Should we all pack up and go home with such erudite opponents as this?
Watching Intelligent Design – Alexander Nussbaum Free Enquiry April / May 2012 Volume 32, Number 3 (edited exerpts below)
Watches are a product of intelligent design and are often used as an example of such by creationists in their beloved – and deeply misleading – analogy.
Watches are a poor analogue for living systems, as they bear one characteristic that is common in products of intelligent design but absent from the products of biological evolution. Watches tend to be engineered for performance far beyond what is needed in use. Evolved living systems never display this kind of overdesign except, arguably, in certain characteristics used for sexual selection.
Biological evolution makes use of what is already available and generally produces not optimal design, but rather design just good enough to survive. Biological evolution is a master of jerry-building, of making do, and of overlooking design flaws as long as reproduction is achieved before the system dies.
For the human brain, amazing product of evolution though it is — capable of calculus, creating computers, and even of reaching the Moon — is also a deeply flawed belief machine that is unable to shake itself of delusions like creationism.
Animals’ senses reflect that which produces fitness advantages in the niche they evolved to fill and at the minimum level needed. For living creatures, energy consumed to support a sensory capacity that does not increase survival decreases overall fitness. It becomes a handicap to be ruthlessly weeded out. In contrast, products of intelligent design often retain capabilities that exceed usefulness, often by great magnitudes.
There is no evidence that intelligent design exists anywhere but in human artifacts.
Products of intelligent design typically have capabilities that exceed usefulness and complications that would be profoundly maladaptive in a living system in that they add relatively useless features at great cost and with increased chances of malfunction. In biological evolution, by contrast, “barely good enough” is the highest level that can be reached, because expense that does not improve overall fitness cannot be tolerated.
Human bipedalism is clearly the result of a quadruped design being turned into a biped design rather than having been intelligently designed from scratch. This is exactly the mark of the “blind watchmaker” of natural evolution.
No characteristic of a living system has ever evolved by the addition of whole new parts with no precursors in order to attain a desired result.
It is a characteristic of biological evolution that once a trait evolves that produces survival benefits in a specific environment, evolution cannot undo it and return to an objectively inferior trait.
This can — and does — happen in objects that are intelligently designed. When quartz watches with digital displays were introduced it appeared that they would supplant analog watches in the marketplace. Before long, analog displays returned to dominance, even on watches with quartz movements that had no need for it.
Where does this leave modern-day purveyors of Paley’s watch analogy? Well, what exactly do those who claim that life on Earth shows signs of intelligent design mean?
What they mean by “intelligent design” is that all life came instantly into existence on the word of an omnipotent being who used magic.
Alexander Nussbaum is an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Psychology at St. John’s University. His dissertation topic concerned evolutionary psychology.