Daily Archives: March 6, 2010

Defining design

A portion of Douglas J. Futuyma’s textbook Evolution is available on the web – the chapter that describes natural selection and adaptation.  It’s a very nice chapter and, if you are not very familiar with evolution, it is certainly worth the read

I’d like to consider one excerpt for today:

Most adaptations, such as a snake’s skull, are complex, and most have the appearance of design—that is, they are constructed or arranged so as to accomplish some function, such as growth, feeding, or pollination, that appears likely to promote survival or reproduction. – p. 282

Embedded in sentence is a definition of design:

  • Something that is “constructed or arranged so as to accomplish some function.

Futuyma then outlines the ways that natural selection can function as a designer-mimic, whereby the process of selection, over time, works to construct or arrange so as to accomplish some function.

What I would like you to consider is how we might reasonably apply this very definition to evolution itself.  It can be done, especially when we consider the phenomenon that Darwin himself drew upon extensively – artificial selection.

With artificial selection, intelligent agents construct or arrange matings (reproduction) so as to accomplish some function (faster dogs). As such, artificial selection would represent one example of designed evolution.  That is, descent, with modification, is employed as part of a design process.

What we then have is a proof of principle.  Evolution can be influenced by design.  Design can incorporate and exploit evolution.  And as you know, those are the tantalizing possibilities explored in this bunny hole.