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(2006-01-18 11:11:10)
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[2005/01/26] Design Paper Published in PNAS
Design Paper Published in PNAS 01/26/2005
Can scientific progress be made from a design perspective? The Intelligent Design movement says so, but critics say ID has no place in science, which by definition must be naturalistic; judges rule that alternatives to Darwinian evolution are forbidden in public schools. The rationale is that anything else assumes God, and is therefore religiously motivated. Then how do we interpret a paper in PNAS this week,1 that is chock full of design language?
A team of Japanese and American biologists, from Caltech and University of California and elsewhere, describe the heat shock response in the cell. They not only compare this biological system to good engineering, but treat the engineering paradigm as a proper approach to the study of cellular systems: in fact, they say, “Viewed from this perspective, heat shock itself constitutes an integral functional module. Such a characterization of functional modules is extremely useful, because it provides an inventory list of cellular processes. An analogy would be a list of machines and their function in a factory.” For more design language, look at the abstract:
Molecular biology studies the cause-and-effect relationships among microscopic processes initiated by individual molecules within a cell and observes their macroscopic phenotypic effects on cells and organisms. These studies provide a wealth of information about the underlying networks and pathways responsible for the basic functionality and robustness of biological systems. At the same time, these studies create exciting opportunities for the development of quantitative and predictive models that connect the mechanism to its phenotype then examine various modular structures and the range of their dynamical behavior. The use of such models enables a deeper understanding of the design principles underlying biological organization and makes their reverse engineering and manipulation both possible and tractable. The heat shock response presents an interesting mechanism where such an endeavor is possible. Using a model of heat shock, we extract the design motifs in the system and justify their existence in terms of various performance objectives. We also offer a modular decomposition that parallels that of traditional engineering control architectures. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
The paper is filled with design words: engineering, robustness, feedback loops, feed-forward loops, modularity, performance, functional criteria, and the like – all but the buzzphrase “intelligent design.” For example, “Biology and engineering share many similarities at the system level, including the use of complexity to achieve robustness and performance rather than for minimal functionality.”
The only mention2 of biological evolution is a passing reference in the final discussion that, in the surrounding design language, seems almost irrelevant: “The formulation of such a problem aside, the physical implementation of any of its solutions seems to have been evolutionarily solved by using a number of recurring motifs...” How it was solved, and who solved it, is left unexplained. Instead, the authors seem enthusiastic that a design-theoretic approach, viewing cellular mechanisms the way a computer scientist would reverse-engineer software, can be a fruitful avenue for research:
However, to understand the operational principles of a certain machine, to repair it, or to optimize its performance, it is often necessary to consider a modular decomposition of the machine itself. Such a decomposition does not necessarily require stripping the machine down to the component level but rather identifying its submodules with their predefined functionalities. A particularly successful such modular decomposition has been extensively used in the field of control and dynamical systems, where components of a system are classified in terms of their role with respect to the regulation objective. Similar decompositions exist in computer science, for example, because modularity is a basic principle of good programming.
The authors make no mention of a Programmer, or state their personal beliefs about origins. But that, again, supports a principle stated frequently in the intelligent design literature: the identity of the designer is not the issue. Design detection is a purely scientific question, and the design-theoretic approach is a fruitful avenue of research.
1El-Samad, Kurata, Doyle, Gross and Khammash, “Surviving heat shock: Control strategies for robustness and performance,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0403510102, published online before print January 24, 2005.
2The only other possible allusion states, “Indeed, in higher level languages, a complicated programming task is usually divided into a set of modules, subroutines, or objects, with simple well defined interfaces. This results in flexible and robust programs, whose modules can be designed almost separately and, as such, are more easily evolvable.” However, being in the context of computer program design, the statement implies guided evolution – i.e., upgrading – by intelligent design, not evolution by an undirected or Darwinian process.
Big Science went ballistic when Stephen Meyer published an ID paper in a minor journal, claiming it was a mistake to let such material pass peer review. Well, ID scientists should print this paper and wave it in the face of Eugenie Scott and Ken Miller and all the other Darwin Party hacks who claim ID is illegitimate in science. Here again – and this is one of many examples we have reported – ID is not only detectable in biological phenomena, but ID itself is the most fruitful approach to doing science. This is abundantly evident in this paper, written by authors completely outside the “intelligent design movement” and published in a leading secular journal. Most likely unintentionally, they have underscored what the ID movement has been saying all along: regardless of one’s religious beliefs (or lack of them), a reasonable inquirer into a phenomenon can detect design, and the design approach is productive for science. It’s the same approach used by Faraday, Mendel, Kepler, Carver and most of the other great scientists of history. Only the Darwin Party welfare bums have a problem with it.



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