Wednesday, April 04, 2007

A Balance Enabled by Sub-Optimal Design?

Joy of Telic Thoughts authored a blog entry entitled Bees in my Easter Bonnet which brought up a disturbing and important phenomenon. From Joy's post:

"So it has been quite alarming to me over the past month to read incoming reports of what they're calling "The Great Bee Die-Off of 2007." Something really, really bad is happening, and no one's quite sure what it is. They call it Colony Collapse Disorder [CCD], and some are likening it to Bee AIDS. The Congress is holding hearings, and the situation is characterized as "Catastrophic".

The situation is the same in Canada, Central and South America, Britain, South Africa, Europe, Australia and even China. Beekeepers checking on their hives after the winter are finding them empty. There aren't many clues, the untended larvae left behind to die show no infestation or disease. Several researchers suggest that it looks like bee immune systems have just collapsed, making them susceptible to problems they could normally tolerate. Bees are disappearing everywhere and nobody's sure why. Though there is one bizarre symptom that has turned up in the few carcasses found in California, Texas and Florida. But nobody knows what it is…"

While the subject matter itself is of interest based on its daunting implications, from an ID perspective it suggests an approach that has the potential to be supportive of intelligent design. Some critics have used a "sub-optimal design argument" to debunk ID. Find a feature of some organism that is imperfectly designed and then claim that its designer would either have to be incompetent or cruel to so design a creature this way. Obviously this is intended to discredit the possibility of divine design.

But is sub-optimal design indicative of incompetence or a brilliant strategy? If perfect design means that predators would become too efficient at catching prey or if the escape mechanisms of the hunted became so efficient that predators starved, there would be good reasons to avoid this type of optimal design. Optimal design has the potential to upset the balance of nature. The scary bee epidemic is a reminder of how things can go radically wrong when nature's balance is upended.

I have not thought about this enough to suggest guidelines that point to intelligent design rather than a non-telic process but believe there are possibilites worth looking into. If nothing else, if a sub-optimal design argument and evidence for it can count against ID, then surely substantive reasons explaining the intelligence behind sub-optimal design, should be counted in favor of ID.



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