“Trees, forests and the Eiffel tower reveal theory of design in nature”



We believe that the main function of the tree is to facilitate the flow of water from the ground and into the atmosphere,” Bejan said. “To achieve that function, the tree is ideally designed to not only maximize the flow of water, but in order to be successful in the real world, it must also be able to withstand the stresses of the wind. It is exquisitely designed to do just that.

[Link: Trees, forests and the Eiffel tower reveal theory of design in nature]

With language like that, next thing you know somebody’s going to claim that trees’ being “ideally designed” or “exquisitely designed” means they have been “designed.”

In this case, though, you’re committing biological heresy if you take words to mean what they mean. So until further notice, “ideally designed” and “exquisitely designed” mean “not designed at all.”

I hope that’s perfectly clear to everyone…

4 Responses

  1. mattghg says:

    There’s a point in The Selfish Gene (I’ll try to chase down the exact reference later) where Dawkins talks in just such terms, before reassuring the reader that they can “be translated back into respectable terms” later. But I wonder just how easy that would be to do in this case. David Stove makes a big deal out of this in Darwinian Fairytales.

  2. I remember reading Francis Schaeffer writing regarding the tendancy amoungst scientists to call nature ‘her’ or ‘Mother nature’, to personalise that which was held to have no personality-where personality was considered an illusion.
    In the same way the word ‘desgin’ seems to used by those who consider agency and intent to be an illusion.
    Scheaffer again would insist that for a worldview to be true, it must be consistant with experience.
    Personalising nature or attempting to smuggle design in where it shouldn’t be -could be seen as inconsistant with the naturalistic worldview,always having to qualify the use of the word.
    Is that clear ?

  3. Marco says:

    @mattghg: it’s just a matter of perspective.
    The human brain is designed so that it can easily catch the concepts of “willingness” and “purpose”, or “design”.
    Whenever you see a complex machinery (an aeroplane, let’s say), you implicitly think that it has been purposedly designed and assembled in order to obtain a functionality.

    Similarly, we may say that gazelles have become faster through evolution in order to escape more efficiently from lions. That’s a perspective. Another perspective is: generation after generation, only the fastest gazelles have survived, while their slower siblings were being devoured by lions. Similarly, generation after generation, only the fastest lions could survive, thanks to their superior ability in chasing gazelles, thus giving birth to a sort of arms race between lions and gazelles.

    This concept (and some much more complicated concepts in evolutionism, anyway) are easier to catch if you think of them in terms of a “purpose”. Gazelles want, or are designed, to be fast for escaping; lions want, or are designed, to be fast for chasing. It’s easier to look at an animal as if it was built like an airplane; but the airplane is a human project, an animal is a product of evolution and natural selection, an evolutionist would say.

    Now, some of you may know that Dawkins has been the first holder of the Chair of Public Understanding of Science, at the University of Oxford, reason being that… well, he’s very good at explaining scientific concepts to anyone. Using metaphors is a brilliant way to explain complicated concepts, and Dawkins is very good at using metaphors.
    In the Selfish Gene, he likely says many times that a gene “wants” the body it lives in to survive. But of course a gene has no willingness or purpose, the aforementioned metaphor is just an easy way to summarize that if the body survives, the gene it carries inside will survive as well, and will be transmitted to more bodies.

    I’m quite sure that Dawkins stresses many times in his book that the “purpose” or “design” metaphor doesn’t have to be misunderstood as an escatological reference. But not everyone is actually willing to understand, I guess.