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