Plagiarizing God: “Biomimicry” Assumes Intelligent Design

Scientists who mimic creation’s design unknowingly glorify the Creator.


John Stonestreet

Shane Morris

If it’s true that actions speak louder than words and, if this applies to science, then the idea of Intelligent Design is a lot more popular than many scientists let on. For example, from his assumed Darwinian framework, atheist Richard Dawkins famously described biology as “the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” In Dawkins’ worldview, living things were not designed at all, but are the result of aimless natural forces operating over eons. A simpler word for that would be “accidents.” 

Yet, as Jonathan Witt pointed out recently at Evolution News and Views, those “accidents” have a curious habit of upstaging human technology and even teaching humans how to improve our designs. That’s the realization behind what Witt calls the “hottest branch of experimental biology”: biomimicry. Or as my colleague Shane Morris likes to call it, plagiarizing God.  

Biomimicry is the practice of observing designs, processes, and systems in the living world and copying them to improve the function and efficiency of human technology. As Witt points out, biomimicry “adopts as a working heuristic the view that biological systems are optimally engineered.” The problem is that efficiency and elegance are the opposite of what we should expect according to a Darwinian view.  

At the recent Conference on Engineering in Living Systems in Denton, Texas, as Witt described, a growing number of designers reported on the living systems they were looking to for inspiration, and they discussed surprising designs scientists might never have discovered had they stayed in the lab. For example, Japanese bullet trains have been designed to imitate the shapes of kingfisher bird beaks, dramatically reducing noise, drag, and electricity use. Better ventilation systems are now modeled on the naturally air-conditioned burrows of prairie dogs. New bacteria-resistant surfaces mimic the texture of shark skin. And wind turbines are now equipped with drag-reducing “tubercles” modeled on the fins of humpback whales and arranged in the pattern of a flock of birds for optimal airflow. 

There are even fruitful insights afoot based on our feet. Stuart Burgess, Professor of Engineering and Design at Bristol University, explained at the conference that the “pentadactyl,” or five-toed foot so common among land vertebrates, “provides an optimal tradeoff between strength and flexibility/dexterity.” Grow more than five toes, and you have less strength, but consolidate strength in one big toe and you have no flexibility. Witt concluded: “Five digits thus represent what engineers describe as a constrained optimization of competing attributes.” In other words, the natural design of the foot is the optimal design, but that is not what you’d expect from the product of a blind process.  

Janine Benyus is the scientist who coined the term “biomimicry.” In a marvelous explainer video from Vox, Benyus offered other examples, such as paint modeled after self-cleaning, water-repellant lotus leaves, car navigation systems based on how ants direct traffic, and even ideas for how to better manage waste in a modern economy inspired by the way ecosystems recycle nutrients. Also, did you know that Velcro is copied from plants 

Benyus concluded that “[t]he people who design our world usually never take a biology class … so they’re novices in how the world works.” However, Benyus continued, “Life has been around on Earth for 3.8 billion years—and what designers are starting to realize is that that is a lot of research and development time.”  

But is even a few billion years enough time for blind chance and natural selection to produce technical marvels that human inventors cannot match? For years, scientists in the Intelligent Design movement have argued that there are identifiable features of living systems that no unguided process could produce, no matter how much time was available. Authors like Michael Behe and Stephen Meyer have shown how irreducibly complex living things display engineering foresight, how specified information in DNA parallels digital code, and how many features of living things show an understanding of physics that blind processes simply don’t have.  

As one chemist at the Texas conference admitted, many scientists “disbelieve in God but plagiarize him all the time.” Ironically, he continued, even “when they manage the copying feat, they usually do so in a way inferior to the original.” 

Only those who are committed to materialism should be surprised by the optimally designed things we find in the world and the spectacular results they yield. The most logical explanation is that living things are designed by an Engineer far more competent than we are. Biomimicry is an example of the limits our worldview imposes on us and on how fruitfully we can interact with reality. To some extent, we find what we expect to find.  

And inconsistency can be just as revealing. Materialists may deny God due credit for creation, but if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then modern science and engineering are grudgingly giving Him glory. 

This Breakpoint was co-authored by Shane Morris. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to 


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Have a Follow-up Question?

Related Content