Intelligent Design Made Mankind?


Today's "Intelligent Design" movement is based on an argument not unlike the one used by William Paley just before Darwin's day. Paley believed that if you found a watch in a forest, you would not assume it had formed there by itself. You would assume that it had been made ultimately by a "watchmaker."

By extension then, the human body is like a watch. The human body is complex -- "irreducibly" complex according to the "Intelligent Design" movement. And so one might argue as Paley did that the human body could not have formed by itself. It had to have been made by an "Intelligent Designer."

If the Intelligent Designer actually exists, here is a thought experiment for us to ponder.

Let's imagine that you were to walk into a jewelry store and look at the different watches in the jeweler's case. One of the watches catches your eye because its design is so unusual. The jeweler walks over and you ask him to describe the watch. He begins to rattle off several of its more interesting features.

"Here's something you don't find on many watches," the jeweler says. "When you wind up this watch, it begins to stink!" He winds the watch, and it is just as he says -- a definite odor, very slight at first, begins to waft from the watch. The jeweler tells you that the smell can grow quite profound through the course of the day, to the point where the watch becomes most annoying. You must apply a special ointment called a "deodorant" to the watch every morning in order to mask the smell, and will also have to wash the watch every night to get the ointment and the smell off. If you let the watch go two or three days without washing it, it will smell so bad that you will not want to be in the same room with it.

"And here is something else," says the jeweler. "For eight hours out of every day this watch will not tell you the time at all! It is 'asleep' during those eight hours and it cannot be disturbed." If it is disturbed and does not get the full eight hours of sleep that it needs, then it may spontaneously and unexpectedly fall asleep for up to two hours at a time during the following day. This is called a "nap." Also, the watch's time keeping may be very erratic if it does not get enough sleep.

The jeweler also informs you that the watch is subject to thousands of different "diseases." Many of these diseases may take the watch out of service for a week or more. Many more will cause the watch to need very expensive repairs in a specialized service center called a "hospital." And hundreds of these diseases will cause the watch to die completely. Two or three times a year (if you are lucky, more if you are not) the watch will be affected by one of these diseases for about a week. During those two or three weeks each year, the watch will not keep accurate time and you may have to bring it in for repair.

"Now this is quite unique," says the jeweler. "Not many watches have this!" He points to a soft lump on the side of the watch. It appears that two of watch's most important gears are not actually inside the watch's case. Instead, they are attached outside of the watch and they connect to the other gears in the watch through a little slot. These two external gears are protected by nothing but a thin plastic bag that the jeweler calls a "scrotum." The jeweler warns you that because of this unique design, you have to be extremely careful with the watch. If you ever bump these exposed gears on anything, the watch will double over and grind to a halt.

The jeweler continues...

Every week or so you will have to inject into the watch certain chemicals called "vitamins," and if you do not the watch will die.

If the watch gets too cold, parts of it will get "frostbite" and then will rot and fall off.

Every day on the outside of the watch's case there will develop a disgusting film called "plaque". You will have to scrub this plaque off twice each day with a brush. If you do not, the case of the watch will fill with holes and eventually fall apart.

You find out that you need to wind the watch three or four times every day. But you must wind this watch very carefully. If you wind it too much, it will balloon grotesquely to three or four times its normal size and then begin having even more problems with different diseases. This grotesque ballooning is called "obesity" and it is a major problem.

When you order the watch, it takes nine months for delivery. But fifteen percent of the orders never leave the factory. They die on the assembly line and never get delivered because of a "miscarriage." About five percent of the watches that leave the factory have serious defects - these defects have names like Down syndrome, Spina Bifida, etc.

When you open up your new watch and take it out of its package, you have no idea what it will look like. Some of the watches are quite beautiful, but the number of those is extremely small. Many of the rest are average looking. Quite a few are surprisingly ugly. You take what you get.

In the same way, a very small number of watches that leave the factory will come with sophisticated features like a stopwatch and moon phase dial. The majority of the watches will have a normal hour and minute hand and will keep time fairly well. But quite a number of the watches will have a "below-average IQ" and will therefore keep time poorly or not at all. Again, you take what you get.

The jeweler goes on and on and on like this, describing dozens of problems with this particular brand of watch. After an hour you are so disgusted and bewildered that you hold up your hand and ask him to stop. You have just one obvious question:

"What sort of insane watchmaker would create a watch that has so many problems???"

No one with a choice would buy this brand of watch. The design is ridiculous. There are thousands of flaws -- many of them quite serious -- that are readily apparent in this brand of watch. Why would the watchmaker create a watch with body odor? Tartar and plaque? Obesity? An external scrotum and testicles? The list of absurd features and problems is nearly endless.

This really is the problem with the "divine watchmaker" theory. Intelligent Design? If mankind is created in God's image, then God is a total idiot. No "Intelligent Designer" -- God or otherwise -- would design a watch that is this ridiculous.

Let's look at several of the more bizarre features that we find in our human bodies and examine them in more detail.

Body Odor

If we assume that an Intelligent Designer created the human body, then the Intelligent Designer was free to design people in any way he liked.

Over nearly all of the human body, sweat is handled with a system that is odorless. But then the Intelligent Designer did something very odd. In our armpits, the Intelligent Designer invented a completely different sort of sweat gland. These are called apocrine sweat glands. These special sweat glands add proteins and fats to the salt and water of normal sweat.

The proteins and fats themselves have no particular odor, although they do have a yellowish color that stains clothing. It's when bacteria start digesting the fats and protein that the problems begin. The bacterial digestion process creates a tremendous amount of odor. And the odor is rancid and disgusting. This is why humans have body odor.

So why did the Intelligent Designer do this to us?

Some would say, "Perhaps body odor is an artifact left over from the lower animals." This assumes that we evolved from lower animals. The Intelligent Designer had a blank slate when he designed human beings.

Some might say, "Look, just because the Intelligent Designer is omnipotent, it does not mean that the human body is perfect. The Intelligent Designer must have created body odor for some reason when he created people." But what would that reason be? Why would the Intelligent Designer want our armpits to stink? Why would any Intelligent Designer make so many mistakes? Why not design a watch that works?

Some might say, "Perhaps the Intelligent Designer simply created life a billion years ago, created evolution, and then let evolution follow its natural chaotic path. That is why the human body has all these problems." If that is the case, then what need do we have for the concept of an Intelligent Designer? Clearly the "irreducible complexity" of all living things came from a natural evolutionary process in that case, so there is no need to posit an Intelligent Designer.

Why would an Intelligent Designer consciously choose for humans to stink? That is the question.

What if we hypothesize that there is no Intelligent Designer? What if the reason why our armpits stink is because the Intelligent Designer is imaginary? Under this hypothesis, your body was created by an unguided natural process over the course of millions of years. The fact that you have smelly armpits is a random artifact of this natural process. God did not create mankind in his own image, nor did any other supernatural "designer" create us -- nature created human beings in the same way that it created every other living thing.

Vitamins

Chances are that you take a multi-vitamin tablet on a daily basis or that you eat vitamin-fortified foods regularly. Have you ever wondered why you need to do that? It turns out that vitamins represent one of the most interesting design flaws in the human body.

A vitamin is a molecule that your body needs, but that it cannot make on its own. For example, vitamin C is a small molecule with the chemical formula C6H7O6. Without the special molecules that vitamin pills provide, people get all sorts of debilitating diseases. If you do not get enough vitamin D, you contract a disease called rickets, which causes soft bones and can lead to terrible deformity. If you do not get enough vitamin C you get a disease called Scurvy.

Scurvy is a rather appalling illness and is fatal if not treated. Your gums soften, you begin bleeding from mucus membranes and your body becomes covered with spots and bruises. These problems come from the fact that Vitamin C is essential to the body when it is making collagen. Without the vitamin C molecule, the body cannot make collagen properly and this causes a host of problems.

Have you ever noticed that dogs have no desire to eat citrus fruits? That's because dogs do not care about vitamin C. Dogs produce their own vitamin C internally, so they have no need to get it from outside sources. In fact, almost every animal on the planet makes vitamin C inside its own body. Humans are one of the very few animals (guinea pigs are another) that can't make their own vitamin C.

Wouldn't you think that an Intelligent Designer would have created the human body so that it could manufacture its own vitamin C? Why would an Intelligent Designer install the vitamin-C-producing mechanism inside nearly every other animal, but leave it out of human beings? An Intelligent Designer would certainly know that humans would need vitamin C, and without it they would get the appalling disease called scurvy. An Intelligent Designer certainly had the ability to install the same vitamin-C-producing mechanism that all the other animals have in humans. What in the world was the Intelligent Designer thinking when he made this mistake?

What if we hypothesize that there is no Intelligent Designer? In that case, the reason why humans have to take in vitamin C from external sources is because, millions of years ago, the gene that produces vitamin C got damaged during the natural process that designed human beings. This damaged gene means that humans cannot produce vitamin C internally. The human body came from a natural process acting over the course of millions of years, as this design flaw so easily illustrates.

The scrotum

Regardless of whether you are male or female, there has come a point at which you have looked at the male sexual anatomy and asked yourself the obvious question: "What is going on here?" Just look at it -- the design is ridiculous. The two testicles are hanging in a little sack called the scrotum, so they are out in the open and completely exposed.

If man is created by an Intelligent Designer, then why in the world would he design human males like this? Why aren't the testicles packaged neatly inside the body like every other important organ?

If you are a male, you know about the several problems that go with external testicles:

  1. It can be uncomfortable to run because the testicles have a tendency to flap around. This is why male athletes wear jock straps.

  2. Because they are outside and unprotected, the testicles are quite sensitive to pain. Any male who has ever been "kicked in the balls" or fallen in the wrong way on his testicles knows how excruciatingly painful it can be.

  3. Because there are loose flaps of skin involved, you get problems like chaffing, jock itch, etc. that develop in and around the scrotum.
Anyone who looks at the design of the testicles and the scrotum can see that there are major flaws. Why are the testicles designed this way?

The testicles hang in a sack outside of the body on most mammals for a very simple reason. The ideal temperature for sperm production happens to be about three degrees Celsius lower that normal body temperature. By hanging the testicles in an external sack, the testicles can more easily maintain this lower temperature. Two types of mammals solve the temperature problem with something other than an external sack: cetaceans (dolphins, whales) and seals. They compensate for the temperature problem with elaborate blood circulation schemes to keep the testicles cool.

If an Intelligent Designer created the human body, the obvious question that you have to ask yourself is this: Why didn't he simply design the testicles so that they function at the normal body temperature? Why in the world would an Intelligent Designer make them temperature-sensitive? If the testicles functioned at normal body temperature (instead of three degrees cooler) then the testicles could be inside the body like every other organ.

Why create such a ridiculous design?

What if we hypothesize that there is no Intelligent Designer? In that case, the human body was designed by a natural process. The fact that the sperm-producing organs are temperature-sensitive is an accident of that natural process. The problem was solved by nature by hanging the testicles of most mammals in a little sack outside the rest of the body. In that case, this whacky design makes sense.

Tartar and plaque

Even if you brush your teeth and floss them twice a day, you are going to have plaque and tartar build up on your teeth. Periodically you have to go to the dentist to have this plaque and tartar scraped off with the painful metal instruments. If you do not visit the dentist for these periodic cleanings, what will happen is that the plaque and tartar rot your gums, give you cavities and cause all of your teeth fall out.

If an Intelligent Designer designed your mouth, then he also created tartar and plaque. The question you have to ask yourself is: why would an Intelligent Designer do this? Why is the human mouth so poorly designed? What sort of perfect Intelligent Designer would make such an obvious error?

What if we hypothesize that there is no Intelligent Designer? In that case, your body was designed by a natural process. The fact that you have bad breath and tartar is a random accident caused by this natural process.

Sleep

Every day you need about eight hours of sleep in order to function normally. This raises an obvious question: Why would an Intelligent Designer require us to waste eight hours a day in a state of unconsciousness? Why not design us so that we do not need to sleep?

You can also ask a second question: Given that your body requires you to get eight hours of sleep per day to function normally, why is it so often impossible to fall asleep? Here are several common reasons for lying awake in bed:

  • There is too much noise (for example, the neighbor is blasting heavy metal music at 2AM).
  • You cannot get into a comfortable position (for example, while flying coach on the NY to LA red-eye).
  • Your kid wakes up screaming at 3AM (for example, because she can't sleep).
  • You drank too much coffee during the day (for example, because you didn't get enough sleep the night before).
  • It is too hot.
  • It is too cold.
  • You have the flu and you are coughing all night.
  • Your spouse is snoring.
  • You are nervous about the big presentation tomorrow.
  • The mattress is uncomfortable.
  • You had a bad nightmare and are afraid to fall back asleep.
  • And so on...
There are a thousand things that can make sleep impossible.

Looking at all this, you can see that the whole concept of sleep is damaged from beginning to end. The reason why you have to sleep has nothing to do with an Intelligent Designer. Your body was designed by a natural process over millions of years. The concept of sleep is a random accident created by this natural process, not by an Intelligent Designer.

The divine watchmaker

If an Intelligent Designer created the human body, then you have to explain what went wrong. Why would an omnipotent, all-knowing being make such a huge number of ridiculous and often malicious errors in his design of the human body? The problems of body odor, vitamins, testicles, dentists and sleep described above barely begin to scratch the surface:

  • Why didn't the Intelligent Designer design eyes that work, so that half the people on the planet don't need eyeglasses?
  • Why didn't the Intelligent Designer design a sense of hunger that works, so that people are not threatened by obesity?
  • Why didn't the Intelligent Designer design a heart that works, so that heart disease is not the number one killer in the United States?
  • Why didn't the Intelligent Designer design a digestive system that works, so that people are not constantly bothered by diarrhea and constipation?
  • Why didn't the Intelligent Designer design a brain that works, so that it does not suffer from addictions to alcohol, nicotine, heroine, cocaine, gambling, etc.?
  • Why didn't the Intelligent Designer design an immune system that works, so that there is no such thing as the common cold (and all of the thousands of other diseases)?
  • Why didn't the Intelligent Designer design hair that works, so there is no such thing as male pattern baldness?
The list goes on and on and on. The Intelligent Designer made thousands of mistakes that are obvious to anyone who uses his watch.

Many of the problems that we find in the design of the human body bring about massive amounts of human suffering. Ask anyone dying of cancer. Ask anyone who has just had open heart surgery. Ask any parent who has suffered a miscarriage or had a child born with serious birth defects. Ask any of the hundreds of millions of people who have died of smallpox, influenza, AIDS and bubonic plague. Every problem that we see in the human body therefore offers explicit evidence that an Intelligent Designer did not design it. Either that, or the Intelligent Designer takes tremendous pleasure in human suffering.

Here is the thing that I would like to help you understand: The reason why the human body contains thousands of mistakes and problems is because there was no omniscient designer/watchmaker who created the human body. A designer would not make all these mistakes and create so much suffering. A designer would never design a watch this bad. The fact is, Nature is the watchmaker. An imperfect and somewhat chaotic natural process has been designing all of the life on this planet, including the human body, for hundreds of millions of years. Your common sense tells you that. The many problems that you experience with your human body reinforce that fact for you each day. Every time you brush your teeth and put on your anti-perspirant, you are reminded that a chaotic natural process designed your body rather than an "Intelligent Designer."

Profoundly Strange

Here is something else that I would like to help you understand: Scientists are not sinister. Scientists have come to their position in the debate through knowledge and research. Millions of highly trained and highly intelligent people have been gathering and analyzing scientific facts for decades in a wide variety of disciplines. For example:

  • There are volumes of astronomical data that indicate that the universe is billions of years old.

  • There are volumes of geological data that indicate that the earth also is billions of years old.

  • There are volumes of paleontological data that indicate that life itself is more than a billion years old and that multi-cellular animals have been evolving for hundreds of millions of years. The fossil record shows that there have been millions of species of plants and animals that have appeared and disappeared on planet earth over hundreds of millions of years.

  • There are volumes of biological data showing how DNA works and how DNA changes over time through natural processes.

  • And so on...
There are millions of pieces of evidence that all interlock with one another to paint a consistent picture. There is data from astronomers, geologists, archeologists, paleontologists, chemists, physicists, biologists, historians…. All of it points consistently toward an ancient universe billions of years old and a series of natural events that have brought us all of the life forms that we see today. None of it points toward any sort of "god".

The human body is riddled with thousands of design mistakes, many of them quite brutal in their effects. Those design errors come from the chaotic, unstructured, natural process called evolution. If there were an intelligent designer, the only possible conclusion we could reach about him is that he takes supreme pleasure in human suffering. This is obvious to anyone who inhabits a human body.

So why do people cling so tightly to the Bible's creation story, or invent the more generic notion of an "Intelligent Designer," if it is so obvious that such a designer cannot exist?

The reason for the religious perspective is easy to understand if you read Chapter 27. Many people are terrified of death. That terror leads them to fabricate the notion of "eternal life." In order for there to be eternal life, we need for an Intelligent Designer to design the human body and give us our "souls." Thus, people are willing to accept a creation story.

That leads believers to a very odd place. They have to fight Science and its millions of facts in order to maintain the illusion of eternal life. The funny thing is that they willingly use all of the other products of science -- telephones, pharmaceuticals, web sites, jumbo jets, plastics, skyscrapers, televisions, microwave ovens and all the rest. These products are all created using the same scientific process that tells us that the earth is billions of years old and that there can be no Intelligent Designer.

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New York Times Coverage
WWGHA was
discussed in a
New York Times piece
by N. D. Kristof.
For a counter-point to Mr. Kristof, please see
Chapter 26.

Recommendation by Sam Harris
Sam Harris recommends WWGHA in his book Letter to a Christian Nation.

Endorsement by Richard Dawkins
In a New York Times Letter, Richard Dawkins calls WWGHA a "splendid Web site."


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