Would You Like Science With That?

We’re launching headfast and headfirst out of the gate this morning with a Big Intellectual Question That’s Occurred To Us But Is Far Better Articulated Here. Tom Vanderbilt gets into–via the iPod–a discussion of capital-I capital-D Intelligent Design, the ontology that always seems to keep on kicking no matter how hard the seculars try and keep it down. Vanderbilt, writing at Design Observer, takes it back old-school.

In 1802, the English philosopher William Paley, in a kind of predecessor to ID, famously used the case of coming across a rock and a watch in a field. Unlike the rock, the watch consists of the complex interplay of a number of moving parts, each of which is required to make it function. “The inference is inevitable,” said Paley. “The watch must have a maker.”

Cut to the semi-deity of Steve Jobs and the design for the iPod, which, Vanderbilt points out, could look like something that escaped Athena-style from the (we’re guessing) terrifyingly capable inner workings of Jobs’ design mind. Here’s the rub: it didn’t.

In the real world, design is Darwinian. To consider the iPod, it did not spring fully formed from the mind of a powerful Designer, but rather it represents one distinct point on a long evolutionary timeline. We would have to go back at least as far as the introduction of recorded music, then trace the increasing portability of that music, through car radios and miniaturized transistor radios after World War II. We would then have to move from the transistor radio with single earpiece to the stereo cassette Walkman, which gave the user the opportunity to listen to what they wanted, when they wanted, in a hermetically sealed mobile environment.