Intelligent Design? -- Eric R. Pianka

Intelligent Design?

© Eric R. Pianka

Ever wondered why Earth is such an ideal place for humans to live? Creationists think it’s because God designed all this for us, but that’s arrogant and silly. Sure, gravitational forces are strong enough but not too strong. Likewise, temperatures are nearly perfect for us. The oxygen content of Earth’s atmosphere is also just about correct for humans. We can find food and water almost everywhere except in arid deserts, frozen polar habitats, and high up in the mountains. All this couldn’t be mere coincidence, could it?

Rather than suspend reason and succumb to an irrational religious system of belief, consider a more sensible scientific alternative. Quite simply, our planet is hospitable to us because, like every other denizen of this planet, we evolved here and have thus become adapted by Natural Selection to Earth's conditions. Humans are extremely versatile, and although we seem to think that we can exist outside the laws of nature, we cannot. We are Earthlings first and foremost, and space and other planets will always remain hostile environments for us.

Until recently, spaceship Earth has provided us with a rather nice place to live. But now, Earth’s life support systems are failing . . . we have overpopulated the planet and fouled its atmosphere -- the resultant pollution is contributing to global weather change. Earth is warming rapidly -- ice caps are melting and ocean currents are changing. Polar bears and penguins are facing extinction and though many humans refuse to face the facts, we might not be far behind.

In fact, we have not been “designed” intelligently. Numerous attributes of individuals are poorly designed carryovers from our ancestors who had very different ecologies. Adapting an ancestral aquatic fish into a land-dwelling mammal necessarily involved many changes of function, some of which led to elements of poor design. Melbourne physiologist Professor Derek Denton pointed out that “knowledge of gravity has not been a strong point in the repertoire of the intelligent designer.” The drainage holes at the top of our sinuses and the way our intestines and other organs are attached by a membrane to our backbone are good examples. Both designs were fine for four-legged creatures, but now that humans have evolved to walk upright, this “design” leads to clogged sinuses and hernias. Another such blatant example is the crossover between our respiratory and ingestion tubes resulting in a maladaptive lung/esophagus arrangement (one that has led to many thousands of choking deaths). What a sense of humor the “designer” must have had to place an entertainment center (our genitalia) right on top of a sewage disposal outlet.

Both vertebrates and cephalopod mollusks have independently evolved complex camera-like eyes complete with an aperture, lens, and retina. Prominent anti-Darwinist Charles Hodges once suggested that the vertebrate eye was too complex to have evolved by natural selection and therefore must have been “designed.” However, vertebrate eyes are poorly designed as compared to cephalopod eyes. In vertebrates, nerve fibers pass in front of the retina creating a blind spot, whereas nerves lie behind the retina in the superior cephalopod eye which does not have a blind spot. It seems the “intelligent designer” gave mollusks a better eye and has failed us again!

Intimately linked to the religious right, proponents of so-called "intelligent" design are simply creationists in disguise adamantly engaged in an effort to discredit science largely because of their knee-jerk opposition to the theory of evolution. They have re-ignited the 1925 "Scopes Monkey Trial" controversy between religion and science. Their so-called "Discovery Institute" claims to be a "nonpartisan public policy think tank conducting research on technology, science and culture, economics and foreign affairs." In fact, it is a politically ultra-conservative fanatically religious Christian church group. The primary goals of their "Center for Science and Culture," are to "affirm the reality of God" and to promote intelligent design, masquerading as true science. To accomplish this mission, they portray evolution as a theory in crisis (which it most certainly is NOT). Another of their major goals is to undermine "scientific materialism" and to make scientists appear to be closed minded. All this is intended to open public school science curricula to creation-based alternatives to evolution especially their precious so-called "intelligent design" (really just creationism renamed). Another group closely allied with the Discovery Institute, calls itself the "Society for Amateur Scientists." While they may embrace the physical sciences, they are actually militantly against biological science, especially evolution. These people have gone to extreme lengths to discredit biologists and to make laypeople distrust real science, while at the same time portraying their own pseudo-science as scientific. Such campaigns against science are unfortunate because scientific understanding is essential for human knowledge to progress. Contrary to what these deluded people think, science is not an enemy, but rather it is our best hope for a safer and better future for humankind as well

To download a pdf of this essay, click ID.pdf

See also:


ERP: Evolution

ERP: Adaptation

ERP: Natural Selection

ERP: Convergent Evolution

Noam Chomsky: Malignant Design?

Jerry Coyne: Dead Genes and Vestigial Anatomy

ERP: Arrogant Ignorance and Blind Optimism

Reg Morrison: Evolution's Problem Gamblers

Neil Shubin: Your Inner Fish

Intelligent Design (Natural History Magazine)