Evolving TB bacteria, and two design problems for creationists

India Reports Completely Drug-Resistant TB

(link and picture via Wired)

If only God hadn’t intelligently designed mycobacterium tuberculosis to adapt to our advances in medical treatment!

The appearance of design is one of the more potent weapons in the creationist arsenal, probably because it appeals to some aspect of common sense. But if creationists can infer design from such things, perhaps we should insist they take their inferences to the logical end: the designer is intelligent, and cruel. They never will, of course, keeping in line with a long history of shoddy interpretation of cherry-picked ‘evidence’. But this nicely illustrates the double-edged sword of appealing to the appearance of design- creationists must account for 1) Bad design and 2) Designs for evil.

The first problem is simply the less-than-ideal ‘designs’ that can be found in nature. The fact that we breathe through the same tube that we swallow through is one- we risk choking. The common problem of back pain is another: human spines are mechanically configured for quadrapedal movement, not bipedal. There are certainly instances where we might think we can infer design, because things seem to work so well, but there are also many instances where we see less-than-ideal systems. Must we infer that God is a designer, but a shoddy one?

The second problem for creationists is dealing with the appearance of design in nature when that design is made to do evil. Creationist literature is replete with images of elegant giraffes with long necks and beautiful butterflies with camouflage colors- surely only a designer could explain this? Of course, nastier examples exist as well. Why not use the image of a cheetah, capable of speeds exceeding fifty miles per hour, with claws and teeth capable of rending flesh to pieces. Even better, we can look at the Ichneumonidae wasp, as described by Karl Giberson in his book “Saving Darwin”:

“So here we have an insect laying eggs inside a caterpillar. The newly hatched parasites live inside the caterpillar, consuming internal organs. And, in a most amazing illustration of intelligent design, the Ichneumonidae eat the internal organs in a specified order that keeps the host caterpillar alive as long as possible” (161)

Giberson is being sarcastic of course; no creationist points to this as intelligent design, although they should if they were to be consistent. It would force them towards untenable conclusions about the nature of the designer- apparently the designer is unusually malicious and revels in suffering.

The simple point is this: inference to design from complexity is a good argument for stubborn creationists, but not for Christians. It leads to an understanding of God that is simply at odds with scripture and church tradition. Don’t grant the argument; push back, and force the creationist to consider the paths they must take to hold onto their appeal to design. Whether they will honestly confront it is doubtful, but you’ve dulled one of the few weapons available to them.

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4 Replies to “Evolving TB bacteria, and two design problems for creationists”

    1. Unless, of course, ‘the Fall’ has been understood, as it is not evident in Jewish theology until after the start of the Christian era, if even then. It is doubtful that Paul is really starting such a radically different thing…

      Then, the effects of the Fall is a backwards looking event, instead of starting forward….

    2. So the act of eating a piece of fruit caused the genomes of the majority of organisms on earth to spontaneously reconfigure themselves, producing all manner of parasites and carnivores that cannot physically survive without inflicting suffering on other animals and humans?

      Even the wildest misinterpretation of the Bible doesn’t get you that nonsense. You have to make it up yourself.

    3. Even if I granted the effects of a “Fall”, and I’m not sure that YEC doesn’t completely miscomprehend Genesis on this point, it’s just too convenient of an “out” to blame every icky thing on the Fall and every seemingly pleasant thing on God’s design. Did the Fall completely change the physiology of countless animals? Why does it work so well still?

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