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Posted on Feb 13, 2007 in zeitgeist | 13 comments

Unintelligent Design

Unintelligent Design

I’m an atheist. Its not something I generally shout or pontificate about, atheists tend not to, as pointed out by Richard Dawkins in the marvellous The God Delusion.
I’m not here (yet) to go off an any particular anti-religious rant, I just felt the urge to point out something that occured to me recently. Evolution has done some pretty daft things. Which made me think that the whole counter argument of Intelligent Design makes even less sense (if that was possible). You see, some designs are simply ‘unintelligent’.
No, before I go any further, I must apologise to all those who have doubtless pointed this out before. But it was on my mind so I going to have my own go at it. What else are blogs for?

Example 1
The thing that triggered this was, strangely, Happy Feet. I saw this shortly after I had revisited the plight of the penguins in the unerringly excellent Planet Earth. Sitting in the cinema, it gives you more than enough time to contemplate quite what a ridiculous ordeal those poor bugger penguins have to go through. -40C, howling snow storms, standing on ice, no food, standing perfectly still for the whole winter, in the dark. No TV. That doesn’t strike me as particularly intelligent design. Lets face is, there are LOTS of other places on earth to have a go at that. Nicer places, with fish, sun, maybe some earth. If you were going to go about things ‘intellgently’ you just wouldn’t come up with nonsense like that.

Example 2
“OK guys, here’s the deal, we’re going to make you one of the sea’s biggest and best predators.”
“Nice, luvin’ it, luvin’ it.”
“You’re really big, large row of teeth, huge brain, biggest on the planet and a really cool sonar thing.”
“SCORE, we are rockin’..what are we called?”
“Eh…you’re a whale, a Sperm Whale.”
“Nice, right, thanks we’re off…”
“Eh…hang on…one thing…”
“Yeah, what?”
“Eh…the stuff you eat is REALLY deep in the sea.”
“Yeah, whatever, so…”
“And you can only breath air.”
“You can only breath air.”
“You we heard.”
“Do we get lights?”

The this doesn’t make much sense as a design either. There hardly seems a point to put an air breathing mammal in the sea (any of them). I can’t see who you would ever sit down and think, “We’ll have lots of big sea guys, but lets make it really hard for them and make them breathe air.” Wouldn’t happen. I’ve seen some people do some pretty dumb designs in my time, but nothing as dumb as that.

Example 3
The Magicicada. Wait 17 years, fly about a bit. Die. Genius.

But that is the beauty of evolution. It matters not a jot whether not it is intelligent, it just matters if it works and, crucially, works better than the other creatures trying to survive doing roughly the same thing.

It is the inherent randomness in the genetic variation that can produce animals that are forced to endure quite ridiculous circumstances, not because it makes sense, just because it works, they survive.

This is obviously just a glib argument based on the nuances of the word ‘intelligent’, but you simply have to rejoice in the wonderful, inherent randomness of it all.

But you also have to give all your sympathies to the myriad of creatures whose ‘designs’ were even worse and meant they didn’t survive. What on earth could have been going on with them?


  1. Sadly the breeding cycle of penguins is one of the worst possible example of opposiiton to ID according to religious conservatives (or nutjobs as they’re more commonly known)>

    From a review of March of the Penguins:

    “”That any one of these [penguin] eggs survives is a remarkable feat – and, some might suppose, a strong case for intelligent design. It’s sad that acknowledgment of a creator is absent in the examination of such strange and wonderful animals. But it’s also a gap easily filled by family discussion after the film.””

    Mad a bag full of rats, but there you go…

  2. I think you’ll find that such examples – of questionable design – are simply there to test our faith.

  3. Please, please tell me you’re kidding Mr Hicks – surely no-one with sufficient intelligence even to switch on a computer can seriously believe in a ‘scientific’ theory so fundamentally ludicrous as Intelligent Design.

    You are kidding, right? You don’t really think that it’s a cogent rebuttal to suggest that ‘these many thousands of different and very obvious flaws in my central thesis are the exceptions that prove the rule’?

  4. And why not ? I have faith in the greater power of God. You have faith in the power of liberal rationalism.

    The former, I accept, has brought mayhem and death to the world. However the latter has brought the industrial revolution and two world wars.

  5. Not wishing to be rude, but that’s not actually answering my question.

    What you seemed to be saying is that any instance of evidence which contradicts the theory of ID can be explained away by the simple expedient of saying that it’s ‘a test’. This really isn’t a sustainable position to take in any discussion as it serves as a form of magic bullet, allowing you to ignore any inconvenient evidence on grounds which are incapable of logical rebuttal because they are based on a spurious and flimsy premise.

    It’s one thing to say, as the review did of March of the Penguins, that the survival of any eggs is evidence in favour of I.D (it is an enormously weak argument, however, since having the eggs hatched somewhere less hazardous would, obviously, be considerably more Intelligent).

    It’s a wholly different thing though to avoid providing a counterpoint at all, by simply saying ‘it’s a test from God’, as though Man’s relationship with any potential creator can be reduced to some celestial version of The Crystal Maze.

    Indeed, the fact that proponents of I.D feel the need to fall back on so weak an argument actually demostrates – far better than the original blog post – that Intelligent Design is a redundant and discredited theory, incapable of rational support and with a gaping fallacy at its core.

    Throwing up the strawmen of world wars, mayhem and death* is a nice attempt to deflect attention from this fallacy, but I’m afraid doesn’t cut the mustard.

    * I challenge anyone to demonstrate suing actual figures that ‘liberal rationalism’ has caused one ten thousandth of the amount of desruction and death caused by religion (or politics, for that matter, which was the actual major cause of both World Wars).

  6. *stunned*

    I thought the “put there to test our faith” line was a bit too obvious even without the Mr Hicks soubriquet.

    I’d have put money on anyone of reasonable intelligence and of leagal voting age to be able to quote Bill Hicks routines chapter and verse.

    It appears I was wrong.

    Well done “Mr Hicks”. Trolling of the highest order.

  7. LMAO

  8. See, now I’m all deflated and unsatisfied, like I’d been expecting an orgy and turned up to discover just one small fat man in his y-fronts.

    Plus, of course, Bill Hicks is the most over-rated comedian since Lenny Bruce.

    [pouts unattractively, storms off in the huff]

  9. Aye thangyaou.

  10. And there I was thinking that someone I didn’t know was commenting on my blog 😉

  11. Have I ever met Stuart Douglas?

    He quite obviously knows me if the “small fat man in his y-fronts” description is anything to go by.

    Congratulations on getting into double figures for comments on a single post.

    You must be delighted.

  12. I was basing my description on Scott, obviously…

  13. You have met Mr. Douglas, very briefly in FeckTech in Livingston I think.

    I am obviously delighted by the volume of comments, I expect to the propelled to the height of blogdom any day now. Although, as a form of communication between 3 people who I could alternatively email/phone/visit, this method of communcation sucks!

    And as you for Douglas, when did you last see my in my Y’s? I’m buff me…

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