Casey: Nature Is More Rational than We Are

The Discovery Institute is returning to an old theme — see Discoveroids: Science Copies Nature, Therefore …, one we discussed in Common Creationist Claims Confuted under the heading: “Copying Nature Requires Intelligence.”

The new Discoveroid post is by Casey Luskin — our favorite creationist. It’s titled Biomimicry Could Solve Green Energy Problems and Lead to Environmentally Friendly Tech. Casey says, with bold font added by us:

Once again, biological systems are being modeled to improve human technology. This time butterfly wings are enlightening engineers trying to improve light collectors so we can better harvest solar energy.

Casey then links to and quotes extensively from this article at PhysOrg: Butterflies heat up the field of solar research, which says:

The humble butterfly could hold the key to unlocking new techniques to make solar energy cheaper and more efficient, pioneering new research has shown. A team of experts from the University of Exeter has examined new techniques for generating photovoltaic (PV) energy – or ways in which to convert light into power. They showed that by mimicking the v-shaped posture adopted by Cabbage White butterflies to heat up their flight muscles before take-off, the amount of power produced by solar panels can increase by almost 50 per cent.

Then he links to and quotes from a paper on the subject from Nature, White butterflies as solar photovoltaic concentrators, and he says:

Don’t miss the last sentence which marvels at how nature has already “solved” the problems we face. This is the customary evolutionary gloss that is virtually always added to any paper on biomimicry.

What was that “evolutionary gloss” in the Nature article? It said:

Mimicking these reflective structures with similar power to weight properties will be extremely useful in the design of new reflective materials for use in applications where weight is a limiting issue, such as flight. Third, and perhaps most obviously, this suggests that butterflies have evolved to concentrate light effectively for their needs and supports the idea that any given problem may first have been solved by nature.

Casey grabs onto that and asks his drooling fans:

But does the success of biomimicry suggest mindless nature solved problems that our minds couldn’t, or does it suggest that an advanced mind solved the problem in nature before our minds even conceived of the problem?

We’ve seen worse questions, but that one certainly ranks near the bottom. First, our minds could solve the problem, but in this case it’s easier to use a solution that is already available. As for the second part of Casey’s false dichotomy, that “an advanced mind solved the problem,” that’s a bit of a stretch. He must also believe that the same “advanced mind” spawned a biosphere in which at least 90% of the species that ever lived have gone extinct. That’s not a great track record for an advanced mind.

Skipping a load of blather, we come to the end:

What biomimicry really shows is that nature operates in a rational manner — sometimes even more rational than our own best ideas. And if our own ideas are the result of mental activity, what does that say about nature?

Well, dear reader, what does it say about nature? As we wrote in Common Creationist Claims Confuted:

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.

Here are specific examples of genetic algorithms being used to solve a variety of engineering problems. We posted about this here: Nature Doesn’t Need To Think.

Anyway, Casey thinks nature has a better mind than he does. Maybe he’s right.

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13 responses to “Casey: Nature Is More Rational than We Are

  1. Casey, how many times are you going to ignore the fact that natural selection is a most powerful force for shaping species? It is NOT random, but rather, exquisitely focused. The successful adaptation is more likely to reproduce, and so the species shifts toward the better adapted. Why is that so hard for you to understand? Why do you find this concept so threatening? Do you fear condemnation to Hell if you let this idea seep into your consciousness?

    Free your mind of its shackles! The Truth shall set you free!

  2. Charles Deetz ;)

    So did the superior intellect get everything right the first time? He had to figure out the angle of the wings, the color, the material, the target temperature, the environmental conditions. All by programming millions of proteins in tiny tiny cells. Let my apply some probability calculations on that.

  3. Orgel’s second rule: Evolution is cleverer than you are.

    Corollary: Evolution produces things that design would not.

  4. Occasionally, we notice that nature has an elegant solution to a specific problem, and we copy it. On the other hand, the list of fundamental, basic technologies invented by humans which nature does not possess is almost endless. The javelin, the wheel, clothing, and pretty much 99% of every basic human invention that followed are things not found in nature. But, to Casey, copying the angle of butterfly wings somehow shows that nature is “rational.”

    Casey, if you are reading this, I suggest you conduct a simple experiment. Look around your workspace and make a list of all of the things that you see that were copied from nature. The fact that your desk has four legs and animals have four legs doesn’t count. Contemplate the stark difference between the natural world and the artificial world created by human intelligence. The wing angle of a butterfly does not make one like the other.

  5. michaelfugate

    Nature is more rational because it assumes there aren’t any gods.

  6. “… or does it suggest that an advanced mind solved the problem in nature before our minds even conceived of the problem?”

    It is important to recognize that when Casey says “an advanced mind” he is making the comparison to his mind. Such an “advanced mind” would, of course, necessarily include anything with a better functioning brain than a dead spider.

  7. How can a creationist offer an example of the weakness of design as an argument for design?

  8. If “nature is cleverer than we are” and is the product of “an advanced mind,” what about the kludges in human anatomy? Upright posture, for example, is made possible by a suite of adaptations which are clearly les than optimal–yet just as clearly derived from the anatomy of our primate ancestors.

  9. Ed says: ” The javelin, the wheel, clothing, and pretty much 99% of every basic human invention that followed are things not found in nature.”

    All by itself, the wheel is probably the simplest, best, and most elegant example.

  10. Charles Deetz ;)

    Good read at Wikipedia on Rotating locomotion in living systems. Behe’s flagellum/motor is the only known rotating living structure. But yes, like a precambrian rabbit, if you showed me an wheeled rabbit, I’d be interested in alternate theories.

  11. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I find the idea that simplicity can produce complexity can seem impossible until one has experience with evolutionary algorithms. We can see the appearance of design where no designer (per se) set out to produce a particular design.

    I can’t expect all IDers to write their own evolutionary algorithms but they can get some of the “feel” for them with an on-line animation like this one. It shows how just a few simple rules from physics can “evolve” efficient car designs:

    Many such program exists on-line and I think it is one of the best ways to help a person grasp how something as “blind” [not necessarily] and “random” [but not really] as natural processes can produce amazing solutions to the problem of survival.

    I post such links wherever I can because such software helped me to “re-orient” my sense of intuition to where evolution started to seem obvious where it had once seemed unlikely to pass my “common sense” test. It amazed me how our “gut feelings” about ideas has to be “trained” so that it doesn’t mislead us. I’ll bet that Casey Luskin has never tried to grasp how such simplistic algorithms can solve problems and produce “designs” which the programmer never imagined.

    I think this kind of “training” reminds us that to grasp science, a student needs to do more than just memorize facts. We need to help students train their personal sense of “common sense” to where their intuition doesn’t screen out important concepts. In my case, I affirmed The Theory of Evolution long before I really grasped on a gut-level its simplicity, beauty, and “obviousness”. And getting used to the powers of evolutionary algorithms gave me that personal breakthrough where evolution truly “felt right”.

  12. Mary L. Mand

    There goes another one who forgets that humans ARE a part of nature.

  13. Charles Deetz ;)

    @Prof The car simulation is addicting to watch. You’ve killed a a portion of my free time tonight. I can see that being a good experience for a creationist to see, even the addicting nature of it to see things spawn has its own beauty despite the ‘randomness’.