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Poor design, or poorly used design?

Published: 20 October 2018 (GMT+10)

If a design breaks through being poorly used, is that the fault of the design, or those who used the object in a way it wasn’t meant to be used? H.V. from Australia writes:


I was on Youtube and saw a comment speaking about bad design. The argument (theological) is that horse intestines twist when they run and can lead to their death, as it can make a knot. Rabbits are said to have to never stop eating as their digestive system will stop and it can’t “start” again. The octopus brain is also said to be badly designed as it is shaped like a ring around their esophagus, and if they bite something too big for their esophagus it can cause brain damage. The guy lists no sources for any of his claims but I was wondering if you had any arguments for the functions in the creation model. I also read some thing ‘debunking’ one of your antibiotic resistance videos. They did a poor job and avoided almost all of your points, They did however say that bacteria fighting against a mycin drug have beta-lactamase to be resistant. He say that the presence of that enzyme is a gain of function compared to the absence of it, why would some have it absent?

CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:

Nothing he’s talking about involve design flaws; the problems occur when the design gets used in an improper way. For instance, if you keep using a wrench as a hammer, the wrench will eventually no longer be useful as a wrench. Or, if a little child sticks a fork into a toaster, it can electrocute them. Are these due to a fault in the design of the wrench or toaster? No; they result from an improper use of the wrench or toaster.

First, horses don’t typically get a twisted gut just from running. Rather, it seems that a major cause is a diet not suited to their ecology. Horses (and rabbits) are grazers, so ordinarily they always have food in their GI tract. Considering that their main food in the wild is grass, that’s rarely a problem. Moreover, when the horse’s large intestine consistently has food in it, that provides enough support to stop the gut getting twisted. In other words, if they eat in a manner fitting their digestive anatomy, there won’t be any problems.

Rabbits are somewhat similar. When healthy, they are constantly digesting, which means they need to eat pretty consistently. But they’re grazers; their food (in the wild) is readily available.

Regarding the ‘donut shaped brain’ of the octopus, it doesn’t provide a digestive problem for them. Just because something could be a problem if the constraints of a design are not heeded doesn’t mean something is badly designed. Cephalopods tend to eat slowly, and they are very good at breaking their food up into small enough pieces. So, where’s the problem? In fact, it’s actually a relatively common way to build a brain in invertebrates. Evolutionists like to construe this as evidence for evolution, but if each type of creature had radically different designs, skeptics might just as well ask ‘isn’t that evidence for multiple designers?’ Patterns of structural similarity between creatures not related by reproduction reflect a single designer. For instance, Porsche and Volkswagen cars have historically shared a similar idiosyncratic look because both types of cars had the same original designer, Ferdinand Porsche. See Are look-alikes related?

On beta-lactamase acquisition in bacteria, note that the mycin antibiotics like streptomycin and Dactinomycin don’t have beta-lactam groups. Beta-lactamase works only on beta-lactam antiobiotics, such as penicillin and amoxycillin. Whether this misunderstanding came from you or the YouTube video, always be careful about what you watch on YouTube. There’s a lot of bad misinformation on YouTube.

Nonetheless, for bacteria acquiring beta-lactamase, there is a gain of function, but not through mutation. The information was already present on a plasmid the bacteria acquired. The information came through lateral gene transfer. As Does the acquisition of antibiotic and pesticide resistance provide evidence for evolution? points out:

β-lactamase is manufactured by a set of genes on R-plasmids that can be passed to other bacteria. In 1982, over 90% of all clinical staphylococcus infections were penicillin-resistant, compared to close to 0% in 1952. The reason for the increase was due largely to the rapid spread (primarily by conjugation transfer) of the β-lactamase plasmid.

For more information, please see What about claims of ‘bad design’? and our resource By Design.

Helpful Resources

Wonders of Creation: Design in a fallen world
by Stuart Burgess, Andy McIntosh and Brian Edwards (editor)
US $50.00
Hard cover
By Design
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
US $15.00

Readers’ comments

Bill P.
For the last 40 yrs I have noticed that schools do not teach anymore. The responses you gave to the questions in the the letter written to you I remember learning in High School Biology class almost 45 yrs ago. It's my opinion now that schools do not teach but instead they indoctrinate. So now when these videos get posted on the internet most recent students tend to believe them as fact.
I also remember my history. When Hitler invaded and took over Poland his plan was to make it a agricultural area for the German people and the native Polish people were to be servants. Part of this plan was to give the Polish people a simple 3rd grade education claiming they did not need more learning since they were to be no more than servants, and to keep them ignorant lest they became to educated and would seek to stop the 3rd. Reich from ruling over them.
I can not help but feel this is what the education system has been doing in this nation. Keeping the last few generations with little true education so they would be easier to control, making them their servants to their will.
This might sound crazy to some but it's happened several times throughout history. Just study the last 100 yrs.
Enjoy the work you guys do very much.
James H.
All of us are guilty at some point of seeing what we want to believe.
Delmas G.
I just had a bilateral hernia operation in my lower abdomen. Doctors and friends are quick to point out that abominable hernias are a design flaw. I haven't found any literature or articles from the CMI site countering their position. Can you provide some assistance please?
Delmas G.
Shaun Doyle
A 'design flaw' in what sense? Hernias typically result from wear and tear, whether through simple aging, or through prior illness or injury, or even chronic coughing. In the fallen world, all designed systems have their characteristic ways of 'breaking' through wear and tear, and the human body is no exception. And the less efficient our maintenance and repair systems are, the quicker those characteristic ways of breaking will manifest. So, where is the flaw in the original design? At most, it's evidence our bodies could've been designed to age more gracefully. But is that something God had to take into account in His original design of the human body? Or is that just a problem we perceive now because developed countries have such high life expectancies compared to the rest of human history? I don't see how we can say that God had to take it into account, so it's hardly evidence against a designer. And at the end of the day, we're still talking about logistically complex systems that grow themselves from a single cell and successfully run for decades, usually without much external help. Unless we can design something as impressive (which we're nowhere near doing), I think we should have a little humility before saying that we could better design the human body.
Michael S.
Just one quick comment. It's also important to realise that all claims of bad design are the slothful induction fallacy. For example with the horse and the octopus, notice the evolutionist predicated his conclusion of bad design on that one particular feature in the anatomy of the two respective animals.

The point I am making is this; how can you conclude a horse is poorly designed based on the study of only one feature? How can you conclude an octopus is poorly designed based on one feature? That would be like saying a car is poorly designed because it has inefficient windscreen wipers. But what about the rest of the car's design?

Conclusion: Even if we accept for the sake of argument the issue with the horse was a valid complaint (which it isn't as the article brilliantly shown.) Nevertheless what percentage of the design of a horse does that one problem with the intestine represent, if we count all of the designs in a horse, on the molecular and anatomical level? It might represent less than 0.1% of the design of a horse. So the evolutionist OMITS the 99.9% of viable designs in a horse for his evaluation. (of course those percentages are not really, they're just to make my point.)

So it seems to me evolutionists wrongly focus on the inconsequential TINY percentage so as to mislead people, which isn't far from lies to my mind, as it is very deceptive to make out a horse is poorly designed by omitting the 99.9% of brilliant design. After all if the majority of design was poor in an organism then it would follow they wouldn't be viable. But since all life is viable, therefore the majority of design must not be poor. (modus tollens rule.)

So then it's not even possible for life to be poorly designed or it wouldn't viably exist and reproduce.
Justin S.
I appreciate these articles and this ministry greatly, but sometimes we also need to refer back to what God says about his own creation. He didn’t give every part of creation every gift, just as He doesn’t give every one of us every gift (1 Cor. 12:12-31). Of course the curse of the fall then the flood changed the world dramatically also, so we probably can’t look at current animals and environments and how they all interact symbiotically as the the way they were originally intended?
Job 39:13-17
13 “The wings of the ostrich wave proudly,
But are her wings and pinions like the kindly stork's?
14 For she leaves her eggs on the ground,
And warms them in the dust;
15 She forgets that a foot may crush them,
Or that a wild beast may break them.
16 She treats her young harshly, as though they were not hers;
Her labor is in vain, without concern,
17 Because God deprived her of wisdom,
And did not endow her with understanding.
Shaun Doyle
Let me be clear: this is not a complete answer to all types of accusations of 'bad design'. It's only part of a comprehensive answer, but I found it to be the most relevant response for the specific matters the commenter brought up. The links in the article provide different types of responses to the accusation that arise in different contexts.
David B.
Another point to be made, related to Michael S.'s: Even if something appears to be poorly designed, that doesn't mean that it could come about without any design or guidance.

Then too, as you point out in response to the question about hernias, we are looking at designed things thousands of years after the stewards of the planet turned against the Designer, and things have been getting worse since.

Even if we found something that appeared to be bad design that wasn't degenerate, there would still be the possibility that we didn't understand the purpose of the design and the engineering trade-offs involved.

Evolutionists have never demonstrated that the natural processes that make up what they call evolution (mutations and natural selection) can produce anything entirely new with systematically organized dynamic complexity, a basic condition of all living things and many parts of living things.

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