If God is great, why is he such a bad designer?
If God is great, why is he such a bad designer?
DAVID SMILLIE, Special to the Star, Jan. 1, 2006 - original
Epicurus on God and evil
With the arrival of the new year, biology teachers across the United States can put one item on their list of resolutions: stop teaching Intelligent Design. Two weeks ago, after a lengthy, acrimonious (and sometimes hilarious) court case, a judge in Pennyslvania ruled it was unconstitutional to teach Intelligent Design in U.S. public schools because it violated the separation of church and state.

Unless you have been fortunate enough to have been living in a cave (on Mars) for the past few years, you know that ID (as it's referred to) is an underhanded move to teach a religion-based alternative to evolution in high-school biology classes. Scientifically speaking, it makes about as much sense as teaching an alternative to gravity in high-school physics classes, but that hasn't stopped its proponents from trying to force it onto curricula.

At its heart, ID is a simple idea: life is far too intricate and marvellous to have arisen by chance, so it must have been designed by an outside intelligence. ID advocates are (usually) careful not to mention God; they always refer to a "Designer." Which, to paraphrase The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, is basically someone who isn't God but who has all of God's powers. And his job description.

I don't know whether Judge John Jones of Pennsylvania is a fan of Jon Stewart, but he certainly agreed with that take on ID. In a scathing ruling, Jones said the idea was clearly the "progeny of creationism." Jones said he wrote the lengthy critique in his ruling to keep ID advocates from targeting other schools. But, within hours, ID advocates were putting out press releases attacking Jones as an "activist judge" and vowing to continue the fight.

Far be it from me to kick an idea when it's down, but I do wonder whether proponents of ID have really thought this through. It seems to me that teaching ID in schools could end up hurting belief far more than helping it. Because if we were designed by God, it wasn't on one of His better days.

ID proponents often point to the human eye as the epitome of intelligent design. After all, nothing so magnificent could possibly have arisen by evolution, right?

Well, let's say you were designing a camera. You'd put a lens out front, right? And you'd put the light sensor or film at the back, so the image from the lens was focused on it. And then you'd run all the wires and stuff away out the back so they didn't block the light from hitting the sensor. I mean, that's just common sense.

But that's not how the eye works. Take that intelligent design you just came up with, and reverse it. Flip the light sensor so it's backwards, bury it under the wires (which now block some of the light) and set it up so all the visual outputs have to be flipped around (because the picture is now inverted).

And don't forget the blind spot, a region where you simply can't see anything because you poked a hole in the middle of the sensor to run the wires through. That is the "miracle" of the human eye.

The miracle is that the damn thing works at all. If we were designing an eye, surely we could do better than what we've got. And if you or I could do better, what does that say about the Designer?

Were I a pregnant woman, I'd lose my faith in Intelligent Design the first time I looked at a bird, or a marsupial

Our bodies are filled with similar examples of poor design. Why would an intelligent designer equip each of us with an appendix an organ whose sole purpose is to become infected and periodically explode? If this was Intelligent Design, then it implies the designer hates us the way many interior designers hate the people who actually live in their creations.

Consider the elderly. As people age, their balance tends to go, so they're more likely to fall. An Intelligent Design would take that tendency into account and make our bones stronger as we get older, to prevent broken hips. Instead, we have the opposite situation: your bones get more brittle as you age, increasing your odds of dying after a fall. This may be a Design, but I don't see much Intelligence.

The list goes on. Until quite recently, women stood an astonishing chance of dying while giving birth, and they still do in many parts of the world. Women have to go through hours of incredible pain to force a very large baby through a very small space. Were I a pregnant woman, I'd lose my faith in ID the first time I looked at a bird or a marsupial.

What about Alzheimer's? Did someone design brains to gradually and inevitably lose touch with those we love? Would you design a computer that randomly deleted files from its hard drive? And if you did, would that make you much of a designer?

Remember, if we are the products of an Intelligent Design, there's no excuse for such design flaws. It would be like buying a new car and finding out someone had forgotten to include brakes. I wouldn't call that Intelligent Design. Which is why I think pushing ID in schools could end up hurting religion. Because if we're forced to learn that we're all the product of an Intelligent Designer, and we're the best he came up with, this raises several theologically intriguing possibilities.

First, ID could stand for Incompetent Design. Like the cousin you hired to build an addition to your house, this Designer simply wasn't up to the job. Which means the Designer can't be all-knowing (we wouldn't have had any flaws) or all-powerful (the flaws would have been fixed by now).

But what would it do to mainstream religion to teach students their creator was someone who just didn't do a very good job? A nice enough deity maybe, but not the sharpest knife in the drawer? I can't see hundreds of millions lining up to worship a second-rate creator.

Second, ID could stand for Infernal Design. Not to get needlessly Zoroastrian, but a lot of our design flaws make more sense if we assume we were created by someone who doesn't much like us and wants us dead. Which means that by worshipping the Designer, we're actually worshipping the bad guy.

There is a third possibility that comes to mind. ID could stand for Incomplete Design. What if the Designer is just beta-testing us to identify the bugs before rolling out Homo sapiens 2.0? Sure, we have lives that are nasty, brutish and short, but the designer doesn't really care and we have to muddle through so He can come up with something better for the next roll-out. And we're powerless to complain, because the Designer has a monopoly. I call this the "God as Microsoft" option.

If this last option is true, I'd like to put in some suggestions for the pending upgrade. I'd like to be immortal, healthy and never have to worry about disease. I (and everyone else) should be way better-looking. My hair should stay thick and not turn grey. Men and women should have similar sex drives. I should be able to run faster, jump higher and hit a curveball. Gills would be handy. So would wings. So would retractable claws. If I had wings and retractable claws, I can pretty much guarantee I'd never question ID again.

Failing all that, how about a cup holder?

David Smillie teaches journalism at Conestoga College in Kitchener. He's currently working on his own set of retractable claws.