One of the arguments that Darwinists often raise to “disprove” ID is the argument from dysteleology, more commonly referred to as the argument from sub-optimal design. The basic form of the argument usually goes something like this:
P-1: If biological systems were the result of intelligent design, then those systems would exhibit optimal design
P-2: Many, if not most, biological systems exhibit sub-optimal design features
C-1: Therefore, biological systems are not intelligently designed.
The late Stephen J. Gould wrote in his book “The Panda’s Thumb” that “funny solutions and odd arrangements are not the stuff of a wise creator.” So stated, it ought to be fairly obvious that the entire argument entails a hidden theological premise. In common terms it is a version of “God wouldn’t have done it that way.” Which, of course, raises the question, what’s a theological premise doing in what is supposed to be a scientific argument? If you take the time to analyze this argument, there really doesn’t seem to be any way of formulating the argument that avoids the hidden theological assumption about what God would or would not have done, which means this is not a scientific argument at all.
There is a second part to the argument that is tagged on to the first part in an attempt to bring science back into the equation. While stated in different ways, the upshot of the second part entails the argument that since P-2 is demonstrably true, it confirms that Darwinian processes are the cause of these systems because they are what evolution would predict. But this argument also entails a hidden theological premise because the pre-supposition behind it is that evolution, understood as an unguided, undirected process, would be expected to produce sub-optimal biological systems, but an intelligent guided process would have seen to it the system was optimal. In other words, if God was guiding the process, he is a poor guide since the results are sub-optimal kluges and not the stuff of an intelligent, all-wise, all-powerful creator (i.e. God wouldn’t have done it that way–again!!).
The short and long of all this is that when this argument is encountered, it is important to tease out these hidden theological premesis and show that it is not a scientific argument at all. The argument from dysteleology is further plagued by the fact that when it comes to biological systems, there is no scientific basis upon which to define what ‘optimal’ would mean. The concept seems to be an equivocation of terms where optimal means ‘perfect’, which really has no scientific meaning. In any case, absent a rigorously defined, experimentally supported comcept of ‘optimality’ where biological systems are concerned, the concept of ‘sub-optimality’ is reduced to mere subjectivity without a scientific basis.
Comments on “The False Argument from Dysteleology”
Quite right. Stephen J. Gould et. al. are so arrogant to assume that they know the mind of the Creator and than do nothing to show us how would they design optimal system in question. Well, bottom line is, Darwinian Evolution is as much about God as Creationism. It looks to me that everything Darwinists (and atheists, as a matter of fact) claim is religiously inspired.
Well, not quite. I’ve seen several instances where Darwinists have resorted to the argument from dysteleology that included explaining what “improvements” would make the system “optimal”. (i.e. the vertebrate eye) What I’ve never seen is an experiment where all these imagined improvements were realized and tested in an actual biological system. Worse, I’ve never seen any discussion of whether or not all these imagined improvements would be optimal with respect to the entire organism without producing deficits somewhere else. Improving one sub-system, even if it were improved to some hypothetical optimum, doesn’t guarantee optimality throughout the entire system. It could well produce a deficit in some other way.
You could certainly make a good case for that. Indeed, the theological premesis of Darwinism is one of the major themes of Cornelius G. Hunter’s books, Darwin’s God and Darwin’s Proof. Both worth reading!
IDEA center also has an excellent rebuttal to this Darwinian complaint.
Just to expand on DonaldM’s point about empirical testing. I would also add that from a scientific and theological perspective there is no reason to think that sub-optimal design might not be a result of microevolution. e.g. Gould’s panda’s thumb example could be the result of evolution, where the panda’s thumb was originally designed with greater efficiency but have lost it over time. According to Christian theology we live in a cursed Creation. From a scientific point of view selection or mishaps of nature does not only produce improving features. It is possible in a blind, unguided, environment that a present day perceived disadvantageous trait might be preserved over a perceived advantageous design.
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