Posted by Paul Braterman
My friend Keith Gilmour has just updated his delightful Centre For Unintelligent Design website. All the old favourites are there, together with numerous new examples, and revealing correspondence with those strange people who insist on believing that our ramshackle bodies, and indeed our ramshackle Universe, are the products of intelligent design. I should mention that the equally praiseworthy Oolon Colluphid, here and here, has played Wallace to Keith’s Darwin (or do I mean Darwin to Keith’s Wallace?) but Keith’s self-referential design principles, and wonderful correspondence with creationists, are irreducibly complex and original.
The examples are arranged higgledy-piggledy, but fall readily into a few distinct categories. There are cosmological examples; why all that wasted space and time? Then there are examples such as disease caused by pathogens. These merely show that if the Universe is intelligently designed, it is not so designed for our benefit; if I wanted to make a plausible case for intelligent design, I would point to the complex life cycle of the malaria parasite, or the liver fluke, but for some strange reason Intelligent Design advocates never seem to do this. Finally, and most importantly, there are examples of design defects that can only be explained by reference to our or some other species’ evolutionary history. And that, of course, is the whole point. Intelligent Design advocates, almost without exception, seek to deny that we have any evolutionary history at all, preferring to imagine that we were supernaturally handcrafted. If so, the site leads us to ask, why are our eyes back to front, why do our sinuses fail to drain, and while there are no doubt good reasons why there are two sets of nerves to the larynx, why does one of them have to loop round the aorta and back up again, a distance (if you happen to be a giraffe) of around 20 feet? And 142 other examples of this kind, ranging in severity from the end-Permian extinctions to acne and halitosis? And, all joking apart, why do we give birth through the pelvic girdle, with all that implies in the way of maternal pain, death, and brain damage to the innocent newborn? (One contributor asserts that there are people who justify this by quoting Genesis 3:16, but do such moral monsters as this really exist?)
Last but not least, there are updates on correspondence with those who persist in believing in Intelligent Design. One highlight here is where the social constructivist Steve Fuller, while describing himself as an atheist, refers us to the literature on theodicy in order to repudiate the claims of unintelligent design. (If you don’t know – and why should you? – theodicy is a branch of theological apologetics, devoted to proving that nothing is ever really God’s fault so He has nothing to apologise for). Another is the head-on attack by Alastair Noble, of Glasgow’s own Centre for Intelligent Design (yes, there is such a thing), on Keith’s analogy between Holocaust denial and creationism. Since Dr. Noble frequently and forcefully insists that Intelligent Design has nothing to do with creationism, we must wonder why these comments attracted his attention. We have Glasgow’s own Jonathan McLatchie telling us that “that ID is not committed to interventionalism”. Clearly we have underestimated the preternatural capabilities of the intelligent design process, which can make things happen without a natural cause and now, we learn, without even intervening. And of course, anybody who is anybody has been attacked by Casey Luskin, and Keith is no exception.
I do have some criticisms. A few contributions (not, I suspect, Keith’s own) show evidence of trying too hard to show off, or of very specialized preoccupations. Who, I wonder, came up with “Dialect differences between the genetic codes of mitochondria, chloroplasts, and the eukaryote cell nucleus hindering optimum migration to the nucleus of mitochondrial and chloroplast DNA”? And how many people in the world really need to bother about the problems facing a coeliac Pastafarian?
I also think Keith cheats a little. Many of the diseases listed are the result of dietary deficiencies. Do these really qualify? After all, we can’t survive without food, so is it really a defect that we can’t survive without the vitamins and minerals normally present in food? And many are the result of foreign invaders; bacteria, viruses, worms, and so on. From their point of view, we are very well designed indeed. Our brains provide wonderful niches for toxoplasma, our livers for liver flukes, and our intestines for tapeworms. Along with the exquisite external environments we provide for lice, mites, and fleas, and other visitors. If we would only give up our narrow anthropocentrism, and learn to see things from the point of view of these our guests, we might find such design features completely admirable. After all, if our immune systems were not so easily fooled or subverted, myriad creatures as diverse as the AIDS virus and the guinea worm would find life very hard indeed.
So maybe, despite Keith’s examples, our own corner of the Universe actually is intelligently designed. Not for us, perhaps, but for parasites and pathogens, bacteria and bedbugs.
This post has now also appeared on the 21st floor website