[Note: Cross-posted at New Covenant]

As a follow-up to my February 9th post, Science Saturday: Declaring the existence of transitional species post, I’d like to give you a lesson plan (of sorts), with the purpose of illustrating the concept of gradual, progressive engineering and design.

Consider the following sequence (per Wikipedia), and accompanying images, regarding the internal combustion engine:

  1. circa 1206: Al-Jazari described a double-acting reciprocating piston pump with a crankshaft-connecting rod.
  2. circa 1509: Leonardo da Vinci described a compressionless engine.
  3. circa 1826: Samuel Morey received a patent for a compressionless “Gas or Vapor Engine.” (image per Vern Maine & Assoc.)
  4. circa 1856: Pietro Benini realized a working prototype of the Barsanti-Matteucci engine… In subsequent years he developed more powerful engines—with one or two pistons—which served as steady power sources, replacing steam engines (emphasis added).
  5. circa 1876: Nikolaus Otto, working with Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach, developed a practical four-stroke cycle (Otto cycle) engine.
  6. circa 1882: James Atkinson invented the Atkinson cycle engine. Atkinson’s engine had one power phase per revolution together with different intake and expansion volumes, making it more efficient than the Otto cycle.
  7. circa 1951: The Wankel rotary engine… a type of internal combustion engine which uses a rotor to convert pressure into a rotating motion instead of using reciprocating pistons.
  8. circa 20th & 21st century: Rotary Atkinson-cycle engines are used in hybrid vehicles.* A Wankel rotary engine is well-suited for use as an aircraft engine.**

What we see, in this sequence, is a progression from simple to complex, from primitive to advanced, and from limited application to diversified, specialized applications. We see all of this not because of some deterministic, natural progression, but because of intentional, thoughtful engineering and design. Thoughts can only come from minds, and to advance from the 1206 A.D. concept of a piston pump, to the hybrid vehicle and aircraft applications of a 21st century rotary engine, requires a relatively simple process known as… intelligent design.

It is interesting to note that the initial engine designs, due to the technology of the time, were limited to stationary applications (e.g., pumps). As time marched on, however, better engineering and technology allowed for better designs, thereby providing additional applications (e.g., steam engine locomotives). Further technological improvements allowed for “gas or vapor” engines to essentially replace steam engines, thereby setting the stage for applications on smaller, moving units.

Another interesting feature, in the evolution of the internal combustion engine, is that an earlier engine design (i.e., 1882 Atkinson-cycle) is used, in a rotary mode, for some hybrid vehicles today. The Wankel rotary engine, developed in the 1950s, now finds excellent application within the design parameters of aircraft. Consider that, in the 1880s, there were no hybrid vehicles or heavier-than-air aircraft.

So, what does this evolutionary sequence tell us? It tells us that, the design of internal combustion engines,

  • while initially simple and primitive, progressed through a series of steps, into more complex and advanced states (e.g., compare a piston pump to a four-stroke engine);
  • while initially limited in application, progressed through a series of steps, into more diversified, as well as specialized, applications (e.g., a stationary pump vs. an airplane);
  • have taken advantage of the technology at hand and, in some cases, have had certain applications superseded by more advanced and efficient technologies (e.g., external combustion engine replaced by internal combustion);
  • despite the variety of designs, utilize a basic template in order to convert kinetic energy to work, and that basic template is evident in the various types of engines seen today (e.g., two-stroke, Wankel).

When analyzing the history of the internal combustion engine, it is reasonable to apply the concepts of design to the data seen. If, for whatever reason, there was a gap in our historical database of engine development (e.g., A to ? to C), we would be reasonable in positing that the gap would be filled with an engine which equates to a “B” (i.e., a developmental bridge between A and C). We would make this prediction based on the notion that design advancements progress not simply on newly acquired knowledge (as is the case with human derived design), but also based on the notion of design parameters and prerequisites, and operating conditions. Therefore, it would be unreasonable to posit that an aircraft engine would be found at a time when aircraft were not technologically feasible or in existence (although it is certainly not unreasonable to posit that a mind could have conceived of the possibility of such an engine). However, it would be reasonable to predict that hybrid vehicle engines would be found at a time when technology not only permitted their existence, but when cultural standards drove their development.

With that in mind, take a look at the NOVA vodcast Evidence for Evolution, from 11/9/07 (note: you can also subscribe to the NOVA vodcasts, using this link). In the video, we hear,

NARRATOR: Darwin believed that evidence for his idea of common ancestry would be unearthed in the form of transitional fossils. For example, if, over millions of years, fish gave rise to land animals, as evolutionary theory predicts, we should find fossils of extinct creatures that are part fish and part land animal.

In 1999, paleontologist Neil Shubin and his colleagues set out to find just such a creature.

NEIL SHUBIN: What evolution enables us to do is to make specific predictions about what we should find in the fossil record. The prediction in this case is clear-cut. That is, if we go to rocks of the right age, and the rocks of the right type, we should find transitions between two great forms of life, between fish and amphibian.

NARRATOR: Many scientists think life began in the water, at least three and a half billion years ago. More recently, about 375 million years ago, the tree of life branched as primitive fish evolved into amphibians, such as today’s frogs and salamanders, which live part of their lives on land.

Armed with this prediction, Shubin and his colleagues organized an expedition to one of the most desolate places on Earth, the Canadian Arctic, about 500 miles from the North Pole, where rocks of just the right age are exposed. Here, they hoped to fill a gap in the branch of the evolutionary tree that leads from primitive fish to animals with four limbs, or “tetrapods,” by finding a fossil of an animal that shared characteristics of both.

NEIL SHUBIN: …in 2004, …a colleague of mine was removing rock and discovered a little snout sticking out the side of the cliff… And he removed more rock and more rock and more rock, and it became clear this was a snout of a flat-headed animal. And that’s when we knew. Flat-headed animal at 375-million years old? This is going to be something interesting.

NARRATOR: They called it Tiktaalik, which means “large, fresh water fish,” in the language of the local Inuit people. And it’s one of the most vivid transitional fossils ever discovered, showing how land animals evolved from primitive fish.

NEIL SHUBIN: Over here you have a fish of about 380-million years old. And, just like any good fish, it has scales on its back and fins. You compare that to an amphibian, and you find a creature that doesn’t have scales, and it’s modified the fins to become limbs, arms and legs. And the head’s very different. It has a flat head with eyes on top and a neck.

What we see when we look at the fossil record, at rocks of just the right age, is a creature like Tiktaalik. Just like a fish, it has scales on its back, and fins. You can see the fin webbing here. Yet when we look at the head, you see something very different. You see a very amphibian-like thing, with a flat head, with eyes on top. It gets even better when we take the fin apart. When we look inside the fin, as in this cast here, what you’ll see is bones that compare to our shoulder, elbow, even parts of the wrist—bone for bone. So you have a fish, at just the right time in the history of life, that has characteristics of amphibians and primitive fish. It’s a mix.

NARRATOR: And just as evolutionary theory predicts, Tiktaalik suggests a tree of life, with one species giving rise to another over millions of years.

So, what we have here is a case of progressive forms, moving from one application to another, suitable to the parameters of the operating conditions (ecosystem). A gap is encountered and it is predicted that the form that will be found in the time sequence will be structured in a form between the earlier and later forms (in this case it is predicted a “fimb”, which is a cross between a fin and a limb, will be found). This is the accompanying illustration:

At this point, the questions we need to ask, are: Does finding an intermediate form, in between earlier and later forms, provide us with enough justification to conclude that the intermediate form was naturally derived from its alleged predecessor, and that it eventually led to its alleged successor? Are there other morphological issues we should be addressing? Does the fact that the intermediate form appears fully functional for its environment have bearing? Does the fact that we have found intermediate forms, and not transitional structures (between the forms), indicate that one led to the other? How do we account for the decidedly different structure of the heads between the first and second forms? How do we account for any internal organ differences between the three species? By positing that Tiktaalik rosae is, indeed, a transitional fossil, are we not imposing an idea (i.e., natural process evolution) on the data? Lastly, does the data shown fit in with a design-engineering sequence, as illustrated above with the internal combustion engine?

Additional unwarranted extrapolations, based primarily on visual similarity, are offered at the NOVA website (although notice how, in the case of birds, the initial example is younger than the last):

Not to be outdone, I’ll leave you with some similar examples of evolution, except that these are from the design-engineering realm:

Per Wikipedia:

* While a modified four-stroke engine using the Atkinson cycle provides good fuel economy, it is at the expense of a lower power-per-displacement than a traditional four-stroke. If the engine is only run at high powers intermittently, then the power of the engine can be supplemented by an electric motor during times when high power is needed. This forms the basis of an Atkinson-cycle-based hybrid electric drivetrain. These electric motors can be used independently of, or in combination with, the Atkinson-cycle engine, to provide the most efficient means of producing the desired power.

** A severely overheated Wankel engine cannot seize, as would likely occur in an overheated piston engine. This is a substantial safety benefit in aircraft use since no valves can burn out.

A further advantage of the Wankel engine for use in aircraft is the fact that a Wankel engine can have a smaller frontal area than a piston engine of equivalent power. The simplicity of design and smaller size of the Wankel engine also allows for savings in construction costs, compared to piston engines of comparable power output. Due to a 50% longer stroke duration compared to a four stroke engine, there is more time to complete the combustion. This leads to greater suitability for direct injection.

Of perhaps the most importance is that Wankel engines are almost immune to catastrophic failure. A Wankel that loses compression, cooling or oil pressure will lose a large amount of power, and will die over a short period of time, however it will usually continue to produce some power during that time. Piston engines under the same circumstances are prone to seizing or breaking parts that almost certainly results in complete internal destruction of the engine and instant loss of power. For this reason Wankel engines are very well suited to aircraft.

[tags]creation, evolution, fazale rana, fuz rana, ID, intelligent design, old earth creation, reasons to believe, Tiktaalik roseae[/tags]

Filed under: EvolutionIntelligent DesignRustyScience

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