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Dysteleology and Intelligent Design: If Only This Were a Spoof

Casey Luskin

Spoof.Com has a funny article, “Flaws Found in Intelligent Design Theory,” poking fun at dysteleological arguments against ID. The parody has biochemist “Dr. Jack Harvey” complaining about the fact that penguins can’t fly and that they must live in a very harsh environment. “Dr. Harvey” goes on to complain that humans aren’t designed because they sometimes have large noses and illness. The article said, “Some scientists say that Harvey’s claims bolster the ridiculous idea of ‘evolution’.” If only this type of thing really were a spoof. Unfortunately, Darwinists make these fallacious arguments all the time. For example, today at Uncommon Descent, William Dembski discusses how various scientist have mocked the Christian hymn “Battle Hymn of the Republic” by singing about our “incompetent design” due to back pain. But Rutgers University English Professor George Levine takes first prize. In his book, Darwin Loves You, Levine actually makes precisely the same argument about penguins spoofed in the article:

What designer with any competence and with any compassion at all would construct a mode of living and survival that entails so much pain, so much awkwardness, such clumsy reuse of organs and limbs apparently adapted for other purposes? Why force aquatic birds (with wings that don’t work as means to flight but are already readapted for swimming) to “march” for seventy miles from their source of food to their breeding grounds, or to walk on their heels for months in order to protect the egg from touching the ice and immediately freezing? Was it an intelligent designer, or the penguins, who figured out that this was a manageable way to do things, and then did it?

(George Levine, Darwin Loves You: Natural Selection and the Reenchantment of the World (Princeton University Press, 2006), pgs. 256-257)

Even some serious publications by scientists repeat these arguments. In National Geographic in November, 2006, Carl Zimmer claimed (among other things) that our eyes aren’t designed because our retinas may become detached during a strong physical jolt. In August, 2003, Scientific American had a special issue which argued that evolution has caused “imperfection” because we have small ears, bipedal locomotion, and various illnesses associated with aging. The new anti-ID book Intelligent Thought relies heavily upon such dysteleological arguments, as evolutionary anthropologist Scott Atran asks, “Why did he [the designer] give us just one head, heart, and liver, instead of two, like lungs and kidneys?” The list of such fallacious dysteleological objections to ID never ends.

All of these arguments make two false assumptions: (1) that the designer must only make things which are pain-free and have no suboptimal features, and (2) that the design is indeed suboptimal. In short, all of these dysteleological arguments about pain or suboptimality are theological arguments which do not make a dent in the scientific theory of design. As Dembski says in response to the “Incompetent Design” song, “yes, the performance is poor, but poor design is not the absence of design.” These Darwinists are making theological objections (to which many religions have very good theological answers) which have nothing to do with the scientific theory of intelligent design. As I wrote in response to Zimmer:

Was the Ford Pinto, with all its imperfections revealed in crash tests, not designed? Zimmer thus presents a straw-man argument against intelligent design, based upon his view that a designer must design things to withstand a certain type of malicious physical attack. This is not a scientific objection, but a theological objection. As a scientific theory, intelligent design does not require that systems always survive malicious physical beatings: as a science, ID requires the detection of specified complexity, and the moral purposes of the designer or the “perfection” of the design are irrelevant when determining whether an object was designed. But Carl Zimmer’s personal theological views have no bearing upon the science of intelligent design. A more interesting question is, Why has National Geographic become a mouthpiece for a view of theology that states that a designer must design things to withstand certain types of physical attacks? should realize that they weren’t really spoofing anything, and that Darwinists make these fallacious arguments with a straight face all the time.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.