Design Without a Designer?

I don’t need any new words and I don’t share the premise of “design implies a designer” with you. I have tried to document elsewhere in this thread the fact that design is a pretty integrated concept in biology, such that many biologists talk about design and design principles with no worry that they will be misunderstood. I’m afraid I don’t see how the concept of design without a designer is either hard to grasp (conceptually) or hard to understand (linguistically).

People have tried words like “designoid” and phrases like “apparent design.” The subtitle of Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker is “Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design.” I’m well aware that many believers and unbelievers alike are stuck with the word ‘design’ linked to ‘designer’. I have seen only one argument for this approach so far, which is the dictionary. Maybe there are other things going on. But here is Dennett (from this piece) on one reason why it might not be a good idea to refuse to give ATP synthase the honor of showing design:

The second misplaced emphasis is Pinker’s phrase “the illusion of design in the natural world.” Richard Dawkins, in a similar vein, says “the illusion of design conjured by Darwinian natural selection is so breathtakingly powerful” in The Ancestors’ Tale (p457), and elsewhere proposes to speak of “designoid” features of the natural world (eg., Climbing Mount Improbable, p4). I disagree with this policy, which can backfire badly. I recently overheard a conversation among some young people in a bar about the marvels of the nano-machinery discovered inside all cells. “When you see all those fantastic little robots working away, how can you possibly believe in evolution!” one exclaimed, and another nodded wisely. Somehow these folks had gotten the impression that evolutionary biologists thought that the intricacies and ingenuities of life’s processes weren’t all that wonderful. These evolution-doubters were not rednecks; they were Harvard Medical students! They hugely underestimated the power of natural selection because they had been told by evolutionary biologists, again and again, that there is no actual design in nature, only the appearance of design. This episode strongly suggested to me that one of the themes that has been gaining ground in “common knowledge” is that evolutionary biologists are reluctant to “admit” or “acknowledge” the manifest design in nature. I recommend instead the expository policy of calling nature’s marvels design, as real as any design in the universe, but just not the products of an intelligent designer.

You can read how Dennett describes design here, in his recent cool book From Bacteria to Bach and Back.

Biology shows design. I don’t think that’s confusing or unclear, and I think it’s a mistake to make distinctions based on old dictionaries. YMMV.