Countering the Critics

The Dysteleology Argument

The concept of dysteleology claims that much poor design exists in the natural world, and therefore an intelligent creator does not exist. A look at a supposed common example of dysteleology, the design of the human pharynx, shows that it is in fact evidence for superior design.

The entire dysteleology argument is based on the recurrent assertion that there exist many examples of poor design in the human body. As knowledge of life improves, dysteleology claims have likewise been correspondingly disproved. The argument from dysteleology is not scientific support for evolution, but, instead, is a claim about the Creator’s attributes—what some people believe that God would or would not do. This argument, for this reason, is theology, not science. Scientists speak theologically, not scientifically, when they imply that a competent creator would design a structure to be superior, they believe, to the existing design.

Dysteleology has become very popular among many Darwinists, not because it is based on scientific evidence or on logic favouring evolutionism, but because it seems to be a useful argument against intelligent design which appeals to popular opinion. A problem with this argument is that Darwinists argue that the body is poorly designed, and conversely they also argue that science cannot make judgments about design because claims in this area are outside of science—judgments that science cannot entertain because it assumes purpose in nature. Either science can make judgments about design, or it cannot. Both cannot be true. One common claim of poor design is the human pharynx.

Evolutionary Claims

A noted zoologist teaching at a major university claimed that the human pharynx is a poorly designed system, explicable only in terms of macroevolution. The example he gives is designing a building with water and gas entering through a common chamber so that whenever one is needed the other would have to be shut off. He claims this design

‘ … would be the height of stupidity. But that is what your “intelligent Creator” did when he designed and created man for, as you know, the pharynx serves as a common passageway for air and water. Think of the number of lives that have been lost by food or water getting into or obstructing the air passageway. It certainly would have required very little intelligence for the Creator to have designed a more efficient and less dangerous arrangement. … However, if you trace the evolution of the head and especially the development of the food and respiratory passageways from the fishes up through the amphibians, reptiles and early mammals to man, you will note that the relationship turns out to be a masterpiece of evolutionary achievement enabling aquatic organisms to become adapted to air breathing and thus capable of living on land.’1

University of Michigan Professor Scott Atrain writes that the problem is the mouth cavity in air breathing terrestrial animals

‘ … does double duty, as an opening to take in both food and air. As creatures evolved from water onto land, the opening to the respiratory system was jerry-rigged to share the preexisting digestive tract’s anterior structure, including the mouth and pharynx [throat]. In terrestrial vertebrates, the pharynx became a short passage linking the mouth to the esophagus and the windpipe. Any mistiming of the swallowing mechanism that blocks off the air passage in routing food to the esophagus causes choking.’2

Skybreak, in her new book endorsed by several notable evolutionists, including Richard Leakey, P.Z. Myers and Kevin Padian, wrote that humans ‘have a dangerous tendency to choke on food’ because the

‘ … passage that air follows to get to the lungs actually crosses the path that food follows to get to the stomach. This would be an example of a really stupid (or perversely sadistic) design if a god had actually designed it that way! But this is not the result of anyone’s conscious “design”. This choking problem simply reflects our own past evolutionary history: the breathing channels of all land vertebrates also evolved in the distant past as modifications of pre-existing structures (in this case the “air bladders” of some bony fishes and lungfishes) which evolved into primitive lungs.’3

Analysis of the Design

An analysis of the pharynx’s design eloquently proves that the claim of poor design is false. In fact, the pharynx is an example of a superbly designed complex system. The pharynx serves as a single passage for three systems—the respiratory, digestive and communicative—for many very good reasons. A major one is, unlike other primates, our airway and esophagus intersect. This can cause choking, but allows speech.4….

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