Evolutionary biologists have to squarely face the fact that living things look designed. However, is this appearance real (with the implication that there is an intelligent designer) or is it a subjective assessment without substance (with the implication that there are mechanisms for design emerging through natural causes)? The issue is not helped by those who try to trivialise the design argument. And Wedekind notes: "evolutionary biologists can struggle to find their best arguments when challenged by a well-prepared enthusiast of 'intelligent design'".
J. Scott Turner is an associate professor of biology at the State University of New York's College of Environmental Science and Forestry. He has written a book which is uninhibited in describing the harmony of structure and function as 'designedness'. He is aware that this will not please some colleagues, but argues that there is "no better way to open minds than to irritate them a bit".
Keywords for Turner's analysis are: "physiology", "homeostasis", and "self-organisation". He explains the concept of "Bernard machines". These both create and regulate environments, and ultimately are considered to lead to the "marvellous harmony of structure and function we observe in nature".
"But the author argues that life and evolution happen when Darwin machines act in concert with Bernard machines, which are the agents of homeostasis and can be seen, in their own particular way, as goal-seeking and purposeful. These are the 'tinkerer's accomplices' of the title."
People have been talking about self-organisation for many years, but with very little substance. It really is necessary to move from concepts to specifics. The problem is that decay appears to be a stronger trend than self-organisation, and promising starts do not get far. Furthermore, some regard the presence of homeostasis as a consequence of intelligent agency, which presupposes real design at the outset.
The interior designer
Nature 446, 375, (22 March 2007) | doi:10.1038/446375a
Review of: The Tinkerer's Accomplice: How Design Emerges From Life Itself, by J. Scott Turner, Harvard University Press: 2007. 304 pp.
1st para: Sharing a broadly accepted idea or philosophical concept comes with a danger: after a period of indulgence in mutual affirmation, it is easy to forget how to effectively defend the concept against a smart and captious critic. Established politicians sometimes stumble and get lost in clumsy arguments when forced to defend the basic concepts of their politics against a cleverly presented and maybe radically different opinion. And evolutionary biologists can struggle to find their best arguments when challenged by a well-prepared enthusiast of 'intelligent design'. Non-physiologists, for example, might overlook the agents of homeostasis that lead, largely by themselves, to the marvellous harmony of structure and function we observe in nature.
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