The dysteleological argument or argument from poor design is an argument against the existence of God, specifically against the existence of a creator God (in the sense of a God that directly created all species of life). It is based on the following chain of reasoning:
The argument is structured as a basic Modus tollens: if "creation" contains many defects, then design is not a plausible theory for the origin of our existence. It is most commonly used in a weaker way, however: not with the aim of disproving the existence of God, but rather as a reductio ad absurdum of the well-known argument from design, which runs as follows:
The complete phrase "argument from poor design" has rarely been used in the literature, but arguments of this type have appeared many times, sometimes referring to poor design, in other cases to suboptimal design, unintelligent design, or dysteleology; the last is a term applied by the nineteenth-century biologist Ernst Haeckel to the implications of organs so rudimentary as to be useless to the life of an organism (p. 331). Haeckel, in his book The History of Creation, devoted most of a chapter to the argument, and ended by proposing, perhaps with tongue slightly in cheek, to set up "a theory of the unsuitability of parts in organisms, as a counter-hypothesis to the old popular doctrine of the suitability of parts" (p. 331). The term Incompetent design has been coined by Donald Wise of the University of Massachusetts to describe aspects of nature that are currently flawed in design. The name stems from the acronym I.D. and is used to counter-balance arguments for intelligent design by a creator that are used by creationists.
The human reproductive system includes the following:
Other critics argue that if these design failures are the deliberate products of an intelligent designer, then the designer must be either inept or sadistic. Or possibly there was a large number of designers, as in the old joke that "a camel is a horse designed by a committee".
"Poor design" is consistent with the predictions of the scientific theory of evolution by means of natural selection. This predicts that features that were evolved for certain uses, are then reused or co-opted for different uses, or abandoned altogether; and that suboptimal state is due to the inability of the hereditary mechanism to eliminate the particular vestiges of the evolutionary process.
In terms of a fitness landscape, natural selection will always push "up the hill", but a species cannot normally get from a lower peak to a higher peak without first going through a valley.
The argument from poor design is one of the arguments that was used by Charles Darwin; modern proponents have included Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins. They argue that such features can be explained as a consequence of the gradual, cumulative nature of the evolutionary process. Theistic Evolutionists generally reject the argument from design, but do not necessarily reject the existence of God.
The argument from poor design has received a fair share of objections. The proponents of design question the first premise of the argument, maintaining a distinction between "intelligent design" and optimal design. It is noted that the Panda's "thumb" works excellently for what it does — strip leaves.
Several more generic philosophical criticisms can be directed towards the first premise of the argument - that a Creator God would have designed things 'optimally'. The argument hinges on an assumption that the human concept of 'optimal design' matches the Deity's view, but there is no proof that this is valid. This is, in effect, the argument of the Book of Job:
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? Or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? Or who laid the corner stone thereof, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Many arguments against the argument from poor design have been addressed by its proponents. In the case of the Panda's thumb, the argument isn't that it works, the argument is that the design is poor - as a real digit would be functionally more effective than modified wrist bones.
In addition, the Plantaris muscle does atrophy. Its motor function is so minimal that its long tendon can readily be harvested for reconstruction elsewhere with little functional deficit. "Often mistaken for a nerve by freshman medical students, the muscle was useful to other primates for grasping with their feet. It has disappeared altogether in 9 percent of the population."
In response to the claim that uses have been found for "Junk" DNA. Proponents note that the fact that some non-coding DNA has a purpose does not establish that all non-coding DNA has a purpose. The original study that suggested that the Makorin1-p1 served some purpose (Hirotsune et al., 2003 ) has been shown to be entirely wrong (Grey et al., 2006 ). They also note that some sections of DNA can be randomized, cut, or added to with no apparent effect on the organism in question.
In regards to the last argument, proponents note that nobody has studied the effects of increased efficiency in plants in such a way to make this determination possible. Some plants have more and less efficient photosynthesis reactions, such as the C3, C4 and CAM photosynthesis reactions. No such "damaging chemical reactions" occur in the more effective processes.
The original argument rests on the concept of oxidative stress and ROS - the LHC and other components of the photosynthetic array can only absorb a certain amount of energy from sunlight. Absorbing more results in oxidative damage - a well-documented phenomenon in plants. However, this argument does nothing to invalidate the argument from poor design, as it merely shifts the focus of the question to why those specific components of the photosynthetic apparatus were designed to be unable to cope with commonly-encountered levels of solar energy. Natural selection as an explanation fares much better because it posits that photosynthesis originally evolved in an aquatic environment, then later adapted (but imperfectly) to the higher solar energy found in terrestrial environments.
A counter-argument that has been made against this application of the argument — and that can be used against the argument from poor design itself — points out that the argument from poor design assumes that efficiency and neatness are the only criteria upon which the quality of biological design must be judged. The counter-argument maintains that, in addition to (or instead of) being thought of as an engineer, God is perhaps better thought of as an artist (possessing the ultimate artistic license). Moreover, this application of the argument presupposes the accountability of God to the judgement of humanity, an idea most major religions consider to be an enormous conceit that is diametrically opposed to their doctrines. We can know what God is like to a certain extent, but ultimately we cannot know everything about him because he is of necessity on a higher plane to us. However, doctrinal distaste should not rule out the moral issue that a benign God would not include design flaws that lead to pain or unnecessary death, such as the appendix, coccyx, our crowded teeth or a proclivity for cancer or the birth of babies through the pelvis. See Problem of Evil. But insufficient human knowledge may make things that actually are useful seem useless. For instance, it was once thought that tonsils were useless, but in fact they have minor disease-preventing properties. But if we can presume to recognize good design and are at the same time allowed to plead ignorance on apparent bad design, aren't we selecting to use the evidence that supports our claim and ignoring that which contradicts it? Evidence of poor design certainly reduces the effectiveness of the argument from design.
The apparently sub-optimal design of organisms has also been used to argue in favour of a god who uses natural selection as a mechanism of his creation.
Arguers from poor design regard all these counter-arguments as a false dilemma (God designed it, or it's flawed), leading to the unfalsifiability of intelligent design — if it's good design, God did it, if it's bad design, it's a result of the Fall (Genesis 3:16 has God saying to Eve "I will increase your trouble in pregnancy"). Arguers against poor design argue in turn: if it's poor design, then God would not have done it, so natural selection must have, but wonderful design shows how wonderful natural selection can be. But that really amounts to saying that because we observe both poor design and good, we are allowed to reject a hypothesis that only explains good design and accept one that explains both.