Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Mickey Mouse, Cars, and Evolution

In the letters section of a recent NY Time article on evolution, an otherwise deluded writer made a valid point:

"David Campbell uses the evolution of Mickey Mouse as a Darwinian argument. Mickey Mouse did not become cuter through millions of random mutations of film stock and errant cartoonists’ strokes. He became cuter through “intelligent design.” Cartoonists, deliberately guided by intelligence, altered his features, and evolved him."

This is a common argument made against analogies to evolution, and it is one of the few creationist arguments that have some merit. Pictures of Mickey Mouse, or designs for cars, or any similar analogy, lacks the crucial element of imperfect replication without which evolution cannot function. Of course, this also applies to common creationist canards like Hoyle's 747 in a junkyard. However there is an even better way to use these examples to dismantle ID arguments: emphasize the borrowing of ideas.

Mickey Mouse is indeed intelligently designed, as are car models. And as we know, designers often watch other designers to see what they are doing. Let Ford invent a new and better way to design wheels, or a steering wheel, or a fuel pump, and soon every car maker will be making them the same way, at least as far as our copyright laws allow. When computer animation became available, all the cartoon characters got a makeover. When stereo systems shifted from vinyl to CDs, it happened across the industry, practically all at once. Ditto for pretty much anything human designers make.

But this is exactly what we do NOT see in the natural world. When a new feature appears in the octopus lineage, say a better lens for its eye, that feature does not suddenly appear in the human and bird lineages. The bacterial flagellum did not pop up all over the place, nor did the immune system, or the bombardier beetle's explosive defenses, or any of the natural examples ID proponents like to point to as examples of intelligent design. They appeared just as evolutionary theory predicts: in one place, in a certain way, in an incremental step from where that lineage was.

This is the line of attack we should use whenever evolution-deniers bring up examples of man made objects as examples of intelligent design. In every way that intelligently designed objects differ from evolved ones, those man made examples differ from the natural world.


Anonymous said...

So, what did you think of Thomas Nagel's recent essay?
(I know you check out the ID sites from time to time...)

ScienceAvenger said...

Just another senile nonbiologist yammering the same old claptrap. [yawn]