Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Intelligent Design, Evolution & The Problem of Evil (A response)

This is a response to the wiz, (should I just call you that?)

The purpose of the examples in my previous post was NOT to refute intelligent design, but to highlight potentially very serious theological problems should others arrive to the conclusion of nature being designed. I am going to put aside evolutionary theory for the time being and focus on design.

This is because pathogenic organisms are not examples of bad design.Their purpose is to to multiply, infect, debilitate and/or kill. Even prominent baraminologist Todd Charles Wood also noted this problem before by observing predation and toxicity of animals in the wild a few years back.

Lets turn to protozoan parasite Plasmodium.  You see, the entire Plasmodium genus is parasitic, and targets a huge range of mammals, birds and reptiles. Whats worse is that, being eukaryotes, they have a much more complex life cycle than the average bacterium. They fulfill most of the Discovery Institute's criteria for design, particularly Stephen Meyer's signature in the cell.

Life cycle of the malaria parasite
Image from http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/malaria/pages/lifecycle.aspx

Can you see how complex malaria actually is?  Its design is to the point parasite is capable of changing between asexual and sexual reproduction at specific stages in its life cycle. The worst part is the deadliest malaria strain, P. falciparum, has stunning capability to adapt to the body's immune response.  Descent with modification causes their sporozoites (see above) to change their surface antigens once in a while, increasing likelihood of resistance to our immune system.

The core problem is that it is very difficult to imagine how all strains of Plasmodium could have had a different prior function, like having once been symbiotic with their hosts, particularly when one just cannot see how they simply offer any benefit prior to adapting pathogenicity. It shows every sign of having been designed to be a parasite, if it was actually designed.

Another fundamental problem, is that if they were designed to be initially symbiotic, they would have been very poor at it. Blood is a sterile environment, because of our immune system that targets all foreign micro-organisms, good or bad. How could Plasmodium be beneficial then? Surely you couldn't say the immune system didnt exist before the Fall; that would mean that after the Fall, we experienced a huge gain in "information" by developing an immune system.

Look at the criteria for design and apply it to P.falciparum:
a) specificity of function : to infect, kill and spread. What makes P.falciparum so deadly is that it causes infected red blood cells to stick to the walls of blood vessels (cytoadherence) and lead to dangerous blood clots in critical organs.  Even worse is that the transmission vector, the Anopheles mosquito is efficient - small, silent and fecund.

b) contingency plans: as above, mutations cause shift in antigens on its offspring and hinders immune response. Troublingly, even as I write this, chloroquine (anti malarial medicine)-resistant strains of malaria continue to grow......

c) irreducible complexity: the parasite being unable to go through infecting at any stage : mosquito cells/liver cells/human red blood cell would effectively destroy its chances of reproducing.

I find this very troubling, but would genuinely appreciate it if you pointed out mistakes in my article.


Can evolution account for the emergence of this? Yes. The sad fact is that parasites often undergo co-evolution with the hosts they target. In the case of P.falciparum it was an outlier, it emerged from a mutant strain of Plasmodium that originally targeted gorillas. (I guess you could say it was an organism outstepping its boundaries). In fact, the whole Plasmodium genus has been evolving for millions of years, slowly developing its complex life cycle and its preference for specific hosts.

It was found that Plasmodium was closely related to protozoan intestinal parasites. Regardless, there is a paucity of data for the origins of malaria, so I ll leave it at that.

There is one more thing to note: many pathogens (HIV, ebola) were originally zoonotically transmitted from apes.......


I be lying if I said there wasnt a personal reason I drew attention to the problem of evil. Its the greatest problem I find in believing in a loving God. Both natural evil and moral evil are just so ubiquitous in our world.....

You are right. What purpose something was designed for - does not change the reality that it was designed.  But taking this argument to its extreme conclusion - it becomes an argument for cold, apathetic deism.

I hope we can respectfully agree to disagree on this. Yes I think there are good arguments for and against design. But the reason above is why I am firmly on the pro-evo side.

Irregardless, there are flaws in the design argument which I hope to address in the future.


  1. Daren, sorry I've only just noticed this. I'm sorry, sometimes I don't look to check my comment-count.

    I think part of the problem with this argument, is that it concentrates on one specific piece of evidence, rather than the totality of evidence in nature.

    I think another problem is you have to look at some of the conclusions you are inferring which are essentially non sequiturs. When you jump to a conclusion that doesn't really follow, it's a non sequitur, for example when you said:

    " But taking this argument to its extreme conclusion - it becomes an argument for cold, apathetic deism. "

    That doesn't follow, because it would depend on the fallacy of anthropomorphism, or even the pathetic-fallacy, which means that one of your unstated premises is that animal-suffering, or insect-suffering, can only be understood on a human-level. so to attach "pity" for an insect or a low-animal, in itself good be regarded as a subjective, anthropomorphistic fallacy.

    The reason why God allows animals to be killed is because they are not human. Otherwise if I step on an ant, or if I run over an animal, or kill a chicken and eat it, then I would be a murderer.

    You rightly say that it seems that parasites are designed to live off of a host, but it has been proven that an original relationship of parasite-host, can either be neutral, or symbiotic. Indeed, in one of the articles it said there are millions of viruses in the sea. If we look at the WHOLE of the evidence, what can we say? We can say that viruses, parasites, are not MEANT to live off of humans. You mentioned some seemingly might be designed to live off of apes. Therefore God would logically, ACTUALLY be cruel, if He gave apes the same capacity for consciousness, as humans. But this would "suppose" that such parasites were intended for apes, it could still be possible that a neutral relationship was originally intended, given so many viruses in the sea, for example, seem to do no harm.

    I would only say to you, "look at the whole induction." What is the case? If we are designed, and the world is fallen, we would expect nasty parasites to be the exception to the rule, and we would largely expect to see neutral or symbiotic relationships. From what I have read, there is a growing body of evidence that seems to suggest this is the case.

    But the worst case scenario could have been an original relationship that was neutral. I'm not up on the specifics of genetics like you, but I know that it has been proven that some of these "nasties" are only "nasty" when they are in the wrong place, believe it or not, they can start out as harmless.

    It all depends on how you see it. If you are DETERMINED to believe it is because of a pitiless God, or a cold evolution, then I can't change your mind. But I believe that conclusion is essentially based on limited data, and limited understanding.

    Look, it's not that I don't value your knowledge, but I think these types of arguments, yes, okay, do I concede they make more sense or at least make sense given a cold, atheistic, indifferent universe? Sure, I can be honest and admit they tend to paint that picture if you only look at those isolated examples. But I think there's a heck of a lot we don't know, given millions of viruses seem to be neutral.

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  3. "Surely you couldn't say the immune system didn't exist before the Fall; that would mean that after the Fall, we experienced a huge gain in 'information"=' by developing an immune system."

    I fear you underestimate the creativity (no pun intended) of the creationists. They'd likely say something like, "What a marvelous testimony to God's grace, that He gave us an immune system after the Fall so that we could survive pathogens despite our sins!"