Imperfections of design

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The L.A. Times had this excellent article on ID the other day. In short, if we are all the product of intelligent design, why is the result so imperfect? (Hat tip: Noodle Food.)

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The Media vs. ID from Reflections on Reality on July 12, 2005 10:39 AM

So...this is another pseudo-teleological objection to ID, put out by some professor of psychology, who attempts to make absurd the claims of ID by pointing that if a designing intelligence is at work then his craftsmanship is quite poor. Read More

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Our friend Adam answered this on another post:

Evolution shows us a world in which the development of life is a violent and chaotic process, full of false starts and dead ends, indifferent to suffering and all other moral concerns. Human beings appear to have evolved only because of a series of accidents, including an asteroid strike 65 million years ago that wiped out the dinosaurs.

In response, Adam wrote:

Adam Wrote:

I disagree that the above conflicts with a benevolent God. The question is, to whom is he benevolent? And how? The answer is, to creatures that are made in his image, human beings. Chaos, extinction, and death in the animal world are irrelevent. Man’s immortal soul ensures that his existence does not end in suffering and death of the cruel material world, but eternal bliss.

So there! God didn’t bungle human design (coincidentally in exactly those ways one would expect if we evolved), but rather His purpose involves us living a life of inconvenience and imperfection, often outright pain, so that our souls can spend eternity appreciating bliss, which requires such a contrast before bliss can even be noticed.

We’ll have to ask Adam if God has back problems. Perhaps God lives in microgravity and forgot that His image wouldn’t work too well on a planetary surface?

Doh! I should not comment until I read the whole article. Feel free to delete the above comment as superfluous.

God has to be a civil engineer. Who else would think it was a good idea to put a waste pipeline through the middle of a recreational area?

lol IAMB. Careful, The Designer is not God … or is it? :)

The Designer creates “imperfect humans”, such as humans with birth defects (surely this is because of our sins, etc.). Why do we speak from the same tube that takes food? Points for efficiency.

Excellent designes by The Creator including but not limited to:

Dodo Penguins - not enough oomph in the wing design. good try though Most dinosaurs Etc.

Excellent article. Not quite to the point of this thread, but still Khayyam was eloquent concerning the imperfections of the maker and the made.

After a momentary silence spake Some Vessel of a more ungainly Make; “They sneer at me for leaning all awry: What! did the Hand then of the Potter shake?”

The L.A. Times had this excellent article on ID the other day. In short, if we are all the product of intelligent design, why is the result so imperfect?

I’m sure the answers to this will be entirely scientific, not theological. I mean, they’re doing Intelligent Design, not, I don’t know, Divine Design or something.

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So it’s logically possible to have scientific evidence that there is no intelligent designer, but not logically possible to have scientific evidence that there is one?

Ahh, the Intelligent Design advocates’ conundrum.

The half of the Intelligent Design movement that wishes to distance itself from religion cannot publicly invoke “evil” as an excuse for the failure to detect intelligent design. The half of ID that is rabidly creationist invokes “evil” as the excuse for chaos and imperfection. Hilariously, in doing so, they concede the impossibility of truly detecting supernatural design, and thus invalidate the ID movement’s claimed impending breakthroughs. Both sides of the same movement trump each other.

Lately there has been so much splintering amongst the ID/Creation camp that I’m left wondering when W. Dembski and the like will crack under the pressure and realize what a waste they’ve made of their careers.

It’s almost sad.

Arguments about the goodness or badness of the design of the universe are sham battles fought with wooden weapons. It isn’t that arguments from imperfection make much sense–no arguments involving good or bad have anything much to do with non-human or non-organic nature-but simply that if religionists are going to argue for the existence of God on the basis of what works in the universe, it is at least as legitimate to argue against the existence of God from the many more things that don’t work.

I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: This is a bad argument for opponents of ID to use.

It should only be used on creationists who insist that God’s design is perfect. ID-ots generally do not say that. Granted, they try and say as little as possible about the identity and motives of the Designer(s), but the point remains - there is no a priori reason why a design has to be perfect or a designer infallible. Look at human design for goodness sake - the Ford Edsel, anyone? don’t try and second guess the designer, people.

Just finished reading Mike Gene’s and Bipod’s specific responses to Barash.

Bottom line: Mr. Barash’s article, in and of itself, is refuted.

Next article please!

FL

I deny it, I deny it, I deny it. It is now refuted. Next!

You can only say design is bad design if you have knowledge of what the designer was aiming for.

If “the designer” wanted the level of backproblems we see, it did a bangup job.

As a follow up to my previous commnent, when the issue becomes “God” being the designer and his benevolence, what you’ve got is an argument from evil.

Come now, Flint. You’ve seen the responses given by Mike Gene and Bipod too. You know nobody here is going to refute the specifics of their replies to Barash. Might as well move on to the next PT article and save us all a bit of time.

In the meantime, for your reading pleasure:

The design in nature is actual. More often than we would like, that design has gotten perverted. But the perversion of design–dysteleology–is not explained by denying design, but by accepting it and meeting the problem of evil head on. The problem of evil is a theological problem. To force a resolution of the problem by reducing all design to apparent design is an evasion. It avoids both the scientific challenge posed by specified complexity, and it avoids the hard work of faith, whose job is to discern God’s hand in creation despite the occlusions of evil. —Wm. Dembski http://www.designinference.com/docu[…]response.htm

FL

Yes, imperfection is a bad argument against ID because ID does not claim perfection, they only claim an inferred designer. But what is amusing is that this is one reason they really tick off the creationists.

However, it appears to me that Rational Science is second-guessing the Creationists’ omniscient omnibenevolent God whose works they claim are evident in their perfection.

Where ID gets dragged into it is that they simultaneously speak for those creationists under the radar while distancing themselves from them in public.

if religionists are going to argue for the existence of God on the basis of what works in the universe, it is at least as legitimate to argue against the existence of God from the many more things that don’t work

My question was explicitly about logical possibility, so, at least as far as that question goes, the fact that you think you can count more things in our universe that are broken than things that aren’t doesn’t seem relevant. Is the existence/nonexistence of an intelligent designer a question that science can address or isn’t it?

Lately there has been so much splintering amongst the ID/Creation camp that I’m left wondering when W. Dembski and the like will crack under the pressure and realize what a waste they’ve made of their careers.

If Gould could survive being told by other prominent evolutionists that his ideas are so confused as to be barely worth bothering with, I’m guessing that Dembski will survive whatever differences there are within the ID community.

Regarding imperfect design, Robert DiSilvestro, OSU Professor of Entymology (and also part of the OSU PhD Dissertation scandal) stated that it is the result of sin.

Take, for example, the “design” of the dandelion. Dandelion’s reproduce asexually. Still, they put forth an extremely showy but useless flower at a great energy expense to the organism. This inefficient “design”, according to Dr. DiSilvestro, is the result of sin - dandelion sin (for surely God would not punish a dandelion for human errors). So, if dandelions can sin, they must have consciousness and, dare I conjecture it, dandelion souls.

I wonder how far Dr. DiSilvestro goes into the theological implications of poor design in his introductory classes.

FL:

Come on yourself.

The design in nature is actual.

But of course not! Design is *projected* by those determined to do so, but not required according to any evidence-based understanding. This statement is a policy position.

More often than we would like, that design has gotten perverted

And this statement is doubletalk. Since there IS no design, and since “perversion” is not defined, and since no method is implied or suggested of curing either error, this statement totally lacks any semantic content. It’s noise.

I admit I can’t parse through the rest, because I just can’t extract any meaning out of it. Theologists can debate about the problem of evil, but saying “reducing all design to apparent design is an evasion. It avoids both the scientific challenge posed by specified complexity” is pure bafflegab. What is “apparent design” and how does Dembski distinguish it from “real” design? But the application of his Filter, that he has never applied (for obvious reasons)? And if the problem is theological, where is any scientific challenge? As for specified complexity, Dembski has (for obvious reasons, again) been *extremely* careful to produce the specification only AFTER he has decided something was designed. Dembski attempts to solve no problems for which he is not already convinced of the answer.

Barash stated the self-evident (life is not only far from well-designed, but its flaws are exactly what the evolutionary process of incremental trial and error would be expected to produce), and your (and my) refutations were fully complete. That’s all Dembski has done as well.

I’m sorry Dembski has so much trouble trying to extract his god from the messy incompetent realities of biology. I could suggest a straightforward solution to his difficulties, but he (and you) would find it unsatisfying. Much easier to keep denying.

DiSilvestro is a nutritional biochemist. Needham, another outspoken creationis on the questionable dissertation committe, is an entomologist. Tom: could you provide links to the remarks you ascribe to DiSilvestro?

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‘Mike Gene’ babbles about perfection. I was not aware of people demanding that the design be perfect. However, it might be nice if the design weren’t so crap (in places) as to be downright painful.

I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: This is a bad argument for opponents of ID to use.

It should only be used on creationists who insist that God’s design is perfect. ID-ots generally do not say that. Granted, they try and say as little as possible about the identity and motives of the Designer(s), but the point remains - there is no a priori reason why a design has to be perfect or a designer infallible. Look at human design for goodness sake - the Ford Edsel, anyone? don’t try and second guess the designer, people.

I disagree. The whole point of ID is that we can supposedly recognize “intelligent design”, and one way we can recognize it is that it is (apparently) self-evidently better than any “design” that purely naturalistic evolution could possibly come up with. But this immediately raises the question of superfluous, unnecessarily complicated, or just plain BAD design: what does it mean? Is there even such a thing? What does it say about the designer? Is naturalistic evolution capable of coming up with any “designs”–good, bad, or otherwise–at all? Given a continuum from bad design to good design, how do we tell the difference? Is it possible to distinguish between benevolently good design and malevolently bad design? Or between competent and incompetent design?

ID proponents either don’t realize, or fervently hope otherwise, that any putatively scientific hypothesis of “intelligent design” leads immediately to questions about the identity, attributes, and motives of the designer(s). Raising these questions pointedly and often–which any good scientist would, upon addressing a hypothesis of “intelligent design”–is one of the things that will reveal the religious bias of those arguing from the ID viewpoint. And the fact that they avoid these questions as much as possible demonstrates that ID is scientifically bankrupt.

Even Dembski has admitted that CSI can be generated naturally. He just calls it ‘apparent’ CSI. Just like Behe eventually admitted that IC things could evolve. It’s up to FL and Slavador and company to understand that these concepts failed. The ID ‘theorists’ just aren’t going to come out and say that verbatim. Their consulting fees would dry up. The smart ones might switch to the newer cosmological ID when nobody buys the biological kind anymore.

FL Wrote:

Just finished reading Mike Gene’s and Bipod’s specific responses to Barash.

Bottom line:  Mr. Barash’s article, in and of itself, is refuted.

Next article please!

You’ve gotta be kidding me. Those are two of the worst “rebuttals” I’ve ever read. They both miss the point entirely.

Let me clarify since it’s quite simple and obviously lost on the self-described “teleologists”. ID advocates have long argued that “design” is manifest out in nature. Living things look designed, therefore we should assume that they are. Michael Behe, in a recent New York Times editorial, stated this explicitly:

The strong appearance of design allows a disarmingly simple argument: if it looks, walks and quacks like a duck, then, absent compelling evidence to the contrary, we have warrant to conclude it’s a duck. Design should not be overlooked simply because it’s so obvious.

There you have it. Aside from various arguments against evolution, this is the key argument for ID. Yet apparently, Mike Gene and company seem to think that this reasoning should only operate one way. When it turns out that it doesn’t look, walk, or quack like a duck, suddenly they change their tune.

Now, rather than being regaled with the splendors of the “obviously” designed living systems, we’re treated to cautionary tales about how things might be different than they seem, how the designer might have had unknown intentions, how maybe the design has decayed a bit, or maybe how optimal design isn’t really possible to begin with. These are all reasonable rejoinders – rejoinders which, sadly enough, also refute that one key argument that Behe saw fit to share with readers of the Times. For surely if we can’t readily identify bad design, and infer that the designer was incompetent (or that the design process didn’t operate with foresight), then we can’t readily identify good design either, and infer that the designer was a really smart dude. If something that doesn’t look like a duck might really be a duck in disguise, then appearances, it would seem, are irrelevant. Looking like a duck therefore means nothing.

So the duck argument is dead, and along with it, the better part of ID “theory”. There’s nothing much left after that other than crude antievolution arguments and dualistic falacies.

SteveF Wrote:

‘Mike Gene’ babbles about perfection.  I was not aware of people demanding that the design be perfect.  However, it might be nice if the design weren’t so crap (in places) as to be downright painful.

The whole premise being put forth by Gene is wrong to begin with. He assumes that we detect bad design by comparing it to some absolute standard of perfection. But we need not do that at all; we can tell if something is badly designed simply by comparing it to other designs that carry out the same function. For example, the vertebrate eye can be compared to the cephlapod eye – there’s no need to envision some sort of “perfect eye” in order to detect possible design flaws.

Of course they can just go on to argue that the designs really are perfect but our current state of knowledge is just too thin, which as I pointed out above, undercuts the case for ID quite badly.

The first point John is that I would know what the creators objectives were if he codified them in a document called the bible. It turns out that reality is incongruent with this document, so we can rule out this entity. SNNNAAAARRMMAN never wrote a book, so he’s still in the running.

My second point is that I believe you are disingenuous – you want to promote the advancement of religion, not science.

For the record, I have nothing against multiple designers, incompetent designers, alien designers, God as the designer, Jesus as the designer, a confused designer, a only partially intelligent designer, a designer whose objective it is to make life miserable for everyone, or anything else as the designer.

All I care to point out is that the argument made in the original essay only precludes the competence of a designer who wanted to make sure that no one ever experiences back pain.

Jon Crowell Wrote:

For the record, I have nothing against multiple designers, incompetent designers, alien designers, God as the designer, Jesus as the designer, a confused designer, a only partially intelligent designer, a designer whose objective it is to make life miserable for everyone, or anything else as the designer.

All I care to point out is that the argument made in the original essay only precludes the competence of a designer who wanted to make sure that no one ever experiences back pain.

So what was your problem with evolution as the designer, again, then?

My second point is that I believe you are disingenuous – you want to promote the advancement of religion, not science.

I want to promote the advancement of clear thinking and rigorous argumentation. Reason is my ultimate standard. In my view, everything must bow to reason – even God and even Darwinism.

If something can be shown not to make sense, I don’t want to belive it. And if an argument is pathetically weak, such as the one in the original essay, I want to point that out.

So what was your problem with evolution as the designer, again, then?

My problem is that I don’t see how it is possible. I am not satisfied that the mechanisms of Darwinism can pull it off.

It appears to me that the weight of the evidence points to Intelligent Evolution. Otherwise known as “IE”.

For the record, I have nothing against multiple designers, incompetent designers, alien designers, God as the designer, Jesus as the designer, a confused designer, a only partially intelligent designer, a designer whose objective it is to make life miserable for everyone, or anything else as the designer.

A clear case of MDCD.

All I care to point out is that the argument made in the original essay only precludes the competence of a designer who wanted to make sure that no one ever experiences back pain.

Yes, because it is arguing against a common form of the designer, which is the Christian God and let’s not fool ourselves here. Many of the ID peddlers like Dembski, Behe and the like are doing it because they are using it to peddle creationism in the emperors new clothes. The problem for ID isn’t the fact such articles are naming the biblical God as the designer, it’s the fact the press is seeing straight through the discovery institute et als facade of being science. They have not presented testable hypotheses, hell it’s been years since Behes book and they don’t even have a theory yet (which is plain pathetic for a so called ‘challenge’ to Darwinian evolution).

All ID at the moment is an attempt to run around in circles, never naming their designer, never trying to actually establish anything scientific about it (mechanisms, the nature of the designer etc). Unfortunately, it’s not going to be long until the house falls on the wicked witch and people begin to notice there isn’t anyone behind the curtain in ID Oz land…

Out of interest, how would you go about determining ‘good’ or ‘bad’ design? Is it possible and if so, what methodology would you use?

First you need to determine what the objective is.

So if an engineer tells you “I’m trying to design a car that can go 200 miles per hour,” and then he shows you the car he has designed and it only goes 5 miles per hour with the pedal to the metal, a full tank of gas, and ideal conditions, you can conclude that the objective was not met and the design is poor.

If you don’t know what the objective is, however, then you cannot evaluate whether the design is good or bad.

“For the record, I have nothing against multiple designers.…..or anything else as the designer.”

So Evolution is okay, then?

But Crowell, there the question becomes “What kind of designer wants people to experience back pain?” Of course, you can say “We are not meant to know”. And I can say that I’m actually butterfly on a field, and this whole world is a delusion of mine, as I wing to and fro. That doesn’t mean these are well-made arguments. The fact is, an incomprehensible designer is a hand-wave. It allows virtually everything. It is no different then saying we all sprang into existence yesterday, and all our memories are lies. You can’t disprove it because it destroys all possible methods of disproof.

So Jon, given your line of ‘reasoning’ and the text in the bible, do you rule out the Christian god as the designer?

So Evolution is okay, then?

As you well know, most of the ID camp believes in evolution. So I assume you meant “Darwinism.”

Yeah, I have no philosophical problem with Darwinism. I just don’t think the Darwinists have proved their case. Whenever they talk about the evidence they have, it just looks to me like it doesn’t add up. The alternative theory of Intelligent Evolution (i.e. the theory that Evolution must have had an intelligence involved in it – whether setting up the initial conditions or guiding it along the way, or something) just seems so much more reasonable. I want to go where the evidence leads, and when people tell me it leads to Darwinism I just have to believe they’ve been brainwashed by something or other because that sure isn’t the way it looks to me.

I was going to put this on the bathroom wall, but i get an error message about defining a comment template or something.


Question for the IDers here:

1 you say that CSI is essential to the determination of design

2 you say that a watch laying in some grass is detectably designed

Q: How much CSI is in the watch, how much in the grass, and what’s the rule which allows the conclusion about the watch?

Lenny FLank Wrote:

That too isn’t clear at all �” just look at how good societies with strong religions are at slaughtering their competitors.

The USSR, of course, was atheistic, and did a very good job of slaughtering competitors (and internal “enemies”), too. Heck, it did better than the Inquisition did.

Fallacy of affirmation of the consequent.

JRQ Wrote:

wait a minute … you have totally mis-characterized me.…I am not at all saying what you think I’m saying:

No I haven’t, and yes you were.

Yes, that’s precicely the point…the costs have nothing to do with evolution. The “costs” are only costs assuming the kinds of purposes the ID folks believe the designer intended.

That’s absurd. *You* are the one arguing that the design of human cognition undermines ID. You can’t use a premise that *you believe to be false* to make such an argument. All the IDist would have to do is agree that the premise is false – that human cognition is well designed to help us survive – and your argument falls flat.

My “claim” is only that any intelligent agent of the kind promoted by the ID movemement would not be subject to the same constraints as evolution.

No, your claim was that a intelligent designer could have done a better job of designing the human brain so it wouldn’t be gullible and subject to false beliefs. I noted that, *even if that’s the purpose of the brain*, there’s no support for such a claim. You are now rewriting our dialog to get your desired end – not to have been shown wrong. It’s quite dishonest.

(wait a minute, are you being sarcastic?)

My but you’re quick.

At least two things happen when bad design is demonstrated. First, the difference in the explanatory power of ID/C and the evolutionary perspective is contrasted. After all, those traits that are examples of poor design are easily explained by reference to evolutionary theory. Second, instances of bad design drive a wedge between ID/C advocates, who might simply say design need not be perfect, and their fundamentalist Christian supporters who believe fervently that the Designer is their omniscient, omnipotent, all-loving God.

bingo!

It would only be “bingo” *if* bad design had been demonstrated. But in the case of human cognition, it takes a fallacious teleological argument to “demonstrate” it. All ID/C advocates need do is point out – correctly – that bad design has not been demonstrated. As I said, there are very good arguments against ID, but this isn’t one – it’s a very bad argument.

OTOH,

Steve Reuland Wrote:

All these supposed rebuttals against “bad design” work equally well against claimed evidence for “good design”, and hence defeat a major point of argument for ID. I’m perfectly okay with notion that we can’t know for sure if something is good or bad design according to how God (or horrible space aliens) would have done things. But that being the case, Behe’s “if it looks like a duck” argument goes down in flames, because we can never know for sure what “ducks” are supposed to look like.

Bingo!

And

Russell Wrote:

Indeed! Since we can’t ever know what attributes The Designer prizes (efficiency? inefficiency? beauty? pathogenicity?.…) the whole exersize of trying to discern anything at all about The Designer - including her existence - from her alleged handiwork seems kind of silly.

Bingo! There’s a good argument against ID – and a good argument against the purported demonstration that human cognition is badly designed.

But there are valid “bad design” arguments – when the exact same function could have been achieved more efficiently or without negative effect. This doesn’t require knowing what “the designer” intended, beyond assuming that “the designer” wasn’t malicious or capricious. But the argument that human cognition could function “better” than it does (by doing something different than what it does) is not a valid argument.

Jon Crowell Wrote:

To whover made these statements: Are you aware that it is possible to detect that something is designed without knowing what it is designed for? We may not know what the objective of the designer is, but we can still infer the existence of one.

This is the fundamental question-begging fallacy of ID. You cannot infer a designer from design, as pointed out by some guy named Darwin. Duh.

GT(N)T Wrote:

The argument isn’t that ‘I’ could have done it better. The argument is that an omniscient, omnipotent, well-meaning god should have been able to have done it better.

Such arguments have no bite, because the IDist can simply deny that, even if the designer was God, a perfect design was intended. They’ll say it’s a matter of theodicy. There are far better ways to challenge ID than to argue theology.

Jon Crowell Wrote:

Therefore I conclude that if this box was designed, the designer is a real idiot.

Will someone please point out the flaw in this argument.

You already know the flaw in the argument – the conclusion isn’t warranted. But you didn’t state your actual argument, which is an argument by analogy for ID, or against evolution. But your argument goes the wrong way around – it’s a fallacy of denial of the antecedent. It is the IDist who insists, groundlessly, that the designer of life, or the cell, or the flagellum, or whatever *wasn’t* a real idiot. Your argument comes down to the absurdly fallacious question-begging argument from analogy that, if Chinese puzzle boxes aren’t designed by an idiot, then neither are living organisms. Once again, the human brain isn’t particularly good at logic (but that’s not what it was selected for).

Posted by Rich on July 12, 2005 11:27 PM Lenny ( I love your posts) speaking of eyes, have you seen this: http://www.carlzimmer.com/articles/[…]s_2005_Avida.… what good is half am eye (#1)… Its on its way to beating specified complexity…

Fasincating article.

They had evolved a way to tell when Ofria was testing them by looking at the numbers he fed them. As soon as they recognized they were being tested, they stopped processing numbers. “If it was a test environment, they said, ‘Let’s play dead,’ “ says Ofria.

ROFL ROFL

Re ““[…] Life will always find a way.””

Hey, that sounds like what that guy said on Jurassic Park. LOL.

Henry

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