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Evolution, Design and History

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January 8, 2010 Tags: Design

Today's entry was written by Gordon J. Glover. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Evolution, Design and History

Recently while visiting family in South Texas, I was jogging through an old neighborhood and noticed something very interesting. Along this particular street, there was a track on one side and a row of homes on the other side. To my surprise, the curb along the track was interrupted every hundred feet or so by concrete structures that appeared to be driveways. But unlike the driveways on the other side of the street that terminate at garages and carports, these driveways terminated just beyond a chain-link fence (see picture).

Let’s think about this: driveways are designed to allow vehicular access from the street, but fences are designed to keep traffic out. So what kind of intelligent designer would put short driveways under a fence that terminate at grass? The question is obviously rhetorical since there never was a deliberate plan to create such features. In other words, nobody woke up one day and said, “I think it would be neat to put partial driveways along a field and block them with a fence.” In fact, that side of the street was once lined with houses just like the other side. The school across the field annexed the land next to it, leveled the houses, built a track, and put a fence around it. Since reworking the curb and concrete ramps for cosmetic purposes would have consumed valuable resources, the school simply left the vestigial driveway pieces in place. Mystery solved.

But what if somebody wanted to believe instead that the street, the house, the track, the chain-link fence, and the useless driveways were all designed and built just as they are today? In other words, what if these useless driveway-like structures were the result of deliberate planning rather than circumstance? For the history denier, there must be a valid reason to build driveways that terminate in grass under fences. Perhaps when it rains, the water drains off the field faster because these structures act like culverts? Heck, it’s possible that engineers even considered this benefit when the decision was made to leave the old driveways in place. But regardless of their newly adapted function, nobody in their right mind would argue that these vestigial driveways were optimized for drainage. In fact, when we do find structures specifically designed for drainage, they look different than this. So despite the obvious fact that our vestigial driveways are nearly identical to the functional driveways across the street, the history denier must still claim that these relics of neighborhood evolution are culverts designed specifically to facilitate drainage.

If loss of personal credibility were the only consequence of denying history, there would be little harm in it. But what if the school decided to put a baseball diamond on the field such that the dugout is situated along the fence by the vestigial driveways? If the history deniers are in charge of the construction, somebody might get hurt. Why? Because if they proceed as though a designer built everything we see just as it is, and they assume the vestigial driveways were designed for drainage, then there is no reason to expect that utilities might be buried on that side of the street. Should they encounter any utilities while digging, the history deniers must shrug their shoulders and say, “I guess the designer put those there for some odd reason.” On the other hand, if these vestigial driveways once belonged to houses, then we should expect to find water mains, sewage pipes, electrical conduit, and natural gas lines.

Our bodies are similarly littered with sub-optimized relics of the past. The tortuous path of the recurrent laryngeal nerve, which exits the skull and loops around the aorta before innervating the voice box, makes absolutely no sense apart from the developmental pathway we inherited from fish. The "wisdom" teeth that don't seem to fit our stubby faces are also difficult explain if anatomically modern humans appeared on earth with no evolutionary precursors. In fact, nothing about human physiology and anatomy makes much sense apart from the evolutionary history we share with the rest of God's creatures. Deniers of this apparent history are not only forced to offer convoluted explanations of these vestiges, but they unwittingly undermine the life and earth sciences by destroying one of their most important organizing principles: history.

While the obfuscation of successful scientific paradigms might be an unintended consequence of the Intelligent Design movement, notice how design still played an important role in solving our driveway mystery. In fact, we concluded that our driveway-like structures were originally designed as driveways because they were clearly not optimized for drainage. We also compared our mysterious curb with other curbs optimized for use along fields and other culverts optimized specifically for drainage. In some sense, design helped us figure out the evolutionary history of the neighborhood!

In biology, the fact that structures show evidence of design, or optimization, is no secret. You can watch any episode of Wild Kingdom and hear the narrator referring to how the cheetah is designed for speed and his teeth are optimized for tearing flesh, etc. But sadly, when employed by the Intelligent Design movement, design becomes a polemic to reject natural history rather than a tool to discover it.


Gordon J. Glover holds degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Ocean Engineering and is the author of Beyond the Firmament: Understanding Science and Creation. A veteran of the U.S. Navy, he now resides in the Washington, D.C. area where he works and runs the popular blog, "Beyond the Firmament".

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John Kwok - #2215

January 10th 2010

Gregory -

Whatever the heck that means, I was not nor was I ever an “evolutionary universalist”. Moreover, as I have noted more than once here, I use “evolution” to refer solely to biological evolution. Your philosophical concerns are irrelevant since they don’t add anything of substantive value in assessing as to whether or not Intelligent Design creationism is - or could be - valid science.

Am still waiting for your answers to these questions:

Do you accept the fact of biological evolution? Do you recognize that the Modern Synthesis Theory of Evolution is scientifically now the best, most comprehensive, scientific theory which accounts for the facts of biological explanation, elegantly explaining relevant data from virtually all of biology?


beaglelady - #2217

January 10th 2010

What are examples of ‘things that don’t evolve,’ John Kwok? For worldview purposes, I highly doubt you will give an example.

Be careful, John!  This could be like the riddle scene in Turandot—one wrong answer and you’ll lose your head!


Gordon J. Glover - #2218

January 10th 2010

Gregory said, “In [Gordon’s] view, biological things should not be said to have been ‘designed,’ but human-made things should be said to have ‘evolved.’”

Not true.  My point was the design we find in biology makes more sense in terms of the historical narrative that evolution provides.  The few hundred olefactory pseduogenes I have in my genome were certainly optimized for detecting certain smells—even though they have become vestigial and have been accumulating mutations for millions of years.  The presence of olefactory pseudogenes makes infinitely more sense in terms of our evolutionary history than it does in terms of design.  What designer would start from scratch with mutated genes when other (presumably less important) creatures have working copies?  But if creation was via a natural process that produced the effect of common ancestry, then my pseudogenes make perfect sense.  Now as to whether they were originally designed by ‘mind’ or by ‘circumstance’, that is another question entirely (in my opinion).

I also do not recommend, in ordinary discourse, to refer to man-mande things as ‘evolving’—but considering the term, in most modest usage, means “change over time”, it is not incorrect to do so.


Gordon J. Glover - #2239

January 10th 2010

@John Kwok,

Ah, I see you’ve been watching my “Intelligent Alien Intervention” series on YouTube!

http://www.youtube.com/glovergj


John Kwok - #2242

January 11th 2010

Gordon -

Not quite.  I’ve been stating the obvious, that there is indeed far more proof for Klingon Cosmology than there is for Intelligent Design for years now. I even suggested to Dembski - after he sent me an unsolicited e-mail - that he and Behe ought to be writing a textbook on Klingon Cosmology (I might add too that Ken Miller thinks Behe should write a Klingon Biochemistry textbook.).

Qap’la,

John


beaglelady - #2243

January 11th 2010

Gordon I saw your video and thought it was hilarious. But I like Ken Miller’s idea, too—- a Klingon bio-comical challenge to evolution.  That has real potential.


John Kwok - #2245

January 11th 2010

@ beaglelady -

Ken mentioned this to me with a straight face after we had dinner. He’d probably credit me for the initial concept (invoking Klingons), but I have to credit him for proposing a potential Klingon Biochemistry textbook from Behe.


Gregory Arago - #2260

January 11th 2010

“Ah, I see you’ve been watching my “Intelligent Alien Intervention” series on YouTube!” - GJG

Is Gordon J. Glover proud of his aliens!?


beaglelady - #2263

January 11th 2010

As an expert in Klingon Cosmology, Captain John T. Kwok can finally proclaim a universal theory of everything (including green chicks).


Charlie - #2270

January 11th 2010

Gordon,

You said “In biology, the fact that structures show evidence of design, or optimization, is no secret. You can watch any episode of Wild Kingdom and hear the narrator referring to how the cheetah is designed for speed and his teeth are optimized for tearing flesh, etc.”

By saying design, you must remember that there are actually more mutations that are disadvantageous to a species than ones that help survival and reproduction.  Thus, when looking at the odds of beneficial mutations and the nature driven selection of those mutations, it is clear that the design you speak of is design by the environment not God.

You say “But sadly, when employed by the Intelligent Design movement, design becomes a polemic to reject natural history rather than a tool to discover it” but how are you employing design?


beaglelady - #2280

January 11th 2010

Captain John T. Kwok,

Actually, I haven’t answered all of Gregory’s questions because I’m afraid I might not get the Correct Answers ©.  To save the universe, therefore, I have re-configured my hair dryer to emit tachyon particles.  It’s a crude solution, but it saves my butt (not to mention the universe) from a wrathful smiting.

Klingon Cosmology: a universal theory of anything and everything.


Gregory Arago - #2282

January 11th 2010

GJG wrote: “the design we find in biology makes more sense in terms of the historical narrative that evolution provides.”

I would ask what specific ‘design in biology’ you are referring to. But because I’m not an IDist it doesn’t interest me what your answer might be.

What seems clear is that your strategy copies what has happened already – evolution against creation. Then some folks came along & said why not ‘creation by evolution’? You are saying ‘design by evolution.’ How do these two positions differ?

The youtube video was ridiculous & unworthy of BioLogos. But then, I am not living in America & not pressured by the ‘culture wars’ there. So perhaps it is reasonable to perceive ID as a threat, thus to mock it in such a way. It seems strange to me, but hey…

I still find your language frivolous. Words like ‘infinite’ and ‘perfect’? You seem like a good guy who speaks outside of what he knows by education and training.

If you conflate ‘evolution’ with ‘change’ it’s a serious problem. Someday perhaps you will see how this is so. Until then, I’d recommend reading more HPSS to learn better what science is and isn’t. You are an engineer, by training, right?


Gordon J. Glover - #2283

January 11th 2010

@Charlie

“...it is clear that the design you speak of is design by the environment not God.”—in the lab, sure.  But my theological convictions are that since God is author of nature, anything that is a consequence of the system He set up can be considered His design.  A non-theist or a pantheist might refer to “nature” as the designer in much the same way.  But such a statement has no scientific utility.

“...but how are you employing design?” —simply as a tool by which we can understand the past, and make predictions concerning the present.  Since driveways are optimized for parking and not for drainage, and since fences are designed to keep traffic out, the current arrangement of this particular city block makes more sense in terms of its “evolutionary” history.  And if the presumed narrative actually reflects what happened, then we can infer other information from the paradigm that we would not have access to had we assumed the current arrangement was strictly the consequence of dilerberate planning and not of circumstance.

Many in the ID movement equate design with diliberate planning, and are therefore forced to offer tortured explanations for things like vestigial structures, pseudogenes, etc…


Gordon J. Glover - #2289

January 11th 2010

@Gregory,

“The youtube video was ridiculous & unworthy of BioLogos.”—translation: I didn’t agree with it and either don’t understand what satire is or have no sense of humor.

“You seem like a good guy who speaks outside of what he knows by education and training.”—When I read Meyer, I make an attemp to understand his arguement sand deal with the scientific case that he presents on its own merits, I don’t hold it against him that he has never practiced biology professionally or that he has no training that would qualify him to publish about DNA.  Your repeated references to my background and training are getting tiresome.

“If you conflate ‘evolution’ with ‘change’ it’s a serious problem.”—From Merriam-Webster:

EVOLUTION: process of change in a certain direction; unfolding: a process of continuous change from a lower, simpler, or worse to a higher, more complex, or better state; the process of working out or developing


hmm - #2303

January 11th 2010

Gordon:

“But my theological convictions are that since God is author of nature, anything that is a consequence of the system He set up can be considered His design. “

I agree. And disagree with Ayala, who claims the opposite.

“Since driveways are optimized for parking and not for drainage, and since fences are designed to keep traffic out…”

This is very important point: _____ are optimized or designed for or to _______. You cannot know, whether something is optimized for something, if you don’t know the plan (for what it is optimized). And I think that for example our genome hasn’t maybe been the main purpose of God plan. That’s why I don’t suppose that genome should be optimal (from local human perspective)

Gordon wrote:

“Many in the ID movement equate design with diliberate planning, and are therefore forced to offer tortured explanations for things like vestigial structures, pseudogenes, etc…”

Hmm. I think that the main reason, why they are forced to offer explanations for things you mentioned is not that THEY see those as especially designed, but because their critics claim that their “bad” design arguments rebuts ID.


John Kwok - #2325

January 11th 2010

@ Gordon -

I came up with the concept of Klingon Cosmology independently of your YouTube videos - which I have not seen - years ago. Using the same inane reasoning employed by the Discovery Institute and its sycophants, I have concluded that Klingon Cosmology is real for these reasons:

1) Klingons are real since they are seen often on television and in movies.
2) An official Klingon Language Institute exists, which is based in North America.
3) Religious ceremonies are conducted often in Klingon.
4) The Bible and Shakespeare’s plays have been translated into Klingon.

I have yet to see any “proof” for Intelligent Design that is as robust (or as well entrenched) as the proof for Klingon Cosmology.


Charlie - #2354

January 11th 2010

Gordon,

You said “my theological convictions are that since God is author of nature, anything that is a consequence of the system He set up can be considered His design”

If you accredit everything to God, what is God to you? Is it an actual higher intelligence that set the physical laws of nature?  Do you agree that your belief in God is supported by no evidence and therefore the belief must be based solely on faith (in otherwords you believe an unsupported hypothesis)?


John Kwok - #2567

January 13th 2010

@ gabriel -

Gregory claims that he isn’t an ID creationist nor a DI supporter. But he seems to know Casey Luskin and has made claims consistent with the DI party line. Would you have other online instances where Gregory has demonstrated his allegiance to the DI and its pathetic band of mendacious intellectual pornographers?

(WEBMASTER: If you delete this, I will definitely mention this particular post over at Panda’s Thumb.).


Gregory Arago - #2669

January 15th 2010

Gordon wrote: “I also do not recommend, in ordinary discourse, to refer to man-mande things as ‘evolving’—but considering the term, in most modest usage, means “change over time”, it is not incorrect to do so.”

Are we having some kind of extra-ordinary discourse here?

In scientific terms, ‘evolution’ does not involve agency, choice, planning, goal-orientation, etc. One cannot ‘evolve’ something with a ‘design’ in their mind. ‘Telic evolution’ is a contradiction, at least according to biologists. M. Gene is welcome to comment on this!

When T. Dobzhansky said that “Prebiological natural selection is a contradiction in terms” we witness some limits to ‘natural selection’ by one of the main founders of the MS.

Though I am not a biologist, like Gordon, there do seem to be very good reasons to consider alternatives to ‘universal evolutionism.’ Is anyone here opposed to this?!

The question then to Gordon is: if ‘evolution’ is simply ‘change-over-time,’ then what doesn’t change?


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