How jellyfish prove Intelligent Design (according to ID advocates)

Moon Jellyfish
The Moon Jellyfish, Aurelia aurita.
Photo by Luc Viatour.
From Wikimedia Commons.


On October 6, The Discovery Institute’s ID site “Evolution News and Science Today:” reprised (here) a 2015 post by David Coppege. A few days later, at the site Uncommon Descent, their regular poster “caspian”, whom they identify as physicist Dr. Eric Hedin, noted that post and quoted much of its content.

The 2015 post was based on two interesting reports in The Conversation. One, by Megan Leftwich of George Washington University, described her lab’s work on the efficiency with which sea lions swim. The other, by Akshat Rathi, who interviewed Neelesh Patankar of Northwestern University and John Dabiri of Caltech reports studies that show that jellyfish are unusually efficient in their use of energy in swimming, because they can recover some of the energy they exert.

The reports in The Conversation are interesting reports on very effective adaptations. But they do not contain any discussion of Intelligent Design. Here our heroes David Coppege and Dr. Eric Hedin come to the rescue.

We’re used to seeing sites like Evolution News and Uncommon Descent present reports on particularly impressive adaptations, with the implication that such a good adaptation must surely be the result of Design Intervention and could not have been brought about by ordinary evolutionary forces such as natural selection.

This handwaving is not for David Coppege, who has a degree in physics, or Eric Hedin, who took his doctorate in that field at my own university. Coppege makes the argument more specific:

If the world’s best human designers are attempting to build machines to mimic what these animals “naturally do,” it’s a reasonable inference that sea lions and jellyfish originated from an intelligent cause — one with superior knowledge of propulsion, fluid mechanics, and optimization.

Dr. Hedin does not add anything to this, but quotes Coppege’s report extensively and approvingly.

We’ve seen an Argument From Jellyfish and commented on it here before. That post reported on one from Uncommon Descent in 2021, by Dr. Hedin’s colleague Denyse O’Leary, the previous most frequent poster at that site. She cited a more recent report of how jellyfish conserve energy while swimming. She had a somewhat different take on why this supported Intelligent Design:

Either jellyfish are smarter than we think or there is design in nature.

So there we have two fascinating takes on why an excellent adaptation strongly indicates Design Intervention: because natural selection could not do something that works better than what human engineers can design, or because jellyfish are too dumb to know how to design themselves.