The Woodpecker and the Intelligent Designer

See what you can make of this new item at the blog of the Discoveroids — it’s by Casey Luskin, our favorite creationist. He and the Discoveroids are described in the Cast of Characters section of our Intro page.

Casey’s post is titled Biomimetics Strikes Again. There’s not much to it, but here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us and Casey’s links omitted:

A fascinating piece at Gizmag, “Cardboard bike helmet could revolutionize head safety,” discusses “a bicycle helmet constructed from cardboard and designed by Royal College of Art student Anirudha Surabhi.” Before you scoff, consider this: the helmet “promises to be 15 percent lighter than standard helmets, while absorbing up to three times the impact energy during a collision.”

Here’s the article Casey’s referring to. It’s very nice, but you’ve got to be wondering what this has to do with The Controversy between evolution and creationism. Nothing, really, but Casey is a Discoveroid, so he sees things that we can’t. He says:

And did they turn to some evolutionary algorithm to invent this improved bike helmet? No. They turned to the skull of the woodpecker:

[Casey quotes the Gizmag article:] The designer was struck by the woodpecker’s ability to withstand repeated heavy impact, thanks to the bird’s unique corrugated cartilage structure which separates beak from skull — this concept gave rise to the Kranium’s honeycomb cardboard structure dubbed “Dual Density Honey Comb Board,” or D2.

Getting impatient, dear reader? Bear with us, the good stuff is coming. It’s all in Casey’s final paragraph:

The woodpecker’s skull, which allows it to beat its head against a tree for long periods of time without damaging the brain, has a unique form which has long been cited as an argument for design. But the woodpecker’s skull wasn’t designed, just bike helmets that copy it — right?

That was bad. Very bad. We’d be more impressed by something in nature that we couldn’t replicate — and not because it’s difficult, but because its existence violates the laws of nature. Faced with something like that, one could understand the impulse to invoke a supernatural cause, as our ancestors did with things like lightning. Alas for the creationists, there are no known examples of such phenomena. Even life itself doesn’t seem to be impossible, although we haven’t reproduced it yet.

We’ve mentioned this kind of argument in Common Creationist Claims Confuted. Under the heading “Copying Nature Requires Intelligence” we said:

Creationists claim that because copying something found in nature requires conscious effort on our part, this means that nature required intelligence to produce the results we try to copy. However, genetic algorithms are excellent evidence of nature’s ability to produce spectacular design results without thought. The everyday use of genetic algorithms to solve difficult problems clearly demonstrates, again and again, that the unthinking processes (mutation and natural selection) identified by Darwin are quite sufficient for the task. [See also: Nature Doesn’t Need To Think.]

In honor of Casey’s post, we shall henceforth refer to this category of evidence for intelligent design, based on man’s designing something modeled after nature, as the Peckerhead Argument.

Addendum: We note in passing that the Discoveroids have mentioned this humble blog in a recent post: Darwinism and Stalinism, Cont., a commentary on our Discovery Institute: Beyond Despicable. We’ve been around for almost five years, and this is the first time they’ve done that. We don’t intend to respond, because their thoughts about us are of no importance.

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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31 responses to “The Woodpecker and the Intelligent Designer

  1. A test of design would be if an identical structure was ‘programmed in’ to every organ in every phylum that had to deal with impacts, using the exact same genetic sequence. And if such a structure was the best possible way of mitigating impact. But I will go out on a limb and guess that there are a wide variety of impact-lessening biological traits scattered through organisms. That some are better than others. And that the DNA sequences indicate descent with modification.

  2. eric says: “But I will go out on a limb and guess that there are a wide variety of impact-lessening biological traits scattered through organisms.”

    You don’t have to go very far. Consider our ankle bones, knee joints, and the way our vertebrae are connected. The woodpecker’s system seems better.

  3. The Peckerhead Argument!!!!!!!!!!!
    What an impeckable headbanger of a paradigm.
    Casey, you are truly living proof that nature doesn’t have to think.:)

  4. Our Curmudgeon modestly notes in passing

    that the Discoveroids have mentioned this humble blog in a recent post

    Splendid to learn that their tastes in reading have improved! Who knows, perhaps they, too, may yet evolve and learn the joys of the “strained humor and a unique adenoidal shrieking” which the rest of us have come to dearly love!

    Or: is this just another sinister portent of the End Times?

  5. It’s amusing that the Discoveroids argue one minor line in SC’s post, while not commenting on any of the rest of it, i.e., the actual subject of the post. Yet they link to it, thereby calling their readers attention to a scathing take-down of a their own essay. Was it worth that just to make an allegation that Lysenko was a “darwinist”?

    Maybe some of their readers will link to a few other SC essays, and start to follow the blog.

  6. Ed says: “Maybe some of their readers will link to a few other SC essays, and start to follow the blog.”

    Not much risk of that. Their post first appeared last night, and since then I’ve had a grand total of 23 hits from their link.

  7. If a trait does not enhance prospects for survival nature will edit it or the organism that adopts it out of existence. God is not necessary for such common sense survival tactics

  8. Charley Horse

    QUOTE their SC critical article: nd the conflict in the 1930s was not between Darwinism and Lamarckism but between Darwinism and Mendelism.

    Lots of isms….perhaps time to identify that crowd as the

  9. SC, last paragraph: “We don’t intent to respond,”. Did you mean to say, “We don’t intend to respond,”?

    Also, “Their post first appeared last night, and since then I’ve had a grand total of 23 hits from their link.”

    WOW! Isn’t that, like, all of their readers?

  10. Thanks, Gary. Typo fixed.

  11. Of the 23 linkers from the Discoveroid blog, Gary wonders

    Isn’t that, like, all of their readers?

    Quite possibly — but the total would only be 22. The extra one was me, having duly clicked over for my Daily Dose of Discoverrhea, and then tested their link back here to see if it worked.

    It did — but I inflated the numbers thereby.

  12. Megalonyx says: “The extra one was me”

    Me too, I guess, because I also tested their link. It appears that, in the parlance of the internet, a link from them isn’t very influential.

  13. Re; In the cookbook chapter “Grand Pic Noir a bec blanc Discoveroid”.
    To broil peckerheads, use Woodpecker Cider mixed with Curmudgeonite to prepare woodpecker stew, referred to in the food industry as
    ” Poule de bois woody a la Luskin”
    A very odorous catfood.:)

  14. Most likely the SC crowd accounts for the majority of the readers of this post. Look at the numbers – 3 likes on FB, no tweets and a couple of shares. A friend over at patheos routinely gets hundreds and sometimes a thousand shares.

  15. Casey Luskin — I wonder why the folks at the Dishonesty Institute all resemble sleazy used car salesmen than they do scientists.

    I remember in 8th grade science class, the teacher asking the class — “why don’t woodpeckers get headaches?” and then explaining the skull structure. Even back then (70s), he felt no need to invoke the supernatural to explain a woodpecker skull.

  16. The woodpecker argument, or series of arguments, is old — dating back to Duane Gish, who had an entire module about “Mr. Woodpecker” having to wait around for evolution to give him the tools to get and eat his first meal. (Cue creationist laughter.)

    There are 218, or maybe 217, species of woodpeckers in the world. In that 200 we find astonishing variation in skull, tongue and beak modifications, and toe arrangements. Perfectly designed? Ah, but then there’s the woodpecker in South Africa, unfortunately in a vast savannah without any trees. It uses its beak to dig insects out of the soil — not gracefully, but well enough to survive.

    And then there’s that poor finch, caught in the Galapagos, without hope of finding a woodpecker to mate with to get the tools necessary to get the little grubs (oh, yeah, already switched from seeds). It steals spines from cacti, and uses them instead.

    Chickens have most of the same modifications woodpeckers have.

    It’s easy to trace evolution to the archetypical woodpecker* the creationists use, from other birds. It’s easier when we look at the more than 200 variations on the theme that nature gives us. Claiming woodpeckers show lack of evolution shows ignorance of woodpeckers on creationists’ part, and no more.

    * I once asked Gish which woodpecker he was referring to, since he ascribed to his “Mr. Woodpecker” attributes found in no one woodpecker species. His “I know what you’re up to” answer was a brilliant example of the Gish Gallop, and left me with the impression that he had spent a lot of time observing woodpeckers courtesy of the films of Walter Lantz, and had avoided confusion by looking nowhere else. I’ve found no countervailing evidence.

    Did you ask Casey?

  17. Alas, mighty Casey got the idea for his article by continually banging his head against a tree just as a woodpecker might. The result, of course, just naturally flowed and thus his exciting story to enthrall us all with his vast store of knowledge.

  18. SC: “In honor of Casey’s post, we shall henceforth refer to this category of evidence for intelligent design, based on man’s designing something modeled after nature, as the Peckerhead Argument.”

    I second doodlebugger’s emotion re: the Peckerhead Argument above. Good thing I’ve learned from others’ mistakes not to drink anything while reading this very clever blog.

  19. SC, since you are more clever than I, please turn off the bold after “doodlebugger’s” in the comment above. Thanks!

  20. A bit of advice, retiredsciguy. When you open a bold tag, it doesn’t help to close it with an italics tag.

  21. Thanks. Sorry about that. I shouldn’t attempt to multitask; too easily distracted. I was watching the news about Leahy now being third in line to be president.

  22. I note that he says, “You can’t make this stuff up.”

    That being their area of expertise, one might take it as having some authority.

    What is it that can’t be made up?

    “Better-known Darwin activists occasionally look to him as a source of news and analysis.”

  23. “Reductio ad peckerheadum” has a pleasant sound to my earz.

  24. Bob Carroll observes:

    “Reductio ad peckerheadum” has a pleasant sound to my earz.

    And to mine earz as well — though it might be a tad more scholarly (if less euphonious) to put the whole phrase into Latin.

    My own (unscholarly) attempt at such a rendering yields:

    reductio ad pici caput

    But my pathetically small store of Latin was learned an awfully long time ago (practically when it was still a living language), so the above could be wrong (assuming ‘picus, -i’ 2nd declension genitive for ‘woodpecker’ and ‘caput’ as 3rd declen neuter accusative).

    Corrections from qualified classicists warmly welcomed!

  25. You guys are the most f***** up people I have ever heard of. Like really if you think worlds going to end, go shoot yourself before I shoot you

    P.S. you people are the wankers of the world and I think we should make a new up rising, the up rising to kill all wankers!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  26. You’re deranged, daniel,, IP number Yours is the sickest comment we’ve ever received. Seek help. Oh, you’re also banned.

  27. And the most illiterate too. One would have that the sarcasm and scorn for the 21 was obvious.

  28. Um, I came up with “Peckerhead Argument” two years ago in debates with various creationists.

    For me, “Peckerhead” did not refer to just mentioning the woodpecker. I generalized it to mean asserting that all parts of a complex systems MUST have appeared simultaneously, “all at once”, because the creationist has neglected to do a phylogenetic analysis of related species, which of course would show that the individual features are separately beneficial and thus, could evolve one by one.

    This is from a comment I left at Cornelius Hunter’s blog two years ago.

    Dr. Cornelius is once again treating us to an Answers-In-Genesis type Ken Hamite argument: “The woodpecker’s bill is so complex, it could not possibly have evolved!”

    That’s why I call this kind of argument the Peckerhead argument. The hope is that you can disprove evolution by finding some really complicated biological system, and persuading people that, intuitively, “We all know” (WAK) that could never evolve.

    Science 101. You can’t disprove a scientific theory, except by asking: what specific predictions does it make? Do they differ from the observation?

    For the twenty millionth time, Cornelius, evolution is [a] COMPARATIVE theory. You can’t make any predictions from it (to falsify or confirm) without first doing a COMPARISON of the structure in question between many different species. That is, try to construct a unique phylogenetic tree.

    That’s the first step in any evolutionary analysis (not the last though), and since you haven’t done that– you haven’t compared Drosophila’s altitude-sensing apparatus to the sensory apparati(?) of other insects or arthropods– you haven’t constructed a phylogenetic tree of sensory apparati– therefore, you can’t prove or disprove evolution with this line of argument.

    Let’s recall how evolutionary analysis works. Comparison of apes immediately tells us chimps & bonobos are closest to us, gorillas less close, orangutans even farther, etc. Therefore, our immediate ancestors should have

    A. smaller brain than human
    B. bigger brain than gorilla
    C. no tail
    D. longer arms than human
    E. less robust than gorilla
    yadda yadda.

    But mere phylogenetic tree construction alone doesn’t tell us everything, like at what point did our ancestors get bipedal? You don’t know from the tree, you have to dig up the fossil.

    Anyway they did, and Australopithecus confirms A B C D E. We win.

    Cornelius’ Peckerhead argument, as with Ken Ham’s “WAK the woodpecker bill is too complex to have evolved!” is irrelevant to evolution, one way or the other.

    Here is another example of me accusing Cornelius Hunter of Peckerhead.

    Can we get back to the original (much more interesting) topic of this thread!? CO2-sensing proteins in mosquitoes!

    Dr. Cornelius ONCE AGAIN employs a Peckerhead argument. He describes a complex biological system, then asserts that, in effect, We All Know it could not possibly have evolved!

    I call this a “Peckerhead” argument because creationists point to the bill of one woodpecker (just one species of woodpecker) and say it is so complex, it could not possibly have evolved. They don’t bother to even compare one woodpecker species against others, or their bills against the bills of related species.

    But the complexity of any biological system, by itself, cannot prove or disprove evolution. Evolution is a theory of COMPARATIVE BIOLOGY. You can’t disprove it (or prove it) without comparing a structure against the structures in many, many other species!!!

    You must at least TRY to build a phylogenetic tree or else you cannot disprove evolution! (nor prove it either). OK maybe it’s hard to build a phylogenetic tree, but you have to at least TRY!!!

  29. That’s good, Diogenes. Well, even if I wasn’t the first to invent the term, I’m still gonna use it.

  30. By the way, who says woodpeckers don’t get headaches? They avoid concussions, but I know of no study of headaches in woodpeckers.