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Intelligent Design Implications Disclaimed as Biomimicry Are Increasingly Discussed in Scientific Literature

A recent Reuters article titled "IBM uses DNA to make next-gen microchips" explains, as the title suggests, that microchip manufacturers are finding it cheaper and more efficient to use DNA as a framework on which to build microchips. The news story is based upon a new article in the journal Nature Nanotechnology proposing that DNA can form a template for building microchips: "DNA origami, in which a long single strand of DNA is folded into a shape using shorter 'staple strands'6, can display 6-nm-resolution patterns of binding sites, in principle allowing complex arrangements of carbon nanotubes, silicon nanowires, or quantum dots."

This article is part of a much bigger trend, as scientific journals are increasingly discussing biomimetics. The journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London A recently devoted an entire issue to the topic. Although the issue's introductory article by Bharat Bhushan recounts dozens of instances of biological structures proving useful models or inspiration for human-designed technology, his preface is careful to include the customary homage to evolution and disavowal of any intelligent design (ID) applications: "Nature has gone through evolution over the 3.8 Gyr since life is estimated to have appeared on Earth. Nature has evolved objects with high performance using commonly found materials."

Bhushan's review article in the same issue, "Biomimetics: lessons from nature -- an overview," opens with similar praise of the alleged ingenuity of nature:

Nature has developed materials, objects and processes that function from the macroscale to the nanoscale. These have gone through evolution over 3.8 Gyr. The emerging field of biomimetics allows one to mimic biology or nature to develop nanomaterials, nanodevices and processes. ... Nature has gone through evolution over the 3.8 Gyr since life is estimated to have appeared on the Earth. Nature has evolved objects with high performance using commonly found materials. These function on the macroscale to the nanoscale. The understanding of the functions provided by objects and processes found in nature can guide us to imitate and produce nanomaterials, nanodevices and processes. Biologically inspired design or adaptation or derivation from nature is referred to as 'biomimetics'. It means mimicking biology or nature.

(Bharat Bhushan, "Biomimetics: lessons from nature -- an overview," Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London A, Vol. 367, 1445--1486 (2009) (internal citations removed).)

Of course, the fact that biological structures are inspiring intelligently designed technology supports the notion that those structures are the result of unguided and random natural evolutionary processes, right? Bhushan would probably say "yes," but his description of the general nature of biological systems sounds very much like the general nature of human-designed technology:
Biological materials are highly organized from the molecular to the nanoscale, microscale and macroscale, often in a hierarchical manner with intricate nanoarchitecture that ultimately makes up a myriad of different functional elements. Nature uses commonly found materials.

(Bharat Bhushan, "Biomimetics: lessons from nature -- an overview," Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London A, Vol. 367, 1445--1486 (2009) (internal citations removed).)

Consider carefully the last sentence of the above quote, "Nature uses commonly found materials." Why should biomaterials have so many different functions, ranging from, in Bhushan's words, "Molecular-scale devices, superhydrophobicity, self-cleaning, drag reduction in fluid flow, energy conversion and conservation, high adhesion, reversible adhesion, aerodynamic lift, materials and fibres with high mechanical strength, biological self-assembly, antireflection, structural coloration, thermal insulation, self-healing and sensoryaid mechanisms"? Why are such structures "commonly found"? Sure, natural selection preserves them due to the important functional roles they play in biology. But to arise in the first place, these structures must become encoded by the information carrying molecule, DNA, and then there must be a mechanism to transcribe and translate that information into proteins. These proteins that form the structures are generated through an information processing system built upon a computer-like language of commands and codes. These encoded biological structures prove useful in human-designed technology precisely because they themselves are a form of intelligently designed technology.

Bhushan ends his article by paying further lip surface to evolution, stating, "It is clear that nature has evolved and optimized a large number of materials and structured surfaces with rather unique characteristics. As we understand the underlying mechanisms, we can begin to exploit them for commercial applications." Dr. Bhushan's chosen blindness to the intelligent design implications of his field does not negate the many dozens of instances of biomimicry discussed in his article and other articles in this recent issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London A. I'll recount some of these examples of biomimicry further in a forthcoming post.