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The Argument from Design

Creationists and other believers often use design as an argument for the existence of a God.  There are objects in nature that are so complicated or sophisticated that they must have been designed, they cannot have evolved in simple increments over time.  Someone or something "designed" these items.

The Nature of Design

Is it possible to design something?  When we say we design an object or a machine, do we really work forward from some theories, or do we generate (in our heads at least) a multitude of different solutions from which we then select the best?

When we look at how computers "advanced" from the first ones in the late 1940s to the palmtops that we have now, was it by design or just random production of prototypes, some of which survived?

Will it ever be possible to construct new tools from basic principles?

A reflection

On page 157 of "The God Delusion" Dawkins wrote:

"... In the case of a man-made artefact such as a watch, the designer realy was an intelligent engineer. "

I count myself among the engineers, and I have had many agreeable disputes with my physicist friend Mervyn Hine about evolution.  (Mervyn and I both worked at CERN and Mervyn unfortunately died in one of the worst accidents possible:  falling off the stairs in his own home.)
His very physicist view was that CERN progressed by happy trial and error, whereas I constantly argued in favour of proceeding like intelligent engineers should:  by design.

The discussions made me think hard about the definition and the process of design.  And I must confess that the conclusion I come to is that design does not exist in the way imagined by the Creationists.

An example

When I present my wife Susan with some artefact like the door latch I made in the summer of 2007, she invariably asks:  "How did you think of that?"  While it makes me feel proud, I also know that I spent quite some hours going through a very rapid process of pure Darwinian evolution inside my mind.  What happens? 

In fact I do a lot of trial and error, prototyping, slightly adjusting lengths, thicknesses, putting in springs, using elements borrowed from other devices, rejecting of drastic mutations.

Finally I have a working version and I present that.

Here is what one prototype looked like:

and you can find the details of making that latch and most of the evolution of the ideas as well as why I thought we needed this thing.

The point is that almost the entire evolution process is hidden from Susan.  Even the workshop is out of sight.  She observes only the final product and is pleased with it.  She has not witnessed the many weeks the thing took to evolve inside my head.

Intelligent design is nothing else but evolution inside one brain.

I have never seen this argument made against the Intelligent Design crowd and I wonder why.

If a God really designed, it would have to be in a way that is so unlike the human design process that we would need a different word for it.

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next planned revision: 2006-11-30