No. 131 DESIGN IN ECOLOGY
By Kenneth B. Cumming, Ph.D.*
Introduction. Perhaps the most frequent disagreements between crea-
tionists and evolutionists are what each group thinks about: (1) biological
variation, (2) the fossil record, and (3) the role of natural selection as a
control system. Therefore, much of the usual creation/evolution battle-
ground lies in the fields of genetics, comparative anatomy, and geology.
Yet, skirmishes spill over into other disciplines such as ecology (the
study of organisms at home') where the researchers and writers try to
explain how and why living systems (ecosystems) developed.
I will not dwell on origins or the fossil record at this time. What I will
deal with are the relatively short-term developmental aspects of the issue
as seen in the hierarchical design of living systems especially in organiza-
tion, cycles, and homeostasis. These biological properties will be used to
show that living systems are predictable, directional and conservative.
These properties support the creationist perspective and conflict with
evolution, which requires randomness, non-directional progression, and
liberal opportunity for change.
Organization. Among the signs of life, organization is probably the most
striking.2 Other signs such as metabolism, responsiveness, and repro-
duction take analysis or time to observe. However, structural complexity
is quickly recognized; it is a product of large molecule syntheses under
the direction of another giant molecule-nucleic acid. Structural and
dynamic proteins form the warp and woof of life; nucleic acids provide
From these macromolecules are built the hierarchies of anatomy. At
the micro level, cells have been shown to have intricate membranous
ultrastructure. At a higher level organisms have a finely woven fabric of
tissues. Even ecosystems have a megastructure of interconnected com-
munity practitioners. So, complex organization is one of the most im-
portant attributes that makes living systems "alive."
*Author. Dr. Cummins is chairman of the Biology Department in the
ICR Graduate School. He has the Ph.D. from Harvard University in
the field of ecology.
One might challenge this concept as stretching an analogy too far. But
other authors conclude that these patterns are real. For example,
J.G. Millers wrote a treatise on Lining Systems in 1978 (McGraw Hill)
in which he compiled an enormous amount of data to support his
general living systems theory. In a 1981 Center- Magazine excerpt of the
book Miller states:
According to general systems theory, the universe contains a hier-
archy of systems, each more advanced level made up of systems at
the next less complex level. The systems at any one level are similar
sorts of things. They are, for instance, all subatomic particles, or all
cells, or all societies... General living systems theory is concerned
with the very special subset of all systems, the lving systems. Al-
together ... there appear to be nineteen critical subsystern processes
which are identical at all levels of living systems.
Thus, there are anatomical descriptions of cells, animals, and com-
munities which pictorially display the members' appearance and loca-
tion within the organization. For example, comparative anatomy is a
well-established science that relies on the consistency of occurrence of
structures. In addition there are functional organizations. For example,
in ecology we expect to find organisms within niches performing their
"role" in the vertical and horizontal stratifications. In fact, absence of
ecological equivalents signals problems in the ecosystem. From these
recurring patterns, I conclude that living systems are predictable in
anatomical and functional organization,
Life Cycles. A property of communities familiar to all is rhythmicity,
a repeating pattern of everits. These are characterized by a beginning,
interim of consistent length, and erid. It is seen, for example, in the
daily vertical migration of small sea life, seasonal breeding of deer, and
the annual food-storing behavior of flying squirrels., However, there is a
hierarchy of cycles that apply to generations of living systems too-that
of the cell cycle, life cycle, and succession. I hold that these display direc-
tionality (i.e., start to finish on a timetable according to prescribed steps).
Various phases of activity within a cell leading to division are called
the cell cycle. One complete cycle constitutes a generation and has a
characteristic time of completion: simple cells without riuclei 20-30
minutes, complex cells with nuclei 10-25 hours.5 Nucleated cells divide
after a sequence of seven phases: initial growth-G,, chromosomal repli-
cation-S, secondary growth-G2, prophase, metaphase, anaphase, and
telophase. Although the cycle can be mariipulated experimentally, there
is a naturally characteristic cell behavior which is directional.
Existence in multicellular organisms is measured as life cycles from
conception to death. Whereas in protozoa the single cell becomes the
offspring through division, in many-celled organisms (metazoa) select
cells (usually sex cells) become the progenitors of the next generation.
The range of time for a life cycle for metazoo may be in days to hun-
dreds of years. In spite of the variety of organisms, life cycle steps may
be simplified in the following sequence:
fertilized egg > embryo > youth > adult > senility
Any number of developmental accidents can modify the end product.
Yet, there is a generally repeatable progression.
A sequence of different communities of organisms in a particular living
space (habitat) is frequently caned a succession. As an example, Horns
describes the properties of one New Jersey forest succession. He found
that soil moisture and leaf arrangement are basic factors in determining
th(t succession of this mixed forest and that the most stable end-point
(climax condition) is a mosaic of residual unique successional stages.
He concluded there was a convergence on the same final distribution of
trees no matter at which successional stage it begins. Even t[iough suc-
cession of forests, ponds, and sand dunes may occupy hundreds of
years, there is a describable recurrence of conitnunities that lead to the
end of the cycle. Therefore, living systems are consistently directional
in their activities.
Homeostasis. Horn also noted in the forest he studied that although
multilayered (leaf distribution) trees are able to grow faster than mono-
layered trees in the open environment of early succession, the shaded
understory limits the growth of the multilayered offspring. This geometric
arrangement of leaves is just one feedback mechanism in living systems
that fit under the general term homeostasis (staying the same). It is a
term generally applied to regulation of the internal environment by meta-
bolic adjustments under the pressure of variable external stimuli. How-
ever, homeostasis operates in all living systems. In cells, enzymes with
more than one active site (allosteric) are part of a feedback (cybernetic)
system to regulate intermediary metabolism. Usually negative feedback
is the governor for efficient and economical use of cell resources. For
example, synthesis of the three amino acids lysitie, threonine and
methionine is judiciously managed by allosteric control of the alternate
enzymes (isozymes) of aspartokinase.1
Temperature regulation in man is a commonly quoted example of an
organismic homeostatic mechanism. Skin thermoreceptors tell the brain
what the skin temperature is. Internal temperature is monitored in the
brain (hypothalamus), spinal cord, abdominal organs, etc. Voluntary
response from the cerebrum coupled with involuntary integration of
sympathetic nerves and thyroid hormone lead to an orchestration of heat
manipulators in the adrenal medulla, sweat glands, skin arterioles and,
skeletal muscies.8 The end of it all is a routine 98.6F +- 2' (37'C +/- lo).
With so much metabolic traffic and energy balance, a set of manage-
ment systems is essential for the survival of organisms. Homeostasis
enables these organisms to operate within their range of tolerance. Such
stabilizing mechanisms lead to conservatism in cells, organisms and
Discussion. Hardin,9 Wilder-Smith' and Parker" all refer to a famous
book Natural Theology, that was published by William Paley in 1802 in
which Paley stated that all nature speaks of the Designer behind it. The
existence of a watch proved a watchmaker; the existence of the design
(highly coded structure) in nature and matter proved the existence of a
designer behind them. By 1870, however, Darwinian theory had swept
away Natural Theology and substituted as Wilder-Smith puts it, "Design
might be designed, as it were, but design might also just as easily arise
from randomness." So thorough was the sweeping that Henderson2 in
"At length we have reached the conclusion which I was concerned
to establish. Science has finally put the old teleology to death. Its dis-
embodied spirit, freed such a ghost science has nothing to fear. The man
of science is not even from vitalism and all material ties, immortal, alone
lives on, and from obliged to have an opinion concerning its reality,
for it dwells in another world where he as scientist can never enter."
But alas, as cybernetics would have it, Hardin in his 1968 book 39
Steps to Biology suggests again that nature challenges evolutionary theory
and we should think about it. Hardin asks, "Was Paley right?" Wilder-
Smith picked up the argument referring to the findings of the computer
specialists at the 1966 symposium entitled Mathematical Challenges to
the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution in which Professor Eden
of MIT stated, "It is our contention that if random is given a serious and
crucial interpretation from a probabilistic point of view, the randomness
postulate is highly implausible."
Are these are only a few isolated examples of the reevaluation of evolution
or is the inquiry growing? Frances Hitching" wrote in the April 1982
edition of Life magazine "Was Darwin Wrong?" It is only one of many
investigative articles, reviews, and books on the subject which has
reached national concern.
Conclusion. In this article I have tried to indicate that some ecological
topics are enmeshed in the Creation/Evolution dialog. I have presented
the thought that the relatively short-term basic developmental properties
of organization, cycles, and homeostasis, at all levels, show predictable-
ness, direction, and conservativeness. These appear to be at variance
with expected properties of evolution such as randomness, variable
direction and liberal opportunity for change.
1 .Odum), Eugene, Fundamentals, (PA: W.B. Saunders Co., 1971), 574 pp.
2. Curtis, Helena and Sue Barnes, Invitation to Biology, (NY: Worth Pub., Inc., 1981), 696 pp.
3. Milier, James and Jessie Miller, "Systems Science: An Emerging Interdisciplinary Field," The Center
Magazine, V. xiv, No. 5, Sep.-Oct. 1981, pp. 44 55.
4. Smith, Robert, Ecology (inci Field Biology, (NY: Harper & Row PL,b Inc , 1974), 850 pp,
5. Sheeter, Phillip and Donald Bianchi, Cell Biolo_q_y: Structure, Biochemistry, and Function, (NY: John
Wiley & Soils, 1980), 578 pp.
6. Horn, Henry, "Forest Succession," Scientific American, V. 232, 1975, pp. 90-98.
7. Sheeter, Phillip And Donald Bianchi, op. cit.
8 U(inder, Arthtdr, lames Sherman, and Dorothy Luciano, Human Physiology, (NY: McGraw Hill Bk.
Co., 1980), 724 pp,
9. Hardin, Garrett, 39 Steps to Biology. A Scientific American book, San Francisco, 1968.
10. Wilder Smith, Arthur, 'Fhe Creation of Life: A Cybernetic Approach to Euolutio,, (IL: Harold Shaw
Publishers, 1974), 269 pp.
ii. Parke,, Gary, Creation: The Facts of Life, (San Diego: CLP Publishers, 1980), 163 pp.
12. Henderson, Laurence, The Fitness of the Enuironment, (MA: Peter Smith, 1970), 317 pp.
13. Hitching, Francis, 'Was Darwin Wrong?" Life, Apr. 1982, pp. 48-52.