Intelligent Design

Bad Design Equals No Design: A Perfect Example of Self-Refuting Argumentation

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Check out this essay by Jack Woodall in The Scientist:

Intelligent Design: The Clincher — A butterfly explodes the theory

Follow Woodall’s argumentation to its inevitable implications:

If I were the perfect designer I would invent a perfect world in which nothing could possibly ever go wrong or present any challenges or adversity. But then my world would be hideously boring and meaningless (and there would be nothing to learn, because learning takes effort, and effort means challenge and adversity), so I would no longer be the perfect designer of a perfect world.

I couldn’t win for losing, and in either case (a “perfect” world or an “imperfect” world) my design would be imperfect, and therefore would not be designed.

31 Replies to “Bad Design Equals No Design: A Perfect Example of Self-Refuting Argumentation

  1. 1
    Jehu says:

    Suggesting that a butterfly is evidence of bad design is perhaps one of the worst arguments against Intelligent Design that I have ever heard.

    Here is the punch line of the article.

    So here you have an insect that depends for its very existence on a fragile chain of circumstances that is easily broken by bad weather, changes in exposure to grazing due to human intervention and disease, loss of its unique food plant, and loss of its protector ant species. If I were to design such a silly system I’d at least choose the most abundant, hardy species of ant to host my caterpillars, and ensure that they could feed on other plants beside thyme, and at other stages than the bud. To me, the case of the Large Blue is conclusive disproof of the theory of intelligent design.

    This does not show bad design. The original design of the butterfly allowed it to adopt to a variety of environments. After many generations of living in a fixed enviroment the genes that would allow it to adapt to other environments were lost through neutral drift and reductive evolution. When the environment changed the butterfly no longer had the genes it needed to adapt – and so went extinct.

    Now a question for the Darwinists. Why didn’t the butterfly evolve new traits to allow it adapt to the changing environment before it went extinct?

  2. 2
    idnet.com.au says:

    If this is the best they can do to “refute” ID we havn’t got long to wait until ID will triumph over EVO.

  3. 3
    Rowan says:

    This is funnier than the The Brites…oh wait this is serious? I’m wondering why the ants haven’t evolved to not bring ant larvae eating caterpillars home for tea?

    There, I’ve just “exploded” Darwinism with that “conclusive disproof” of the theory!

  4. 4
    Marcos says:

    And the old canard goes round and round and round…

  5. 5
    shaner74 says:

    “If this is the best they can do to “refute” ID we havn’t got long to wait until ID will triumph over EVO.”

    My thought exactly. This “argument” is just silly and is a perfect example of last-ditch-effortism. You’ll never convince anyone that questions lord Darwin that one of the most beautiful things on Earth is evidence for the blind watchmaker.

  6. 6
    kvwells says:

    Could someone explain why extinction would equal bad design? I’ve seen many darwinists put forth this argument.

    Not to seem crass and unfeeling, but just because one has the bad sense to become attached to the Christmas goose doesn’t mean she makes a bad meal (Of course, one doesn’t slaughter the whole farmyard for one meal, either).

    In other words, rate of extinction would be as much a design factor as rate of speciation, in a Universe where physics include entropy in large complex systems and irreversibility along a single timeline.

  7. 7
    mike1962 says:

    More evidence that darwinistas make lousy philosophers and theologians. Although they do seem to make good comedians.

  8. 8
    Inquisitive Brain says:

    I would suggest that 4-stage metamorphasis is, prima facie, irreducibly complex.

    Atelic evolution claims to explain how organisms gain new traits and behaviors by successive modifications, whether by cooption, variation and selection, or direct adaptation. This leads to a question:

    What does an organism that is in the process of gaining the ability to metamorph do when it is capable of deconstituting itself (larva to pupa), but does not yet have the ability to build itself back up (pupa to adult)?

    Perhaps I’m missing something in my logic? Any Darwinists out there reading this that can address this? Anyone from the ID community that know the prepackaged Darwinian answer?

    I really want to know the answer to this question, since I have also had thoughts like this for years. I’ve also had thoughts about hibernation behaviors that seem to have a similar irreducible core as well.

  9. 9
    tribune7 says:

    Woodall clearly doesn’t understand that bad design means something that fails to achieve (or inefficiently achieves) the purpose for what it was made.

    If he doesn’t know the purpose he can’t judge the design.

    What is the purpose of a butterfly?

  10. 10
    David L. Hagen says:

    Logical fallacy of man made extinction vs butterfly wing construction

    Woodall lists four man made causes for the butterfly’s extinction:
    1) “One was the increased use of chemical fertilizers that promote vigorous grass growth, which kills off small wild flowers such as thyme.”
    2) “Then, sheep were pulled off the land by a change in livestock farming.”
    3) “For a few years, rabbits spread and kept the grass short in habitats favored by the butterfly, but in the 1950s myxomatosis (a viral disease of rabbits) was introduced and eliminated them.”
    4) “Pastures also were previously burned over, which kept the grass short, but this is no longer done.”

    Logical Fallacy
    Woodall then commits the logical fallacy of concluding that man made extinction (or destruction) refutes Intelligent Design. This is equivalent to saying that the man made destruction of Hiroshima by the atomic bomb demonstrates that Hiroshima itself was not man made.

    Butterfly’s Wing & Light Interference Coloration
    In his searching to understand Nature, I encourage Woodall to contemplate the coloration and structure of the butterfly’s wing. Repetitive structures result in ultra light wing structure while giving coloration by light interference patterns. (See Scientific American Vol. 245, Nov. 1981 p 106, or Werner Gitt, 2000, In the Beginning was Information, Ch 1, sect 3 pp 15, 16 ISBN 3-89397-255-2.) Pigmentation by contrast would appear to be heavier and not as efficient.

    Neo-Darwinism vs Intelligent Design
    Perhaps Woodall could provide a detailed step by step explanation for the formation of the butterfly’s wing by neo-Darwinian mechanisms within Dembski’ Universal Probability Bound of 1 in 10^120 (of all possible combinations of all atoms over all time at the fastest possible recombination rate.) In doing so, he may wish to account for the accumulation of near neutral mutations in the genome as highlighted by Kimura, M. 1968, Evolutionary rate at the molecular level. Nature 217:624-626, and as reviewed by geneticist John C. Sanford (2005) Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome. ISBN 1-59919-002-8. Then he may wish to reconsider whether the logic and validity of his assertions refute Intelligent Design or reflect on himself.

  11. 11
    kvwells says:

    Inquisitive Brain,

    Great post. IMO as well ‘parts is parts’ and are the easy piece in the puzzle, compared to the simultaneous evolution of neural programming that directs this sort of behaviour. Behaviour that puts the animal in an extremely vulnerable state for an extended period of time unless compensatory denfensive behaviour is in place simultaneously as the state-change mechanisms evolve.

  12. 12
    ajl says:

    I’m actually quite surprised at this article. Myu surprise is that he is trying to put forward an argument that was asked and answered many years ago.

    I would think a scientist on the cutting edge would know that this is just a poor argument.

    When I saw Mike Behe speak, and be challenged by some of the biologists in attendance, I turned to my friend and said “I can’t believe this, they are using arguments that Behe himself addressed in DBB 10 years ago”.

    Now, to be fair, there were a few really good and challenging questions from some. But for the most part it was proudly bringing forth an argument, waiting for the thunderous applause to die down as they basked in their glory, only to hear Behe start of quoting his 10 year old book “well, as I said in DBB…”.

  13. 13
    DonaldM says:

    Suggesting that a butterfly is evidence of bad design is perhaps one of the worst arguments against Intelligent Design that I have ever heard.

    It gets even more amazing (or is it amusing?). The argument from sub-optimal design (or dysteleology as Dembski has referred to it) goes something like this (as Darwinists usually present it):

    P-1 – If life were intelligently designed, then we would observe optimal design in each and every biological system and organism
    p-2 we observe many biological systems and organisms that exhibit sub-optimal design features.

    C- therefore living things were not the result of intelligent design but the result of the blind, purposeless process of evolution.

    Now, any first year logic student could pick up the problems with the argument. The first and foremost problem is there is no scientifically established, accepted definition of ‘optimal’ as it applies to biological systems and organisms. Indeed it isn’t at all clear what ‘optimal’ might mean in this context? Optimal in what way, exactly? So we start out with equivocation of terms. And it goes downhill from there.

    Darwinists take this one step further to say that sub-optimal design (such as the vertebrate eye, for example) is exactly what you’d expect from an evolutionary process. In other words, somehow, evolution ‘predicts’ that biological systems would resemble kluges in several respects. And as the late Stephen J. Gould reminded us in The Panda’s Thumb “…odd arrangements and funny solutions are the stuff of a wise creator…” In other words, the entire argument hinges on a theological premise, rather than a scientific one. It’s “God wouldn’t have done it that way. Thus P-1 above really means that if God designed living things, then every living thing would be optimally designed. Living things aren’t optimally designed (p-2), therefore God had nothing to do with bringing living things into existence.

    Could some Darwinian please point us to the scientific research studies in peer reviewed journals that reports the findings of the studies that confirmed or falsified what God would or would not have done? After all, this all ‘just about science’ right?

    Then, consider further the Darwinist claim that evolution would predict sub-optimal design. Well, I’ve never heard anyone say that the bacterial flagellum was somehow ‘sub-optimally’ designed. In fact, it is often trotted out as an example of what a great ‘designer’ evolution can be. So it seems that evolution ‘predicts’ both sub-optimal as well as optimal design. Thanks, that was really helpful!!

    Finally, I’m still waiting for the research studies where all these imagnined improvements to the supposed sub-optimal designs are actuated in real living systems and confirm that indeed they are optimal, that they do not produce deficits elsewhere in the system, either for the individual organism or the eco-system in which it lives. Perhaps some Darwinist could point us to those studies as well.

  14. 14
    Chris Hyland says:

    I completely agree that suboptimal design isn’t a very good argument against ID and I agree with Donald about the definition of optimal. In many cases though the suboptimal argument is used as a counter to the argument that ‘optimal’ structures are evidence of design. In other words ‘the designer wouldn’t do it that way’ it a counter to ‘the designer would do it that way’. Personally I don’t put much faith in either as a scientific argument, especially as we’re trying not to talk about the designer.

  15. 15
    Inquisitive Brain says:

    I’m pleasantly surprised by how many pro-ID statements are being made at the article’s comment page.

    At this time, the ID statements stand unchallenged. ID is being dismissed by epithets and handwaving, a favored tactic of our enemies, as G.K. Chesterton so poignantly expressed long ago. The more things change, the more things stay the same.

  16. 16
    idnet.com.au says:

    Most of us think that ID will be brought in as the old guard gradually are displaced. The picture of the author of the butterfly piece supports this.

    “Intelligent design and biological complexity.”
    Gene 2006 written by Emile Zuckerkandl in his mid eighties is no spring chicken either.

  17. 17

    How odd that non-rational material forces would produce in Woodall’s mind the notion of perfection, an immaterial abstraction that happens to have the property of “aboutness” so that it may be employed to assess the adequacies of entities in the material world? And why would Woodall share with the rest of us a notion that arises out of his mind, unless, of course, the notion has universal application, that other minds may learn this notion as well and apply it to an array of entities, both organic and inorganic? But perhaps this notion is not “learned” in any strict sense, since there is no one empirical entity in the world that is “perfect” in the way that Woodall is using the word. So, apparently, there is an abstract, universal, non-empirical, a priori truth that applies to reality which Woodall never learned, but somehow knows.

    Woodall is not just flirting with intelligent design, has taken her home and made sweet love to her. But, alas, he does not respect her in the morning.

  18. 18
    DonaldM says:

    Oops, I just noticed a huge error in my Gould quote:

    Stephen J. Gould reminded us in The Panda’s Thumb “…odd arrangements and funny solutions are the stuff of a wise creator…”

    I left out the word ‘not’ and the quote should read:

    Stephen J. Gould reminded us in The Panda’s Thumb “…odd arrangements and funny solutions are notthe stuff of a wise creator…”

    My bad!!

  19. 19
    DonaldM says:

    F. Beckwith writes:

    How odd that non-rational material forces would produce in Woodall’s mind the notion of perfection, an immaterial abstraction that happens to have the property of “aboutness” so that it may be employed to assess the adequacies of entities in hethe material world?

    Indeed, but have you ever tried to explain this to a Darwinist? The usual move is to hand wave issues like this away and label them mere ‘sophistry’ and pretend the problems don’t exist.

  20. 20
    DonaldM says:

    Chris H writes:

    In many cases though the suboptimal argument is used as a counter to the argument that ‘optimal’ structures are evidence of design. In other words ‘the designer wouldn’t do it that way’ it a counter to ‘the designer would do it that way’. Personally I don’t put much faith in either as a scientific argument, especially as we’re trying not to talk about the designer.

    Except that, when it comes to evolution, both optimal and sub-optimal designs are evidence of evolution, not of ID. That was my point regarding the optimal nature of the bacterial flagellum.

  21. 21
    Jehu says:

    Where is the selfish gene?

    The caterpillar will continue feasting on the red ant grubs for up to 3 weeks, afterwhich it will hang itself by its legs on the nest’s roof and build a chrysalis around itself. … After its change from caterpillar to butterfly, the insect emerges from its chrysalis and leave the red ant nest to find a mate. Usually, red ants will often escort the newly emerged butterfly to the surface, taking it to a low plant or shrub nearby. The red ants will encircle the butterfly and ward off any predators that attempt to attack the butterfly as it dries out. After the butterfly is ready to fly away, the ants will retreat back into their nest.

    Amazing. Where is the Darwinian brutal struggle for survival in this picture?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Large_blue_butterfly

  22. 22
    kvwells says:

    Donald M: The usual move is to hand wave issues like this away and label them mere ’sophistry’ and pretend the problems don’t exist.

    They are not pretending. It is not a question for the practising Darwinist whether unintelligent nature can produce intelligence, it is axiomatic. Therefore any arguments demonstrating insufficient cause simply are wrong in exactly the same way, and for exactly the same reason.

    To challenge an axiom is to invite abuse.

  23. 23
    kvwells says:

    Hyland: In other words ‘the designer wouldn’t do it that way’ it a counter to ‘the designer would do it that way’.

    I would never say “A designer would design well; these things seem well designed; therefore they are designed.”

    However, I think the argument may rather be that:

    Well designed complex functions share many common attributes;

    these collective attributes are not observed in randomly generated functions or processes, nor is it reasonable to expect they will be observed in such;

    There are many are many examples in nature demonstrating having these attributes in force;

    therefore it is reasonable and consistent with all previous observation to conclude these are designed systems.

    Examples of bad design, supposed or not, are irrevelant as to whether ID has scientific merit.

    Of course the practising Darwinist will say “unintelligent Nature sure can produce these things, after all, here we are!”

    This is an axiom, using an axiom where an argument should be is punting.

  24. 24
    Jehu says:

    Originally, I said:

    The original design of the butterfly allowed it to adopt to a variety of environments. After many generations of living in a fixed enviroment the genes that would allow it to adapt to other environments were lost through neutral drift and reductive evolution. When the environment changed the butterfly no longer had the genes it needed to adapt – and so went extinct.

    Curious to see if I could find anything to validate my prediction I found that the Large Blue butterfly discussed in Woodall’s article or Maculinea arion is a member of the genus Maculinea . Each of the various “species” of Maculinea butterflies specialize in forming a parasitic relationship with different species of ants. They do this by mimicing the chemical signals of the ants in order to “trick” the ants into taking care of them. Woodall’s position is that Maculinea Arion’s adaption to only one species of ecologically vulnerable ant is evidence of bad design. My prediction is that the original design allowed adaption to multiple species of ants but the genetic information allowing for multiple adaptions was lost due to neutral drift and evolutionary loss. Supportive of my prediction, I find that one species of Maculinea , Maculinea rebeli simultaneously contains species-specific substances for multiple potential host species. It is easy to hypothesize that Maculinea arion once possessed such flexibility but lost the genes through reductive evolution. In fact, I would expect they had the same genes and that the genes were differentiated by the sorting of polymorphisms through reductive evolution and neutral drift.

  25. 25
    DonaldM says:

    To challenge an axiom is to invite abuse.

    Hmmm….I suppose I’d better not challenge this axiom, then!!

  26. 26
    DonaldM says:

    kvwells

    Examples of bad design, supposed or not, are irrevelant as to whether ID has scientific merit.

    This is an excellent point. One might think that the XYZ Widget Company produces the absolute worst designed widgets to be found on earth. None-the-less no one would claim the widgets were not designed and just happened to come about through eons and eons of evolutionary development. (Though some might argue that if widgets were produced that way they would be superior to those designed and by the XYZ Widget Company…but that is a different matter!)

  27. 27
    Jehu says:

    Examples of bad design, supposed or not, are irrevelant as to whether ID has scientific merit.

    True, but I have never seen a convincing example of bad design. Butterfleis are examples amazingly brilliant design; to claim they are an example of bad design is completely absurd.

  28. 28
    j says:

    Inquisitive Brain (8): “Atelic evolution claims to explain how organisms gain new traits and behaviors by successive modifications, whether by cooption, variation and selection, or direct adaptation. This leads to a question: What does an organism that is in the process of gaining the ability to metamorph do when it is capable of deconstituting itself (larva to pupa), but does not yet have the ability to build itself back up (pupa to adult)? Perhaps I’m missing something in my logic?”

    The small body of current research supports the idea that pupal development is either a continuation or repetition of embryonic events. The mechanism attributed to the displacement or repetition of these events, however, has evolved with time, and has been influenced by available methods and innovations. Today, the most likely explanations involve two established regulators of insect life history, JH and its effector br. What still remains to be learned, however, is how these two stage-specifying factors interact with the developmental genes that pattern either a worm-like larva or an adult-like nymph. Most comparative gene expression studies have focused on the earliest embryonic events of hemimetabolous and holometabolous insects, and have compared these events to imaginal development of metamorphosing insects. However, the two types of developmental trajectories diverge later in embryonic development, after formation of the phylotypic germ band. In order to determine which developmental event brought about the departure from hemimetabolous development that led to the evolution of complete metamorphosis, more studies should focus on how global endocrine signals are integrated with local patterning information during these later stages of embryogenesis.

    (Deniz F. Erezyilmaz, “Imperfect eggs and oviform nymphs: a history of ideas about the origins of insect metamorphosis” (2006).)

    http://icb.oxfordjournals.org/.....l/46/6/795

  29. 29
    kvwells says:

    25. DonaldM:

    touché. It does seem to be better to point out the necessary belief of your opponent and say something like “personally, (what one actually means is “absolutely,” but “personally” doesn’t offend) I don’t believe that’s true, because …”

    It will be a great advance when ID is generally accepted as a belief held by reasonable, thoughtful and reflective people. It seems we will have to explain our reasons for holding these beliefs, thoughtfully and patiently and in detail, many times before we see it “take.”

  30. 30
    Inquisitive Brain says:

    J,

    Thank you for the link to the paper. I think I see some of the dynamics in play here. It seems we do not have enough knowledge to tell if metamorphosis is IC or not. Looks like more gene knock-out experiments and reverse engineering might be useful here.

    You shared much more knowledge with me than those at “The Scientist,” presumably where reputable scientists go to slam ID with epithets, canards, and self-refuting arguments. It’s nice to see that those seeking to annihilate ID are still “clinching” at thin air.

  31. 31
    j says:

    I’m glad you appreciated it. I agree that it appears much more data is needed to permit the drawing of any real conclusions about the origin of insect metamorphosis. But “a continuation or repetition of embryonic events” sounds like a superficially-plausible, NDE-innocuous place-keeper to me.

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