Ever wonder why we have an appendix? Why so much of our genome is superfluous? Or, in my case, ever give birth to a baby with severe physical deformities who could not safely be born without medical intervention, and then have your friends quote the biblical psalm at you about God knitting a baby together in the womb? (Because nothing screams that you’ve been made by an all-knowing architect than needing eight corrective surgeries to make tiny deformed limbs slightly more functional.) Some of these flaws would be easily correctable if there truly was a designer who possesses a mind involved in the process. Instead we see evidence that blind natural forces act as the designer. This is never more obvious than when comparing the human body, the one supposedly made in God’s image, to that of other animals with superior parts.
Abby Hafer, in her book The Not-So-Intelligent Designer: Why Evolution Explains the Human Body and Intelligent Design Does Not, shows ten major design flaws in the human form evident of unconscious natural processes. Beautifully blasphemous, Hafer repeatedly labels the human design as bad, contradicting the biblical encomium of “good.”
The Not-So-Intelligent Designer is organized in pithy informational tidbits with multiple pictures and illustrations. Like a prize fighter, Hafer dives right in with talk about testicles for maximum attention-grabbing effect, bobs and weaves around Intelligent Design claims, jabs out a few facts about the scientific method, then jumps back to the center of the ring with yet another example of a body part in need of a simple design improvement. Some of her chapters work almost like commercial breaks, keeping the reader engaged. Cogent and concise, Hafer had no trouble communicating her ideas without long explanations. Chapter five, for example, is only 95 words long.
I was excited about this book because I want more scientists to step down from the lofty realms of academia and perform the tedious labor of making scientific concepts accessible to the average person. Hafer seems to be the person for the job as she already uses her doctorate in zoology to teach classes and give lectures—experiences that have no doubt prepared her for this book. Her bright, witty, and often downright snarky writing is meant to persuade, educate, and highlight memorable talking points.
Because she relies heavily on the Socratic Method, Hafer’s informational sections often end in a question like, “Does the Creator like sharks better than people?” or “Is the Designer a turkey?”
This book really got me thinking. Why are testicles in a vulnerable position when they aren’t like that for other mammals? Even rats enjoy protected balls. Why do humans walk upright which requires narrow hips when our offspring’s big heads require wide ones? Kangaroos avoid this problem. Why is our optic wiring that takes visual information to the photoreceptors located in front of the photoreceptors, blocking the light? It’s not like that for other animals like cuttlefish. Does God likes rats, kangaroos, and cuttlefish better than people? Or is he also lacking better equipment and simply made humanity in his faulty image?
As a former evangelical Christian, my answer for these flaws was simple: sin. During the Fall in the Garden of Eden, as the passage goes, “sin entered the world… and death came through sin.” We interpreted this to mean that death, entropy, mutation, and even carnivorous behavior all started then. Before this we were supposedly perfect. Of course I was aware original sin theology didn’t quite make sense of the idiosyncrasies of the human body. Sin is easier to blame for cancer, than say, for wisdom teeth.
Unfortunately for biblical Christians, these human design problems are seemingly original. The Bible says God breathed into Adam’s nostrils to bring him to life. It also says this man ate with his mouth from a garden of fruit trees. So the biblical account establishes in its first pages that God created a human system with air and food sharing the same pathway down the throat—a set up incredibly likely to block the windpipe while eating. (A problem whales, for example, don’t have.) Are we still supposed to blame sin here? Or did Adam and Eve, upon first putting the forbidden fruit to their lips, gasp in pain as “sin” warped their food and air passages at the pharynx? Apparently it was already designed in such a way that its normal, primary use could potentially kill a person before death supposedly entered the world. Even if God made them that way in anticipation of sin, assuring no choking would happen before the Fall, the design would still not be considered “good.”
“I say that if indeed it was designed, then the Designer would get an ‘F’ in any descent design class.” Abby Hafer
And why did Adam and Eve need a fruit garden in the first place? Is it because the human body, unlike other animals, is incapable of synthesizing vitamin C? Hafer points out that human beings have the entire biochemical pathway in place allowing the synthesizing of vitamin C, except for the very last step where we fail to make one lousy enzyme due to a genetic mutation. That makes sense inside evolutionary theory, but for religious folks, the human inability to synthesize vitamin C necessitated a garden of fruit from the very beginning. That means the human body was less-than-efficient before the Fall that I was taught to be responsible for such a mutation.
When I was a proponent of Intelligent Design I was dishonest about the areas of science I didn’t understand, but I had some biblical license to “lie for Jesus.” The Hebrew midwives in Exodus 1 were blessed by God for lying to Pharaoh. They had good reason to lie as lives were at stake. Is it the same if one’s faith is at stake? In Joshua 2, the prostitute, Rahab, lied to the king of Jericho that the customers she was servicing had already left her brothel. She was rewarded by God when he spared her family in the ensuing destruction of the city. Is trying to save children from Hell any less worthy? Jesus lied about going to a festival so he could attend it later in secret in John 7:8-10. If Jesus can do it, why couldn’t I?
So of course it’s comes as no surprise to me that Hafer exposes several unflattering things on the Intelligent Design crowd, including:
I used to believe the Intelligent Design authorities at least had good intentions, but there’s nothing that sinks my faith in my former heroes more than reading their direct quotes. Apparently lying for Jesus was not something I alone struggled with.
It is a relief to realize that my baby was a result of natural processes (including love) and not a result of sin. Understanding evolutionary theory brings freedom to choose blood transfusions, appendix surgeries, and Cesarean sections instead of dying young as part of God’s will. It was human ingenuity born out of need that brought us eye glasses and jockstraps. If the Designer really did design us, there are some pretty obvious improvements he is free to upgrade any time.
Or maybe he is a turkey after all.