Dembski's blissful misunderstanding of design
William Dembski, over at the Giant Flagellum blog (Uncommon Descent) has once again seen fit to display the shallowness of his approach to design, not to mention "design."
In a silly entry about vestigial structures he notes at the end,
"But vestigiality need not evolve by purely material means — it can also be designed. I was delighted to be informed (after my recent debate with Michael Shermer at Bridgewater College) of a nifty example of vestigial structures that arise not through “devolution” but rather through design, to wit, vestigial running boards on older automobiles. Look at the following Ford models:" [Followed by pictures of old cars with pseudo-running boards and one with a fully functional running-board.]Once again I'll observe that "design" advocates appear to pointedly avoid deeper consideration of the qualities of real design, opting instead for the convenience of imprudent inferences which support their religious convictions.
Fortunately this mistake on Dembski's part is simply and quickly corrected, so let's put it right: a vestigial structure or organ is one that has lost, or nearly lost, any discernible function by way of a release of selection pressure. In other words, vestigiality is a case of disuse and (sometimes) deterioration due to a lack of need. As such, vestigiality presents difficulty for some shallow versions of "design" (such as Dembski's). Thus he tries to offer an analogy with human design (a fatally flawed argument to be sure) which would support the notion that vestigiality need not be incompatible with "intelligent design."
His problem is that the supposedly vestigial running-boards to which he refers are simply nothing of the sort. They are, in fact, stark examples of functionality. Those structures may no longer serve the original purpose of a running-board, but they in no way represent a loss of function. They were designed and manufactured to be exactly what they are - probably ornamentation, but possibly structural support and/or mechanical protection of the door - and where they are.
They are not vestigial at all. We might be forgiven, however, for wishing that Dembski's argument was.
Update - Dembski adds to the silliness with another post.