A badly designed argument pt.2

4 03 2007

Yesterday I posted about how I feel the “bad design” argument, while perhaps a good rhetorical question for use in debate, doesn’t do very much in terms of giving postivie evidence for evolution. As expected, some people disagreed with me a bit (which is a good thing, of course) so I thought I would follow-up on my original ideas. Quote Chris Harrison

Evolutionists can explain vestigal structures (etc.) from a purely scientific perspective. The challenge for the IDer is to explain how ID makes sense of these structures while avoiding unscientific speculation like “We don’t know what the designer was thinking”. I’m betting that they cannot do this, and that they will be forced to concede that ID explanations are not scientifically valid, and surely not superior to evolution. What do you think?

I agree; the best way to present this argument is to draw the IDer out and show how absurd their position is. “Good” and “bad” are subjective labels and I don’t think there’s an objective way to qualify these terms as far as structures and functions of organisms. Many creationists and IDers, however, argue that design doesn’t have to be “good,” it just has to work, so their usual response to the “bad design” argument is “Who can know the mind of God? He could’ve done it any way he wanted.” As Chris rightly notes in his comment, this is outside the realm of scientific questioning and there is no answer here, being that nature gives us no reason to believe it’s designed at all (such ideas come from preconceived notions of metaphysical workings). So, what are we to do?

ID advocates, at least in public, usually claim that we cannot know who or what the “designer” behind life is; it could be God, it could be aliens, it could be super-intelligent bacteria, it could be time-travelling scientists, it could be your mother… anything goes. Yet, when the argument of inefficient or “bad design” comes up, they usualy claim that the designer could have done their work in any number of ways, which to me rules out just about anything but an all-powerful, omniscient being, aka God. Why would God create or design life to be so wasteful? The answer is that we can’t know because we can’t know the designer, their intent, when they did their work, how they did their work, etc. Drawing these admissions out, from my perspective, is a good way to embarass an ID advocate, as it shows that nothing about their argument is scientific and that their ideas are based upon religion and not observational science.

My friend from ProgessiveU, Darwin’s Beagle, had this to say

I have found the argument VERY useful when I present instances of bad design by saying “Modern evolutionary theory explains this as being due to [whatever is appropriate for the example]; ID on the other hand says that for some strange reason designer happened to do it a totally bizarre way”.

This is true, but as I stated before, I don’t think this would be effective with people already convinced there is a God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, etc. The argument seems to hinge more on the existence and intent of a designer, which we have no sign of an cannot prove empricially, so the onus has the be on the ID advocates to prove and support their position, and that is the point I think should be driven home. Mind you, I’m not saying that we should never ever use the “bad design” argument as a rhetorical device as it is a good question to pose to an IDer to highlight their ignorance/shiftiness, but I don’t think much time should be devoted to it in debate or literature. Like I said before, once you get into the good/bad argument, what is good or bad needs to be quantified and even then you’re dealing with the actions and intent of something there is no proof of, so it leads into a bit of a dead-end being there is no answer. Indeed, most times creationists refer back to the Bible or their image of God anyway, turning the debate into one of theology/philosophy, and those who already believe in a God or designer are likely to just go along with the argument because the designer could be capable of anything. How evolution explains vestigial structures, body/system plans that are inefficient or dangerous, etc. should be the primary focus, ID’s failure to tell us when, how, or why (all questions that could be answered or at least hypothesized about) these things arose being the second part. Indeed, I find it interesting that ID makes no attempt to tell us when certain structures were designed, how it was done, who did it, etc.

In effect, I think pointing out ID’s failure to explain any details of their hypotheses can point out how bankrupt the position is, but pointing out “bad design” is unlikely to sway people who already believe in God to start with. Many creationists I have spoken to have almost no real understanding of the fossil record, modern evolutionary theory, speciation patterns, etc., so positive evidence of evolution paired with the ignorance ID breeds can be a powerful combination in debate when expressed well.


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