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Knowing that I’m a zoologist makes it easy to surmise I’m not in fact, playing on the modern Creationist team. I don’t have a great problem with pre-Darwinian creationists, as they made some effort on the prediction side, and modified their theory as new evidence accumulated (e.g. multiple cataclysms rather than just one biblical flood, multiple centres of creation, not just one Garden of Eden, the days in Genesis 1 were really eras, not literal days).



I don’t have a great problem either with the very weak Creationist doctrine adopted by a lot of denominations. This is the God started the Big Bang, had a tea break, then popped back in time to send Jesus to earth approach. This just says that evolution is God’s mechanism for life on this planet. This doesn’t leave a lot of scope for conflict.



What I have absolutely no sympathy for, is the very naive, very anti-science Creationist approach adopted by ’Intelligent Design’ sic or Young Earth Creationists (YEC). This is one of the things that turned my brief period as a conservative Christian into an even briefer one. People who value truth really shouldn’t be so keen to obfuscate, confuse and ignore the evidence for evolution. It ruins their credibility.



Anyway, I’m going to turn things around a bit by looking at the evidence for ID, not evolution. (This is actually rarely done, as ID-YEC advocates spend more time trying to prove that evolution is wrong than coming up with evidence for ID.)



Suppose that there is an Intelligent Designer (for argument’s sake). We also assume that this designer has the following characteristics. He is omnipotent, omniscient and is also caring and benevolent.



Let’s consider the actual evidence for the existence of such a being. I’m looking for examples of optimality, efficiency and parsimony in design.



1) Junk DNA



The DNA in our genes has large components of non-coding or junk-DNA. This is a source of inefficiency (or genuine redundancy), as inheritance mechanisms for organisms don’t need or use this extra DNA. (There is also no relationship between the size and complexity of an organism and the amount of junk DNA- the Congo Eel – actually a salamander- has 50 times more DNA per cell than we do). An intelligent designer would not introduce a deliberate source of inefficiency into a design, hence this is a mistake.



2) UV Radiation System Vulnerability



The peculiar problem of designing DNA to be the molecule of inheritance is that it is peculiarly vulnerable to UV radiation. Planet Earth just happens to be bathed in the stuff. An omniscient designer would have found a better alternative and an omnipotent designer would have redesigned DNA to be less vulnerable to UV radiation. Hence, picking a molecule that is vulnerable to UV radiation then not correcting this vulnerability, is a design mistake.



3) Complexity for No Purpose



While we all know the function of DNA is to provide a coding system (capable of inheritance) for proteins. The only problem is that it doesn’t actually work until you employ RNA as an intermediary (kind of like a system patch). This introduces complexity for no purpose, as we already know that some viruses use RNA as their coding system anyway. An intelligent designer would have picked RNA or fixed things (omnipotence) to avoid this needless complexity.



4) The Human Appendix Mistake



Wow, here we have a small organ included in our body whose only purpose it seems, is to randomly get infected, burst, and for centuries, inflict a painful death via peritonitis on its victim. If we were a car, we’d have been recalled and the manufacturer sued for negligence. No evidence for intelligent design there.



5) Vestigial Organs Mistake



It’s hardly rocket science to work out designing something with features that don’t work, isn’t a very clever design principle. But vestigial organs are just that. The vestigial wings of flightless birds- like the kiwi, the vestigial eye-spots of some cave-dwelling arthropods, vestigial hind leg bones in whales, the human tailbone (coccyx), all have no actual purpose. It’s either a very dumb design mistake (hmm, wings on a flightless bird, how clever) or evidence of transitional forms that confirm evolution.



6) The Human Eye Mistake



The human eye always gets creationists excited for reasons that escape me. A few light sensitive dermal (skin) cells and the eye is suddenly too complicated to evolve. It’s obvious that they haven’t actually looked at the eye at an anatomical level. There’s a very big design mistake. The human eye has been designed backwards. The nerves have to loop back and pass through the retina (arthropods have a better system that avoids this problem). The nerves loop through in one place on the retina, creating a well-known blind spot (and area of the retina that can’t be used to see with).



7) The Invasive Species Design Mistake



If you’re going to design organisms to live in certain places, and you’ve got some scope to design them, then you’re going to put organisms in habitats they are the best fit for. (This is actually on old pre-Darwinian creationist prediction.)



But invasive species represent a major extinction threat to many native species globally, proving that the natives were not the best fit. For example, we have a native Theridiid spider called the katipo whose range and population has dropped rather dramatically, due to competition with an invasive Theridiid spider from South Africa (sometimes called the false-katipo). Invasive wasps and ants out-compete native wasps and ants.



The problem with invasive species is that they show that natives aren’t the best design for that environment. This shows an absence of intelligent design.



8) The Extinction Mistake



Fossil records show that there have been numerous periods of mass extinctions (Cretaceous-Tertiary, End-Triassic, Permian-Triassic, Late Devonian and Ordovician-Silurian extinctions). These stretch from c65m years ago to c439m years ago. That so many of these species were allowed to become extinct shows a distinct lack of care and benevolence. And it’s a fairly colossal design mistake to design so many species that are so flawed that they become extinct. When we are talking about a failure rate of over 95% [1], it is clear that these designs are well below acceptable standards.


  • As an aside, this is what perturbed so many pre-Darwinian creationists. The fossil record showed that large groups of organisms were being casually wiped out by their Creator. This didn’t gel with the concept of an omniscient, benevolent creator. Naturalistic explanations started to make more sense.




9) The Termite mistake



Termites are designed apparently, to eat wood. They’ve got the mouth parts, size and body-shape to do the job extremely well. There’s just one problem. They can’t. That is, until you give them species of micro-organisms in the gut that can digest lignin. So, termites have been designed to eat wood, but the design is such a failure we need an entirely new species to come to the rescue. Here’s an idea. Give termites the enzymes they need to digest wood in the first place.



10) An irrational fondness for bilateralism



A lot of animals have a bilateral appearance. One side of the body is (roughly) mirror image of the other. This works internally as well as externally. We’ve got matching limbs and lungs afterall. So a lot of animal species- from butterflies to lizards to monkeys- have this bilateral structure.



The problem is, it isn’t so efficient for some species. Snakes for instance, like the long and cylinder-like look. So once you dissect them and look at their anatomy, you realise that in order to fit paired lungs (and other organs) into the body, one half gets very big and one half very small. So snakes have on large, long lung, and one paired very small one taking up very little room a bit further down. Bilateralism isn’t a smart design feature. Having one lung would be more efficient than two. You wouldn’t waste energy on growing an extra lung and there’d be fewer compromises trying to fit everything in. Bilateralism for snakes is a bad design feature.



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As noted above, not all of these are new issues. Both (7) and (8) perturbed pre-Darwinian creationists. They were also somewhat shocked to observe how red in tooth and claw nature really was, with top predators not restricting their hunting to the weak and infirm.



[1] Raup, David M. Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck? W.W. Norton and Company. New York. 1991. pp.3-6 ISBN 978-0393309270