Is the Human Form Riddled With Bad Design? No, But This Darwinist Argument Is.
King David had it right. The human body really is fearfully and wonderfully made.
“You have no idea how awful the human body is,” Matan Shelomi begins in a recent Medical Daily article. He goes on to argue that the human body is badly designed in many ways, and that this shows we’re the product of blind Darwinian trial-and-error evolution.
“To say that humans were ‘intelligently designed’ by a ‘creator’ is to insult God,” Shelomi writes, “because our bodies show no intelligent design at all.”
Wow, our bodies show no intelligent design at all? Even most atheist biologists grant that living things, including human beings, appear intelligently designed. Professional atheist Richard Dawkins, for instance, went so far as to define biology as the study of things in nature that have the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.
And it’s now common knowledge in biology that the human genome is such a sophisticated information-processing system that it makes our most powerful computers look like a Roman abacus by comparison.
But Shelomi sets aside the engineering marvels of the human genome along with countless other marvels of the human body that far outstrip our most advanced human technologies, and instead focuses on a handful of features he insists are badly designed. The glass for him, in other words, isn’t 99 percent full; it’s one percent empty.
The Sweat Fret
“Like most mammals, we sweat to maintain our temperature, but most animals don’t have as many sweat glands as we do,” he writes. “We are the least efficient thermoregulators in the mammal world: only apes and (oddly) horses have as many sweat glands, mostly in the armpits, as we do.”
Shelomi isn’t finished complaining. “The way the eye is shaped, there is a spot that we literally cannot see, and the brain fills in the blanks,” he writes. “All vertebrates have this, but not all animals. Octopuses have better-designed eyes that lack a blind spot. If we’re so great, why do octopuses have better eyes?”
This is an old favorite of Darwinists. They talk about the “backward wiring” of our eyes. What they neglect to note is that this “backward wiring” improves oxygen flow. And as even professional Darwin defender Richard Dawkins concedes, its negative impact on vision is “actually probably not much.”
This is yet another example of what engineers refer to as constrained optimization: in this case, a tiny blind spot in exchange for improved oxygen flow. Complaining about it is a bit like complaining that a heavy duty Silverado pickup doesn’t have the handling and sporty feel of a Corvette.
The Problem of Pain
But our eyes go bad, and sometimes all too soon. “Then you have all of the eye problems like myopia, glaucoma, cataracts — why do our eyes fail so often?” Shelomi asks.
“Who designed these faulty things? The answer can’t be a God, because a God so incompetent in designing vision sensors isn’t worth worshipping.”
Notice he is now doing theology: A God worth worshipping would have designed our eyes and the rest of our bodies so that they are free of defects and disease. This element of his argument, in other words, is a version of the problem-of-pain argument: A good and all-powerful creator wouldn’t allow pain and suffering in the world.
It’s a fair question — an important question. But if Shelomi is going to invoke a theological argument, he should engage the theological explanations, and for that matter, the sociological and historical record showing pretty clearly that, as Lord Acton famously put it, “Power tends to corrupt.”
The Super Predator
That insight is particularly apropos because threaded throughout Shelomi’s essay is the assumption that any intelligent designer worth his salt would surely have given humans all sorts of additional powers or capacities found elsewhere in the animal kingdom (for example, the ultraviolet vision he notes that bees possess). But let’s pause and ask the question the mad scientists in all those science fiction movies never stop to ask: Is it really a good idea to loose a super-powered subspecies of human onto planet earth?
It’s easy to think of reasons why it would actually be pretty stupid to do so. Man already is arguably too effective a predator. Just ask the megafaunal species of the Quaternary extinction event — the wooly mammoths and giant sloths and such.
Oh wait. You can’t. They’re all dead.
Jonathan Witt is former managing editor of The Stream and now a senior fellow with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. He is the co-author of A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature.