In a depressingly uncomprehending “critique” of intelligent design in biology, Bruce and Francis Martin (BF) appeal to two elements of animal bodies: (1) vestigial features and (2) anatomical inefficiency to cast doubt on design.

It is not generally within my competence to evaluate the truth of their particular claims. However, our authors mention perhaps the most famous allegedly vestigial organ, saying that “in humans the appendix serves no apparent purpose,” and of course, modern research has revealed the considerable utility of the appendix to humans:

The appendix, therefore, may act as a “safe house” for beneficial bacteria.

This reservoir of bacteria could then serve to repopulate the gut flora in the digestive system following a bout of dysentery or cholera or to boost it following a milder gastrointestinal illness.

In any case, let me grant BF’s examples of vestigial features and anatomical inefficiencies. All they have possibly shown is the truth of evolution, not the falsity of intelligent design. For no biologist working in the design paradigm denies that Darwinian evolution and intelligent design work side by side and complement each other sweetly.

Evolution then is “nature,” and ID is “grace” that completes what nature cannot bring to a finish. It is even possible that evolution subsequent to a design event can harm the designer’s handiwork. Inefficiencies then may be due not to the design itself but to random and partially destructive mutations that survive after the design has been implemented. That is, instead of improving design, the blind watchmaker can degrade it.

They further propound irrelevant theological objection to ID. To them I reply thus:

1) Suboptimal or inefficient design is still design. A 1960s computer is exceedingly primitive by today’s standards, yet it is designed.

2) Non-functioning design that causes a creature to die and leave no offspring in the natural selection is still design. A broken engine makes the car useless, but it is still designed.

For example, BF appeal to “selection pressures during evolution.” But such pressures exist and are fully enabled for intelligent design, as well. It’s just that ID theorists argue that in addition to random variation, there is good reason to postulate intelligent variation, as well, insofar as randomness + selection is not a powerful enough force on its own to generate information-rich complex biological structures.

3) A man-made artifact that is used for evil ends is still designed. Thus, a nuclear bomb and computer virus are both designed.

In particular, it does not follow from the fact than some biomolecular machines exhibit signs of being intelligently designed that the designer is benevolent, omniscient, or omnipotent. Hence the objection from the problem of evil, i.e., that the designer finds “sport from visiting on humans and other mammals all sorts of afflictions including parasitic bacteria, viral diseases, cancer, and genetic diseases” (218) misses the mark.


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