27 June 2009

Oh no it isn’t: Evolution is not intelligent design

ResearchBlogging.orgOver in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, there’s a short article where Robert Costanza argues that organisms show ‘design’ (the use of scare quotes is his, not mine), as meaning “that functions well and survives.” He then claims evolutionary processes are “intelligent” – though not conscious – because “it can learn from experience and improve.”

This is a strange and confusing claim. Evolution is a process, not a thing, and I cannot think of a case where we talk about processes “learning.” Learning is usually associated with an entity with some sort of mental activity or consciousness, making this an unusual meaning of “learning” at best. It’s a weird word game.

Costanza ends with:

(I)f school boards were to require the teaching of ‘intelligent design,’ they would, in fact, just be calling for the teaching of standard evolution.

If anyone thinks that a directive to teach intelligent design from, say, a state Board of Education, would be so easily circumvented by wordplay would be in for a nasty surprise. State science standards are spelled out and fought over in agonizing detail, as we recently saw in Texas. They wouldn’t just say, “Teach intelligent design,” the standards would probably spell out in detail a mess of invalid criticisms of evolution, like, “too complex to have evolved.”

Like New Scientist’s infamous “Darwin was wrong” cover earlier this year, Costanza’s piece stands a very good chance of getting misinterpreted by creationists.


Costanza, R. (2009). Evolution is intelligent design Trends in Ecology & Evolution DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2009.05.001


Matthew Foster said...

"stand a chance of being misinterpreted."

Bjørn Østman said...

Ouch! This is very painful reading indeed. I trust this was not peer-reviewed. Why he would write such nonsense is a mystery to me.

He has degrees in architecture, systems ecology, environmental engineering sciences (minor in economics) (CV). Why he would write about evolution is beyond me. Why he would change the meaning of words that we use in evolution is highly annoying and doesn't do any good whatsoever.