Sophisticated, Unintelligent-Non Design

The buds or leaves of many plants are arranged not randomly but in sophisticated spiral structures that exhibit many mathematical properties involving Fibonacci sequences and golden angles. 

FlowerA theist might see evidence of intelligent design in these structures.  An evolutionary biologist (or economist) might see evidence of unintelligent design i.e. they will assume that since the patterns are far from random there must be some functional advantage to spiral patterns and that natural selection operating over many generations results in a convergence to or near the optimum.

There is, however, a third – often overlooked – possibility.  Sophisticated structures may be the result of unintelligent, non-design.  Here’s an interesting article, for example, arguing that the spiral patterns in flowers are the result of physical processes of attraction and repulsion.  In particular, check out this cool movie which shows magnetized drops of ferrofluid being dropped into a dish that is magnetized at its
edge and filled with silicone oil. The droplets are attracted to the edge of the dish and repelled from one another.  What’s interesting is that when the droplets are dropped slowly they float directly away from one another in a simple pattern but when they are dropped quickly they form intricate spirals with different properties depending on how quickly they are dropped.  (Note that the movie is a bit long – just grab the slider and you will see what is going on).  The physical model is only suggestive of what is going on in flowers, of course, but the idea is generating new testable predictions about the kinds of patterns we should see in real flowers.

My suspicion is that quite a few of the sophisticated patterns that we see in nature and elsewhere is neither intelligent nor unintelligent design, i.e. not functional in any direct sense, but rather the result of unintelligent, non-design.


Comments for this post are closed