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As Engineers Turn to Marine Biology to Improve Wing, Turbine, and Armor Designs, the Media Tries to Quash Intelligent Design Overtones

According to a Science Daily news release, engineers are turning to marine biology for insight into building better turbine blades and wings. The article reports that “[t]he shape of whale flippers with one bumpy edge has inspired the creation of a completely novel design for wind turbine blades. This design has been shown to be more efficient and also quieter, but defies traditional engineering theories.” Apparently small bumps on the leading edge of the flippers create vortices as the whale moves through the water, and this uneven flow “help[s] to generate more lift without the occurrence of stall, as well as enhancing manoeuvrability and agility.”

The authors of the article seem cognizant of the unwanted design overtones, and thus lead off the article with an otherwise superfluous evolutionary spin: “Sea creatures have evolved over millions of years to maximise efficiency of movement through water.” Yet one scientist was quoted saying, “The lesson from biomimicry is that unsteady flow and complex shapes can increase lift, reduce drag and delay ‘stall’, a dramatic and abrupt loss of lift, beyond what existing engineered systems can accomplish.” The alternative view, of course, is that “existing engineered systems” already contained this innovation before humans discovered it.

Attempts to quash the design overtones of engineers mimicking nature were also made in an MSNBC article earlier this summer, which explained that Polypterus senegalus (an African freshwater fish also known as the gray bichir) has “[i]ncredible fish armor [that] could suit soldiers.” One scientist was quoted saying, “Such fundamental knowledge holds great potential for the development of improved biologically inspired structural materials.”

Apparently not wanting readers to consider any intelligent design implications from such statements, the article opens with the non-subtle but otherwise superfluous subtitle, “Millions of years of evolution could provide exactly what we need today.” Another scientist is then quoted making a superfluous attempt to re-emphasize that point: “millions of years or hundreds of millions of years of evolution would be a good starting point for what we need for this day and age.”

Blind and unguided processes created “exactly what we need today”? Well aren’t we all just that lucky.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, 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.