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article imageDesigned and Designoid Objects - A Lecture by Richard Dawkins

By Bart B. Van Bockstaele     Feb 16, 2009 in Science
In 1991, world-renowned evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins gave a landmark series of 5 lectures on evolution at the prestigious Royal Institution, the second lecture can now be seen on YouTube, in high quality video.
This is the year where we celebrate the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, arguably the most influential scientist who ever lived. Since this series of lectures by Richard Dawkins, called "Growing Up in the Universe," are about the theory of evolution, originated by Charles Darwin, it seemed only fit that they would be posted on YouTube, and that I would discuss them.
In this lecture, Richard Dawkins starts of by explaining the difference between objects that are the result of random luck (which he calls “simple”), designed objects, and objects that have evolved, which he calls “designoid objects.”
He uses the theme of the “pot” to show this difference and he shows us a pot-shaped stone with (amethyst?) crystals in it as an example of simple object, a gazunder as an example of a designed object, and a pitcher plant as an example of a designoid object.
Richard Dawkins goes on to show different types of apparent design in designoid objects, such as camouflage to hide from predators and convergence in which diverse species looking very much like each other because they are living the same type of lives.
One rather remarkable example is the similarities between the now extinct Tasmanian tiger (a marsupial) and a dog. They look very similar on the outside, and just as striking are the similarities between their skulls where two holes in the palate are the only reliable way to tell the difference between the two.
Designed objects can also converge to resemble each other, because they are designed to have the same function. Dawkins then shows how this type of convergence also occurs in designed objects such as airplanes. He explains that it is not the result of copying or industrial espionage, but simply the consequence of using a wind tunnel.
Dawkins goes on even more convincingly by showing convergence between a designed object, a camera, and a designoid object, an eye.
This is all very interesting, but how did designoid objects come into being? By way of evolution through natural selection, a concept discovered surprisingly recently, in the middle of the 19th century by Charles Darwin.
Darwin introduced his concept of natural selection beginning with a similar, but different process, namely artificial selection or selective breeding. Richard Dawkins shows us a collection of cabbages and explains that they are all descended from the same wild cabbage. He also shows us a number of dogs to the say that they are all descendants from wolves. And of course, one can’t talk about Charles Darwin and not talk about pigeons, since Darwin was himself a pigeon fancier.
Artificial selection can be relatively easily simulated in a computer, and this is what Richard Dawkins does. He then goes on to show that the computer can be programmed to do the choosing on its own, without help from a human “breeder.” One of the examples shown is a comparison between the way a spider builds its web and a computer version of this process enhanced by a simulation of natural selection. It is remarkable how fast this works.
Therefore, the Darwinian view is that designoid objects are not designed at all, but that they have evolved by natural selection.
Are there alternatives to this view? Yes, there are, and the most popular one is called Creationism. Creationists believe that designoid objects are really designed, but that they are not designed by humans, but rather by a divine creator. Dawkins explains William Paley’s argument by design, most famously expressed as the divine watchmaker.
At first sight, this is a good argument, but it shoots itself in the foot for it makes the solution harder than the problem it supposedly solves: a designer capable to construct complex lifeforms, cannot reasonably be simple itself. It must be a complex creature. So then, who created the designer?
Another problem with the creationist view is that there are lots of flaws in nature that a genuine designer would not make. Richard Dawkins gives us the example of the halibut, with its dramatically deformed skull, the result of moving one of its eyes to the side it uses to look in front of itself.
In other words, creation has no place in the fundamentals of the universe. A brain capable of creation is the result of a long process of evolution, not unlike a kind of an afterthought, and certainly not the cause of it all.
I would like to encourage everyone to watch this series of lectures. Not many of us ever get the privilege to be instructed by a man of this calibre, and the materials and examples shown are such that, even now, very few people get to enjoy anything even remotely similar.
More about Designed designoid objects, Richard Dawkins, Christman lectures
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