In the Randy Guliuzza lecture video that I analysed last week I missed out a few things. Somewhere in there, for example, he talks about how angels are immaterial and information has no weight. Mentioned, but glossed over, was Guliuzza’s description of the process of adaptation, which I described as “eerily reminiscent” of Lamarckism. Fortunately his October Acts & Facts article, Engineered Adaptability, elaborates further.
I did say that it was Lamarckian, but having looked over the definitions I have changed my mind. The most famous aspect of Lamarckism is that it involves the “inheritance of acquired characteristics,” such as a baby giraffe having a longer neck because its parents intentionally stretched theirs to get at food. I can’t detect traces of this in Guliuzza’s article, and he instead focuses on the concept of adaptation being innate. The closest existing concept that I can find to this is orthogenesis, but not being completely solid on definitions I’ll Christian Randy’s self-described “radically new paradigm for adaptation” Guliuzzism.
Before we get to what Guliuzzism actually is, however, we have an opening paragraph to dissect:
Doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Engineers always seem to take third place in the list of esteemed professions. Exciting television programs feature skilled surgeons or smooth, well-dressed defense attorneys, but engineers are not primetime stars. That’s too bad, because they do exciting work, as reflected in one school’s motto, “Cool stuff doesn’t just make itself.”
I don’t know about ‘esteem,’ but judging by the ratings by trust at least this is a rather strange ranking. Doctors I can understand, but in the trust rankings linked there lawyers are only one above “religious ministers,” which isn’t nearly as high a placing as you would think – and this probably harms where they would land on the fabled “list of esteemed professions.” As for engineers, I don’t really think they would be considered for the top three, and would most likely be overlooked entirely. I also doubt that they would be placed above scientists, who are suspiciously absent from Mr “I’m smarter than everyone who has thought about this for 200+ years”‘s list. Guliuzza himself is a doctor and an engineer, and I’m not the only one who has noticed how many creationists with high-level degrees are one of the three. This top three ranking would explain much, actually…
In light of the “Cool stuff doesn’t just make itself” motto, which Guliuzza does not source but an earlier article reveals to be from a poster advertising mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Dallas, it is no wonder that ideas like the Salem hypothesis (in the “strong” form, that engineers are predisposed to creationist beliefs by their training and experience) have long been formulated. It is only the “cool stuff” that doesn’t just make itself that doesn’t just make itself* – aren’t snowflakes ‘cool’ enough for you?
*Tautology alert, obviously.
Guliuzza calls these “the coolest creations.” His example is off base, however: “spacecraft that maintain function even in challenging conditions.” He likens this to adaptation, but he seems to have picked the wrong definition from the dictionary. The spacecraft example is analogous to acclimatisation, and not the multi-generational genetic process that evolution produces and that he should really be discussing. Guliuzza notes that “Living things also have this remarkable capability, only they do it far better.” If we’re talking about the same type of adaptation then there really isn’t a good example of something designed that does this at all, beyond perhaps the frontier of robotics along with some computer viruses.
What if the widely held notion of ecology-driven adaptation—established long before insights of molecular biology—is fundamentally wrong? What if organisms operate like self-adjusting entities capable of solving a broad range of environmental problems, empowering them to pioneer into new niches?
If this were true then that would be amazing. It would also be fairly easy to find some evidence in favour of Guliuzza’s alternative, something which this article utterly lacks.
Design engineers approach the question of adaptation in organisms as they would address changes in human-designed inventions that self-adjust in fluctuating environments. They ask, “What if engineering principles also explain how organisms adapt?”
This confusion between the two definitions of adaptation seems to be at the very core of this article. You can’t address them in the same way, that doesn’t work.
In a section titled “Why Use a Design-Centered Analysis of Adaptation?” Guliuzza explains:
Design-centered thinking enriches biological comprehension. Many scientists demonstrate unmistakable design parallels between the interconnected parts found in man-made items and those discovered in organisms. Within creatures, discoveries of intricate microscopic machines made of parts like switches, valves, and rotors bolster a scientifically observable and quantifiable case for intelligent design.
The problems with this are manifold. First, I’d like to share a quote from a recent (ENCODE-related) post at The Finch & Pea:
In our day to day lives, we’re very familiar with how machines behave, but not very familiar with the behavior of chemical systems. And so, when it comes to the complex features of biology, we cling to mechanical analogies and not chemical ones, but this is a mistake.
Guliuzza’s argument here relies entirely on the choice of analogy style, and not any kind of profound insight into the true nature and origin of the organisms and features. You can call a geothermal hot pool an “outdoor spa” all you like, but that doesn’t change how it was formed.
The premises of Guliuzzism
He has five of them:
Premise One: Design-centered thinking is essential to correctly explain all aspects of biological function.
His evidence for this is Biblical in nature. Overt religious elements are surprisingly rare in Guliuzza’s article, and with only a few modifications it could easily show up in Discovery Institute stuff. That would be interesting…
The justification is really more of the design analogy stuff, and is similarly flawed.
Premise Two: The core components of adaptable organisms are irreducibly complex.
This may seem out of place – just a random anti-evolution jab – but it actually serves to show that Guliuzzism incorporates essentialism, the idea that (according to wikipedia) “for any specific entity (such as a group of people), there is a set of incidental attributes all of which are necessary to its identity and function.” This does add evidence towards the conclusion that Guliuzzism is just orthogenesis restated, but I’ll keep with the tounge-twister name for now.
This paragraph should give you an insight into how Guliuzza is thinking:
Entities must possess a minimum system to maintain adaptable function, comprised of three well-matched interacting components: 1) an input component to gather data on external conditions; 2) a reference program that defines performance in specific external conditions and has a logic segment to compare input data to the reference; 3) an output feature that executes actions maintaining performance. If any one of these components is removed, the system’s adaptability is lost, i.e., the system is irreducibly complex. These well-matched components are intrinsic to adaptable organisms.
Premise Three: The first purpose for reproducing adaptive variable heritable traits was to solve changing environmental challenges, ultimately, to multiply and fill the environments—not to survive.
As you might expect, Guliuzza’s impression of natural selection appears to be deeply flawed. He seems to think that it’s a purposeful endeavour, which is of course false.
I’ll give you a serious problem with Guliuzzism right now: Lenski’s experiments. Lenski has studied (and continues to study) linneages of the bacterium E. coli growing in a citrate substrate over a period of decades. At one point, one of the lineages evolved the ability to metabolise the citrate itself in the aerobic conditions, the inability to do so being a defining feature of the species. Guliuzza could explain this as a case of the bacteria solving the problem of a shortage of food, but he can not explain why the other lineages did no such thing.
In this section there is also the faint suggestion that Guliuzzism might actually be Lamarckism, when he says:
Plants and animals needed heritable adaptive programming right from the beginning.
If this is so, then that would explain the confusion between the two types of adaptation confused in the article. It would also make him a danger to the economy a la Lysenkoism, so watch out.
Premise Four: The same principles underlying the adaptation to changing environments of human-designed things also apply to organisms.
More of the acclimatisation-style adaptation here – if it isn’t, then the statement is even more false than otherwise.
Premise Five: Pro-resilience complexity is a key component of adaptable systems.
More of the same. This section is unusual, however, because it mentions the concept of “specified complexity,” which I don’t think I’ve heard of from the ICR before – it’s more of a CMI thing. Going further off the rails is “pro-resilience complexity,” which is just nonsense.
Principles of design
There are ten of these, according to Guliuzza. Before he introduces them he goes off on a tangent about designing submarines to have computers in them to do the ‘adapting’ by itself. The reason why I am not calling this Lamarckism despite all of this confusion is that I don’t have anything explicit from him saying that the adaptations are heritable, and I hold out hope that he is simply very confused.
Principle One: Designed things are principally self-contained discrete units or entities. A distinct boundary between the entity and its external environment exists. This remains true even when the unit obtains vital resources from its environment, or one body is also a component of an environment to some other body. Boundaries are not lost, and things are never absorbed into a collective.
Guliuzza has clearly never heard of slime moulds, which do exactly that. Can’t have been designed then, can they?
Principle Two: Adaptability requires mechanisms to initially sense exposures that are external to their boundaries. A major research university’s robotics text emphasizes this point, saying, “Without sensors, a robot is just a machine. Robots need sensors to deduce what is happening in their world and to be able to react to changing situations.”
Said university is Rice University, if you were wondering. I would go so far as to claim sensory systems as part of a definition of life itself, though I would first need to do some serious searching for counterexamples.
Principle Three: The environment exists as a temporal space of mindless, impartial, and unconscious conditions. From a design standpoint, good information about specific conditions produces well-designed features that are suitable to or “fitting to” an environment.
That’s not a very good principle of design, as robots and other machines need to be designed to work in much less unconscious conditions.
Principle Four: Since designers focus on suitable solutions to environmental problems, the whole concept of fitness falls into sharp focus. Fitness functionally relates to problem solving and the degree to which a problem is solved (that may not impact its survival). Fitness will also be generally quantifiable and traceable to design features based on their informational criteria. Unhelpful circularities like “survivors survive” or “fitness is realized in survivors because they are the fittest” don’t define fitness.
Again, this is CA500: natural selection is a tautology. The phrase “the best designed machines function the best” is not a tautology (don’t over-think your killer robot), and neither is natural selection. “The best designed machines are the best designed” is, however, but so what?
Principle Five: The entity’s designed features—not the exposure—define any exposure as favorable, stressful, or fatal. For instance, design features can exploit environmental properties (as submarine design utilizes buoyancy), or design features can fail to withstand environmental properties. Consider two different submarines. The hull strength feature—not external water pressure—determines whether diving a mile under water is favorable or fatal.
This is just different ways of looking at the same thing, and may be part of Guliuzza’s trouble with the concepts.
Principle Six: An adaptive entity must detect environmental signals and initiate its own action; environmental signals really don’t operate on an entity. Headquarters was sending a signal in the environment external to the destroyed subs. However, since the sub is a distinct, stand-alone body, environmental signals mean nothing to it unless it has its own detector that is also tuned to sense the signals and an information center to interpret them.
He has strayed far from explaining ‘design principles,’ I think.
Principle Seven: Any design is a contingent solution with only a probability of solving a problem, but failed solutions are still genuine designs. The sub operators did not know in advance if any of their solutions would solve the mine problem. … Transferring success or failure causality through assumptions such as the environment “selected for” or “weeded out” or “sieved through” problems to produce solutions are inadequate explanations; they would be rejected as “magical” from a design perspective.
Yes, a creationist calling the alternative “magical.” Get used to it. There is, of course, nothing magical about it – Guliuzza just does not know how natural selection works.
The remaining design principles deal with establishing cause; they clarify causality.
I don’t really get these three – they confuse more than they clarify:
Principle Eight: For any adaptable entity, the real trigger must be designed as an integral, internally regulated part, needed to sense specified external exposures. In addition, it should be the first part to initiate internally specified actions.
This is apparently a callback to premise #2, and it doesn’t make a great deal of sense to me. I get the impression that it’s partially trivially true, and partially false.
Principle Nine: Sensors are the mediators of interactions between an entity and exposures. Sensors are included in the input component for adaptation. A designed object uses receptors and detectors to gather data from exposures that are transmitted inward.
More of his mechanistic thinking, if you weren’t getting the message at this point.
Principle Ten: Designs either succeed or fail to solve problems. But environments never succeed or fail because they aren’t trying to do anything. In all cases, credit or blame resides with designers, not the exposures.
That about sums up Guliuzza’s problems with grasping natural selection. I could discuss here the difference between design by trial and error and naturalistic processes, and whether the ‘design’ element really matters in that context, but I’ll save that for another post. This one is long enough as it is.
Head to head
In the next section, Guliuzza writes:
A designer’s approach to explain adaptation differs from an evolutionary biologist’s approach. The differences are evident when you flip things around and force designers to explain design performance using evolutionary language. How long would NASA’s lead engineer keep his job if he explained to the President that the reason for the heart-wrenching loss of space shuttles Challenger and Columbia was due to “strong negative selection,” while the Endeavor was favored by “strong positive selection”? In the world of design, would anyone tolerate mystical explanations like that?
Of course not. It’s not that the explanations are in any way mystical, it’s that they would make no sense in context. Design-based explanations work for things that were designed, and selection works for things that are subject to it (a tip: if it doesn’t reproduce, selection is irrelevant). That’s almost trivially true, and his examples are irrelevant.
I’m also going to have to point out that the Endevour has a ‘u’ in her name. Look what you’ve made me do!
For his final section, Guliuzza claims that “design-based approaches could bring focus to adaptation research.” Naturally, he is low on specifics – I feel it would do quite the opposite. He goes on to say:
Take the usual explanations for trait appearances in blind cave fish. Evolutionists claim that these are “a change driven by the remote cave habitat,” and creationists typically assert that “the loss of eyes is attributed to informational loss—not creation—showing the limits of ‘selection.’ ”
What if both were off target? The regression of eyes, loss of body pigment, increase in olfactory sensation, etc., are found not only in blind cave fish, but also crayfish, snails, salamanders, insects, and other creatures. Does not the rapid development of similar traits in a wide range of creatures seem to fit better with the principles of an intentional design to solve problems in cave environments?
Not really – it’s convergent evolution. Similar selection pressures push different organisms to similar solutions. I’ve yet to see a design explanation that explains what we actually observe in this regard, beyond simply saying that the designer using the same design twice.
If you’ve braved all that, I have two questions for you: First, does this constitute Lamarckism, or any other similar concept already in existence? Second, who has a more imaginative/out there idea in this Acts & Facts issue – Guliuzza or Jeanson?