158, 2014 September)
I refer to Kirk
Straughen’s article in Investigator
#157. Kirk provided a table of
purported problems in the design of human anatomy and suggested
solutions. Kirk’s thesis is that our bodies are a defective design and
cannot be the product of an omniscient and imperfect designer.
Firstly, I am
not sure whether Kirk’s list is a fair reflection on the true state of
affairs. We have had a long history of people pointing out defects in
human construction, only to be overturned by later discoveries.
There used to be
over 200 parts of the human body that were deemed useless or
unnecessary. This has now been reduced to less than 4. Also “Junk DNA”
may have a useful role after all. Maybe later discoveries will reveal
that the structure of the human body is better than what Kirk’s sources
assume that Kirk is right, and that the human body could be much
better. Does this prove that the human body is not designed? Suppose we
observe a poorly designed car that could be much better. Does this
prove that the car was not designed but rather the product of chance?
Of course not; in this case a bad design will trump chance. But could a
perfect God produce an imperfect design? Well yes, if God has good
reasons for doing so. Genesis 1-3 and Romans 1 provide theological
reasons why the current creation is imperfect. It was created good but
is now corrupted by evil. One day there will be a new creation where
there will be no more tears or pain.
provided solutions to human anatomical problems as though the solutions
are obvious and easy. Well, let’s see him implement them. In fact Kirk
can’t do that and neither can anyone else. It is way beyond the reach
of our capabilities.
I suspect that
Kirk suffers from what I call the spectator syndrome. When spectators
watch great athletes, they make it look so easy and we are quick to
find fault. However, the athlete has undergone extensive training and
what looks easy is not so easy after all. Often biologists suffer from
the same syndrome. They observe nature but they do not build it. They
observe complicated and amazing biological mechanisms and quickly
dismiss any supposition of design and blithely explain their
observations through random mutations and natural selection. It is all
so easy for the spectator.
I have worked
for a number of years as a systems and software engineer in the defence
industry working on multibillion dollar projects building submarines
and ships. These projects nearly always run over budget and overtime
and we cop criticism from politicians, “experts” in the media and the
general public; people who have never built anything with anywhere near
the same complexity. The fact is that building complicated systems is
very hard, and those that do design and build them are much cleverer
than their critical spectators.
So I am very
sceptical regarding the ease with which spectators explain the
development of complicated biological systems via chance and selection.
analogue to DNA is software development. Most large software systems
are controlled by a problem reporting system. As problems are reported,
the problems are fixed and the software system is continuously patched.
However, over time the software does not improve, it degrades under its
own weight. All the patches corrupt the initial design vision. So what
needs to be done is that periodically the software must be
“refactored”. This means that some bright spark suggests a new design
paradigm and this is implemented as a radical change over a large
portion of the software to create a new framework that will enable more
efficient subsequent development. For instance, Microsoft periodically
generates new releases of their operating system. However, these new
versions are not created from incremental changes to previous releases.
They are generated from wholesale changes to previous frameworks.
By analogy, from
an engineer’s perspective it seems highly unlikely that new structures
can be created from multiple incremental changes, since our observation
is that multiple incremental changes to software systems (even by very
intelligent agents) does not cause the creation of elegant new
structures. It causes degradation. Those clever spectators who suppose
otherwise have never built anything of consequence.
Rogers on Human Anatomy
159, 2014 November)
In reply to my
article "Design Flaws in Human Anatomy" Kevin argues by analogy that if
we observe a poorly designed car that the car's poor design isn't proof
the vehicle wasn't designed by an intelligent being, and then suggests
this is applicable to the human body.
The problem is
that we have ample proof that cars are designed by intelligent beings,
but we do not know the human body is likewise designed. Moreover, poor
design in a car is to be expected as cars are created by fallible
beings rather than an all-wise and all-powerful intelligence. That the
human body possesses design flaws is inconsistent with the claim it was
designed by God.
to overcome this difficulty by claiming that Nature was once perfect
and that it has been corrupted, and I assume the essence of his belief
is derived from the mythical account in Genesis which tells the story
of Adam, Eve, the Serpent, the Tree of Knowledge and so on. There is,
however, no evidence that the world has ever been a perfect place. The
dinosaurs, for example, suffered from diseases such as cancer, and
their existence predates humanity by many millions of years. (1)
Kevin notes that
the improvements to human anatomy I suggested are beyond my ability to
implement and he seems to imply that this fact invalidates my
observations. In keeping with his car analogy: Suppose John Citizen
sees a vehicle that has a glass petrol tank mounted on the front bumper
bar. Now, in the event of a head on collision there would be a
significant risk of the tank shattering and the possibility of spilled
Now, John isn't
a mechanic or motor vehicle body builder. He has neither the knowledge
nor the skills to fabricate a steel petrol tank and reposition it in a
safer location, but does this fact invalidate his observation that the
design could be improved?
Kevin goes on to
comment on evolution, and doubts that new structures can be created
through the evolutionary process and uses his experience with computer
software as alleged evidence that evolution is improbable.
The problem with
this comparison is that the data encoded in DNA is part of a dynamic,
self-actuating, self-replicating organic system, whereas software code
is not. The dynamism of organic systems has far more capacity in terms
of behaviour than the inorganic and largely static software and
hardware of a computer, so the comparison Kevin uses is invalid.
computers and software is extraordinarily dynamic rather than static.
Life adapts to changing environments through the process of mutation
and natural selection. An analysis of the human genome, for example,
has revealed evolution in humans within the past ten thousand years:
"Some of the genes most strongly affected by selection were those
associated with skin colour, bone structure, and the metabolism of
different foods." (2)
information to DNA which natural selection can then act on. For
monkeys have a mutation in a protein called TRIM5 that results in a
piece of another, defunct protein being tacked onto TRIM5. The result
is a hybrid protein called TRIM5-CypA, which can protect cells from
infection with retroviruses such as HIV. Here, a single mutation has
resulted in a new protein with a new and potentially vital function.
New protein, new function, new information.
Although such an
event might seem highly unlikely, it turns out that the TRIM5-CypA
protein has evolved independently in two separate groups of monkeys. In
general, though, the evolution of a new gene usually involves far more
than one mutation. The most common way for a new gene to evolve is for
an existing gene to be duplicated. Once there are two or more copies,
each can evolve in separate directions.
of genes or even entire genomes is turning out to be ubiquitous.
Without a duplication of the entire genome in the ancestor of
modern-day brewer's yeast, for instance, there would be no wine or
beer. It is becoming clear that everyone of us has extra copies of some
genes, a phenomenon called copy number variation.
The evolution of
more complex body plans appears to have been at least partly a result
of repeated duplications of the Hox genes that play a fundamental role
in embryonic development. Biologists are slowly working out how
successive mutations turned a pair of protoHox genes in the simple
ancestors of jellyfish and anemones into the 39 Hox genes of more
complex mammals. (3)
As shown above
microevolution occurs. Evolution is a fact that is slowly being
clarified by the ongoing research of many scientists. Microevolution
over time leads to macroevolution and radically new forms of life as is
evidenced not only by the fossil record, but by the convergence of many
lines of independent evidence:
know evolution happened not because of transitional fossils such as A.
natans but because of the convergence of evidence from such diverse
fields as geology, palaeontology, biogeography, comparative anatomy and
physiology, molecular biology, genetics, and many more. No single
discovery from any of these fields denotes proof of evolution, but
together they reveal that life evolved in a certain sequence by a
particular process. (4)
creationists present us with no mechanisms for the creation. Rather,
most rely on a literal interpretation of Genesis where God, like some
kind of supernatural magician, simply pulls the universe out of his
If Kevin does
not wish to believe that life on Earth (including humans) had a natural
origin through the process of evolution then he may hold this position,
and I respect his right to do so. The evidence, however, does not
support his belief in a supernatural creation whether it is for humans
or other forms of life.
those interested in a basic introduction to human evolution I suggest
the following webpage: "Early Modern Homo sapiens." (5)
(2) Human Genome
Shows Proof of Recent Evolution, Survey Finds:
myths: Mutations can only destroy information:
(4) The Fossil
(5) Early Modern
Homo sapiens: http://anthro.palomar.edu/hom02/mod_homo_4.htm