What's *Really* Different Between Design and Evolution

From: Chris Cogan (ccogan@sfo.com)
Date: Thu Jan 27 2000 - 19:00:54 EST

  • Next message: Chris Cogan: "The Ultimate 747 in the Junkyard"

    I think the key difference between design and things that evolve without
    design is that things that are designed exhibit *foresight* on the part of
    the designer.

    Consider two complex objects, one of which arose by a process of cumulative
    selection by a "blind" selector and a "blind" producer of variations from
    which selection is made, and one of which is designed by a being with
    sufficient knowledge of his materials, methods, and desired results that he
    is able to simply straightforwardly design (and make) the object. If the
    evolved object went through a long and richly varied evolutionary history,
    and if it is quite complex, it will, almost *certainly*, show *marked*
    differences from the functionally similar object that was produced by the
    type of designer described above.

    To give a specific example, consider the human male vas deferens, which runs
    from the testicles to the prostate. Its only function is to carry sperm from
    the testicles to the prostate. An intelligent designer would simply run the
    vas deferens directly from the testicles to the prostate, because he would
    have the foresight to see that running it, say, up to the throat and then
    back down to the prostate would be silly and wasteful and even harmful.

    But, this is not what pure naturalistic evolution would necessarily do. If
    the testicles had once been in a different location relative to the
    prostate, and if their current location had been arrived at by evolution,
    then, depending on the accidents of genetics and fitness on the way to the
    current anatomy, there could easily be an evolutionary slope where
    *immediate* fitness was improved by genetic changes that would *ultimately*
    result in a *loss* of fitness (in a different and, of course, unforeseen,

    This seems to be, in fact, what has happened: The vas deferens goes up to
    the *bladder* area, and then it goes *over* the ureter from the same-side
    kidney, and only *then* heads for the prostate. This is instantly and
    trivially explainable as a result of a series of evolutionary steps, each of
    which the environment "judged" as improvements, but which, in the process,
    incidentally produced a situation that *no* intelligent designer would
    create *unless* his intention was either something *other* than the fitness
    of the organism (such as fooling reason-oriented scientists into believing
    in evolution?).

    Why does this happen in evolution? Because it has no foresight, not even
    unto the next tenth of a second. It *cannot* predict the consequences of its
    changes. But, a designer, working without the limitations of an
    absolute-zero IQ, can easily avoid such things as the absurd routing of the
    vas deferens.

    As this example illustrates, there are *empirical* consequences of the lack
    of foresight in evolution. Such "design errors" are to be *predicted* for
    any complex organism that has had a richly varied evolutionary history. They
    are *not* to be predicted on the basis of design theory. In fact, we should
    expect there to be *no* mistakes on the part of an intelligent designer. We
    should expect that on those very rare occasions when we found something that
    appeared to be a design error, closer examination would show that it makes
    perfect *design* sense after all.

    Instead, what we find is that, far from being *rare*, such "design errors"
    are quite common, *and* that, with extremely few (if any) exceptions, closer
    examination does *not* show them to make good design sense.

    Put another way: If you find something that looks like it was designed by an
    intelligent designer, and yet it has fairly obvious and intractable "design
    errors," you are almost certainly looking at something that *evolved*, not
    something that was designed by a very knowledgeable designer. On the other
    hand, if you find something that looks like it was designed and which, while
    being *just* as complex (if not more complex) than the evolved object, is
    nevertheless apparently *free* of any design errors of any sort (e.g., the
    vas deferens goes directly to the prostate), then you very likely *are*
    looking at something that was in fact designed. Look for foresight in the
    "design" of things. If you don't see it, even after a close look, then it
    was either evolved or designed by a designer who did not really know what he
    was doing. If you *do* see foresight, freedom from "design errors," through
    and through, then you probably *are* looking at design.

    Unfortunately, these considerations do not *always* apply, because, if the
    evolutionary history of an object is smooth and "straight-line," and if the
    object did not have to be "remodeled" in significant ways during its
    history, then, in *that* case, too, there will be few (if any) "design

    However, not all is lost. If we examine an organism that is, let us suppose,
    as complex as a human being, and find that it does *not* have any of the
    "design errors" typical of such a complex being, then we should be able to
    infer, with a fairly high degree of reliability, that it did indeed have
    just such a smooth and relatively uneventful evolutionary history.

    But, life itself, on Earth, *all* appears to be the result of evolution, for
    precisely the reasons given above. There seem to be, throughout all
    well-studied organisms, "design errors," all the way down to the very lowest
    levels. Many of these "design errors" are "locked in" because genetically
    nearby variations all exhibit less fitness for the organism *at the moment*.
    An intelligent designer, seeing that better ways are readily available, and
    *not* having to worry about fitness, could simply *design* organisms to be
    free of these "design errors."

    Since we would expect a designer to do a *vastly* better job of designing,
    and since the "design errors" we see are *exactly* of the type that indicate
    *total* lack of foresight, *total* lack of intelligence, we have to conclude
    that there is almost certainly no designer and that life almost certainly
    *did* evolve.

    To make my point with just a little further empirical significance: I
    *predict* that nearly all complex organisms that are found and that appear
    to have a long and varied evolutionary history (as indicated by fossils,
    etc.) will *also* have a goodly number of "design errors" of the sort
    described here, "design errors" showing a lack of foresight and intelligence
    on the part of any alleged "designer." I also predict that any complex
    organism that does *not*, even upon critical examination in detail, exhibit
    such "design errors" will also appear in evolutionary terms to have
    ancestors that changed smoothly and more or less directly from some much
    more primitive organism to the current organism. To test this theory, all
    that is needed is to find some organisms that seem to be free of such
    "design errors" - if any can be found - and then look for what should be
    their evolutionary history as indicated by fossils and still-living
    offshoots from the same remote-past organism.

    In any case, I predict that there will be found to be a correspondence
    between the number and severity of such "design" errors with the apparent
    smoothness and directness of the evolutionary history.

    Organisms that apparently have evolved from life in one environment to life
    in another radically different one should exhibit more of such "design
    errors" than organisms that evolved *initially* in that environment. Thus,
    we should expect to find *more* of such "design errors" (and likely more
    serious ones) in whales than in fish (in general; other factors *are*
    involved, so this correspondence may not be perfect).

    Of course, there is a certain weakness in this proposal. Design theorists
    are very careful *not* to have a theory. That is, they are very careful
    *not* to specify a design theory that their alleged designer uses, *not* to
    specify *what* he is supposedly designing things for, and so on. Thus, we
    cannot *deduce* from design theory that the designer will *not* design
    organisms in such a way that they will appear to have *just* the type of
    apparent design errors that would be predicted by evolution. Because the
    designer is a perfectly arbitrary construct, designer theory makes no *real*
    predictions at all as to empirical facts.

    That is, because of the *fundamental* flaws in design theory, it is
    *essentially* non-testable (in its present forms). Given one set of
    empirical facts, design theory does not allow us to *infer* another set of
    facts. For example, we cannot infer by the application of designer theory
    that plants and animals could be bred to produce not only new varieties but
    new species (such as cabbage and cauliflower, which were bred from the same
    initial plant). The non-testability of designer theory means that, no matter
    *how* grossly badly "designed" an organism is, it does not refute designer

    But, it doesn't support designer theory, either, and it *tends* to count
    against it. Evolved things are characterized by an apparent lack of
    foresight in their "design," and we would *expect* an intelligent designer
    to have *at least* the foresight and intelligence of a current or
    near-future genetics engineer. This does not seem to have been the case with
    life on Earth.

    Therefore, I conclude that the designer theory, while *theoretically*
    empirically vacuous, is only compatible with empirical facts by great
    straining and gnashing of teeth, while the apparent "design errors" of all
    known life are not only compatible with evolutionary theory, they are to be
    *predicted* on the basis of it (though, without detailed knowledge of a
    particular organism and its *future* environments, we cannot predict the
    *specific* "design errors" that will occur in its future).

    --Chris C

    Now is the time for all good people to come to.

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Fri Jan 28 2000 - 19:09:50 EST