The Shallowness of Bad Design Arguments

[advanced IDCS topic for students of math and computer science]

The existence of bad design, broken design, and cruelty in the world inspires some of the strongest arguments against the Intelligent Design of life and the universe. I consider the “bad design” argument the most formidable of the anti-ID arguments put forward, but in the end it is shallow and flawed. I will attempt to turn the “bad design” argument on its head in this essay.

The “bad design” arguments have at least two major themes:

1. An Intelligent Designer like God wouldn’t make designs that are capable of breaking down

2. God (as the Intelligent Designer of Life) doesn’t exist because of all the cruelty and evil in the world

To address the first point, consider the synthesis of computer languages like: Java, C, C++, Ada, Pascal, Basic, FORTRAN, COBOL, Jovial, PL1, Modula-2, LISP, Prolog, etc.

The designers of these languages admit the possibility of syntax and semantic errors in the uninterpreted/uncompiled source code presented by programmers to a computer. Is it possible in principle to implement a computer language that is both non-trivial and capable of meaning while simultaneously impervious to software developers making errors (especially semantic errors)? I’d say no. And by way of extension, can there be a meaningful design without the potential for breakdown? Every example of engineering is vulnerable to breakdown. So, the hypothesis: “An Intelligent Designer like God wouldn’t make designs that are capable of breaking down” is rooted in pure theology, not in terms of any engineering experience. The potential for breakdown is the norm for intelligent design.

Furthermore, there is a rather peculiar property about reality. It seems appreciation for what is good is made possible by the existence of what is bad. Consider the Super Bowl where over 30 National Football League teams compete for the coveted title of Super Bowl Champions (the title went to the Saints a few years back, God bless them). But would such a title have any meaning if there were no losers in the NFL? This was an intelligently designed sport. It would be a flawed argument to say “the competitions leading to the Super Bowl are not intelligently designed because they result in losing teams”, yet the same sort of illogic is used by Darwinists to argue against ID.

How can we say an Intelligently Designed world would not admit the capacity for some to be at the losing end of a Divine Drama? We may not like it, but not liking something is not a justification for rejection of truth. I’ve often speculated the evil in this world might make meaningful the good in another world. This is not far from the thoughts of one insightful thinker who said almost 2000 years ago:

“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”

Paul of Tarsus
2 Cor 4:17

Now to the other “bad design” argument, namely, “God (as the Intelligent Designer of Life) doesn’t exist because of all the cruelty and evil in the world”. I addressed the issue that an Intelligent Designer can make designs capable of breaking down. But on a more fundamental level, can we glibly assert there is no Intelligent Designer merely because of the existence of cruel acts? Consider Darwin’s argument:

That there is much suffering in the world no one disputes. Some have attempted to explain this in reference to man by imagining that it serves for his moral improvement. But the number of men in the world is nothing compared with that of all other sentient beings, and these often suffer greatly without any moral improvement. A being so powerful and so full of knowledge as a God who could create this universe, is to our finite minds omnipotent and omniscient, and it revolts our understanding to suppose that his benevolence is not unbounded, for what advantage can there be in the suffering of millions of the lower animals throughout almost endless time? This very old argument from the existence of suffering against the existence of an intelligent First Cause seems to be a strong one; whereas…the presence of much suffering agrees well with the view that all organic beings have been developed through variation and natural selection.

So Darwin argues against the existence of an Intelligent God because he sees cruelty in the world. Would one argue that Darwin doesn’t exist because Darwin acted cruelly? Darwin himself said:

I acted cruelly, for I beat a puppy, I believe, simply for enjoying the sense of power;

Charles Darwin

Darwin's Puppy

Would I then argue Darwin doesn’t exist because Darwin acted cruelly? No. Yet Darwin uses the same illogic to argue the Intelligent Designer doesn’t exist. The irony of his own remarks is apparently lost on Darwin.

So even by Darwin’s own testimony, it would seem the existence or non existence of an Intelligent Agency is not determined by the existence (or lack thereof) of cruel acts or a cruel world. It may raise questions about the nature of the Intelligent Designer, but it is not, fundamentally a reason to disbelieve the existence of an Intelligent Designer like God. It may be the God that exists isn’t exactly agreeable to what we want out of God.

Finally, there is one side issue that our colleague Allen MacNeill raised and one which I felt was very well reasoned and worth addressing and one which I promised to address. Though somewhat peripheral to the issue of “bad design” it raises an interesting question. Allen wrote here: Natural Selection, Sparrows, and a Stochastic God . Allen writes:

Why does this last implication raise the hackles? Because it implies that God is a stochastic agent; He aims, but sometimes misses. A stochastic process (from the Greek stochos, meaning “a target”) is any process that includes a random component; one aims at a target, but doesn’t always hit it in the gold. In other words, a stochastic process is a probabilistic process, rather than an entirely determined one – there is a small, but irreducible probability that one will miss the target.

But consider the issue of computer languages. Without the potential for “misses” the world of computer languages would be meaningless, by way of extension, so would the biological world which is rich with computer language implementations (only some of which the IEEE and ACM are beginning to decipher)!

Can an immutable God be stochastic in His actions? Consider the axioms of math. For the systems the axioms describe, the axioms are immutable laws. But do immutable laws admit the possibility of non-deterministic results? Yes, as Godel incompleteness theorem deduced. As Chaitin put in Irreducible Complexity in Mathematics

Omega is an extreme case of total lawlessness; in effect, it shows that God plays dice in pure mathematics.

Thus, the existence of stochastic behavior does not imply something is not immutable. It only underlies the inability of finite beings to apply finitistic reasoning to infinitely complex entities. We see this in the ubiquitous existence of non-computable numbers that have no deterministic description. We don’t argue that these numbers don’t exist merely because we can’t comprehend or compute them. The same would appear true of any descriptions of the Intelligent Designer.

But questions of stochastic behavior are peripheral to the main point of this essay, namely, “bad design” arguments are flawed and shallow. Hopefully this essay shows that the “bad design” argument leads to all sorts of philosophical and logical complications and questions, not the least of which is: “Will a Perfect Intelligent Designer design something as Perfect as Himself”?

Photo Credit :