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evolution

Intelligent Design? Not Really

If life has been designed so intelligently, why does our design give so many indications of being unintelligent?

What do I mean by that?  When we look at things that have been designed intelligently, we see a number of characteristics:  efficiency, specificity, foresight, etc.  Good engineers design things that accomplish their purpose directly, with as few extraneous bells and whistles as possible.  After all, extraneous bells and whistles just break, and the fewer things there are to go wrong, the fewer things will go wrong.

Engineers also anticipate problems in the future.  Even though a building may never experience an earthquake, good engineers place safeguards in the structure.  Just in case.  Even if a particular geographic region has never had an earthquake, they can still create earthquake-proof buildings.

When we examine life on earth, do we see that kind of design?  I’m afraid we don’t.  Let’s look at humans for some examples:

Hiccups

Did you ever wonder why we get hiccups?  They don’t seem to serve any purpose, do they?

You’re right.  They don’t serve any purpose.  They’re leftovers from the days when we had gills.  The transition between sea and land included a period where we had both gills and very primitive lungs.  In order to protect the lungs while underwater, we had to close our glottis.  When we submerged quickly, we had to close it very quickly.  Hiccups are remnants of that mechanism.  The glottis still unconsciously goes through the motions of protecting the lungs.  And we hiccup.  And we hiccup.  And we hiccup.

Why would an intelligent designer leave a device that no longer served a function? How many buildings today are built with rows and rows of pay phone stalls?  Very few.  That’s because pay phones are obsolete.  Engineers know this, so they don’t include them anymore.  Evolution is not smart, so it didn’t know to take hiccups away.

Backaches

Arch bridges are very old technology.  They’re great at supporting horizontal spans of weight.  When we look at the animal kingdom, we see the same principle at work — in horizontal animals, like cats and cows.  But not in humans.

We still have the arch, but we’re standing upright.  And that’s very poor design.  We pay for it, too.  About one in four Americans suffers from unnecessary back pain.

Goosebumps

Ever wonder what these things are about?  Well, they aren’t about anything.  They don’t serve any useful purpose in humans.  Now, if we had lots of fur, it would be a different story.  Most mammals and many birds experience this phenomenon, but for them, it causes an increase in volume and creates more space for air, which stays warm and provides insulation.  Because they have fur or feathers.

We don’t.

Why would an intelligent designer include pointless design characteristics that make it appear as if we evolved from other animals if we didn’t?

Third Eyelid

See that little remnant of an eyelid right by the tear duct?  It’s called a nictitating membrane.  It’s great if you’re a shark, or a chicken, or a lizard.  But it serves no purpose in humans.  It’s just a leftover from before we were mammals.

Immune System

Our immune system is great, right?  What could I possibly have against our immune system?  We fight off diseases.  It works.

But why does it only work in reverse?

An intelligent designer foresees problems in the future and plans for them today, even if they’ve never happened before.  But our immune system has to encounter a pathogen before it can become immune to it.  That’s why we get flu shots.  We are given a weakened or dead sample of a pathogen, and our body develops antibodies.  If we don’t get the shot, we risk getting sick — for lack of immunity.

True, we do have memory cells, and we do get many from our mothers while we’re infants.  But only for pathogens the mother has encountered.  Or her mother encountered.  And so on.  There’s no mechanism for defeating as-yet undiscovered invader threats.

Why would an intelligent designer fail to account for future threats?

Genitals.

Our genitals are a mess.  Incredibly inefficient.  Incredibly vulnerable.  Very poorly placed.  To borrow an idea from the late great George Carlin, what kind of intelligent designer puts the trash dump right next to the playground?

Have you ever stopped to wonder why the vagina is right next to the anus?  Where a simple mis-directed wipe can cause infection?  Have you wondered why the testicles are on the outside of our body where a well-placed kick can leave us vomiting and wishing for death?  An intelligent designer could have accounted for these problems.

Why do we need to make trillions of sperm?  Why do we waste thousands of eggs?  Why don’t our bodies re-absorb nutrients from menstruation instead of just expelling them?  These are not indications of intelligent design.

Male Nipples

Completely useless.  No purpose whatsoever.  If we had never had them, we’d never miss them.

Evolutionary Arms Races

Evolution is extremely inefficient.  In fact, it’s not designed for efficiency at all.  The whole system is designed to use as much energy as we can get our hands on.

An intelligent designer could have accounted for overpopulation.  It could have placed safeguards in our instincts to stop us from growing too large for our environment.  It could have given us the strong desire to preserve and nurture species that are important to our survival, rather than to destroy them to our own detriment.  It could have given us the desire to have children only when we could afford them.

No.  We do not give any indications of being intelligently designed.  Instead, we appear to be hodge-podges of our evolutionary past, with lots of kinks and quirks and flaws, and several glaring failures as a species.  And maybe that’s kind of sad.  It would be nice if we were designed better.  But we owe it to ourselves to face the truth and play the hand we’ve been dealt as well as we can play it.

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Discussion

11 thoughts on “Intelligent Design? Not Really

  1. You idiot, can’t you see those are all parts of the grand plan (scheme)? Of course to us mere mortals it “appears” poorly designed, but He knows better.

    Seriously though, great post.

    Posted by Alex Hardman | November 30, 2010, 2:50 pm
  2. Great post Hamby

    The argument for intelligent design is really only appealing to those who wish it to be so. The Left recurrent laryngeal nerve & our blood clotting systems would suggest the handiwork of happenstance more than intelligence…

    -evan

    Posted by eheffa | November 30, 2010, 3:31 pm
  3. “If life has been designed so intelligently, why does our design give so many indications of being unintelligent?“

    To answer cogently, let’s first define ‘intelligent’. Saint Augustine would define it as o^o, or omniscient and omnipotent. But sincere design theorists know better. Intelligent confers a cognitive source(s), capable of making directed choices. In the case of the evidence for ID, it would also entail motive or purpose, and the means to perform directed actions relative to biologic development. Would that consist of instantaneous creation? Not by the extant data in support of biologic progressions, nor by ID’s definition. The ‘poof’ scenario has its origin in various religious dogma, rather than empirical evidence, and has no place within ID’s perspective. Therefore, based on the ‘design hypothesis’, the evaluation of design attributes becomes totally subjective, rather than defined with regard to the premise of infinite compassion, infinite creative abilities, and the expectation (by us) of a Utopian existence.

    I’ll agree that there are indeed alternate ways to perform requisite biologic functions. I’ll even concede that many of the existing functions could use revision. But I will disagree that those points are valid arguments against design, per se. But before commenting on the examples cited, I’d like to comment on the means of phylogenetic progressions.

    What would you say is one of the best evidences of ID? Complexity, difficult to evolve co-dependent systems, or perhaps aesthetic features with no repro or survival advantages? There are many, but I see evolution itself as evidence of design. It is clearly a ‘designed-in’ mechanism, a component of embryogenesis, to provide enhanced survival advantages in changing environments, and to produce diversity. The demarcation line however, is its ability to produce novelty (radical speciation), and complexity beyond evolvable limitations. I won’t go into Behe’s and others args for IC and NEC (non-evolvable complexity) at this time, however, but will address 1) the poor design args, and 2) the vestigial organ points raised.

    One of my favorites is male nipples. First, male and female morphologies are virtually identical, save for the reproductive organs, which due to hormonal activation, and the SRY gene, if present (source: the Y chromosome). At the ninth week, the above factors will determine organelle formation, and its bilateral divergence. Would you agree that this divergence is necessary a male/female reproductive alliance? Why would mammary glands require an exclusion in males? In short, they would not. First, a similar hox gene function similar to the sexual organs would need to be in place, adding unnecessary complexity to the embryo process. Just as male nipples/ mammary gland exclusions would occur, genetic mistakes could exclude them from females on occasion, mitigating unnecessary infant mortalities. In addition, although lacking the hormonal developmental factors to develop lactation, there are many examples of males nursing infants where a female was not available. Continued stimulation can eventually produce lactation in most males. So hey, it’s not only simpler to maintain identical morphologies, it adds a back-up system.

    Regarding your (and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “toxic waste dump next to an amusement park”) critique, it gets laughs, but seldom has stopped anyone from using them ad infinitum, and occasioning the female utterance while prancing from the bath, “Here I am hon, clean and eatable.” Hope you don’t cringe at the thot, altho I did until I got over it! But functionally, genital placement makes perfect sense, since gestation and embryo development could take place nowhere better than in the abdomen, with fertilization (and its exultative experience) occurring nearby. While possible to have sperm entry under the armpits, I (and most) would see little advantage.

    The high sperm count is as non-objectionable as any redundancy found in nature, and helps to ensure fertilization. Cellular redundancies are common in bioforms, and provide backups in case of loss of function (reduced sperm count in this example). If any objection can be raised, it might be the increased chance of multiple births. But on to the question of vestigials as evidence of evolution.

    As stated earlier, evolution is a fact, but requires intervention (genetic engineering) at key points, IMO. The examples given of the way human engineers operate bears no resemblance to embryology, a self-guided process. We come close with some of the fully automated assembly lines now in place, but they themselves were designed and assembled from scratch. Not so with embryology, which is a continual evolving process requiring no guided actions by an intelligence, except for radical revisions. This frees overseers from the need to micro manage the routine stuff. New designs work primarily via modification of what is already there, but with more than simply environmental and chance mutations to produce novelty. This would be where intervention (genetic engineering) would come into play, and could be done incrementally (intermediate forms), to see what works. Vestigials would not need complete or immediate remova, and might have later functionsl.

    So yes, if our buildings self-reproduced, not only unused phone booths but old oil lanterns might be tucked away in the walls as well. Evolutionary theory trumps bio design from scratch (Eve), but not the above methodology.

    My predictions vary somewhat from conventional ID propositions, but are viable modifications based on logic, and exclude any religious presuppositions. They are solely empirical based deductions. The philosophical points raised do not constitute ID proper, but logically follow, I feel.

    ID is valid science, based on the data. It does not postulate omni anything, nor supernaturality (miracles, ‘poof’ creation, or non-natural phenomenon). ID postulates designer intervention in biologic>i> formations, NOT the cosmos, which bears no evidential data supporting a cosmic designer. Religious views are non sequiturs, since not supported by the data. Multiple designers are a possibility, and would tend to explain the combative and competitive nature ofnature. And if overseers are extant, they would appear to allow free will (the absence of cosmic micro-management), and thus the pitfalls that go along with it.

    So what of a likely moral sense, and motivation to produce life forms? To turn the table a bit, what motivates you to ‘create’ various work projects? If an overseer oversees, is that any different from what we do (children, pets)? Or as a source of amusement, or behind-the-scenes interaction at times, do not we partake in similar activities? And finally, regarding the perils and failures we endure, would you attend or support an athletic event if no risks or perils were present (an injury free win guaranteed)? Our own competitive nature is revealing, the we/ they correlation.

    To conclude, who/ what has tweaked nature through the eons of time? If a spirit essence within bioforms is the true, conscious self, we ourselves may have a remote lineage to just those entities.

    Posted by Lee Bowman | December 1, 2010, 7:38 pm
  4. ID is valid science, based on the data. It does not postulate omni anything, nor supernaturality (miracles, ‘poof’ creation, or non-natural phenomenon). ID postulates designer intervention…

    For it to be valid science it would have to be testable and able to make predictions about the world. ID is unable to do either of these things.

    Posted by Alex Hardman | December 2, 2010, 10:28 am
  5. Believers who want to be right sure have gotten things wrong. Scientists* have been on the right side of arguments most of the time because rational people are not wedded to a CONCLUSION.

    Believers:
    Sun revolves around the Earth…ok ok we were wrong.
    Earth is the center of the universe…ok ok we were wrong.
    Africans are inferior to other races…ok ok we were wrong.
    Women are inferior to men…ok ok we were wrong.
    Homosexuals are twisted evil people…ok ok we were wrong.
    Intelligent design means God created the Earth in a week…ok ok we were wrong.

    This new incarnation of ID, taking the text from the Bible and trying back rationalize something that allows you to keep your faith and maintain the same CONCLUSION will also fail.

    Mr. Bowman I bet dollars to doughnuts in 10 years you and your kind will be again saying…ok ok we were wrong.

    *I am not saying that scientist have always gotten things right on the first or fiftieth try. You can absolutely respond that scientists have at various points in history have not had all the data and so therefore have made incomplete conclusions.

    **You may also say that ID hypothesizing will go through the same kind of changes and evolutions as time goes by. But there is a difference. The difference is you do not use the scientific method.
    In case you are not quite clear about the process here it goes:

    1. Ask and define the question.
    2. Gather information and resources through observation.
    3. Form a hypothesis.
    4. Perform one or more experiments and collect and sort data.
    5. Analyze the data.
    6. Interpret the data and make conclusions that point to a hypothesis.
    7. Formulate a “finished” hypothesis.
    With the investigation concluded, the published results will be VERIFIED by other investigators, and the “tested” knowledge integrated into a larger whole of scientific information.

    Overall I am really happy reading these posts and comments. Very good debates!

    Posted by Fey | December 3, 2010, 5:02 pm
  6. Neither ID nor historical evolution is testable, Alex. Were it not for the time element, evolution would be observable, although radical speciation events (macroevolution) might not be caught. Regarding tentative ‘designer interventions’, it is plainly not observable and can be studied only in a forensic sense, or deductively. The oft touted comparison of evolution to the laws of gravity is erroneous, in the sense that one is a physical property of matter existing everywhere there is matter, the other a multi-faceted, algorithmic scenario, with various operandi, various outcomes, and not directly observable. Couple that with the variations of evolutionary definitions, i.e. sympatric, parapatric, allopathic, hybrid, as opposed to speciation involving radical body plan revisions.

    Physical properties of matter are empirically testable; historic/ forensic evo events are not. IMO, neither ID nor evolution is empirically testable, except by deductions from historical data. Modeling attempts have endeavored to recapitulate observable speciation events, but have failed in that regard. Most if not all examples of speciation (finch beaks, melanin pigmentation in moths, nylonase synthesis, cecal valve formation in wall lizards, etc) are adaptive changes, possibly due to pre-existing gene variants rather than folding errors in gene transcriptions.* As well, over 100 years of drosophila mating have not produced a single unique, novel departure from the existent species.

    *One of my predictions.

    Regarding predictions, science often makes postdictions (prediction after the fact), also termed ‘retrodictions’, followed by supporting data. When Darwin predicted fossil evidence, it was a prediction based on a priorievidences. Further, his prediction of natural selection was based in part upon finch’s varying beak morphologies, and the effects upon survival, or in essence, an observable ‘postdiction’.

    In a similar manner, I would venture postdictions in support of ID based upon unevolvable complexities. If and when instances of IC are disproven (empirically demonstrable evolution events), ID is reduced in its viability. Remember, ALL examples of IC would need be rebuked in this manner to disprove ID, the known difficulty of proving a negative.

    In sum, the ID hypothesis is just as testable, verifiable and/or falsifiable as evolutionary theory in toto.

    Posted by Lee Bowman | December 3, 2010, 8:33 pm
  7. Neither ID nor historical evolution is testable, Alex.

    Well, that’s the sticking point, isn’t it? And the real problem here is that you’re wrong, and there’s really no way to explain it to you beyond… well… educating you about evolution. Which is not what a blog reply is good for.

    Yes, historical evolution is not only testable, it’s tested. And verified. And the means for doing so fall squarely within the purveyance of the scientific method, without so much as a hint of special pleading.

    I wonder if you’ve ever considered the implications of the position you espouse. Whether you go there or not, the position that evolution cannot be proven because it’s a past event renders a HUGE majority of science — things that you and I take for granted every day, and which are crucial to science — unprovable and untestable.

    Beyond that, evolution is not just a historical event. It’s a current event, which can be observed in minute detail. So speaking of “proving evolution” as if it is dependent solely on first-hand knowledge of the past is just a smoke screen for the much trickier (and ultimately untestable) argument you and yours are implicitly making — that the past was not like the present! If you don’t realize the immense philosophical implications of that statement, then… well… I’m sorry. I don’t know what else to say.

    Posted by hambydammit | December 3, 2010, 9:07 pm
  8. Believers who want to be right sure have gotten things wrong. Scientists* have been on the right side of arguments most of the time because rational people are not wedded to a CONCLUSION.

    I am not wedded to ID in the least. Rather than support of a religious belief, it is my conclusion (at present) based on my interpretation of the data. But I take exception to the claim that scientists are inherently objective, and free from any biases or agendas. After six or more years of academic indoctrination, not to mention funding and peer review constraints, just how open to non-materialistic origins can one be? Loss of tenure, job termination, and of course rejection of literary works by the peer review process does little to encourage ID research, or even admittance of a tentative acceptance of the ID hypothesis for investigative purposes.

    I am under no such constraints, as I regard truth and objectivity within scientific investigations to be paramount.

    Mr. Bowman I bet dollars to doughnuts in 10 years you and your kind will be again saying…ok ok we were wrong.

    There is no ‘we’ here. My ‘kind’ (‘species’ actually) has no mutual agreements. My conclusions are evidence based, and subject to revision. I would hope that most scientists share the same objectives. As stated, you won’t find that in the mid-career genera, but more in the retired (who have more time to reason, as well as career completions), and I’m thinking, the young and robust entering the field, with not only no fixed agendas, but perhaps the thought of some ground-breaking research finds, and perhaps a Nobel prize down the road. Evolutionary breakthroughs are of course included. But ID, as a component of evolution (rather than contr to it), has much more evidentiary support than purely naturalistic causation, and IMO it will be the likes of PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins (and maybe you) who will admit sheepishly that “ok, we were wrong”

    Cheers

    Posted by Lee Bowman | December 3, 2010, 9:11 pm
  9. Yes, historical evolution is not only testable, it’s tested. And verified.

    Tested by available means yes, but verified? Depends on what you think the meaning of is, is. Verification can also involve extrapolation, like the analogy that single steps to the mailbox can eventually add up to a walk from LA to NY. This analogy has been applied as likening to evolutionary processes ad nauseam.

    http://www.youtube.com/comment_servlet?all_comments=1&v=H8FvcYfLpOs

    This is purported to equate to things like eye evolution, but it glosses over the necessity for

    -1 Each change to be non-deleterious
    -2 Each change be advantageous in terms of survival or reproduction
    -3 At least one procreative event must occur
    -4 It must be a trait that can be passed on (not recessive), and fixed in a population.
    -5 The accumulation of ‘traits’ must in the end, constitute structural modifications of a simple organ or organelle, and ultimately produce a complex one.

    I can list reasons for this unlikelihood, but as you mentioned, a blog may not be the place to go into extensive detail.

    The remaining points you make regarding the scientific method are valid points; it’s just that you can’t rule out ID (intervention in the evolutionary processes) summarily. Mind you, I haven’t ruled out evolution in toto, just the narrow constraints imposed upon the current synthesis.

    Posted by Lee Bowman | December 3, 2010, 9:36 pm
  10. By the way, I just noticed that beauleeman in the above youtube link has been tagged as spam in more than one place. If you search leebowman and beauleeman, you can see hundreds of similar examples.

    You you, at lease, are in the consensus camp. ;~)

    Cheers, again.
    I love it!

    Posted by Lee Bowman | December 3, 2010, 9:43 pm
  11. Tested by available means yes, but verified? Depends on what you think the meaning of is, is. Verification can also involve extrapolation, like the analogy that single steps to the mailbox can eventually add up to a walk from LA to NY. This analogy has been applied as likening to evolutionary processes ad nauseam.

    You’re dancing around the point that a great deal of science is accepted — in exactly the same way as evolution — by means of exactly the same kind of extrapolated evidence. I suppose you are also opposed to the notion that tectonic activity has always been based on the laws of physics, right? There must have, at some point, been a magical intervention that gave the plates that initial “push,” right?

    -1 Each change to be non-deleterious

    I’m beginning to think you haven’t studied evolution in much detail. Would you like to prove me wrong and tell me the name of the scientist who proposed the accepted hypothesis for why deleterious mutations can be included in a chain of events — such as the eye — provided they are below a certain threshold? And having supplied that information, would you like to point me to the peer reviewed journal demonstrating why his math was wrong?

    -2 Each change be advantageous in terms of survival or reproduction

    This is an odd position to hold, since it rules out neutral mutations which might, in the future, happen to become advantageous. I don’t know of any such restriction in evolutionary theory. I believe you may have gotten this from a non-scientific source.

    Or perhaps you mean that any adaptation must — at some point in time — be advantageous. But that’s also an odd position, since some adaptations might be deleterious for several generations, but not long enough to cause extinction, and then suddenly become advantageous when selection pressure changes. So both of your points seem… odd. Which is another way of saying completely contrary to basic evolutionary math.

    -3 At least one procreative event must occur

    It wouldn’t be natural selection without it. This goes without saying.

    -4 It must be a trait that can be passed on (not recessive), and fixed in a population.

    Well, you’re talking primarily about diploid organisms, but I think the broader point you’re trying to make is that if one organism mutates and then is unable to pass on the mutation, then it won’t be passed on. This, again, sort of goes without saying. I’m fairly sure they cover this in every genetics 101 class, so I’m pretty sure it’s not escaped the notice of mainstream science.

    -5 The accumulation of ‘traits’ must in the end, constitute structural modifications of a simple organ or organelle, and ultimately produce a complex one.

    I’m not sure you’re sure what you’re talking about. Or maybe you think these words mean something they don’t mean. Or something. If all you’re saying is that you must have a simple organ before a more complex organ can be formed, then yes. That’s true. If there’s something else in here, I’m at a loss. And again, this is all very basic evolutionary stuff. It’s covered in the first class, and accounted for in evolutionary theory. Without external intervention.

    I can list reasons for this unlikelihood, but as you mentioned, a blog may not be the place to go into extensive detail.

    I will be happy to check them out in whatever peer-reviewed journal you point me to. If it’s good science, then someone has replicated the math. And that’s what it would take to prove this. Real math, with real simulations, formulas, etc. I haven’t seen such a paper.

    Mind you, I haven’t ruled out evolution in toto, just the narrow constraints imposed upon the current synthesis.

    And I haven’t ruled out an external intervention in the evolutionary process. The current synthesis is not “narrow.” It’s evidence-based. Philosophical arguments do not constitute evidence for ID. The models used by biologists today line up with the data. There is no need for an additional element, and each of your five points is covered by evolutionary theory. Generally, as I said, in the first semester of classes.

    Posted by hambydammit | December 3, 2010, 9:58 pm

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