The metaphysical question of design
I was searching for photographic fodder a few weeks ago and thought that grasses made for a nice study in symmetry. Before I go any further, allow me to tip my hat to the good influence of fellow blogger, Steven Schwartzman at Portraits of Wildflowers. My intent here is not to belabor the biology of grasses or to talk about how it is that these plants are, as hay, the sole source of protein for my sheep, but rather to ask you to consider the beauty of such things. Although I cannot tell you about the plant in the last image, the first two are of Timothy grass. The first shows the spikelets which cover the flowering head early in the growing season while the second shows the delicate inflorescence which develops several weeks later. The purple structures at the periphery are the stamens and the pistils are deeper in, light-colored, and feathery. I thought these thee images, presented as they are, made for pleasant triptich of sorts. Such beautiful things. In some other Universe perhaps Nature (if it should exist there) will be plain and not much to look at. But as it exists here on Earth, Nature is surely beautiful and a delight to behold. Have you ever wondered why? Is Nature inherently beautiful or is it beautiful only because we are here to observe and to judge it so? And what is beauty anyway? Now there’s a whopper for any philosopher to chew on. Perhaps what I meant to say is that Nature is awesome, in the traditional sense of inspiring a feeling of reverence or admiration, and not in the vernacular in which it means cool. Why, for example, is the flowering head of Timothy covered with spikelets and not uniform and plain? Why, in the mature inflorescence, are the stamens purple and the pistils feathery? Why such color, and such adornment? And, what about the different arrangement of seeds in the grass in the last frame? Why such evidence of thoughtful design? That, my friend, is and has been, one of the most hotly-debated questions in all of modern science. How is it that these objects of admiration seem so well and purposefully designed? The Argument from Design is an old explanation with a history that goes back well before one of its most eloquent proponents, Sir William Paley. It states that evidence for the existence of the diety is reflected, in part, in the very good design of organisms. The alternate view, which explains that good design is simply a side-consequence of Natural Selection, has been most vociferously espoused by Richard Dawkins, especially in his book The Blind Watchmaker. This post is not an invitation to debate, but rather a call to unanimous consent that, regardless of the mechanism that makes it that way, the beauty to be found Nature is truly a delight to behold.