On apparent appearances

From: Chris Cogan (ccogan@sfo.com)
Date: Tue Jan 25 2000 - 22:41:37 EST

  • Next message: Susan Brassfield: "The Kansas Science Education Standards"

    As we all know, many things that *are* in fact designed *appear* to be the
    result of blind evolution. For example, if I build a lean-to in the woods
    that does in fact happen to reduce my exposure to the elements, some might
    argue that this activity looks *remarkably* like the evolved but not humanly
    intelligent behavior of some birds and other animals that build various
    kinds of shelters.

    But, if we look more closely (a risky business) we see that, though the
    activity of building a lean-to *appears* to be no more than the evolved
    instinctual activities of an animal responding to external and internal
    stimuli, we can see that there actually *is* an element of *intelligent
    design* in the activity. But, oddly, we cannot tell this merely from an
    observation of the one instance by itself. We must gather a considerable
    background of knowledge about the human species to be able to more or less
    conclusively argue that such activity does in fact involve intelligent

    Here's a comparison of two hypothetical conversations. One is between an
    observer and a "person-like" being who has just built a shelter
    *un*intelligently. The other is between the same observer and a person who
    *did* build the shelter intelligently. Notice, before I begin, that the
    shelter itself is the same in either case.

    Observer: Hi, my name is Ob Zerver. I'd like to ask you a few questions
    about the shelter you just built. Is that okay with you?

    Person-like being: Shelter? I built a shelter? [looks around, sees shelter]
    Oh, I did, didn't I? Well, whaddaya know.

    O: I was wondering about the design processes that went into the building of
    the shelter. Can you tell me how you designed it? And why did you build it?

    P: Design? Oh, I didn't design it. I just built it.

    O: But still, there must have been some intelligent design, even so, to get
    it to come out so well.

    P: *Intelligent* design? No, I assure you, there was none. I don't even know
    why I built it. It's just something I did. I do that. I mean, when the
    weather is a certain way, and the Sun is at a certain angle in the sky, I
    find that I build shelters like this. I don't know why.

    O: Still, I'd like to know what you were thinking while you built it.

    P: Oh, I wasn't thinking at all. I was merely noticing lengths of sticks and
    branches, and such, and the feel of the leaves, and that sort of thing.
    Somehow, some branches seem to feel right, and others don't. Then I just
    start putting things together. There seems to be some sort of routine
    involved, but I don't know what it is, or why it's there.


    Okay, now for the case where the being building the shelter actually *does*
    intelligently design and build the shelter.

    Observer: Hi, my name is Ob Zerver. I'd like to ask you a few questions
    about the shelter you just built. Is that okay with you?

    Human: Sure. What do you want to know?

    O: Well, did you design this shelter, or did you just build it blindly, on
    the basis of an evolved instinctual program?

    H: Well, of course I designed it. I've learned from experience that the way
    the weather is right now is a fairly reliable sign that it's going to be
    very cold tonight. So I decided to build some kind of shelter, since I don't
    have a tent with me in my backpack.

    O: How did you choose your materials?

    H: Well, I chose the longer, heavier pieces because they were straighter
    than immediately available alternatives, and because they seemed
    sufficiently strong to support a fairly large amount of the grasses and
    branches of bushes and such that I planned to use as the main windbreak
    material. And I chose *that* because it appeared to me that it would both
    provide good wind-blocking qualities and be able to hold together without a
    lot of extra fiddling on my part. I faced it the way I did because I know
    from experience that the cold winds come mainly from the west, so that
    having the lean-to *also* face west would be a waste of effort.

    O: My, you did think about it quite a bit, didn't you?


    Thus, we see that, even though the human's lean-to *looked* exactly like the
    non-designed lean-to of the "person-like being," the actual processes
    underlying their construction were quite different. They were, in fact,
    somewhat like the difference between a machine that turns out pottery
    automatically and an intelligent potter who thoughtfully works out the
    features of the pottery he makes.

    Can we argue that the machine is the product of design and that therefore
    the pottery from the machine is just as much a product of design as is the
    potter's pottery?

    Yes. We can. Unless the designer's of the machine had no idea that it would
    ever make pottery. Perhaps they merely built a machine for "doing things
    with clay." The "things" that were then done by the machine were randomly
    selected by means of a radiation counter that counted cosmic rays during a
    certain period of time and, based on the number of cosmic rays through the
    counter, reconfigured itself and began doing things with clay. Is it its
    fault that the things it produced were the same as the things the potter
    produced? Were they the result of design?

    Yes, but only in a broad sense, and only partly.

    Can the same result occur *without* design? Yes and no. Yes, if there is a
    series of situations that occur over a long enough period of time and if
    there is survival value (to the genes) of a series of "chronospecies'"
    traits leading up to a species that builds pottery without knowing what it's
    doing or why.

    In a sense, however, the answer is no. Design is necessary.

    But, what *kind* of design? Surely, I'm not going to go over to the other
    side now and become an ID-theory advocate, am I?

    No, never fear. I'm not advocating *intelligent* design. But, there is a
    *sense* in which we can say that the species that makes the pottery was
    "designed" by nature to produce pottery, and that the pottery it produced
    was also the product of design.

    What!? What do I mean by "design" when I use it this way?

    This: A sustained process of producing what may be regarded by us as
    prospective (or "wannabe") solutions to some sort of survival problem. Some
    of these solutions are better than others and tend to be kept. Others are
    not so good and tend to be discarded.

    In fact, a *very* similar process is used by *humans* when we don't know
    enough about something to design it in the ordinary sense. Instead of
    designing it, we make tries at it, and keep the ones that seem to work, or
    that come closest to working, etc. There is intelligence here, in that the
    selection process is intelligent. But the *production* process may still be
    as dumb as half a rock.

    Why call this kind of process intelligent design at all? Probably we
    shouldn't. It's intelligent *selection* preceded by random variations on
    some pattern that has *already* been selected.

    Yet, oddly, whether we actually *do* design something or merely produce it
    by a long process of blind trial and error, there is a lot of similarity to
    the *results*. That similarity is why the *designed* things *look* so much
    like things that are the results of dumb evolution.

    But don't be fooled by mere appearances. Not *everything* is directly the
    result of blind evolutionary cumulative selection on a series of a million
    of steps and variations. *Some* things really are designed. I knew a man who
    designed a lean-to once. So, no matter how much people may try to tell you
    that *everything* that looks like the result of an evolutionary process *is*
    the direct product of an evolutionary process, we can tell, upon closer
    examination of the facts, of the details of certain cases, that some things
    really *are* designed. They just *look* evolved.

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Tue Jan 25 2000 - 22:44:17 EST