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Darwin or Bust: New Statues for Darwin Day Illustrate Intelligent Design, Not Evolution

University College London wanted to honor the father of evolutionary theory on his 205th birthday, which is tomorrow, but they couldn't seem to do it without intelligent design. They held a contest. Writing for New Scientist, Sandrine Ceurstemont describes how contestants used a computer-guided robotic arm to carve a replica of Darwin's bust out of a block of resin. A video shows the bust taking shape from the formless block, following a template made from a laser scan of a previous statue.

The artworks are the result of a competition inspired by a Victorian bust of the naturalist. The university's Darwin Building -- built on the site where the great man lived when he returned from his journey on the Beagle -- was the home of the bust until recently. The bust went with the Grant Museum of Zoology when it moved to its new home nearby, leaving the building in need of a new homage to its namesake. (Emphasis added.)

However, this is awkward: their methods are inevitably suggestive of intelligent design, with the computers, lasers, template, and all. Design, design, design. Could other contestants illustrate the legacy of the man who taught that all the designs of life emerged by unguided natural processes? Alternative "imaginative recreations" of his image ranged from "a crocheted floating head to a Darwin-shaped handle for a USB stick." Sorry, that's more ID.

This guy had a cute idea:

Surely Charles Darwin would feel honoured to be immortalised by a statue teeming with ants....

One of the artists, physics student James Mould, used the replica to form a hollow Darwin head that will be filled with ants later this week to create a piece that evolves with time. The sculpture incorporates a gel containing nutrients to sustain the ants -- NASA developed the gel for experiments on the insects in zero gravity. "I won't have to keep feeding them, and the tunnels they make through the structure will be a lot more visible," he says.

Unfortunately, this concept isn't Darwinian, either. The ants may not realize they are filling in a design, but the artist did. Mould's mind had a plan, he molded a Darwin-head-shaped head, and he put the ants and their food inside on purpose, artificially constraining their actions, knowing ahead of time what they would create. The Darwin-or-Bust Ant Farm may "evolve with time," in the sense of "changing over time," but if the ants carry out an inner program coded in their DNA, they are illustrating intelligent design, too. To claim the ants themselves evolved by Darwinian processes would be begging the question.

Here is a strange thing: scientists and artists, with minds and plans, intelligently designing an exhibit to honor the idea that their own minds emerged from unguided natural processes. Darwin or bust, indeed.

Well, ID can identify design without passing judgment on the wisdom of the designer's motives. Even a Theater of the Absurd can pass the design filter.

So here's wishing you a happy Darwin Day, all of you at University College, as you design things to celebrate un-design, paying "homage" to an image while calling Darwin critics religious.