Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Incompetent Design.

Seed magazine carries an article about Don Wise, professor emeritus of geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is the nation's foremost proponent of ID. No, that's not Intelligent Design, but Incompetent Design.

From the Seed article...
Wise cites serious flaws in the systems of the human body as evidence that design in the universe exhibits not an obvious source of, but a sore lack of, intelligence.
Some of his reasons for believing in this concept...
  • The thing that perhaps is closest to all of us is our own skeleton, and there are certainly all kinds of stupidity in our design. No self-respecting engineering student would make the kinds of dumb mistakes that are built into us. All of our pelvises slope forward for convenient knuckle-dragging, like all the other great apes. And the only reason you stand erect is because of this incredible sharp bend at the base of your spine, which is either evolution's way of modifying something or else it's just a design that would flunk a first-year engineering student.
  • Look at the teeth in your mouth. Basically, most of us have too many teeth for the size of our mouth. Well, is this evolution flattening a mammalian muzzle and jamming it into a face or is it a design that couldn't count accurately above 20?
  • Look at the bones in your face. They're the same as the other mammals' but they're just squashed and contorted by jamming the jaw into a face with your brain expanding over it, so the potential drainage system in there is so convoluted that no plumber would admit to having done it!
"So is this evolution or is this plain stupid design?" he asks.

He even created a song/anthem for the concept, the lyrics of which are (sung to the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic")...
"My bones proclaim a story of incompetent design.
My back still hurts, my sinus clogs, my teeth just won’t align.
If I had drawn the blueprint, I would cer-tain-ly resign.
Incompetent Design!
Evo-Evo-Evo-lution! Design is but a mere illusion.
Darwin sparked our revolution. Science SHALL prevail!"
Here a link to the video for the above song

This post is another in a series about Intelligent Design. Other posts in this series : 1, 2, 3, 4.


Roy Marzioli said...

It is flawed or incompetent compared to what? I find incompetent design to be incompetently reasoned out. Does this mean that it wasn't the product of intelligence?

As usual in subjects like this is that some very important details get left out. This design that Wise has so much problems with and which he points to as incompetent design is made of material he can not even conceive of how to engineer and yet it is here in the biosphere and working quite successfully.

As an engineer, I would hope he would be aware of the materials which he is going to use in a particular project. As he should well know, different materials have different physical properties which may be said to be more or less efficient depending upon the project for which they are applied.

Considering the material from which a living organism is made and what it does, it is very efficient. Efficiency in this case has to do with self-replication. I guess we can use different kinds of standards to evaluate efficiency. How efficient is a robot at taking material from its own environment to repair and replicate itself? Very inefficient I would say. We have no machines that equal the self-replication mechanisms we find in a living organism.

But we aren't talking about mechanical robots which at this stage of their development are inferior in comparison to the self-replicating organisms which populate this planet. Yes, we are talking about organic self-replicating machines. By the way, just how many better or superior and efficient replicating machines has Wise built? If he can build a
better one, than do it. If he can't then what right does he have to challenge current designs? I think it is hilarious that he can criticize, but is incapable of doing anything that remotely comes close.

So his basic argument is, a creator doesn't exist because Wise, based upon his own subjective criteria, would have done it differently and more efficiently. Sorry, I am not convinced. Here is the rub, Mr Wise: You can't do it. You can't do anything remotely like it. Organic systems are phenomena beyond all of our current technological skills and knowledge to produce. Yes we are working on it, but we aren't there yet. Our feeble attempts are successful only as we work with the organic structures that are already there. The best we can do is direct them to different ends.

Although this kind of bio-engineering is well beyond Wise's engineering skill, he can find fault with it. Lets face it, anyone can find fault with anything. Sorry, but his conclusion does not follow.

Sib said...

Well, considering that humans have had only a couple of hundred years or so to be able to engineer what he have to date, I'd say our achievements are pretty competent. Nature has had billions of years to "Experiment" and work on polishing its organisms. In the sub-saharan desrt, evidence has been found that shows that a vast array of bizzare creatures had lived ad died there millions of years ago - almost like an experimental evolutionary test-bed.

There is not global measure of "Efficiency" as you pointed out - so current organisms also cannot be categorised as efficient. I am sure that in a couple of centuries more, or maybe in another millenium, say, humans may be able to build robots that are capable of replicating themselves in a very efficeint way (considering current trends of human developement).

Also, just because we can't build something right now doesn't mean that the idea doesn't require our attention/respect. Current technological trends may not allow us to manufacture some components, but that doesn't mean that a "higher power" is required to construct them. Charles Babbage came up with the idea of the "analytical engine" in the 1700's but could not construct it because of the lack of technology in those days. But we were able to produce modern day supercomputers which still use those ideas at their very core, simple because of advances in semiconductor/transistor technology, and yet Charles Babbage is considered to be the father of computing. So, to Babbage and people of his era, we would seem like "higher powers", right ?

This is all not to say that Intelligent design can be thrown out of the window, but Wise's comments based on his tremendous engineering background still warrant merit, because based on current observations/scientific principles, they seem inefficient.