Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Welcome to Evolution Engineered

I know what you're thinking: NOT ANOTHER EVOLUTION BLOG! It does seem like everyone and their dog is blogging about Evolution/ID these days. So what's my unique contribution to this endless (and sometimes mindless) debate? I will try to look at this from an engineer's perspective.

So how does an engineer view the world around him/her? In short, an engineer is trained to apply the findings and fundamentals of physics, chemistry, and/or biology to design a functioning and safe structure desired by a client and/or the public. An engineer is also trained to question his/her design until a satisfactory level of confidence in the functionality and safety of the design is achieved.

Some qualifiers before I start:
  1. I am NOT an expert in evolutionary biology nor design theory. I am more of a sideline reporter. I don't have access to the huddle, but I can view the actions and construct a reasonable opinion/critique based on my observations.
  2. I am very interested in hearing both sides of the debate. Therefore, if you have relevant information, you have my undivided attention.
  3. Just because I am an engineer, I am not claiming "special revelation" or authority over the matter. I'm just commenting on how I see it from an engineer's perspective.

Remember, keep it clean, keep it respectful, and most of all, do not dismiss merely because someone is not an "expert" or an evolutionary biologist/design theorist.

"Keep your stick on the ice"

Red Green


  1. 1) I think that it is worthwhile to discuss the relationships between Biology, ID and Engineering. But I think that comparisons between them actually undermine the ID position. Good luck with your blog.

    2) You should be more careful not to imply that you are speaking on behalf of engineers in general. A better subtitle for your blog might have been “Looking at the evolution-ID debate from one engineer's perspective.” You haven’t yet made a case why one should expect that any other engineer should have a similar perspective as yours. (Haven’t yet tried, as best I can tell.)

    3) Engineering and ID both use the word “design” but they use it with different meanings. Above, you used it in the engineering sense when you wrote “…the safety of the design is achieved.” You used it above in the ID sense when you wrote “design theory” and in other posts when you discuss “design detection.” Since your blog is trying to take an engineering perspective and is also talking about ID, you and the commenters here should be very clear about how the word “design” is being used at any given point. You did not equivocate above between the two meanings, but I’ve found that such equivocation is very common in discussions about engineering and ID.

  2. Thank you for your comments and encouragement, Freelurker. Your insights are more than welcome here.

    Referring to your comments above:

    1. I would ask specifically how comparing biology, ID and evolution with engineering principles "undermine[s]" any of those three disciplines? I think applying engineering principles to each discipline will enhance them rather than undermine them.

    2. I think you're arguing semantics here. I said "an engineer's perspective", not "an engineering perspective". The former suggests a single engineer while the latter implies the whole engineering profession. I would more than welcome other engineer's perspectives on ID/Evolution, either here on this blog or elsewhere.

    3. The main difference betweeen engineering and ID is that engineers are actively involved in the design process while ID is concerned more with recognising design (i.e. not actively involved in design process) - sort of like reverse engineering.

    I agree that the definition of design should be clearly stated. When I mentioned "...the safety of the design is achieved.", I was referring to safety as but one part of the entire final design (one could even say safety is one of many "functions" of design). However, I believe all engineers are in a unique position to identify design, whether "natural" or man-made. Interestingly enough, there is very little, if any, books written by engineers on what a designed object looks like while several have been written about the the design process.

    Cheap plug alert!!

    With the Conceptual Design Framework (yes, I have finally named it!), I attempt to objectively describe design. During the process of developing the CDF, I have a better appreciation of how difficult it truly is to objectively differentiate between a designed and non-designed object in nature.

    All constructive critiques are appreciated. I find them informative and they keep me on my toes.

  3. 1. What I had in mind there is that comparisons between engineering, ID, and biology may be a good antidote to the misrepresentations and demonizations of evolutionary biology that come from many people in the intelligent design movement. If you want an introduction to the place my head is at, you could read Mark Isaak's paper called A Philosophical Premise of 'Naturalism'?.
    [ ]
    But I would like to save that topic for another time; more important is the distinction between what "design" means in engineering and what it means in ID.

    2. Fair enough. I'll just hope that your readers read it the way that you meant it. IDists commonly assume that engineers are sympathetic to ID, or that they should be.

    3. In engineering, "design" essentially means a pattern or to devise a pattern. In ID, "design" essentially means choice, i.e., goal-direction. Dembski calls it the complement of chance and regularity. ID's design detection takes a known pattern and tries to detect whether it is the result of goal-direction. One proposed technique is to assess the level of CSI in the pattern and another is to determine if the pattern is irreducibly complex.

    Reverse engineering is meant to produce a model of the structure and operations of something. On the other hand, an ID design detection process, such as the EF, is meant to produce a determination of whether or not something was caused by intelligent agency.

    If IDists were "reverse engineering" the history of life then they would be producing models of the processes involved. But they specifically excuse themselves from doing this. In my opinion, it is this lack of modeling that separates ID from both engineering and science. It puts it in the category of philosophizing, at least in the way it is being applied to biology and cosmology. (I put "reverse engineering" in quotes above because "modeling" would be the better term there; using "reverse engineering" in that context presumes the ID position.)

    "I agree that the definition of design should be clearly stated."

    You will need two definitions, one for ID and one for Engineering. But you don't need me to convince you of that; go ahead and try to provide a single definition that covers both engineering and ID. As I once commented at UD, I'd like to be a fly on the wall if an engineering team ever calls a Design Review and then proceeds to tell the bosses/customers [and fellow engineers] about the complement of chance and regularity.

    "Interestingly enough, there is very little, if any, books written by engineers on what a designed object looks like ...."

    One possible explanation is, of course, that atheists have come to dominate engineering and they have suppressed any such book because it would threaten the materialistic worldview.

    More likely, I think, is that it is because, in the course of engineering, engineers almost never need to decide whether or not something was produced by an intelligent agent. In that statement I wanted to use "never" instead of "almost never" because I can't think of any instance where (1) an engineer would not know whether or not something was the product of an intelligent agent and (2) the engineer needed to figure that out in order to do engineering. Perhaps someone else could point out such a situation (please!). But the point is that "design detection" is not something engineers are particularly concerned about.

  4. Freelurker,

    1. Thank you for your clarification on this point. I'll have to follow it up as soon as time allows. Unfortunately, Isaak's paper will probably "sit on my desk gathering dust" for a while since other books and papers are ahead of it in the queue.

    2. I think you'd be surprised at the variety of opinions and presuppositions engineers bring with them (I've met engineers who campaign against the usage of vaccinations).

    Speaking of the profession as a whole, while each engineer brings his/her experience in design to the table, I wouldn't be surprised if the majority supported the "Evolution" side of the Evo/ID debate. That said, I think a higher percentage of engineers than biologists would support ID.

    3. You bring up some good points in defining design. I'll have to keep them in mind when pondering my CDF.

    When attempting to define design, I am trying to limit myself to the objective, rather than subjective, parameters. Thus far, I can only identify 3 (material, assembly, function), although I allow for the possibility of more.

    Concerning your last paragraph, I agree with your assessment that the reason for the lack of literature on what design looks like is that it is taken for granted what a design looks like/design caused by intelligent agent.

    Side note: I seem to be favouring "design detection" while you seem to be favouring "caused by intelligent agent".

    You have made me think more about the purpose of this blog. The original purpose was to "launch" the CDF into the arena of public debate (not much of one so far which is good for keeping my ego in check). However, now that the CDF is out there, I think I need write some posts about how I would apply engineering principles (such as Free Body Diagrams) to detect design in nature.