Three engineers are discussing what kind of engineer God is. The mechanical engineer says, “look at the complexity of the ball joint that formed by our arm and shoulder. It has so many degrees of freedom that God must be a mechanical engineer.”
The electrical engineer says, “look at the complexity of the nervous system and brain. God is clearly an electrical engineer.”
The civil engineer says, “You’re both wrong. Anyone who would put a waste pipe in the middle of a recreational area is clearly a civil engineer.”
My blog titled, Why I Don’t Believe in the Christian God, argued against God’s benevolence and his existence on theological grounds: Why I Don’t Believe in the Christian God. This blog argues against a Creator by looking at the inefficiencies and errors in the human design.
If we assume that God exists and he is omnipotent, he could design humans anyway he chose. Why would he design us so that we have to breathe, eat, drink, poop and pee? If any of these five functions are interfered with, we could die. In addition, the latter two aren’t particularly pleasant.
However, they are easily the consequence of evolution. The follow the laws of nature. Fuel must be burned in the presence of oxygen to create energy to keep the individual alive. If there were no waste products, you might be able to argue about the efficiency of design. Instead there are waste products which imply the inefficiencies of evolution.
Let’s say for the moment, God works in mysterious ways and in his infinite wisdom, he concluded that we need to breathe, eat, drink, poop and pee, why would he put the sex organs next to the waste organs? Again this seems more of a happenstance of evolution.
Followers of intelligent design love to give the example of the eye as being too sophisticated to be the result of evolution. Let’s look more closely at that assertion?
The eye has a blind spot. This corresponds to the optic disk where the optic nerve connects to the retina. There is no room for photoreceptor cells in this area. We actually don’t see anything that falls on this area. The brain has evolved to fill in this blank space with its best approximation of what should be there. Don’t believe me? Try these tests: Blind Spot Tests
The eye’s foveal avascular zone (FAZ) is at the center of our vision and has the highest acuity. It only corresponds to 1.5° of the visual field. Surrounding the fovea are two more rings of lower acuity, the parafovea and the macula. At about 18° of the visual field starts the peripheral vision which gets blurrier as you get further from the center of the eye.
Test it out for yourself, while starring straight ahead look at something to the right of you. It will be be extremely blurry. We are not normally aware of this limitation of the eye because mental processing edits it out.
The perception of the colors red and green become poor after only 30° of your visual field. Good night vision only extends to 30° of your visual field.
Healthy people can perceive images that do not correspond to objective reality. We call them optical illusions. Depending on the type, these can be a function of the eyes or of optical processing in the brain.
The brain is full of flaws and biases beyond optical illusions. Because we are unaware of these defects, I have seen this referred to as anosognosia. However, this term usually refers to denial about one’s illness. We are speaking about a healthy brain here.
We experience pareidolia, which is perceiving a familiar pattern where there is none. The brain’s facial recognition system is so extreme, we see faces where there aren’t any. For example, if an appliance has two knobs where eyes might be and below that a horizontal lever, we would see a face. This is also why people have found the Virgin Mary in a piece of toast.
There is the McGurk effect. While watching a video with your eyes closed, you hear one word. When you watch the video, you hear a different word. This is because the person in the video is mouthing a different word. Your sight is influencing your perception of sound. You can try it out for yourself here: McGurk Effect
The mere-exposure effect is where you prefer the familiar and are uncomfortable around the unfamiliar. It has the unfortunate effect of making you believe falsehoods that you have heard a number of times. This latter case also goes by the name the illusion of truth effect.
In addition to the above, there is cognitive ease, the flash lag effect, chronostasis, the Dunning-Kruger effect, cognitive dissonance, etc.
Would a omnipotent creator create us with a flawed brain and then on top of that cause us to be in denial of the flaws? On the other hand, these flaws and denial are easily explained by evolution. As Dean Buonomano, Professor of Neurobiology and Psychology at UCLA points out in The Atlantic:
[There are] three central sources of “brain bugs”—our brains’ evolutionary bias towards survival and reproduction; the cognitive quirks that have resulted from an imperfect and clumsy evolution process, such as optical illusions and impulsivity; and our constantly evolving environment, which forces us to adapt rapidly, in the scale of evolution, and often not in the best ways possible.
Quote from: The Atlantic–Brain Bugs
I may go into more detail how evolution explains these defects in a later post.
Since I addressed theological issues in a prior post (Why I Don’t Believe in the Christian God), I don’t intend to delve too much into theology here. However, I expect theological arguments to be made to counter my essay, so I will address some of them here.
To explain these flaws by saying “God works in mysterious ways” is an ad hoc fallacy. It reminds me of the cartoon of the mathematician working on a proof. In a gap between some equations are the words,”then a miracle occurs.”
Blaming the fall of man is not an explanation for me, because I don’t believe in it. It is the refuge of those who are trying to protect the Creator’s benevolence. However, the sins of the father being visited upon the son is not justice. The sons aren’t the guilty party.
Yes, I am judging God by the standards of man. What other standards do I have? Fundamentalists and evangelicals had been trying to sell me on the creator. If their creator doesn’t meet my standards, I have two options. Either I reject him as unjust or come to the conclusion that there are better explanations for the way things are.
What about a creator that isn’t omnipotent? How about Occam’s razor?
These flaws are just what you would expect for evolution. When a mutation takes place and the animal survives to reproduce and if the offspring are fertile, then this mutation can spread. Evolution is not about optimal design. It is about reproduction. If a being with 500,000 flaws can reproduce and have fertile offspring, it will continue to have progeny. Should environmental factors change to the point where the progeny no longer survives to mating age, then it dies out.
©2016 Stephen L. Martin
Painting: The Card Players by Paul Cezanne