May 19, 2023 | David F. Coppedge

How to Write Imperfect Nonsense Using Evolution: Cheat

Evolutionary theory, with its Stuff Happens Law,
makes nonsense more probable than sense


Adrian Bejan has not yet been shamed out of academia, so we can help—not by using ad hominems or ridicule, which would be bad, but by letting him speak for himself.

Is Evolution Like Engineering?

Like David Sloan Wilson, Adrian Bejan sees the entire universe—every molecule, every being, and every thought—in evolutionary terms. We saw him last in 2016 with a book about his “constructal law” of evolution, his claim to fame. When you think of constructing something, you probably think of planning, purpose, and intentional assembling of parts into a functional whole, like in the construction of a building. Not Bejan; evolution is his engineer, but it’s a mindless engineer (try to visualize that). Nature’s elegant functional systems, whether it be the aerodynamic wings of the albatross, the sleek body of the dolphin, or the mind of the mathematician, just happened. How can that be?

In his view, the universe is a designing presence with no mind or purpose, a goal-directed process without a goal. His constructal law is the Stuff Happens Law in a tuxedo. It is so powerful it can even construct ideas like the constructal law itself.

He said back then,

Evolution is a crucial part of how we need to define efficiency. I don’t mean evolution in the Darwinian sense. I mean that there’s a universal urge or tendency toward design and organization that changes over time in a discernible, seemingly goal-oriented direction. So it would be more accurate to call these things evolutionary design and evolutionary organization. This has nothing to do with intelligent design, by the way. It’s simply treating design and evolution as two natural scientific concepts.

If he had regarded intelligent design with respect, he surely would have been shamed out of the university years ago. His “design” impetus is purely materialistic: intelligent design without intelligence or design. But how can atoms in motion operate in a “seemingly goal-directed direction”? Within his mindless vision of reality, he pretends to find sense in sophoxymoronic phrases like evolutionary design, evolutionary organization, and apparently, evolutionary logic.

Is Evolution Like Physics?

In 2009, we saw Bejan with a colleague turning the “universal principle of evolution” into a law of nature, like physics. Evolution is his all in all; it works miracles with physics. It follows “universal design principles.” He said back then,

When thinking of evolution and Darwin, most people think of animals or trees.  That’s too bad, because design features are everywhere in nature. The constructal law can be seen as a universal principle of evolution, which applies in many fields, from physics to economics.

And so what is the meaning of life? Physics, quipped National Geographic in that article. Evolution is coextensive with physics, and with everything else. He spoke with a Nirvana-like aura. “My own thinking evolved while I was writing this book,” he pondered within his head. “I conclude with the idea that science itself is an evolutionary design that empowers humans.” It’s like a god. It has a world soul: “a universal urge or tendency toward design.”

What’s New?

Bejan has had 14 more years to develop his ideas since then. Unfortunately, the self-refuting problem with his view still escapes his notice.*

*i.e., the constructal law is a concept, not a material entity. If the constructal law engineered itself, then it is not true, because it can evolve into its opposite in time. No law explains itself. Gravity does not explain how it came to be. So in conceiving a “universal principle” of evolution, Bejan has stepped outside the material world of physics, and is doing philosophy. The only way a materialist like Bejan can do philosophy without plagiarizing immaterial concepts like those in classical epistemology or the Judeo-Christian worldview is in his imagination, through the Yoda Complex (a mental disorder that imagines rationality in self-defeating ideas).

Picturing an older Adrian Bejan, a press release from Duke announces his latest self-refuting idea:

Perfection: The Enemy of Evolution (Duke Pratt School of Engineering, 18 May 2023). Here, Bejan borrows a proverb well known to successful people who know about time-motion studies of efficiency: “the best is the enemy of the good,” or “perfection is the enemy of optimization.” These concepts make sense in a world of designing minds, but do they make sense in materialism? Not unless Bejan is entertaining some kind of world soul or vitalism, where the world is thinking about how best to achieve success. The proverb is a concept that, like his other ideas, cannot be applied in a materialistic universe. Watch him visualize evolution as an engineer:

Scientists are often trained to seek out the absolute best solution to a given problem. On a chalk board, this might look something like drawing a graph to find a function’s minimum or maximum point. When designing a turbojet engine, it might mean tweaking the rotor blades’ angles a tiny degree to achieve a tenth of a percent increase in efficiency.

Adrian Bejan, the J.A. Jones Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Duke University, was busy demonstrating the former for a class full of students when a thought struck him: this is not how nature operates. Evolution is a sequence of design changes happening on their own in a discernible direction; it never weds itself to a single point on a drawing board. An evolving system or animal is free to simply go with what works. Not so much that its performance suffers greatly, but enough that it opens access to other options near the so-called optimal design.

His concept could work in an engineering class, where students should be trained to think outside the box and not just follow the textbook; all well and good. Engineers have minds and intelligence. But notice what the reporter said: “a thought struck him.” Where did that come from?

A Thought Struck Him

Perhaps there was a random mutation. A cosmic ray might have hit one of Bejan’s neurons. It gave him a feeling of insight, of wisdom, of a a mystical truth. Endorphins flowed, and he felt tingly all over. And so, denying that God outfitted him with intelligence, altruism and a conscience (as the Judeo-Christian worldview would account for it), his selfish genes said, ‘Aha! Stuff happened! I must teach this to my students!’

Off he went with his neural flash, optimizing his materialistic vitalism (an oxymoron, notice) into a new paper in Biosystems. Notice how many conceptual words and ideals he snuck into the Stuff Happens Law:

The universal phenomenon of evolution consists of change after change in flow configuration in a time direction that is perceptible to the observer. This reality clashes with the doctrine of precise optima, minima, and maxima, now rigidly in place because of calculus and computational simulations of all kinds of flowing and changing configurations. With two dissimilar examples, access on an area (a human settlement) and along a line (animal locomotion), it is shown that even a 1-percent imperfection in performance is accompanied by a sizable bandwidth of freedom to hit the ‘target’, that is, an easily accessible design with close to perfect performance. The evolutionary designs reveal the physics behind the phenomenon of diminishing returns in the vicinity of the mathematical optimum. In evolution what works is kept.

How can a mindless, unguided physical process like evolution assess concepts like universal, reality, doctrine, calculus, computation, configuration, similar and dissimilar, perfection vs imperfection, performance, freedom, target, design, diminishing returns, mathematics, optimum, or “what works”? In evolution, death works. Extinction works. Irrationality works. What mind is watching to push evolution toward freedom and optimization, imperfect though it be?

There’s a term for reaching outside one’s own toolkit to filch for other methods of explanation: cheating.

Any sufficiently advanced evolutionary storytelling is indistinguishable from religion.

If Bejan were consistent with his own view, if he took off his Yoda mask and put back the stolen goods from the Christian toolkit, if he stopped begging the question and stopped assuming that animals evolved, and if he had to start a universe and build life with the tools he has available (chance), his words would reduce to glorified ape screeches. Actually, that’s too generous. He wouldn’t get as far as apes. The Second Law of Thermodynamics would prevent it. His first protein would fall apart in the chemical soup. Just like his arguments.

Recommended reading: “What are Words?” by Matthew Connally.



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