« Halliburton ♥s Iran | Main | GannonGate »

February 20, 2005
Intelligent Design: God is an Idiot

Jim Holt has a piece in the Times' Magazine today about the controversy over the "Intelligent Design" theory. No, sorry, I should have put "theory" inside the quotes too, since it's a theory in name only.

As the proponents of this absurd hypothesis manage to cram it into science curricula around the nation, the problems with the idea just become more and more obvious.

One of my favorite arguments against I.D. is the infinite regress. If the complexity of life on earth necessarily implies an intelligent designer, then the designer must by definition be even more complex, and therefor require a designer of its own, onward to infinity. So, under I.D., it is not possible to have one god; the theory requires infinite polytheism.

Holt brings up another big problem - if I.D. is true, then considering all of the major flaws in biological "design," we must assume that the designer " must have been lacking some divine trait -- benevolence or omnipotence or omniscience, or perhaps all three."

What can we tell about the designer from the design? While there is much that is marvelous in nature, there is also much that is flawed, sloppy and downright bizarre. Some nonfunctional oddities, like the peacock's tail or the human male's nipples, might be attributed to a sense of whimsy on the part of the designer. Others just seem grossly inefficient. In mammals, for instance, the recurrent laryngeal nerve does not go directly from the cranium to the larynx, the way any competent engineer would have arranged it. Instead, it extends down the neck to the chest, loops around a lung ligament and then runs back up the neck to the larynx. In a giraffe, that means a 20-foot length of nerve where 1 foot would have done. If this is evidence of design, it would seem to be of the unintelligent variety.

Such disregard for economy can be found throughout the natural order. Perhaps 99 percent of the species that have existed have died out. Darwinism has no problem with this, because random variation will inevitably produce both fit and unfit individuals. But what sort of designer would have fashioned creatures so out of sync with their environments that they were doomed to extinction?

The gravest imperfections in nature, though, are moral ones. Consider how humans and other animals are intermittently tortured by pain throughout their lives, especially near the end. Our pain mechanism may have been designed to serve as a warning signal to protect our bodies from damage, but in the majority of diseases -- cancer, for instance, or coronary thrombosis -- the signal comes too late to do much good, and the horrible suffering that ensues is completely useless.

And why should the human reproductive system be so shoddily designed? Fewer than one-third of conceptions culminate in live births. The rest end prematurely, either in early gestation or by miscarriage. Nature appears to be an avid abortionist, which ought to trouble Christians who believe in both original sin and the doctrine that a human being equipped with a soul comes into existence at conception. Souls bearing the stain of original sin, we are told, do not merit salvation. That is why, according to traditional theology, unbaptized babies have to languish in limbo for all eternity. Owing to faulty reproductive design, it would seem that the population of limbo must be at least twice that of heaven and hell combined.

New York Times

In the end, I.D. is nothing more than a clever gambit by the religious right to take down evolution. They spread lies about evolution and posit this idea as a viable alternative, even though no respectable scientist gives it any credence since it cannot be tested. So even more fundamentally, what this whole mess is doing is creating school systems all over the country where children are being deliberately confused as to what is the basic definition of science itself. As with our political debate, the popular idea these days is that anyone's ideas, no matter how obviously flawed or blatantly biased, are as valid as anyone else's. Demonstrable truth doesn't even come into play.

Finally, to amplify Holt's point a bit, there's this story. What kind of a crackpot designer would come up with this mess?

parasitic twin


Previous Comments

If man evolved from monkeys and apes, why do we still have monkeys and apes. No system has been has been proven, therefore all are theories are just that. Theories. Why do we teach one system as the gospel truth and then leave out the gospel truth?

As for the 2 headed baby, possibly some manmade disaster led to that. We do like to interfere with nature on a regular basis. Besides, Darwin would call this progress. A mutation! Maybe we need 2 heads to keep up with the tax codes and ever increasing traffic flow!

First, I agree with you that I.D. is at best a critique of evolutionary theory. I.D. is not falsifiable, does not explain more facts than evolution does, and has extensive evidence gathering problems. No matter how much they wish upon a star, I.D. is not a legitimate counter-theory to evolutionary theory.

As the Catholics know, I.D. isn't really a very good critiqeu of evolutionary theory either.

However, the problem with your argument is that you cover ground better served by a understanding of theodicy and you jump to the simple conclusion much too quickly:


The important question: How is the goodness of God possible when evil exists in the world?

Don't let the existence of evil, disasters, sickness, etc..., lead you to atheism too quickly.

Brad, your first objection shows a misunderstanding of the theory of evolution. Your second assertion shows a misunderstanding of what the word 'theory' means.

Evolution does not state that when one organism evolves into another, the original organism no longer exists. Mutations produce branches in the evolutionary tree that go in different directions. There is no reason the trunk from which the branch grew must cease to exist.

As for your theory thing: 'Theory' is not a synonym for 'opinion' or 'hypothesis.' A theory is, by definition, an idea that not only CAN be tested, but HAS BEEN tested repeatedly and found to predict observations of the natural world. As any (real) scientist will tell you, NOTHING has been proven beyond all doubt. There is not absolute truth in science, only well-tested theories.

The "gospel truth", so called, is not testable nor does it predict natural events. It is not a theory; it's theology. If we allow any old idea, no matter how unverifiable, to be taught as science, where does it end? You can teach creationism if you want, but teach it in religious schools and teach it AS religion. It is NOT science.

Oh, and Darwin obviously never said that every mutation was progress. In fact, the vast majority are quite the opposite according to the theory. It usually helps to have at least a vague understanding of the ideas you're criticizing.

As for you Fritz, you condescend as usual. You should really work on your tone. You also, once again, mischaracterize my argument. My argument is not that god can't exist because there is evil in the world - as you say, that is a different argument. My argument is specifically against the ideas put forth by I.D., and it simply shows that their dumb-ass hypothesis doesn't make this "designer" they're so fond of sound all that intelligent. They tend to defend their ideas by citing the beauty and perfection of biology, so this argument simply calls into question just how perfect it all really is. Evolution explains these anomalies quite well, I.D. not at all.

Sure, someone could argue that the "flaws" are all part of the design, and on and on, but in any case, it's only one of the lesser flaws in I.D. It has many, many far more egregious problems. Your initial critique is a good start, but is doesn't go far enough. I.D. is at best a load of crap, and it does not explain a single thing, much less explain more than evolution. It not only has "extensive evidence gathering problems," but it has no evidence whatsoever. Just tell it like it is, man - no need to try to fancy it up - it's complete bunk.

As for my atheism (I suppose I am, by most definitions, an atheist), I don't have to justify it anymore than you (or anyone else) has to justify their religiosity. Logical arguments for or against the existence of god, are interesting exercises, but in essence pretty silly. I reject the premise, so the argument doesn't go very far with me.

The point is not about god, the point is about religion masquerading as science, separation of church and state, and the children of this country being deliberately misled by radicals who want to impose their beliefs on the rest of us. If they want to live in a country where the religious authorities decide what truth is and have the power to reject established scientific principles based on kooky superstitions, they should move to Iran and leave my country the hell alone.

Have you ever read "Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution" by Kenneth R. Miller? It's really a great book.

A couple thoughts about your assertions.

1.Your ideas on "infinite regress" are interesting. Are you assuming that the theory of intelligent design points to any one designer? Your question seems more philosophical or religious that scientific here.

2. Your mention of major flaws in biological "design," makes me think you are trying to argue the case for Jews and Christians who speak of sin posioning creation. Are you a Jew or Christian under cover?

3. Flaws in present day species point away from macro evolutionary theory (where problem organisim's don't live to breed) and where survival of the fittest makes bad genetics a fatal liability.
The (genetic) problems in current organisims is claimed by creationists to say that a "good creation" has over time suffered the ravages of time. Creationists would say that their "Adam and Eve" were genetically better than you and I but that genetic damage has taken a toll.

Bravo! It's refreshing to see someone championing Darwinism and challenging intellegent design (qv creation). Creationists habitually throw uninformed challenges at Darwinism ("If man evolved from monkeys and apes, why do we still have monkeys and apes..."; Darwin never said we evolved from monkeys and apes, he suggested that apes and humans had a common ancestor)
To risk beating a dead horse, I'm a proponent of the seperation of church and state, and teaching "intellegent design" in public schools is a blatant violation of that. Passing off this pseudo-science as fact is unconstitutional at best, criminal at worst.
Darwinism has represented a threat to mainstream theology for over 150 years but will soon follow its brethren (the round-earth theory, the Earth-revolves-around-the-Sun theory, and the Earth-is-not-the-center-of-the-universe theory) As George Bernard Shaw once noted, All great truths begin as blasphemies.

I had to comment on the baby photo. It's not Photoshopped (love using a software title as a verb). And stuff like that has been happening throughout history. There was a complete documentary about it on Discovery.

By the way, doctors removed the parasitic head. The baby survived but had brain damage. The second head had it's own brain, but the division between the two brains was not clear.

The second brain did not have organs; therefore the title "parasitic twin" comes about.

The should be the second twin did not have vital organs (no heart, lungs, intestines, etc).

A brain is an organ. Duh.