Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Planned obsolescence

Secular Outpost
Dec 19
A lot of tubes in the human body seem to be cases of imperfect 'design': Eustachian tube, ureters, urethra (esp. in older men), etc.
Secular Outpost
Dec 19
Or consider 'silent' diseases like hypertension (high blood pressure), pre-diabetes, periodontal (gum) disease. Pain system not fine-tuned.

I assume this is Jeff Lowder's Twitter account. If so, several problems with Jeff's objections. 

i) It's not an undercutter, much less a defeater for Christianity, that humans develop health problems. To the contrary, Christian theology predicts for that. Mortality and illness are inevitable in a fallen world. That's not a design defect, but a punitive sanction. 

ii) How is a sinus infection a mark of poor design? That's caused by something external to the organ. 

iii) It's hardly a design flaw that aging organs, systems, and body parts are less efficient. Moreover, even planned obsolescence is can be a mark of good design in the sense that it was doing what it was programmed to do. And that serves a purpose. 

iv) It's easy to venture armchair complaints about alleged examples of poor design, but I don't see people like Jeff producing technical schematics for better designs. In addition, what compensatory adjustments would need to be made in the body to accommodate an allegedly superior design for one particular organ or body part?

v) On the one hand, atheists complain about God-of-the-gaps arguments. On the other hand, atheists point to examples of what they deem to be suboptimal design. But isn't that a naturalism-of-the-gaps argument? They default to the bungling, groping process of naturalistic evolution. They say that's just what you'd expect if life is the result of a haphazard process. But why isn't that an ad hoc fallacy or argument from ignorance? The very thing they impute to theistic explanations? 

vi) In general, would it not be disadvantageous rather than advantageous for "silent" diseases to be painful? Until the advent of modern medicine, what could be done about hypertension? How is it beneficial for the pain system to be fine-tuned to register untreatable or incurable conditions? How is it beneficial to experience pain if nothing's available for symptom relief, much less a fix for the underlying cause? Isn't that detrimental rather than beneficial? 

vii) How is the fact that body parts, systems, and organs can malfunction evidence of suboptimal design? Take sports cars and luxury cars like Lexis, Mercedes, Porsche, and BMW–not to mention Rolls Royce, Ferrari, Bugatti, and Lamborghini. Sooner or later, these will break down without regular maintenance. Is that a design flaw? Are they poorly engineered? 

Indeed, it wouldn't surprise me if modern high-end vehicles aren't more prone to malfunction than cars in the 1950s. Today's vehicles have so many gadgets, so many extra things to go wrong. 


  1. Much could be said about this "optimal design" business. It is not clear to me that God would desire much less be required to instantiate an "optimal design" in some or all creatures.

    In practical engineering we have variations of a saying, that the perfect (or better) is the enemy of the good (or good enough). We are generally happy if a project meets the project requirements, performance requirements, and comes in on schedule and at budget.

    What is more, in the case of a project with aesthetic or artistic considerations there are concerns that necessarily lead to trade-offs with functionality. Believe it or not even with aircraft there are marketing concerns that drive design decisions and compromise, aesthetics really do force decisions that would he considered sub-optimal.

    Surely we would expect God to be part artist as well as part engineer. Why wouldn't an artist with infinite resources create life forms that are beautiful yet "sub-optimal" when considered from a purely functional perspective?

  2. When talking about design, there are usually dozens of ways to skin a cat (fulfil the function). You can always go for what I will term the "Battlestar Galactic" solution, or you can go for the more modest solution that is economic but gets the job done. It is all a matter of priorities- those priorities determine the trade-offs. Many contracts have been awarded on the basis of economy, while the sexier, higher-tech solutions were rejected. There are many ways to parse these issues- how much money and time for engineering and development? For operations and maintenance (in dollars per flight hour)? Full life cycle costs. Then you have to weigh those costs relative to their benefits- also a rather subjective exercise. So we come up with requirements, figures of merit on performance, and assess how am aircraft is beneficial to our strategic goals.

    How much more complicated is God's calculus as He designs and assess His creatures?

  3. Furthermore, it is hardly necessary for any design to be "optimal" in order to be recognized as an intelligent design vs. the results of chance. Even a deeply flawed, amateurish design is easily recognizable when compared with the product of chance or undirected forces. I surmise that this is a key, underlying reason that explains why few engineers are atheists.


  4. 1. How can we know what suboptimal design is unless we first know what optimal design is? How can we know the human urethra is suboptimally designed unless we first know what is the optimal design for the human urethra? Given atheism and evolution, what is the optimal design for the human urethra?

    2. If our cognitive faculties are suboptimally designed, would we be able to discern what is optimal design?

    3. Why isn't it possible to create an optimally designed organism from suboptimal parts?

    4. Time permitting, I might address each of the examples brought up in the future (e.g. Eustachian tubes, ureters, urethra).