Post Author: Bill Pratt
The other day I heard an atheist say that the fact that he sees poor design in the natural world leads him to the conclusion that the Christian God does not exist. Here is the argument:
- An omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent creator God would create organisms that have optimal design.
- Organisms have features that are sub-optimal.
- Therefore, God either did not create these organisms or is not omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.
There are several things wrong with this argument, but I want to focus on premise 2 – organisms have features that are sub-optimal.
I am an electrical engineer who has been designing integrated circuits (IC) for 20 years, either personally or through managing other engineers. I am extremely familiar with IC design. Over the years, I have often heard young engineers, who did not design a particular IC, criticize the design of that IC by saying it is sub-optimal, that they could do a better job. I have then seen these same engineers eat crow when they finally talk to the original designer and discover the constraints that original engineer was under when he designed the IC and the purposes for which he designed the IC.
It is impossible to judge a design as optimal or sub-optimal without knowing the purposes of the designer and without knowing the constraints the designer faced during the design. Young engineers just assume that they know both when they look at somebody else’s design. After being embarrassed a few times, they usually drop this approach and gain some humility.
I see the atheist who uses the argument from poor design in the same light. Biological organisms are incredibly complex and they operate in an environment that is massively complex. Our current knowledge of biological organisms and of all the earth’s diverse ecosystems is in its infancy. Every year, scientists realize how much more there is to learn. However, science marches onward and we do indeed learn more each year.
Here is the problem for the atheist. Like the young IC designer, they are in a very poor position to judge whether biological organisms are optimally designed or not. Each year, scientists discover new purposes, or functions, for biological organisms, and each year scientists discover more constraints within which biological organisms must function.
This means that every year the atheist making the argument from poor design will have to retract examples of poor design, and it will always be that way. The overall trajectory of scientific discovery is that the world we live in is more complex than we ever imagined, not less. Science is going in the wrong direction for the atheists making the argument from poor design.
Because of that, this argument is simply atheism of the gaps. Atheists fill in their biological knowledge gaps by claiming that certain organisms are designed poorly, only to have to abandon each example of alleged poor design as science advances. This argument, then, is a loser for atheists, and should be dropped. They are literally swimming against the tide of scientific progress when they make this argument. Their “poor design” gaps will continue to be filled in year after year.