The Argument from Design says life on earth looks designed. A single microscopic cell divides and differentiates into a full-grown cypress or zebra or human, and its internal machinery is marvelously complicated. This argument says that nothing but God could explain this and points to DNA as the prime illustration of design in life.
We must avoid the temptation to think that complexity means design. Elegance might, but mere complexity—especially unnecessary or sloppy complexity—gives little support to the design hypothesis. The cell, marvelously complicated though it is, is more a convoluted Rube Goldberg machine than the elegant and sophisticated product of an all-knowing designer.
The Argument from Design imagines we see the hand of a designer in life. Since the only designers we know are human designers, it says life looks as if a human designer with sufficient capability built it.
What guides a human designer? Consider the design criteria human designers use for a bridge, smartphone, or engine. These criteria fall into a handful of categories: cost, strength, speed of assembly, durability, constraints on allowed materials, beauty, and so on. But a criterion you never find in a human design is that the finished product should have added junk. You may not care for the Art Deco design at the top of the Chrysler building, but it was put there deliberately to follow the criterion of beauty. You may find a design that was poorly built or left unfinished, but that was never a goal of the designer. Useless junk is never in a design on purpose.
Contrast this with the debris in human DNA. Every cell in your body has a broken vitamin C gene as well as 20,000 other nonworking pseudogenes taking up space. Nonworking DNA injected by viruses over millions of years makes up another eight percent of our genome. Atavisms (archaic genes that are accidentally switched on, like legs in snakes) and vestigial structures (structures that have lost ancestral function, like eyes in cave fish) are DNA flashbacks to body features from ancestor species in the distant past.
You might imagine humans need the most DNA of any living thing since Christianity says we’re made in God’s image, but we’re not even at the top of the list of mammals. Cows, mice, and bats have more. There are grasshoppers, beetles, ticks, worms, and snails that have more DNA than humans. There are plants that have more. The record holder, with 400 times more DNA than humans, is a protozoan.
Maybe those animals with more DNA are just more complex than we are, but then how can Man be God’s greatest creation? The alternative explanation is that there’s a lot of waste in DNA, but that rejects the idea of a designer. Neither is a good option for the Christian who sees God’s design in life.
The Design Argument fails when applied to DNA. No, human DNA does not look like it was designed by an omniscient Designer. This doesn’t prove God doesn’t exist. What it does make clear, however, is the difference between mere complexity, which we find in DNA, and evidence of a careful and skillful designer, which we don’t.
Continue to chapter 14.
Image credit: Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0)
Teleology is the study of something’s purpose, and the Design Argument is often called the Teleological Argument.
Rube Goldberg machines perform a simple task in an unnecessarily complicated and indirect way. The name comes from a cartoonist who drew these ridiculous machines in the first half of the twentieth century.
Christianity says we’re made in God’s image: Genesis 1:26.
we’re not even at the top of the list of mammals: Gregory, T. R. (2005). Animal Genome Size Database. http://www.genomesize.com/statistics.php.
Man [as] God’s greatest creation: Genesis 1:26–8, Psalm 8:5.
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