Saturday, September 12, 2009

The "Common Design" Argument

A thoughtful poster on FRDB posted the following:

It seems to me, as an interested layman (I have a B.S. but it's in computer science), that the most interesting hypothesis of intelligent design is: "Things that have a common designer will also have a common design." This is interesting to me because we should actually be able to make predictions about actual things in nature based on it, and test them against what we find. I've read it many times in ID and creationist discussions, so I don't think it should be controversial. What I want to do is set up a few scenarios where it should be able to make predictions, and see what predictions it will actually make.

So let's start with something pretty much everybody does: breathing. You inhale, you exhale. Lungs, it turns out, are a pretty remarkable medium of transmitting oxygen from the air around us to the bloodstream. And lungs are shared by pretty much all terrestrial vertebrates that I'm aware of. We also know that fish, for the most part, don't have lungs. They have gills, which are efficient machines for extracting oxygen from the water. Myriad kinds of fish and aquatic animals have gills to breathe underwater. So a design hypothesis would be: terrestrial vertebrates have commonly designed lungs, and aquatic vertebrates have commonly designed gills.

But then...you've got troublemakers. Like the whales and dolphins. These are animals that are strictly aquatic - they have no ability to go about and feed themselves on land. Yet they have lungs, just like the terrestrial mammals. This is such a wacky design for an aquatic creature that whales actually have to think about when to breathe, unlike you or I. Or fish, for that matter. Whales are magnificent creatures, and great predators in many cases, but we're talking about common design - unless it's stretched so far as to be meaningless, it makes no sense to me to say that common design should include using the land design out in the ocean. From a standpoint of "common design" it would be like creating a submarine with an engine designed like a car's, where it periodically has to surface, uncover the exhaust manifold and let some air in. This is unacceptable from a design standpoint - yet, if submarines were animals that had evolved by natural selection from cars, we might expect to see it if an air-based cooling system was powerfully encoded in their genetics.

There is much convergent evolution between the poster's thoughts and mine. I've noticed that bat and bird wings have adapted the same five digit hands in different ways to create a wing. How could common design explain that? Michael Shermer noticed long ago that fish swim by moving their tails from side to side, while whales and dolphins swim by moving their tails up and down, as land mammals do. How does common design explain this? It can't, unless the concept of "common design" is stretched so far as to be meaningless, as the poster said.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am not aware of anyone that argues for common design as the very term is ambiguous. It appears he is setting up a straw man argument.

If dophins have a different lung system than fish, it would seem that this would be a decision made by a intelligent Designer who reasons remain unknown to us.

I imagine someday you will have all your questions answered when you stand before the Creator.

AIGBusted said...

"I am not aware of anyone that argues for common design as the very term is ambiguous. It appears he is setting up a straw man argument."

Then you haven't read much creationist or intelligent design literature. Almost every creationist writing I've ever read mentions "common design" as an alternative explanation for the similarities that evolution would explain through common ancestry.

"If dophins have a different lung system than fish, it would seem that this would be a decision made by a intelligent Designer who reasons remain unknown to us."

You can always say that the designer's reason remain unknown to us, no matter what the situation. I could say that maybe the workings of evolution are incomprehensible and thereby "explain" anything I wanted to. But that is not a real explanation. Like it or not, evolution can explain the respiration system of dolphins (they evolved from land mammals who used the same respiratory system) and creationism cannot. In this reguard then, evolution had greater explanatory power, and so it strengthens the case for evolution.

"I imagine someday you will have all your questions answered when you stand before the Creator."

I imagine I won't.

fireballnelson said...

I have heard the "common design" argument and I have heard the "common ancestry" argument and they are both valid in and of themselves.

But the fact that, dolphins for instance, appear to be designed at all implies a Designer. Evolutionists believe that a worldwide chemical soup formed the ancestors of these creatures (even the English word for them implies Creation. Oh, joy) which later evolved and developed distinct (and common) design features over billions of years.

This requires Abiogenesis (Life from Non-life), an hypothesis tested thousands of times in lab experiments and proven though not admitted to be impossible. You cannot have the evolution unless you have the origin of the life that evolves. There is no evidence that it ever occured. Period. Evolution debunked?

AIGBusted said...

No fireball.

Abiogenesis is not something tested thousands of times a year. To test it, you have to replicate conditions that existed on the early earth (meaning that you do it in a sterile place where no life forms exist, and with the right chemicals of course). When that is done, you do end up with the molecules of which life is made (like amino acids and the building blocks of nucleic acids). There are several steps from these materials to a primitive living creature, and scientists are working on testing these steps in the lab. Its a little hard to test (after all, the ocean is a billion times larger than the space any scientist can work in, and life had millions of years to form, whereas scientists have only been testing this idea for half a century) but scientists are working on it and the results they get are encouraging. Try reading the latest edition of Scientific American. This month they have a special on origin of life research.

Robert Morane said...

Anonymous,

Your logic is flawed. Here's an analogy:

One day a primitive tribe discovers a computer in their village. They have never seen one before. They don't even know what it is, let alone how it works. Every member of the tribe looks at it, tries to comprehend it. But they arrive at the conclusion that no man could have built this. The only logical conclusion - for them - is that it was created by a god.

For these people, that would make sense, but they'd be wrong: this object was built by people all right, only these primitive tribesmen don't have the knowledge necessary to build one.

So you see, just because we cannot reproduce something, it does not follow that it was created by a god.

fireballnelson said...

I didn't say it's tested every year but that's OK.
Anyway here is an interesting article about it:

http://astrobiology.nasa.gov/ask-an-astrobiologist/question/?id=767

(meaning that you do it in a sterile place where no life forms exist, and with the right chemicals of course). When that is done, you do end up with the molecules of which life is made (like amino acids and the building blocks of nucleic acids).

But this is backwards. First, you can't just put the right chemicals in because the early earth would have been a mixture of all different kinds including the wrong ones.

Second, all of the experiments performed also formed many destructive chemicals and amino acids which would have hindered the formation of proteins essential to life.

And third, trying to create life in a controlled environment is kind of detrimental to the cause because you have intelligent life trying to create life from chemicals to prove that it didn't take any form of intelligence in the first place.

AIGBusted said...

But this is backwards. First, you can't just put the right chemicals in because the early earth would have been a mixture of all different kinds including the wrong ones.

State specifically what you mean and the evidence for it. I'm sure that there would occasionally be places on earth with the "wrong" chemicals that inhibited prebiotic reactions, but that does not mean that those chemicals would have been in such abundance as to stop all prebiotic reactions.

"Second, all of the experiments performed also formed many destructive chemicals and amino acids which would have hindered the formation of proteins essential to life."

See above.

"And third, trying to create life in a controlled environment is kind of detrimental to the cause because you have intelligent life trying to create life from chemicals to prove that it didn't take any form of intelligence in the first place."

No, no, a thousand times no. Scientists are simulating the environment on the early earth and are not doing anything in the experiment which we could not reasonably expect chance and nature to accomplish on the early earth. It's kind of like if push an object off a cliff to show that the wind could have blown the object off. Yes, it's intelligent interference, but as long as the object isn't too heavy for the wind to move, and as long as its in area where wind happens occasionally, then I can be reasonably sure that chance and nature are capable of doing the job.

fireballnelson said...

This will likely be my last post because I get the feeling I am bugging you.

"State specifically what you mean and the evidence for it. I'm sure that there would occasionally be places on earth with the "wrong" chemicals that inhibited prebiotic reactions, but that does not mean that those chemicals would have been in such abundance as to stop all prebiotic reactions."

Well I guess what I am trying to say is that Scientists need to prove that Abiogenesis can happen at all let alone happen in a hostile environment. They should first start with the basic elements and the correct amino acids for life. Then try to put them together into a DNA or RNA strand (depending on the theory they are trying to prove) then engineer a cell from scratch to put the information into.
here is an interesting article:

http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3404200310.html

According to this, possibly trillions of cell walls formed first with tiny amounts of essential elements inside each one. Eventually one was formed with the correct combination of elements. These fused together to form all of the cell processes, from respiration to replication to reproduction. There could have actually been millions of "successes" before one was formed that survived long enough to reproduce.

This is just a concept, a hypothesis. This is what we are basing the whole theory of Evolution on and it hasn't even been proven yet. I know that there are several other ideas listed in the article but each of them has yet to be proven.

I especially like the section about RNA-world replication. At the end it says that there is an issue with the synthesis of important RNA components. Then it suggests a simpler counterpart to RNA. It doesn't tell us what this magical ingredient is so I am guessing it doesn't exist.

AIGBusted said...

"Well I guess what I am trying to say is that Scientists need to prove that Abiogenesis can happen at all let alone happen in a hostile environment. They should first start with the basic elements and the correct amino acids for life."

But scientists have done this! If you pick up the latest scientific american, or read the web page that I sent you, you will see that scientists have been recreating the early earth's atmosphere and have been getting amino acids, building blocks of RNA and DNA, etc. Here's the webpage again:

http://www.godriddance.com/Abiogenesis.php

"Then try to put them together into a DNA or RNA strand (depending on the theory they are trying to prove) then engineer a cell from scratch to put the information into."

Amino acids make up proteins, not RNA (although scientists have found that origin of life experiments create the building blocks of RNA too). Now, as for the cell, researchers now have shown that chemicals on the early earth (and in meteorites, which would have hit the early earth and provided the earth with chemicals) can form into lipid bubbles that look remarkably like cells. These cells have the ability to take in chemicals from outside of themselves (like RNA, for instance) and join them together. I believe that the current thinking is that some self-replicating RNA formed inside one of these lipid vesicles and it reproduced over time and evolved into the first life. If you read the webpage I provided you, you'll see that there are self-replicating strands of RNA, the cells do exist and form in origin of life experiments, etc.

"This is just a concept, a hypothesis. This is what we are basing the whole theory of Evolution on and it hasn't even been proven yet. I know that there are several other ideas listed in the article but each of them has yet to be proven."

The 'whole theory of Evolution' is not based on abiogenesis. Evolutionary theory is that all modern life forms evolved (by natural selection mainly) from one original life form. It doesn't really address how the original life form got there. For all evolution has to say about it, it could have been created by God, aliens, or it could just be something that formed naturally. I think that it formed naturally for reasons I've outlined here:

http://www.dbskeptic.com/2009/06/28/was-life-on-earth-an-alien-creation-a-critical-look-at-directed-panspermia/

"I especially like the section about RNA-world replication. At the end it says that there is an issue with the synthesis of important RNA components. Then it suggests a simpler counterpart to RNA. It doesn't tell us what this magical ingredient is so I am guessing it doesn't exist."

You are correct that there have been problems with synthesizing RNA under prebiotic ('before-life') conditions. But that does not mean that those problems will never be solved. Just recently some experiments were done that removed one of these difficulties:

http://aigbusted.blogspot.com/2009/05/new-support-for-rna-world-hypothesis.html

In conclusion, no one knows exactly how life began. One can conjecture that God or some other intelligent being made it, but those conjectures do not have the advantage of being tested in the way that scientific theories about the origin of life can be tested. And further, there does seem to be some evidence that life originated naturally, even though we do not know how. See the last paragraph or two here:

http://www.dbskeptic.com/2009/06/28/was-life-on-earth-an-alien-creation-a-critical-look-at-directed-panspermia/

As for posting comments, I'll allow you to post as many as you like, provided that you aren't spamming. I do have one suggestion though: Please read the links I have posted before making another response. It might take a little while, but I think it will be worth it if you are interested in the subject.