on incompetent vs. intelligent design

Dr. James McGrath has an excellent post on the importance of accepting the basic scientific principle of human evolution through natural selection, especially for Christians.

If one allows that one may argue from evidence of design to a designer, then one opens up the possibility of arguing from shortcomings in design to an incompetent designer.

If you are a religious believer, and you refuse to accept evolution, then you have little choice but to blame God for the shortcomings seen in nature. You have little choice but to conclude that God wanted to leave us open to death by choking, when he made the routes for food and air converge on the same passage. And that is but one more of a very long list of examples of things that make good sense when considered the result of the slow adaptive processes of evolution, but which look ridiculous or even malevolent if considered the direct design of a divine Engineer.

Essentially, there are anatomical and physiological elements in every species that demonstrate vestigial anatomy and functionality. That is, there are things in our bodies that would never be a part of any “from scratch” blueprint of an intelligent designer. I’ve mentioned fingernails and the appendix and the optic disc (blind spot) before. Richard Dawkins discusses the laryngeal nerve as evidence of historical legacy in human anatomy.

Dawkins sums up:

A designer, an engineer, can go back to the drawing board, throw away the old design and start afresh with what looks more sensible. A designer has foresight. Evolution can’t go back to the drawing board; evolution has no foresight.

Thus, if a part of our anatomy appears vestigial and inefficient (like our appendix or blind spot or our laryngeal nerve), it probably is. It is the result of small changes over time. It cannot “go back to the drawing board” and start over like a designer. The fact that our laryngeal nerves descend into our thorax and then back up to our larynx is evidence that it was not designed (at least not intelligently) that way, but evolved that way (however inefficient it may be).

McGrath continues:

So don’t be surprised if other fellow religious believers, better informed about both science and theology, insist that you are demeaning rather than glorifying God through your refusal to accept evolution.

You are making God out to be an incompetent, not an intelligent, Designer.

on the virtues of doubt

question markI was invited by my friend Jason Boyett to write a piece on doubt for his blog, O Me of Little Faith. I wrote an essay entitled, “On the Virtue of Doubt: A Brief Autobiography of the Skeptic in the Sanctuary,” in which I discuss the influence that doubt, skepticism, and science have had in my life and career. I recount portions of my personal story moving from my Christian upbringing in central California to life as a scholar embracing science, evolution, and the critical method, and rejecting literalistic interpretations of the Bible. I describe my struggles with issues of faith and what I’ve learned from it all.

Please give it a read.

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