“On Poor Design in the Natural World.” A reply.

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Here the atheist forwards what is known as the argument from poor design..It is usually represented as follows:

  • 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.

The Christian will argue that there is a flaw in the 2nd premise that says  “Organisms have features that are sub-optimal.”

It is arguably impossible to judge something as sub-optimal without knowing the purposes or the intentions of the designer. One cannot know something is imperfect unless he knows what perfect is. But how does any really know what perfection is? Or what God’s desired intention for something is? As Frank Turek at Cross Examined opines: “When they claim something isn’t designed correctly, they are implying they could tell if it were designed correctly” (1).

Similarly  Bill Pratt argues that atheists: “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” (2)

The truth is that “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” (3).

“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.”

In conclusion Frank Turek provides the following analogy:

“For example, you can’t fault the design in a compact car because it doesn’t carry fifteen passengers. The objective is to carry four not fifteen passengers. The car maker traded size for fuel economy and achieved the intended objective. Likewise, it could be that the design of the panda’s thumb is a trade-off that still achieves intended objectives. The thumb is just right for stripping bamboo. Perhaps, if the thumb had been designed any other way, it would have hindered the panda in some other area. We simply don’t know without knowing the objectives of the designer” (4).

References.

1. Turek, F. 2008. Designer Wouldn’t Have Done it that Way” Argument Backfires. Available.

2. Pratt, B. 2013. Why Is the Argument from Poor Design Simply Atheism of the Gaps? Available.

3. Pratt, B. 2013. Ibid.

4. Turek, F. 2004. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. p. 229

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29 responses to ““On Poor Design in the Natural World.” A reply.

  1. I’m a Christian but please help me justify God’s omnipresence against the presence of evils and oppressions in the world; like in a room where a child is being sexually abused, does it mean that God is present there?

    • Hi Ayemi, God created man with the ability to choose, in other words he created man with the ability to choose good or evil. God is present everywhere since he is omnipresent, but he has allowed the victimiser the gift off freewill.
      If God were to take freewill away then we would simply be robots bowing to his will, hence a genuine relationship would be impossible with God. Take away freewill then take away God’s very purpose of creation. On the same point if God were to destroy all evil in the world he might start with you and I, since evil is intrinsic to mankind after the fall. The fact that God even allows us to take another breath is illustrative of his grace, patience, and mercy.

      God has promised that he will judge righteously at the day of judgment, and the abuser of the child will be judged by God. There will be a day when all bad things have passed away, until then we need to put our faith in God. God doesn’t make idle promises.

  2. Excellent question. I wonder why James hasn’t responded?

    Perhaps it is because the attributes of the Christian God are contradictory. God is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent and omnibenevolent and yet bad things still happen.

      • Interesting video, but what about the criminals who find Jesus in prison? If a murderer finds Jesus and ends up going to heaven after they die, where is the justice and compensation that John Lennox speaks of for the victim? Also, what if the victim wasn’t a Christian and therefore ended up going to hell?

      • I’m astonished that you cannot see the contradiction between the “problem of evil” and an omnimax God. Could you sit back and allow something terrible to happen, whilst knowing that you could prevent it?

        • But Craig, if God is not only all-powerful, but also all-knowing, then it is at least possible that He could have sufficient reasons for allowing the evil that He does. Maybe that is why William Lane Craig (mentioned below) has said that while it is almost impossible to find a subject on which virtually all philosophers agree, this is definitely one of them:

          There is no contradiction between the following statements:

          An all-powerful, all-wise, all-loving, all-knowing God exists.

          Evil exists.

          Because our knowledge is limited, we cannot therefore say that an all-knowing Being cannot have good reasons for allowing the evil that He does. That is a burden of proof no finite human can bear.

          • The problem with your argument is that God supposedly created everything. But you argue that God simply allows evil for some ‘good’ reason.

            The problem is, how can a perfect being create evil? Or, why wouldn’t a perfect being eliminate evil if it could? The typical response is that God allows evil for some greater good. But this is unacceptable to me. It is like saying God is allowed to lie for a greater good. If this is allowable then the ‘omni’ status of God is broken in my opinion.

            Here is a copy and paste of one version of the problem of evil:

            1. God exists.
            2. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.
            3. An omnibenevolent being would want to prevent all evils.
            4. An omniscient being knows every way in which evils can come into existence, and knows every way in which those evils could be prevented.
            5. An omnipotent being has the power to prevent that evil from coming into existence.
            6. A being who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, who is able to prevent that evil from coming into existence, and who wants to do so, would prevent the existence of that evil.
            7. If there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God, then no evil exists.
            8. Evil exists (logical contradiction).

            • I never said God created everything. God created us with FREE WILL, which leaves open the possibility of evil, but also is the only way to achieve true good. The highest good is love, freely given, which obviously can’t be forced.
              Also, God did not create evil. Evil is not a thing, but rather a corruption of a thing, like rust to a car, or a wound in an arm. If a car was all rust, it would no longer be a car. If your arm was “all wound”, it wouldn’t be an arm. Lucifer was also created with free will and he FREELY chose to rebel, thereby corrupting himself and causing his own destruction. When we freely rebelled against God in the Garden, we joined him.
              I have no problem with 1-3 above. However, regarding 4, the ONLY way God could have prevented all evil would have been to create a world full of machines, with no free will, which would of course prevent all good. Which also answers 5.
              I completely disagree with 6. For what if an all-knowing being could see a greater good that could ONLY be brought about through free will, and with it, the possibility of evil? I would say this:

              1.That we don’t know a good purpose for evil does not mean there is none.
              2. An all-good God knows a good purpose for everything (including evil).
              a.Some evil seems to us to have no good purpose.
              b. But an all-good God has a good purpose for everything.
              c. SO EVEN EVIL THAT SEEMS TO HAVE NO GOOD PURPOSE
              DOES HAVE A GOOD PURPOSE.
              3. Therefore, there is a good purpose for all suffering, even that which we cannot now explain.

              And I would end with this:

              1. If there is an all-good God, He wants to defeat evil.
              2. If there is an all-powerful God, He can defeat evil.
              3. But evil is not YET defeated.
              4. Therefore, EVIL WILL ONE DAY BE DEFEATED.

              • I never said God created everything. God created us with FREE WILL, which leaves open the possibility of evil, but also is the only way to achieve true good.

                No. Freewill does not potentiate good or evil. Freewill, good and evil are mutually exclusive. Has every choice in your life been about good and evil? Is your choice of clothing a choice about good or evil?

                The highest good is love, freely given, which obviously can’t be forced.

                So why are we then threatened with hell fire for not ‘freely’ loving God?

                Also, God did not create evil. Evil is not a thing, but rather a corruption of a thing, like rust to a car, or a wound in an arm. If a car was all rust, it would no longer be a car. If your arm was “all wound”, it wouldn’t be an arm

                Extraordinary analogy. I guess that is why engineers are so cavalier with non-existent things such as rust. Rust is just a corruption of a real thing such as a building!

                However, regarding 4, the ONLY way God could have prevented all evil would have been to create a world full of machines, with no free will, which would of course prevent all good. Which also answers 5.

                You are making massive assumptions about the limitations of your own God. Who says God couldn’t haven’t created a world both with freewill and without evil? Isn’t it obvious that we all have choices that do not involve good/evil decisions?

                1.That we don’t know a good purpose for evil does not mean there is none.
                {That we don’t know a good purpose for a lie does not mean there is none.}

                2. An all-good God knows a good purpose for everything (including evil).
                a. Some evil seems to us to have no good purpose.
                b. But an all-good God has a good purpose for everything.
                c. SO EVEN EVIL THAT SEEMS TO HAVE NO GOOD PURPOSE
                DOES HAVE A GOOD PURPOSE.

                I can’t be bothered giving a synonym for each one, so I’ll just go with the first sentence. {An all-good God knows a good purpose for everything (including lies)}

                3. Therefore, there is a good purpose for all suffering, even that which we cannot now explain.
                If you cannot explain suffering then you have no business trying to explain an omnibenevolent God IMO.

        • You can read my reply to Ayemi above for my answer to that. I’ve never claimed that suffering is not a difficulty, I claim that there is no logical contradictions.
          In other words, if one cannot show that God has morally sufficient reasons to allow suffering then there is no contradiction.

          • In other words, if one cannot show that God has morally sufficient reasons to allow suffering then there is no contradiction.

            Maybe I misunderstood you, but doesn’t Noah’s flood show that?

      • William Lane Craig asserts there is no such thing as an actual infinity in order to prove the beginning of the universe. But he has no problem believing in an eternal heaven and hell.

        • Yes, but Craig, according to Christian doctrine, heaven and hell were both created by God and are therefore everlasting, not eternal (no beginning and no ending). Only God is eternal. And the hard sciences of astronomy and cosmology have proven that the universe (all space, time, matter, etc.) had its beginning at the Big Bang.

          • There is no issue or contradictions with an eternal spiritual realm (heaven and hell) with a finite creation. Something as to have eternally existed in the past (God, spiritual realm) in order to bring the universe into existence, or we run into contradictions and infinite regresses.

              • I think WLC was talking about an actual infinite number of things, like apples or years, not a place. As I said above, the universal consensus of science is that the universe DID begin to exist some 13.7 billion yrs ago, and is not eternal.

              • I have no problem with WLC’s definition of an actual infinite. The problem I have is that he claims an actual infinite is impossible whilst also claiming the existence of an actually infinite heaven/hell. Why are those places allowed to be actually infinite? He only uses this argument in order to try and prove his God created the universe. But WLC has no idea whether our universe is an actual infinite. Even after our universe suffers heat death it could be actually infinite. WLC is just making unsubstantiated claims to try to prove his God exists.

                No-one knows what there was before the big bang. All we know is that there was a big bang. WLC claims that there was absolutely nothing before the big bang, so that his God can then be brought in to fill that gap. And yes, I know Lawrence Krauss also suggests ‘something from nothing’ in his book, but no-one I know is making heaven/hell life decisions based on his theory.

                Sure, the Universe as far as we know it, began to exist 13.7 billion years ago after the big bang. But that doesn’t prove it was created by a deity out of nothing. No-one knows. This why I ask for positive evidence. Show me Jesus resurrect a dead person. Show me Jesus walking on water. Show me Jesus cure a blind person. Show me Jesus cure someone who is mute etc.

                At the very least let me see Jesus.

          • heaven and hell were both created by God and are therefore everlasting, not eternal (no beginning and no ending). Only God is eternal.

            To me there is no difference between everlasting and eternal. Can you please explain?

            And the hard sciences of astronomy and cosmology have proven that the universe (all space, time, matter, etc.) had its beginning at the Big Bang.

            Sure, but does that prove there was nothing before the big bang besides a creator/deity? Perhaps there is something else we are not aware of yet. This is where the God of the gaps criticism comes from. We don’t know, therefore God.

          • Sorry, I struggle with the comments section on this site. I had a go at replying but it landed a long way down, so I am posting again here (ignore the one below).

            heaven and hell were both created by God and are therefore everlasting, not eternal (no beginning and no ending). Only God is eternal.

            To me there is no difference between everlasting and eternal. Can you please explain?

            And the hard sciences of astronomy and cosmology have proven that the universe (all space, time, matter, etc.) had its beginning at the Big Bang..

            Sure, but does that prove there was nothing before the big bang besides a creator/deity? Perhaps there is something else we are not aware of yet. This is where the God of the gaps criticism comes from. We don’t know, therefore God.

            • Repeated response to

              Mark May 16, 2015 at 2:23 am

              due to messed up functionality of commenting on this site

            • Everlasting: Anything/anyone with a beginning, but no ending (heaven, hell, souls, etc.).
              Eternal: Anything/anyone with no beginning, no ending (God alone).

              • This makes no difference to whether or not heaven and hell are infinite.

                Everlasting: Anything/anyone with a beginning, but no ending = infinite

                Eternal: Anything/anyone with no beginning, no ending = infinite

              • Infinite means no beginning as well as no ending, I.e. limitless. Thus everything except God and His attributes are ruled out. No CREATED thing can be truly infinite, for at least in duration it is limited. Therefore God, being the only UNCREATED thing in existence, is the only thing that is infinite in both His essence and in His attributes (wisdom, power, knowledge, etc.).

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