Deceitful Design

Deceitful Design August 14, 2018

I shared an interview with Dennis Venema on Facebook, highlighting this quote from the piece:

[T]he evidence is everywhere. It’s not just that a piece here and there fits evolution: it’s the fact that virtually none of the evidence we have suggests anything else. What you see presented as “problems for evolution” by Christian anti-evolutionary groups are typically issues that are taken out of context or (intentionally or not) misrepresented to their non-specialist audiences. For me personally (as a geneticist) comparative genomics (comparing DNA sequences between different species) has really sealed the deal on evolution. Even if Darwin had never lived and no one else had come up with the idea of common ancestry, modern genomics would have forced us to that conclusion even if there was no other evidence available (which of course manifestly isn’t the case).

A colleague who says he is a Christian asked what the evidence is that excludes explanation in terms of a common Designer. In response, I pointed out that I had before drawn to his attention specific pieces of evidence, such the fact that humans have one less chromosome than other primates, one of ours is elongated and matches up with two that other primates have, and that chromosome of ours has near its middle – and precisely lined up with where it occurs in the corresponding chromosome in other primates – genetic material that is distinctive of the tips of chromosomes. And so, having mentioned this again, I added the following:

In addition to specific pieces of evidence there is also the whole family tree. Would you argue that the resemblance of your own children’s genome to your has nothing to do with heredity but is due to a special independent creative act by a common Designer?

The “common design” argument should be renamed “the deceitful designer” argument, since it posits a creative activity that deliberately makes the evidence consistently point in the wrong direction to mislead us when we study it. That view of the Creator is incompatible with Christianity at the most fundamental level. And yet there remains a handful of Christians who pretend that this view is not only compatible with Christian faith, but quintessentially Christian!

I’ve been blogging about young-earth creationism, Intelligent Design, and evolution for a really long time now, and so please do take a look at some of my earlier posts on this topic. Here is a small sampling that is especially relevant to this post:

Chromosomes and Creationism

Ken Miller on Chromosome Fusion as Evidence for Human Evolution

Faith in God without Fear of Science

Blogging Creationism: The Highlights

Blogging Intelligent Design: The Highlights



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  • Straw Man

    The “common designer” argument isn’t inherently fallacious. It’s a testable hypothesis, and the hypothesis fails.

    The argument is that a skilled designer would reuse design elements that work. We know that’s not necessarily true, because human designers do use evolutionary design techniques. But it’s a hypothesis, and it makes a testable prediction: we should find reused components in nature. For example, we should find a well-designed eye in mammals, fish, octupi, etc. Instead we find about 40 different models of eyes, several having flaws that a designer wouldn’t introduce to one species after solving the problem for another species — such as inverted retinas in mammals.

    If we found that birds and bats had identically-engineered wings, and octupi and humans had identical eyes, and whales and fish had identical tails, etc., it would be a strong argument against convergent evolution and in favor of a modular design that reuses discrete components. It would also be fairly suggestive of a designer at work.

    • TinnyWhistler

      My favorite thing is how human and squid eyes are very, very similar…except the squids don’t have inverted retinas. Why do squids get better eyes than we do? Why would God choose to specifically give squids a better, no-blindspot eye? Divine mystery I guess….

      I like to think that if God gave humans the incessant need to *know things* that has been so beneficial to us throughout history, He 1) wouldn’t deliberately try to deceive us as the article points out, and 2) loves for us to use that to learn about the world! One of my professors (Christian college, physics) saw science as another form of worship: marveling in the seemingly endless new things we can learn about the world as a demonstration of God’s glory. That marvel (loving God) and then using new knowledge to help people (loving others) seems pretty Biblical to me.

      • Well, squid eyes and human eyes share a lot of common structures, but they come form different places and along different evolutionary paths, like how you can construct two virtually identical LEGO structures using different sets, and even different numbers, of blocks.

        • The Mouse Avenger

          Well-put! ^_^

      • The Mouse Avenger

        I couldn’t have said it better myself! ^_^

    • Nick G

      That’s a good point. But also, there’s strong evidence that if there is a designer, that designer is a complete klutz. Just considering human berings we find too many or to large teeth for the mouth, a weak lower back, the risk of choking on food because the latter has to pass over the windpipe to reach the esophagus, and above all, a ridiculously small pelvic opening in women compared to the size of the offspring that have to pass through it.

      • Straw Man

        Absolutely. That was key to my deconversion, actually. The “common designer” argument leads to the conclusion that the designer is a hack. (Although you can redeem that somewhat if you argue that the designer used an evolutionary algorithm on purpose, and accepted that the results would be kludgy but effective.)

        • The Mouse Avenger

          I actually like that explanation! ^_^

  • Iain Lovejoy

    Another issue I have seen taken with postulating a “common designer” directly interfering with the operation of the universe to “design” some organism or biological feature is that it either assumes God is correcting his own mistakes in operating the universe, or is not actually God properly so called but some lesser created demiurge operating within or against the laws of physics which the true First Cause of the universe itself operates. In either event Intelligent Design ends up messing with fundamental Christian doctrines.