a designer’s questions about intelligent design

December 7, 2009

You probably remember one of my favorite wannabe scientists, Bill Dembski. His lack of understanding in the very things he claims to have real expertise, penchant for assertions that aren’t even wrong, and pomposity that just begs to be taken down a peg or two, are fodder that keeps on giving for popular science bloggers. But there’s one more thing about Bill that should probably be covered. He loves providing questions that he thinks expose the weaknesses of the evolutionary theory even though nearly all of them are little more than appeals to ignorance disguised as some profound insight into the basics of biology. Like political pundits who want to say something scandalous to boost their ratings and skirt the facts of the issues at hand, he’s just asking us some questions. And real science is done when people ask profound questions and try to answer them.

don quixote

Now, the big difference between what scientists do and what’s done by Dembski and cranks like him can be summarized in one simple sentence. Scientists do research, cranks chalk it up to whatever they want. But in the spirit of discovery and asking questions because we can, I thought I’d throw out a couple of questions to creationists, err… I mean intelligent design proponents, and see if they can provide a reasonable explanation to some issues that come up when they explain their so-called theory. As someone who actually knows how to design complex things, I’m probably not the least qualified person to be asking them.

Q1: Why are our individual body parts not interchangeable as they would be in cars or aircraft?

When we treat humans as a designed object, we have to come to the conclusion that we’re mass produced in a highly efficient, self-replicating process. However, all humans are a little different and if something happens to break down in our bodies, like a heart, a liver or a kidney, our body parts are not really interchangeable. Yes we’ve figured out how to transplant organs, but even then we have to match blood types as closely as we can and transplants require that we take immunosuppressant drugs because a new organ could be rejected. If humans are designed, any designer worth his or her salt knows that parts in mass produced products must be interchangeable for easy fixes when something breaks down. This is why when your car engine dies, you can just get a new one instead of matching it to a similar car type and hope it connects, or try to grow a brand new engine in a process so riddled with complex problems as to make it impractical for the near future. How could a designer allow a debilitating oversight that would surely result in a D from any design professor?

Q2. If we’re made by a designer, where’s his/her actual trademark, logo, watermark or identification?

One of the arguments creationists like to use is to point to our DNA and claim it has a blueprint of a designer in its informational content. Ok, where is it? When you get a new watch, the name or the logo of the company that made it is going to be prominently featured on the face. We could then find the company’s website, get an address and go see how the watches are being designed and built. What about us? Where’s our logo? How can we confirm that a design process is going on firsthand? I don’t want to listen about vague references to a genome’s complexity or other examples of pseudoscientific pareidolia. I mean show me the trademark genes and where they’re hiding. After all, even we know how to make them. An advanced designer should too.

Q3. Why are humans so vulnerable and lack natural weapons for self-defense, relying only on technology?

In case you haven’t noticed for some bizarre reason, human lack claws, fangs, venom, armored skin and just about every other defensive feature countless other species possess. If not for our technology, we would be a species of lion, leopard, hyena and cheetah snacks wandering around the savannas of Africa. Many of us still die in the wild after being mauled by animals against which we’re defenseless. What kind designer in his right mind possibly drop such an ill-equipped creature into the midst of predator infested territory without a potent natural defense? Even a little bit of venom would be an immense improvement, so it seems like a hell of an oversight to leave us there with only sharp rocks and the hope that we can climb a tree before getting eaten. By a predator who probably climbs trees much easier than we could…

Q4. Why do humans lack specialization in their designs? What job were we designed to do?

Before designing anything, I ask several important questions. What is it’s purpose? What is it designed to do, how, and why? Humans perform a very wide array of tasks. Some of us are artists and communicators, some are scientists and engineers, others are analysts and strategists, and often our roles are flexible. We seem to be a sort of all-purpose tool which has to decide what task to do. That seems totally irrational to a designer’s mind. Why aren’t we born with designations and tasks? Why do we have to stumble around until we find what we’re willing to do instead of being slated to do something? I wouldn’t want my screwdriver deciding it would rather be a hammer, so why would any designer just build a multi-purpose tool with no particular task?

Q5. Why do we have extra components and vestigial parts? Aren’t they just a waste of resources?

From a design standpoint, redundancies and parts that really don’t have any significant function to play in the mechanism should be removed or consolidated as much as possible. They take up energy and resources to produce and maintain while contributing little to nothing. Having five toes that do nothing but add a little help in balancing our bodies when we walk is not like having a spoiler on a car. The spoiler generates downdraft at a high speed and allows supercars to stay planted on the track during maneuvers. Five toes are used by a few martial art styles to maintain superb balance during attack. But wherein the spoiler is required by physics, the martial art styles adapted to use the toes. There’s no reason whey they couldn’t be consolidated. And to return to the spoiler for just a moment, there’s a reason why they’re not included on most cars. They’re not needed at highway speeds and normal roads used for everyday commuting.

And yes, for those who might be curious, a copy of these questions was sent to Bill Dembski himself. Here’s his chance to show how creative and rich the tapestry of his branch of creationism really is and offer original arguments. Whether or not he’ll do that remains to be seen…

[ illustration by CG artist Fabricio Moraes ]

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  • http://darwin-killed-god.blogspot.com/ Human Ape

    “creationists, err… I mean intelligent design proponents”

    I just call them “intelligent design creationists” (or “flat-earthers”, “retards”, “morons”, etc.)

    I wonder if the pathological liar Dembski knows he is full of it, or is he even more stupid than I think he is.

  • Russ Toelke

    What intelligent designer would build in or allow vulnerability to diseases and microbes, or simple allergens? What the hell? We’re intelligently designed, but we can’t breathe when a little extra rain creates mold?

  • http://scientificilliteracy.blogspot.com Michael Varney

    “Q3. Why are humans so vulnerable and lack natural weapons for self-defense, relying only on technology?

    I guess a question would be why we are not naturally selected to have these traits?
    An argument from the dumb ass creationists could be that god designed us a brain so we don’t need claws. (After all, our brains are a much more potent self defense tool than claws.)

    As a designer, if one does not need claws to survive, why put them on? (Except for cool battle bot wars, I would so create vibro-swords extensions on each finger in all of my “children”!)

    Anyhow, Argument 3 is a bit weak… but even the weakest arguments still demolish creationism. =)

  • Greg Fish

    “An argument from creationists could be that god designed us a brain so we don’t need claws.”

    Having brainpower and natural weapons is not mutually exclusive, especially when we know that our brains mean nothing when confronted with predators like lions, hyenas and jaguars. Even today people still get mauled by these animals with all their smarts and high tech equipment.

    If I were a designer and wanted to place a relatively frail, tropical creature in the midst of huge and hungry predators with the goal of having it survive, I would definitely want to give it some better senses and a little natural weaponry to boost its odds of not getting eaten. Let’s keep in mind that the reason we were naturally selected without claws and fangs was thanks to the extinction of many of the beasts that could kill us during the start of the Holocene, and being able to survive in habitats they couldn’t readily access because we’re highly adaptable omnivores.

    “…even the weakest arguments still demolish creationism.”

    The point of these questions is not to demolish or disprove creationism/ID. They’re some of the basic questions an actual designer would ask when looking at humans. So you could say that I’m just critiquing the design from a professional standpoint.

  • RaggMopp

    William Dembski is a mathematician and Baptist theologian. He got himself so far out a limb with his statistical nonsense because he apparently doesn’t know anybody who understands that evolution is a hell of a long way from a process of “random chance.” Poor thing. Now he’ll be damned before he takes one step back. An Avatar of the 21st Century American: Never apologize, never withdraw, never say die, never admit a mistake, keep fighting until the clock runs out. George W. Bush. Footbal ethics. I would not waste my time on him, and for sure don’t dream that you’re going make a difference. He may quit going to church and take to drink because of your clever repartee. But he will never, never admit that he was wrong.
    Besides Q5 is the only one that has any merit among rational people, and I’ve heard reasoned arguments on this one. The most rational being, “How do you know they’re vestigial?” When I was your age, we thought tonsils were vestigial, now we find the appendix is not toallly worthless. You can live without a spleen, but don’t go lion hunting without one. Fortunately, we’ve no need to get into redundancy argments. Everybody can see why we need two eyes and two ears, they’re not actually redundant, It takes two to tango. Two hands, two feet? That’s not much of mystery to anyone who’s tried to use them. Two lungs, two kidneys, two gonads, that remains to be seen.
    Alright, I give up.
    Please don’t waste your time or your passion on Dembski!

  • RedPolygon

    How can they claim that Intelligent Design is a scientific theory and not religious dogma when no one is actively trying to find the designers? If you really thought there was a designer of living things, wouldn’t finding the designers be the A number one jackpot of all time? But I’ve never heard of anyone looking for the designers! They’re spending their time on things like bacterial flagellum! Unbelievable. Obviously the reason no one is looking for the designers is that their dogma tells them who the designer is.

  • http://inoneeyeandouttheother.blogspot.com/ jeff sollars

    I too am skeptical of the designation of “Intelligent Design”. If that is just a euphemism for God the Creator, then no I’ think it’s just silly. If it is an attempt to put a label on processes that generate dynamic systems, then I’m game. I am a proponent of Systems Theory, To limit the term Intelligent to the narrow confines of HUMAN intelligence, I think would be a mistake. To define ‘design’ to mean a design by designers that have a personal interest in a Product is to fall prey to the notion of a God like being. I hope that is not the case.

    I am not against the IDEA of Intelligent Design, as long as there is not some expectant hope of discovering or even understanding what that may mean.

  • http://sangomasmith.wordpress.com/ Sangomasmith

    Good luck. In my experience, the ID advocate thus cornered will usually dodge the question entirely by saying that the design is too intelligent for us mortals to comprehend. Which, in a lovely irony, scuppers the original argument of ID in the first place.

    Talking to an actual engineer about designed systems that can self-replicate, on the other hand, resulted in a wonderfully enlightening evening:

    http://sangomasmith.wordpress.com/2009/08/31/fabrication-and-friends/#more-117

  • jimbo

    Nothing related to religion can be, or ever was proven beyond a reasonable doubt…Science may not have all the answers yet but the chances of the answers they do have being closer to the truth are much greater than anyones “opinions” on religion…Science deals with provable facts..Religion is just a lot of conjecture and wishfull thinking…The problem is that religious people don’t seem willing or capable of understanding the difference between “opinions” and “Facts”, and so this argument will never end…Its the age old quandry of the people that DO know,versus the people that THINK they know but can’t prove anything..Its usually the latter that are the most vocal…

  • mytor

    All religion comes down to..
    . i have a tin box in my pocket inside which is the creator of the universe, unfortunately he is a sort of quantum schroedinger character and if i open the box to prove he is there he will disappear.

    You must have faith i am telling you the truth as for the sum of $x which i am allowed to collect from you he will save you from that which you fear most i. e. death.

    Your place in some none defined heaven is guaranteed as long as you pay up, what is more there is a full money back guarantee if after you die you are not completely satisfied.

    Not one follower has yet asked for a refund.

  • RaggMopp

    @mytor: Man that’s hard! Not that you’re wrong, we just so seldom see anyone willing to label religion, any religion, a shell game. A vast racket.

    Two different Catholic Bishops, one in Boston, one in San Francisco, have used their office to inflict pain and confusion, if not injury, upon political candidates who do not share their views. Specifically, and curiously, on the issue of a woman’s right to choose.

    They’ve not excommunicated or denied communion to anyone who didn’t oppose George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, in accordance with the Pope’s condemnation of that illegal/immoral war of conquest.

    Actually, I’m very sorry about that. That might have been the brand that got the ruling Republican Party to ask, “Hey, why the hell do these Agents of a Foreign Empire get a tax exemption on even the properties they hold for commercial value alone?”

    Actually the law only exempts religious holdings if they refrain from “partisan” politics. Which they clearly have found quite hillarious.

    Do I expect the Democrats, now apparently in power, but with quiveing trepadation, to move on that? Jesus, how dumb are you?

  • jimbo

    I have no problem believing in some kind of power that created everything, that makes some sort of sense..But man has perverted religion right from the get go..As soon as a few unscrupulous characters discovered that by guaranteeing everybody they were going to a ‘better place’ ie, heaven, as long as they ‘professed’ to believe in their “God who created man in his own image”…Well, what ignoramuss wouldn’t buy into a ‘deal’ like that? Thats why Christianity took of like wildfire; its the best ‘deal’ going..All you gotta do is say you believe some stuff that in reality is way over your head and you’re home free, heaven here I come, hallaluja!!! And as someone once said, “There’s a sucker born every second.” And as I say now, “People will pay any price in material goods to go to heaven.The one thing they won’t do is behave themselves and treat other people with respect.” But, even the worst of them is convinced that its “Swing low sweet chariot, comin for to take me home.” If there really was a heaven and a hell those buggars would all be roasting for eternity! Its really laughable the way people are about religion…

  • RaggMopp

    We’re not discussing Intellegent Design because it’s a worthwhile subject for discussion. We’re discussing it because the forces of darkness are pressing on all sides to have it taught in your High School Biology Class alongside real biology. They don’t teach biology or even general science in the lower grades anymore, too much chance for “controversy.” They’re not talking college biology curricula; they understand there’s no way in hell to bring a tenured Professor down to the level of prattling lawfully sponsored lies, not even at Stephen F. Austin State or Angelo State, much less at Stanford or Harvard.

    Actually the more immediate target may be the parishoner, with the blithering parishoner being the one who keeps causing dustups that get Creationism/ID handed it’s ass in open court. As per Kitzmiller vs Dover, Pennsylvania Area School District. That would make a lot more sense, because as someone I respect just explained to me: Evolution removes the concept of “Original Sin”, which removes the reason for Jesus, which, given that nobody has yet produced a shred of actual historical evidence for said Godman Jesus, pretty much dries up this marvellous racket at the source. If I got to wear a ruby the size of a chicken egg because of my adherence to a certain philosophical position I might feel pressed to find against your countrary position myself. If I had the temporal power, I might even call the Hounds of God to discretely inquire as to your contacts with demons and witches, and later, of course, try heroically to save your soul with fire and iron.

    Oh, and by the way! A more current thread. “This is a Christian Nation.” Ergo, constitutional safeguards apply only to “real Americans”, and the Constitution is mostly allegorical; it doesn’t really mean you have a “right” to free speech. If you can’t flaunt it, it ain’t a right! Which might mean that you have a right to question the very existence of God? Well, of course, that can’t be allowed! There are other equally dangerous ways to misrepresent the Constitution.

  • http://tallteacher.wordpress.com/ Reaper

    Okay here goes, looking at things from the perspective of a designer with near infinite resources.

    Q1: Why are our individual body parts not interchangeable as they would be in cars or aircraft?

    A1: Because like the producers of mass consumed objects like cheap household goods we are designed to fail. The failure of the product is inherent to its design so that more of the product must be produced. Apparently God gets bored if he isn’t making new models with minute differences in aesthetics and durability.

    Q2. If we’re made by a designer, where’s his/her actual trademark, logo, watermark or identification?

    A2: Assuming the designer exists then we can be assured that he exists as a Monopoly. In a state of complete monopoly there is no necessity for a watermark or logo as there is no competition. Alternatively you could say that the materials are distinctive to the designer, that anything crafted out of matter or energy is unique to this particular designer and is therefore immediately recognizable.

    Q3. Why are humans so vulnerable and lack natural weapons for self-defense, relying only on technology?

    A3: Okay serious answer here – Our technology (and advanced cognitive skills) substitute for organic systems. We pick up a sword/pistol/rail-gun and we are using our fangs/claws. We get behind a riot shield or tank, and this is our armour. We have in effect created a modular system of attack and defence adaptations that are far more flexible then in-built ones.

    Oh… guess the same argument could be used with question 1.

    Q4. Why do humans lack specialization in their designs? What job were we designed to do?

    A4: Our specialization is cognition. We are designed to adopt to environment by designing external modular solutions. We do however have major flaws as non-functional units (uneducated, insane and religiously brain damaged) are supported by the functional ones, reducing the efficiency of the whole.

    Q5. Why do we have extra components and vestigial parts? Aren’t they just a waste of resources?

    A5: The designer/creator/monopoly has no competition, is omniscient, omnipotent, and possibly very bored because of this. He/She/It finds it amusing leaving these remnants in to see A) what the product itself makes of them and B) how they will cause the product to fail in amusing ways (see answer 1)

  • Greg Fish

    “A4: Our specialization is cognition. We are designed to adopt to environment by designing external modular solutions.”

    I don’t know if cognition is really a specialization per se. The question itself is asking why we’re not born to be physicists, biologists, writers and so on but become them by growing up and learning about different careers and settling into them over many years. The idea of cognition in itself being the design goal seems awfully broad…

  • CE4relations

    If we were intelligently designed, I would first believe it was other sapient beings far away in time and space rather than some story book white bearded deity. We dont need religions’ fear to define morality for humankind. We can reason enough and find morale without the artistic imaginations of philosophers.

    If God were proven real there would be no religion. Likewise if God were proven nonexistent there would be no religion. The whole mystery is the point. Its the only reason I can bear to live… the curiousness of the cosmos and the promise of a completely new moment every blind second. I love understanding but without the mystery we have nil.

  • mytor

    Intelligent design…. putting the funfair next to the sewage system…very clever lol

  • Isaiah26

    For all of you who dont believe,trust and/or dont know God, let me tell you this.
    I would rather live my whole life believing, and living for God just to find that in the end He’s not real, insted of living my whole life without Him just to find that in the end He is more real than anything, because by the time that happens it would already be too late. I hope some of you open your hearts to him because in reality God doesnt want a religion but a relationship with YOU!