Bad Design

by Max Andrews

The following objection to intelligent design is from observing the natural data and claiming that it could not have been designed because there are some things that lack proper function or there could have been a better way for a certain [i.e. organ] to function.  This objection is often made by many theistic evolutionists, though, still non-theists object as well, is based on an inappropriate and misconceived understanding of design.[1] The design hypothesis merely states that there is intelligent causation that permits the existence of life (a probability factor).  Optimality of what has been designed is not a criterion for design.  Motor vehicles break down and computers crash.  With comparing motor vehicles to design, there is a natural decay and effects of heat, friction, and weather decay.  What is interesting about the comparison to malfunctioning software is that a frequently known cause of malfunction is an intentionally designed malware or virus, which has been designed for the primary purpose of malfunction, it is designed to break down or decompose a previous design.  Where this analogy fits with the argument, primarily in the claim of vestigial organs or other less-than-optimal structures, is that that the appearance of other bacteria, disease, or even cancer could be the case that such were designed for a purpose of breaking down other design components.[2]


[1] The theistic objection from bad design, most notably made by Francisco Ayala, is usually coupled with the problem of evil objection.

[2] I understand this analogy and point invites the problem of evil to wreak havoc on the argument.  I personally deny the existence of so-called “natural evil.”  Cancer, disease, infection, certain bacteria, etc., are either designed with that function and are mislabeled as “bad.”  It may also be the case that mutations have changed living organisms from their initial functions (a claim entirely consistent with the design hypothesis).

 

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3 Comments to “Bad Design”

  1. Great insights – thanks again.
    I might be wrong, but I think some theistic evolutionists adopt Open Theology to claim that God is powerless to stop natural evil, or that God is (was always) unaware (incapable of knowing) that natural evils would emerge.

    This makes sense only because they’ve removed God from any real causal agency in any aspect of nature (or the universe itself). I don’t know how they distinguish this as theism vs deism. It’s actually very similar to atheism and makes theology open to criticisms of having imaginary gods. There would be no empirical content at all in religion.

    Again, Kenneth Miller takes that incoherent position and he’s not consistent with it.

    But this underscores the lack of philosophical foundation that many scientists have. It’s difficult to master one science like biology and still have time for philosophical studies. Thus, the curse of the specialist.

    Jerry Coyne makes this argument from Bad Design and it’s pretty childish and shallow. Judging design good or bad implies that there is a standard to measure by and that design (which means purpose) either fulfills the purpose or not (and what is the purpose of biological organisms?).

    But evolutionists do turn to this religious/metaphysical question because they are making claims about origins and taking the role of metaphysicians in so doing.

  2. No, I didn’t see that — I’ll take a look.

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