Is Life Designed? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In part 1 of this series, I introduced Mark Isaak’s 2003 article which argued that human designs are not analogous to life, and that an argument to design using the analogical method fails.  Mark Isaak listed six attributes of human design that are not found in life, and now we take up attribute number three from his list, which I’ve copied again below. 

  1. Human design includes blueprints, tools, and other evidence of the design process.  Life shows no evidence of a design process.
  2. Human designs display simple organization.  Life displays complex organization and intermodular interdependence.
  3. Human designs are manufactured.  Life is characterized by reproduction, growth, and development.
  4. Human designs are generally repaired from the outside.  Life is self-healing, at least in part.
  5. In human design form follows function.  In life, forms follow nested hierarchy.
  6. In human design, there is rapid change.  In life, there is slow change.

Difference number three:  Isaak notes that human designs are manufactured in some way, whereas life reproduces, grows, and develops.  My first reaction is to ask: Why does reproduction preclude design?  And are there not numerous examples of human scientists manufacturing life through cloning processes?  What about Craig Venter’s team manufacturing synthetic life forms?  Add to this that one of the express purposes of some forms of nanotechnology is self-replication, the very thing that Isaak claims only life can do.  This alleged difference between human design and life simply collapses under inspection.

Difference number four:  Isaak claims that human designs are repaired from the outside, whereas life is capable of partial self-healing.  Again, the distinction falls apart.  There are self-healing materials that scientists are developing to prevent cracking in structures; I’m sure other examples of self-healing technologies could be found.  Humans consider self-healing to be a property of design that is highly beneficial and are making rapid progress in its development.  Why does Isaak assume that human designs are incapable of reaching this goal?

Difference number five:  According to Isaak, in human design form follows function, but in life forms follow nested hierarchy.  Isaak argues that a “human hand, a bat’s wing, a mole’s paw, a dog’s paw, and a whale’s flipper all have the same basic bone structure, despite their different functions of grasping, flying, digging, running, and swimming.”  In other words, the singular form of the bone is used in different animals to perform many different functions.  This idea of a singular form being used for many different functions, he argues, is not seen in human designs.

But that is just not true.  Take the field I work in: semiconductors.  For any integrated circuit, there are a limited number of forms that are employed (e.g., resistors, capacitors, transistors).  These very few forms are put to use in a multitude of different functions: amplifiers, receivers, timers, filters, switches, just to name a few.  The whole semiconductor industry is built on the idea that a handful of forms can be used to design millions of different functions.  This is identical to what Isaak sees in life, so he has failed to find a true difference between human design and life.

Difference number six:  Isaak argues that human designs change rapidly, whereas life changes slowly.   I think we can all agree that life has clearly changed over its history.  After all, isn’t that the whole point of evolution, a theory which Isaak defends? 

According to evolution, modern human designers have only been around for tens of thousands of years.  Some of the tools that humans designed in their early history have changed slowly (e.g., knives and wheels), and some of the tools have changed rapidly (e.g., communication technology). 

But this is exactly the same case in life.  Some animals have changed slowly over their evolutionary history (e.g., sharks), but some have changed rapidly (e.g., primates).  Isaak’s argument struggles because slowness and rapidity are relative terms.  Rapid compared to what? 

I can’t see any way for Isaak to differentiate successfully between human design and life with regard to the rapidity of change unless he merely says that life has been changing for billions of years and human designs have been changing for thousands of years.  Yes, that’s a difference, but what of it?

In part 3 of this series, I will draw together some conclusions about Mark Isaak’s argument that life and human design are not analogous.

  • LeeBowman

    Mark Isaak tags creationists with a number of arguments from authority, while I would venture that he himself does the same.

    Difference number three: Essentially, as I mentioned in part one, design modalities vary with the equipment on hand, bioforms being of necessity self-sustaining. But the self-reproducing ability, while natural, did not form naturally, as proposed by evolutionary theory. Hox6 genes which direct ontogeny, are found in all multicellular reproducing organisms, a signatory of common design.

    Difference number four merely points out that ‘self-sustaining’ organisms employ internal repair and replenishment modalities. How else could then self-sustain? We could design cars to self-repair if desired, but since we replace them on a regular basis, why bother? But again, Isaak’s argument lacks substance. In short, one differing modality does not negate the other as valid.

    And in points five and six, he again harps on design and production variances between directed physical acts to produce things, and naturally occurring biologic reproduction. But again, design and redesign is employed by man, and in nature, designs are already in place, but subject to redesigns in isolated and non-observable instances. You might consider micro changes as redesigns, but they are only the minor quantitative alterations, allowed by the genome, and implemented with ‘designed in’ limits within the genome and its ontological processes.

    Speaking of microprocessors, I read now that upwards of nearly a billion transistors exist in a Core 2 Duo, and that motherboards have reached 15 layers in some designs. This begs the question of, “who designs a microprocessor (or motherboard), men or machine?

    Today, we set the parameters, but the pathways and transduction devices are designed completely by computers. We may get a printout of the number of traces, today thinner than the wavelength of white light, and thus today’s devices have gone from white, to
    I would say, not us directly. We merely set parameters, program the setup, go have coffee, and then test the end product for proper function. Often, modifications may result in redundant and unused pathways, but so what? We know there are redundancies and duplications in genomes, perhaps a logical result of complex regenerative design and production methodologies, both ours and nature’s.

    Since no human mind could lay out todays ICs and multilayer boards in 100 lifetimes, software is employed, with end points, memory size and structure, bus properties, voltage transition levels, (and more) specified. The software does the grunt work, and a model is constructed and tested. Are there any parallels in the DNA/ RNA world?

    But until we see motherboards living on their own, and reproducing ‘babyboards’ from within, we must assume, as Isaak and others assume, that design is not, nor ever was, a consideration in the setting up of life. It-just-happened.