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May 22, 2007 / Daniel

Carefully Designed by Evolution?

My wife Shelley heard this story on NPR about fertility drugs and multiple births.  I find it pretty ironic when you heard Liza Mundy, the author of Everything Conceivable, say, “Our bodies have been very carefully designed by evolution to ensure that generally we are only going to ovuate one egg per month.” 

Carefully designed by a random thoughtless process? 

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  1. Dan / May 23 2007 2:24 pm

    (A) It sounds as though Mundy is using the words “designed” and “selected” as interchangeable synonyms. That’s unfortunately confusing, since each has their own implications. In this case, I think Mundy chose her words poorly, and would have been more clear had she said “carefully selected by evolution.”

    (B) How is selection random?

  2. fiester25 / May 23 2007 2:31 pm

    Design definitely implies that there is a designer.

    In naturalistic worldview, this selection is unguided. There’s no mind or conscious being overlooking the process. That seems kinda random to me. What does the selection? “Evolution” is just a name for a thoughtless process. Nobody overlooking it or watching how it turns out. It’s like the lottery. The ball closest to the hole goes down.

  3. fiester25 / May 23 2007 2:40 pm

    BTW the word “carefully” also seems to imply consciousness. An unconscious process can’t exercise care.

  4. Dan / May 23 2007 3:57 pm

    Design definitely implies that there is a designer.

    Yes, and in this case the designer is explicitly stated as being “evolution.”

    In naturalistic worldview, this selection is unguided. There’s no mind or conscious being overlooking the process. That seems kinda random to me.

    Yet it’s not. There’s no conscious being overlooking gravity, is there? Yet no one claims that gravity is random. Natural and random are not synonyms; selection of, say, cheetah speed is not random, it specifically selects fast cheetahs, because selection/survival of an organism occurs for non-random reasons (no lottery process there).

  5. Dan / May 23 2007 4:01 pm

    Incidentally, one common definition of “design,” when used as a noun:

    “A basic scheme or pattern that affects and controls function or development”

  6. fiester25 / May 23 2007 6:52 pm

    Dictionary.reference.com defines “Random” as follows:

    1. proceeding, made, or occurring without definite aim, reason, or pattern: the random selection of numbers.
    2. Statistics. of or characterizing a process of selection in which each item of a set has an equal probability of being chosen.

    Naturalistic evolution has no conscious being with a definite aim, reason, or pattern for the selection process. And an unconscious process can’t have aims or reasons.

  7. Dan / May 23 2007 7:48 pm

    Your definition says it all – the key part again is “without pattern.” Clearly there are patterns throughout biology, at both the species and phylum levels, and everything in between. Therefore, life is non-random.

    Naturalistic evolution has no conscious being with a definite aim, reason, or pattern for the selection process. And an unconscious process can’t have aims or reasons.

    Again (I said this in my previous comment), none of that says that selection is random. In fact, let’s go to the definition of selection:
    “In Biology: A natural or artificial process that favors or induces survival and perpetuation of one kind of organism over others that die or fail to produce offspring.”
    In other words, selection is, by definition, a process by which there is NOT an “an equal probability of being chosen.” (to refer to your definitoin of random)

  8. fiester25 / May 23 2007 7:57 pm

    Would you agree that there is no thought behind the process? Nothing determines the selection other than the natural characteristics of the organism? Why do some organisms have some characteristics and others have different characteristics?
    In other words, you’re asking “how” questions and I’m asking “why” questions.

  9. Dan / May 23 2007 8:10 pm

    Absolutely, there’s no thought behind the process. I’m just pointing out that it is a non-random thoughtless/natural process. It may be a trivial point to you, but not so trivial to me.

    To the “why” you ask, well, I have my own opinions about that, but when it gets down to it, that’s all any of us has – our own opinions.

    Cheers.

  10. fiester25 / May 23 2007 11:36 pm

    So in the sense that you’re using the term “random,” it would be fair to say the lottery isn’t random either. There are natural reasons why one ball comes out of the machine and not another. Gravity, position, and the precise weight of the balls all play in determining which ball is selected. It’s not an accident that a particular ball comes out of the machine. There are natural causes to explain it.

  11. Dan / May 24 2007 2:10 pm

    No, the lottery is random – each ball has an equal chance at being selected. That there are natural reasons how balls come out of the machine is beside the point, as chance determines which ball falls out.

    You can think of selection this way – as a bias. A trait or phenotype confers an organism a greater bias towards survival, a greater likelihood of being passed on to descendents (as opposed to equal likelihood, which would be random).

    Now, if some of the lottery balls were weighted, to fall faster than the other balls, that would be selection (by gravity). But in this case, where each ball is identical to the rest in weight, size, shape, etc., it ultimately comes down to chance, which ball will fall out. This is more akin to mutation, which is random, so far as we can tell, but mutation is merely the material that selection acts upon, and not selection itself.

  12. fiester25 / May 24 2007 3:01 pm

    But there are natural causes that govern the selection of the balls.

  13. Dan / May 24 2007 3:11 pm

    What natural causes? You mean that one ball may be closer to the chute, and thus more likely to fall out? That’s nothing more than random chance that that ball will be closer than the rest. Being in the right time, right place, etc. – pure chance, right?

  14. Dan / May 24 2007 4:12 pm

    The key here is that in the lottery, you’re dealing with choice between equivalent or identical items, whereas in biology, you’re dealing with choice between non-identical items possessing different traits (with the exception of identical twins). In similar conditions (a lottery game or a habitat), things equivalent for a relevant characteristic will behave the same, with whoever is in the “right place, right time” being selected; in those same conditions, with non-equivalent (or diverse) things, a subset of those things will have greater likelihood of being selected.

    Lottery: homogeny within a population, equivalent items, equal chance, random
    Natural selection: diversity within a population, non-equivalent things, unequal probabilities, non-random

    And yes, all of them obey the principles of physics and chemistry.

  15. fiester25 / May 24 2007 5:18 pm

    Agreed.

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  1. Daniel Dennett, Designed by Natural Selection? « Anchor for the Soul

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