Skeptic » Reading Room » Five Questions about Human Errors for Proponents of Intelligent Design

The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine

Five Questions about Human Errors for Proponents of Intelligent Design

When Charles Darwin first proposed natural selection as the mechanism of evolutionary change, he provided many different lines of reasoning. One of them was that he and other biologists had observed striking examples of suboptimal design in nature. If a creator-God was perfect and designed the world and everything in it according to His perfect plan, how could poor structure/function be explained? If we view the natural world as the product of evolutionary forces, however, imperfection is not so surprising. Rather, examples of poor design reveal interesting things about an organism’s evolutionary past, and that’s the thrust of my new book Human Errors.1

Because courts in the United States rightly determined that creationism is a religious doctrine, not a scientific one, its proponents changed their approach, practically overnight, restyling their position as the theory of “intelligent design,” or ID. By focusing on the seemingly scientific principle of “irreducible complexity” and only implying a vague, unnamed “designer,” supporters of ID claim it as a valid scientific theory, not a religious doctrine necessarily. Notwithstanding the fact that vanishingly few scientists support this theory and that neither were the courts fooled by the semantic shift, ID has become the dominant expression of creationism in the United States and is supported by around 40 percent of the population.2 Support for ID is strongly stratified by age, with only around 25 percent of those under age 30 in support, and is finally beginning to decline after years of holding steady.3

Glitches in nature, particularly in the human body, call out for an explanation.

Even if ID offered intellectual gains over creationism through the principle of irreducible complexity, and a focus on observations rather than biblical scripture, it did little to explain how poor design could be so rampant in creatures that were specifically designed by an intelligent force. Therefore, glitches in nature, particularly in the human body, call out for an explanation. Evolution usually provides elegant and deeply informative explanations. What are the explanations provided by ID? My book documents scores of these “human errors,” but I would love to know what intelligent design supporters say about these five in particular.

1. Why are we designed with nonfunctional pseudogenes?

In the human genome, there exist broken-down versions of once-functional genes. Formally called pseudogenes, these genetic elements have no function and are usually not expressed at all, but they bear striking resemblance to important and functional genes in other species. These genes were rendered inoperative by mutations and, in most cases, whatever function the genes once had we either no longer need or has been taken over by some other genes. In a few cases, however, the breakdown of the gene in question actually hobbles us in some specific way.

The most famous of the pseudogenes is called GULO. This gene normally functions in the synthesis of ascorbic acid, more commonly called vitamin C.4 The majority of animals on earth synthesize vitamin C for themselves, but primates cannot and therefore they (we!) must get it in our diet. The reason is because, long ago, in an ancestor of all primates, the GULO gene was disabled by a random mutation in either a sperm or egg cell. Through sheer chance, it became fixed in the population and has since accumulated many other mutations. But it is still easily recognizable. We have the GULO gene, but it’s broken.

For this reason, primates have been restricted to the climates where citrus fruits and other sources of vitamin C abound. It was once a mystery why humans had to consume vitamin C while none of our domesticated animals seem to need it. Evolutionary study has provided the fascinating answer, which also illuminates why primates live where they do around the globe. For example, it’s no coincidence that no primates besides humans are native to the content of Europe. Dietary vitamin C is scarce there and explains why scurvy was a major public health concern in Europe through pre-history and antiquity. We’ve since learned to incorporate foods that provide us with vitamin C.

Since creationists don’t believe in evolution, what is their explanation? It’s not that we don’t have the GULO gene. We do. It just doesn’t work. Why would an intelligent force intentionally design us with a broken gene? Give us a gene or don’t, but a broken version? What is that about?

Also, GULO is not the only pseudogene. We have thousands of formerly functional genes scattered throughout our genomes like rusting cars in a junkyard.5 We may even carry more broken genes than working ones. If this is design, it sure isn’t intelligent!

The human maxillary sinus cavity.

The human maxillary sinus cavity. Because the mucus collection duct is located at the top of the chamber, gravity cannot help with drainage. Illustration by Donald Ganley from Human Errors by Nathan H. Lents. Used by permission. All rights reserved, © Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

2. Why do our nasal sinuses drain upward?

Have you noticed that, while we adults get 3 or 4 colds each year and our children can get 10 or more, our pets don’t seem to have this problem at all? One big reason for this is that our nasal cavities have a huge design flaw that those of dogs and cats don’t.

Nasal cavities are hollow, air-filled chambers through which air flows before heading down to the lungs. Lined with sticky surfaces called mucus membranes, these caverns warm and humidify the air and also trap particulates and microorganisms in the mucus. Normally, mucus is thin, clear, and watery, and is continually secreted, creating a constant flow of the sticky goo as it eventually drains into the throat where it can be swallowed and sent to the stomach for acid neutralization.

The largest such cavities in humans are the maxillary sinuses just behind our cheek bones. In a perplexing example of poor design, the drainage spout for this sinus cavity is near the top of the chamber. Since fluids don’t tend to flow uphill, tiny hair-like structures called cilia have to work extra hard to direct the mucus up to the drain pipe, which happens also to be extremely skinny. Most of the time, they can handle this challenge, but if there is any uptick in the load of allergens, infectious agents, or even just dust, mucus gets thicker and more viscous and this is when the situation gets sticky, literally. As the thick and cloudy mucus pools in the bottom of the sinus cavity, infections brew. What kind of plumber would put the drain at the top?

3. Why are humans so bad at absorbing vitamins and minerals?

A quick scan of the USDA’s recommended daily intake of various micronutrients confirms what anyone who has tried to eat a healthy and well-balanced diet knows all too well: the human diet is incredibly demanding. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, not too much of that…. While the supplement industry has no doubt exaggerated this for profit, there is truth to the claim that humans have to worry much more about their diet than other animals seem to. In fact, many animals can do just fine on a very repetitive diet of just a few, or even just one, source of food. Why can’t we?

Human evolutionary history is marked by one thing above all else: variety and experimentation.6 Humans have explored and exploited every imaginable habitat and mode of living and the ability to thrive in diverse scenarios and survive on myriad sources of nourishment unfortunately became the necessity of a varied diet as our bodies became lazy about manufacturing micronutrients for ourselves. (See vitamin C, above).

One thing that humans are terrible at absorbing is calcium, which is unfortunate because it is vital for the functioning of every single cell in the body. So essential is calcium, that we strip it from our bones whenever we don’t ingest enough of it. The bizarre part is that even when we consume sufficient amounts of calcium, we still end up deficient because we are so bad at extracting it from our food. 200 million women around the world suffer from osteoporosis. In the US, the typical diet provides plenty of calcium and yet, one in three women and one in five men will suffer a bone fracture due to osteoporosis,7 usually after age 50. What gives?

We start our lives absorbing a respectable 60 percent of the calcium we consume as infants. This percentage drops steadily throughout life, reaching about 20 percent in early adulthood, and plummeting to around 5 percent in old age.8 And this is the sad state of affairs when we have adequate vitamin D in our diets. Without vitamin D, we basically don’t absorb any calcium at all. Adding insult to injury, even though many women need also to boost their iron intake to prevent or treat anemia, iron in a meal can interfere with the absorption of calcium! So can sodium. And potassium. Is it any wonder that most of us are deficient in calcium?

We also have trouble absorbing some vitamins, such as B12. Like all the herbivore animals, we have bacteria in our large intestine that synthesize plenty of B12. But we only absorb B12 in our small intestine.9 This means that someone can suffer macrocytic anemia due to vitamin B12 deficiency while simultaneously sending copious amounts of B12 to the toilet. Bad plumbing strikes again!

4. Why do humans have muscles and bones that have no function?

The human body has way too many bones. Most humans are born with around 300 bones. This number drops to around 206 by adulthood as bones begin to fuse together. These numbers are just averages, some people have some extras and some are missing some. That alone tells you that something funny is going on.

Our ankles and wrists have seven or eight separate bones in them and for no good reason. They are all pretty much fixed together, though not fused, so there is no value in them being separate at all. While redundancy is often a good thing in a physical structure, the additional bones do not make our ankles or wrists stronger. In fact, having so many attachment sites for tendons and ligaments makes strains and sprains more likely. After all, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Think of how common sprained ankles are in humans. Now think of how rare they are in our companion animals.

Formally called the coccyx, the entire tailbone is pointless as well. While most of us have four coccygeal vertebrae, some have one extra and some have one fewer. While we’ve long known that it was the remnant of the tail that almost all mammals except apes have, it was assumed that the stump that we’re left with was important because many tendons and ligaments attach to it. However, tens of thousands of coccygectomies have been performed for various reasons, including cancer of the coccyx, and patients have absolutely no long-term discomfort or loss of function after their tailbones are removed.10 The various attachments could be entirely redundant or purely vestigial, probably both.

Not connected to the tailbone, but near it, lies another pointless organ called the pyramidalis muscle. This muscle can tense the flesh between the anus and the testes or vulva but this has no importance to posture, continence, or anything. In fact, around 20 percent of the population is missing this muscle altogether and it is badly misshapen in many that do have it.11 Some believe that the pyramidalis muscle previously functioned to flex the tail that our ancestors had but lost its attachment to the tailbone as the tail regressed.

There is also the Palmaris Longus muscle in our forearms. While a more substantial version of this muscle likely helped our ancestors by providing strong grip while swinging from trees, it is useless to us today. Between 10–20 percent of the population is missing this muscle entirely and they do not measure weaker grip strength for its absence.12 In fact, so useless is this muscle that surgeons routinely use its connecting tendon as the source of tissue grafts when they need a new tendon to repair a badly broken wrist.13

5. Why are humans so inefficient with reproduction?

The one thing that a species absolutely must be able to do is reproduce, so this is an area that humans must have mastered, right? Not even close. In fact, humans may be the least fertile of the apes. More than 10 percent of couples have trouble conceiving14 and when you consider what all can go wrong, it’s understandable.

To begin with, the ovaries are not even physically attached to the fallopian tubes and so eggs are sometimes squirted pointless into the abdominal cavity. Although it’s very rare, a roving sperm can actually fertilize one of these misplaced eggs and start a life-threatening abdominal pregnancy. On the male side, sperm have no sense of direction and swim in right-handed corkscrews, unable to turn left. This is part of the reason why hundreds of millions of them are needed for one to reach the egg. Many men have low sperm count or motility and many women have unpredictable ovulation cycles, meaning that the simple act of helping the meandering sperm and rudderless egg find each other is often not so simple.

But even when conception occurs, pregnancy is far from certain. More often than not, embryos fail to implant in the uterine wall before menstruation begins. In nearly half of those, chromosomal errors are to blame for an embryo’s failure to thrive,15 but in the larger portion, there is no apparent defect. The embryo simply bounces off the uterine wall and is lost with the endometrium at the end of the month. That so many perfectly healthy embryos are lost for failure to implant is especially painful for families trying to grow.

To demonstrate how out of step with other animals this is, female mice that copulate with a vasectomized male undergo the physiological steps of gestation, a phenomenon called pseudopregnancy.16 So confident is her body in its own fertility, and that of her mate, that a female mouse just assumes she’s pregnant any time she’s had sex. Her corpus luteum will persist, her uterine wall will thicken, and she will begin to lactate. Pseudopregnant mice even build nests in preparation for the nonexistent pups. Pseudopregnancy lasts 10–14 days in mice, nearly half the normal gestational period. It can last over a month in cats and two months in pigs.

Even when humans have managed to get and stay pregnant, the biggest danger of all still awaits. While modern technologies, from soap to Cesarean sections, have all but turned this page, giving birth was previously among the most dangerous moments of a woman’s life. As recently as 2000, almost 3% of childbirths in Sierra Leone resulted in maternal death and this is much reduced from just a half-century past.17 How much riskier was childbirth during the classical and pre-historical periods?

Being born is risky also. We do okay in developed countries, but there are four countries even today that suffer from greater than 10 percent infant mortality rate. The highest is Afghanistan where 12.1 percent of babies born do not survive the first year of life. In 1950, most countries were close to 20 percent on this measure.18 We are a spectacularly fragile species, but our evolution holds the explanation. Our pelvic girdle narrowed as we evolved to walk in an upright manner, with our upper legs jutting straight down and remaining within the same plane with each stride. Then, our craniums experienced an explosion of growth not long after. In a risky compromise of these two adaptations, we are born long before we are really ready, helpless and sickly.

The relative sizes of female pelvises and infant heads in (from left to right) chimpanzees, Australopithecus afarensis, and modern humans.

The relative sizes of female pelvises and infant heads in (from left to right) chimpanzees, Australopithecus afarensis (“Lucy”), and modern humans. Illustration by Donald Ganley from Human Errors by Nathan H. Lents. Used by permission. All rights reserved, © Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Once again, this is far out of step with other animals. For most of our fellow mammals, childbirth is not a dramatic affair. Cows and horses seem to barely notice when they give birth and the offspring are ambling about within minutes. Gorillas often continue to eat and care for other children as they give birth. It is just we humans, the supposed pinnacles of creation, who bear the awful burden of a treacherous childbirth.

Errors Abound

While the great majority of the quirks and glitches that I discuss in my book are the results of compromises, tradeoffs, and the inherent limits of evolution, some of them cannot possibly be seen as anything other than “bad design.” While evolution usually has an answer to the questions raised by these design flaws, if an unsatisfying one, what answer is offered by the theory of intelligent design? When creationists try to duck this question in creative ways (as they already have in responses to my book), this too is telling. What makes a theory scientific is its explanatory power and it’s ability to make testable predictions about future discoveries.

As far as I can tell, the only creationist response to human design flaws is, “That’s just the way it is.” This is not a scientific answer and offers no exploratory way forward. END

About the new book

We like to think of ourselves as highly evolved creatures. But if we are evolution’s greatest creation, why are we so badly designed? We have retinas that face backward, the stump of a tail, and way too many bones in our wrists. We must find vitamins and nutrients in our diets that other animals simply make for themselves. Millions of us can’t reproduce successfully without help from modern science. We have nerves that take bizarre paths, muscles that attach to nothing, and lymph nodes that do more harm than good. And that’s just the beginning of the story. As biologist Nathan H. Lents explains, our evolutionary history is a litany of mistakes, each more entertaining and enlightening than the last. As we will discover, by exploring human shortcomings, we can peer into our past, because each of our flaws tells a story about our species’ evolutionary history. A rollicking, deeply informative tour of our four-billion-year-long evolutionary saga, Human Errors both celebrates our imperfections—for our mutations are, in their own way, a testament to our species’ greatness—and offers an unconventional accounting of the cost of our success.

About the Author

Dr. Nathan H. Lents is Professor of Biology at John Jay College of the City University of New York, where he is also the director of the honors programs. He also maintains The Human Evolution Blog and hosts the science podcast This World of Humans. He is the author of Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals and Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, from Pointless Bones to Broken Genes.

  1. Lents, N. H. 2018. Human Errors: A Panorama of our Glitches, from Pointless Bones to Broken Genes. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  2. Shermer, M. 2006. Why Darwin matters: The case against intelligent design. Macmillan.
  3. Green, E. Intelligent Design: Slowly Going Out of Style? The Atlantic. 9 June 2014
  5. 5 Torrents, D., Suyama, M., Zdobnov, E., & Bork, P. 2003. A genome-wide survey of human pseudogenes. Genome research, 13(12), 2559–2567.
  6. Tattersall, I. 2001. How we came to be human. Scientific American, 285(6), 56–63.
  7. Johnell, O., & Kanis, J. A. 2006. An estimate of the worldwide prevalence and disability associated with osteoporotic fractures. Osteoporosis international, 17(12), 1726–1733.
  8. Gallagher, J. C., Riggs, B. L., Eisman, J., Hamstra, A., Arnaud, S. B., & Deluca, H. F. 1979. Intestinal calcium absorption and serum vitamin D metabolites in normal subjects and osteoporotic patients: effect of age and dietary calcium. The Journal of clinical investigation, 64(3), 729–736.
  9. Herbert, V. 1988. Vitamin B-12: plant sources, requirements, and assay. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 48(3), 852–858.
  10. Balain, B., Eisenstein, S. M., Alo, G. O., Darby, A. J., Cassar-Pullicino, V. N., Roberts, S. E., & Jaffray, D. C. 2006. Coccygectomy for coccydynia: case series and review of literature. Spine, 31(13), E414–E420.
  11. Monkhouse, W. S., & Khalique, A. (1986). Variations in the composition of the human rectus sheath: a study of the anterior abdominal wall. Journal of anatomy, 145, 61.
  12. Thompson, N. W., Mockford, B. J., & Cran, G. W. 2001. Absence of the palmaris longus muscle: a population study. The Ulster medical journal, 70(1), 22.
  13. Wehbe, M. A. 1992. Tendon graft donor sites. Journal of Hand Surgery, 17(6), 1130–1132.
  14. 14 Mascarenhas, M. N., Flaxman, S. R., Boerma, T., Vanderpoel, S., & Stevens, G. A. 2012. National, regional, and global trends in infertility prevalence since 1990: a systematic analysis of 277 health surveys. PLoS medicine, 9(12), e1001356.
  15. Baart, E. B., Martini, E., van den Berg, I., Macklon, N. S., Galjaard, R. H., Fauser, B. C. J. M., & Van Opstal, D. 2005. Preimplantation genetic screening reveals a high incidence of aneuploidy and mosaicism in embryos from young women undergoing IVF. Human Reproduction, 21(1), 223–233.
  16. Dewar, A. D. 1959. Observations on pseudopregnancy in the mouse. Journal of Endocrinology, 18(2), 186–190.
  17. Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2015. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2015.
  18. The World Factbook. 2012. The Central Intelligence Agency, Washington D.C.


  1. Tzindaro says:

    The pyramidalis muscle has a use. It is involved in the orgasm. The writer must think that has no value to anybody. Maybe he should try it sometime and then decide if it has any value.

    Likewise, most of the other examples given of useless body parts are of some use that the author obviously considers unimportant or non-existent.

    And with the massive overpopulation of humans being the worst problem on this planet, how anyone can say human reproduction is inefficient is beyond me. If anything, human reproduction is too successful for their own good.

    I am an atheist, but I do not believe in genes or the Darwinian hypothesis of random mutations acted on by selection. I think there are other choices besides silly religious tales and equally silly Darwinism. Maybe we should take a look at a theory of “unintelligent design” by some natural force other than either natural selection or a god.

    The systematic formation of crystals gives one possible example of how organisms might form without either a designer or random chance. Since the constant formation of new living organisms directly from non-living materials without any ancestry usually results in organisms that are identical or nearly so to already existing species with which they have no ancestry in common, it is obvious the design is controlled by the environment into which the newly forming organism is being created, not by any “genes”.

    The incorrect and premature abandonment of spontaneous generation by the Victorian era Pasturians has landed science in a dilemma and Darwinism seems the only way out. I suggest taking another look at spontaneous generation instead of assuming every living thing has ancestors.

  2. Nathan H. Lents says:

    Yes, and you are always the first to comment on these posts from Skeptic. It’s like clockwork: you comment your nonsense immediately, the rest of us laugh and roll our eyes. To everyone else, please don’t reply to him (her?). If you don’t want the stray cats around, stop feeding them.

  3. Tzindaro says:

    My comment was first because I am in a time zone six hours ahead of the East Coast of America. I happen to be in London right now.

    Can you address the message instead of an ad hominum attack? I said something you seem to disagree with. Can you explain exactly what you disagree with and why instead of dismissing my comment as “nonsense”? Or do you think all ideas that do not agree with the modern conventional science theories are nonsense by definition?

    Ongoing natural organization of new living organisms directly from non-living materials under the influence of surrounding conditions, including temperature, electrostatic charge, radiation, lighting, oxygen to CO2 ratios, amount and salinity of water, etc. accounts for biodiversity and the adaptation of organisms to both the non-living environment and to each other far better than the nonsensical Darwinian theory of random mutations in assumed “genes” followed by selective premature dying off of the least successful among the results.

    Darwinism is really nothing but disguised apologetics for the 19th century British caste system, wrongly attempting to apply stockbreeding concepts to natural ecosystems. The ruling classes jumped on it gleefully because it justified their social position as due to natural law, not because of any convincing evidence. And today the adherents of Darwinism still slander any opposition as religiously motivated, when in fact, the theory of the continuous natural formation of living organisms is the true atheist theory, based on observable properties of nature instead of arguments from authority for something that cannot be observed.

  4. Raf Ollivierre says:

    Tzindaro is probabably a flat-earther also.

  5. Tzindaro says:

    Not at all. I happen to believe in observation instead of blindly accepting what I am told. My observations show me the shape of the earth is not flat. But my observations also show me that living organisms self-organize from the raw materials of nature quite regularly. On the other hand, what evidence have you seen that that is not so? Or do you just think whatever you are told to think?

  6. Bad Boy Scientist says:

    Thank you, Dr Lent. This was an enjoyable read and reminded me of this line of argument (a med student friend introduced me to these errors). A complete list would be staggeringly long.

    I mentioned this article to a friend who replied “Don’t you usually discourage rational attacks on religion as being as effective as throwing rocks at a poison gas cloud?”

    That is true, but Dr Lent isn’t attacking religion he’s scrutinizing its pseudo-science spawn. Since ID claims to be science, it must withstand scientific scrutiny. What he is doing is no worse than what Geologists did to the notion of plate tectonics or what astronomers did to the expanding universe. Those ideas survived and became theories because they had merit and could be tested.

    If ID had any merit it would weather these challenges and be adopted. The fact that it cannot come up with answers and instead supplies feeble excuses speaks volumes.

    Intelligent Design seems to be a flattering title, it looks much more like Imbecilic Design.

    To end on a joke about the reproductive system: what kind of designer runs a toxic waste pipe through a recreational area?”

  7. Professor Emeritus Ferrel Christensen says:

    An excellent article by Dr. Lents, as usual. But I have a caveat about his concern over human fertilization and implantation being difficult. The long childhood humans require in order for our large brains to develop means that producing more offspring than foragers typically do would just result in vastly greater numbers of childhood deaths. So nature had no “reason” to correct (seeming) dysfunctions in those two processes–hence in a sense, they are adaptive. NOT what an intelligent creator would produce, but not SIMPLY errors of nature. Not so?

  8. OldNassau67 says:

    1. Grammar or typo: “What makes a theory scientific is its explanatory power and it’s ability to make testable predictions about future discoveries.” First “its” good; second “it’s” bad.
    2. ” When creationists try to duck this question in creative ways (as they already have in responses to my book), this too is telling.” Why do religionists even bother? The default response is, “‘Intelligent’ does not mean efficient: Who knows God’s reasons?”
    3. Nothing will change an ID’er’s (or religionist’s) belief: “Towards the end of the debate, Ham admitted that nothing would change his mind concerning his views on creationism, whereas Nye acknowledged that, if enough convincing evidence was presented to him, he would change his mind immediately.” (Wikipedia: Bill Nye – Ken Ham debate).
    4. I prefer to challenge an ID’er’s “We can’t know God’s mind” by mentioning several other abiogenesis or creation myths (Popul Vu; Raven; Cherokee – every religion has one) and then humbly declaring, “I wouldn’t dare limit God (or the Intelligent Designer) to one (usually Old Testament) procedure of design. You are more right than you know: We can’t know God’s mind – or his power.”

  9. ACW says:

    Interesting article. (I just skip the comments by Tzindaro, as he, she, or it clearly doesn’t understand Darwin’s theory in the first place, and wouldn’t be interested in understanding it even if he-she-it could.) I would note that George Bernard Shaw offered an alternative to Creationism, Darwinism, and Intelligent Design in his ‘Life Force’ theory, in which God, or however you want to describe the creative force, is sentient but not intelligent, and is evolving in tandem with the trial-and-error process, each step representing the best he-she-it could do at the time. I myself don’t subscribe to it, but I respect it to some degree, in part because I admire Shaw on other grounds, and in part because Shaw was intellectually honest enough to admit he espoused the theory in large part for emotional reasons, the same reasons so many believers in conventional religions hold to their creeds – namely, that he couldn’t bring himself to believe there was no point or ultimate purpose to it all, and that accepting Darwin’s seemingly mindless universe would force him to run mad from despair. We humans don’t let go of our delusions easily, especially when they require us to get off the ego trip, relinquish our tin crowns and step down from our self-proclaimed status as the cynosure of creation and the special darling of a super-being. Shaw’s version makes at least a baby step toward acknowledging our own inadequacy, our status as the ‘quintessence of dust’ repudiated by Hamlet. :D

  10. Mary Goetsch says:

    Regarding the #1 Comment by Tzindaro- I think the middle-of-road concept he describes is “emergent properties” (of the life force). It is neither random nor pre-determined. Fractals in nature and anything in layers exemplifies that groups generate new offspring material. There are scientists out there who will keep open mind and give it a fair time. The life force “out there” which Rupert Sheldrake terms “morphic resonance” comes with observations of crystals re-forming in less time the second-time around; nature seems to have a memory. This, too, can make processes appear as “designed” but there is not a Designer.

  11. Tim Callahan says:

    When I used to argue with creationists – usually of the young earth variety – their explanation for imperfections in nature, particularly in humans, was the Fall of Man. In Genesis 3:17 God tells Adam, ” . . . cursed is the ground because of you . . .” i. e. God cursed all creation because of Adam’s sin. In the following verse God says, “Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee . . .” Thus, this curse on the ground could just mean that life outside the garden of Eden would be rough.

    However, in the Christian scriptures, with their emphasis on apocalypticism, this curse was expanded. Thus, Paul says in Romans 8:22, “For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now. ” Hence, the creationist extrapolation that everything was perfect before the Fall; but after the Fall not only death, but imperfections came into the world.

    The argument that we are caught in an evolutionary squeeze between women’s pelvises needing to not be too wide for the sake of bipedal locomotion, thus barely allowing the passage of the infant’s large head, is also covered by the fall. In Genesis 3:16 God tells Eve, “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception. In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children.” So, once again, an imperfection becomes the result of the Fall.

    The Fall, then, is the great creationist escape clause.: Everything that works well is the result of design. Anything that doesn’t is a consequence of the Fall and God’s curse on creation. In creationism, even i.d., theology becomes science, and science, in its subordinate position, must validate theology.

  12. Tim Callahan says:

    Tzindaro, in your initial post you say:

    “Since the constant formation of new living organisms directly from non-living materials without any ancestry usually results in organisms that are identical or nearly so to already existing species with which they have no ancestry in common, . . .”

    Are you asserting a theory of spontaneous generation? If so, what is your evidence?

  13. Nyles says:

    I’m just a little concerned that some of these clearly suboptimized biological systems may just be a reflection of our present lack of knowledge.
    There are still people walking this earth that have had their thymus glands shrunk with X-rays as kids, had their appendix removed simply because they needed some other abdominal surgery and the appendix was accessible, had their tonsils and adenoids removed because one or the other was inflamed or treatably infected.
    It also seems as though our lack of pseudo-pregnancies is pointed out in the article as a compensatory mechanism emerging from our low fertility rates, but if we humans went through pseudo-pregnancy it would be pointed out as a flaw in our design. A lazy “win win” argument.
    Point is that Skeptic generally takes an arrogant stance on biological knowledge, when humility is always called for – especially on the topic of life.

    Come on Skeptic, you can do much better.


  14. Miriam English says:

    Years ago I collected lots of these kinds of flaws to use in my conversations with religious people. I stopped when Robyn Williams (the Australian radio “Science Show” host, not the comedian) published a book, “Unintelligent Design – Why God Isn’t as Smart as She Thinks She Is” which also listed many of them. I’m looking forward to reading Mr Lents’ book.

    Not wanting to feed the troll, I’m now commenting to those few who might be tempted by Tzindaro’s comment. He/she doesn’t understand the experiments that falsified his/her beliefs hundreds of years ago. Wikipedia ( ) is a good place to start. Trying to modernise it with Rupert Sheldrake’s nonsensical, non-explanatory morphogenetic fields just makes it worse. I’m puzzled as to why such a gullible person is visiting the Skeptic pages, willingly exposing their ignorance to the world. But then, we still have large fractions of the population who believe the sun orbits the Earth, and morons like this pastor displaying his lack of education:

  15. Tzindaro says:

    I understand very well the experiments that supposedly disproved spontaneous generation, but I regard those experiments as flawed and misinterpreted. Spontaneous generation, or more accurately, natural organization, is the process by which new living organisms come into existence, a common everyday process that takes place all the time wherever conditions are right for it.

    The rejection of this process by most scientists has left science in an impossible position, unable to account for the diversity of life forms and the symbiotic meshing of ecosystems. The unthinking fanatical accepting of Darwin’s stockbreeder’s hypothesis justifying the 19th-century British caste system as an inevitable fact of nature is no more grounded in scientific observation and experiment than the Christian creation myth.

    Formation of life from non-living nature happens constantly all around us and can be demonstrated in a lab under sterile conditions that rule out contamination by already existing organisms. I have seen it in nature several times and talked with several biologists who have done controlled experiments and obtained thousands of feet of time-lapse motion pictures showing the process happening. One biologist, at McGill University in Canada, told me he had been making amoebas once and got the recipe wrong and got algae by mistake. He then went back over it and found what he had done wrong and could now obtain either amoebas or algae at will.

    He then showed me a stack of papers he had written that he said he had not dared publish because he wanted to keep his job. I consider that fear realistic. The modern scientific establishment is so dogmatically fixated on Darwinism that any dissent is punished by excommunication.

    As can be seen in some of the comments above.

  16. wyantry says:

    I find I must take issue with your statements concerning “spontaneous generation”— (“Formation of life from non-living nature happens constantly all around us and can be demonstrated in a lab under sterile conditions that rule out contamination by already existing organisms…”):

    If this is indeed the case, WHO did these experiments? WHERE are they published? WHAT referees substantiated them? WHO has verified these allegations?

    Until these questions can be and are answerable, the claim(s) of spontaneous generation must logically be considered as specious arguments without any basis in fact or reality.

    Personal belief(s) should have no part or place in true scientific inquiry—to take a particular stance in the face of near overwhelming evidence to the contrary is just another unsubstantiated quasi-religious “belief”.

    Your statements concerning the spontaneous creation of ANY sort of ordered existence: (“…but I regard those experiments as flawed and misinterpreted. Spontaneous generation, or more accurately, natural organization, is the process by which new living organisms come into existence, a common everyday process that takes place all the time…”) are, without documented EVIDENCE, nonsensical at best.
    I am sure Dr Urey would have been absolutely fascinated to learn of the possibility of ordered or structured “organisms” appearing spontaneously in supposedly “sterile”conditions, as would the hundreds (if not thousands) of other experimenters that have attempted these experiments.

    One. Just ONE documented instance of spontaneous creation of life, or even “ordered existence” of a biologic nature would have the entire scientific community, nay, the entire WORLD foaming at the mouth! The fact that this has not been reported by a reputable entity, in repeatable and documented conditions, means that until such time as this sort of experiment IS repeated and documented, the assertion of its validity must be regarded as untrue.

    “SCIENCE does not care WHAT you believe.”

  17. Beth K says:

    Ah, but humans do, indeed, occasionally have pseudopregnancies. Their bellies swell, they claim weird cravings, they insist they are pregnant even though several doctors and medical tests say differently. They prepare for the baby’s arrival. They’ll stop having periods.

    At some point, the lack of pregnancy – because no birth happened, is evident. Some will admit this was a sort of delusion, whereas others will insist that somebody “stole” their baby.

  18. Roy Lofquist says:

    “it did little to explain how poor design could be so rampant in creatures that were specifically designed by an intelligent force.”

    This is a cleverly disguised logical fallacy,

    “Begging the question, sometimes known by its Latin name petitio principii (meaning assuming the initial point), is a logical fallacy in which the writer or speaker assumes the statement under examination to be true. In other words, begging the question involves using a premise to support itself.”

    The writer slyly conflates “an intelligent force” with the God of the Bible (and the Koran) who is omnipotent and omniscient. ID proponents reject that characterization, and indeed any other characterization other than “intelligent”. In fact, in the philosophy of Plato and the theology of Gnosticism the creator of the material world is called the Demiurge, a decidedly less than perfect tinker.

    Consider, if you will, the “evolution” of vehicles. They started with Thor and his wheel in the B.C. comic strip. Then came wheelbarrows, carts, Roman chariots, turnip wagons, stage coaches, railroad trains, automobiles and space shuttles. All of them less than perfect and all of them the results of intelligent design.

  19. A reader says:

    Roy Lofquist

    A series of improvements made over a few thousand years.

    What excuse does your ‘intelligent designer’ have to done so poorly over millions of years? Does it have Down’s Syndrome? Or do you think the earth was created only 6,000 years ago?

  20. KirkD says:

    As I read this article, I was reminded of the old Mac OS vs Windows OS arguments back in the 90’s and early 2000’s. The Mac guys would point out the severe flaws in the Windows OS, although I don’t think any of them would have concluded, “therefore, the Windows OS was obviously not designed.” Regardless of what kind of idiots they might have thought worked for Microsoft, the bits that did work required sufficient coding skills to still test positive for some degree of intelligent design, even if the Mac OS guys scoffed at its obvious lack of design in other areas.

  21. Nonlin_org says:

    These are childish questions. And why are they for Intelligent Design proponents only? If you think these observations are incompatible with design, you’re badly mistaken.

    Here are some answers that apply to all your questions:

    a) Just because you don’t see a function, doesn’t mean there is no function. The function may be temporary including in embryonic development or special circumstances.
    b) We’re doing just fine with these “flaws”.
    c) Engineers do ‘platform design’ which means certain makes and models will not implement all functions and appear to be designed with “vestigial organs” (my car has fog lamp sockets but no fog lamps).
    d) Yours is an argument from incredulity which is ironic as Darwinists are the ones most likely to complain about this type of arguments.

    Now, are you ready to address some real problems with “evolution”? Let’s start with “natural selection”:

    1. Natural Selection concept fails since phenotype does not determine survival which is also tautological with “best adapted”
    2. “Blind, mindless, purposeless, natural, and process” qualifiers fail
    3. Phenotype is an unstable infinite set (hence unknowable and theoretical)
    4. Fitness concept is redundant since never defined independently of survival
    5. “Selection” is Survival
    6. The only selection is Intelligent Selection – always done by an Intelligent Selector
    7. Selection is limited to a narrow set of adaptations – one cannot selected what is not there
    8. Selection and Mutations lack creativity, therefore cannot explain body designs
    9. We do not observe “divergence of character” but ‘limited variations around a mean’
    10. Extinct organism were not flawed and their features were not “selected away”
    11. Intelligent Selection should replace Natural Selection but only if we ever transmutate organisms
    12. Humans do not apply Natural Selection because it doesn’t work
    13. Designs must cross an inevitable optimization gap making evolution impossible

    “Natural selection” proponents must answer these simple questions – pick any biologic entity including populations and give the 80/20 Pareto without too much accuracy or precision :

    1. What is that biologic entity’s phenotype?
    2. What is its environment?
    3. What is its fitness function?
    4. What is the relationship between its phenotype, environment, fitness, and survival/reproductive success?

  22. Miriam English says:

    More amazing than the mental contortions of creationists is their implication that their god is a halfwit, still getting its designs wrong after hundreds of millions of years.

    Religious nuts and obstinately ignorant people like spontaneous generation loons, flat-Earthers, anti-vaxxers, and others scare me. We are about to embark on a period of unprecedented capability assisted by artificial intelligence. This could take us to great new heights, or it could go really badly. The large numbers of people irrationally clinging to old delusions make me worry that we might be in for a very rough time. Depressing.

    What motivates these people to hold so tightly to a broken worldview? Why do they refuse to learn about the real world? Why do they reflexively reject any information that threatens their loopy beliefs? Why do they find it so difficult to genuinely examine their beliefs? How is it that they are able to believe isolated hearsay is equal to enormous volumes of genuine, independently verified evidence? Why are they more likely to believe something that is outrageously improbable than something for which there is ample everyday evidence? How are they able to see science as conspiratorial collusion instead of the result of large numbers of smart, talented, skeptical inquirers working to disprove each other?

  23. Chris says:

    Nathan, if you haven’t heard any good responses from Intelligent Design proponents to the issues you raise, then you are very intellectually insulated. I don’t mean that as an insult. You seem like a smart guy, but there are lots of people and resources out there that you are overlooking. Stephen Meyer is one of the foremost experts on ID, and has addressed this very issue multiple times.

    I wonder if you realize that the argument you make is fundamentally grounded on a religious proposition? You say that God wouldn’t do things this way, therefore, Evolution. That is a religious argument, not a scientific one. From a purely scientific perspective, a thing need not be perfect to be designed. People design imperfect things all the time. Additionally, things that might appear to be flaws today, may be viewed differently as we learn more about the biological functions of these various systems. For example, many people used to argue that the eye was poorly designed based on the position of the optical nerve (if I remember correctly). Further study has revealed that the case for the poorly designed eye is not so straight forward as it would seem. There are functional tradeoffs in the way the eye is built. I hadn’t heard about the wrist example, but I am willing to bet that the makeup of the wrist bones have some important advantages that perhaps haven’t been thought of yet.

    And what about the examples in which the human body is remarkably designed. In those cases, we hear that Evolution has had millions of years to gradually improve the function of some biological system to near perfection. But where we perceive some flaw, we hear that that is exactly what we should expect from a higgledy piggledy undirected process. It seems that everything we observe can always be attributed to Evolution as long as we use the correct ad hoc rationale.

    Finally, I don’t think that it’s accurate to say that God would not design flawed creatures. How do you know that? Isn’t it sort of presumptuous to suggest what God would, wouldn’t, should, or shouldn’t do?

    If you really want to engage the issue of ID versus Darwinian Evolution, I would encourage you to seek out the best and brightest minds in the field of ID – People like Stephen Meyer, Michael Behe, and many others. If you can stand toe to toe with those guys, then you will be on to something. Otherwise, you are just re-hashing old worn out arguments.

  24. Kent McManigal says:

    If an intelligent designer created humans, and didn’t die off immediately afterward, shouldn’t it have seen the mistakes it made in the initial design and reached down (?) to correct them? If not it wasn’t very powerful, intelligent, or concerned with its creations.

    The problems with getting pregnant are only problems if you assume humans evolved to be monogamous. Since they didn’t, the problem is a non-issue except when this non-monogamous species becomes convinced it “should” be monogamous. Then all manner of hilarity ensues.

  25. ACW says:

    Tzindaro, no one has ‘excommunicated’ you. As evidenced by the very fact that here you, and quite a few other non- or anti-Darwinians, are, as well as in numerous other forums and on multitudes of platforms, propounding your own theories and raising your own questions.
    Those who rail most determinedly against Darwin seem not to have noticed that among his theory’s proponents many issues are by no means entirely settled. Like all science, Darwin’s theory is a work in progress. The problem is, I think, almost all of us – even those of us who profess ourselves of ‘scientific’ bent – were raised under one or another theological system. And so we apply the parameters and value judgements of those systems to science. Religion declares what is, then attempts to construe objective reality to that model. Science begins with objective reality and refines and revises according to its observations and data. For instance, Mendel figured out heritability, but he didn’t have the mechanism. Watson and Crick figured out DNA, but we’re still discovering there’s a lot we don’t know about the workings of genes. In the process, old ideas can be reconsidered and possibly at least partly reintroduced, e.g., such factors as epigenetics put Lamarck in a new light. (Lamarckians are still mostly wrong about the heritability of acquired traits, in that you can’t produce a litter of Manx cats by cutting off the mother cat’s tail. And Darwin’s original theory accounts perfectly well for the evolution of the giraffe without having to introduce the Lamarckian theory that it willed itself into its present shape by stretching its neck over generations. But we are discarding the notion that you are shackled by your double helix at the moment of conception; genes can turn on and off, and you can pass the resulting adaptation to your offspring.)
    To borrow from Shaw, ‘there’s a lot been found out about potatoes since that old man learnt to dig them’.
    Lots of literature on the subject. Richard Dawkins has a new essay collection out. I don’t agree with him on everything but I do admire him generally. So, as Augustine said, ‘tolle lege’. :D

  26. Mike says:

    It takes not much effort to question the first (presumably strongest) argument in this article: the “GULO” gene.
    1. From article above, “The majority of animals on earth synthesize vitamin C…”. In fact, it’s not just primates that lost functionality of this gene. Some birds, bats, and fish also do not synthesize vitamin C. Therefore, the failed gene could easily have occurred independently in each case.
    2. In common evolutionary theory, it is often stated that the eye evolved many times independently by different evolutionary paths. If a very complex process could occur independently, what about the very simple occurrence of a break in a gene function (GULO)? In fact, it’s not really a problem.
    3. If the GULO gene proves common descent with primates, why are other gene sets, like the Y chromosome, instead quite dissimilar between primates and humans? Does this prove the opposite? Or is the GULO gene (in original form) just a case of common design?

  27. Bill E Bobb says:

    From the Cosmic to the microscopic, there is nothing intelligent in this design. Supernova that could easily destroy our solar system, asteroids that could destroy the Earth, the fact that our sun will burn the Earth to a crisp as it dies, down to cancer, viruses, birth defects etc. Even human nature goes against the idea of intelligent design. The randomness of human nature, that someone could be either good or evil would make no sense if we were actually the product of intelligent design. I always wonder about people who tout intelligent design, that these people profess to understand the motives and ambitions of a Supreme Being that could create the universe and life down to a subatomic particle is really preposterous. I just assumed that these people who have faith and believe in the Supreme Being are just not very imaginative people. You can show these Believers a wheel and all they would see is a wheel, they they cannot imagine a 1903 Ford Model A, and certainly not a car of today, something that is truly a product of intelligent design. That we have gone from a wheel to a motor vehicle to airplanes in an incredibly short period of time makes me wonder why it took 13 billion years to get where we are today if we are the product of intelligent design.

  28. Chris says:

    There really isn’t much difference between Tzindaro and the Darwinists here. Tzindaro thinks that spontaneous generation happens all the time. The Darwinists think it happened only once.

  29. Mike says:

    @Bill E Bob Since space and time began with the Big Bang, if there is a Supreme Being who started it off, he/she/it would be, by definition, outside of space and time. Point? For a being outside of space and time, there’s not any real difference between 10 seconds and 13 billion years. It only matters to us, who are trapped inside of space and time. If the Supreme Being decided to use 13 billion years to prepare the Earth for humanity–or for some other purpose–from his point of view it’s pretty much the same as 10 seconds. I guess that takes a little imagination to conceive. I suggest Hugh Ross for reading material.

  30. Mike says:

    Oh, I’d also suggest a book, “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist”.

  31. Sean says:

    I never looked at intelligent design as an explanation of how whole creatures came about–Darwinian evolution does a perfectly fine job of explaining that. I do, however, find it asking questions Darwin couldn’t answer about things that happen at the cellular level. When 20-odd things have to happen in perfect sequence in order to achieve a particular function, and the removal of any of them means that function is rendered completely (not partially) inoperable, it’s hard to square this with the idea of evolution happening through gradual, incremental changes. I’m not saying there isn’t a designer-free explanation for irreducible complexity, just that so far I haven’t seen a very persuasive one.

  32. Bill E Bobb says:

    @Kent McManigal
    See Neanderthal, Homo erectus, Homo habilis, Cro-Magnon et al. We are basically hominid 14.3. Seems to me that if there was truly a perfect Creator, they wouldn’t have needed so many do-overs. Of course the faithful will claim that it was the devil throwing a spanner into the works….

  33. Roy Lofquist says:

    @Bill E Bobb,

    You are 167% correct. You have thoroughly and convincingly disproved the existence of a perfect creator. Of course there are no perfect turnips either.

  34. Marielle Blackwood says:

    Simple. The polytheists are right, so humans were designed by committee, hence the poor design choices here and there. :-)

    Some other admittedly fanciful ideas:

    – Punctuated design. The hypothetical designer only checks in on the Earth every so often, perhaps every few millennia. Maybe they’re in a parallel universe and a some sort of alignment needs to happen for there to be access between our worlds. In the designer’s absence, natural selection takes hold. When the designer checks in, they make tweaks, perhaps, but generally lets the experiment run its course. Things don’t always go as planned.

    – Uplifted simians. Life on Earth evolved on its own until the early hominids. Some higher intelligence came along and uplifted us, and they had to make a lot of compromises because you can’t just edit genetic code like you can with, say, C++ code. Every edit affects everything else. The “glitches” are by design to make certain other desired feature work correctly.

    I’ve actually toyed with the punctuated design idea as the backdrop for a novel. Someone discovers the truth, maybe by finding out that the “junk” DNA is commented out code, or an abandoned attempt at an error correction system to prevent random mutations. In comparing notes with people from other disciplines, they discover the the interface window between the two worlds is about to open again.

  35. Marielle Blackwood says:

    What amuses me about these debates is people on both sides talk about some hypothetical gigaintellect of a being existing on a level we can’t even begin to comprehend, possibly possessing the instrumentality to edit reality, and then proceed to explain what such an entity would do or think.

    It’s like a reverse anthropic principle- anthropomorphizing god or god-like entities to think and act like humans.

    Geeks do the same with aliens. “An advanced alien race would never do that!” Oh, really? Joe Geek with his neckbeard who spends his days on hentai subreddits is going to tell us how the end product of a completely different evolutionary process, maybe a million years in advance of ours, on another world is going to think and act.

    What would a godlike entity consider perfect? Maybe a violent, broken world is the intended result. Maybe the god-entity want to see who wins the struggle. Maybe we’re one big genetic algorithm designed to find optimal solutions, but you get 99.9% suboptimal in the process.

  36. Jerry Colen says:

    I’ve often wondered about how it is that someone can tell me (or anyone) what God means or what He thinks, etc. I mean, if God wanted me to know what He thinks or wants from me, can’t He just tell me Himself rather than have a rabbi or Imam or Preacher to me what’s up (or down as the case may be.)?

  37. Jerry Colen says:

    I mean to say “can’t He just tell me Himself rather than have a rabbi or Imam or Preacher “tell” me what’s up (or down as the case may be.)?

  38. Mulsanne917 says:

    [First time posting here]

    I read this article earlier, and have been mulling it over in the background thoughts for a few hours now.

    Before I offer any conclusions, I had better throw up a disclaimer or two: I firmly believe that human life (and probably life on earth too) can only have come about through intelligent design. That said, and even though I maintain a high-level of respect for Christians and Evangelicals, I myself am–probably–not quite one. I get angry pretty quickly, however, when I see them and their beliefs being deliberately sha* upon. You can disagree and still maintain (if you choose to) respect…if not for the beliefs themselves, but for their right to have them. I don’t see enough of this idea today, and it’s increasingly going by the wayside (along with many other simple civilities)…and we ALL will suffer if we continue to let it happen without speaking up about a better alternative.

    That said, and even though it was not offered up by the actual author as such, I consider the first three or four pages–find it and read it in your local bookstore, up to the word “wow!”–of Bill Bryson’s chapter entitled “The Rise of Life*”

    [*from his best-seller “The Short History Of Nearly Everything”]

    As to my conclusion: The article is premised on the idea that the “creator–God–IS perfect.” It’s a common idea, and is certainly promoted in biblical scripture to a large degree…but I also have the idea (and I’m on thin ground here)…that the Bible also suggests we cannot, in this life, actually know the mind or nature of God. Such revelations (I think) MAY be offered to us after death, in whatever realm we find ourselves existing…or not.

    I’m a person who tries to put together often disparate notions and ideas, and not always those I’m comfortable with. Some of the things I “believe” may explain what I see and experience each day in my life may not, and likely will not, agree with yours.

    If we can at least discuss some of those while also appearing to have a level of common respect for one another’s views…that would put us well up on most of the rest of what passes for discourse on the internet.

    I’m looking for any of that I can find, and particularly these days.

  39. Mulsanne917 says:

    Whoops! I managed to delete or omit something there (and I see no edit feature): I consider Bryson to have offered, although not intending to, a “near mathematical proof” of the necessary existence of an intelligence behind all life.

    But not necessarily a perfect intelligence.

  40. Lino D'Ischia says:

    1. Why are we designed with nonfunctional pseudogenes?

    Increasing evidence suggests that pseudogenes play an essential role in the neuronal development of the brain. IOW, they’re on their way to finding ‘function’.

    2. Why do our nasal sinuses drain upward?

    Is it related to the fact that we sleep, unconsciously, on our backs and sides, but when conscious stand upright, or sit upright? I suspect it is.

    3. Why are humans so bad at absorbing vitamins and minerals?

    Harder to answer; however, isn’t this simply a reflection of the broad range of our food and liquid intake? IOW, since humans can eat such a variety of food, it is of no advantage to have pathways producing vitamins and minerals that can be simply supplied by a varied diet.

    The actual answer could be more metaphysical: the Good Lord wanted us to enjoy a variety of food, and, if we were made with simple nutrient needs, then our diet would be highly simple: think of a Panda Bear.

    4. Why do humans have muscles and bones that have no function?

    “Our ankles and wrists have seven or eight separate bones in them and for no good reason. They are all pretty much fixed together, though not fused, so there is no value in them being separate at all. While redundancy is often a good thing in a physical structure, the additional bones do not make our ankles or wrists stronger. In fact, having so many attachment sites for tendons and ligaments makes strains and sprains more likely. After all, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Think of how common sprained ankles are in humans. Now think of how rare they are in our companion animals.”

    My first thought is this: if you “fuse” these bones, it reduces flexibility. Always a trade-off, no?

    5. Why are humans so inefficient with reproduction?

    Well, I’ll answer this question if you answer this one: why is the elephant pregnant, on average, every 5 years?

    Errors Abound

    “ . . . While evolution usually has an answer to the questions raised by these design flaws, if an unsatisfying one, what answer is offered by the theory of intelligent design? . . .”

    Do you think that a 1963 Chevy Impala is better designed than ‘driverless’ car? Yet, I suspect the frequency of deadly accidents associated with the ‘driverless’ cars is higher than the 1963 Chevy.

    IOW, again, “flexibility”, i.e., ‘adaptive’ flexibility, comes with a price. Your argument, ultimately theological in nature, is not against an “imperfect” Designer, but against an “imperfect” world. Where in the Judeo-Christian Bible does it say that this world is “pefect.” “God created man and woman, and He saw that is was very good.” ‘Very good’ is not “perfect.”

    “What makes a theory scientific is its explanatory power and it’s ability to make testable predictions about future discoveries.”

    What predictions, exactly, does evolution make? I can think of some trivial ones. Maybe you have some substantive ones in mind. Can you elaborate?

  41. PJDellas says:

    It’s funny, but the logic here is akin to this:

    An advanced species of alien comes to the earth and, upon first contact, finds a beautiful Maserati parked out on a street. He is highly intelligent and has computing power beyond our imaginations. He also has the ability to see through things with MRI and X-ray like vision, piercing through steel, plastic, aluminum, etc. He sees pistons, valves, ignition system, braking system, etc. and, using his superior analytical powers and by analogy, he can understand the function of every single piece of that car.

    But this vehicle has several inexplicable things–a logo, a license plate, some lettering, etc. whose function cannot be understood. These surely must be mistakes–flaws in these earthlings’ logic because they serve no discernable function.

    The complexity, beauty, highly advanced design of the vehicle is thrown aside because the unexplained appendages exist that clearly serve no logical function.

    Your blind materialistic explanations reduce the Rembrandt to canvas, paint and brushstrokes. And what function can a painting possibly have at the molecular, atomic or quantum levels? Explain beauty to me in biochemical terms, or even justice for that matter.

    It’s amusing reading these things.

  42. Barbara Harwood says:

    According to the science that I have read on the subject, we are all descended from a single woman. This implies a considerable amount of inbreeding. Whatever genetic material she may have possessed would have been passed down to all of us and would have included a good many errors.
    Mutations that give positive results are few and far between. Unless that mutation provides something better for the individual, it will be lost through either the destruction or lack of breeding opportunities for that individual.
    We are different from other species in that we have no natural enemies except for each other. This has allowed our species to reproduce to plague proportions. All of this is despite our flawed reproduction system.
    Some people have claimed that male sperm production is decreasing at an alarming rate. A claim has been made that a man produces the same amount of sperm every day. . That is a whale of a lot of sperm. We know that women who spend a lot of time together tend to find that they cycle biologically at the same time.. It would seem reasonable to assume that men have a similar cycle that waxes and wanes during the month in sync with the women with whome the spend most of their time.
    A honeymoon is intended to set the two people on a matching cycle.. In our modern world, the two may work in different places and be linked to others in that environnment. Very often, all that a couple need to do s to take a second honeymoon in order to get back into sync with each other.

  43. Barbara Piper says:

    Chris writes “There really isn’t much difference between Tzindaro and the Darwinists here. Tzindaro thinks that spontaneous generation happens all the time. The Darwinists think it happened only once.”

    Presumably everyone thinks it happened only once — it’s the mechanism that is at issue.

  44. Brien Doyle says:

    All ‘creationist’/ID comments will be challenged as to their original source and claimed foundation – ie that of a god.

    Any and all questions and statements, especially in reference to creationism/ID, will be accompanied with evidence of that god in order for any further discussion to be taken with any serious consideration.
    Simply put – Either show evidence for the god, or there is no basis for ‘creationism’/ID.

    Thus, no challenges to science, from a religious philosophy, including creationism/ID, will be addressed, until that evidence is provided.

    Do not entertain the fallacy of creationism if the premise of creation cannot be proven…..that is – the existence of a god.
    No Proof = A Lie

  45. g says:

    here is one interesting evidence for god existence: what if we will see a self replicating robot ( lets say even with dna)on a far planet? do we need to conclude design or a natural process in this case? remember that according to evolution if its made from organic components and have a self replicating system we need to conclude a natural process. but we know that even a self replicating robot is evidence for design.

  46. Steve Maricic says:

    I believe in:
    a: God,
    b: God-directed Evolution.

    Let’s look at one of Mr. Lent’s questions:

    1. Why are we designed with nonfunctional pseudogenes?

    He writes:

    “These genes were rendered inoperative by mutations and, in most cases, whatever function the genes once had we either no longer need or has been taken over by some other genes.”

    I’m not a biologist, but isn’t Lents saying that these genes once had a function? Isn’t it possible that they were necessary for a time in our evolution, and that without them we would not have gotten to where we are?

    Isn’t it possible that God designed those genes to get us through some difficult stretch? Do they all have to magically disappear now that we don’t need them anymore?

  47. Loren Petrich says:

    There is a further issue with the design hypothesis. What can one infer about the designer(s)? From the argument of familiarity with design, one must note that all known designers are multiple, they have finite abilities, and they are known to make mistakes. So the designers of the Earth’s biota must be multiple, finite, and fallible.

    That does not seem to be what the cdesign proponentsists want to believe.

  48. Roy Lofquist says:

    Loren Petich,

    Design proponents do not want to “believe” in anything other than that life is so incredibly complex that it can not be explained by material means. They do not speculate about the nature of the designer(s).

  49. Lino D'Ischia says:

    Roy Lofquist:

    You mischaracterize the central assertion of ID. ID doesn’t say that life is so incredibly complex that it cannot be explained by material means. Rather, it says that the specified complexity found in genomes, that is, ‘information’, is too great as to be explained by random processes.

    It says that an intelligent agent is the cause of this information.

    As to the “nature of the designer(s),” there is no direct evidence found in the genome which tells us anything about this nature, other than what Bill Gates said, which was to the effect that the coding found in the genome is beyond anything we know.

  50. Rev. Billy says:

    Oh, ambiguity! Is it not wonderful?
    Humans are created with “brain tendencies”.
    We are “influenced by”, “biased by”, “prejudiced by”, our experiences,
    our environment (familial, tribal and stimuli).
    Biases are myriad to each one of us and other humans often (constantly)
    “muddy the water”, i.e., cloud our perceptions.
    Also, we are biased by our physical reality (our individual uniqueness) and all of its contradictions.

    So , it it even possible that we can ever have a “realistic” meeting of minds regarding existence? There are no answers, only questions.
    The future will always be strife and fear.

    However, it is fun and interesting to read all the comments provided above by enlightened (but also “imperfect” folks).

    I wish to offer up the teachings of W.V.O. Quine (1908-2000), considered America’s greatest philosopher. His main thesis is the view that “science is, as he put it, the final arbiter of truth: Only science can tell us about the world, and one of the things science tells us about the world is that our knowledge of it is constrained by and limited to sensory stimulations”
    “No proposition can be true independent of experience , but also that the meaning of a proposition cannot be ascertained in isolation from the ‘web of beliefs’ of which it forms a part”. “This web of belief is itself conditioned by sensory experience…, thus, Quine says ‘For my part I do, qua lay physicist, believe in physical objects and not in Homer’s gods; and I consider it a scientific error to believe otherwise.’…” But in point of epistemological footing, the physical objects and the gods differ only in degree and not in kind. Both sorts of entities enter our conceptions only as cultural posits.

  51. wyantry says:

    I have been trying for quite a while to figure out one thing:
    Why do people need the concept of a “god” (or “gods”) to explain natural occurrences?

    If there is another rational explanation, why attribute reality to the unprovable existence of a “supernatural” entity?

    God(s) have no proven existence, no basis in reality, are not VERIFIABLE. There is no contact. There is no direct interaction with
    un-natural “vapor-denizens”. There is NO PROOF of existence!

    And to profess the existence of a Single all-knowing (omniscient), all-seeing, all-powerful (omnipotent), unchanging (immutable), located-everywhere (omnipresent), in charge of everything (sovereign), and with three aspects (trinity)—is quite a stretch of non-reality.
    Besides there are many religious devotees who are not mono-theists! (hinduism, jainism, new-age beliefs, paganism, shamanism, shinto, wicca, cao dai, buddhism, scientology, raelian(ism), discordianism, and [some say] mormonism, among others).

    SCIENCE does not care WHAT you believe!

  52. Becky says:

    Interesting article, thought provoking. Most of the comments, while passionate, were still reasonably respectful. As a person who is a “believer” but also one who makes an effort to understand science and generally accepts it, I appreciate the civility. Now if we can find a way to work on the anti-vaxxers and flat-earthers …

  53. Ray says:

    Mike: “If the Supreme Being decided to use 13 billion years to prepare the Earth for humanity–or for some other purpose–from his point of view it’s pretty much the same as 10 seconds. I guess that takes a little imagination to conceive.”

    Ah, glorious ambiguity! Ain’t it great when you can take an idea and stretch it mean anything you want it to mean? And some of them even come pre-stretched! They always seem to keep your head a-noddin’ because they can’t ever be wrong! Imagine that – ambiguity becomes evidence for an intelligent designer!

    “I suggest Hugh Ross for reading material.”

    I suggest him for a doorstop.

  54. Ray says:

    Mike: “…a case of common design?”

    There is no evidence for common design since there is no theory of common design. Theory first, then evidence (since evidence is interpreted in light of theory).

    Imagine a scenario in which all species were unique and shared no features. You would certainly see this as evidence for a designer (since this is the “theory” described in the Bible). Now look at what we actually observe, i.e. shared features among species, which you are calling evidence for common design. But that puts you in the unenviable position of accepting contradictory data as evidence for the same proposition (that life is designed). A logical whopper, no?

    Your lack of a theory allows you to mold the data into whatever you happen to already believe.

  55. Lino D'Ischia says:


    There is ‘common descent’; there is not such thing as ‘common design.’ That’s something you made up. There’s is a ‘design inference,’ which involves an analysis of probabilities; and, since probabilities are related to ‘information,’ this can also be viewed in terms of information theory.

    You say this:
    “Theory first, then evidence (since evidence is interpreted in light of theory).’

    I’m afraid this isn’t always true. In fact, it may never be true. Instead, we usually see this: evidence leads to theory leads to confirmation of theory.

    Max Planck, for instance, was looking for an explanation as to why radiant energy didn’t continue to rise with total energy (UV catastrophe). He had the evidence–i.e., in the UV range, radiation fell instead of increasing. He then searched for a theory.

    He, against his predilections, inserted a probablistic measure from statistical mechanics that Boltzmann had theorized. It gave him an equation that ‘fit’ the data–that is, as I said, “confirmation.”

    And with this ‘confirmation’, the ‘quantum’ era began.

    Then you said:
    “Imagine a scenario in which all species were unique and shared no features. You would certainly see this as evidence for a designer (since this is the “theory” described in the Bible).”

    First, there is NO “theory” in the Bible. Instead, it is revealed that God created the world out of nothing. But, when it came to man, in the second account of creation, ‘man’ was fashioned out of ‘mud’: that is, already existing matter. This isn’t creatio ex nihilo.

    Second, the ‘world’ you’ve asked us to imagine–“all species [a]re unique and [share] no features,” is completely outside of ‘design.’ IOW, name me something that you know to be designed (in the sense of being engineered) that shares no features with anything else that has ever been designed.

    Things that are ‘designed’ have parts that work together for some specified purpose. And the way those parts are integrated and function, serve that purpose.

    However, something that is ‘designed’ perforce has ‘parts.’ Tubas and trumpets share similar ‘parts’, and so share features. So, the world you ask us to imagine is one which completely rules out anything like Darwinian evolution, but not design. But to then want to suggest that the multiplicity of similar species rules out ‘design’ just doesn’t hold water.

  56. Lino D'Ischia says:


    I see that Mike introduced this term. Sorry.

    I think what Mike means by ‘common design’ is what could be likened to a ‘common’ subroutine used in computer programs.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how Akismet processes your comment data.

Patreon: a new way to support the things skeptic creates

Get eSkeptic

Science in your inbox!

eSkeptic delivers great articles, videos, podcasts, reviews, event announcements, and more to your inbox.

Sign me up!

Donate to Skeptic

Please support the work of the Skeptics Society. Make the world a more rational place and help us defend the role of science in society.

Detecting Baloney

Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic) by Deanna and Skylar (High Tech High Media Arts, San Diego, CA)

The Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic)

For a class project, a pair of 11th grade physics students created the infographic shown below, inspired by Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit: a 16-page booklet designed to hone your critical thinking skills.

FREE PDF Download

Wisdom of Harriet Hall

Top 10 Things to Know About Alternative Medicine

Harriet Hall M.D. discusses: alternative versus conventional medicine, flu fear mongering, chiropractic, vaccines and autism, placebo effect, diet, homeopathy, acupuncture, “natural remedies,” and detoxification.

FREE Video Series

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Understanding the difference could save your life! In this superb 10-part video lecture series, Harriet Hall M.D., contrasts science-based medicine with so-called “complementary and alternative” methods.

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths of Terrorism

Is Terrorism an Existential Threat?

This free booklet reveals 10 myths that explain why terrorism is not a threat to our way of life or our survival.

FREE PDF Download

The Top 10 Weirdest Things

The Top Ten Strangest Beliefs

Michael Shermer has compiled a list of the top 10 strangest beliefs that he has encountered in his quarter century as a professional skeptic.

FREE PDF Download

Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and can you tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

FREE PDF Download

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Mind altering experiences are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

FREE PDF Download

Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

FREE PDF Download

The Yeti or Abominable Snowman

5 Cryptid Cards

Download and print 5 Cryptid Cards created by Junior Skeptic Editor Daniel Loxton. Creatures include: The Yeti, Griffin, Sasquatch/Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, and the Cadborosaurus.

Copyright © 1992–2018. All rights reserved. The Skeptics Society | P.O. Box 338 | Altadena, CA, 91001 | 1-626-794-3119. Privacy Policy.