What If Intelligent Design Wasn’t a Cheap Ploy?

Brent Meeker


Intelligent Design is part of Phillip Johnson's wedge strategy that aims to replace a scientific world view with the ancient superstitions of Christianity. The IDers like Behe and Dembski just criticize Darwinian evolution by asserting that this or that biological structure just couldn't have arisen by evolution. It's no more than William Paley's argument from failure of imagination dressed up in a lab coat.

But ID could be a scientific theory. For example ID'ers might put forward a theory that life on Earth was created by very clever engineers from some advanced civilization; which is in fact the theory of Raellians. Suppose these alien engineers came here and made all life forms using technology that is beyond what we have, but certainly within the realm of current physics and chemistry. Taking it seriously then we can proceed to critique it as a scientific theory. Here are some of the questions that come to my mind as a design engineer.

The nerves in a mammals eye join the photoreceptor cells at the end facing the pupil. They run across the inside surface of the retina and exit together. Where they exit they create a 'blind spot' in our field of vision. So, first, they partly obstruct the retina and, second, they create a blind spot. Why would any intelligent designer adopt this arrangement? The eyes of squids and octopi are wired the right way round, with the nerves connected behind the photoreceptors. Are we to conclude they were created by a *more* intelligent designer?

One thing a good designer does is use the right material for each application.:

Arthropods make an elastic protein, rezulin, which is much more elastic than that in molluscs (abductin) and in vertebrates (elastin). Thus a fly can flap it's wings with less energy loss than a horse can run or a scallop can swim. Why would an intelligent designer not use the best protein in all three?

Primitive humans discovered the mechanical superiority of metals over bone. Metal prosthetics are now used to replace bones. Metal wires are also five million times faster than neurons in the transmission of signals; yet no animal has metallic nerves. Why did the designer of animals fail to use metal as the structural or neural material of any animal?

The IDers have ignored the above simple questions that would occur to even a casual observer with some feel for engineering. Instead they have tried to hang their argument on the less well know biochemical processes in cells. Of course evolution easily explains why similar metabolic processes occur in all cells. The ID explanation...lack of imagination? But sloppy design is endemic in these less well known processes too:

In the DNA of all living things there are sequences which have no effect on the development or function of the organism. Collectively these are called 'junk' DNA; its only function is to replicate itself. This is just what one would expect from random mutation and natural selection. What is the design explanation?

Roald Bentley has noted numerous examples of wasteful and unnecessary steps in cell metabolism. Just to mention a few: Oxidation of fatty acids unnecessarily reverses the handedness of methylmaloyl. In the biosynthesis of some plant alkaloids, reticuline is formed in the S configuration and then inverted to the R configuration; a step which could have been avoided by just using the S form for all the alkaloids. Lysine is biosynthesized via two different parallel processes when one would have served. Why wasn't this chemical engineer fired?

The "Intelligent Design engineers" seemed to have trouble even with simple plumbing:

People swallow and breathe through a shared passage. A design that results in many deaths due to choking on food. What fool designed this?

In the human male the urinary tract passes through the center of the prostate gland; a gland given to swelling. This stupid design causes a lot of pain and difficulty for older men.

Women experience considerable pain in child birth because the birth canal passes through the pelvis which must have a small opening to support the pregnant womb but which must then yield and expand to allow birth. This is easily explained by humans descent from animals. What is the design explanation for this?

A corollary question that Vic Stenger likes to ask is, "Why would anyone put a recreational area between two waste disposal sites?"

A long time ago humans discovered the advantage of wheels in moving over relatively smooth terrain. Why are there no animals with wheels?

As humans have designed vehicles they have found it best to use two wheels, three wheels, four wheels, six wheels, even 18 wheels depending on the surface and the application. The designer of a larger and heavier vehicle on the softer surface uses more wheels to avoid sinking into the surface. Yet among animals the small ones, arthropods, have six or more legs; while the large animals have two or four. Why don't large heavy animals like elepants and rhinoceri have six or more legs?

When animals with fur get cold little muscles attached to each hair folicle cause the hairs to stand up thus thickening the fur and increasing its insulative value. Humans also have these muscles which cause 'goosebumps' when we're cold. This increases our surface area and increases our loss of heat. This is easily explained by our descent from furry animals - but not by design.

Why did the creators of life on Earth start with simple forms and proceed to more complex forms slowly over millions of years? Were the designers learning? Couldn’t get it right the first time? Maybe when they find out about the IDiots they’ll come back and redesign their brains.


Brent Meeker has recently retired after 40yrs working as a physicist and engineer for the U.S. Navy; His area of interest is philosophy of science, mathematics and epistemology. He is a devout rationalist, freethinker and one of the contributors of Mukto-Mona.