“The wings of a butterfly are meant to avoid” … and other design language
My recent flutterby into the symmetical design of a butterfly elicited some fine comments including the following highly informed and articulate comment from Victoria Palmer:
Actually the pattern on the wings of a butterfly is more to deter predators then to attract a mate. Mates are found by smell, or pheromones. In fact, some female butterflies are inseminated by the males while they are still in the chrysalis. The wings of a butterfly are meant to avoid being someones dinner. They may try to trick predators into thinking that the butterfly is actually a bird, by mimicking the patterns of feathers and eyes on each wing, as seen on the wings of Owl and Morpho Butterflies among others. They may also be attempting to make the predator think they are poisonous (bright coloured insects are usually poisonous or pretending to be) like the Viceroy. Another method is camoflauge. The colour and pattern on many types of butterflies wings help them to blend into the their habbitat and stay alive.
I have altered Victoria’s comment in one respect: I added red colored font to the design language. This is hardly unusual (the design language that is, not the adding of red coloring to font, although I suspect that isn’t that unusual either). Indeed, anyone who has spent time watching Lorne Greene’s “New Wilderness” or Marty Stouffer’s “Wild America” a generation ago, or (more recently) anything narrated by David Attenborough (most notably the magisterial “Earth” and “Life in the Undergrowth”) or PBS’ program “Nature” will encounter time and again narrators depending constantly upon recourse to design language. In other words, the tendency to see design written into “the nature of things” (with a nod to Canadian David Suzuki), the ubiquity of our tendency to fall back into design language and explanations, is certainly telling.
A reasonable way to approach epistemology is to treat our belief dispositions as innocent until proven guilty. If we have strong predispositions to believe there are minds other than our own, and that there is an external material world, that moral oughts depends on more than fleeting subjective preference, that the world looks old because it is, that animals feel pain, and so on, then we ought to accept these beliefs unless we have very strong reasons to deny them.
Victoria’s informed discussion of the multiple purposes of butterfly wings illustrates once again that this is also true of design language when thinking about the natural world, be it butterfly wings that are for tricking predators, or an eye that is for seeing, or a heart that is for pumping blood, or a mouth that is for putting a foot into (as I have been known to do).
So with that in mind, what reason do we have to treat such language as a mere facon de parler (apart that is from the changing of theological fashions)?