Design in Nature

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017 at 2:30pm

Past Event

Though human ingenuity may make various inventions…it will never devise any inventions more beautiful, nor more simple, nor more to the purpose than Nature does; because in her inventions nothing is wanting, and nothing is superfluous…

– Leonardo da Vinci, The Da Vinci Notebooks, Vol. II, XIV: Anatomy, Zoology and Physiology

When we employ the term ‘design’ to describe the seeming aesthetic perfection of what we observe in nature, we summon—ineluctably—historical notions of teleology linked to a transcendent or immanent divinity. Regarding a seminal pagan’s ideas about nature, German scholar Eduard Zeller wrote in his 1883 Outlines of the History of Greek Philosophy,”The most important feature of the Aristotelian teleology is the fact that it is neither anthropocentric nor is it due to the actions of a creator existing outside the world or even of a mere arranger of the world, but is always thought of as immanent in nature.” Grounded as we are in our Darwinian adaptationism, can we recast previous versions of that immanence in terms of physical first principles that may lie beneath our understanding of the functional and adaptational design in (or of) nature?


Elizabeth Alter is an evolutionary geneticist, professor of biology at City University of New York (Graduate Center and York College), and Research Associate at the American Museum of Natural History. Her research focuses on understanding how aquatic biodiversity is generated and maintained, particularly in extreme environments such as river rapids and toxic urban waters, using… read more »

Adrian Bejan is the J. A. Jones Distinguished Professor at Duke University. His research is in applied physics, thermodynamics and the Constructal Law as the law of physics that governs organization and evolution in nature. He is the author of 30 books and over 600 peer-reviewed journal articles. In 2001 he was ranked among the… read more »

Professor Robin Collins is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. He earned his PhD in philosophy at the University of Notre Dame (1993) and has graduate-level training in theoretical physics from the University of Texas at Austin. He has written over forty-five substantial articles and book chapters in philosophy with some of… read more »

Mark A. Norell

Chairman of the Department of Paleontology, American Museum of Natural History

Mark A. Norell was born July 26, 1957, in St. Paul, Minnesota and spent most of his formative years (from 1964) in southern California. He received a Bachelor of Science in 1980 from Long Beach State University and a Masters of Science from San Diego State University in 1983. In 1988, he was awarded the John… read more »

Caleb Scharf

Director of Astrobiology, Columbia University

Caleb Scharf’s research career spans cosmology, exoplanetary science, and astrobiology. He currently leads efforts at Columbia University in New York to understand the nature of exoplanets and living environments in the universe. He is also a Global Science Coordinator for the Earth-Life Science Institute’s Origins Network at the Tokyo Institute for Technology and a co-founder… read more »

9 comments on “Design in Nature

    1. Yes, our roundtables generally take place at the auditorium listed on our website. There is no cost, this roundtable is free and open to the public. We hope you will be joining us!

  1. Good discussion; will there be a podcast or a video link to view, eventually of this roundtable. I want to hear/see it again. Good Earth Day content as well.

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