looks at nature can plainly see (read: perceive) pattern and design

  80. #80 zy
    February 22, 2008

    Hmm, Miller’s use of “design” is on the outs with pretty much mainstream theology, as well:

    In this evolving universe, God does not dictate the outcome of nature’s activities, but allows the world to become what it is able to become in all of its diversity: one could say that God has a purpose rather than a fixed plan, a goal rather than a blueprint.

    “Design” is popularly thought of in terms of blueprints and detail, not the emergent features he might Like it to imply. Why reclaim a word so flawed to begin with?

  81. #81 Richard Harris
    February 22, 2008

    Jumpin’ Jeezus! We’re divided by a common language.

    My Canadian & British dictionaries say that design is a ‘preliminary plan or sketch for making a building or machine’, whereas my American dictionary says ‘to prepare the plans for: to design a new bridge. etc’.

    I’ve been labouring in the UK under the delusion that design is more than just something preliminary. No wonder I didn’t understand the natives. (I think actual Canadian usage accords with American usage.) (And I wonder if this has any bearing on the low status of Engineers in the UK?)

    Purpose is either explicitly or implicitly central to the definitions of ‘design’ in the various dictionaries. So it won’t do to use ‘design’ in the context of evolution by natural selection, or descent with modification. The lack of purpose involved in evolution by natural selection is central to the theory; the use of the word ‘design’ would cause confusion.

  82. #82 James Taylor
    February 22, 2008

    Kyle W. said…

    The definition that comes to 99% of people is that of conscious planning to achieve a useful or aesthetically pleasing result.

    Yes, but that is not how design actually works and planning comes from experience and knwoledge. The general definition overlooks psychology with common misunderstanding and simply overlooks how design really happens. Without knowledge, experience and experimentation, designs fail. Also hidden in the design process is the number of iterations or generations a design undergoes within our reasoning. People don’t conceptualize designs without this process. It is implied and inherent in the process of development.

    When I “design” software, I use the experiences and knowledge of previous conceptualizations and experimentation for the current project in the process. There is no “out of nothing” in the process. Everything I do is built up bit by bit from my education and application. I have to use what I have learned to be successful; otherwise, I guarantee the project will fail.

    The purpose of education is to provide fundamental tools to a student even if they are only conceptual or methodological so that the student can become an efficient worker, rather than the worker starting at square one on every project.

  83. #83 Chris Bell
    February 22, 2008

    They picked “designer” because they knew “creator” was political suicide.

    Creator is in fact what they mean. A designer just designs, he doesn’t build. Their “designer” also implemented his design, making him a “creator”.

    But “Intelligent Creation” just doesn’t have the plausibility ring, does it…?

  84. #84 Owlmirror
    February 22, 2008

    Another thought to add:

    Maybe we’re looking at the wrong end of the teleological stick, here.

    The problem isn’t the word “design” itself. Even if we were to make an effort to eschew it (made more difficult by the common examples of use by biologists, mentioned above), going with “evolved” or “formed” or “shaped”, or “has the function” or … whatever other good synonymous terms and phrases there might be — the problem is that the naïve creationist-minded person is still going to argue “But {organ or biological system here} cannot have {“evolved” or “formed” or “been shaped” or “gotten the function} just by randomness {and selection, which creationists often just drop}!”

    The problem is not “design”, it’s that “cannot“. That’s what’s really driving the ID movement, the creationist movement, and even sometimes deistic or agnostic teleologists.

    And of course, it’s the “cannot” that is so utterly stupid, because on the one hand, all of the evidence that we can find indicates that natural random variation with natural selection did and does give rise to {form or shape or function}, and on the other hand, that “cannot” is completely self-contradictory; if natural variation and selection “cannot” give rise to complexity, then the complexity necessary to design complexity in the first place cannot have arisen.

    Sigh.

  85. #85 windy
    February 22, 2008

    I actually have a lot of people say “why do you waste time reading that PZ Myers guy, he’s rabid” or similar, and none of them are creationists, and many of them are agnostics or atheists or kooky wiccans with advanced degrees in technical and scientific fields. I’m not trying to be a troll, but I think the fact that “take back the word ‘design’” is being presented as a new or a questionable idea shows that people who are fighting the good fight are in danger of the “battle not with monsters lest you become one” problem.

    Um, it’s Ken Miller who presents it as a “new or questionable idea”. Is he a knee-jerk anti-creationist?

    Since Miller is not stupid, I assume that he is well aware of the occasional use of the word “design” in the biological literature and is talking about something else.

    You have a point about the rhetoric, though…

    (PZ:) It’s an interesting idea, but I have a couple of objections.

    Oh no my ears are melting from the vile and rabid language!!! For the love of god, stop it!

    (…sorry.)

  86. #86 A Hermit
    February 22, 2008

    The point I always to to bring up regarding the idea that complexity implies the existence of a designer is to point out that one of the hallmarks of design, or at least of good design, is simplicity. If you make something more complicated than it has to be, that’s bad design.

    So the complexity of the universe, and the degree to which that complexity is the product of redundancies and obsolete structures, is an argument against the existence of designer. Or at least implies that any such designer is not very good at his job….

  87. #87 Kamikaze189
    February 22, 2008

    Design implies a designer. And that designer is a natural process called evolution.

  88. #88 James Taylor
    February 22, 2008

    Owlmirror,

    I agree. Self-delusion and security of conviction are powerful emotions that cannot be easily influenced by argumentation. It takes self-realization to overcome slef-delusion and people in general are unwilling to open that corner of the mind and evaluate their own neurotic assumptions.

    Intelligence itself is a mental disorder in that we are smart enough to comprehend the finality of death and so we fear that our life is meaningless in the grand scheme of the universe. We might argue that the ancients were only ignorant by their depiction of a tiny universe, but it is a psychological necessity of our intellect to define the boundaries of existence, to ascribe it meaning and to engender the hope that we are not just “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”-Macbeth.

    The fundamental root of the issue is mortality as most of humanity cannot deal with the fact that life is tenuous and that there may be a definitive end to all the investment and significance one places on oneself. Some cannot cope with this and so construct grand plans and schemes to be central to the execution of the universe.

    It is a manifestation of the quintessential conspiracy theory humans have constructed to cope with duality of intellect and existence.

  89. #89 Wallce Turner
    February 22, 2008

    Why not go the whole hog and try to reclaim the word intelligent at the same time? That way the creationintelligent design proponentists will be shown for what they truly are.

  90. #90 James Taylor
    February 22, 2008

    Wallace Turner said…

    Why not go the whole hog and try to reclaim the word intelligent at the same time? That way the creationintelligent design proponentists will be shown for what they truly are.

    Yeppers. You have my vote.

  91. #91 negentropyeater
    February 22, 2008

    zy,
    “Why reclaim a word so flawed to begin with?”

    The question is not wether biology, should or shouldn’t reclaim the word “Design”.
    The question is wether, expressions such as “the evolutionary design of life”, “life’s emergent design”, “life designs itself”, … are meaningful, help to communicate Science, and block the imposteurs.

    This does not mean saying that “life is designed”, or that “Life is intelligently designed” or that “the appearance of design implies a designer”. But on the contrary, it is about explaining why “Life is not designed”, or why “evolutionary design does not imply a designer”.

  92. #92 thwaite
    February 22, 2008

    Owlmirror@#9 (yes, I’m late to this rumble):
    They say “eyes are designed to see”, what’s the response? … “Eyes are evolutionarily designed to see”?

    Or, respond with a nuanced philosophical distinction (or at least wow them with jargon):
    “Eyes are teleonomically designed to see” – the word may not admit of an adjectival form, but teleonomy is the apt word for the concept. And neither Norbert Weiner (early cyberneticist) nor Pittendrigh (biologist) nor most later authors used it with religious intent – in fact it’s defined to even exclude Aristotle’s teleological presumption that biological designs are for some overall purpose in the world.

  93. #93 negentropyeater
    February 22, 2008

    Kamikaze,

    “Design implies a designer. And that designer is a natural process called evolution.”

    I’m not sure if that works (isn’t a designer always a puposeful intelligent being).

    “Human design implies a human designer. But evolutionary design implies that a natural process is designing itself”

  94. #94 JimV
    February 22, 2008

    Re #65 & #66: thank you! As a person who had the job title of design engineer for half my career, I have on several previous occasions tried to make that exact point, that design isn’t some mystical or paranormal process; it’s trying 99 things that don’t work until you find that one that does (and then sometimes it screws up something else). Sure we, can use our neurons to do some of the trying in mental simulations, so that nobody sees them, and others can be done in computer models or on test benches, but despite those advantages over natural, biological evolution, we still put out things like Vista.

    Conceding that there is some dualistic, supernatural aspect to how human beings do design as opposed to how nature works is giving away half the battle, it seems to me.

  95. #95 James Taylor
    February 22, 2008

    negentropyeater said…

    I’m not sure if that works (isn’t a designer always a puposeful intelligent being).

    I disagree as stated above. Implemented designs imply success only not purpose as there are plenty of failed designs that presupposed purpose as well. It is a trial and error methodology not an ex nihilo manifestation. Implemented designs are based on what works not philosophical assignment of purpose. There are plenty of tools designed for a specific purpose yet co-opted for other purposes in which the tool resolves an applicable problem.

  96. #96 Chris Bell
    February 22, 2008

    To add on to my earlier post (#81), I say that we forever refer to Intelligent Design as “Intelligent Creation” for now on.

    Can they really object to that?

  97. #97 James Taylor
    February 22, 2008

    Thanks JimV. So many people react negatively to this level of reasoning. It is nice to someone appropriately comprehend the argument for a change.

  98. #98 negentropyeater
    February 22, 2008

    James,

    I don’t have a problem with using the words “evolutionary design” in Biology, but more so with communicating the notion that “a natural process is a designer”.

  99. #99 James Taylor
    February 22, 2008

    Chris Bell…

    To add on to my earlier post (#81), I say that we forever refer to Intelligent Design as “Intelligent Creation” for now on.

    Can they really object to that?

    Since we are parsing definitions, intelligence is the manifestation of a complex, physically existent mind. Since the ID argument presupposes no physically existent mind, intelligent is not the correct adjective. I would suggest “Supernatural Creation” as that accurately describes the process and agent. The IDists won’t like it because it unmasks the politics of their position.

  100. #100 James Taylor
    February 22, 2008

    negentropyeater, yes, it’s a hard concept to convey. I generally have had a hard time communicating the argument and the nature of parsing definitions needlessly confuses the point. The fact is that the word “design” evokes different concepts within each of us, but I practice design everyday and it is not some magical or ephemeral lightning strike but a process that requires a lot of wandering down dead-ends and consolidation of experience and knowledge.

  101. #101 hibob
    February 22, 2008

    I’d just like to agree with Colin’s argument for the term “Emergent Design”. It immediately disposes of the design-therefore-a-designer implication by hinting at how a designer isn’t necessary, whereas “natural design” is vague and could easily be misinterpreted. It also immediately points a discussion toward studies of emergent properties and complexity, which highlight phenomena that certainly look designed-by-a-designer arising without anyone’s intervention.

  102. #102 ifeelfine
    February 22, 2008

    I may not think of Thor every time it thunders but I’ll always have Thursday!

  103. #103 miller
    February 22, 2008

    If you didn’t know, Michael Shermer has been using the word “design” to describe evolution for a while now. He makes the distinction between natural selection, which is a mindless bottom-up design process, and intelligent design, which is a top-down design process. So if you really want to know how well the switcheroo works, check out his book.
    Why Darwin Matters

    Of course, in his more recent book, he compares natural selection to the invisible hand, which is a bottom-up design process for the economy. I’m guessing most Pharynguloids would strongly disagree after this point…

  104. #104 Tosser
    February 22, 2008

    Look at what creationists do with the word “theory.” Now we’re going to give them “design”?

  105. #105 Colin
    February 22, 2008

    Look at what creationists do with the word “theory.” Now we’re going to give them “design”?

    Actually, we already gave them the word design by avoiding using the word ourselves. By reclaiming the word we start to dilute it’s meaning: Emergent Design implies that something can be designed without a designer.

    This empowers the word for evolution and softens their ability to use the perception of Design as a method of attack.

  106. #106 Mark (Monty) Montague
    February 22, 2008

    Glen(#70), sorry if I came across as ignoring your examples. In #3 and #11, I read “I’m against using the term ‘design’ for what has evolved” with an inferred “…and we should encourage people to cut it out.” I don’t mind if you personally don’t like to use it, or even if Pharyngula readers (and writer) as a group want to adopt that notation, but I’m concerned that that, and other rhetorical strategies, seems to be alienating a lot of people from the “fight the creationists” camp, which seems like a shame.

    Windy (#84) touche’, but I still think there’s an issue here.

    Colin (#75) probably better than my post: buying into a “creationists own the word design” is empowering them. screw that. The shallow semantic creationist “design begs a designer” is not what actual scientists really mean by design, anyway, so I don’t see that it deserves much more respect than “evolution is just a theory.” Getting good at explaining “and by design, I mean…” seems better than just fighting to change the word usage, IMHO. (I should probably have put more IMHOs in the last post anyway.) I also really like the blog post.

    poke (#73) knock yourself out, although I’m not sure Hegelian is really a word.

    I also should say that many of you also make good points, so I’m not wanting to bash on PZ and everyone who agrees with his objections… I’m really just concerned that the very real anger about anti-science that has drawn scientists down from their ivory towers with big axes to grind has gotten said scientists so riled up that the axes are applied rather more broadly than just to the anti-science bigots who deserve hewing.

  107. #107 Tosser
    February 22, 2008

    Actually, we already gave them the word design by avoiding using the word ourselves. By reclaiming the word we start to dilute it’s meaning…–Colin

    But we have used it, and they’ve turned it around on us. In one of PZ’s recent debates, IDer Geoffrey Simmons implied that many biologists agree with intelligent design by noting that biology books talk about design all the time. In the Dover Kitzmiller trail, IDer Michael Behe referenced the use of the word “design” in a biology textbook, even though the author of the textbook said he was only making an illustrative comparison.

    The subleties of reclaiming words and diluting their meanings will be lost on people looking for any thread to grab. IDers will hear “blah blah blah blah blah…DESIGN!…blah blah blah blah blah.”

  108. #108 Spinoza
    February 22, 2008

    PZ, Ken means usurp the word “design” from the Creationists the way Spinoza usurped the word “God” from the theists.
    ;-)

  109. #109 defectiverobot
    February 22, 2008

    Kyle W.

    I respectfully disagree. Many mutations aren’t random. For example, we require yearly flu shots precisely because the virus evolves as a response to an external stimulus, namely the previous year’s vaccine; it’s a survival tactic. Evolution, it seems to me, is primarily an organism’s attempt to better survive a constantly changing world. Hence the “survival of the fittest” phrase that often–and to my mind regrettably–accompanies some “nutshell” explanations of evolution.

    Further, in your response to my question, you (sort of) characterize my position as assuming that an organism makes a conscious decision to evolve. I in no way meant to imply that; it skates dangerously close to an ID explanation, which I would never put forth. My position is that there is a purpose to evolution, but it’s neither a conscious purpose not a “designer’s” purpose, it is, rather a practical response to environmental forces.

    Thanks for reponding, though. I’m glad not everyone’s ignoring me! :)

  110. #110 Owlmirror
    February 22, 2008

    Look at what creationists do with the word “theory.” Now we’re going to give them “design”?

    Speaking of “theory”, maybe this is another one of those “creationist own goal” setup opportunities:

    Creationist: Can’t you Darwinists see that all life is designed!

    Scientist: Oh, dear, really? That’s an excellent point you have there! We should teach the students about that, don’t you think?

    Creationist: Yes, we should. That information must go into the science standards for our state.

    Scientist: I quite agree. When we mandate that our teachers must offer instruction in the ways that biological structures develop, the design will be so obvious.

    Creationist: Good. Let’s insert, “Teachers will discuss biological design, emphasizing the eye, the ear, and the brain, and kinds of evidence needed to support claims that these structures evolved, and that it’s all as probable as a tornado in a junkyard assembling a 747.”

    Scientist: Well, the tornado in a junkyard might be more for an advanced course in biostatistics. Let’s strike that particular bit. The committee might even suggest discussion of the biological development of other bodily organs. Boy, you’re just beating me up over here, forcing me to include a discussion of design in our public schools. It’s like you’re tossing me right into a thick tangle of Smilax .

    Creationist: Yes, life is exactly like a watch!

    Scientist: <rolls eyes>

  111. #111 defectiverobot
    February 22, 2008

    Has anyone (particularly those with children under the age of 11) yet noted the fact that Ben Stein’s career of late has been little more than as a voice-over actor for Nickelodeon’s The Fairly Odd Parents?

    He plays a pixie.

    I don’t even need to conclude with a snarky comment on that one, do I?

  112. #112 Kyle W.
    February 23, 2008

    defectiverobot said:

    Many mutations aren’t random.

    I’ll likewise respectfully disagree and assert that they are random at some level. Your example, influenza, evolves via antigenic drift or antigenic shift. That either of these is able to occur is due to the current genetic makeup of the virus, changes that were likely random. I may be talking above my own head but, from my understanding, drift is the accumulation of random mutations in the genes. Shift, on the other hand, can only happen when two types of influenza A have their RNA mixed in an infected host. That these two viruses infect the same animal happens by chance. I can find no “intent.”

    My position is that there is a purpose to evolution, but it’s neither a conscious purpose not a “designer’s” purpose, it is, rather a practical response to environmental forces.

    And it is because of this lack of consciousness in this “purpose” that I am extremely opposed to any sort of PR move to adopt the word “design” and apply it to evolution. The general use of the word doesn’t bother me a bit, but I’m deadset against the idea of advocating its use as a combative tactic. The propenentists’ strategy has primarily (if not entirely) consisted of rhetoric. I think it’s wrong to employ the strategy of adopting the “other side’s” terminology, thereby sinking to the same depths.

  113. #113 Josh
    February 23, 2008

    Didn’t Dawkins already sneak design into evolution in The Blind Watchmaker? Even the title implies it is a design process, right?

    So, to predict the creationist reactions, why not look at what happened after that book was released?

  114. #114 Ichthyic
    February 23, 2008

    That these two viruses infect the same animal happens by chance. I can find no “intent.”

    non-random does not necessarily mean completely deterministic, either.

    probabilities govern mutations, as all things. in any given section of genome, some types of mutations will be more likely than others. Still, given the size of a given genome, and the number of ways a point mutation might occur, the predictability level is very low. So, not completely random, but hardly on the level of a completely deterministic and predictable system either.

    Moreover, horizontal gene transfers often transfer quite similar types of genetic material (depending on what is doing the transferring).

    I do believe this is what he was referring to by some mutations being nonrandom in source.

  115. #115 Ichthyic
    February 23, 2008

    ah, no, to be clearer, looking back at the post you were referring to:

    Many mutations aren’t random. For example, we require yearly flu shots precisely because the virus evolves as a response to an external stimulus, namely the previous year’s vaccine; it’s a survival tactic.

    this is confusing mutation with selection. the source of the mutation, predictable or not, has little to do with the fact that the reason you need new flu shots is because of selection. the selection pressure in this case being antibodies to previous strains.

    so, just to be absolutely clear, what defectiverobot should be saying is that selection is entirely nonrandom, which is always the case.

    has nothing to do with whether or not the mutations that caused the variation in the organism to begin with were random or not.

  116. #116 BglBttr
    February 23, 2008

    Why would an all-knowing entity ‘design’ anything? Just go ahead and create, it will be perfect right away. So, if I am a perfect creation, why does my back hurt? Why do I drown in something as common as water?
    Because I am a ‘design’ awaiting revision by an imperfect process.

  117. #117 defectiverobot
    February 23, 2008

    Kyle W.,

    First of all, it’s I who am talking way over my head. I never even had high school biology. I’m just a layman with a deep interest in all of sciences (which is one reason I come to this site, as well as that “little astronomy site”). Clearly I am not articulating my position correctly. I think Ichthyic hit it on the head for me, though.

    There’s an undercurent of anthropomorphisis in my posts that I do not intend. I in no way mean to indicate that cells some how make conscious decisions to change in response to a stimulus. As you mentioned, there is no intent, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a purpose (you say semantic, I say sem-mahn-tic ;).

    I won’t advocate the use of the word design either for political reasons, but overall I think I agree Ken Miller, primarily because design is such an elegant and useful word. How easy it to say that “a shark is perfectly designed?” Now of course, there are implications loaded into a statement like that, but then again, the people we’re arguing with already pounce on every semantical position with a machine-like regularity. If we abscond with “design” for our own purposes, use it as a means of discussing the perfect natural phenomenon that is evolution (“unguided design?”), we could perhaps slowly morph (evolve? Heh!) it into our entirely logical position. (Sort of the way PZ points out that we’ve done with the word “theory” in Florida.)

  118. #118 Kyle W.
    February 23, 2008

    defectiverobot:

    I think we’re actually agreeing on a basic level — the word ‘design’ has applications related to evolution and shouldn’t be omitted because of its use in ID. I was really addressing this issue from more of a “let’s-not-have-a-conscious-effort-to-use-it-in-response-to-the-creationists” standpoint.

  119. #119 Dirac's Ghost
    February 23, 2008

    Over at Pharyngula we find PZ Meyers and company proving once again that they’ve bought the creationists hype for so long that they don’t know what is and isn’t possible, much less, what is and isn’t evidenced.

    http://nonrandomevolution.blogspot.com/2008/02/theyve-done-it-again.html

    Intrinsic Finality – look it up, kiddies.

  120. #120 trrll
    February 23, 2008

    I think that it is an error to cede the word “design” to the ID/creationists. Scientists have used the term design to refer to the products of evolution long before the term “intelligent design” was coined. By the inclusion of the word “intelligent,” even the creationists implicitly acknowledged that design does not necessarily imply an intelligence, since otherwise “ID” would be redundant.

    Genetic algorithms have been used for engineering design, so there is no doubt that mutation/selection/recombination algorithms are capable of design. And many neuroscientists have a strong suspicion that intelligence itself may reflect randomization/selection mechanisms analogous to evolution (see, e.g. Edelman’s “Neural Darwinism”)

    It is certainly true that some ID/creationists, desperate for anything they can point to as real scientific discoveries emerging from ID, seize upon any scientific paper that so much as uses the word “design” as validating their point of view. But I think that there is no reason that we should allow them to co-opt a perfectly legitimate term that in normal scientific usage has nothing at all to do with intelligence.

  121. #121 defectiverobot
    February 23, 2008

    I have to be honest, Dirac, and say that I’m not entirely sure what you’re arguing here. Intrinsic Finality was clearly postulated before quantum physics really tore a hole in our understanding of how the universe operates. I think the same can be said of biology: I can’t willfully control what my blood cells do, but they sure as hell can control what I might do.

  122. #122 defectiverobot
    February 23, 2008

    Well said, trrll. I wish I had said it that well. (I used to write gooder, but that talent has waned from lack of practice.)

  123. #123 Ichthyic
    February 23, 2008

    Intrinsic Finality – look it up, kiddies.

    look it up and what?

    laugh at the philosophical nature of an irrelevant argument?

    what a twit.

  124. #124 Bob Kowalski
    February 24, 2008

    What about “random design”?

  125. #125 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    February 25, 2008

    @ negentropyeater:

    That kind of “Proces d’intentions” (I’m sorry I don’t know the English expression, someone help me), I will not play !

    Hm. I think I’m entitled, since I’m making an observation on his usual behavior. And further I think I’m entitled to head him of at the pass.

    this kind of discussion leads people to try and think for themselves

    Point taken.

    But I’m also of the opinion that we should avoid false analogies and bad terminology if we can. And I think this is such a case (see my point above).

  126. #126 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    February 25, 2008

    @ negentropyeater:

    That kind of “Proces d’intentions” (I’m sorry I don’t know the English expression, someone help me), I will not play !

    Hm. I think I’m entitled, since I’m making an observation on his usual behavior. And further I think I’m entitled to head him of at the pass.

    this kind of discussion leads people to try and think for themselves

    Point taken.

    But I’m also of the opinion that we should avoid false analogies and bad terminology if we can. And I think this is such a case (see my point above).

  127. #127 andrew
    April 1, 2008

    I entirely agree with you, PZ: design DOES imply an intention, a plan and a purpose in contrast to tne “evolutionary” modification which is not based on a plan or a purpose. And you are quite right to reject Miller’s idea of using a term which is heavily laden with creationist meaning for expressing exactly the OPPOSITE of what common sense may understand by it!

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