There Is ‘Design’ In Nature, Biologist Argues

“The idea that there is ‘design’ in nature is very appealing,” Miller said. “People want to believe that life isn’t purposeless and random. That’s why the intelligent design movement wins the emotional battle for adherents despite its utter lack of scientific support.

“To fight back, scientists need to reclaim the language of ‘design’ and the sense of purpose and value inherent in a scientific understanding of nature,” he said.

Miller will argue that science itself, including evolutionary biology, is predicated on the idea of “design” — the correlation of structure with function that lies at the heart of the molecular nature of life.

I agree there is design in nature. Obviously human beings create designed objects, and this is a natural process. The notion of designed being argued for above, that structure is correlated with function, is a fairly benign position to take on design.

However, central to the pull of the ID theory is that design is impossible without a designer. So the crux of the argument and the success of this strategy lies in the ability to argue that function and structure can coincide without anything guiding the process. I think that will be quite difficult; without an appeal to a designer, our intuitive grasp on the notion of ‘design’ is lost. The word ‘design’ is, I think, an agential verb, and makes an inherently implicit reference to some agent who is the efficient cause of a designed object.

I am currently writing a paper where I argue that the idea of ‘use’ is likewise an agential verb, and is incomprehensible without the notion of a ‘user’. Hence, if tools are objects that inherit their function from use, then the only proper understanding of the objects are in relation to some user.

So here’s a question: is ‘design’ inherently an agential concept? Is ‘use’ agential?


  1. Of course it is! ‘Design’ only makes sense when taken in conjunction with function (not to sound like School House Rock)–that is, when we say “Object x has function y,” we are in effect saying “Object x was designed to do y.” There is no ‘natural’ function (speaking loosely, because I agree that we need to treat function that comes from intentional agents as natural), and thus no ‘natural’ design. Sounds like a good paper–shoot me a copy when you’re done.

  2. (1) Design (verb) – agential.
    (2) Design (noun) – technically and semantically not agential, but so closely related to (1) that it is hard to remove.
    (3) use (noun) – agential (use for some purpose or goal)
    (4) use (verb) – agential (same)

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