Friday, November 18, 2005

Design Perfection

Continuing the discussion about Intelligent Design. In my last post, I tried not to enter the direct debate, but instead discuss whether or not ID can be considered a scientific theory at all. However, as a result of a lunch time discussion today, I'd like to offer up an analogy for the ID vs Evolution arguments.


Aside from being a girls best friend (and a guy's route to bankruptcy), diamonds are interesting because they can be made a couple of different ways.

One way, the most common way to date, is to have crystalline carbon deposits (such as graphite) deep in the earths crust, where it is subjected to high heat and pressure (over 1K degrees C, and anywhere from 13 - 100K atm). The crust is extruded over time due to plate tectonics and other geological forces to where the now raw diamonds are close enough to the surface of the earth to be discovered and mined. These processes are fairly well understood, and are replicable in a lab.

And in fact, this presents the second way diamonds are made - in a lab. Since the 1950's, the technology to produce a diamond, using graphite, heat, and pressure has existed. This was very expensive, and produced diamonds that were of poorer quality than those found via "natural" processes.

In 2003, Wired magazine reported on two start-up firms, one in Florida and the other in Boston, that had begun manufacturing gem-quality artificial diamonds. Supposedly the new artificial diamonds, particularly those made by chemical vapor deposition (CVD), are both cheap to produce. As of today, large (5-1600(!) carat), colorless, flawless diamonds can be made using this technology. And, unlike other "fake" diamonds such as cubic zirconium, these CVD diamonds are virtually indistinguishable from natural diamonds, even in the lab.

In fact, when distinguishable at all, it is only because the CVD based man-made diamonds are too perfect - more so than is found in natural diamonds.

So, to summarize, there are at least two ways to make a diamond, one using man-made processes (ie, intelligently designed), and one using natural processes. In this example, the intelligently designed diamond is usually more perfect than the one developed naturally.

So here is an interesting metaphor for the ID vs natural evolution debate. It can be posited that there are two ways to produce a cell, one via natural evolution, and one via intelligent design. However, given the inherent flaws in the design of a cell (wherein genetic replication can go awry, disparate energy mechanisms such as mitochondria and chloroplasts co-exist uneasily, and other odd features), if I were to guess, I would think that an intelligently designed cell would be a bit more "perfect".

Although, given the amount of poorly designed code I have seen in my career, I'm willing to entertain the possibility that the cell was "intelligently designed" by someone who just wasn't very good at it.

(This post, btw, uses the techniques that have comprised the majority of the "debate" around the ID vs. Evolution controversy - hyperbole, use of analogy instead of direct example, asserting a flaw in the opposing argument means that my argument must be right. All great fun, but not necessarily useful in advancing the state of knowledge of mankind...)


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