Moulton Lava

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Location: New England, United States

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Intelligent Design

Creation Science is back in the news, but this time the label on the old wine bottle reads "Intelligent Design."

Actually, I'm all in favor of designing things intelligently. That's why I took up a career in Systems Engineering. The whole point of Systems Engineering is to craft intelligently designed systems.

While most of my professional life focused on the intelligent design of technology systems (principally our telecommunications infrastructure), I'm intrigued by the design principles to be found in the natural world. Many of the design principles employed in Systems Engineering are adapted or inspired by Nature's solutions to analogous problems.

So while airplanes don't flap feathery wings, they do borrow many principles of aerodynamic engineering from flying critters ranging from insects to pterodactyls and from tumbleweeds to maple seeds.

If the courts mandate the teaching of Intelligent Design, I hope it will spark a resurgence in teaching the principles of Systems Engineering, with due acknowledgement for the inspiration that comes from the study of complex living systems and other natural systems with interesting emergent properties.

Among the newest such studies are those to be found in the burgeoning science of molecular biology. Simulation models of molecular dynamics are yielding remarkable insights into how relatively modest organic molecules assemble themselves out of simpler building blocks, which in turn give rise to a rich array of growth processes that emerge as organic life. The versatility of carbon cannot be denied, especially when it teams up with nitrogren and water. Most amino acids are strung together out of just four elements: carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen. An occasional sulfur atom adds a little extra zest to the soup.

Intelligent Design might someday allow molecular biologists to speed up evolution by identifying viable pathways and weeding out losing propositions in the art of breeding for desirable traits. Then again, others might be aghast at the notion of humans engaging in the creative art of intelligent design of complex systems.


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