Argument from poor design

The argument from poor design (dysteleological argument) can be formulated as follows:

P1. God is perfect

P2. If God is perfect, then all his creations would be at least well designed

P3. Humans and animals are not well designed

C1. Therefore God did not create humans and animals

C2. Therefore God does not exist

In question form:

What designer with any competence and with any compassion at all would construct a mode of living and survival that entails so much pain, so much awkwardness, such clumsy reuse of organs and limbs apparently adapted for other purposes? Why force aquatic birds (with wings that don’t work as means to flight but are already readapted for swimming) to “march” for seventy miles from their source of food to their breeding grounds, or to walk on their heels for months in order to protect the egg from touching the ice and immediately freezing? Was it an intelligent designer, or the penguins, who figured out that this was a manageable way to do things, and then did it? 1

The argument from poor design is a response to the argument from design in which the complexity of human and animal life is given as evidence for design. 

Regarding P1, in Mormon through God is perfect but that does not mean he is not restricted in any way. It is not the case that God can do anything logically possible. 

P2 is not necessarily true but is a reasonable premse. As for P3, we must first consider what humans and animals are designed for. We can only say what is well designed if we know what the aim is. For example most cars are well designed if the aim is to drive on flat roads but are all poorly designed if you want to drive through deep water. 

Is the aim of humans and animals to lead a pain free non-awkward enjoyable life? The theologian would say no. Instead the theologian would argue that life is created to experience oppositions, develop faith and virtues that lead man to a relationship with God. 

With this in mind, there are some reasons to be skeptical of the third premise:

1- God works within natural laws so there may be design constraints and trade offs 

The argument from poor design is more promising in an environment in which God creates life ex nihilo, which Mormonism rejects. 

In Mormon thought, God works within physical natural laws and in a world of physical constraints, all design will involve trade-offs. So some design may be the best physically possible if not the best logically possible. 

Blake Ostler said:

The natural tendencies of matter once organized are based on eternal principles…these natural tendencies or organized matter exist independently of God’s creative fiat. 2

2- Some things were considered bad design at one point but no longer 

This argument is similar to god of the gaps arguments which seem to reduce in number as time goes on. An example of what was previously considered bad design but no longer, is the human appendix. What was once thought as useless is now believed to be an important compartment for beneficial bacteria needed for digestion. Duke surgery professor Bill Park says the appendix acts as a good safe house for bacteria 3

The argument from poor design is interesting but we have reason to be skeptical of its conclusion especially if, as in Mormon thought, God works within natural laws rather than creating life ex nihilo.

  1. George Levine, Darwin Loves You: Natural Selection and the Reenchantment of the World (Princeton University Press, 2006), pgs. 256-257[]
  2. Blake Ostler and David Paulsen. Joseph Smith and the Problem of Evil. [ONLINE] Available at: http://blakeostler.com/docs/JSmith&ProblemofEvil.pdf. [Accessed 13 June 2017].[]
  3. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/21153898/ns/health-health_care/t/scientists-may-have-found-appendixs-purpose/[]