The Delimitations of Design

NOTE: This was first published here on 8.21.08, and is simply being re-published as a separate post now.

Behe has been kind enough to show us the edge of evolution, so I thought I would return the favor with respect to design. Of course this isn’t just any design, this is supernatural design, so you can’t expect the kind of competence that a good engineer would produce. And because we can hardly look to known design in order to understand supernatural design, we’d best make a tentative list of the limits of Behe’s supernatural design. It is tentative, since we don’t know what the designer does after hours in heaven, yet we can at least list what appear to be the limits that the designer follows in our world. Understand that when “design” is written below, it refers to the special design capabilities that would fail engineering school, yet made extremely complex biological systems (you know, complexity more like genetic algorithms produce, than does human thought):

1. Design can’t make a controlled world. Instead we have this world, which has disastrous shifts in weather and climate, nearly killing off all vertebrate life in the Permian extinction event.

2. Design can’t make a decent photosynthetic protein. In bright sunlight, the D1 protein has to be replaced about every half hour.

3. Design can’t make a functional human being in less than around three and a half billion years. Oddly, that’s about how long it would take evolution, in most estimates.

4. Design can’t look ahead. If it could, it would have given a better Rubisco protein to plants (like the one in red algae), or would have provided C4 compensation at the beginning (instead of it having to evolve independently again and again).

5. Design has no purpose. Otherwise, why would malarial parasites and human immune systems be evenly matched to do no more than carry on trench warfare, a massive killing fest? Or was that the purpose?

6. Design has essentially the same limitations as evolution does. Apparently it can’t produce a primate bipedal skeleton other than by morphing and tweaking a quadrupedal skeleton to lift its forelimbs off of the ground.

7. Design is incapable of producing radio transmission and reception. Sort of the Gilligan’s Island syndrome (though there transmission was the problem, not reception). Surely any number of organisms would benefit from radio communication, but only the inferior minds of humans could produce radio communication. The designer never had the proper courses, it would seem.

8. Design can’t make really strong materials, like graphene, carbon nanotubes, or Kevlar. Indeed, we know the designer is a stone age god, because it can’t even smelt copper and iron, hence no organism (save humans who learned how to smelt) can take advantage of the great properties of metals.

9. Design can only imitate and tweak. Also, it was into ancestor worship when it made almost all eukaryotes, since few eukaryotes can accept genes from distantly related organisms, so that eukaryotes must use and tweak genes from direct ancestors.

10. Design must follow the evolutionary patterns expected from their respective lineages. Therefore, prokaryotes have to fit taxonomic patterns expected of clonal lines that have considerable lateral gene flow. Eukaryotes must have other evolutionary patterns, namely as though they had evolved according to their reproductive capabilities, sexually and with little or no gene flow (there are some exceptions to the latter).

11. Design doesn’t know front from back. This is why the vertebrate retina has blood vessels in front of it. Of course this wasn’t a good way to make an eye, so that primate foveas, and the pectens of birds, had to be designed to get around it. But this design simply doesn’t know spatial directions, so it has to work around its inability to ask for directions (old joke–the designer is therefore male).

12. Design cannot produce anything superb the first time around. This is why archaeopteryx is rather less well-designed than are modern birds, and why the Cambrian (explosion, you know, only an explosion of far less sophisticated and complex forms than exist today) had much less evolved chordates than we see around us. In fact, design can’t produce anything good until hundreds of thousands of tries have been made, as evidenced in genomes and in the fossil record.

13. Design is absolutely blind to solutions in separate lineages, when those lineages lack the ability to swap genes with distantly related species. So the blood of crustaceans is unlike vertebrate blood, and not nearly as good at carrying oxygen. Granting that the purposeless design that throws malaria and humans into protracted trench warfare might have liked to give inferior blood to crustaceans, why not simply a much worse version of hemoglobin? Because it’s a blind watchmaker (you know, couldn’t see which way the light was coming when making the “basic plan” of the vertebrate eye).

14. For the same reason, design can’t produce high-temperature spermatogenesis in mammals, although it did in birds. This is why most mammal testes are prone to injury, why males are vulnerable to hernias, and why there are undescended testicles. What’s especially odd from a human design perspective is why testes still have to be developed in a roughly ancestral position (inside the abdomen) and then weaken the abdominal walls as they descend into the scrotum. See #10, it somehow pleases the designer to make things appear to have evolved. We must please the god, or gods, by developing in a problem-causing manner.

15. Design lacks rationality. Contrary to what some say, the mousetrap does not look like something that could evolve. Why? Because it is shot through with rational thought, from the use of metal, to straight lines where useful, and on to the lack of any evolutionary limitations. On a molecular level, some facsimile of it probably could evolve by using biological materials (if selection pressures for it existed, that is), because it is so simple. However, nothing in biology really shows the kind of planning and thought that rational design exhibits, even though there is some overlap between rational thought and organs and systems that have evolved for a very long time (see Paley, who at least had a point at that stage of knowledge).

Usually we can tell Behe’s “designed organisms” from machines very easily, partly due to the rational “jumps” possible in human design, and impossible in Behe’s supernatural design. If it is true that archaeologists can detect design (and it is), why don’t they confuse life with human design? Mainly because it is so different, for many reasons, including materials (constrained by the designer’s evolutionary thought), reproduction, lack of rational design, and indeed, having complexity and capabilities unlike we have seen in any human design. But then it also lacks far simpler capabilities that we can manage, too, like radio, like nuclear power, like semiconductors and superconductors, to name just a few.

16. Last, design is unable to give the basics of knowledge to any organism, quite unlike how we supply information to computers. We had no formal capabilities in painting, writing, or mathematics, and had to develop all such capabilities in their formal splendor. Likewise, there was no science as we now know it until around the time of Newton (I would place the beginning of modern science with Newton, no matter how many giants came beforehand). We routinely place this sort of information into computers, but apparently design in Behe’s sense is unable to do so.

There it is, an incomplete list of the delimitations of design, in Behe’s sense. It’s strange, I really don’t envy the designer, for it apparently has no integrated knowledge whatsoever. Note the fact that Behe is God’s man on this earth, which probably explains why he betrays no integrated conception of the world either.

This is part of a series of posts that I am combining into one long post, which may be found at The Edge of Evolution

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