Intelligent Design’s Fleet of Engineers

The Uncommon Descent blog has offered an interesting attempt at responding to an analogy of evolution. The analogy in question (like all analogies except those appreciated by cdesign proponentsists, apparently) compares the “evolution” of car designs to evolution in biology.

At UD, Gil Dodgen replies that this in fact undermines the argument for evolution, since in fact cars are produced by engineers, and thus each successive “species” of car is the result of design.

I wonder if they’ve thought this through. Are they really going to press this, so that we end up with a model in which the successively modified forms of organisms are to be explained by a group of well-meaning but ultimately not particularly advanced aliens who visit the planet regularly with improvements they’ve only just come up with? Do they really want to claim that there was not merely initial design but successive tinkering, on the analogy of designers of successive models of cars, to account for what we find in nature?

Since almost all of their support comes from religious believers, I can’t imagine how anyone will continue to support Intelligent Design’s creationism, if it envisages the creators as successive generations of engineers who are trying out new ideas as they go along.

At any rate, what gets lost on the analogically-challenged cdesign proponensists is that the human engineers in the analogy are superfluous in the biological realm. It has been shown time and again that natural selection and genetic variation can provide all the tinkering improvements necessary to achieve the same effect.

It’s just an analogy, and taking analogies too far is a pitfall in the sciences. But if those at UD are inclined to press the details of this analogy, I wonder how long it will be before they themselves feel uncomfortable with the implications.

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  • Drew Tatusko

    So does each successive design get better this way? The idea that humans waling upright is a better design than if we walked on all fours does not bear out in the evidence. Also, the car analogy falls part, well everywhere, but in the fact that car designs are as much a result of supply and demand and pure marketing psychology and style as technical efficiency. You mean to tell me that the evolution of the SUV into the Hummer was a result of better design?But maybe this is an argument for why homosexuality is among us. Maybe this is a more efficient design in order to curb population growth and potentially meet the needs of unadopted and parentless children. Homosexuality is more accepted in affluent societies as polygamy is more accepted in less affluent societies largely for reasons of evolutionary and social fitness. If there is successive tinkering, then homosexuality must be part of God’s design for humankind?

  • scripto

    Unlike in the automotive industry, fins are still a popular design feature. You would think the designers would take the opportunity to retool and upgrade after a mass extinction but they seem to be determined to use the same stuff over and over again.And the warranty sucks.

  • Hermagoras

    What is even more idiotic is that Berra uses the car example merely to support common descent. That part of his book is not about the mechanism of change but about relatedness as derived from the historical record.

  • markbe

    I think you’re being a bit too hard on the UD folks lately. Of course, i think they’re a bit too hard on the evolution folks. It appears that pushing analogies where they weren’t meant to go has done little to help either side of the debate. To be honest, i stopped following the debate a few years back because it wasn’t really going anywhere. It’s just painful to see the same re-hashes on your blog, which is usually intellectually stimulating. Sorry my first comment here is mostly negative.

  • James F. McGrath

    Hi Markbe! I’m glad the post got you to chime in. I’m not sure in what sense you think I’ve been too hard on the folks at UD. I’ve been harder on them in the past – and I don’t think it was anything other than a just criticism of their arguments, or their attitudes, or their practices.Could you be more specific? It is hard to know how to reply when I don’t know what exactly you had in mind. Thanks!

  • Ben

    Is it really a good idea if all the intelligent people step out of an important unintelligent debate?

  • markbe

    Thanks for the response, sorry mine is so delayed. [note to self:check “Email follow-up comments…” box] In this specific instance, the car model (or airplane or motor or whatever) evolution analogy has been used with some frequency. The response from the ID side says, “Use an example that wasn’t designed by an engineer,” or something similar. This seems reasonable. It doesn’t mean the ID guys win the argument, or the evolutionists lose. It’s just not a useful analogy and results in a stalemate. Or at least that’s my take on it. Both sides then usually continue picking apart the analogies in a way that the other side never intended and, like you suggested, take the analogies too far, never furthering the original argument. It doesn’t seem to me that the intent of the UD folks is to press the details of this (type of) analogy (though they do seem to enjoy it a bit too much), but rather are asking for a better starting point to debate- verifiable examples of co-option that do not involve agency, in this example.Hopefully that was a sufficient explanation of my position in regards to this example. As a quick note to WAR_ON_ERROR, i don’t think the intelligent people should leave the debate, but should take it further than it has gone in the past. Unfortunately for me, that is mostly in a scientific realm of which i do not have much knowledge, so i’m out, but no one said i was intelligent in the first place, haha.Thanks again for your response, James. I encourage you to continue exploring this and believe you have the intelligence to take this to the next level from a philosophical/theological perspective at the very least.

  • James F. McGrath

    I’m not sure where else we’d look for an analogy, since there is nothing I can think of, designed or natural, other than living things, that passes on instructions (often with minor modifications) to offspring. The work of designers over successive generations is a weak parallel, but doesn’t prove design, since the whole point is that we have evidence of descent with modification. There really shouldn’t be any dispute about that aspect of biology. If one wants to posit a designer to get the whole thing started, in view of our current ignorance about the origin of life, there’s more room to do so – although there’s also room for science to come along later with a plausible explanation involving natural processes.In a similarly problematic analogy, Paley famously used the example of finding a watch and recognizing its design. But we know of watches, and of other mechanics. But as long as humans have been recording their thoughts, there have been living things. And so whether, upon finding a carrot, one immediately recognizes that it must be designed, in fact begs the question…I’m not sure to what extent this responds adequately to your points. Do let me know!