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Biomimicry and Intelligent Design Seeing Increased Media Coverage

Last year I wrote a series of posts about biomimetics (also called "biomimicry"), a term used to describe the way human engineers mimic nature in order to improve human technology. In fact, I recently blogged about how biomimicry of cuttlefish luminescence in new television technology further strengthens the case for intelligent design (ID) in biology. Even some members of the media cannot deny the relevance of biomimicry to the ID debate. A recent article in the London Telegraph was titled "Biomimicry: Why the World is Full of Intelligent Design." It reported, "Forget human ingenuity -- the best source of ideas for cutting-edge technology might be in nature, according to experts in 'biomimicry'." Of course the writer felt compelled to deny that there is any real design in nature, stating, "We humans like to think we're pretty good at design and technology -- but we often forget that Mother Nature had a head start of 3.6 million years" (NB: the writer probably meant to say "3.6 billion years"). Nevertheless, the article goes on to discuss various technological breakthroughs based upon biology. Some examples:

  • The Namibian fog-basking beetle has inspired a method of desalinizing ocean water, growing crops, and producing electricity all in one!
    In the day, [the beetle's] matt black shell radiates heat; during the night, it becomes slightly cooler than its surroundings, causing fog to condense on its shell. In the morning, the beetle simply tips itself up, and lets the water trickle into its mouth. In the larger-scale version, sea water collected from the air or pumped in from the coast evaporates at the front of a greenhouse, creating a humid environment suitable for growing crops. The water then condenses -- leaving the salt behind -- on the matt black pipes at the back of the greenhouse. Alongside sits a concentrated solar power array, which uses mirrors -- cleaned by this distilled water -- to concentrate the sun's rays. That heat turns the water into steam, driving turbines and generating electricity. The system not only produces five times as much fresh water as the greenhouse needs, but has twice the energy output of other solar-powered plants.

    (Sanjida O'Connell, "Biomimicry: Why the World is Full of Intelligent Design," Telegraph, June 8, 2009)

  • Using a food web concept from ecology to break down paper waste and use it to grow worms to feed carp to produce caviar. The fish then produce fertilizer for growing trees and vegetables.

  • Mimicking compound eyes of insects (particularly, bees) to produce cameras that can see over 300 degrees and help robotic cars dodge collisions.

  • Mimicking the 6-legged locomotion of insects to produce robots "capable of walking both along the ground and up walls and other surfaces." The article also reported robots that try to mimic the jumping ability of insects.

    Other Recent News Reports of Biomimicry: Electronic Cochlea and Hippo Sweat Sunscreen
    A recent MSNBC article titled "Human Ear Inspires Universal Radio Antenna" and an InsideTech Article titled "MIT Patterns New Super-Antenna Tech After Human Ear," described how the ability of the human ear to pick up many frequencies of sound is being mimicked in order to build a better antenna. The Inside Tech article observes that "Even the best manmade designs are often outclassed by nature's own creations," and the MSNBC article observes that researchers are trying to mimic the cochlea:

    The unique architecture of the human ear allows it to detect a wide range of sounds. A spiral with thousands of tiny hairs, called cilia, of different sizes help the ear to separate out each frequency, from 100 hertz up to 10,000 hertz, and transmit that information to the brain.

    (Human Ear Inspires Universal Radio Antenna, see also MIT Patterns New Super-Antenna Tech After Human Ear from Inside Tech)

    Of course human ears detect sound waves, not electromagnetic (EM) radiation, and so the MSNBC article describes how an adaptation was made:
    To detect electromagnetic waves instead of pressure waves the MIT scientists used circuits, in place of cilia. Starting on the outside edge of the 1.5-mm by 3-mm-chip are tiny squares, each one corresponding to a different size radio wave. As they spiral into the center, the squares become larger and larger. The outer spiral detects the highest energy, shortest frequency waves, while the center circuits detect less energetic, longer frequency waves.
    Finally, a recent news article starts by showing how biomimetics works:
    Turning to nature for inspiration is the key to constructing a lot of things, from very tall buildings, shaped after bamboo, to, apparently, sunscreen, which now researchers believe can be successfully made from hippo sweat. While this may disgust some, it could, indeed, prove to be the best protection anyone could hope for.
    Apparently hippo sweat has a unique ability to function as a powerful sunscreen:
    After analyzing the hippo sweat under a microscope, the researcher found that there were two types of crystalline structures in it -- banded and non-banded. He pinpointed that the banded ones were "characterized by concentric dark rings," which seemed to be the key to the liquid's amazing properties. "The rings are the result of a structural periodicity that occurs on a scale comparable to the wavelengths of visible light. This means that the sweat is an effective scatterer of light, so that it combines both sun-blocking and sun-screening properties," Viney stated.
    So the molecular structure of hippo sweat contains concentric rings with a specific "structural periodicity that occurs on a scale comparable to the wavelengths of visible light" that can scatter light, thus serving as a sunscreen. This might be viewed as either an excellent example of specified complexity, or an example of unguided evolution. The article makes its position clear:
    This find only goes to show again the true extent of nature's power, as well as the perfection of evolution, which has endowed this animal with the unique abilities it needs in order to survive in its relatively-sedentary and sun-exposed life style, over millions of years.
    Perhaps. But let's not forget that human technology is intelligently designed, obviously, yet it is now being bested by biological structures and systems which, according to evolutionists, are not intelligently designed. Isn't evolution incredible?