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Engineering and evolution

Engineering and Intelligent Design
Definition of bricolage and engineering


According to Wikipedia: "Do It Yourself" (DIY) refers to the practice of fabricating or repairing things on one's own rather than purchasing them or paying for professional repair. Bricolage, the French equivalent for DIY, is also often contrasted with engineering as building by trial and error using whatever is available at the time. But obviously "Do It Yourself" can work only for extremely simple things and bricolage itself entails an intelligent agent. It is not a blind, unguided random process. When things become more complex we unavoidably enter the field of engineering and technology, where things are indeed based on theory. Leonardo da Vinci (author of the above drawing) said that "practice must always repose on a valid theory".


"Engineering is the application of scientific and technical knowledge to solve human problems. Engineers use imagination, judgment and reasoning to apply science, technology, mathematics, and practical experience. The result is the design, production, and operation of useful objects or processes." (From Wikipedia definition of engineering). Notice in this definition the fundamental necessity of pre-existing "scientific and technical knowledge". And since engineering solves "human problems," its aim is inherently teleological, i.e. goal-oriented.
Mind and matter


"Engineers use imagination." When an engineer has to construct some complex apparatus, he begins with an idea in his mind "based on theory". Eventually he calculates the values of some variables of the apparatus based on mathematical equations. Then he sketches something on paper. Only after completing this theoretical work can he realize his idea in material form. Hence we have a series of "states" or "planes" that range from the abstract to the material (mind, paper, matter). Why this long workflow from mind to matter? Why does it require "imagination, judgment and reasoning" to obtain the design for material production? Why not fabricate things directly?  A main reason is that changes are easier when made virtually (in the mind) or abstractly (in a drawing) than physically. Matter is solid and difficult to work with. Mind and imagination are thin, flexible and easy to work on. To imagine is easier than to make.
The shift towards mind


The history of engineering and technology show us that engineers have always striven to shift their work from matter to mind. The reason for this trend emphasizing theory over practice is that it is always best to detect problems at the highest level of abstraction, the plane of the mind. Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) and Computer Aided Design (CAD) allow for close examination of abstract schema or models before manufacturing when it is much less costly to correct mistakes. Similarly Computer Aided Simulation (CAS) permits testing the functioning of a system under all possible boundary conditions on a model resident in a computer rather than in real life. The great successes of modern engineering would have been impossible without computers and simulators. Both these tools shift the work from the material level to the abstract level. Every field of engineering has its own implementations of CAE, CAD, and CAS.
Informatics, software and hardware


What about the field of informatics? Informatics is merely another kind of engineering and as such is no exception to its principles. In informatics the distinction between the concepts of "hardware" and "software" is fundamental. The software represents the programs and the hardware is the physical machine that runs the programs, i.e. the computer. In this field technicians know that it is always better to change software than hardware. Changing some lines of code is easier than modifying the computer physically. So even in software engineering the trend of working at higher levels of abstraction is strong. Software engineers use modeling tools and sophisticated Integrated Development Environment (IDE), to model complex information processing systems at a high level before programming the code itself.
In general we could say that it's better and easier to work at the level of causes than at the level of effects. We could say that causes are "soft" and effects are "hard". It's better to work soft than hard.
Artificial physical macroevolution impossibility


Moreover there is the problem of changes or variations to systems. When an engineer forgets some parts or finds some conceptual error in his initial project, it may be very difficult (and often impossible) to insert them after the prototype has been constructed. For example suppose the engineer forgets the gearshift in the engine he has designed. To insert a complete gearshift into an engine after its construction isn't an easy job. (And by the way it's even more difficult if thousands of engines have already been fabricated!). If his design resides in his mind or on paper there are far fewer problems.


Consider for example a factory that wants to manufacture a washing machine. It begins by designing and constructing a prototype. Then it tests this prototype under many different conditions before constructing thousands of identical exemplars which will be sold on the market. Now let's assume that the factory wants to manufacture an airplane. The factory's engineers don't take the old washer prototype to modify and transform into an airplane physically, because washers and airplanes are too different. They know that the best thing to do is to return to mind (i.e. to the level of ideas) and to design the airplane from the beginning. Then they will make many drawings of the different parts of the airplane and only at the end will they transform their knowledge into a prototype of an airplane. The fabrication of the airplane will start only when the drawings are perfectly finished and all parts perfectly acknowledged. Similarly no airplane will ever be physically transformed into a train or a nuclear plant. In industry there is no "artificial physical macroevolution" of prototypes and models.
Artificial physical microevolution possibility


The impossibility of an "artificial physical macroevolution" doesn't mean that sometimes small, extremely limited physical changes cannot be directly done on prototypes. For example, it is impossible to physically transform a car into a nuclear plant but it is possible to make minor changes or improvements like adding a hubcap. A hubcap is an add-on that can be inserted without the need of big changes to the original car. By the way after this little improvement we will continue to have a car. Or think of an electronic circuit: we can tune a potentiometer or commutate some rotary switches. These are only minor electronic changes and can be made even when the circuit is powered on. In this sense, we can say many forms of "artificial physical microevolution" are possible .
Engineering and Intelligent Design


The relation between engineering and Intelligent Design (ID) is straightforward. Engineering is simply the application of Intelligent Design to the real world. In a sense engineering brings ID to the market. According to N. Wiener "The amount of information in a system is a measure of its organization degree"[1]. Engineering necessarily implies organization and a high amount of complex information. W. A. Dembski, a mathematician of the ID movement, has introduced an empirical criterion for inferring design, based on the complexity and specificity of the information embedded in it:


"Information that is both complex and specified will be called ‘Complex Specified Information' or CSI for short. The connection between design and information theory is therefore straightforward: to infer design by means of the complexity-specification criterion is equivalent to detecting complex specified information.... Here then is the connection between design and information. Design and CSI are, as mathematicians would say, isomorphic." [2]
Neither natural laws and algorithms, nor chance and randomness can generate CSI. Neither can CSI be generated by a combination of them.  Only intelligence can generate CSI. Another concept of Intelligent Design Theory is "irreducible complexity" (IC). Here is  M. Behe's original definition of an irreducibly complex system:


"By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning." [3]


Engineers often face problems related to irreducible complexity. An irreducibly complex system cannot be created by "artificial physical microevolution" because all its parts must be in place and functional from the beginning. The design must be perfectly completed before construction. Anything which is irreducibly complex demands "mind-before-matter." Engineers can design irreducibly complex systems only because they have a pre-existent scientific and technical knowledge about those systems and use this knowledge to develop the entire system abstractly before fabricating it.
Complex systems


"Complexity theory" is, rather obviously, the study of complex systems. Complex systems share the following characteristics.
(1)    A high number of components and subsystems which may themselves be complex.  These parts can be hardware (natural or artificial bodies) or software objects (elaborate abstract structures).


(2)    A high number of interactions between the components exchanging analogue or digital information with each other.  The presence of feedback loops increases the complexity and non-linearity of the whole system.


(3)    Adaptive interaction with the environment.  The more external factors affect the system the more complex it becomes.


We must distinguish two types of complex systems.  In hierarchical systems a controller component exists to manage all subsystems.  In this case study of the controller leads to a good understanding of the whole system.  On the other hand in "hologramatic" systems every part of the system contains the total information of the system.  Living organisms are hologramatic, since in general each cell contains the total information of the entire organism.
We distinguish three different degrees of complexity.


(a)        Low complexity systems:  natural or artificial simple constructions, machines describable by means of input-output tables.  They do not have adaptive interactions with the environment. 


(b)        Medium complexity systems:  machines with inner states, virtual computational motors and computers, biological viruses.  These can express a minimum of adaptation with the environment. 


(c)        High complexity systems:  generally they are present in biology only, from bacteria to human populations.  The neuro-biological systems are the most complex.  The most complex system from all the points of view is the human body.
Fundamentally adaptive complex systems are non-linear dynamic systems with asymptotic behaviors difficult to predict mathematically.  Such systems have not been studied until recent times for two reasons.  First:  adaptive complex systems are tremendous information processors. Hence theoretical information science had to catch up with the demands of nature.  Second, the computer simulation of complex systems needed processing power and memory that only modern computers could begin to provide.


There are many low complexity systems and few of high complexity. For example insects are far more numerous than mammals. It is obvious that, in any given population excellence is rarer than mediocrity. Complexity peaks are rare exceptions and not the rule.  If we want to characterize the frequency distribution which represents reality it is not the arithmetic mean but rather the mode.  (The mode of a set of numbers is the value that occurs with the greatest frequency, i.e. the most common value.)  The mode of complexity in nature is near the left margin of the range where the more elementary forms of life predominate. Evolutionists, however, claim there is an automatic and increasing trend towards the right margin where complex life resides. In the following sections, I will attempt to explain why I disagree.


Biology and Darwinism
Darwinism as a too simplistic conception


We have seen how things work in engineering, technology, industry, research and every other field where intelligent agents design and construct both simple and complex systems. What about biology? What about those biological systems which we call organisms and species? Was there "physical macroevolution" of biological species on Earth as Darwinism hypothesizes? ("Macroevolution" is understood as "large-scale evolution extending over geologic era and resulting in the formation of all taxonomic groups".[4]) According to Darwinists all living things evolved from a unique common ancestor by trial and error. We might say Darwinism has a conception of biology even more rudimentary than the do-it-yourself or bricolage approach. We have just gone through why a blind trial and error approach doesn't work for creating machinery even when the things to be constructed are extremely simple.


Yet living things are by far the most complex systems in the universe. Why should we imagine that a do-it-yourself or bricolage approach would work better for life than for human artifacts? The rise of species is better explained by Intelligent Design than Darwinism. As S. Meyer of the Discovery Institute writes:


Further, the highly specified hierarchical arrangements of parts in animal body plans also suggest design, again because of our experience of the kinds of features and systems that designers can and do produce. At every level of the biological hierarchy, organisms require specified and highly improbable arrangements of lower-level constituents in order to maintain their form and function. Genes require specified arrangements of nucleotide bases; proteins require specified arrangements of amino acids; new cell types require specified arrangements of systems of proteins; body plans require specialized arrangements of cell types and organs. Organisms not only contain information-rich components (such as proteins and genes), but they comprise information-rich arrangements of those components and the systems that comprise them. Yet we know, based on our present experience of cause and effect relationships, that design engineers—possessing purposive intelligence and rationality—have the ability to produce information-rich hierarchies in which both individual modules and the arrangements of those modules exhibit complexity and specificity—information so defined. [5]
Biological physical macroevolution impossibility


Intelligent Design theorists have demonstrated that the blind and unguided mechanisms of Darwinian evolutionism alone are unable to produce the immense morphological novelties present in the living world. Unguided random mutations and natural selection are unable to provide the immense amount of information present in organisms. The conclusion is that intelligent agency is needed. How did that intelligent agency work? Does it work at the level of mind or at the level of matter? Does it work soft or hard? Does it prefer to change software or hardware? According to theistic evolutionists, the macroevolution of all species from a unique common ancestor implies that this intelligent agent acted at the level of matter, i.e. producing countless physical changes directly during the lifetimes of  species. From the informatics point of view this is like making major changes to the hardware while the computer is on. From the point of view of mechanical engineering it's the equivalent of making major changes to an engine while it's running.


Yet the case of "biological physical macroevolution" is in a far worse predicament than any "artificial physical macroevolution" an engineer might attempt to set up. Our analogy is far too generous towards biological macroevolution. In the hypothetical physical "macroevolution" of a washing machine to an airplane, the half-washer-half-airplane would need neither to wash nor to fly. Meanwhile in the hypothetical biological physical evolution from - for example - a fish to a terrestrial animal, all intermediates would have to carry on all their vital functions. What's more, the Darwinian theory of the natural selection prescribes that each intermediate must be more adapted than its ancestor, i.e. it has to work better than its ancestors. If we apply functionality demands to our half-washer-half-airplane "mutant" it is clear it would be unable to perform either function. Mutatis mutandis the same is true for biological mutants: they would be unable to work as either the source species or as the destination species. Mutants would be unfit to survive and would simply die.


Evolutionists might counter with something like this: "Any one organism may not need to change very much though. Say that each organism requires core capabilities to survive, but that its non-core region can be changed, but only to a small degree. Then many changes can be distributed over many organisms and no one organism would have to survive all such changes. Unsuccessful mutants are condemned to death only because too many changes happen in one single individual or because the single change was too dramatic or of the wrong type."


The idea of "changes distributed over many organisms" for avoiding too dramatic changes in one single individual cannot work for macro-evolving new species. In fact macroevolution to a new species requires that one single individual converges to the new species in all its new functions/organs. If these new functions/organs are "distributed" this convergence never will be achieved. Convergence implies necessarily that one individual at least is fully macro-transformed. In fact if not even one individual at least is fully macro-transformed how can we say that a new species has arisen? So unavoidably many changes must happen in one single individual. But when many changes happen in one single individual mutants are condemned to death. Hence macroevolved mutants cannot exist and never existed. (To tell all the truth the scenario is even worse for Darwinism because for sexual species we need two individuals which have independently mutated in exactly the same way.)
Biological physical microevolution possible


The impossibility of "biological physical macroevolution" does not prohibit extremely limited physical changes from happening in species. For example, it is impossible to morph a pepper moth into a giraffe but it is possible the color of its wings may change. Microevolution can account for the phenomenon of bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics and many other phenomena known from time immemorial. We can say that many forms of "biological physical microevolution" are possible. De facto no one denies the reality of biological microevolution because there is clear evidence for it. Also at this level there is a valid analogy between engineering and biology.
Micro and macro changes


The differences between bio microevolution and bio macroevolution are immense and qualitative. Though variations characterized as microevolution are very small, the morphological differences between different phyla, classes, orders, families, genuses are enormous. Microevolution happens during the life cycles of living organisms. Macroevolutionary changes are supposed to happen likewise. But a fish morphing into a tetrapod cannot survive during the countless transformations demanded. In fact morphological differences between fishes and terrestrial animals are so huge they prohibit survival. There are too many functions/organs which would pass through stages in which they work neither for fish nor for tetrapods. Mutants are condemned to death. For this reason fossils of mutants don't exist. Both artificial and a fortiori biological systems display major changes and macro variations. In engineering major changes during functioning are virtually impossible. (Imagine converting a gasoline engine to diesel use while it's running.) In biological systems major changes during life are simply mortal. God doesn't need to create during "power on" that which must be made during "power off". But "power off" is a strategy forbidden to evolution, for evolution must necessarily function during "power on".
Irreducible complexity refutes macroevolution


Moreover there is yet another insurmountable problem for biological macroevolution: it is incompatible with irreducible complexity. According to Behe an irreducibly complex system (IC) works only if all its parts are functional and in place from the beginning. Such cannot be obtained via a step-by-step process. Since macroevolution from species A to species B always involves a huge number of systems it is extremely likely that many (if not all) of these systems (or sub-systems) are irreducibly complex. If a starting/source system (of A) is irreducibly complex, any change to it will cease its function. Thus one irreducibly complex system cannot evolve from another.  If the source system A crashes when modified then the target system B cannot evolve. Yet evolutionary theory claims this very process happened for billions of systems. Nor does postulating theistic macroevolution make any difference. Irreducibly complex systems cannot be changed without losing function. Not even God can make 2+2=5. The impossibility of evolving an irreducibly complex system is a logical impossibility of that sort. Behe's irreducible complexity concept is lethal to both Darwinian and Theistic evolution because it attacks the core of evolution: the necessity of step-by-step changes. Irreducible complexity denies changes tout court and evolution without changes evaporates. That's regardless of whether or not God exists.


The usual counter objection is: "functions could be added without necessarily losing old functions." "Added parts, like a duplicate of something, may not prevent the system from working in every instance". That is really much too simplistic. It is impossible to imagine how a mammal can be obtained from a fish simply by adding new functions/organs. A complex organism is not a Lego construction (and even in a Lego construction major changes always imply a full or partial rebuild of old structures!) Besides "additivity" is not always a good thing, it may cause damage too. After all also cancer is an add-on! Cancer represents an impressive example of a destructive additivity. If we examine the body of a complex organism such as a mammal, the perfection of its organs and over all the perfect relations (spatial, functional, structural, architectural) between them, it is impossible to see it only as the sum of harmless "patches" added to another far less complex biological ancestor. An artist would add that living things are all really too beautiful and perfect to  have been obtained by means of bricolage!


Another counter argument raised by theistic evolutionists to resolve the difficulties of physical macroevolution, is: "God could sustain an organism during the macro changes. If so, then designistic or 'divine' evolution is not impossible." Sustaining an organism during macro changes would mean the operation of many miracles in order to suspend laws  of chemistry and physics. Hence, in order to sustain "divine" evolution theistic evolutionists substitute innumerable evolutionary miracles for a single creation miracle. Not a good trade.


The equivalent of engineering-microevolution (possible) in biology is the microevolution of species (possible) that nobody denies. The equivalent of engineering-macroevolution (impossible during functioning) in biology is the biological macroevolution (possible/impossible during life? for us impossible!) of all species from a LUCA (Last Universal Common Ancestor). By the way this definition of bio macroevolution is what 99% of Darwinists affirm.


Darwinists must demonstrate that biological macroevolution is possible while organisms are living. If they could do so they would prove that the analogy between engineering and biology fails when the changes are macro. Some Darwinists say that organisms can macroevolve because organisms are high complexity systems whereas machines are only medium complexity systems. But changes to high complexity systems are even more harmful than macro changes to machines. Consider that morphological macro changes always involve all the stacked hierarchies of biological reality including biochemical, genetic, cytological, tissues, organs, and body plan.


Another counter objection made by theistic evolutionist is: "designistic transformism is logically possible. An intelligent agent can make an irreducibly complex system gradualistically, one part at a time." But "irreducible complexity" means that not even an intelligent agent can make such a system gradualistically, one part at a time, while it is functioning (if it is a machine) or while it is living (if it is an organism). And this is for the simple reason that an irreducibly complex system cannot work/live without all its parts perfectly formed and working at their right place. For example, if a complete irreducibly complex system has 2,518 parts and the agent has provided only 37 of them, the irreducibly complex system won't work, regardless of whether the agent is man or God. Since a macro change very likely involves many irreducibly complex sub systems (considered at all the hierarchical biological levels!) macroevolution is impossible during  the life of organisms. This argument is an application to macroevolution of the Behe's argument about the irreducible complexity of mousetrap, bacteria flagellum, blood coagulation cascade, etc[6]. In both engineering and biology "irreducibly complex" systems cannot work until they are perfectly and fully assembled.
Artificial and natural


When considerations from engineering are put on the table, typically Darwinian biologists and anti-IDers grimace and say that the analogy between engineering and biology is unsound, because biology is special and special laws apply. They agree that organisms are very complex but they are different from artificial systems. This is true in many deep senses but unfortunately these differences cannot at all help Darwinians to prove their just-so stories. Organisms and machines face the same laws on the physical plane. The laws of mechanics, thermodynamics, optics and every other field of physics and chemistry apply to organisms and machines alike. Both artificial objects like a watch and life obey the same laws. The laws that turn a watch into rust also try to breakdown living cells. The laws of physics and chemistry are fundamental. Darwinists cannot claim special exemptions from universal laws for the sake of making evolution appear more reasonable. Since the same natural laws apply to the natural and the artificial and since all things trend towards disorder and disorganization according to the laws of thermodynamics; then life, too, (if it is purely natural) ought to have become disordered and disorganized over the eons. We would not expect the greatly increased complexity and astonishing functionality which we observe.


When the evidences of engineering in the biological world are so strong that it's impossible to deny them, Darwinists and anti-IDers resort to criticisms about alleged sub-optimal and bad design in nature, diseases and problems of living beings, the presence and action of evil in the world and so on. Typically the minor criticisms read as the following: "Halitosis, farting, vaginal discharge, reflux, snoring, rheumatism, warts, smelly armpits, varicose veins, menopause, brewer's droop ... these are not the marks of a designer at the top of his game"[7].
W.A Dembski writes:


Dysteleology refers to inferior design—typically design that is either evil or incompetent. Dysteleology rules out design from the natural sciences on account of the inferior design that nature is said to exhibit. [...] Dysteleology is primarily a theological problem. To exclude design from biology simply because not all examples of biological design live up to our expectations of what a designer should or should not have done is an evasion. The problem of design in biology is real and pervasive, and needs to be addressed head on and not sidestepped because our presuppositions about design happen to rule out imperfect design. [8]


Basic considerations about engineering lead us to understand that the more complex a system the greater its chances of failure. In particular since the human body is the most complex organism in nature it unavoidably suffers the maximum number of diseases/failures. For example of the near 5,000 genetic diseases known today a quarter of them affect the nervous system, which is the most complex sub system of the body. Indeed an ameba doesn't suffer diseases of the nervous system. So, in a sense, a high number of possibilities of failure lead us to an inference of design. To manage the failure of a system the designer must have designed a control system. To manage a failure of the control system he would need another higher level controller and so on. Obviously any designer decides to stop at some practical level. There cannot be an infinite cascade of controllers. Since the designer of man did not want to create an immortal being, he stopped at a certain fairly high level. However it is easy to understand that there are pros and cons in this hierarchy and that to fully suppress failures is impossible. At the very end we must admit that anything that exists must eventually fail or break down.
The incorporeal elaboration of forms


We have seen how in engineering the core work is done at the designing, "soft" level and not at the material, "hard" level. Analogously we have seen how in biology the core work cannot be done at the material level. Macroevolution is impossible during the corporeal life. Above we have provided at least two proofs against bio macroevolution. Thus the conclusion is straightforward: in biology the elaboration of living forms cannot be accomplished at the corporeal level. It must be done at the conceptual level.  Traditional cosmologies of all people since ancient times reflect this understanding. We have seen how intelligent design and engineering theory agree with this conclusion. Materialists say that in the world there is matter only. But the proof that the cosmos has an incorporeal plane is our minds themselves. Our thought is not a simple secretion of our brain. Mind is incorporeal. To this incorporeal modality of man corresponds an entire incorporeal state in the cosmos. There is correspondence between microcosmos and macrocosmos. Just as mind/soul are less limited than body, so the corresponding incorporeal state of the cosmos is less limited and bigger than what we can see by means of our physical senses. It is in that incorporeal entity that all the aforementioned insurmountable problems of corporeal morphing were perfectly solved.


As explained above the analogy between engineering and biology is valid. Both deal with complex systems obeying the same physical laws. Microevolution is possible, macroevolution impossible for both machines and living things. As we have seen, Darwinian macroevolution of all species from a unique common ancestor proposes a process that disagrees with fundamental principles of engineering and intelligent design.





[1] Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics, Introduction.

[2] William A.Dembski, Intelligent Design, cap.6.

[3] Michael Behe, Darwin's Black Box [1996], p. 39.

[5] Stephen C. Meyer, "Intelligent Design: The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories", Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington November 30, 200, original document .

[6] Michael Behe, Darwin's Black Box [1996], Part I and II.

[7] Robyn William, "Unintelligent Design - Why God isn't as smart as she thinks she is", Allen & Unwin, 2006.

[8] William A.Dembski, No free lunch, Preface.