Bad design: a theological or a scientific argument?

Over at Beliefnet, David Klinghoffer presents an unintentionally amusing piece on the argument for evolution from bad design:

Because of my sore knee, it follows that there this is no God.

You think I’m kidding but this line of reasoning is commonly heard from devotees of evangelizing atheism like Richard Dawkins. It’s the argument from seemingly poor, botched, or suboptimal design.

Klinghoffer then points to a nice site, “Some more of God’s greatest mistakes”, that gives dozens of examples of “bad design” in animals. (If you’re into the evidence for evolution, bookmark this site!) He then pulls off the moronic creationist “aha”:

The human knee appears to be ill-suited to its task, hence the prevalence of knee pain, similar to that of back pain, and so on. I’ve had trouble from this recurrent minor soreness, brought on by running. So here’s a website devoted to cataloguing instances of apparently faulty designs like my knee that, so goes the argument, a creator would not allow in his creatures.

That is a theological argument, not a scientific one, based on the premise that Dawkins & Co. know what a God would or wouldn’t do if that God existed which he does not. As Dawkins writes in The Greatest Show on Earth, regarding the extravagantly lengthy and circuitous recurrent laryngeal nerve of the giraffe, “Any intelligent designer would have hived off the laryngeal nerve on its way down, replacing a journey of many meters by one of a few centimeters.” Atheists think they’ve discovered a devastating “Ah hah! Gotcha!” sort of a response to religious believers who, it’s assumed, never realized that nature has a certain painful lack of perfection built into it.

I’ve discussed before the contention that the bad-design argument is theological rather than scientific.  And it is scientific.  It’s scientific in the sense that that kind of bad design is evidence in favor of evolution and against several competing hypothesis.  One is that a divine being designed organisms so that they’re perfect.  But, more important, it’s also evidence that, if life was made by a god, it must have been a certain kind of god: one who designed creators to make us think that they had evolved.  For the “bad designs” are more than just random flaws in the “design” of organisms: they are flaws that are explicable only if those organisms had evolved from ancestors that were different.

Why do cave fish have nonfunctional eyes?  That’s bad design for sure.   You could impute it to the quirks of God, but isn’t it more parsimonious to conclude (and we know this independently from molecular data) that those fish evolved from fully-eyed fish that lived above the ground? Similarly, the recurrent laryngeal nerve, beloved of Dawkins and myself as a wonderful piece of evidence for evolution (see our books), is way longer than it need be — but that excessive length is completely understandable given the evolutionary history of that nerve, which once innervated the gills in our ancestors.

Over and over again, bad designs make sense as byproducts of evolution.  They make no sense if you posit that they’re the product of a creator’s whim — UNLESS you think that creator’s whim was to fool us into thinking that life had evolved.  And who wants to believe in a god like that?

Anybody who makes the argument that bad designs are simply part of God’s unknowable plan, rather than evidence for evolution, is doubly irrational.  Those imperfections are indeed evidence for evolution, for they make sense only in light of evolution.  And if you still accept the God hypothesis, then you can’t claim that the divine plan is unknowable: it has to be a plan that makes things look as if they evolved.  Wise up, creationists!

After balling up the evolution argument, Klinghoffer simply gets himself in deeper by engaging in theodicy, and explaining exactly why there is evil and bad design in the world. (It always mystifies me that people who claim that God works in mysterious ways are nevertheless so certain about his motives.)  Theologians should stay away from theodicy, because they have no convincing rationale for why a benevolent god would allow evil things to happen to innocent people.  They just sound dumb when they try to explain this, and in their hearts people know that it’s wrong.  Klinghoffer’s explanation of evil invokes the well-known Argument from Hamsters:

The world can be rough and it’s obviously not all a matter of people freely choosing evil. The verse in Isaiah (45:7) says it directly:

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.

My apologies if this upsets any delicate sensibilities, but consider the alternative. A world without evil. What would that be like? It would be the perfect hamster cage or turtle terrarium, where all our needs are provided, there are no predators, no contagious disease, no confusion, no loneliness, no sin, no particular purpose, no growth, just spinning aimlessly on our exercise wheel or swimming idly in our calm, algaed paddling pool.

For Dawkins & Co., it’s either the turtle terrarium or a Godless universe. What an absurd false dilemma. For the God he doesn’t believe in, however, it’s easy to see why the turtle alternative would hold little charm, hardly enough to justify creating a world in the first place. Creatures that could never grow or change spiritually because they were unchallenged and therefore totally uninteresting? What’s the point? Once we admit that some lack, or anyway so we perceive it, in creation was inevitable if there was to be a creation, what extent of deficiency was going to be enough? Maybe a little, maybe a lot. You will have to ask God when you meet him.

I’m taking it for granted that part of His purpose in creating us was to relate to us, once humanity has matured to a point where that’s really possible. Who would want to have a relationship with a hamster?

I may be wrong, but couldn’t God have arranged the world so that people could “grow and change spiritually” without horrible things happening to innocents?  Do little kids have to get leukemia so the rest of us can experience spiritual growth?   What kind of growth is enabled by the deaths of thousands of people  in Indonesian tsunamis?  And how, exactly, is our world better than one in which recurrent laryngeal nerves were of the proper length?

In the end, theodicy is the Achilles heel of religion: attempts to explain evil just make theologians look more ridiculous and unconvincing.  They’d avoid the topic if they could, but too many people want to know why a good God made a bad world.  We, of course, have a better answer.

h/t: RichardDawkins.net
UPDATE: If you want to see what it’s like to live like a hamster, you can try it out in this French hotel, designed to give you the Ultimate Rodent Experience.

53 Comments

  1. AdamK
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Let me see if I got this straight. “Intelligent design” is supposed to be science, but if I refute it using actual science, my refutation is theology?

    My bullshitometer just blew up.

  2. Posted December 10, 2009 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Coupla typos

    “evidence in favor of evolution and against several competing hypothesis.”

    “the recurrent laryngeal nerve, beloved of Dawkins and myself as a wonderful piece of evidence for evolution (see our books), is way longer than in need be”

  3. snex
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    “A world without evil. What would that be like? It would be the perfect hamster cage or turtle terrarium, where all our needs are provided, there are no predators, no contagious disease, no confusion, no loneliness, no sin, no particular purpose, no growth, just spinning aimlessly on our exercise wheel or swimming idly in our calm, algaed paddling pool.”

    isnt that what heaven is? he sure sounds like he doesnt want to go there.

    • Tulse
      Posted December 10, 2009 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      Exactly. I really don’t understand this line of argument, since the state of having all needs provided is presumably the state to which all Christians strive. And given that a person’s life is literally infinitesimal next to the Christian afterlife, a Christian will spend an infinite amount of time in this algaed paddling pool.

      I really think that many Christians simply do not understand the implications of their beliefs.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted December 10, 2009 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

        First live in an evil world and then in a perfect world?

        That is bad (world) design right there!

      • NMcC
        Posted December 11, 2009 at 4:38 am | Permalink

        “A world without evil. What would that be like?”

        Er..heaven?

        Snex obviously beat me to it, but, yes, that’s what I can’t understand about this whole free will and heavenly bliss business. Old Nick and a full third of the Angels were already in heaven, but it didn’t stop them from using their free will, handing in their notice and scarpering.

        Exactly the same conditions will prevail in the future heaven, so, what gives? What’s God’s plan B (or are we up to around plan J by now? I’ve lost track.) when that goes pear-shaped just like, alas, the omnipotent one’s plans invariably do?

    • Posted December 10, 2009 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

      It’s also what Eden is purported to have been.

      Whether he believes in Eden or not, most IDiot attacks upon theistic evolution involve the appalling amount of suffering and death that entails–or rather, explains.

      It’s exactly this world that they complain about effecting the adaptation of organisms to what they are, this being the world of the “Fall”.

      But hey, anything and everything can be used against evilution, no matter how contradictory.

      Glen Davidson

      http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  4. Posted December 10, 2009 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    “In the end, theodicy is the Achilles heel of religion; attempts to explain evil just make theologians look more ridiculous and unconvincing.”

    And much worse than that; they make theologians look complicit with evil, and even encouraging of it. They make feeble ad hoc excuses for what, if it existed, would be a sadistic tyrant creating massive suffering over billions of years for whimsical reasons, and they do so in aid of encouraging us to worship that tyrant.

  5. Norm
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    I pointed out to him on a comment under his original post that his description of a world without evil, which he implies would be rather boring, in fact sounds exactly like a description of heaven.

    Indeed, heaven does sound terribly boring, and I suspect that’s why hell was invented. Because there’s nothing you can imagine doing for an eternity that would remain interesting. However, boiling in a lake of fire would doubtless never lose it’s immediacy.

    • Randy
      Posted August 18, 2010 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      “However, boiling in a lake of fire would doubtless never lose it’s immediacy.”

      Sound like you will enjoy it then.

  6. wonderer
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne,

    Sorry about the somewhat OT comment here, but I didn’t see a link to email you, and wanted to let you know the following…

    The theologian William Lane Craig has posted an article, ostensibly replying to commentary by you, sent to WLC by a third party. What WLC seems to actually be responding to is a review of an Ann Coulter book you wrote some time ago, with the name “Coulter” replaced with “Craig”, and a bit of other hacking.

    What Craig said was:

    I wasn’t aware that Coyne, a prominent biologist at the University of Chicago, had taken any cognizance of my debate with Francisco Ayala on “Is Intelligent Design Viable?” His response is precious because it illustrates so clearly exactly what I said in the debate: Darwinists tend to confuse the evidence for the thesis of common ancestry with evidence for the efficacy of the mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection. Did you notice, Tom, how all of Coyne’s remarks pertain to the former, not the latter? And yet it was precisely evidence for the latter that I was asking for in the debate. It just amazes me how such brilliant men can be so inattentive to the structure of an argument. As for his other questions, I addressed them specifically in the debate and the public Q & A that followed.

    The link is:

    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=7703

    Some details of my detective work on this are in post #43 of the following thread on WLC’s forum. (Though I believe that you have to register to read it.)

    http://rfforum.websitetoolbox.com/post?id=3953767&trail=45

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted December 10, 2009 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for calling this to my attention, Wonderer. You’re absolutely right — my piece was about Ann Coulter, not William Craig. Lord knows why or how someone excised the “Coulter” from my piece and replace it with “Craig,” but regardless, it’s a gross misrepresentation. Maybe somebody could call this to the attention of the good theologian!

    • MadScientist
      Posted December 11, 2009 at 5:26 am | Permalink

      “…evidence for the efficacy of the mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection.”

      What could that possibly mean? Efficacy in what sense? Not to mention I don’t see what any sort of “efficacy” would have to do with Dumbski Design. Bah, liars for jesus; always bringing up unrelated trivia rather than substantial arguments.

  7. bigjohn756
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Spelling error! Theodicy should be spelled theidiocy shouldn’t it?

  8. Posted December 10, 2009 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    If Mr. Klinghoffer believes in a very weak god that isn’t able to create a where evil doesn’t exist but free will is still capable. Or his god is a sadistic bastard that wants evil to happen. Either way, this god is not deserving of worship.

  9. newenglandbob
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    David Klinghoffer wants to be made in the image of his god – flawed, deceitful, malicious. I think he got it right for a change. How does he find the time for such stupid ideas?

  10. woot
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    I believe you’re unfamiliar with the Church of God the Wholly Incompetent, which believes that “God is omnipotent but generally unqualified for His role as deity, citing the Great Flood, the Roman Empire, and their own personal failings as proof.”

  11. Neill Raper
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Its absolutely incredibly to me how ignorant of The God Delusion critics of Dawkins are.
    Dawkins actually does brushes the argument from evil aside because it is only an argument against Gods who have our interests in mind and he wants to go after all Gods, no matter their temperment. I personally have problems with this approach, given that in practice 99% of the people who believe in God believe he has our interests at heart, but to suggest that Dawkins relies on the argument from evil is still a distortion of his position.

    Dawkins really is just used as the name for the resident atheist strawman.

  12. Ridelo
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    My recurrent laryngeal nerve begins to strangle me when I read such bullshit. I suppose Mr Klinghoffer is in reality a Klingon with a straightened out laryngeal nerve. In the scanner with him!

  13. Posted December 10, 2009 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    But, more important, it’s also evidence that, if life was made by a god, it must have been a certain kind of god: one who designed creators to make us think that they had evolved. For the “bad designs” are more than just random flaws in the “design” of organisms: they are flaws that are explicable only if those organisms had evolved from ancestors that were different.

    Yes, we’ve explained that to him over and over again, and he completely ignores it to chant that IDiot trope. His completely ignoring what we say, except to repeat the same mindless cant is why I quit commenting over there (not a promise that I never will, but it will be at most rare).

    It’s interesting to see him backpeddling as fast as he can from the attempt to actually test ID, since he claims that ID’s superiority even as religion is that it’s falsifiable:

    However, in a legal context, one of the features of an acceptable witness is that his testimony must be potentially falsifiable.

    As the Talmud and common sense agree, if a witness’s testimony cannot even in principle be knocked down, then that testimony has to be dismissed.

    The religious reconcilers, despite their noble intentions, make fundamentally flawed witnesses for their faith. I wouldn’t call them heretics.

    jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1162378356109&pagename=JPArticle%2FShowFull

    So we take them at their implicit claim that the claim that life “looks designed” is falsifiable, by applying normal criteria and by comparing life to entailed predictions of non-teleological evolution and it falls flat. And all they can do is claim that ID doesn’t actually predict that life “looks designed,” at least not by any normal definitions of those words.

    Stephen Meyer is at least as ludicrous, by writing a “prediction” that predicts nothing at all, thanks to the words in parentheses:

    If an intelligent (and benevolent) agent designed life, then studies of putatively bad designs in lifwe—such as the vertebrate retina and virulent bacteria—should reveal either (a) reasons for the designs that show a hiddwen functional logic, or (b) evidence of decay of originally good designs.

    Appendix A (IIRC) of Signature in the Cell

    Clearly he doesn’t know what “bad design” would even mean with respect to evolution, since virulent bacteria exhibit “good design” so to speak (really, good adaptation), if hardly “benevolent design.” But he insists on having it both ways, so you know that if some “bad design” is explained to actually be “good design” by their pitiful criteria, he’ll state that this prediction was fulfilled, at least for that aspect of life.

    Klinghoffer’s doing pretty much the same thing, namely, insisting that confirmation bias is right and proper. IDiots claim god made the clotting cascade, the eukaryotic flagellum, and our immune system in order for humans to thrive. Then when we point to “bad design” which just so happens to fit non-teleological evolution’s inability to look ahead (the recurrent laryngeal nerve (RLN) being a spectacular example), they say, “no fair.”

    Well, you can’t claim to be doing science if the immune system’s rather fine adaptations were exquisitely designed for excellent functioning , then to turn around and claim that our bad backs and the RLN were simply designed for reasons other than excellent functioning.

    They’re equivocating as much as they can, in order to avoid falsification of their claims. Their claims are only for confirmation (that bias), not for falsification.

    Glen Davidson

    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  14. Posted December 10, 2009 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Does anyone else find it funny that David Klinghoffer avoids the word ‘intelligent’ (as in intelligent designer obviously) at all cost£

    Doesn’t matter how he tries to put down the argument that we are, most definitely, poorly put-together, (bad choice of words i’m sorry I know) a designer, that is also intelligent would have no reason to create us the way they did.

    If we concede that we are created, we are definitely not created intelligently. Heck, my hands are a bit sore from typing and I’m wearing glasses as we speak.

    However, Intelligent Design sounds much better than Idiotic Design. Or Retarded Design. Or Horrible Design. Even if the latter options are more accurate.

  15. Richard Emmanuel Jones
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know about creating animals but books are quite hard – especially when your fingers are invisible. Perhaps He tried to make the book but knocked his glue-pot over onto a cloud. I bet He was worried what His other two-thirds would say to Himself when they got home and saw the glue all over the cloud! Did He give up the book idea? when He could talk directly into people’s heads? when noone could read? Of course not! He’s not a quitter, He’s a dictator. Three best-sellers! Lets have a bit more emphasis on His achievements please.

  16. SaintStephen
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Hi Jerry:

    Great stuff. Equality between the sexes demands that if Ophelia Benson can point out typos, I can too. ;)

    Your penultimate sentence is missing the word “know” :

    “They’d avoid the topic if they could, but too many people want to [know] why a good God made a bad world.”

    A less Coyne-like, and more wacky review of Kling David’s prounoucement is right here:

    http://www.richarddawkins.net/articleComments,4740,With-Chanukah-Approaching-My-Knee-Hurts,David-Klinghoffer—belieftnet,page1#440716

    • SaintStephen
      Posted December 10, 2009 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

      Damn. “Pronouncement”. ;)

      • NMcC
        Posted December 12, 2009 at 4:50 am | Permalink

        That’s why I stopped acting like a grammar nazi. I used to be the worst offender in this.

        Reading over posts I’d made to RD.net, I was appalled at my own mistakes (even writing ‘inexplicitly’ when I meant ‘inexplicably’ – 3 times in the one comment!) and now make a conscious effort to ignore those of others.

        Some, of course, are easily ignored as they are a result of simply leaving out a letter or word or putting an extra letter or word in through carelessness. But the ones that are the hardest to ignore are when someone is pontificating all over the shop about a subject that they can’t even spell properly. Oh, the temptation!

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted December 12, 2009 at 8:18 am | Permalink

        Or, as we grammar jews like to call it, “the tempestuousation [of it all]“.

  17. jdhuey
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    If God created all of life to appear as if it evolved then wouldn’t it be blasphemy to proclaim that life didn’t evolve?

  18. Posted December 10, 2009 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    You know, it might be better to emphasize the lack of evident forethought in evolution than to repeat the matter as “poor design.” Even the RLN isn’t really such bad design, although it’s overdone, it’s more just what a non-thinking process like evolution is stuck doing, while an intelligent being ought to think differently from blind evolution.

    Also, transitional fossils are perhaps the best examples of lack of foresight, because while it’s true that intermediates between, say, reptiles and birds are not the non-functioning pieces of junk that creationists sometimes talk like they should be, they’re heavily constrained by their relatively recent past. Archaeopteryx was hardly a great flier, having teeth and a bony tail, and lacking in some of the better flight adaptations.

    Transitionals especially indicate that it’s about unthinking adaptation of the past, rather than forethought of some designer, which fact works both for “poor design” and for “good design.” Bird and bat wings are actually fairly well-evolved (Archaeopteryx not as much as later birds, of course) structures, but evolution could “choose” nothing except the terrestrial forelimbs of its ancestors to evolve into wings, with not a speck of foresight being involved.

    Glen Davidson

    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  19. Chris
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    Another typo:

    “But, more important, it’s also evidence that, if life was made by a god, it must have been a certain kind of god: one who designed creators to make us think that they had evolved.”

    Surely “creators” should be “creatures”, no?

  20. Wes
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Jerry,

    This is off topic, but I figured it might interest you. David Chalmers and David Bourget recently did a survey of what philosophers believe. You can search through the results here:

    http://philpapers.org/surveys/

    One result that jumped out at me:

    Philosophers of biology — Target faculty

    God: theism or atheism?
    Accept or lean toward: atheism 34 / 38 (89.4%)
    Other 4 / 38 (10.5%)

    Not one theist in the bunch. This doesn’t surprise me one bit. Although I guess it should surprise the people who keep insisting that evolution does not in any way lead to atheism. Especially since quite a few of the people making that claim are philosophers. I’d consider this to be suggestive evidence to the contrary.

    • Posted December 10, 2009 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

      Although I guess it should surprise the people who keep insisting that evolution does not in any way lead to atheism.

      Philosophy isn’t about evolution, and many philosophers know little enough about it.

      Philosophers should know epistemology, which is what the creos/IDiots get wrong all the time. David Hume was faulting the inference to design prior to Darwin, while Dawkins suggests that until evolutionary theory, one could not be an intellectually-fulfilled atheist. I’m closer to Hume (whom Dawkins did mention, but by whom he was not persuaded, apparently), a philosopher ought to be able to see the flaws in assuming “design” from the evidence of organisms even without a scientific theory accounting for life.

      Yes, I can believe that in such a sample no theist would be found, because philosophy is about not falling for nonsense just because we don’t have an explanation. After all, Darwin didn’t close all gaps, yet there isn’t now and never was sufficient reason to believe in the magical man in the sky.

      Glen Davidson

      http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

      • MadScientist
        Posted December 11, 2009 at 5:32 am | Permalink

        Does that mean the feeble-minded like Augustine and Aquinas are currently only laughing stocks and no longer considered real philosophers?

  21. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    We, of course, have a better answer.

    More to the point, as there is an empirical answer (to both bad design and bad events), they don’t have a proper answer. Never had, never will have.

    They are playing the wrong field. Um, no, that isn’t it … they are playing when defeated? D’oh, still not quite correct … they are playing when there never was a game?!

    Ah, that’s it: they are playing fools.

  22. Insightful Ape
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    I must say, I had heard the “it’s all good for us” argument many times but “it would be boring otherwise” really takes it to a whole new level of inanity. Either way as others have pointed out before, it is puzzling why so many people can’t wait to get into the ultimate hamster cage-the paradise.

  23. gaka
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    I may be wrong, but couldn’t God have arranged the world so that people could “grow and change spiritually” without horrible things happening to innocents?

    You forgot to escape this pathetic anthropocentrism:

    Think of all the tens of thousands of animals, big and small, that are just this very second running for their lives, suffering unimaginably from random injuries, starving with their children, being eaten alive by parasites… etc. etc.

    This world is so senselessly miserable that even if the divine were likely to exist, I could no worship it.

  24. Ben
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    I don’t get it. Apart from the blunder of making Heaven sound boring and puerile, I don’t get this part:

    “A world without evil. What would that be like? It would be the perfect hamster cage or turtle terrarium, where all our needs are provided, there are no predators, no contagious disease, no confusion, no loneliness, no sin, no particular purpose, no growth, just spinning aimlessly on our exercise wheel or swimming idly in our calm, algaed paddling pool.”

    How would a world without evil lead to no purpose and no growth?

    Answer: Because it let him make the point he wanted to make.

  25. Alex
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    While many people gravitate towards this argument, I’ve never liked it because I do think that it is theological/philosophical in essence.

    Yes, I agree that “poor/imperfect design” is scientifically consistent with evolution as said in the post. But, as you read on past that statement, into the body of the post, and then into the comments, the conversation quickly shifts into a discussion about god and what kind of evil creator this must make it, which is simply not relevant.

    Further, the similarity to an argument against god, which we called “the problem of evil” in my intro philosophy course, is obvious and undeniable. Perhaps that explains why the discussion inevitably follows the path seen here and why it appeals to many evolutionists, many of whom are coincidentally agnostic or atheist.

    Like many people on this board, I don’t know how each theist deals with the problem of evil, but a scientist, I’m happy that I do not need to think about it when thinking about evolution.

  26. Posted December 10, 2009 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    If God created life then there are no mutations, only typos.

  27. MadScientist
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    Ah, you silly people! I don’t know why god does these things, but I know god and he must have some wonderful plan! Nyah nyah nyah!

    And people wonder why I break up laughing when they start talking about what they know of god. “God told me” “The bible tells me” “God says” – all utterly ridiculous claims because even the simplest questions reveals that it is not any god but silly people making silly claims.

  28. Posted December 11, 2009 at 2:12 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the link to Oolon’s “God’s Greatest Mistakes” site, which indeed should be bookmarked. I just gave him a heads up on your article.

    (Oolon is an admin at our site, Secular Cafe.)

  29. bad Jim
    Posted December 11, 2009 at 2:37 am | Permalink

    Sometimes creationists will say that some of our obvious failings, like our inability to produce ascorbic acid, are the result of the Fall, without explaining why our primate cousins are similarly afflicted.

    The case for intelligent design might be more supportable if we gave up the assumption that we are the crown of creation and postulated instead that God favors some other creatures, like cephalopods, with their more elegant eyes and considerable intelligence. What better metaphors for an unseen god than the octopus, master of camouflage, or the giant squid that lurks in the deep?

    • MadScientist
      Posted December 11, 2009 at 5:34 am | Permalink

      And squid goes very well with spaghetti. Mmmm … inky spaghetti … thank the FSM.

  30. Eric MacDonald
    Posted December 11, 2009 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    Let’s put the emphasis where it belongs. Klinghoffer mistakes a simple argument that shows conclusively that the body was not intelligently designed for the argument from evil. So tagging on his argument about theodicy and his knee is just silly. Besides, if he hadn’t taken to running too much, which is hard on knees, he wouldn’t be suffering from his knee just now. So, he can’t blame the design fault for his problems.

    He thinks the alternative to running is being a hamster! Well, that’s really stretching a point. A perfectly reasonable alternative to running too much, when his knee misbehaves itself, is running less, not crawling into a hamster cage.

    But to use this argument from self-inflicted injury to justify all the horrendous evils which exist in the world is about the stupidest thing I’ve ever read.

    And theodicists can be exceedingly stupid. In order to make theodicy a reasonable pursuit, theodicists must tell us beforehand what would defeat the idea that there is a god. But they never do. So, in the end, every evil is compassed by their arguments, even evils they haven’t dreamed of yet. So theodicy is not a well-formed argument. And anyone who tries to justify some of the truly horrendous things that happen to people just on the basis that the alternative is living like a hamster, is quite obviously lacking some common sense and some straightforward knowledge about the world of suffering people.

    It never ceases to amaze me, however, how absurdly petty the arguments really are, and how easily monstrous evil is dispensed with by men and women comfortably ensconced in their studies pounding at their computer keyboards. If the worst that has happened to you is self-inflicted injury to your kness, you really are a bit like a hamster in a cage. You really need to get off the spinning wheel of words, and get out a bit.

  31. Dove
    Posted December 11, 2009 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    Hi there, I reently read you brilliant book; thank you for writing it. Creationist seem determined to attack the ‘bad design’ argument these days. Recently I correspondned with creationist Grady McMurtry after he appeared on a British religious TV show. I pointed out how badly designed the eye is. He wouldn’t have it and sent me this article by Peter W.V. gunrey, an opthalmologist and, naturally, a creationist.

    http://www.trueorigin.org/retina.asp#gurney

    No evidence, of course; just assertions.

    Thanks you again for what you do,
    D.

  32. Badger3k
    Posted December 11, 2009 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    I thought it was the same guy. This is the DI shill and partisan hack! No wonder he supports IDiocy and has a post filled with strawmen and logical fallacies. I normally don’t go to UD, but I do wonder if this is being crowed about over there. All science so far!

  33. Badger3k
    Posted December 11, 2009 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    An analogy (I hope) – this god could have made a world like a race – there might be a winner, but everyone makes it across in the end. The world is like a race in which the losers are tortured and die horrible deaths…thereby proving a loving god?

  34. Barbara B.
    Posted December 18, 2009 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    All this talk about hamsters and their cages…. I just want to say, it’s not a good comparison. I recently found a hamster and kept her. Let me tell you, she is not happy in her cage (it is really a tank with a lid on top). She actually made a mound of the shavings, got on top of it, and tried to push the lid off! She almost succeeded but I caught her just in time. I was amazed at her intelligence!

  35. NeilBJ
    Posted December 20, 2009 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    RE: “[The bad design argument] is scientific in the sense that that kind of bad design is evidence in favor of evolution and against several competing hypothesis.”

    Whether the “bad design argument” is theological or scientific is ultimately irrelevant to this layman. It is an entirely subjective argument that is empty of any scientific content that would otherwise advance our understanding of the mechanism of evolution.

    I don’t see that the argument provides any basis for asserting that it is evidence for evolution. It is an opinion that leads nowhere.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted December 20, 2009 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

      Umm. . . you have no opinion on why humans have inactive genes that are active in our relatives? Or why some cave animals have nonfunctional eyes? That doesn’t mean anything to you? I guess that layman isn’t thinking . . .

      • NeilBJ
        Posted December 21, 2009 at 9:12 am | Permalink

        You are asking me “why” questions; I am asking a “how” question. How does labeling a biological structure a bad design tell us how that structure came to be? Yeah, you think a particular structure is poorly designed. So what?

        Please explain to this dense layman how anything is learned about the theory of evolution from the “bad design” hypothesis?

        This assumes that you can establish that a design is bad to begin with. I don’t see how that can be determined with any degree of certainty. In our human experience, any design is subject to competing constraints; every design is a trade-off between the good and the bad. With regard to biological structures, can it ever be determined what all these trade-offs were? And designs, once actualized, are subject to degradation of one form or another. Is the bad design observed in nature a once good design that has degraded over time (e.g. blind cave fish)?

        RE: cave animals with nonfunctional eyes.

        Some years ago I visited the Copper Queen Mine in Bisbee, AZ. The tour guide explained how the miners of years ago used mules to pull the ore carts. The mules were kept in the mines and were completely in the dark at all times; they never saw the light of day. The guide said that mules eventually became blind.

        I found that both interesting and tragic. This posed many questions for me. What biological processes were responsible for the mules’ going blind? Would they have recovered their vision if they were again exposed to the sun?
        Would their blindness be inherited? If so, wouldn’t this be a case of Lamarckism and not evolution?


5 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Why Evolution Is True « Bad design: a theological or a scientific argument? [...]

  2. [...] Coyne explains why “bad designs” in nature are flaws that make sense only in light of evolution: Why do cave fish have nonfunctional eyes? That’s bad design for sure. You could impute it to the [...]

  3. [...] Bad design: a theological or a scientific argument? « Why … [...]

  4. [...] “Over and over again, bad designs make sense as byproducts of evolution. They make no sense if you posit that they’re the product of a creator’s whim — UNLESS you think that creator’s whim was to fool us into thinking that life had evolved. And who wants to believe in a god like that?” -Jerry Coyne [...]

  5. […] Evidence for design? RationalWiki, and Infidels. And for a laugh, Jon Stewart Disproves Intelligent Design in 5 Minutes. Here are arguments from poor design Intelligent Design debunked by ‘flaws’ in design?, Bad design: a theological or a scientific argument? […]

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