Design – it’s everywhere


Of course I’m using “design” as a noun – a pattern or shape, sometimes repeated. Not as the verb – to make a detailed plan of the form or structure of something. We see patterns or shapes in almost everything but that does not imply that the patterns were created by intelligent agents. In fact, if we assume that to be the case we will never understand the underlying causes of patterns or design.

Forget about Mt Rushmore, or the watch Rev. Paley found on the ground. As a chemist I’m attracted to the design/pattern apparent in crystals. Consider mineralogy. There are some fascinating and beautiful examples of crystalline minerals. Have a look at the Mineral Image Index for for some great photos of minerals.

Soil mineralogy

I have always found microscopic investigation of soil fascinating. Most people just take soil for granted and are unaware of what it is composed of. Microscopes, particularly high resolution scanning and transmission electron microscopes, reveal design/pattern at the finest level. These images are of clay minerals, present as very small particles in soil.

Goethite needles wrapped like skeins of wool

Tubular halloysite



Crystals provide us with much more than a beautiful form to be appreciated. They reveal information on the atoms, ions and molecules from which they are composed. Our understanding of chemistry has helped us understand how, and why, these crystals form. And the presence of different mineral forms in geological deposits and soils has helped us understand the geological and pedogenic processes that have occurred, and are occurring, on our planet.

Our understanding of these clay minerals, and the information they have given us about mineral formation and soil forming processes, would not have been possible if we “explained them away” as resulting from “intelligent design.” No, that explanation would have been a real science stopper. It would maybe have provided us with an emotionally satisfying story (if we find such stories emotionally satisfying).

But it would not have any way aided our understanding of reality.

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9 responses to “Design – it’s everywhere

  1. Stunning images, Ken – thank you for sharing them πŸ™‚


  2. I love electron micrographs, especially SEMs for their three dimensional images. I’ve got one from a NZ calender many years ago, put out by some microscopy society. Love to know if they still do one.


  3. Indeed,
    You can be an atheist or a flaming creationist and still appreciate the beauty of this design.


  4. @ Heraclides:

    I think there used to be a national competition for the most artistic electron micrograph. Maybe the results went into calendars.


  5. @Ken:

    Sounds like what it was. Makes sense anyway.


  6. @ Dale Campbell:

    Obviously I can’t really speak for the creationist.

    However, I find it hard to imagine that a creationist would be capable of experiencing the emotions that come with appreciating the origins of design (pattern) in these images as arising from the electronic properties of the atoms involved. Or in appreciating how these minerals formed and how they will transform into other minerals. The beauty of seeing soils and other geological features in their development – formation of parent materials and the transformation into different mineral species under the action of climate and other soil forming processes. And the emotional satisfaction of appreciating how this information can be used for humanity to interact positively with our environment to provide food – and to enable wise management so that the environment is preserved (so soil is not treated like dirt).

    As I say – I can’t speak for the creationist. However, it does seem to me that an outlook which insists on magical (supernatural) explanations for design – explanations which don’t enable seeing soil in its development – would provide a rather sterile and shallow appreciation of the beauty of this design.


  7. Konstantin Kovler

    Very nice high-resolution micrograph of kaolinite! Can I use it in the introduction of my paper about metakaolin? Of course, I add “Courtesy of …”


  8. Konstantin – I lifted the photo either from a book or from the American Soil Science Society collection. You would have to get permission from them.


  9. Hi, very excited to see this blog. I just want to know where do you get the goethite SEM image. If it is from reference, could you give me more information of this article. If it is done by you, could you just give me a short reply to my email address. Thank you. I just got the similar images from SEM and am not quite sure if they are the same mineral. This is something very important to me. Hope you can see this comment and then we can have a discussion.


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