Thursday, July 31, 2008

Irreducible Complexity

This is the second in a series of posts regarding themes in Darwin’s Black Box and The Design Matrix.

Behe Starts a Furor

“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 function.”
Michael Behe, Chapter 2, Darwin’s Black Box

In 1996, Dr. Michael Behe provided in his book, Darwin’s Black Box (DBB), this simple definition for a simple, yet potentially powerful concept – irreducible complexity (IC). In the subsequent years, an academic war of words broke out which beckoned the question: why the furor? Surely the above definition alone couldn’t have started the maelstrom of criticisms that began soon after it was published?

Let me propose that much of the hullaballoo (did I really just write hullaballoo???) is due to Behe’s application of IC, which amounts to IC = evolution impossible. To clarify Behe’s argument, while it is impossible for a direct evolutionary pathway to produce an IC system, it is possible for indirect evolutionary pathways to do so. However, when he scanned the scientific literature, Behe noted that there was no paper describing the indirect routes in significant detail.

The Traditional Template Invoked

The concept IC as defined by Michael Behe is simple, brilliant and stands as a potential marker of design. To provide backup, Behe eloquently presented several cases of IC systems (cilia, flagellum, blood clotting, etc.). He also anticipated most of the criticisms directed towards his thesis and answered them fairly adequately. However, Behe became entangled within the Tradition Template of the debate the moment he presented a negative argument (IC = evolution impossible), and even though Behe attempts to make a positive argument for design in Chapters 8 through 11, the negative argument dominates DBB. In my opinion, this tactic has halted the concept of IC in its tracks before teleologists could take it for a proper test drive. By arguing an impossibility, Behe unwittingly assumed the “traditional role” of the dissenter.

Accordingly, Behe’s critics were more than willing to assume their “traditional role” to demonstrate that it is possible for DE to produce IC systems. Kenneth Miller, a biologist at Brown University, is generally credited with proposing the best argument against Behe’s application of IC: cooption* - the parts of an IC system were coopted from parts of other precursor systems. With cooption, Miller showed it was possible for evolutionary mechanisms to develop IC systems (Note I said possible, not plausible nor probable). Since Behe is arguing it is impossible for evolution to produce an IC system, all Miller had to do was show it was merely possible. Thus it would appear that the Traditional Template has given a seemingly crushing blow to IC**.

Hopping Down the Bunny Trail

Enter Mike Gene. In his book, The Design Matrix (DM), Gene takes IC for a test drive within the Explanatory Continuum.

First, Gene pointed out that cooption was “really the only evolutionary explanation that has the potential to explain the origin of an [IC] system.” Second, he recognised a flaw in the cooption argument:

“The most basic problem with the conventional use of [cooption] is its complete reliance on chance.”
Mike Gene, Chapter 8, The Design Matrix

Third, Gene made the cooption explanation plausible by incorporating his working front-loaded evolution*** (FLE) hypothesis.

Mike Gene then applied the brakes and headed back to the starting line. He granted that cooption is possible, thus avoids getting entangled in the Traditional. Gene then investigated what independent evidence is needed to progress it to plausible.

If cooption was to be a viable explanation, it must be gradual. Then Mike Gene pointed out that to construct an IC system through gradual cooption, “the previous existence of simpler precursors and multiplied functions” should be abundant. If these precursors are missing, then the IC system can be said to consist of “system-dependent parts”.

“A system-dependent part would be something that does not exist or function apart from the context of the machine.”
Mike Gene, Chapter 8, The Design Matrix

With this, Mike Gene laid the framework for one of four criteria in his Design Matrix (more on this in the next post). This, coupled with FLE, has advanced IC from Behe’s simple yet powerful concept to a possible marker of design. Thanks to Mike Gene, IC has new life.

Behe, M., Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, 2006
Gene, M., The Design Matrix: A Consilience of Clues, 2007

*Even if I am wrong and Miller did not originally come up with cooption, he is at least credited with being the “front-man” for the argument against IC = evolution impossible.
**There are many other critiques of Behe and IC; one of the more extensive (and honest) ones comes from Thornhill and Ussery, “A Classification of Possible Routs in Darwinian Evolution.” from Journal of Theoretical Biology in 2000. A summary of their findings can be found in Chapter 8 of The Design Matrix
*** “Front-loading is the investment of a significant amount of information at the initial stage of evolution (the first life forms) whereby this information shapes and constrains subsequent evolution through its dissipation. This is not to say that every aspect of evolution is pre-programmed and determined. It merely means that life was built to evolve with tendencies as a consequence of carefully chosen initial states in combination with the way evolution works.” Mike Gene, Chapter 7, The Design Matrix

Good Post at Thinking Christian

Tom Gilson @ Thinking Christian has a good post that nicely expresses my views on the subject (with one exception which I expressed in the comment section here).

Get thee to T.C. and read all about it!


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Gould Fan Club Speaks!

I kid, of course. The masses (all three of them) have spoken, and the next book I shall read will be Punctuated Equilibrium by the late Stephen Jay Gould, which 2 of the 3 voters selected.

There is still plenty of time to vote on the other poll: What book shall I order:
Endless Forms Most Beautiful - Sean Carroll (2 votes)
Evolution: A Theory In Crisis - Michael Denton (1 vote)
Your Inner Fish - Neil Shubin (0 votes)

Thanks to all three of you for voting. :)

Monday, July 28, 2008

WTF Dembski?!!

There are a couple things on my mind today (other than getting wrapping up details of a project at work). One is on the content of the IC post I'm working on, the second regards the latest antics by Dr. William Dembski.

First, let me say that Dembski is smart and has made significant contributions to the foundation of ID. That said, his behaviour is troubling, bordering on bewildering and asinine.

There are two specific incidents that have left me shaking my head. The first is this post at UD. Two things bother me about it. The first is the picture that goes with the post. There was no need for it as it did not contribute at all to the message other than to denigrate the subject, Olivia Judson. When I first saw it, I said, "WTF Dembski! What were you THINKING?!" I think the answer is self-evident. The second was this "gem" of a quote:

"Could we please dispense with any patronizing nonsense about Darwin being less than the messiah of a materialistic religion that pretends to find its justification in science. If Darwin was not the alpha and omega of evolution, then he was either a knave or a fool or a madman. Darwin did not leave us any other options. He did not intend to. [Hat tip to C. S. Lewis.]"

This is an insult to C.S. Lewis's original argument and doesn't even rank as a third-rate knockoff. All this quote does is to further reinforce opposition opinions that Dembski is fueling the culture wars.

The second incident occurred this morning when Dembski banned one of the most thoughtful commenters at UD, Bob O'H. Bob provided a good balance to the discussions at UD and is one of the reasons I like lurking there. When I first saw the comment, it was another "WTF Dembski?" moment.

As someone who is sympathetic to teleology/design-in-nature standpoint, I am greatly disappointed. We (myself included) are not perfect, but need to be called to accountability. These actions do nothing to further the debate or the ID cause, just to exacerbate tensions that need cooling desperately.

Dr. Dembski, I urge you to re-instate Bob O'H and, at the very least, delete that picture. If this post gets me banned from commenting at UD, so be it. It had to be said.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

New Book Order Soon

Now that I've finished reading 3 out of 5 books from my previous book order and am about to start #4, it's time to start considering a new book order. So let's have some fun, eh?

Poll #1:
My book order thus far consists of:
Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life - Hubert Yockey
Invention by Design: How Engineers Get From Thought to Thing - Henry Petroski
Nature, Design, and Science: The Status of Design in Natural Science - Del Ratzsch

You get to decide what the fourth book in my order will be from the following options.
1. Endless Forms Most Beautiful - Sean Carroll
2. Evolution: A Theory in Crisis - Michael Denton
3. Your Inner Fish - Neil Shubin

I have two books left from my previous book order. Which one should I read next?
1. The Edge of Evolution - Michael J. Behe
2. Punctuated Equilibrium - Stephen Jay Gould

Both polls can be found at the top right of this site. I will order/read the books selected by the final poll results.

Have fun!

The Explanatory Continuum

This is the first in a series of posts regarding themes in Darwin’s Black Box and The Design Matrix.

All quotes in this post are from Chapter 2 of The Design Matrix.

The Traditional Template

It appears one of Mike Gene’s goals in writing the Design Matrix is to change the current structure of the ID/evolution debate, which he calls the “Traditional Template”.

"…proponents of design look for some feature that cannot possibly be explained by natural causes. Then, once a feature has been proposed, it is argued that only a designer can account for the existence of this feature. (Emphasis mine)

The Traditional Template assigns the non-teleological explanation the default status.

…because this template pushes the design proponent into the position of opposing Darwinian evolution, the design proponent ends up trying to prove a negative.
Proving a negative is notoriously difficult to do for any topic." (Emphasis not mine)

Thus, it would seem that the Traditional Template is a “rigged” debate. Darwinian evolution is presumed “true” and teleologists are left with unenviable task of proving it impossible. The Template is analogous to a defendant having to prove his innocence in a court of law, which is contradictory to our system of law (innocent until proven guilty). Gene implies that it is the job of the proponent (prosecutor) to provide evidence to support his suspicion (charge).

Enter the Explanatory Continuum

How is this done? It starts when the detective first arrives at the scene of the crime. He starts with a hunch and looks for clues to support it and move forward by looking for more incriminating evidence. When enough clues are gathered to get a conviction, an arrest is made. The Design Matrix suggests this is similar to what occurs with the historical sciences, such as evolutionary biology.

Following in the footsteps of the detective analogy, Mike Gene proposes an Explanatory Continuum with the following steps:

1. Impossible
2. Possible*
3. Plausible
4. Probable
5. Fact

Mike Gene suggests that “All investigations must begin with a hunch or suspicion.”, and then grants the possibility of the hunch or suspicion; IOW, all investigations begin at step 2 of the Continuum. This is a radical change from the Traditional Template because all arguments start at the same point in the Continuum. Even though this is a huge step forward (and possibly relief) for teleologists, granting design in nature as a possibility is NOT the end of the investigation.

"Possibilities do not really carry that much weight when trying to account for something that actually happened."

Thus, all suspicions are encouraged to move forward through the Continuum. As defined by Mike Gene, the next step is “plausible”. To move from possible to plausible, some circumstantial evidence needs to be dug up that supports the “suspicion”. Experiments need to be proposed and performed, data collected, and so on. There is work involved to move from the possible to the plausible. But what does it mean that a suspicion is plausible?

"Plausible explanations function to arouse or heighten suspicion but are in need of more evidential support."

IOW, even though our certainty level has increased, more evidence and investigation is required to move forward through the Continuum. The next step forward is “probable”. One moves from plausible to probable as the result of:

"…a vast amount of data that all converge and best make sense in light of the explanation. The probable emerges when it becomes clear to unbiased observers that the explanation is the best way to account for all the relevant data." (Emphasis mine)

Note that “a vast amount of data” is required to move from plausible to probable, which could take years to accumulate, maybe even decades. Also note that the level of fact is approached, but rarely attained. This allows for new and contradictory evidence to be taken into consideration.

Scientific Certainty Revisited

A couple of months ago, I created a post referencing this post at An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution that listed six meanings for the word evolution and arranged them according to levels of scientific certainty. After reading The Design Matrix, I wondered how these meanings fit into the Explanatory Continuum. So I propose that we take a look at the six meanings of evolution through the lens of the Explanatory Continuum. Please refer to the linked post for a more complete definition of each meaning.

E1. Change over time: I think everyone would agree this would fall into the probable category.

E2. Common ancestry: According to the scientific world and Evangelical Dialogue, this would fall under probable, but why? It would appear that E2 is closer to the boundary of probable and plausible since much of the evidence appears circumstantial and any “hard” evidence either appears to be lacking or is controversial. That said there are two reasons for E2 to be in the probable category: no competing hypothesis and the shear weight of the accumulated circumstantial evidence. Both lend credibility for E2 to be considered probable.

E3. Evolutionary mechanisms: not much controversy here – this falls squarely in the probable category. However, an argument could be made that the mechanisms are well established enough to be considered fact, of which I would have no problem with. After all, the controversy is not whether the mechanisms (gene duplication, genetic shift, etc.) exist, but how they are applied, which brings us to…

E4. Mechanisms (E3) account for (physically) common descent: Charles Darwin argued for the possibility of natural mechanisms to describe the history of life. 150 years later, there is only circumstantial evidence to support Darwin’s hunch. Therefore, E4 falls in the plausible category.

E5. Origin of life (or chemical evolution): This is an interesting category. Circumstantial evidence has come and gone over the years with nothing really sticking. Given Mike’s definition of the Explanatory Continuum, E5 automatically starts at the possibility stage. Is there interesting research occurring in the OOL field? Absolutely. Has the research produced enough circumstantial evidence to proceed forward to the plausible stage? IMO, no.

E6. Evolutionism: This is stuck (and I predict will remain stuck for a long time) in the possible stage. After all, anything’s “possible”.


Mike Gene’s Explanatory Continuum is a radical shift in the current structure of the evolution/ID debates because it provides more maneuverability and puts the onus on the proponent to provide evidence to prop up his hunch. The “suspicion of design” (a phrase found often throughout The Design Matrix) can be acknowledged while recognizing that evidence is required to progress forward (from possibility to plausibility and from plausibility to probability). So where does that leave ID at this point?

"The debate between teleology and non-teleology is at least 2500 years old and has involved some of history’s greatest thinkers. … But if history spans 2500 years or more, consider the possibility that the non-teleological view has just recently gained the upper hand with more sophisticated versions of the same arguments from old. Teleologists have the potential of evening the playing field somewhat by also reviving their arguments in more sophisticated versions."

Roll up your sleeves, ID; there’s work to be done.

*Note that the Traditional Template falls within steps 1 and 2 of the Explanatory Continuum.

Gene, M., The Design Matrix: A Consilience of Clues, 2007
An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution, “What Does Evolution Mean? A Framework For Christians”

Next post: Irreducible Complexity

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What You Ought To Know About Autism

I just thought I'd throw this out at ya. Enjoy!

Lessons from the Scablands

Last night, I watched an intriguing episode of NOVA called Mystery of the Megaflood which provided the scientific evidence that the Scablands were formed by a catastrophic flood that was caused by the abrupt (brittle?) failure of an ice dam thousands of years ago. I would encourage everyone to watch this very education and eye-opening show.

Watching Mystery of the Megaflood also made me think of the evolution/ID debates and what lessons can be applied from this:

1. Gradualism is not always the answer. Geology has been dominated by gradualism: geological formations are best explained by erosion via water and/or wind or other mechanism over large periods of time. Catastrophic events were shunned. In fact, when J. Harlen Brentz presented his hypothesis of how the Scablands were formed in 1923, he was ridiculed. However, his hypothesis was later vindicated.

Just as Catastrophism was/is frowned upon by the geological establishment, so is a similar hypothesis frowned upon by the majority of evolutionary biologists: saltationism. Could saltationism be vindicated sometime in the future?

2. A qualifier to point 1 is that Brentz's hypothesis was vindicated due to a large amount of scientific investigation over a period time. Brentz wrote his paper in 1923, his insights were vindicated by the 1950's, and the details were filled in around the 1990's. The point: Catastrophism needed a wealth of scientific experimentation and verification, something that ID is sorely lacking at present. The term "Less talk and more action" seems appropriate.

3. How Brentz's hypothesis was accepted is a great example of how to go through the Explanatory Continuum as proposed by Mike Gene in The Design Matrix: it started as a possibility in 1923 (a remote one); then circumstantial evidence was gathered and the hypothesis progressed to being plausible (1950's); details were filled in such that the hypothesis is now seen as probable (1990's). Note that almost 70 years were needed to progress from possible to plausible to probable. See Chapter 2 of the Design Matrix for more on the Explanatory Continuum.

On an engineering side note, I found the small-scale models presented interesting and educational. However, as any engineer knows, what works at a small scale does not completely translate to a larger scale. This is called "scale effect", and I'd be interested in knowing what scale effects there are in this research.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Altenberg Sixteen and The EES

Suzan Mazur has been writing on the so-called Altenberg 16 Summit that occured last week. Now she is writing an e-book on the summit, and she has some harsh words regarding the current synthesis (Neo-Darwinian Evolution or NDE) and natural selection:

Evolutionary science is as much about the posturing, salesmanship, stonewalling and bullying that goes on as it is about actual scientific theory. It is a social discourse involving hypotheses of staggering complexity with scientists, recipients of the biggest grants of any intellectuals, assuming the power of politicians while engaged in Animal House pie-throwing and name-calling: "ham-fisted", "looney Marxist hangover", "secular creationist", "philosopher" (a scientist who can’t get grants anymore), "quack", "crackpot". . .

In short, it’s a modern day quest for the holy grail, but with few knights. At a time that calls for scientific vision, scientific inquiry’s been hijacked by an industry of greed, with evolution books hyped like snake oil at a carnival.

Perhaps the most egregious display of commercial dishonesty is next year’s celebration of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species – the so-called theory of evolution by natural selection, i.e., survival of the fittest, that was foisted on us almost 150 years ago.

Scientists agree that natural selection can occur. But the scientific community has known for some time that natural selection has nothing to do with evolution. ...

I broke the story about the Altenberg affair last March with the assistance of Alastair Thompson and the team at Scoop Media, the independent news agency based in New Zealand. ... But will the A-16 deliver? Will they help rid us of the natural selection "survival of the fittest" mentality that has plagued civilization for a century and a half, and on which Darwinism and neo-Darwinism are based, now that the cat is out of the bag that selection is politics not science? That selection cannot be measured exactly. That it is not the mechanism of evolution. That it is an abstract rusty tool left over from 19th century British imperial exploits.

Or will the A-16 tip-toe around the issue, appease the Darwin industry and protect foundation grants?

-Suzan Mazur

Eeeyikes! Just think what she would have wrote if the topic were creationists!

All kidding aside, there does seem to be, at the very least, a degree of frustration with the role natural selection plays in evolution. Suzan reports that cytogeneticist, Antonio Lima-de-Faria, author of "Evolution Without Selection", "sees any continuance of the natural selection concept as 'compromise'." She also accuses science blogs of "stonewalling" new ideas such as self-organisation: of the stars of the symposium, New York Medical College cell biologist Stuart Newman, hypothesizes that all 35 animal phyla self-organized at the time of the Cambrian explosion (a half billion years ago) without a genetic recipe or selection (hardwiring supposedly followed). Emphasis mine

Allow me to address two items. First, I can see why the science blogs* are bristling at either setting aside or demoting natural selection. Take away NS and all you are left with is one big game of Yahtzee. IOW, evolution without the contingency of NS becomes a framework of chance. If this is true, then I think it's obvious that the new synthesis will be weaker than the one it replaces. What would you prefer: pure chance or chance coupled with contingency?

Second, this could very well be a case of a reporter "glamorising" a simple symposium to sell her article and get her name out there. Take the words of Massimo Pigliucci (HT to Todd Berkebile @ TT):

So, what are the Altenberg 16 going to do in Altenberg next week? ... The agenda is to discuss the current status of evolutionary theory, with a particular emphasis on developments -- some of them under intense debate -- that have occurred since the last version of it has been in put in place back in the 1930s and ‘40s. ...

In the 1930s and ‘40s it became clear that one had to integrate the original Darwinism with the new disciplines of Mendelian and statistical genetics. Such integration occurred through a series of meetings where scientists discussed the status of evolutionary theory, and through the publication of a number of books by people like Theodosius Dobzhansky, Ernst Mayr, George Gaylor Simpson, George Ledyard Stebbins and others. The result was an updated theoretical framework known as the Modern Synthesis (MS). But of course evolutionary biology has further progressed during the last eight decades (unlike, one cannot help but notice, creationism). So for a few years now several evolutionary biologists have suggested that it may be time for another update, call it evolutionary theory 3.0 or, as many of us have begun to refer to it, the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES)**.

A number of authors, including Stephen Gould, Mary Jane West-Eberhard, Eva Jablonka, Stuart Kauffman, Stuart Newman, the above mentioned Gerd Müller, and myself, have published papers and books recently attempting to articulate what an EES might look like, and which elements of the MS will need to be retained, modified or discarded (just like the MS had retained, modified or discarded individual components of the original Darwinism). The goal of the Altenberg workshop is to get some of these people around the same table for three days and trade ideas about these sorts of questions.

So is this a case of tip-toeing to "appease the Darwin industry and protect foundation grants", or is Suzan Mazur exaggerating the outcome of the summit?

The asylum is now open for comments.

HT to Grandma O'Leary @ Post-Darwinist

*I am sure that not all of the science blogs are "stonewalling". This is likely a generalisation on Suzan Mazur's part that isprobably accurate for the majority of the science blogs out there.

**I would encourage everyone to read this pdf file describing the framework for the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (myself included). After all, this is the potential new synthesis many anticipate will come from meetings like Altenberg. Time will tell whether the EES survives or not.

A Tip O' The Beer Mug To Mike Gene

This is sad news. Mike Gene is retiring from Telic Thoughts to spend more time with his family.

Mike is that unique voice in the ID/evolution debate who will not be pigeonholed into an extreme position and whose views are well-thought and demand to be taken seriously on their merits alone. Mike's posts at TT have helped to influence my views; his inputs will be sorely missed.

(raising a mug of Grasshopper)

Here's to Mike Gene. May God bless your time with your family and allow to keep following the Rabbit wherever it goes.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Should We REALLY Be Surprised???

On second third thought, perhaps I was right the first time around: PZ's Pharyngula definitely should have been rated lower than high school:
blog readability test

But then again, based on this (HT: FtK), that would be an insult to elementary kids. Maybe "High School Bathroom Wall" is more appropriate.

The real surprise is that any one is shocked at this. This is just PZ being PZ. Cut him loose already, sez I.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

"Readability" of EE

According to this site, EE has a reading level of Undergrad.
blog readability test

What this means exactly, I have no clue and I don't put much stock in it either. However, it is nice to have one's ego stroked once in a while (oh yeah! Right there! Ahhhhhhh!)

UPDATE 09July2008: Results from the other blogs were deleted.

Grandma's Universe

The "grandma" of ID, Denyse O'Leary, has "recently" created a new blog called "Colliding Universes" to complement a book project of hers on multiple universes. Seeing as how astronomy is of special interest to me*, I have spent some time checking it out, and Grandma O'Leary has some cool posts there**.

While I am more interested in the articles she refers to, Grandma's comments are interesting too. Take for example a recent post on the recent findings on Mercury by the MESSENGER probe (not only does Mercury appear to have an active magnetic field, but it also appears like it has volcanic vents!):

"Does the planet Mercury need to exist? - I mean in the business sense. Does it do anything? Or is it like those souvenir shells that persist forever on the mantelpiece? They have no use, but that's not the same thing as saying that they are not there for a reason. There is a difference between use and reason."

I like Grandma O'Leary. Everyone should have a grandma like her. That said, I don't think Mercury is "useless". To provide one possible answer, perhaps Mercury is there to increase our understanding of how the solar system and universe works and thereby employing many talented nerds astronomers to gather data and interpret. Granted, there is no physical law that demands Mercury be there, but there it be, so I sez let's examine it and learn from it.

One thing I must note from the referred article: why are astronomers always surprised that the solar system/universe is different than expected? The Voyager missions should have taught us by now to expect the unexpected.

*When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronomer; can you say "NEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRD!!!"? But hey, nerds are OK and are sometimes cool. There, that's the extent of my olive branch. Take it or be swatted by it ;)

**Some other interesting Colliding Universes posts with article links can be found here, here, and here.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Reflections on Body Worlds

Well, despite all nagging concerns I had, I went to Body Worlds (BW) on Monday.

Before I comment on the actual display, I wish to address the concerns I had:

1. I found the allegations that BW received human bodies through suspicious means groundless. No concrete evidence was uncovered since the allegations were made. On top of that, BW went out of their way to show the process and consent forms for accepting bodies via donations to science. In short, I was satisfied the donors had given their informed consent.

2. The consent forms include a box to check if the donor consents to his/her organs being sold to educational institutions, with proceeds going to covers the costs of the plastination process, not for profit. I found this to be a reasonable request.

3. The BW display did not show the donors in a demeaning fashion. The poses were mainly for educational purposes, although I would recommend not taking children under 12 to the show (of which there were quite a few, unfortunately).

To sum up, I am satisfied most of my concerns were adequately met and I felt more comfortable viewing most of the displays.

That said, for those who feel comfortable, I fully recommend seeing Body Worlds. The exhibit I went to organised the displays by the different systems of the body which included (not an inclusive list) skeletal, muscular, nervous, circulatory, respiratory, digestive, urination and kidneys, reproductive, etc. The only room I didn't spend a lot of time in was the fetal development room. I took a quick scan, found I wasn't entirely comfortable with viewing it, and waited outside for my wife (who found it very interesting and would recommend all teenage girls see it in order to give them a more complete picture of what goes on during pregnancy).

Also included were banners showing the history of anatomy. One of the most intriguing (IMO) was the viewing theatres from Renaissance times were the rich and poor would mingle amongst each other while viewing autopsies/dissections (I would have thought there would have been a section set aside for the rich and another for the poor).

The displays showed both a "normally functioning" body and how diseases affect the function (there were a lot of smokers who donated their bodies!). The "normal" bodies displayed many impressive features, including (and forgive me for not remembering the proper names) four arteries going from the heart to the brain that connect in a circle at the base of the brain, helping to ensure sufficient blood flow in the event one of the arteries gets blocked.

The main thing I took from this is that a "normally functioning" body gives the strong appearance of an efficiently designed system*. By efficient, I mean that each discrete system (i.e. skeletal, circulatory, etc.) appeared "designed" to provide optimum function of that system given certain constraints and requirements from other discrete systems and/or the larger system (i.e. the human body). Each discrete system works together to provide a larger multi-functional and adaptive system. Take away or significantly change a component of a local system, the larger system can still function, but not at the efficiency of the "normal" body.

All in all, I found Body Worlds to be a fascinating exhibit that treated the donated bodies with dignity and respect while providing an educational aspect that the layman can grasp.

*Efficient System Design is a concept I will be dealing with in more detail in the near future, but feel free to comment on it. I enjoy and appreciate everyone's point of view (thus far).