Today’s ID the Future is Part 2 of a recent live webinar with Eric Cassell fielding questions about his new book, Animal Algorithms: Evolution and the Mysterious Origin of Ingenious Instincts. He and host Casey Luskin explore the engineering wonders of web-spinning spiders and their extraordinary silk, and the challenge of transforming solitary insects into social insects (with their complex and interdependent caste systems) via a blind step-by-step evolutionary process, and the many thousands of genetic changes required. What does Cassell consider the best explanation? He invokes design theorist William Dembski’s work with No Free Lunch theorems to argue that blind processes are a no-go for explaining their origin. From there Luskin opens the webinar up to questions from the live audience. Have researchers tried to locate these algorithms in the DNA of the animals exhibiting complex programmed behaviors? Do any of the insects Cassell discusses use pheromones and, if so, how? What do biologists make of the apparently purposive nature of all these different kinds of complex programmed behaviors? Cassell fields these and other questions and says that more progress would be possible if not for the fact that so many scientists are infected with what he terms teleophobia — an unwillingness to recognize evidence of teleology and purpose in biology. Another question concerns examples of striking convergence among social insects and gifted animal navigators. Cassell argues that although the evolutionary community waves the term “convergent evolution” at such instances, they actually pose a powerful challenge to evolutionary theory.
On today’s ID the Future, Animal Algorithms author Eric Cassell delves into another fascinating portion of his new book, the programmed social behaviors of colony insects and the challenge these instinctive behaviors pose for modern evolutionary theory. Cassell and host Robert J. Marks discuss the complex caste system of these colonies, the impressive signaling systems they use to communicate, and how technologists study these tiny-brained creatures to learn tricks for developing and improving drone swarm technology. How could a mindless evolutionary process have evolved these sophisticated colonies, where various castes appear essential to the functioning and survival of the colony, and possess their division-of-labor skills instinctively? Some colony members also behave altruistically, a fact that Charles Darwin himself conceded posed a challenge to his theory. And what about all the growing number of orphan genes researchers are finding among colony insects—genes without any apparent evolutionary ancestry in the history of life? This too, Cassell argues, poses a major challenge to evolutionary theory. Cassell argues that underlying these complex instinctive social behaviors are complex algorithms not unlike those we find in computers; and, as he argues in the book, the best explanation for their origin is intelligent design. Learn more about the book, read the endorsements from a range of scientists and engineers, and pick up your copy here.