Argument for Design (Ad Absurdum)
The continuing controversy over intelligent design highlights a number of really bad arguments. One of the worst in recent memory has to do with a glaring fallacy about science and technology as products of man (and therefore god). I received an e-mail from a correspondent, discussing the issue of fractals. I had sent this correspondent a number of example images, including the one reproduced here, showing how simple recursive algorithms could produce a wide variety of forms similar to those found in nature.
My point was to show the correspondent that it was not necessary for a god or higher intelligence to have created or designed flowers, trees, or other seemingly complex objects found in the natural world. It is well-established in scientific circles that most forms taken by plants and flowers can be explained through fractal geometry. Instructions coded in DNA cause the plants to grow in the same manner as the recursive algorithms used to form computer-generated images. This use of recursion is a brilliant form of natural data compression, which gives rise to seemingly infinitely complex and random shapes, from simple mathematical functions.
The correspondent completely misunderstood my argument. He thought I was arguing that computers had generated the fractals of their own accord. He attempted to punch holes in my argument by stating the following:
For example, literally thousands of designers were involved in the creation of the computer equipment that was used to produce and display the graphics. You can break that down into a great level of detail, going into the process by which each component on the mother board, was designed and manufactured, and this on machines which also had to be designed and manufactured, and themselves composed of a vast array of consciously designed and created components. For example, integrated circuits, resistors, capacitors, transistors, connectors, and wiring. In connection with each of these components, you could visit the factory in which they are manufactured, and verify the truth of this, and at the same time see, that they are given birth out of the very womb of the concept of conscious design.
He wrongly stated that I was claiming that the shapes and patterns contained in a fractal imagery were proof that "order and beauty can proceed out of nothing."
Nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, the brilliance and beauty of fractal geometric patterns comes from the fact that they are specifically not designed. Rather, they are the results of playing with formulas, to see what iteration of those formulas will produce. Even though the outcomes can be predicted, within certain classifications from certain formulas, it is clear that what is being replicated on a computer through fractal geometry is the process of natural growth and evolution itself.
The correspondent’s point about computers, chips, motherboards, and programs being works of man proves nothing. He is assuming, a priori, that man was created and designed by God, therefore, all the works of man by proxy originate from God. This is a completely circular argument, and rests totally on the presupposition of ‘creation.’ It proves absolutely nothing.
Fractal geometry, chaos theory, and the Mandelbrot set of functions are simply a special case of the larger field of biomimetics. This is engineering of new processes and products, based on the processes observed in nature. A byproduct of this research, is reverse engineering of nature, figuring out the building blocks of life. The complexity of life is largely reducible to the execution of relatively simple DNA instructions.
In "The Blind Watchmaker" Richard Dawkins showed how random DNA mutations (when evaluated for their efficacy through the feedback loop of evolutionary fitness) resulted in beneficial changes to the life form. Dawkins has not claimed to show that life, beauty, or symmetry evolved from "nothing." Dawkins has only shown us the mechanism through which such evolution could occur from basic chemistry.
But that’s a hell of a lot better then the empty circular claims advanced by creationists.