Daily Archives: June 10, 2010

The Other Side of the Coin

Biologist John Avise recently published a paper about intelligent design in the journal PNAS entitled, “Footprints of nonsentient design inside the human genome.” Avise poses an argument against ID:

my focus in this paper is on a relatively neglected category of argument against ID and in favor of evolution: the argument from imperfection, as applied to the human genome in this case.

The problem here is that Avise never defines or describes perfection. So how are we to determine if imperfection exists? What’s more, Avise never makes the case that intelligent designs must necessarily be perfect designs. Given these two simple facts – failure to define perfection and failure to show that design entails perfection – Avise’s stated focus fails.

But the situation becomes much more interesting if we simply discard the focus “on imperfection” and consider what Avise is trying to communicate. I think this portion of the abstract makes his argument more clear:

Yet, many complex biological traits are gratuitously complicated, function poorly, and debilitate their bearers.

It’s not that some system or feature is “imperfect” that is relevant. It’s that the system or feature is “gratuitously complicated, function poorly, and debilitate their bearers.” For any system that is indeed gratuitously complicated, functions poorly, and debilitates their bearers, is not something I would consider to be intelligently designed. This is even more true if the poor function and constant breakdowns are a consequence of a complexity that is gratuitous. If I had reviewed Avise’s paper, I would have suggested he drop the whole “imperfection” argument and focus on first establishing the gratuitous nature of biotic complexity and then tracing poor performance to this very gratuity. I think that is the argument Avise is making, but it gets lost in all the harping about imperfections.

As you know, I do agree with Avise that such “bad design” counts as evidence against intelligent design. Otherwise, why label a design as being “intelligent?” But I also believe in a fair- and open-minded approach to these issues. Thus, I would follow through with Avise’s logic to the next step.

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