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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Was It Just a Coincidence, or Design? News from Nature.com

I received news from Nature.com this week that featured two articles side by side using design in the headlines. One article, shown on the right in the image below, criticizes the theory of Intelligent Design. The other article on the left, "Butterflies shine brighter by design," discusses the incredibly sophisticated optics built into butterfly wings. It's hard to read that article and not appreciate the intelligent design (that somehow evolved by chance?) in butterflies. Apparently two different editors were involved for this news release, resulting in an interesting mixed message. Or did this occur by design?



See also Butterfly Wings Share Light Tricks with TV.

11 comments:

Clark Goble said...

Design, when used in science, typically means utility. It shouldn't be taken as support of ID which nearly all scientists either reject or acknowledge isn't necessary.

Given the current political climate I'm sure the word choice was unfortunate.

ltbugaf said...

But the language of science is full of references to purpose or design. Species are said to have developed a certain characteristic in order to cope with a certain condition. No, that can't be, according to strict evolutionary theory. Rather, the species must have, through a completely random, unconnected and purposeless series of coincidences and accidents, developed a broad diversity of genes that made them capable of inheriting numerous variations of sophisticated and complete characteristics (such as eyes, beaks, etc.) and then the external conditions must have caused some of them to die and some of them to live, passing on their already fully developed genetic traits.

Clark Goble said...

People naturally use language with reference to purpose or design. For instance when I say my car pulls right, I'm speaking as if there were designs to its actions. But of course there are not. But you are right that biologists will often use teleological language. The issue is whether these "designs" can be arrived at via informational complexity and emergence. The consensus is that they can.

Jared* said...

I know nothing about butterfly anatomy, but it is likely that the structures responsible for the effect are slightly modified from other butterflies that lack the effect. This is a common theme in evolution.

As Clark said, scientists use teleological language as a short-cut. Adding to the (likely erroneous) sense of design is giving names to natural objects that are derived from human engineering. Cellular proteins and structures become motors, eyes become cameras, and brains become computers. These are useful analogies, but ID proponents usually conveniently leave out some of the fundamental differences.

Schuyler said...

What’s interesting is people get all hot and bothered about ID and evolution but don’t seem to care that their children/students do not acquire sufficient skills in science, math and engineering necessary to compete globally.

I’ve heard biologist claim evolution is the key pillar of biology. I remember it was only a small part of my year long high school biology course (And went to a very liberal school system in Oregon.), so I assume these biologists must be way out in right field. In my opinion, when biologist honestly discuss the fossil record finding and change their evolution beliefs from a religion back to true science then they might stand on solid ground from which to judge intelligent design. Until then, they are evangelists rather than scientists and on equal ground with evangelists preaching ID.

BYU alter ego said...

I have to agree with Schuyler.

I just finished the "World is Flat," which discusses offshore jobs and the future of America's economy.

The point is made pretty convincingly that unless the US steps up it's emphasis on science education, we're in big trouble.

Higher education especially needs attention.

Even after my bachelors 95% of my knowledge of Evolution theory has been from independent study on my part.

I'm willing to bet that 99% of my graduating class couldn't tell you the difference between genetic drift and natural selection.

At BYU we had Dr. James Jensen come and give a three week guest lecture in one of Micro/Molecular core classes, far too little time. I never took away any recognition of names like Mayr, Dawkins, Gould, Kimura etc...

Kinda crazy really.

Clark Goble said...

While in certain ways evolution is the cornerstone of biology, it is a cornerstone in a weird way. Unlike how say thermodynamics is central in physics, but perhaps akin to GR. The fact is that most biology doesn't really make reference to evolution and rarely uses it. So it really isn't akin to physics where you're probably not going to make it far without certain aspects of physics making constant appearances.

That's not to say evolution isn't important for understanding. However I do think that perhaps some sell its explanatory importance a tad too much.

Schuyler said...

Understanding evolution is an interest, but I question its importance as I don't see how to apply its precepts, and if one could I don't see how it would benefit society. To the contrary, it seem only to divide. One reason is it is difficult to discern fact from conjecture. Just like ID, some of its most outspoken advocates have an agenda, but unfortunately, it appears it isn't to find truth.

Mormanity said...

Understanding evolution has many practical implications for real life. For example, I understand that Microsoft uses evolution to produce all of its software. Rather than hiring programmers, they take basic software and allow it to mutate over and over by copying it back and forth to defective hard disks that cause random bits to be flipped, skipped, or chipped. The mutated software is then automoatically tested to eliminate programs that can't run at all, and then the programs that might be functional are given to beta testers to see what they do. Potential winners are then shipped to customers, all of whom are unwitting beta testers. This explains why so manny "updates" lack previous features and have new bugs and other fatal flaws. But it's a small price to pay for evolutionary advance that ultimately might just lead to software that actually seems like some kind of intelligence was behind its design.

Schuyler said...

The sad thing is half the population may actually believe you.

Jared* said...

So-called microevolution is very relevant to issues of medicine, public health, pest control, and ecology. The principle of faunal succession is relevant to finding petrolium.

Of course, depending on your focus evolution may play a small role in day-to-day investigation.