Post Author: Bill Pratt
In an article written in 2003, Mark Isaak explored “What Design Looks Like.” The central argument of the article was simple. According to Isaak, creationists who claim that life is designed are using an argument from analogy – the analogy is between human design and biological life. In his article, Isaak lists 11 attributes of human design and then looks at life to see if it shares these same 11 attributes.
Isaak agrees that human design and life share 5 attributes: 1) intermediate level of structural complexity, 2) modular structure, 3) evidence of careless modification (jury-rigging, vestigial parts), 4) change over time; new forms are modifications of previous forms and 5) functional integration. If we stopped here, Isaak thinks that the argument from analogy would work, that life would compare favorably to human design.
But, Isaak then goes on to list 6 attributes of human design that life does not possess.
- Human design includes blueprints, tools, and other evidence of the design process. Life shows no evidence of a design process.
- Human designs display simple organization. Life displays complex organization and intermodular interdependence.
- Human designs are manufactured. Life is characterized by reproduction, growth, and development.
- Human designs are generally repaired from the outside. Life is self-healing, at least in part.
- In human design form follows function. In life, forms follow nested hierarchy.
- In human design, there is rapid change. In life, there is slow change.
Isaak’s conclusion: the design argument from analogy fails. There are too many differences between human design and life for the analogy to hold. Isaak explains: “In particular, life’s growth and reproduction alone are enough, it seems to me, to place life and design in quite separate categories. Life’s complexity and its nested hierarchy of traits are also highly significant differences. The overall conclusion is clear: life looks undesigned.”
If you are like me, you are scratching your head. Something seems very odd about what Isaak says counts against life being designed. Let me slow it down a little bit.
First, he argues that life can’t be designed because we don’t have blueprints, or tools, or any other evidence of a life design process. But surely we, standing here today, don’t have direct experience of every design process ever used. Don’t we routinely discover objects of antiquity where we do not understand immediately how they were designed?
Take the example of the ancient Egyptian pyramids. Haven’t modern scientists struggled for decades trying to figure out how the giant Egyptian pyramids were designed and constructed? There have been numerous theories about what the actual processes were. Does the fact that we don’t have blueprints for the ancient pyramids mean they weren’t designed? If those blueprints were found, would anyone seriously suggest that it is only after the blueprints were found we could conclude that the pyramids were designed?
But it gets worse for Isaak. With regard to life, there are labs designing artificial life forms as we speak (Craig Venter). Granted, they are a long ways off from designing all the kinds of life we see around us, but there certainly are life design processes developing. So Isaak’s argument fails twice.
Second, Isaak argues that because life displays complex organization with intermodular interdependence, it cannot be designed. This strikes me as completely bizarre. What he is saying is that because biologists have not been able to reduce life down to simple, independent subsystems that do not interact with each other, life cannot be designed.
But it is the amazing complexity and interdependence of biological systems that cause most scientists to react in awe to the genious of life. The complexity should count toward design, not against. Somehow Isaak argues just the opposite – because we can’t break life down into simple non-interacting parts, it can’t be designed. That strikes me as a complete non sequitur.
In the next post of this series, I will address more of Mark Isaak’s 6 alleged differences between human design and life. Stay tuned.