fnkwp at aurora.alaska.edu
Fri Sep 11 06:32:45 EDT 1998
This whole thread, as perceived from the (not yet frozen) north,
appears to be one misunderstanding piled on another. Grehan states
(correctly) that wings have no _purpose_--and people pile on with lists
of all the things that butterflies use their wings for. The term
'purpose' is a very nasty word, and bears numerous interpretations.
In Grehan's sense, it takes a mind to have a purpose. Any other inter-
pretation is what is called 'teleology'--something people are prone to.
For example, a light switch on your wall has, of itself, no purpose.
The architect who planned for it to be there had a purpose, and you
shared that purpose when you paid for it--but the _switch_ just sits
there. It can be used to turn lights on and off, or you could hang
a scarf on the switch handle--the switch couldn't care less.
If wings were _created_ by a higher power with a mind, then that
mind may have had a purpose for them. If wings evolved by natural sel-
ection, which is a mindless algorithmic process, then they have no
purpose in the strict sense of the word--even though it is clear that
insects can do many different things with them.
In common speech, we use the word 'purpose' in a teleological
sense all the time--it seems to be how our minds work. Thus all the post-
ings on the many 'purposes' for wings.
For those who think in terms of evolution driven by natural
selection, the interesting questions are those involving the selective
advantage granted by wings and their earlier stages, and the selective
advantage that some insects may have found from abandoning wings at a
later date. (Note the way teleology creeps in--insects did not 'abandon'
wings as a conscious choice, the loss of wings simply occurred, and
the insects involved survived because they were able to make a living
A few comments on other points during this discussion:
> I don't see how any intelligent person can possibly think that natural
> selection is a viable explanation for how insects which DO use their
> wings came about having them.
Lots of people, who are at least otherwise intelligent, do indeed think
that natural selection produced wings (as well as the entire panoply of
life on earth in all its complexity). Since no one has actually _seen_
the production of a complex living organism from primordial life, one
can always wonder if other factors could be involved, but (except for
those who believe in special creation) there doesn't seem to be any better
explanation at present.
> I do think it to be a huge stretch to suggest that random mutations
> are responsible for this process. Talk about blind faith!
Here we have some actual facts to interpose. Although the construction
of complex _living_ organisms by natural selection is merely _inferred_
from the fossil record, there is now no doubt whatsoever that the prod-
uction of complex entities--which appear to have been very carefully
_designed_--by a process of random mutation and selection is possible.
This procedure is currently in commercial use. Computer programs are now
being made by applying a form of natural selection to strings of code
in which random mutations are made to occur. A working computer program
would normally be considered to meet Paley's criterion (as in his famous
watch) for having had to have been designed by a mind--but we now know
that natural selection is such a powerful (and rapid) process for producing
design from random changes that complex and useful programs can literally
be evolved within computers. These programs, by the way, are more robust
than those written by humans, and it is sometimes difficult to understand
how they function in detail, since they are organized very differently
from code written by humans. It is clear that the 'mindless algorithm' of
natural selection is, at least for one case of non-living constructs,
capable of producing a high level of ordered complexity from random vari-
ations of random strings of code. Out of nothing--something...
With that example in mind, I would be very hesitant to conclude
that natural selection could not possibly account for the complexity of
life on earth.
> Life itself is in conflict with entropy. Therefore there MUST be a
> guiding external force at work to sustain it.
You don't have a 'conflict with entropy', any more than you have a 'conflict
with heat'. Entropy is merely one of many thermodynamic variables. Some
people have maintained that life violates the second law of thermodynamics,
but that is nonsense--it makes as much sense as saying your refrigerator
violates the 2nd law. A living being is not a closed system--and there is
_no_ law that prevents a _portion_ of a closed system from decreasing its
entropy while the entropy of the closed system as a whole increases. That
is what your refrigerator does, and what any living organism does. (You
could loosely rephrase the 2nd law, as it applies to living beings, as
saying that life manages to exist by making a greater mess of its environ-
fnkwp at uaf.edu
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