Monday, November 12, 2012

Evolution and Design

Barry Arrington has a new post on Uncommon Descent in which he discusses design and the appearance of design [Sorry Dr Barr, “Chance By Design” is an Oxymoron]. He's particularly annoyed at someone named Stephen M. Barr, a theistic evolutionary creationist.

Arrington claims that there are only three positions in this debate.
In summary, there are three positions in play here.

(1) The traditional theist observes the overwhelming appearance of design in living things and is content to conclude that things are they way they appear to be, i.e., that living things appear to be designed for a purpose because they are in fact designed for a purpose.

(2) The atheist admits that the appearance of design in living things is overwhelming but asserts that the appearance of design is an illusion and in reality natural law and random chance combine to produce a result that only appears to be designed.

(3) The Barr-type theistic evolutionist admits that the appearance of design in living things is overwhelming but asserts — like the atheist — that the appearance of design is an illusion and in reality natural law and random chance combine to produce a result that only appears to be designed. The TE then goes one step further by asserting that the explanation of the illusion of design is itself an illusion, because the randomness of evolution is in fact directed.
This isn't correct. I support the 4th position; namely ....

(4) When you step back and look at the big picture, living things do not appear to be designed and they do not appear to have a purpose. While there may be some features of living things that have been honed by natural selection, they are the exception, not the rule. Even those features with a strong illusion of design look much less designed when you examine them closely.

When I talk about Evolution by Accident I intend that to be an attack on Intelligent Design and also an attack on the Dawkins' view of evolution.


64 comments:

  1. Living things and all things do appear to be designed.
    How else were they designed? Where did it all come from .
    Biological life is very designed and still requires sharp thinking to discover its workings, fix it, or understand what is understood by others.
    Its very complicated.
    Such a result insists , or suggests, a thinking being is behind it.
    The bible says this and mankind has said this forever.

    Most people in North america would say nature looks designed .
    They may question this conclusion if trusted authority, science, tells ore proves this is not so.
    Its all by chance.
    I think a fair debate would keep or move most to the creationist side.

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    1. I may be micturating into a hurricane here, Robert, but it may be useful if you investigated and understood why Larry says that 'living things do not appear to be designed and they do not appear to have a purpose'. Try to bear in mind that your views are not objective (note: I am not claiming mine are. Though I do claim a greater degree of objectivity, a subjective claim in itself) and reflect the a-priori assumptions you have made about the natural, and apparently supernatural, worlds.

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    2. If life is "very well designed", why do we need to fix it ?

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    3. I read Professor Moran's blog almost daily... I never comment, but this made me laugh out loud.

      Robert Byers states, "I think a fair debate would keep or move most to the creationist side."

      That's the kind of thinking that got Mitt Romney elected-- oh wait...

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    4. Elections are not the same thing. They are contentins between interests etc. bY the way it was almost even so a minor shift would of changed results. No ringing endorsement for anyone here and rightly so. Its not the Reagan years.

      Yes I do think a serious of debates, with people paying close attention with breaks,
      would move numbers over to the creationist side and not the other way.
      Its 50/50 now i think.
      This thread was about design and most dee design .
      Some simply trust design can be explained by evolution but there's complex design for sure.
      yety evolutionism makes design , from chance, a impossible thing upon reflection.
      So i think if people were shown this they would leave a sinking ship.
      Creationism does well with entry level audiences and the only problem is getting sit down audiences other then the choir.
      If evolutionists got the guts then bring on a cage match.

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    5. Robert is at least partially right here. I've noticed that even of those who claim to be non-religious many have trouble escaping from the notions of purpose and design in the universe. And from this event horizon, it is also easier to get sucked back into increasing religiousity. This I suppose, is one of the problems that makes religious beliefs, rather than beliefs grounded in science-based evidence, so common and popular.

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    6. Creationism does well with entry level audiences ...

      Yep, so does Santa.

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    7. Wow... Missed the point of my comment completely. No surprise there.

      I assume by entry level you mean 8? Maybe 10 years old?

      Come on now.

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    8. I attended the Lecture by Michael Behe yesterday night and am not seasoned in the parlance of molecular biology. What struck me afterwards however, during some impromtu discussion, is how quickly certain folks started "hissing" when I shared that I am finding it newly intriguing some of the ideas Michael Behe offered for thought. No sooner had I even expressed the slightest "Hmmm? Interesting to ponder further", then I was called a "Fundamentalist Young Earth Creationist!" Not being familiar with this, I asked these various "embers" what they were talking about. That, in turn, detonated a long rant against everything from Pat Robertson, American Politics, Jesus pop-up dashboard figurines and the like! Thinking I was obviously saying or showing a demeanour that was chronically causing me to be radically misunderstood, I zeroed in on a quite tall, well-built older gentleman who was in his 60's. Figuring he'd help me out of my scientific bout of Vertigo, I enquired, "Sir, what did you think about tonight's lecture?" (I made sure to ask in a very subdued, monotone voice with a stoic demeanour so as not to be accused again of being a closet fundamentalist Christian, young earth creationist). Nooooooooooo! I did it again. The fellow spewed out, "All his colleagues disagree with him. He's a twit. No one respects him in the scientific community. All his ideas have been dismissed as bunk. A waste of an evening." Now dear readers, what happens next is more powerful and important than any interpretation (or lack thereof)of any cell or cell origin: this same professor-type dude swung around in an instant (upon noticing a break in Dr. Behe's questioning barrage from students), donned a robust "great to see you mate!" smile, shuffled right beside Dr. Behe, asked for a photo, had it snapped, and thanked him "so much" for the gesture!? The most important "Degree" that anyone anywhere can earn from any University, would be one in ethics, and not of the "situational" expression.

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    9. byers said:

      "I think a fair debate would keep or move most to the creationist side."

      robert, what you "think" (LOL) means nothing to science.

      "Creationism does well with entry level audiences and the only problem is getting sit down audiences other then the choir."

      Why do you suppose it does well with "entry level audiences"? By "entry level audiences" I assume you mean people who don't have a clue about science in general and the theory of evolution in particular. Apparently you realize (but not nearly enough) that people who are educated in science and the ToE are much less likely to be creationists than people who are illiterate, uneducated bumpkins like you. Learning, education, knowledge, research, experimentation, evidence, curiosity, exploration; those words and what they represent are terrifying to you, aren't they? You want to remain ignorant and you want everyone else to be that way too. Reality, and any quest to understand it, is a big, scary, evil monster that must be avoided at all costs, right? Trying to achieve anything other than being just another sheep in a herd-able flock just isn't allowed, is it? Your imaginary god needs submissive, obedient, ignorant sheep-slaves, and anyone who pursues knowledge is going to burn forever in a lake of fire, eh?

      Maybe what you creationists need to entice people to sit down and listen to your fairy tales is more entertaining fairy tales and free rides on real dinosaurs in the church parking lot after the sermon. Yeah, that's the ticket.

      "If evolutionists got the guts then bring on a cage match."

      Hey robert, have you told the cowards at UD and ENV and AIG and other creationist sites that they don't "got the nuts"? After all, they're mostly afraid to come out from behind the protective walls of their heavily moderated or "Comments are closed" sanctuaries, and I'd hate to think that you're just making shit up about "evolutionists" while conveniently ignoring the sniveling cowardice of your fellow creationists. Why don't you contact them and convince them to open up their websites to "debate", and to not block or ban people just for disagreeing with them? Go ahead, stand up for having nuts and get your fellow creationists to stop hiding from challenges to their fairy tale beliefs.

      The bottom line, robert, is that science marches on no matter what you and your fellow creationists think (LOL) or do. That must bug you no end, and I think it's also pretty funny that you take advantage of the things that science has provided (like your computer, etc.) yet you constantly bash science. If you really want to prove that you're a good little creationist and only need to rely on your allegedly benevolent imaginary god, why don't you give away absolutely everything you have and move into a remote cave somewhere? You can spend your days praying for food, medications, and protection from the elements and dangerous critters and plants and if your chosen 'all-powerful', 'loving' god is real it should provide you with everything you need to survive and thrive. Don't you have any faith in your beliefs and your imaginary god? Don't you "got the nuts" to live your life without the benefits of the evil thing called 'science'?

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  2. The appendix, our quadrapedal back, our upside down and backwards eyes, our loop-de-loop laryngeal nerve, do not at all appear designed. The IDists have got it backwards: complexity is not the hallmark of design. It's the hallmark of lack of design. Foresighted efficiency is the hallmark of design, and we see very little of it in nature

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  3. Bully Arrington, being a lawyer, is adept at employing the loaded question fallacy as a rhetorical device, in this case, the presumption that there is an overwhelming appearance of design in living things which demands an explanation. He, like Robert Byers, is locked in to the same epistemic closure that, in part, cost the Republican Party the presidential election.

    As the OP and Science Avenger have pointed out, while there are some structures, such as the eye, which appear to be designed at first glance, closer examination usually reveals elements which we would call poor design at least if they had been committed by a human designer. The only way proponents of Intelligent Design can justify their claim in face of the evidence of poor design is to appeal to some undefined, overriding purpose of the part of their carefully undefined designer. It is hardly persuasive.

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  4. " ... closer examination usually reveals elements which we would call poor design at least if they had been committed by a human designer."

    For the myriad of optical sensory organs, and of two basic overall designs (camera style and compound), but with similar constructs even in non related lineages (convergent), coupled with the fact that they all function optimally, and then for one to declare them as 'bad designs' is fallacious reasoning. It is simply an overview deemed necessary to support a tenuous premise.

    ScienceAvenger disdains an inverted image? But all camera eyes (including cameras) invert the image due to simple optical principals. Maybe there should have been two lenses, the second one to revert the image to save the brain having to do that.

    And the so-called 'inverted' retina is now known to be in that orientation of necessity for proper rhodopsin replenishment. Trevor Lamb details it here:
    http://www.iovs.org/content/47/12/5138.full

    My take is that for cephalopods, there is less of that requirement due to low light, therefore the front facing photoreceptors. And regarding the argument that distortion occurs due to the capillary layers, glial fiber optical elements prevent that.
    http://spie.org/x42206.xml

    Yes, the 'eye' enigma likely predates the ancient Greeks, and assuredly perplexed cave men as well. So what? Our (and eagle's) acute vision easily trumps lower back pain, a logical net result of our extended earthy sabbaticals.

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    1. Only in the last few years did this YEC creationist discover there was two etc basic overall ideas to eye types.
      This just shouts out that eyes are are from a common blueprint from a thinking being.
      Evolution surely would of made eyes in fantastic diversity if evolution did the work of creation.
      instead there is just this or that way.
      Like its so complicated there can only be a few ways.
      One could say we all have living fossils just by having eyes since they must argue the eyes were created when we were recently out of the slime stage.
      Dinos had eyes like us also.

      all very unlikely if evolution was true.

      By the way. I think creationism could lead to healing of eyesight based on the idea of a creator.
      I mean probably there is just one type of eye and the few , seeming, different types are just hiding a undiscovered greater law or orbit of what eyesight is and does.
      healing would help me for sure on this matter.

      Seeing eyes as the result of selection on mutation is not seeing things as they are.

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    2. Whoa, Robert, not satisfied with the perfectly designed body bestowed on you by your creator ?

      There is a special place in hell for whiners like you.

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    3. Lee Bowman Tuesday, November 13, 2012 10:46:00 PM

      [...]

      For the myriad of optical sensory organs, and of two basic overall designs (camera style and compound), but with similar constructs even in non related lineages (convergent), coupled with the fact that they all function optimally, and then for one to declare them as 'bad designs' is fallacious reasoning. It is simply an overview deemed necessary to support a tenuous premise.


      I don't think anyone is saying that the vertebrate eye is a 'bad' design. We all know that the human visual ssytem as a whole works very well indeed. The eye itself, however, produces a relatively poor image. The HD image we finally see is also the result of some pretty impressive image processing that goes on upstream in the optic nerve and visual cortex. An eye which produced a better primary image would, presumably, place less demands on the metabolically expensive processing power of the brain.

      Looking at it from a slightly different perspective, we can compare the eye to optical devices which we know have been designed, in other words, those designed by human beings. If we consider the various cameras and telescopes we have desiged, for example, in how many of them is anything allowed to get in the way of incoming light? Offhand, I can only think of the reflecting telescope which, in some designs, has a secondary mirror in the path of the light gathered by the primary mirror. Even here, however, there are versions which attempt to avoid this problem. As for modern digital cameras, no deisgner in his right mind would run wiring across the face of the image sensor.

      We can assume that, if the vertebrate eye were designed, whoever did it is a more advanced intelligence than we are, since doing something like that is still beyond us. Given that, it is hard to see any reason why such an intelligence would adopt an inverted design. This is especially so when you consider that we have examples from nature of eyes where the retina is unobstructed. If the human eye was designed then presumably they were as well in which case the burden is on the iD proponents to try and explain why human beings were fitted with what appears to be an inferior design.

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  5. Lee Bowman said:

    "...coupled with the fact that they all function optimally..."

    Then why do I have to wear glasses?

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    1. Then why do I have to wear glasses?

      And why can't I have pentachromatic vision (including a UV opsin)? Pigeons have it -- why the bloody hell can't we? Or maybe better still, 12 photoreceptors for dodecachromatic vision and 4 for different types of light polarisation? Please, God, why can a frigging little mantis shrimp have them all and I can't? OK, if you can't make it 12+4, I'd settle for 6+2 -- it's still a damn sight better than 3+0 (or more like 2.5+0 in my case -- I am a deuteranomate).

      Why do marine fish, which live in the same environment as octopuses, have inverted retinas? And where exactly in his article does Lamb explain how the inverted retina is NECESSARY for proper rhodopsin replenishment in humans? Was the Intelligent Designer really so incompetent that he couldn't get both the neural wiring and photoreceptor refreshing right? Or was he too busy designing mantis shrimps and cephalopods at the time and had to commission a petty demiurge to design the vertebrate eye?

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    2. Piotr, god couldn't even rig the 2012 election in favour of republicans...and you wonder about designing eyes?!!

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    3. That combined with a urethra passing through an enlarging prostate and an expanding plantar fascia are making old age a joy.

      If I didn't know any better I'd say that Robert Byer's sky daddy was some sort of psychotic fuck.

      Simple incompetence does not explain such bad behaviour.

      And then there was the time it tried to murder me via my appendix ...


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  6. @The whole truth:

    The ciliary musculature, along with the lens flexibility has limitations. When I was a teenager, I could read writing on the head of a pin, held mere centimeters away. But I could barely read a license plate at twenty meters, and only by squinting to reduce the refractive error. Interesting that now I can nearly see the veins on tree leaves at the same distance. But all designed mechanisms have limitations. Name one that doesn't.

    @ Piotr Gasiorowski:

    "And why can't I have pentachromatic vision (including a UV opsin)? Pigeons have it -- why the bloody hell can't we?"

    Firstly, we (and all placental mammals) have no need for UV vision, which would add complexity (additional cone receptors, the addition of oil droplet filtering). Birds navigate over vast distances utilizing polarized and UV light for navigational directionality. We have no such requirement.

    "Why do marine fish, which live in the same environment as octopuses, have inverted retinas?"

    For one, most fish live nearer the surface where more light is present. And if design were an operative, the inverted retina may have been experimental. If indeed a 'look ahead' ability was there, then placental land mammals may have been conjectural, and thus a future need for retinal inversion.

    I do not deny that selective environmental pressures are a factor in eye modifications over time, just that they are insufficient to construct multi-functional, multi-dependent systems that would need to form together to be functional. And that that requirement far exceeds the ability of the present model. IC and NEC (non-evolvable complexities)and a viable hypothesis, despite what Judge Jones ruled. ;~)

    "And where exactly in his article does Lamb explain how the inverted retina is NECESSARY for proper rhodopsin replenishment in humans?"

    The topic is covered in many journals and online articles, many if not most on Creationist sites. Could it be that it's a topic that is largely ignored by those wedded to the 'bad design' arguments, since it is contradictory to those subjectivisms?

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    1. Couldn't a designed god have jiggered the laws of physics so these limitations did not exist ?

      Or is it the sort that enjoys a challenge, it's just not fun unless you can do it while jumping up and down on one leg while rubbing your tummy ?

      I ask because you seem to have a special insight into this inscrutable being normally denied to the rest of humanity (except when determining what the local god's sexual preferences are).

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    2. I hold to MDT* at present, due to the variances within taxonomy, its competitive nature,and lengthy (to us anyway) time spans involved, and the evidence for, and advantages of hierarchies to get things accomplished.

      While the CEO of GM may be 'supreme' in some ways, he had little to do with product design, fixture and automated production setups, and the actual production line .

      And at some point, even the angelics, rather surrogates, er employees, may have little to do with design, assembly, and final testing. Ergo, total automation.

      Oh yeah, and 'maintenance' of the products, once in use. Similar to cosmic reign, Daniel Francis "Dan" Akerson has decided long ago not to micromanage his products.

      * Multi Designer Theory
      http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2004/09/introduction-to.html

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    3. And speaking of pins, did you notice how many angelics (sorry I meant surrogates or employees) where dancing on top of said object back in your more halcyon days ?

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    4. Actually they were quite hectic days Steve ...

      But regarding the pin and the angelics, I had a side bet with my backup brain computer that someone would jump on that. ;~)

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    5. It would be a losing proposition to bet against creotards and idiots swooping down on anything that ran contrary to their dearly held fairy tales.

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    6. Firstly, we (and all placental mammals) have no need for UV vision, which would add complexity (additional cone receptors, the addition of oil droplet filtering).

      So what? Why should extra complexity -- not much of it, since all I'm asking for is two more opsins -- why should it be a reason for denying us a little luxury? Seeing UV can be just as useful as seeing blue or orange -- it means richer information about the environment.

      Birds navigate over vast distances utilizing polarized and UV light for navigational directionality. We have no such requirement.

      Speak for yourself. I'd like to nave better navigational abilities.

      The topic is covered in many journals and online articles, many if not most on Creationist sites.

      Lamb's article contains no "justification" for the inverted retina, despite your assertion that it does. This is disingenuous. May I ask you to provide a real reference to a serious source that supports your claim? If there are many such sources, presenting just one should be no big trouble.

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    7. For one, most fish live nearer the surface where more light is present.

      Octopus and fish habitats are equally diverse, yet all fishes without exception have one type of eye anatomy, while all octopuses have the other, even if they are epipelagic or inhabit shallow seafloors. There's no correlation between where or how they live and whether their retinas are inverted.

      And if design were an operative, the inverted retina may have been experimental. If indeed a 'look ahead' ability was there, then placental land mammals may have been conjectural, and thus a future need for retinal inversion.

      Bollocks. Why design an "optimal" eye for terrestrial tetrapods two hundred million years too early and make tens of thousands of fish species use it? Poor fishes have been stuck with it for half a billion years by now.

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    8. I may enjoy seeing a little more than 1% of what makes up the Electromagnetic spectrum... Who knows...

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    9. "May I ask you to provide a real reference to a serious source that supports your claim?

      Michael Denton spells it out in some detail in this ARN piece. Two paragraphs quoted, emphasis mine.

      "Vision is such an important adaptation in higher vertebrates that if the retina is indeed “wired wrongly” or “badly designed” it would certainly pose ... a considerable challenge to any teleological interpretation of nature.

      However, consideration of the very high energy demands of the photoreceptor cells in the vertebrate retina suggests that rather than being a challenge to teleology the curious inverted design of the vertebrate retina may in fact represent a unique solution to the problem of providing the highly active photoreceptor cells of higher vertebrates with copious quantities of oxygen and nutrients."


      http://www.arn.org/docs/odesign/od192/invertedretina192.htm


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    10. "Why design an "optimal" eye for terrestrial tetrapods two hundred million years too early and make tens of thousands of fish species use it? Poor fishes have been stuck with it for half a billion years by now."

      "Poor fishes?" ... "Stuck with it?"

      LOL

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    11. Michael Denton spells it out in some detail in this ARN piece.

      Michael Denton's piece is demolished here by Ian Musgrave:
      http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2006/11/denton-vs-squid.html

      The inverted wiring gains vertebrates nothing in comparison with the arrangement found in cephalopods, which is simply more efficient in delivering oxygen and nutrients. In vertebrates, the "design" includes features which compensate for problems caused by other features. It's only the backward wiring itself that makes those complications necessary (including a copious blood supply).

      Then, Denton himself admits that the arrangement makes no sense in fish or in terrestrial vertebrates other than birds and mammals, i.e. in the majority of vertebrate species (quote: In other words, the inverted retinal design is almost certainly not an adaptive necessity in cold-blooded vertebrates). The "pre-adaptation" argument is silly beyond belief, but I have already written about that.

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    12. @Lee Bowman
      "Poor fishes?" ... "Stuck with it?"

      LOL


      You're the one pulling teleological explanations out of your backside ...

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    13. Piotr Gasiorowski wrote:

      " The inverted wiring gains vertebrates nothing in comparison with the arrangement found in cephalopods, which is simply more efficient in delivering oxygen and nutrients."

      The need for a copious blood supply, the question of improved heat dissipation due to high light input, and the question of the retinal pigment epithelium being in closer proximity thus improving its metabolating and recycling function, and that these functions are optimized by the inverted retinal configuration are unsettled, regardless of Musgrave's claims. And only further testing may resolve those issues.

      Further, the arguments regarding how each genera evolved as explanatory may be viable, since even if designed, design was not done from scratch IMO, but by modifying existing forms. If so, and if the inverted retina remained as mammals progressed due to those constraints, so be it.

      However implemented, intervention of some sort is still more viable than selective pressures acting on chance events, and thus becoming selected upon. This explains adaptive modifications, but not the formation of complex multi-dependent systems.

      Other factors may favor an inverted retina, such as providing stress relief for the nerve bundle. Constant flexing of the connections if coming straight from the ends of the receptors may be more subject to damage due to severe jarring. This point has never been brought up (except by me), and may be a factor in vertebrate retinal configuration.

      And why implemented first in fish? As stated earlier, perhaps as a testing ground. Bottom line, whether optimal or less optimal than envisioned, design is nonetheless evident.

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    14. And only further testing may resolve those issues.

      Strange. You mentioned "many journals" in which the optimality of the inverter retina was covered, but the article you eventually cited was a half-formal essay in an obscure and long defunct creationist online journal. It is not a research article but a statement of the author's personal opinions. So where's the proof that the "design" of the vertebrate eye is in any way superior to that of the cephalopods? Suggestions and maybes are hardly enough.

      And why implemented first in fish? As stated earlier, perhaps as a testing ground.

      I see. The designer(s) installed the inverted retinal arrangement in the earliest fish, predicting that in some 160 million years one lineage of sarcopterygian fish would scramble out of water, and that after another 160 million years or so endothermy would develop in a few lineages, at a long, long last making the design advantageous. Why the hell did they test it in water and in cold-blooded fish if it was supposed to be useful on land and in warm-blooded critters? But perhaps they just happened to be sadistic fish-haters.

      Bottom line, whether optimal or less optimal than envisioned, design is nonetheless evident.

      Only if one accepts circular reasoning.

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    15. Personally, I think it would be handy to smell like a dog. By which I mean ...

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    16. Lee Bowman,

      I'd say it's about time for some post hoc rationalizations on how the recurrent laryngeal nerve is actually not evidence of poor design.

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    17. Lee Bowman said:

      "But all designed mechanisms have limitations. Name one that doesn't."

      Well then, so much for an omnipotent, omniscient, perfect designer-creator-god.

      You also said:

      "I hold to MDT* at present, due to the variances within taxonomy, its competitive nature,and lengthy (to us anyway) time spans involved, and the evidence for, and advantages of hierarchies to get things accomplished.

      While the CEO of GM may be 'supreme' in some ways, he had little to do with product design, fixture and automated production setups, and the actual production line .

      And at some point, even the angelics, rather surrogates, er employees, may have little to do with design, assembly, and final testing. Ergo, total automation.

      Oh yeah, and 'maintenance' of the products, once in use. Similar to cosmic reign, Daniel Francis "Dan" Akerson has decided long ago not to micromanage his products."

      Hmm, supreme sky daddy (who doesn't want to be bothered with micro-managing life on Earth because he's too busy knocking up married virgins on other planets) is in charge and at some point the angels that he assigned the task of designing-creating-assembling-testing-producing life and eyes and such on Earth got the production line rolling along optimally (but with limitations) and so those angels didn't need to hang around the production plant and they now just lie around on a cloud reminiscing about their design-creation-production of a talking snake and a magic tree and sin and Hell while the automated machinery (which they also designed and created optimally but with limitations) cranks out optimal but limited people and cephalopods and fish and birds and plants and fungi and bugs and poisons and diseases, etc., etc., etc.

      I'm curious, has anyone ever told you that you're nuts?

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    18. "I'm curious, has anyone ever told you that you're nuts?"

      but, but, but...you CAN'T PROVE I'm wrong!

      /sarcasm

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    19. No, but I'll take your word for it!

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  7. All the above aside, I just want to register a dissent from Larry's declaration that


    While there may be some features of living things that have been honed by natural selection, they are the exception, not the rule.


    "May be some"? Organisms have phenotypes that are vastly more functional, vastly more fit, than what you would get by simply writing down a random genome and then seeing what phenotype results.

    Of course not every phenotype is honed by natural selection to an optimal state. But you make it sound as if only a few, or maybe even none, are more functional than what we would get if there were no natural selection at all. I cannot let that pass without disagreeing with it.

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    1. There's a big difference between recognizing that something is the result of natural selection and seeing it as "designed." Evolution by natural selection produces things that work—they are good enough to do a better job than nothing at all. I think of most organisms as fancy Rube Goldberg machines, not Swiss watches.

      I suppose there's a sense of "design" even in a Rube Goldberg contraption but it's not very good design. When I look at modern organisms I see the results of rather sloppy evolution, plain and simple. I'm never fooled into imagining that they could have been designed. In other words, I disagree with Dawkins when he says that he sees the "illusion" of good design.

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    2. I wasn't talking about the appearance of design. I was complaining about your wording which was on the border of denying that natural selection acted at all. I see now that you meant to deny that many phenotypes are "honed" enough to look as if they were designed. Well and good, but your wording is easily misinterpreted as denying that natural selection acts at all, except that there "may be some" traits under natural selection.

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    3. To me, the "tinkering" is solid evidence of good design and good strategy. Obviously, I'm not suggesting a designer or an anticipatory force is at play (i.e., no supernatural nonsense), but I suspect that when Dawkins says he sees the "illusion" of good design out in nature he is referring to the process of how NS crafts phenotypes across generations. It is "good" design to build upon--tinker with--what's already been built rather than tear down the existing design. Natural selection does this with par excellence. If evidence of building upon what's already been built counts as "sloppy" design, then how do you explain pretty much any phenotypic character that has evolved. When one equates "bad" design with tinkering and scaffolding then certainly one can conclude that NS is a scrappy force and not a creative one and, by definition, most phenotypes are going to be viewed as poorly designed. But let's not throw out the baby with the bath water. Natural selection has crafted some pretty amazing designs that are spectacularly functional by any standards, human, alien, or fitness-consequential. It begs the question as to what standards one is holding nature to. Human standards?...surely not, as IDiots have the cornered the market on that one. Evidence of evolution (via both NS and drift) scars every phenotype, but making judgments about "sloppy" versus "designed" is both premature and semantic as we have lots to learn about exactly what works out there in nature. One fault we have is the hubris which leads us to think that the benchmarks of good design that we have in our minds are the same ones we expect to see out there in nature. This is ridiculous in light of sonar, aerodynamics, hydrodynamics, bacterial resistance, symbolic reasoning, etc.,--all things we look to nature for better designs, not vice versa. "Good" design is every bit as much evidence for evolution via natural selection as its scars of "bad" design.

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  8. Appearance of design is ubiquitous in organisms and has enchanted humans forever. That is the powerful elegance of Darwin's model of natural selection. If organisms didn't appear designed, then natural selection wouldn't be such a big deal. Like all of the big theories in science, the theory proposes a model that is very, very, counter-intuitive. You don't see design because you have trained your brain to see organisms as evolving mostly by chance. This is your mental filter that processes the visual information in looking at a bird. But most people don't have that mental filter and they absolutely see design and purpose in organismal phenotypes.

    if phenotypes didn't have the appearance of design, then physiologists would have a much tougher time doing their job. We wouldn't know where to begin to study how a bird flies. Is it the beak? Is it the gut? is it the testis? How do enzymes, molecular motors, ion channels work? If we didn't have the sense that phenotypes work like human-engineered objects, you wouldn't have a job as a biochemist, because there would be no field of biochemistry. Or it would be a very different field than it is today.

    "Good enough to do a better job than nothing at all" shortchanges the power of natural selection to generate many, many near optimal structures (within the constraints bounded by any engineered system). I'm in awe of how well most of our functional systems work, given that they weren't engineered. Look at any of the work on proteins as skeletal elements (spider silks, collagen, elastin, resilin, etc). It's taken thousands of years for human engineers to design human-engineered materials that match these functionally. Muscle fibers and musculoskeletal systems produce as much power per mass as the best human-engineered motors and there are good empirical (if not theoretical) reasons why that both these naturally-engineered and human-engineered systems are constrained to get any better - that is they are at their optimum. Other structures are not so good relative to human engineered system. Helicopter rotors that revolve are much more mechanically efficient than say a humming bird wing that heaves back and forth.

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    1. According to this paper (http://www.emav2009.org/emav-final-papers/paper_60.pdf) the hovering efficiency of rotary versus flapping wing aircraft (with respect to nano air vehicles, payload < 2g) differ by less than 5%.

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    2. Larry, in his explanation of 4), doesn't even mention camouflage, which is an OBVIOUS 'appearance of design', with a 'purpose'. I am especially fascinated by animal mimicry camouflage. For example, this little critter who does a better job of reproducing the appearance of a snake than most art students could conjure up with a few semesters of diligent study.

      *Hemeroplanes triptolemus caterpillar)
      http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/aroundthemall/files/2010/06/97-SRNP-4423-DHJ42568-copy.jpg&imgrefurl=http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/aroundthemall/2010/06/what-meets-the-eye-may-not-actually-be-an-eye/&usg=__4Ysr1bF56CrhsJ9Qm77VDf2tw-s=&h=401&w=432&sz=39&hl=en&start=3&zoom=1&tbnid=KQEMchUI9y7GVM:&tbnh=117&tbnw=126&ei=MCmkUKLkHonNmQW3i4CICQ&itbs=1

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    3. The consequences of camouflage don't only affect the bearer. They also make it so bloody hard for predators to find stuff to eat! So while we can marvel at the many adaptations shown by organisms for avoiding being eaten, then at the many others that allow other organisms to catch prey in spite of all that protective crap ... we might also look at the bigger picture, and ask, from a 'design' point of view, what's the bloody point? If you want to make life easier for falcons, don't give them great eyesight, just make their prey purple! Simple.

      It's just one big zero-sum game, each 'designed' to make life harder for the other. On the face of it, if designed, it was designed with malice aforethought.

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    4. Allan, indeed. Or if not with malice aforethought, certainly nothing to suggest designed by a being of overflowing love for all life. This is an eating/shitting world of extreme vulgarity and cruelty.
      Which is why Gnostics, etc. determined that we, the inhabitants of earth, are 'children of a lesser god', this world having been created by more an 'apprentice' than the sorceror himself.

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    5. andybeorger says,

      Larry, in his explanation of 4), doesn't even mention camouflage, which is an OBVIOUS 'appearance of design', with a 'purpose'.

      That's because I didn't think it was necessary to list all the examples of natural selection that I could think of.

      My point is not to deny that some adaptive features have the superficial appearance of sloppy design. My point was that many, many features of living organisms do NOT look designed. That includes common examples like wisdom teeth, back muscles, and tonsils as well as a genome full of junk.

      These are all features that can easily be explained by evolution. They are not consistent with the idea that an intelligent designer has taken great care to design an eye but doesn't seem to care about defective plumbing and wandering recurrent laryngeal nerves. Nor are they consistent with the idea that natural selection always produces well-designed species.

      When Richard Dawkins says that living organisms look designed it's because he's not looking at the same things I look at.

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    6. Its a big subject to decide what looks so complicated and well developed as to include or preclude the option of a thinking being creating it.

      For YEC creationists the whole thing fails off the start because the idea of the "FALL" changed all of biological systems .
      Everything including the need to protect ourselves from disease changed /was created anew.

      So finding flaws in nature is meaningless from our presumption here.

      by the way case in point would be wisdom teeth.
      The bible says we did not eat meat until after the flood.
      So only after the flood would there be a need for better teeth arrangement.
      Wisdom teeth only became a problem because our front teeth had to newly start chewing meat up and this made a unnatural squeeze at the back.
      In fact starting from a creationist position One could predict this change of diet would produce problems even before one knew it did.
      Nothing to do with the original creation.

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    7. LM says, "My point is not to deny that some adaptive features have the superficial appearance of sloppy design"

      Why 'sloppy'? That is clearly nothing more than a subjective term that hardly seems to fit the matter at hand, i.e., camouflage. I could be subjective as well, in referring to the markings of the Hemeroplanes triptolemus caterpillar - but the word I would use is 'masterful'.

      I hope you took a look at the picture I shared. To me, the most interesting part is the white splotches on the 'eyes'. They expertly depict sunlight reflecting off the moisture that would be there if they WERE actual eyes. Very lifelike!
      Nevertheless, from a purely materialistic perspective, we must assume that we humans are the only ones who know why those white spots are there. The caterpillar doesn't even know that it looks like a snake - it just knows that when it inflates its rear end, it scares off would be predators. The predators don't know - they have never considered WHY the snakes that frighten them have milky white splotches on their otherwise black eyes. They just know that when they see snake, they run!

      Something seems to actually have 'enjoyed' putting those, perhaps superfluous, finishing touches on its artwork.
      It (whatever IT is) doesn't 'design' the way we humans do, or would. Nevertheless it creates things that we can't, as Rich Lawler writes above.


      I DO see your point, that many features in organisms are 'not consistent with the idea that an intelligent designer has taken great care to design an eye but doesn't seem to care about defective plumbing...'
      but I think your wording both in your post and on these threads tries a little too hard to erect a 'nothing to see here, folks' firewall against the appearance of design in organisms.

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    8. @andyboerger Something seems to actually have 'enjoyed' putting those, perhaps superfluous, finishing touches on its artwork.

      Would that be the same something that 'enjoyed' 'crafting' the parasitic worm that is boring through the eye of a boy sitting on the bank of a river in West Africa, [a worm] that's going to make him blind ?

      Certainly 'nothing to see here, folks' for that African boy.

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    9. steve, you do non sequiturs like no other can!

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    10. Damn, then why are people showing up with less wisdom teeth these days?

      Bah, humbug!

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    11. @Robert Byers The bible says we did not eat meat until after the flood

      And light did not refract through water until your god poofed up that first rainbow.

      Or perhaps there was no rain before the flood.

      But in Jeremiah 33:25 it sez Thus says the Lord: ‘If My covenant is not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth, which is interpreted by many to mean that your sky fairy does not fuck around with the laws of physics.

      It's almost like your big book of bad ideas is internally inconsistent.

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    12. @andyboerger

      Sir David Frederick Attenborough OM, CH, CVO, CBE, FRS, FZS, FSA get all the credit for that.

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    13. steve, love the man. And I'm well aware of the citation.
      But not sure why you give him credit for your non sequiturs, or if he would want it..?

      You are arguing against a case I haven't made. If you continue with Attenborough's thought, he finishes it with "... that doesn't seem to me to coincide with a God who's full of mercy'

      You are hereby challenged to reproduce a single quote of mine, from anywhere on this or any thread I have made at Sandwalk, where I refer to a 'God who's full of mercy'.

      Aw, let me help you. As you are frequently lazy in your thinking, I don't expect you to go to the trouble.
      You will find none.

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  9. middle.professor wrote;

    if phenotypes didn't have the appearance of design, then physiologists would have a much tougher time doing their job. We wouldn't know where to begin to study how a bird flies. Is it the beak? Is it the gut? is it the testis? How do enzymes, molecular motors, ion channels work? If we didn't have the sense that phenotypes work like human-engineered objects, you wouldn't have a job as a biochemist, because there would be no field of biochemistry. Or it would be a very different field than it is today.

    I would have to argue that if we stopped this mind set, we would actually be better off. Witness the recent ENCODE debacle. Those trained in molecular biology with no evolution background appear to see life as little perfectly adapted machines. The concept of genomes littered with the carcases non-adaptive retro-transposons is so counter to their mental model that they refuse to listen to the old work that figured out what these were.

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    1. I completely agree that we shouldn't look at every conceivable phenotype as being functional and/or adaptive. I think part of the differences in view reflect differences in what kind of phenotypes we look at. The evidence seems overwhelming that there is a lot of non-functional variation in the genome. Larry argues that many of the biochemical interactions measured by ENCODE occurring are non-functional. That's a pretty interesting concept and based on my little knowledge of the field, it makes sense that some molecules bind to other molecules for no other reason than they can. An analogy at my level of work would be looking for a functional reason that mud binds to my leg when I run through a puddle. Why would my leg have evolved that property!

      But if physiologists looked at organisms as not having the appearance of design (that there are structures that are "for" executing some function) it would be a very boring field. I'm not even sure how we'd proceed.

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