The notion of American Exceptionalism has received abundant press these past eight years, but what makes for this exceptionalism is not clear. We can be sure that the boast is not because the United States leads all industrialized nations in the acceptance of the biblical story of God’s creation. Nor is it likely to be based on the majority’s rejection of scientific evidence showing that all living things, including humans, have evolved from earlier forms of life.
Despite many setbacks–legal, intellectual, and even theological–the believers’ devotion to creationism refuses to die. The latest resuscitation involves disguising creationism under a cloak named Intelligent Design (ID), sometimes called, by ill-mannered critics, white collar creationism or creationism in a cheap tuxedo.
You may recall that Intelligent Designists (IDists) do not deny that some modest changes in living things might have occurred over time. But they assert that many features of living creatures, e.g., the human eye, are so complex that they could not have evolved by natural selection of random mutational changes, the view of Charles Darwin and millions of later scientists. So IDists say, unburdened with any evidence, there had to have been a supernatural Intelligent Designer (IDer). If that’s true, you would expect to see flawless design–but you’d be very disappointed.
Looking solely at humans, it is painfully evident that the IDer either flunked out of or went to a wretched engineering school. How else can you account for the presence of undeveloped mammary glands on males? Or, for the existence of a common throat passage used for ingesting food and for breathing, thereby creating a substantial risk of choking?
How come the IDer granted (or burdened) males with lots of facial hair and deprived females of the same? Was it (we don’t know the gender, if any, of the great Designer, which IDists say is unknown) in a bad mood when it decided to have newborns come through a pelvic birth canal that would ensure much agony for the mother? Was it being sadistic when it created the menstrual cycle?
It seems evident that something went askew when the IDer drew plans for insertion of wisdom teeth into jaws ill-constructed for that many teeth. Engineering professors likely would be greatly embarrassed if one of their students designed a lower back with a bend that allows for an upright stance (and much grief for many), while the pelvis slants forward as it does for knuckle dragging primates. Which primates, by the way, scientists have shown–believe it or not!–are descended from an ancestor common to apes and humans.
Males feel particularly put upon by the design that leads, during in utero development, to testicles descending through the abdominal wall and coming to rest outside the body. The result of this unfortunate strategy is to make men particularly susceptible to hernias and their testicles vulnerable to physical assault.
One has to wonder what the IDer had in mind when it introduced into humans the useless appendix and tonsils, both of which serve only as potential reservoirs of infection in adults. Surely not to generate work for surgeons who remove unneeded organs that become inflamed? The bible doesn’t tell us that our ancestors made a living climbing trees, so just what is the function of our toenails? To create artistic opportunities for pedicurists?
If there was one design plan that seemed destined to earn an A+, it is that for the human immune system. This system normally does a splendid job of attacking and destroying foreign invaders, such as bacteria and viruses, that enter our bodies. This elegant machinery must be able to recognize its own body, to ensure that it doesn’t treat its own tissues as foreign and destroy itself. But the IDer blew it again; for many individuals the system does turn on itself and produces such autoimmune diseases as lupus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Lastly for now (one could fill volumes with descriptions of bungled designs in humans and other creatures), it’s worth considering the human eye, which IDists claim is so extremely complex that it could not be a product of evolution, but had to be created all at once by a supernatural designer. The interior of the adult eye is filled with what is called the vitreous gel. Yet, clinical scientists note that a simple salt solution would serve as well–or better. Better, because the vitreous gel can often change in ways that disrupt features of the inner eye, such as the retina, that can lead to seriously impaired vision. That would not happen if the ocular interior were filled with a saline solution. What was the great IDer thinking? Those who doubt that the great IDer could be so incompetent or so sadistic may wonder how so many blunders could have occurred. Perhaps they can be comforted with the knowledge that in the course of over three billion years of evolution of living creatures by natural selection, favored organisms acquired characteristics that benefited them and their descendants and thereby enhanced their survival. In the course of such selection, other traits that were no longer needed might be carried along so long as they were not harmful. Later some of those traits might prove to be undesirable burdens, but not necessarily so burdensome as to lead to the extinction of the species that carried them. Hence, the persistence of the kinds of “blunders” described above.
Oh, by the way, why did the Intelligent Designer allow random mutations of DNA (its fundamental plan) to occur and thereby allow its wondrous designs to become muddled and usually harmful?
Lester Goldstein is a Lifetime Member and Board Member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Prof. Goldstein was born in 1924, served in the U.S. Army from March 1943 to April 1946, and received a B.A. degree from Brooklyn College in 1948, thanks to the G.I. Bill.
He attended graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, again with the help of the G.I. Bill, but also with fellowship support. He received a Ph.D. in biology in 1953, and spent 1953-1959 doing research at the University of California at Berkeley and San Francisco. In 1959, he returned to the University of Pennsylvania to replace his dissertation professor in the Biology Department. In 1967, he was appointed professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and in 1982, was appointed director of the School of Biological Sciences, University of Kentucky. He retired in 1992 and has lived in Seattle ever since.