The Highly Functional Animal Kingdom

November 23, 2011


This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series The Argument from Design

Let’s return to a simple question that we asked in our previous post: 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.

That is to say that animals are able to perform functions and actions of incredible skill and precision. It is the technological wonder of these actions that leads the religious personality to exclaim ‘how wondrous are your works O’ G-d’ and the religious philosopher to state that we have clear evidence of the hand of G-d.

As such, we need to stop and take a closer look at nature so that we ourselves can see the wonders that others have marveled at. There can be no religious awe, no meaningful philosophical discussion or scientific inquiry until witness this with our own eyes.

So for now (and the posts to come in this series) we are going to watch, wonder and enjoy the genius of the natural world.

Here goes…

Now You Don’t, Now You See Him

Speed Diving and Fast Flying in the Jungle

Now Listen Carefully

How to Catch a Fish from 30 Feet in the Air

Ready, Aim, Water

Defensive Maneuvers

Flea Jumping – the Untold Story

Fast and Slow

I have let the above videos speak for themselves. From a technological standpoint, we often times can’t design systems this sophisticated and accurate. And that, I think, is one good way to evaluate the quality of the design in the natural world. How easy would it be for us to recreate the functionality that we find there? Can we create something that can maneuver like the Gos Hawk or that can camouflage itself like the Octopus? If so, what is involved? How technical and sophisticated a project is it?

When we realize the technical sophistication and intelligence that is needed to recreate the functionality that we see in nature one can rightly argue (or at least suggest) that G-d seems like a reasonable explanation for that design. This is doubly so when we realize that what we witnessed above is just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, I could create an entire site just noting the functional wonders of nature. But for now, I’ll just settle for select examples of nature’s brilliant designs (as I hope to show in the posts to come).

Post Image from Challiyan

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  • Sammy Finkelman

    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.

  • Moshe

    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 ( 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 (

    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,