Professor Walter Bock introduces his short essay by referring to the letter Darwin wrote to Asa Gray in 1860: "I am conscious that I am in an utterly hopeless muddle. I cannot think that the world, as we see it, is the result of chance; and yet I cannot look at each separate thing as the result of design". Ernst Mayr took up the challenge and he also found a tension between his understanding of evolutionary theory and the need to use terms like "design" and "purposefulness". Mayr concluded: "Given all this, the conclusion is inevitable: we find in all organisms a fitting together of inborn actions or structures so perfect that one can hardly avoid such terms as "design" or "purposefulness"."
There have now been four international conferences on Comparing Design in Nature with Science and Engineering. Scientists and engineers have no problems using the D-word (Source here)
Bock's discussion seeks to move the thinking of biologists beyond Darwin and Mayr. He points out that "design" is a loaded word. He cannot find a synonym for "design" that does not also incorporate the concept of a designer. Since this implication is not acceptable to Darwinians, Bock wants to remove all references to design from biology:
"the term design carries with it too many undesirable connotations, such as the existence of a creator, and should not be used in evolutionary theory. Design could be replaced with non-accidental or non-stochastic, but these substitute terms are awkward and not really informative. Darwin developed his theory of organic evolution in part as an explanation of the appearance and perfection of adaptations to counter the idea of design as advocated by Paley and accepted then by almost everyone in the western world, including biologists."
In the past, Bock has written on this subject and has proposed the word "paradaptation" to capture the stochastic aspects of mutations affecting the organism's phenotype; also the word "adaptation" to match the action of natural selection on the phenotype. He claims: "These terms may not allow for a catchy slogan or title, but they do not carry any baggage in the form of unwanted connotations, such as a designer or an adapter." This leads to his general conclusion:
"Mayr (1976a: p. 43) concluded that: "In short, the solution of Darwin's paradox is that natural selection itself turns accident into design". A better expression for Mayr's conclusion would be: "In short, the solution of Darwin's paradox is that natural selection itself turns accidental paradaptations into adaptations"."
This communication can be addressed at various levels. Paul Nelson rightly charges Bock with promoting a Darwinian version of Newspeak. George Orwell in 1984 foresaw things far more clearly than others of his generation! But it seems to me that Bock's proposal can be challenged on scientific grounds. He claims that his terminology does not "carry any baggage in the form of unwanted connotations", but they do! Bock's proposal is specifically wedded to the Neo-Darwinist perspective and it is very important for science that theories are evaluated on their merits, not by defining vocabulary that presumes one particular theory over another, nor by making up the rules of engagement.
Neo-Darwinism has two mechanisms: hereditable mutations and natural selection. It is not universally agreed that these mechanisms can achieve the task of large-scale evolutionary transformation. As an example, take a recent interview with Scott Gilbert, Professor of Biology at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania where he teaches embryology, developmental genetics and the history of biology.
"I think natural selection occurs. And I think natural selection occurs within species. I don't think natural selection alone can explain how butterflies got their wings or how the turtle got its shell. But I think that once you have variation within species, then natural selection can work."
Gilbert is of the view that development plays the major role in all the big changes in evolution. If dissenters like him deserve any credibility, then the adaptationist agenda is an imposition on research. So Bock's terminology can be interpreted as a pre-emptive strike to establish Neo-Darwinism as the voice of academia. This is rhetoric, not science. Bock is free to develop his arguments, but he should not claim that his terminology is free from baggage and he should not dismiss other voices in the biological world by saying that their views are "unusually vague".
Where does this leave us on "Design"? Many years ago, Richard Dawkins suggested that biologists use the term "designoid", but that has not been greeted with enthusiasm. Despite 150 years of trying, the Darwinists have not persuaded the population at large that the living world can be described completely in terms of the action of natural, unguided processes. Bock concludes his paper by saying: "Actually the living world as we see it is the result of chance because all of the attributes of these organisms evolved and the process of evolution is stochastic. To paraphrase a well-known statement by Einstein, God apparently does play with dice." However, the rationale for this position statement is what many of us want to challenge. We do not consider the statement emerges from the science, but from the underlying philosophy of naturalism. As scientists, we seek the liberty to interact with statements like this, showing that they are deductions from premises rather than conclusions emerging from a scientific analysis. We want the rhetoric of hostility to design to be put aside, allowing a mature debate about the evidences for and against intelligent design in the natural world.
Design - an inappropriate concept in evolutionary theory
W. J. Bock
Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research, (February 2009) 47(1), 7-9
Abstract: The concept of accident in evolution refers to causes which are stochastic with respect to selective demands arising from the external environment and acting on the organism, while the concept of design refers to causes which meet the requirement of these selective demands. The condition 'with respect to selective demands' is generally forgotten so that evolutionary changes are described as being design modifications. Design is an invalid synonym for adaptation. Further it implies a designer and has been used by some authors since before Darwin to argue that design in organisms demonstrates the existence of a designer and hence a plan. Yet if evolution depends on two simultaneously acting causes, one of which is accidental, then the process of evolution and all attributes of organisms are accidental. The concept of design is inappropriate in biology and should be eliminated from all biological explanations.
Nelson, P., Don't use the D word. It's being eliminated. Uncommon Descent (19 February 2009)
Bullock, R. Darwinists on Design: Jumping to Confusions, ARN ID Report, 28 February 2009
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