In their book, “A Meaningful World”, Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt, both fellows of the Discovery Institute, explained how the early scientist, Robert Boyle (1627-1692), “helped consign Aristotle’s four-element theory (earth, air, fire and water) to the history of science by pointing us away from the theory to the actual intricacies of nature before our eyes.” Aristotle had posited a theory that allowed philosophers “to elucidate the nature of reality but the temptation was always to confuse the world of human thought with the actual complexities of the real world, to be content with a tidy intellectual simplicity which only a long apprenticeship in the untidy complexities of a laboratory could cure.” In other words, Aristotle’s theory was based on how nature looked superficially and not how it actually worked.

If one replaces Aristotle with Darwin and nature with how life actually works, one ends up with the current situation regarding neo-Darwinism. Just as Boyle and his kind, through direct experimentation, relegated Aristotle’s theory to the dustbin of scientific history, so too, the current understanding of how life actually works is in the midst of doing the same to the neo-Darwinian claim that life came about solely from the undirected forces of natural selection acting on random variation without a need for purposeful design. In other words, Darwin’s theory was based on how life looked superficially and not how it actually worked.

The need for systems biologists to use engineering terms like specifications, dynamic capacity, computation, signal processing, control systems, optimization, constraints and trade-offs when referring to how life actually works  points to purposeful design rather than just random “aren’t we lucky to have hit the jackpot” chance and the laws of nature. This has left neo-Darwinists with little more than their “just so” stories. Exhibit A of their desperate attempt to cling to the golden age of ignorance about how life actually works is their “bad design” arguments. They present a false dichotomy which claims that since certain structures in the human body are not up to neo-Darwinian standards, their origin could not have involved any purposeful design but must have come about solely by natural selection acting on random variation. This is clearly not only a logical fallacy but actually a non-sequitur.

For, as Steve Laufmann, a design engineer associated with the Discovery Institute, put it in his article, The “Botched” Human Body, Revisited, “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that “bad design” doesn’t mean “no design””. In the article above he details several common errors in these “bad design” arguments, three of which are listed below.

  1. Not understanding the objectives of the designer without which it’s awfully hard to claim that the design doesn’t pass muster (especially if you’re claiming that the design is really just an illusion).

  2. Given the objectives, not accounting for the functional requirements, constraints and trade-offs, since all complex systems involve conflicting design requirements which must be weighed and carefully selected to result in optimal overall function but possibly suboptimal in other regards.

  3. Failure to acknowledge degradation over time which no matter how optimal the design, all living organisms (just like all man-made machines) undergo as the laws of nature inexorably take effect (“user abuse” will be looked at here too).

This series will look at some of these neo-Darwinian “bad design” arguments. Its focus will not necessarily be to refute them, since we do suffer debility and death and one could call that “bad design” too. In other words, “bad design” arguments usually just boil down to the subjective opinion “I wouldn’t have done it that way.”  By filling in the gaps, this series will provide important information, always left out by the neo-Darwinian critics, on how life actually works. Then, by passing these arguments through Laufmann’s triple (error) filter the reader will likely come to see that these “bad design” claims of the neo-Darwinists are in reality just an illusion.

Q. Did you hear the one about the neo-Darwinists who trekked out to see Mt. Rushmore?

A. It seems that when they saw that Washington’s mouth was a bit crooked and Jefferson’s eyes were a bit crossed, they came to the conclusion that since it wasn’t as they thought it should be, it couldn’t have been intelligently designed but must have come about by wind and rain erosion aided by weathering from freezing and thawing.


The Neo-Darwinian Chronicles

Chapter 1: The Pharynx (Throat)

Also see Dr. Glicksman's Series on

"Beyond Irreducible Complexity"

"Exercise Your Wonder"

"On Being Alive"

Howard Glicksman M. D. graduated from the University of Toronto in 1978. He practiced primary care medicine for almost 25 yrs in Oakville, Ontario and Spring Hill, Florida. He now practices palliative medicine for a Hospice organization in his community. He has a special interest in how the ethos of our culture has been influenced by modern science’s understanding and promotion of what it means to be a human being.

Comments and questions are welcome.

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