The Highly Functional Animal Kingdom

What is it about the natural world that is so impressive? One answer that clearly comes to mind is that biological organisms (aka animals) are highly functional. Put simply, animals can do things that nothing else in nature can do and that we are hard pressed to mimic.

But there is more to the story than that. The variety of animal life and the activities that they can perform also amazes. There are millions of species, each with their own manner of living. Life, put simply, is basically everywhere we look on this planet doing all sorts of things we never imagined could be done.

And, then there is the sheer beauty of life. The colors, shapes and styles of the animal world are a true work of art.  The museum of life is a treasure trove filled with Mona Lisa’s, Picasso’s and more.

Given all this, it is worth taking the time to step back and observe life in a bit more detail. To see what it can do, how diverse it is and to enjoy the beauty of it all.

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Comments

  1. Sammy Finkelman says

    The arguments they have against design seem to be mostly as follows:

    1) However well designed something is, you can see a way in which it could be designed better, you think. Therefore they say, it is a kludge, and God wiould nto design a kludge.

    2) there seem to be some design constraints, but no clear reason why they should exist.

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  2. says

    Hello Sammy,

    Thank you for commenting and for raising some of the questions that I eventually hope to deal with. For now, though, an initial response.

    I think it’s important to understand what we mean by “designed better”. If we mean more functional, then I don’t think it’s a good challenge. G-d doesn’t have to give me a better eye – i.e., an eye that can see farther, clearer, in a wider range of light settings or a wider spectrum of colors.

    G-d created man limited because spiritual and moral growth stems (in large part) from us a) dealing with our limited natures and b) reaching out to the Unlimited and Divine from within our limitations.

    So in that sense of the word better the question is mistaken – G-d would create a limited function just as He created an entire world full of limits (death being one obvious example). We may not like the limits, we may see some personal and physical benefits for us of not having those limits, but G-d sees the spiritual and moral benefits and He freely decided to place those benefits first.

    There is another sense of the word better – and I believe this is the one that you are referring to – namely a better, more elegant, optimal design. An example being the blind spot in the human eye (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_spot_(vision)). Here the argument isn’t over the purpose of the eye, but rather in the quality of the design. Yeah, it works, but it could have been designed so much better.

    This is a more serious charge because it indicates a lack of capability and/or knowledge on the part of G-d (namely, the knowledge and/or power to optimally design something.

    This issue requires more time and space than the comments allow for. But for now, though, it’s important to point out before we talk about how to answer this question we first need to know if there is an actual question to answer.

    In other words, what is the specific example of a sub-optimum design that one wants to discuss. Once a specific example has been identified, we then need to ascertain whether or not it is really sub-optimally designed.

    The panda’s thumb was thought to be an example of a sub-optimum design until someone actually took the time to STUDY IT (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v397/n6717/fig_tab/397309a0_F1.html).

    This relates to an idea that I have dubbed black-box philosophy – namely, asking philosophical questions and/or making philosophical conclusions based on some piece of ‘evidence’ that we don’t really understand yet because we haven’t taken the time or we don’t yet have the capability to properly understand the example being given.

    I don’t like black-box philosophy because there is no intellectual or rational foundation to the discussion. Give me real facts and we can talk – speculative and/or poorly understood facts lead to speculative and poorly reasoned philosophical conclusions.

    The blind spot seems to me a good example to start with – and one that I plan to write an article on, although it will be part of a larger series on the human ear and eye so it will be a while until I get to it. Supposedly it’s not obvious that the blind spot is a sub-optimal design, but I won’t be able to comment until I do more research.

    For now, the point to take away is, one should so quickly assume that something is a kludge – one needs to know what that assessment is based on before coming to such a conclusion.

    In terms of #2 – there seem to be some design constraints – I’m not quite sure what you are referring to (unless you mean that choices have to be made in how living creatures are designed based on constraints caused by the laws of nature). Can you please explain? Thanks.

    Be well,

    Moshe

    Like

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