Intelligent Design as Entertainment 08/26/2010 August 26, 2010 — It’s been around a few months now, but OK Go’s music video of their song “This Too Shall Pass” featured an elaborate Rube Goldberg set. What many viewers may not know about the backstory of the production is that several JPL rocket scientists helped design and operate the contraptions that filled a good-size warehouse. The NASA Wiki post from June 1 includes interviews with the JPL'ers about their participation, and all the trials and fun of getting the dozens of finely-tuned contraptions to operate in sequence so that the entire number could be shot non-stop by a single hand-held video camera. “More than 40 engineers, techies, artists, and circus types spent several months designing, building, rebuilding, and re-setting a machine that took up two floors of a Los Angeles warehouse,” the blog said. More about the elaborate set and the six months of planning and shooting with 60 takes to get it right is explained on Wikipedia.
Teachers may want to use this video, lame as it is, to illuminate some aspects of intelligent design. (Hint: the forgettable music with its shallow lyrics can be dispensed with to focus attention on the action. Another good choice is the famous Honda Accord Cog Commercial.) Some evolutionists complain that the cell acts like a clumsy Rube Goldberg device. Notice what the engineers said, though: the smaller the parts, the more design and care was required. And the whole set was irreducibly complex, in that a failure of one part would bring the rest of the production to a halt. Another lesson is that it’s not necessarily the parts, but the way they are arranged, that showcases design. The video was made almost entirely with used household items. Similarly, a cell achieves phenomenal intricacy with just a few simple atoms: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, sulfur, phosphorus, calcium, and a few metals. The design of a phenomenon should be judged by its effectiveness, not by some subjective human measure of clumsiness. The workings of cells are far more elegant and effective, and, as orders of magnitude smaller, require far more fine tuning to remain robust to fluctuations. Compare what magnificent music can be made from a few black and white keys. There’s a lot more going on under the surface.
Exercise: Ask young physics students this question: How is it that a tiny domino falling can lead to a human being flying through the air? The domino does not have much energy; where does the energy come from to produce such large effects from a small source? Answer: The energy is stored in the potential energy of each contraption. The flags, for instance, are held down by springs storing potential energy that can be released by a small trigger. No energy is created or destroyed, but according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, it becomes more unusable over time. Once released, the Rube Goldberg Machine would never reset itself. It takes intelligently-directed outside energy to reset it each time.