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Engineers Improve Human Technology by Turning to Biology

Intelligent design does not necessarily mean optimal design. Yet the realm of human technology is a realm of intelligently designed objects, many of which strive to optimize energetic efficiency. It is therefore intriguing that designers of human technology would find solutions to technological needs from the biosphere–a realm which neo-Darwinian scientists tell us is the result of blind, random processes. I recently discussed how biologists are turning to natural flagellar biochemical pathways to help improve biomedical technology. A new article in Business Week confirms that this is a common trend in industry, observing that engineers are increasingly turning to nature for guidance and inspiration in producing human technology:

Spot the common theme: a bullet train with a distinctly bird-like nose; massive wind turbines whose form was inspired by the shape of whales’ fins; ultra-strong, biodegradable glues developed by analyzing how mussels cling to rocks under water. The creators of each product used nature as their guide.

( Using Nature as a Design Guide, Business Week, Feb. 11, 2008)

The article goes further to explain that biology may also provide environmentally-friendly solutions to the needs of industry by providing “nonpolluting, energy-efficient manufacturing technologies.”

Another fascinating project discussed in the article was employed by Ford’s Volvo division to develop “an anti-collision system based on the way locusts swarm without crashing into one another.” Additionally the article explains that IBM is developing a system to mimic “the way abalone shells form by melding microscopic particles of calcium carbonate chalk in a process called ‘self-assembly.’ They’re now applying the same principles to the development of a series of processors. While still experimental, results reduce energy consumption by some 35%.”

Biology is now helping us improve our methods for protecting the environment, avoiding car crashes, and building better, more energy-efficient computer chips. Unfortunately, the article presumes that these biological features “have evolved in the natural world over billions of years.”

Nonetheless, it is surprising that the alleged products of blind Darwinian processes are outperforming human technology, which is the product of intelligent design: To reiterate, intelligent design does not require optimal design. But one would not expect that complex systems that in many instances outperform human technology would be the result of a random and blind process. Might this indicate that nature is not the result of blind processes after all?

Biologists and engineers who still believe that life’s complexity results from neo-Darwinian processes may wish to continue to repeat Francis Crick’s mantra: “Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.”


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.