Suppose in July 1969 two men watched the Saturn V rocket launch the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. One marveled at the power of nature’s cosmic
siphon acting on the rocket to lift it off the pad and accelerate it upward. The other said that liftoff was actually caused by a natural phenomenon called “natural projection” that was inevitable if compressed combustible fuels were released and ignited in a cone, directing violently expanding gases downward with sufficient thrust to lift the rocket. When conditions that permit “natural projection” occur, he said, liftoff “just happens.”1

But a NASA engineer standing behind them explained that there was no measurable cosmic siphoning force “acting on” the rocket. Nor did the launch “just happen.” The rocket itself possessed designed features facilitating the exact conditions the second man labeled “natural projection.” Liftoff was due to the purposeful outworking of those innate features.

The engineer pointed out how neither of their concepts—or descriptive words—truly reflected reality. Why? They mistakenly ascribed the rocket’s operative power to entirely imaginary 09 and external things that, in effect, took credit for the rocket designer’s built-in functions.

The Crucial Question: Is Adaptive Power External or Internal?

Does functional power reside internally or externally? That is the crucial question in explaining how rockets work or how organisms adapt to environmental conditions. Note that in all cases, function results from the operation of information-based systems. Intelligence is the source of that type of power. For organisms, these are DNA-based systems that enable reproduction of variable traits that are heritable.

Accurately distinguishing the power controlling actions is very different from quibbling over how to describe an action. It may be silly to argue whether a certain action is best described as “a woman walked out her front door” or “a woman walked out of her house.” But accurately identifying the power behind the action is important when another meaning—like “a woman was pulled out of her house”—could be implied….

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